A Ham-Handed Creator?
Consider, for example, one of Jerry Coyne’s favorite “proofs” of evolution, the recurrent laryngeal nerve. Coyne informs his readers that “It’s a prime example of ‘bad design,’ that is, of the ham-handedness of any creator that was responsible for designing organisms” because “It’s much longer than it need be, taking a tortuous route several feet longer than the direct path from brain to neck.”
But, according to Coyne, with evolution it all makes perfect sense. You see in the fish, the nerve lined up with a blood vessel, with both the nerve and blood vessel servicing the gills. But when the population of fish turned into a population of humans, and the blood vessel migrated rearwards, the nerve had no choice but to go along for the ride for it was looped around the vessel. The result is a nerve that winds its way along a circuitous route from the brain, down into our chest, and then back up to larynx.
Of course the nerve interacts with tissue along the way, but so what? It’s obviously a bad design. And what’s even more obvious is that there must be an untold number of such geometric constraints and puzzles as evolution shuffled the insides of the species it created. It can’t even reroute a little nerve cell and so as evolution began creating species the set of future species it could possibly create must have rapidly narrowed. It’s truly amazing that evolution could do much at all given all these constraints.
And yet there it is. Evolution created millions of species, each with their own design treasures. A biological universe filled with mechanical, electrical and chemical wonders. Somehow evolution did it all, even though it is so limited.
In fact one of those wonders is the recurrent laryngeal nerve itself. You see nerve cells are not little wires or hollow tubes carrying little electrical charges. They are incredibly fine-tuned, ingenious biological signal carriers that operate by a chemical choreography sending charged ions back and forth across its membrane to produce an action potential that progresses along the nerve.
And as nerves get longer, they get even more complex. That is the case with the recurrent laryngeal nerve. In the giraffe it is about 15 feet long. And in whales and dinosaurs they are much longer still. This creates significant design problems, such as how the nerve would transport necessary molecules, both large and small, from one end of the nerve to the other. It would take too long so evolution must have come up with some creative solutions. Pretty amazing stuff for the blind watchmaker that couldn’t reroute the nerve.
So what exactly is evolution telling us here? The history of evolutionary thought is full of failed claims of bad design. Over and over evolutionists have been convinced that nature’s designs were meaningless claptraps, only later to be shown up by scientific discoveries revealing clever function. But all the while evolutionists remained unfazed. At first, the meaningless claptrap reveals there was no designer. And later, the discovered function reveals an adaptation. One way or another, evolution did it.
Furthermore, evolutionists remain unfazed when amazing new mechanisms and structures are found. Whether the nerves are restructured, or the body plan is redesigned, evolutionists are sure that evolution created it. After all, it was selected for.
The recurrent laryngeal nerve is just another one of these stories. Evolutionists have no idea how it could have evolved. They have no idea how any nerve cell could have evolved for that matter. But they are sure it must have. Nor do they have any idea what are all the functions of the nerve.
Their certainty has little to do with evolutionary mechanisms and pathways, which are usually quite speculative. Rather, their certainty has to do with the quality and aesthetics of the design. It doesn’t work, or if it does work it doesn’t look right. They are making non scientific, metaphysical judgments about the biological world. And their theory consists of so many just-so stories, immune to empirical data and removed from the realities of science. We might say it is a vacuous tautology that appeals to unknown or unreal causes. But that would be quote mining.
Religion drives science, and it matters.