Bert Thompson, Ph.D.



In setting forth the case for creation, and establishing the

existence of a Creator, creationists often employ what is commonly

called the "design" argument. Put into logical form, the argument looks

like this:

Premise #1

If the Universe evinces purposeful design, there must have been

a designer.

Premise #2

The Universe does evince purposeful design.


Thus, the Universe must have had a Designer.

Even atheists and agnostics admit that the form of argumentation is

correct. Paul Ricci, an atheistic philosopher, has admitted in his

book, `Fundamentals of Critical Thinking', "...it's true that

everything designed has a designer.... `Everything designed has a

designer' is an analytically true statement" (1986, p 190). Their

disagreement, however, has been with the second premise, which affirms

that the Universe does evince purposeful design. In the past,

evolutionists simply denied the existence of any purposeful design in

the Universe, and busied themselves in attempting to prove that point.

For example, in 1986 Dr. Richard Dawkins, lecturer in animal science

at Oxford University, wrote `The Blind Watchmaker', in which he

attempted to establish the case for no design in the Universe. Were

such design to exist, evolutionists would be driven to admit, as Ricci

concedes, that "everything designed has a designer." And that, to them,

is unthinkable.

At least that is the way it used to be. But, evolutionists

apparently are beginning to recognize that they simply cannot explain

away what the "man on the street" can so easily see as evidence of

design in the Universe. Now, as unbelievable as it may seem, even

evolutionists are finally admitting that design does, in fact, exist.

Dr. Douglas Futuyma, for example, admits: "We look at the design of

organisms, then, for evidence of the Creator's intelligence, and what

do we see? A multitude of exquisite adaptations to be sure; the bones

of a swallow beautifully adapted for flight; the eyes of a cat

magnificently shaped for seeing in the twilight" (1983, p 198).

Does this mean, then, that evolutionists like Dr. Futuyma are

admitting defeat, and becoming committed creationists in light of these

new revelations? Hardly. Rather than abandon their sacrosanct theory of

evolution, they have decided to "put their heads together" in an effort

to explain all of this. The resulting argument is, admittedly, unique.

It goes something like this.


If design in the Universe proves the existence of a Designer, says

the evolutionist, then "non-design" disproves the existence of that

same Designer. Put into logical form, here is the argument.

Premise #1

If the Universe evinces traits of non-design, there is no


Premise #2

The Universe does evince non-design.


Thus, the Universe had no Designer.

In recent years, this argument has grown in popularity. Dr. Futuyma,

in `Science On Trial', devoted almost an entire chapter to examples of

"non-design" in nature. Other evolutionists are joining in the fracas.

For example, Dr. Stephen Jay Gould of Harvard has written extensively

about examples of non- design in nature.

As a result of all this attention to the matter of design versus

non- design, a new term has even been coined to express the

evolutionary argument. It is called the argument from suboptimality.

That is to say, if all design were considered perfect, everything would

be optimal. However, since there are items in nature that (allegedly)

are imperfect, there is suboptimality in nature.

[NOTE: The argument is also sometimes known as the argument from

dysteleology.] It is our contention that the argument is flawed for

several reasons.

First, in arguing the case for design, creationists are not

obligated to show obvious design in every single feature of the

Universe. It is necessary to produce only a reasonable number of

sufficient evidences in order to establish design. For the evolutionist

to produce an example of something which, to him, evinces either non-

design, or poor design, does not somehow magically negate all the other

evidences of obvious design!

Second, it is possible that an object possesses purposeful design,

but that it is not recognized by the observer. Consider the following

two cases. Dr. Wayne Frair, in the book he co-authored with Dr.

Percival Davis, `A Case for Creation', gives the following story.

My daughter was playing with her pet rat one day when a

question occurred to her. "Daddy," she said, "why does a

rat have scales on its tail?"

"You know perfectly well," I replied. "The reptiles that

were ancestral to rats and all other mammals had scales

on their tails as well as on the rest of their bodies.

Because there was no particular disadvantage to having

them, they persisted in rats to this day."

"Quit putting me on, Daddy. I know you don't believe that!"

You cannot win, it seems. But it is true that one is hard

put to discern the reason for the manifold adaptations that

organisms possess.

What I should have said to my daughter (and eventually did

say) was that God had put the scales there for reasons He

knew to be perfectly good ones but which may take us a lot

of research to discover, since He has not told us what they

are. Still, the fact was that I could not explain the

presence of those scales... (1983, pp 30-31).

Dr. Frair has raised two very important points with this simple story.

First, we may not presently know why an organism is designed the way it

is. To us, the design is either not yet recognizable, or not well-

understood. Second, with further research, the heretofore

unrecognizable design eventually may be discovered. And, in the case

which follows below, that is exactly what happened.

In his 1980 book, `The Panda's Thumb', Dr. Gould (one of

suboptimality's most vocal supporters) presents what he believes to be

perhaps the finest known example of non-design ever to be found in

nature---the panda's thumb. After providing an exhaustive explanation

of how the panda has 5 other digits in each "hand," which function

quite well in the panda's everyday life, Dr. Gould then provides an

equally exhaustive explanation of the panda's "thumb." It is, he says,

"a somewhat clumsy, but quite workable" appendage which "wins no prize

in an engineer's derby." His whole essay is intended to portray this as

good evidence of suboptimality---non-design in nature. In fact, lest

the reader miss his point, Gould says that "odd arrangements and funny

solutions are the proof of evolution---paths that a sensible God would

never tread, but that a natural process, constrained by history,

follows perforce" (pp 20-21).

Interestingly, while Dr. Gould was writing about the non-design

which he felt was so evident, research (the same kind of research Dr

Frair said would be needed to elucidate the purpose of design in

certain structures) was ongoing in regard to the panda's thumb. And

what did that research show? The panda's thumb has now been found to

exhibit design for very special functions, as the following information


First, the San Diego Zoo's `Giant Panda Zoobook' states: "In fact,

the giant panda is one of the few large animals that can grab things as

tightly as a human can" (undated, p 6). Second, in 1985 Schaller et al.

authored `The Giant Pandas of Wolong',in which they state: "The panda

can handle bamboo stems with great precision by holding them as if with

forceps in the hairless groove connecting the pad of the first digit

and pseudothumb" (p 4).

Do these kinds of statements seem to describe the panda's thumb as

a "jury-rigged" device? Does being able to grasp something tightly,

with great precision, using a "pseudothumb" that is compared to

surgical forceps seem to convey non-design? Such statements remind us

of the point originally being made: an object may possess purposeful

design, but that design may not be immediately evident to the observer.

Dr. Gould could not see (for whatever reasons) the design in the

panda's thumb. Nevertheless, such design is now known to be present.

There are other flaws with the suboptimality argument as well. One

of the most serious is this: those who claim that something is

"suboptimal" must, by definition, set themselves up as the sole judge

of what is, and what is not, "optimal." In other words, those who would

claim non-design in nature must somehow "know" two things: (1) they

must know that the item under discussion positively evinces no design;

and, (2) they must know what the absolute standard is in the first

place (i.e., "the optimal") in order to claim that something has become


These points have not escaped the evolutionists. For example, S.R.

Scadding of Guelph University in Canada has commented that the

suboptimality "argument is a theological rather than a scientific

argument, since it is based on the supposed nature of the Creator"

(1981, p 174, emp. added). That is to say, the evolutionist sets

himself up as the Creator, presupposes to know the mind of the Creator,

and then presumes to say what the Creator did, or did not, do. Observe

how one evolutionist does just that:

The case for evolution then has two sides; positive

evidence---that evolution has occurred; and negative

evidence---that the natural world does not conform to

our expectation of what an omnipotent, omniscient,

truthful Creator would have created (Futuyma, 1983, p

198, emp. added).

Notice the phrase, "that the natural world does not conform to our

expectation of what an omnipotent, omniscient, truthful Creator would

have created." The evolutionist looks at the creation, sees that it

does not fit what he would do if he were the Creator, and then suggests

on that basis that evolution is true. And all of this is from someone

who does not even believe in a Creator in the first place! Such

thinking makes for an extremely weak argument. As Dr. Frair has

remarked: "It could be considered arrogant to assume knowledge of a

design feature's purpose in an organism, even if it had a purpose"

(1983, p 31). But such arrogance does not stand in the way of the


There is yet another flaw in this "suboptimality" argument. And,

like the one just discussed, it has to do with theology, not science.

First, the evolutionist sets himself up as the Creator, and proceeds to

note that since things weren't done as he would do them, there must not

be a Creator. Second, when the real Creator does try to explain the

evidences of "non-design" in the world (as the evolutionist sees them),

the evolutionist refuses to listen. Consider the following as an

explanation of this point.

It is at least possible that an object once clearly reflected

purposeful design, but as a result of a process of degeneration, the

design has been clouded or erased. Let us consider the following


Suppose a gardener, digging in a pile of rubbish,

discovers an ancient book. Its cover is weathered, its

pages are mostly stuck together, the type has faded, etc.

It is, for all practical purposes, completely illegible.

Does the current condition of the book mean that it never

had a message---that it never evidenced design? Of course

not. Though the book is in a degenerative condition, and

the message has faded with time, there is no denying that

the book was at one point quite communicative (Jackson,

1989, p 2, emp. added).

The evolutionist surveys the Earth and finds examples of what he

believes are evidences of "suboptimality." Yet in many cases he may be

witnessing simply degeneration instead. In fact, that is exactly what

the Creator has stated. When man sinned, and evil was introduced to

this planet, a state of progressive degeneration commenced. The whole

creation suffered as a result of man's sin (Romans 8:20-22). The Hebrew

writer, quoting the psalmist, observed that "the earth, like a garment,

is wearing out (Hebrews 1:10-11).

Also consider this important point: the fact that the product of an

orderly mechanism is flawed does not necessarily reflect upon either

the initial design or the designer.

For example, if a machine which manufactures tin cans begins

to turn out irregular cans, does this somehow prove the

machine had no designer? Must one postulate that the machine's

inventor intended for mutilated cans to be produced, or that

the machine was imperfectly designed? Surely we can conceive

that the failure could be on the part of those who failed to

follow the correct procedures for maintaining the machine, or

who abused it in some fashion. When man rebelled against his

Maker, the Lord allowed, as a consequence of that disobedience,

degenerative processes to begin, which eventually result in

death (Romans 5:12). But the fact that we have eye problems,

heart failure, diseases, etc., does not negate the impact as a

whole that the human body is "fearfully and wonderfully made"

(Psalm 139:14). We will not assume, therefore, that because our

critic's reasoning ability is flawed, this proves his brain was

not designed. The "design" argument remains unscathed! (Jackson,

1989, p 3, emp. in orig.).

Evolutionists, of course, ignore all of this. After all, they have

already set themselves up as the Creator, and have determined that none

of this is the way they would do it. When the real Creator speaks, they

are too busy playing the Creator to hear Him. Here is a good example.

Futuyma says:

The creationists admit that species can undergo limited

adaptive changes by the mechanism of mutation plus natural

selection. But surely an omniscient and omnipotent Creator

could devise a more foolproof method than random mutation to

enable his creatures to adapt. Yet mutations do occur, and we

have experimental demonstration that they are not oriented in

the direction of better adaptedness. How could a wise Creator,

in fact, allow mutations to happen at all, since they are so

often degenerative instead of uplifting? According to the

creationists, there is "a basic principle of disintegration

now at work in nature" that we must suppose includes mutation.

But why should the Creator have established such a principle?

Didn't He like the perfection of His original creation (1983,

p 200)?

Dr. Futuyma acknowledges that creationists have tried to get him to see

that there is "a basic principle of disintegration now at work in

nature." Then he asks, "But why should the Creator have established

such a principle? Didn't He like the perfection of His original

creation?" This is why we say that the problem is rooted in theology,

not science. Dr. Futuyma questions why the Creator enacted this

"principle of degeneration," then makes it clear that he has no

intention whatsoever of accepting the answer provided by the very

Creator he questions. If Dr. Futuyma had studied what the Creator did

say, he would have the answer to his question. Yes, the Creator liked

His original creation, so much so He pronounced it "very good" (Genesis


It was not God's fault that the principle of degeneration became a

reality. It was man's fault because the first man wanted, like

evolutionists today, to be the Creator. Is there a "principle of

degeneration" at work? Indeed there is. Might it cause some organisms

or structures to have their original message (i.e.,design) diminished,

or to lose it altogether? Certainly. But does that mean that there

never was any design? Or, does it reflect poorly on the Designer,

proving somehow that He does not exist? In the eyes of the

evolutionists, the only possible answer to these questions is a

resounding "yes." As Scadding says:

Haeckel makes clear why this line of argument was of such

importance to early evolutionary biologists.... It seemed

difficult to explain functionless structures on the basis of

special creation without imputing some lack of skill in

design to the Creator (1981, p 174).

So, God gets the blame for man's mistakes. And, the evolutionists get

another argument for their arsenal. Here, in a nutshell, is that

argument, as stated by British evolutionist Jeremy Cherfas:

In fact, as Darwin recognized, a perfect Creator could

manufacture perfect adaptations. Everything would fit because

everything was designed to fit. It is in the imperfect

adaptations that natural selection is revealed, because it is

those imperfections that show us that structure has a history.

If there were no imperfections, there would be no evidence of

history, and therefore nothing to favor evolution by natural

selection over creation (1984, p 29).

Dr. Henry Morris, speaking specifically about the comments made by

Cherfas, makes an interesting observation:

This is an amazing admission. The main evidence against creation

and for evolution is that natural selection doesn't work! If

there were no "imperfect" structures in nature, the evidence

would all favor creation. No wonder evolution has to be imposed

by authority and bombast, rather than reason, if this is its

only real evidence! (1985, p 177).

Yet this is exactly what Gould has suggested: "Odd arrangements and

funny solutions are the proof of evolution...." (1980, p 20, emp.


The creationist, however, is not willing to usurp the Creator's

prerogative and, like the evolutionist, tell Him what He can (and

cannot) do, or what is (and what is not) acceptable. As Dr. Frair


Yet the creationist lacks the option (open to the evolutionist)

of assuming purposelessness. Human curiosity being what it is,

the creationist will be motivated to inquire concerning the

purpose of the universe and all its features. The purpose for

most things will not be found. What we do find may, nonetheless,

be sufficient justification for the endeavor (1983, pp 31-32).


It is clear that evolutionists are "grasping at straws" when the

"new" argument from suboptimality is the best they can offer. Actually,

this argument is not new at all. Darwin, in his `Origin of Species',

addressed this very argument in 1859. Modern evolutionists---desperate

to find something they can use as evidence against design in the

Universe (and thus against the Designer)---have resurrected it from the

relic heaps of history, given it a different name, and attempted to

foist it upon the public as a legitimate response to the creationists'

argument from design. Once again they have had to set themselves up as

the Creator in order to try to convince people that no Creator exists.

And once again, they have failed.


Cherfas, Jeremy (1984), `New Scientist', May 17.

Davis, Percival, and Dean H. Kenyon (1989), `Of Pandas and People'

(Dallas, TX: Haughton Publishing).

Dawkins, Richard (1986), `The Blind Watchmaker' (New York: W.W.


Frair, Wayne A. and Percival Davis (1983), `A Case for Creation'

(Chicago, IL: Moody).

Futuyma, Douglas (1983), `Science on Trial' (New York: Pantheon).

`Giant Panda Zoobook' (undated), (San Diego, CA: San Diego Zoo).

Gould, Stephen Jay (1980), `The Panda's Thumb' (New York: W.W.


Jackson, Wayne (1989), "Some Atheistic Arguments Answered," `Reason

& Revelation', 9:1-3.

Morris, Henry M. (1985), `Creation and the Modern Christian' (El

Cajon, CA: Master Books).

Ricci, Paul (1986), `Fundamentals of Critical Thinking' (Lexington, 11

ME: Ginn Press).

Scadding, S.R. (1981), `Evolutionary Theory', May.

Schaller, George B., Hu Jinchu, Pan Wenshi, and Zhu Jing (1985),

`The Giant Pandas of Wolong' (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago



(C) 1991 Apologetics Press, Inc All Rights Reserved


This file may be copied, but is distributed on the understanding that

it will not be modified or edited, and will not be used for commercial

purposes. Further, it may not be copied without due reference to the

original publication source, author, year, and name and address of the


Apologetics Press

230 Landmark Drive

Montgomery, AL 36117-2752