Non-intelligent Non-design

A living organism is so very, very complex, yet fits and works so smoothly, that the straight-line code-path is to impute this to a Designer of superhuman intelligence and superhuman skills. Creationists, furthermore, postulate a single overarching Divine Designer for all organisms. One of their favourite anti-evolution arguments is to pick something – the eye, the bombardier beetle and so forth – and claim that it could not have evolved, because it’s irreducibly complex. While each such example can and has been refuted, it gets tiresome (and they’re not convinced, anyway). Let me present here a counter-example, a breathtaking flaw in so basic a life process that is very hard to reconcile with the notion of intelligent and intentional design. I’m talking about something we hold synonymous with life itself – breath. The absolute and unyielding importance which the body attaches to its air supply is readily familiar to anyone who has tried to hold his breath for a while… but it’s not very consistent about it.

Years ago, my father told me of an industrial accident he had witnessed. Someone had climbed into a reaction chamber for routine inspection during a plant shutdown, when, unknown to him, a hidden hand opened a valve which flooded the chamber with nitrogen. He collapsed after a few minutes, unconscious. Another person climbed in to see what was wrong, tried to revive the unconscious engineer and himself collapsed. Both died for lack of oxygen soon after.

I remember being extremely surprised and somewhat skeptical – surely they would have felt the same rising panic we feel when holding our breath? There would be enough time and strength left over for a mad dash to the exit, even if it involved a climb… something didn’t add up.

Recently, I heard of a few more such accidents, and remembering the old story, dug around a bit. Turns out that the urge to breathe – air hunger – is triggered, not by low blood oxygen levels, but high carbon dioxide levels! Wikipedia continues: In mammals (with the notable exception of seals and some burrowing mammals), the breathing reflex is triggered by excess of carbon dioxide rather than lack of oxygen, so asphyxiation progresses in oxygen-deprived environments, such as storage vessels purged with nitrogen or helium balloons, without the victim experiencing air hunger. There are other interesting links about using nitrogen asphyxiation as a painless, humane method of killing animals including humans.

Wow. So as long as you continue to expel carbon dioxide from your blood (which will happen if your airways are unrestricted and there is some gas flowing in and out), you aren’t going to turn a hair if oxygen rapidly gets depleted and you die as a result. I can hardly find words to describe the gross incompetence such a “design” would suggest. How difficult would it have been to add a one-liner to the breath reflex trigger? Given the cardinal importance of oxygen, the violent reaction in the standard case of air hunger, and the vast array of biotechnology (as exhibited by other animals) available to the purported Designer, such a lapse is simply unbelievable.

When viewed through the lens of evolution by natural selection, it makes perfect sense, of course. Standard atmospheric nitrogen-oxygen mix was the only thing which the affected animals were ever exposed to. In such environments, a rise in carbon dioxide levels is always strongly correlated to oxygen deprivation, so a panic response to CO2 is good enough. Such “good enough” solutions not-designed by blind, not-intelligent evolution can be stable for millions of years, in the absence of selection pressure to the contrary.

Bad Designer, no cookie.

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3 responses to “Non-intelligent Non-design

  1. Pingback: » Intelligent design is neither designed nor intelligent

  2. Mysterious are the ways of g-d, you heathen ;)

  3. Wow! you enlightened me :)
    But again, as a self awareness when O2 is getting lesser dont a person feel anything ? surely they should have felt a difference, may be late though..

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