Genetics researcher Francisco Ayala argues against intelligent design

In a recent interview with the Washington Post, genetics researcher Francisco Ayala makes the Argument from Imperfection in support of evolution by natural selection:

Nothing in the living world is really intelligently designed; if it was, it would be designed by an engineer.

There are defects you would expect from natural selection. The example I always give because it’s familiar to everyone is the human jaw. It’s not big enough for all of our teeth, so we have to have the wisdom teeth removed, or we have to go to orthodontist to have them straightened. If an engineer had designed the human jaw, he would’ve been fired the next day.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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13 Responses to Genetics researcher Francisco Ayala argues against intelligent design

  1. Heuristics says:

    As an engineer myself (M.Sc. CSE) it seems like Ayalla is a bit out of touch with the reality in the private sector, if someone got fired every time they inadvertently left a bug in a design the whole engineering staff of any company would get fired on a monthly basis when it comes to code writing engineers (the discussion is about code after all, genetic or binary). The argument is also flawed in a straw manish way since intelligent design allows for such small evolutionary changes via natural selection as the reduction in size of the jaw.

    It does bring up an interesting question though, what kind of flaw would one NOT be able to expect from natural selection?

  2. santitafarella says:


    But we are talking about God here, right? God is (presumably) the One who cannot make an error in His designs and purposes, for all things work for the good.

    It seems that the problem of evil and suffering—as a philosophical perplexity—enters the world long before the Israelites were put out of the Levant by the Babylonians.


    • Heuristics says:

      No, Intelligent Design is an argument against materialism on it’s own terms, not an argument for the existence of an abrahamic God. Theists tend to think that they would win by default if materialism is defeated but I am not sure of that (a previous point you made that atheism by logical necessity is reducible at foundation to blind naturalism/mechanics is interesting in that there might be no atheistic place to hide if materialism is false, but I am not sure).

      Personally I am not convinced of ether materialism or ID but a bad argument is a bad argument.

  3. santitafarella says:


    I think you are right that atheists could hide elsewhere: as in Kauffman’s ideas about the levels of a chessboard game. Kauffman is an atheist but doesn’t reduce the world to atoms and void.

    So your point is taken.

    But does the intelligence that designed things have an IDentity—a persona—a desire? (Pun intended.)


    • Heuristics says:

      Yes, there are alternatives to appeal too, I am suspicious of how well they work though. Seams to me that something like materialism but larger, something with another meaning then mechanics is needed. Currently I am reading through this excellent book that goes through how we got to this materialistic dead and in the first place:
      Its out of copyright so its free, I printed it out in booklet form and made it into a book 🙂

      I saw an interview with Antony Flew yesterday where he goes through how his God (that he converted to deism from atheism for on the basis of ID type arguments) looks. I think he is correct in his analysis but there is also the possibility (though, it seems silly) that aliens somehow is involved if ID is true:

  4. santitafarella says:


    Edwin Burtt? That is quite an exotic find.

    And I’ll check out the Flew video. Thanks for that.


    • Heuristics says:

      Yes, that is the book, impressive that it can still be bought today 🙂
      The reviewers are not wrong and I have only read the first part of the book but I think they miss what I found most interesting. Before materialism came people had a whole other way of thinking that was very different from the way people think of nature now. The book explains that it was thought that nature was not a simple game of billiard ball atoms moving about, that there was more to it then that. They apparently took Aristotles thoughts on the four causes seriously as a good way of understanding nature, today, in materialism we only have 2 of the four causes remaining and this appears to have caused problems for explaining much of what we now think of as outside science. Before Newton and company created materialism there was no such things as mind-body dualism problems, no wonderings of where intentionality or experience fits into materialism, it apparently all just flowed naturally from their worldview (exactly how it flowed naturally I don’t know… yet).

  5. ogatoprecambriano says:

    No ID is not an argument against materialism in it’s own terms.
    In the 80’s US courts rule out the teaching of Creationism, back then in the form of “Creation Science”, as religion based, and so it was in violation of the Fisrt Amendment. Before that nobody ever have talked about Inteligent Design.
    So the ID Movement was created as a new atempt to sell Creationism in disguise. Sure it’s proponents have a stance against Naturalism, as it excludes supernaturalistic “explanations”.
    Ayala’s reasoning only seems flawed besause so far there isn’t a proper definition of WTF ID is. So one could discern in Nature what IS a product of ID and what IS NOT. Because this lack of a definition ID as an hypotesis makes no testable predictions at all, and in fact can be compatible with anything one finds in Nature. Everything can be “explained” in ID terms, even the imperfections we see in living beens. ID in this terms is unfalsifiable.
    All ID “works (sic)” like Behe’s, that IDiots claim to have set ID as a theory, are in fact only failled atempts to falsify Evolution.

    • Heuristics says:

      It might be a good idea to go over the meaning of the word argument. When I write argument I mean a chain of sentences that uses logical deduction from a set of initial premises to reach a conclusion. The kind of thing used in philosophy. An argument has no need of falsifiability and who it was that came up with the argument and for what purpose it was created is largely irrelevant. If I had written that ID was a scientific theory your text would have had some relevance, I did not (I do however offer counter arguments at the end of this responce).

      My understanding of the form of the argument:
      1. Only an intelligent cause or a materialistic cause could create the current living species of animals.
      2. For materialistic evolution to be true it needs to be able to at least in principle account for the development of any function found in current species.
      3. Materialistic evolution can only explain functions of immediate use to the species.
      4. Several large scale functions observed in species require simpler individual functions working together that would have no immediate use to the species when given rise to on their own.
      5. Therefore materialistic evolution is false and the current living species where created by an intelligent cause.

      The first statement is the one that is most apt for attack in my opinion when evaluating if ID is scientific. Materialism has no capability in principle of accounting for such things as intentionality or aboutness and these concepts are part of any sensible definition of intelligence so intelligence on such an account is not materialistic. But who gets to decide that materialism is the only metaphysics allowed for in science? Such a view would remove from science all sciences except physics, chemistry (and with some reservations biology).

      With regards to falsifiability: Line 4 in the argument is often claimed to have been shown to be wrong with regards to for example the bacterial flagellum thus showing the practical falsifiability for claims made from ID.
      With regards to predictions of ID: Several ID proponents argued early against the idea that the genetic code would have very large sections that where junk, or useless on a similar basis to how Ayala argues, that one would not suspect an intelligent designer to have done it that way. This is a prediction that in retrospect appears to have largely worked out for ID. From an engineering point of view some left over useless crap in the code is too be expected, but not to such a degree that it would be the large majority of code.

      • ogatoprecambriano says:

        You didn’t said ID is a scientific theory for sure, this is what the PROPONENTS of ID have been publicly claiming in the last 10 years although. They claim ID is a scientific theory that should be taught in schools as a valid alternative to the Theory of Evolution (ToE).
        I’m speechless by your atempt to use metaphysics to contest a scientific theory, maybe you should apply yourself for a job at Discovery Institute. But lets try anyway.
        First your 1 is fallacious as an intelligent cause can be materialistic as well, why not?
        Secound, what you are trying to do with this is to get yourself a W.O. wining, by seting a false dicotomy. ToE is a materialistic explanation, if ToE is false, then the explanation only can be non-materialistic. It’s not your fault altough. Your are just in the well known “ToE is false then ID is true” falsehood judge Jones exposes so well in Kurtzmiller x Dover.
        BTW this reasoning of yours is only aplicable in Biology? If so why?
        Line 4 is “irreducible complexity” refrased, and as such it’s not a claim for ID, it’s a claim against ToE. So to show, as it have been ad nauseaum, that IC is false doesn’t mean that ID is falsefiable, it just means that another atempt to disproof ToE fails.

        From an engineering point of view…

        You mean from an HUMAN engineering point of view some crap is expected. So what? I don’t see why it should be from an NON-HUMAN (suprenatural) engineering point of view. Again you have to (excuse my portuguese) fu#&$%* tell me what you fu#&$%* meam by ENGINEER so we can tell what IS was/is engineered and what IS NOT. That is to make real specific PREDICTIONS. Something ID don’t make (this DNA thing is nothing of the sort, IDist’s claim was an ex post reaction, not a prediction). Otherwise you’ll be able to claim just whatever you want, and make your “theory” fits anything one finds in Nature, don’t you?

  6. Heuristics says:

    What does it matter if they claim that it is a scientific theory or not or if they want it taught in schools. Truth cares not for these things, they are irrelevant.

    An intelligent cause cannot be materialistic, I outlined why, aboutness and intentionality are required for intelligence and materialism has no way of accounting for such things as a mechanical thing (materialism) can never be about another mechanical thing even in principle, a mechanical thing is only a group of atoms in motion described by deterministic or statistical laws, nothing more on materialism. There is no aboutness for a particle or particle-group in those laws. Ascribing such a thing to them is what you label “supernatural”.

    I am not in any “ToE is false then ID is true” camp, nor did I ever state that ID is true. If I was in such a camp or if I thought that ID was true it would not matter, an argument stands on it’s own merits, not by what other ideas the person that is making the argument holds.

    I have not stated that it is only applicable to biology, there are similar things in quantum physics for the wave function collapse.

    Line 4 rests on Line 1 via reductio ad absurdum and is thus a fully qualified falsifier. If you could come up with a third option it would act as a defeater to 1 and the argument would no longer be valid.

    Yes, from a human engineering pov. I mean with engineer what Ayalla means with engineer. Someone that holds a masters degree in engineering and is actively working in the field of engineering. The junk DNA prediction was a prediction that was easily empirically testable right away. One would only have to make a measurement on the code bases developed by software engineers to get a value of how much of the code in released products was junk code. It was not an ex post reaction, right away after it was claimed that the code was junk the ID proponents claimed that this was false, now that we are in ex post and we know that it was indeed mostly not junk it has been shown to be a correct prediction.

    • ogatoprecambriano says:

      Just a quick one on DNA, the other materialism stuff will have to wait a little bit, except to say that I don’t buy it up front, I don’t know if I accept your definition of materialism. I seems very reductionist to me. BTW what is exactly your non-materialistic acount of anything? I don’t remember to have heard it.
      Junk DNA, or better non-coding portions of DNA, was not a prediction even from ToE, and much even less from ID. It was a discovery. I’m still to see an ID prediction.
      I still fail to see why crap it’s expected from a non-human non-materialistic (what ever that means) intelligence.
      I’m not an engineer expert for sure, I’ve a modest degree in physics, so I’m not sure if the kind and amount of crap that efectively is in software code, is really something to be expected, aceptable or is just something people live with, and I don’t know if this is expected, or aceptable in another engineering areas, but I don’t think it is.
      If it’s to talk about non-human non-materialistic suposed intelligences, whatever that means, taking human intelligence as a model or metaphor, then you have to accept all that comes with it, not just what sums up to your argument. You can’t have it both ways. That’s why Ayala is claiming design/engineereing flaws is a problem for ID, obviously contrasting ID’s, lets say “official” proponents, not your specific, particular, idiosincratic version of it.

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