If God Designed Humans, How Do We Account for “Design Flaws”?

A friend posed a question to me the other day that I found interesting. I’ve copied it below:

Given: God is good, all knowing, all powerful.

If he had designed us intelligently, then he would have known that at some point in time, many of his children would become rather prosperous, even those who are considered “the least among us” in the US are reasonably prosperous, compared to Jesus time, and truly most of the world has improved it’s standard of living to some extent, even though there are hundreds of millions if not over a billion that have poor access to water.

Given that he would know that his children would generally become this prosperous, why did he then design us so that we could become obese and diseased (in the various ways that we do) just by being averagely prosperous. Granted, many are extraordinarily or at least partially gluttonous, but many eat more or less reasonably and still become obese and diseased. Is this not, in some manner of thinking, a design flaw? I’m not per se arguing this, but the thought came to me, and I thought that you might enjoy the thought experiment if nothing else.”

Physiologically speaking, my friend raises a great point. In many ways, the human body does seem more proficient at dealing with food scarcity (for example, by utilizing ketone bodies during starvation) than with food excess (for example, its limited means of excreting cholesterol).

wall-e obesity

[Name that Pixar film]

Theologically speaking, we’re left with an apparent dilemma. It’s true that the mere presence of “design flaws” doesn’t, in itself, undermine the existence of a designer. (If a bridge or building has a structural flaw, it was probably still designed by an engineer or architect). Yet if God is a maximally great being, shouldn’t humans (being God’s highest creation, and all) be optimally designed? Shouldn’t our bodies be flawless, if God is flawless?

I don’t think so – although I do understand why one might ask the question.

My friend (a medical student) was specifically referring to metabolic diseases of the developed world…but I think we can safely lump together all examples of physical flaws. This includes everything from autoimmune disorders and birth defects to cancers and aging.

Speaking for myself, the presence of such flaws is easier to understand when I try to imagine what the absence of “design flaws” would look like. If our bodies were designed flawlessly, wouldn’t that necessarily entail immortality and perfect health? When we look at Scripture, I think the Christian has grounds for arguing that this is exactly what God originally intended for us, and still intends for us.

garden of eden fall of adam

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” –Genesis 3:17-19 (NIV)

So rather than regarding our physical flaws as a problem of design, I would be more inclined to attribute them to the effects of sin. And this pattern can be found elsewhere, when we stop to examine various aspects of human psychology, sexuality, sociology, etc. The physicalist might claim that humanity’s existence has the markings of randomness, but I believe it has every appearance of a good thing that’s been tainted – a sort of “fallen paradise”, if you will. (For those who are interested, I’ve written more on this topic HERE.)

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16 thoughts on “If God Designed Humans, How Do We Account for “Design Flaws”?

  1. When we look at our bodies, at nature in general, we are looking through the lens of the fall. We see marvelous design and wonder at every hand, but also tooth and claw violence, disease, and “flaws.” That we see the wonder is a gift, but it is also a reminder that the earth is groaning for redemption, for rescue. The hints of awe keep us hoping for what will be.

  2. Just another point of view here, I read once that we are supposed to be perfect, that through our own egotistical flaws, like greed and envy, we corrupted our own DNA along the way. This resulted in our physical flaw. This part of the whole consciousness trip, where we control everything in own universe, (manifestation etc) and not a deity.

  3. If I may offer a more secular perspective, any finite thing has specific nature. It responds well to some situations, and poorly to others. As a result, features of human nature that are helpful under conditions of scarcity become troublesome or even harmful under conditions of plenty. As they say at Microsoft, “it’s not a bug: it’s a feature.”

  4. “Design-flaws” allow potential for incredible growth, if they are internally overcome. I think the main way that is done is by having faith that God intended this “flaw” for a reason… In this way the righteous are saved and the non-believers doom themselves. Truly this is a mighty design.

  5. Nothing can undermine the designer, because his designers, the theists, can always come up with theological explanations. That’s the trick of theology. You don’t actually have to demonstrate the correctness of any hypothesis. That’s why there can be so many different theological answers to any problem posed. It’s all in the imagination. Sin is a very convenient theological concept. Whatever imperfections one might see in God can be deflected right back to man. It really is a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes – it cannot be denied how fine they are. Well, yes, if they aren’t accessible to examination.

    “Theologically speaking, we’re left with an apparent dilemma.”

    Never for very long it seems. I’m always amazed that when God really is puzzling, even to the faithful, that he is conveniently ineffable. And yet the religious are able to explain in great detail so much about this God, by what appears to be nothing more than making stuff up.

    • I have to agree.

      That’s probably the one thing that turns me off about Christianity the most. It’s not Jesus. It’s not even the idea of Jesus rising from the dead.

      It’s that somehow, this “taint” “infected” “Adam” when he “disobeyed”, causing him to “fall” and require a “sacrifice” to achieve “salvation”. I’ve put the overly-churchy words in quotes, not to make fun, but illustrate how ridiculous this might seem to the curious realist.

      Now of course, some Christians will tell you that this was part of God’s punishment. Others will tell you that Sin is a natural consequence of disobedience. In neither case can they actually account for what it actually is.

      Somehow, this “taint” results in hell if left untreated. This “taint” can (apparently) be treated by sacrificing the innocent. Animals originally served this purpose, but Christ served as the final treatment/sacrifice. Again, nobody can really explain how this works. And they can’t entirely agree on what happened, either. Some Christians say that Christ rose and “defeated” sin/death/satan, meaning that somehow his resurrection facilitated his ability to combat the taint. Others say that Christ served as an innocent sacrifice to “save” those who accept him. It’s not really mentioned why resurrection or sacrifice is needed.

      Is there some sort of transphysical Law, some sort of mechanism, whereupon a “perfect” person can die to save another? Or did Christ traverse time as he died, simultaneously fighting the taint in all humans who have/will ever accept him? If he died fighting the taint (“took on” the sins of the world, so to speak), how isn’t this considered suicide if God was the one to originally impose the punishment? So if God imposes punishment with little apparent effort, God has to die to lift the punishment? And if God didn’t impose sin as a punishment, how does sin somehow “locate” a disobedient person in order to infect them?

      And, I mean, what is this “taint” anyway? How does it “locate” human disobedience in order to infect the disobeyer? Or, if it’s created through disobedience, how does that work? If it’s a punishment instead of a disobedience disease, how does God justify inflicting a supernatural weapon of mass destruction on us, then deciding to save us 4000 years later? How does it affect DNA and cause biological flaws (and how are we even defining “flaw” anyway)?

      Basically, I could construct a tree showing all possible interpretations of sin, and I’d still have to raise problematic questions at the end of every branch. I believe the Christian apologist is under an obligation to explain this. “You just have to believe” isn’t good enough, because I would argue that the existence of sin is a fundamental premise of Christianity, even if no one can describe it in a consistent fashion.

    • That’s odd because one could say the exact same thing for Darwinian evolution. Evolutionists keep trying to come up with ideas of how we evolved but cannot demonstrate any scientific data, only what they have imagined to have happened. Whether one admits it or not, the atheist and the theist are both based on faith!

  6. Thanks for another interesting blog/topic, Matt. I’m no doctor or scientist, but I think diet is a huge part of our health problems, and the Bible has a lot to say about what is good to eat and what isn’t. Unfortunately, God’s dietary laws are falsely relegated to the “done away” bin without a second thought. A good study on a healthy diet is that of the Prophet Daniel.

    On the question of perfection in physical life I don’t think it was ever possible, with the exception of perfection in character, as shown in Christ. I believe if Adam and Eve had been obedient and eaten of the Tree of Life they would have been changed to spirit beings akin to God, as is shown by 1 John 3:2 & Romans 8:16-19, 29 & Hebrews 2:10 & Genesis 1:26-27.

    Running late… have the good day!

  7. Part of the problem with people claiming there are design flaws is that their definition of a flaw seems to be “If I were God, I wouldn’t have done it that way, therefore it’s a flaw.”

    To use the post above as an example, there’s the reference to “obesitiy and disease”, as if one leads to the other, or that they are connected. “Obese” is a modern, medicalized term for something that was often considered beneficial, and our ideas about obesity as *being* some sort of disease is based more on cultural trends than actual evidence. Many study results have shown that being in the “overweight” and even “obese” categories is actually beneficial. People in those categories live longer and, when they do get sick, recover more quickly. (The “best” BMI category to be in is “overweight,” while the most dangerous is “underweight”, according to mortality statistics.) Gaining weight as we get older, particularly was we reach menopause and andropause, has health benefits. Body fat is not an inert substance and there have even been suggestions to reclassify body fat as an organ, as it releases hormones into the body.

    When people talk about “obesity” as a bad thing, they are mixing correlation with causation. When it comes to all the increased risk factors associated with being fat, it turns out that those risk factors disappear when examing larger people who have never dieted. In other words, it’s calorie restrictive dieting that leads to these increased risk factors (as well as un-natural weight gain, because calorie restrictive dieting destroys normal functioning), not being large in the first place. Unnatural weight gain would better be thought of as a symptom, not a cause, of illness.

    Other examples against design I’ve seen used are “vestigial organs” such as the appendix, which turns out to harbour healthy bacteria and actually plays an important part in our digestive health. Another is the coccyx, which people refer to as a vestigial tail that has no use – yet if you look at any chart showing human musculature, you can see that the coccyx is where a number of large muscles are attached.

    When people talk about “flaws” in biology, my question to them would be, can you think of a better way to do it? Often, any of their alternative suggestions on how “fix” these flaws wouldn’t work, or would be even worse flaws than what they consider to be a flaw in the first place.

    • When religious people say god created the universe they are mixing correlation with causation. The natural appearance of the universe correlates with a religious fantasy repeating in the heads of theists several billion years later. We can all play the correlation causation game.

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  9. Matt,
    Met your blog for the first time today! Blessings on you and your pursuit of excellence.
    4 comments:
    1. Conceptual perfection: what seems to be talked about in this post is an idea ported from platonism to our understanding of the Bible, and not biblical
    2. The Bible nowhere says God created us perfect
    3. It says: “very good” and in another place “wonderfully made” = it works, and so things have for a very long time; the universe and our bodies are extremely intricate and all those interrelated parts work together mostly smoothly
    4. God, who is perfect, created the universe; since the universe is not part of God but distinct from him, it is by definition not perfect but is very good
    These points do not speak to the fuzzy thinking re: whether our bodies were made to handle food excess, how sin leads to wrong choices, etc.

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  11. You haven’t really addressed the issue about design flaws, and the question your friend asked is a straw man. The tendency to obesity isn’t a design flaw. And people would still be mortal even without the design flaws that evolutionists point out. Look up “argument from poor design” in Wikipedia or someplace, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

    Here’s a quick question: Did the vas deferens take a direct path before the Fall? Or another question: Was the retina stuck on backwards before the Fall the way it is today?

    I’m not saying the argument from poor design can’t be defeated, but I’m just saying you look silly when you make a blog post where you don’t even seem to know what the argument is.

  12. It would probably be profitable to spend some time thinking about how we define flaw? Is this equated with sin or simply physical defect and what is a defent anyway, ? These are very difficult to define but without a definition, talking about their origins because an exercise in a futility. A thought exercise to help would be to ask oneself the question, if the original creation were “perfect” was there any variation in organisms? In other words, would all organisms have looked absolutely identical and behaved the same way? Do we require that God created all things with no variation. I ask, because if there is any difference physically or in behavior then how would one define perfection in that world? If there was variation then one immediately would be tempted to make value judgments on the benefit of one variant over another just as we do today. Things can get really murky really quick when trying to assign the term flaw to them. Is the ability for some humans to tolerate cold temperature and high altitudes a flaw or a great design? If the first humans lived in a flawless world with no variation in climate etc.. why have such a design so it seems that changing the ability of blood to carry oxygen at high altitude is a design flaw in those that live at low elevations where it actually caused them to be less fit but it could be lauded as a great design feature if they lived at high elevation. Just giving you something to think about. My head starts hurting when trying to assign cause for design.

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