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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“Does God Pose an Authority Problem for You?”

While reading a recent post from Wintery Knight, I stumbled upon an excellent little article from Tough Questions Answered. I’m just passing this along third-hand, so I definitely recommend checking out the entire thing:

“Many of the people I know who reject God or who have crafted a God that makes no demands on them have a fundamental problem with authority.  They don’t want anybody telling them what to do.

For a person who wants complete autonomy, who chafes at the thought of anyone having authority over them, a creator God who makes demands is way inconvenient.

Many people who believe in God, but also have this authority hang-up, create their own version of God.  This God gives them what they want when they want it.  He approves of everything they do, as long as they are just trying to be happy.  He encourages them to follow their desires, wherever they lead.  C. S. Lewis compared this God to a senile, old grandfather who never says “no” to his grandchildren.  You want chocolate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?  No problem!” (continue reading here)

This resonated with me because I, too, have observed a correlation between those who reject traditional Christianity (either by adopting a very flimsy, self-centered, humanistic kind of theology, or by turning to atheism or agnosticism), and those who have difficulty accepting authority in general. This seems particularly true for my own generation.

I was also reminded of a college class I took in which we studied the book of Genesis. My classmates came from very diverse backgrounds, so this opened the door for some interesting discussions (to say the least). One of the most prominent themes in Genesis is the idea of “faithful obedience”. Just think about Adam and Eve being instructed by God not to eat from a specific tree; think about Noah being instructed by God to build an ark; think about Abraham being instructed by God to leave his homeland, and later being told to sacrifice his son Isaac.

In every case, the individual is being asked to submit to God’s authority as an act of faith. Quite honestly, this is a virtue that isn’t widely recognized by society today (nor was it regarded as such by most of my fellow students). From the time we’re children, we’re constantly being taught to question all forms of authority – to analyze and critically examine the world around us. I mean, let’s face it: to most people, words like “rebellion” and “independence” carry a lot more appeal than the word “obedience”. The thought of putting aside our own reason and placing our trust in God’s authority is often regarded as a sign of ignorance, weakness, even foolishness.

Yet if we take the Bible seriously, we see that this kind of obedience really is a virtue. I would even go so far as to say that humble obedience to God is the most basic and fundamental form of good. After all, it’s the exact opposite of pride – arguably the most basic and fundamental form of evil.