The Problem in the Intelligent Design Argument

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The Intelligent Design Argument has a well-known flaw that is often used by critics against it: The world is not perfectly designed. In a hilariously perverse example of this argument (that I saw on YouTube a few weeks ago), an atheist argues that men’s testicles are not perfectly designed because they are hanging outside the body which makes them susceptible to be attacked by other men (or women).

The critic now argues: If they were designed (supposedly by God) then they should have been designed even better. They cite examples of certain species where the testicles are inside the body. Surely, if the testicles were inside the body, then they would not have the flaw of being prone to attack by others. But since they are not, it follows that things are not perfectly designed. Evidently, you cannot claim that God has designed them, although imperfectly, because that would make God the imperfect designer.

These arguments against Intelligent Design are a variation of the Argument from Evil. For instance, if human bodies were perfectly designed, then they should potentially resist all diseases. They would never become old and weak, and we would not be subject to death by diseases and old age. Since suffering, diseases, old age, and death exist, therefore, it is implied that our bodies are not perfectly designed. The existence of evil in this world implies that God did not design the world perfectly. It now follows that either God produces imperfect designs so He must be imperfect. Or, there is no God.

This argument works because the Argument from Evil works. In fact, it is the Argument from Evil. Even if it is framed in different terms, the essence of the argument is unchanged. You can frame the argument from evil either as suffering or as badly designed bodies.

This is when we have to look at things differently where “design” is natural and the seeming “absence of design” is also natural. Design arises in nature because of purpose—to assist the living entity’s enjoyment. But the suffering also arises in nature because of purpose—to purify the soul of the desire for enjoyment. Therefore, Evil is also designed, but the purposes behind good and evil are different.

If there was perfect design, and nobody fell sick or died, then the purpose of enjoyment would be fulfilled, but the purpose of purification would not be. Conversely, if there was only suffering, then the purpose of purification would be fulfilled, but the living entity could claim that God doesn’t allow any independent enjoyment. By forcing the living entity to merely serve Him, God would become the tyrant.

The answer to the Problem of Evil in Vedic philosophy is karma and reincarnation. A living entity can perform good deeds and go to heavenly planets where there is no sickness; their bodies are much better designed. But this karma expires and the living entity returns to the lower planets where he is forced to suffer until he performs great austerities to attain the more perfectly designed body again.

Therefore, there are more perfectly designed bodies, but our body is less perfectly designed. The claim that the world is “designed” doesn’t mean that everything is perfectly designed. There are many grades of design such that Brahma’s body lives for trillions of years, below him there are bodies that live for billions of years, below him are bodies that live for millions of years, and below him are bodies that live for thousands of years. We, on the other hand, barely live for a hundred years. Each type of body is acquired based on past deeds, which is quite like a dress you pay for. To buy a more durable dress, which is more perfectly designed, you have to pay a higher price. The world is not just designed; it is also a marketplace of opportunities where you get to wear something for some time for a certain price.

The problem with the Intelligent Design Argument illustrates a shape-shifting dichotomy in which the arguments for and against God’s existence coevolve. If the trait of God is benevolence, then the opponent will cite the existence of evil in the form of pain and suffering. If the trait of God is intelligence leading to perfect design, then the opponent will cite the lack of intelligence leading to imperfect design. If the trait of God is omnipotence leading to the power to cure illnesses, then the opponent will cite its absence through the sickness of devout people.

This is not a path by which we can advance the understanding either of God or that of religion, because the problems of choice and responsibility, desiring and deserving, followed by karma and reincarnation are missing. Since Abrahamic religions don’t accept karma and reincarnation, the Argument of Design will remain as futile as the previous arguments because the Problem of Evil hasn’t yet been solved.

The correct design argument is that it is produced from purpose, but the purpose is divided into two parts—desiring and deserving, which are called guna and karma. Someone gets a strong body resilient to diseases and someone gets a weak body prone to diseases. Both are based on their karma. Since there are always weaknesses in a body, therefore, nobody is completely free from fear. And the presence of weaknesses implies that there is some enjoyment and some suffering. Finally, there is also a type of body that is perfectly designed and it is free from all diseases and suffering, and is called the spiritual body. It is eternal precisely because it is a perfectly designed type of body.

Thus, God has created all kinds of bodies—from very weak and short-lived to very strong and eternal. The design for a weak body is also intentional, just like the design for a strong body. How intention transforms into a design, and how design is materially realized into a certain type of body, is a deeper issue that requires a revision of the understanding of matter. And the essence of that understanding is that nature is created from the modes of Prakṛti such that the better-designed body is a qualitatively different kind of body. Nature has to be studied as qualities (rather than quantities) to even grasp that science of purpose leading to design which then leads to a specific body.

The modern Intelligent Design Argument tries to supervene “design” on physical properties, without recognizing that it is a category quite different from the “stuff” that makes up things. If the “stuff” were like clay, then the design of clay into toys cannot be reduced merely to the “stuff”. However, once we recognize that clay can be molded into many designs, then the question arises: Who gets which type of body? And in which circumstances should the body be placed to expose or hide its weaknesses? A body more suited to its circumstances would seem much better designed because its flaws are never exposed. This is when karma becomes absolutely necessary because it determines the environment in which a certain type of body is placed where its natural strength or weakness is revealed, tested, and known.

In short, karma and reincarnation are not merely religious issues; they are also important to the questions of design, whether that design is strong or weak, and whether those strengths and weaknesses are exposed or hidden. In so far as these questions are important to biology, there cannot be an understanding of life (or of the evolution of life forms) unless these ideas are imbibed in scientific theories.

Cite this article as:

Ashish Dalela, "The Problem in the Intelligent Design Argument," in Shabda Journal, August 27, 2021,