Unintelligent design.

3D chromosomesJust listened to an episode of Air America’s “Atheists Talk” episode 8 where they interview “The Friendly Atheist” and biologist PZ Myers:

Atheists Talk #008 Mar 2, 2008
(click the “listen now” link at the bottom to listen or download)

The first half interview with Hemant Mehta of The Friendly Atheist is kind of interesting; he discusses his book “I Sold My Soul on eBay” and his work with campus freethinking organizations. It’s interesting, by I have to admit, gets a little boring. For me. Mainly because I’ve heard what he has to say before–but I would think to the person who hasn’t it could be fascinating.

What really engaged me, was the way too brief second half with biologist and professor PZ Myers (and blogger, with his Pharyngula site).
He discusses bad design in nature, which counters the “intelligent design”…argument, that at least some of nature is so perfectly and elegantly designed that it has to have been done by A Designer. Well, even though the examples IDers have used all have turned out quite reducible, nature is rife with qualities that flagrantly display the bottom-up nature of evolution: Things come about that work. They seem cobbled together, haphazard, inelegant, but they get the job done.

The brain contains a mess of this kind of design, and Myers discusses Gary Marcus’ book Kluge, which investigates the weird and haphazard way the brain often gets things done.
Then he talks about other instances of natures design that would get a human engineer or programmer fired:

Like the human genome. It’s a mess! IDers often point to the genome as an elegant program of data and instructions that prove a programmer, but in truth, the genome is filled with junk data and bad instructions. There are significant portions of the genome that have portions where its only function is to uselessly copy itself for no purpose, except when a virus latches onto it and uses it for its own purpose.
Also, interestingly, humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes and gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans have 24 pairs. Well, evidently, a couple of the human chromosomes have at some point in evolution fused together, and you can see in the human sets of pairs where this meshing exists!

Back to bad design: the human eye. The light sensors sit behind the nerves and blood vessels making it so that we have blind spots and “poor resolution” than we could have. Like putting the cords of a video camera in front of the lens. (As I understand, squid and octopus happened to evolve without this problem.)

The human male testes have to be cooler than body temp to work, so they dangle (quite annoyingly and often painfully and terribly prone to damage) outside the body–after traveling, during infant development, through the body trailing the seminal tubing behind it to make a weird, long journey from testes to penis. A weird solution that has been better evolved in other animal species.

One of my favorites of bad design that PZ didn’t mention (his segment was much too short) was how we eat and breathe through the same whole, making the chances of our killing ourselves by choking on food quite possible. And the most common victims of this bad design are children.

Anyway, interesting program; worth a listen.
(image stolen from http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/units/disorders/karyotype/)