Should We Have Perfect Bodies?

  It's a humbling experience we've all had on the way to the morning shower -- looking at our bodies in the mirror. Even the physically fit can spot areas for improvement. And some of us, of course, don't need a mirror to tell us what needs fixing! We're not perfect creatures. But do our imperfections prove that we're evolved by natural selection, and not created by an intelligent designer? Well, a recent article in the magazine Scientific American makes that very claim. Entitled "If Humans Were Built to Last," the article by S. Jay Olshansky, Bruce Carnes, and Robert Butler argues that the human body reflects the mindless process of natural selection, and not purposeful design. Olshansky and colleagues write that many of our physical shortcomings exist because natural selection causes us to survive "just long enough to reproduce." Once we've passed on our genes, they say, our bodies start to fall apart. If we had been intelligently designed, they argue, we should last much longer. And we wouldn't choke on food, suffer detached retinas, or a host of other ailments. Well, this argument for naturalistic evolution dates back well before Darwin. The eighteenth-century philosopher David Hume, for one, argued that the miseries of human existence are best explained by "blind nature," not design. But this misrepresents what intelligent design really says. It also overlooks the powerful insights of the Christian worldview. First, intelligent design does not say that any currently existing organism, including human beings, should be perfect. Every designed system in our present universe is subject to physical laws, and involves trade-offs with a wide range of functional requirements. Consider, for example, your throat. The esophagus (the passage to the stomach) and the trachea (the passage to the lungs) come together at the top of the throat. When you swallow, a structure called the epiglottis closes to cover your trachea. You can feel this if you put your finger on your Adam's apple and swallow. Sometimes, when people take excessively large bites of food, or if they're inebriated, the epiglottis may not close properly, and they choke. Now, Olshansky and company argue that if our throats had been intelligently designed, this wouldn't happen. They suggest that a better design would have placed the trachea higher, near the nasal passage. . . . Maybe, but maybe not. You see, it would be impossible to speak if air only passed through your nostrils, not your mouth. Catching a cold could be a life-threatening illness, because congestion would block the only pathway for oxygen. And if you needed more air -- running to catch the bus, for example -- sorry, opening your mouth for extra oxygen won't help. Yes, humans occasionally choke. But there is absolutely no evidence that another system would work better. It's easy to speculate about what an intelligent designer would have done, but there's a world of difference between speculation and science. The Christian worldview tells us not to expect perfection. While God created the world, it's also fallen -- a world with illness and pain, waiting to be redeemed by God's new creation. So remember that the next time you look in the bathroom mirror. If your current model is due to expire, don't worry about it: There's an incomparably better one coming! For further reference: Hume, David. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, [1776] 1980. Olshansky, S. Jay, Bruce A. Carnes, and Robert N. Butler. "If Humans Were Built to Last." Scientific American, March 2001, pp. 50-55.


Chuck Colson



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