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One popular argument against creationism and Intelligent Design is to point out that, if God designed all the speices we see, he did a pretty poor job. Lots of organisms seem jury-rigged in ways consistent with a short-sighted, gradual process like evolution, but baffling under the assumption that everything was planned out by an intelligent being (barring resort to the "God works in mysterious ways" defense*).

It seems, though, that the resulting theory of Incompetent Design is made less religious. ID is generally seen as a way for Christian creationists to advance their goals while claiming that their theory is not religious. Neoplatonism has bequeathed to Christian theology an assumption that God is perfection. This view of religion is deep-rooted in our culture (leading one of the characters in Hume's Dialogues on Natural Religion to argue that polytheism is more akin to atheism than to theism, because both deny the existence of a perfect being). Most of the philosophical arguments for God's existence assume that God is a perfect being. The claim that God could not be simultaneously omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent is generally taken by both sides as a refutation of the existence of any God, on the assumption that if God exists, he must be perfect in all ways. Thus, ID proponents are helped in their ostensible claim while their presumable real motivation is undermined.

Perhaps the real beneficiary of Incompetent Design is the theory of design by non-divine extraterrestrials. This theory is usually encountered as a hypothetical possibility raised by ID proponents in order to defend against the charge that "designer" is just another way of saying "God." It is, however, popular (in the case of human evolution, at least) among proponents of the "ancient astronauts" theory. Extraterriestrials of limited power, knowledge, and benevolence, fighting among themselves, could easily produce the kinds of jury-rigged adaptations that weigh against more perfect designers. Of course, the less perfect we make the designer, the less weight the primary argument for a designer ("it's too perfect not to be designed") has.

* This is a good example of what I wrote earlier about faith. This type of defense is sometimes reasonable as a salvage maneuver when it keeps the book open for later discovery of non-obvious explanations. But it's unhelpful when it's used as a final and positive argument.


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