Unintelligent Design

Shitty Analogies are for Assholes

Graphic Christopher Olson

Analogies are like a fish without a bicycle… no, wait. Analogies are like tadpoles without a tricycle… Ah, forget it.

The point is that analogies, at best, can be an effective means of compacting a complex scientific set of rules into something that’s understandable to the layman. At worst, they can get someone so lost in abstraction that you can get them to believe just about anything.

And when they get into the wrong hands… whoo boy. They can trash a century of high school science curriculum.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before; “DNA is like the programming language God uses.”
This analogy assumes God is a n00b.

Seriously, like, he couldn’t get hired by Wang Laboratories. His ability to program data sucks.

Remember when you got that new operating system that fixed all the problems your old operating system had? Well, remember when that new operating system had an enormous glitch that caused your video card to overheat and burn your house down, which had to be corrected by a downloadable patch?

Evolution through mutation and adaptation is like a never-ending series of patches—if you’ll forgive the analogy.

Humans aren’t Cavemen™ Version 2.0. They’re single-celled organism Version 1. Some of those patches add gills, then legs to crawl onto land, and then a patch to remove the gills.

If God were at all a competent programmer, he’d toss out the human genome and rewrite it from scratch, omitting the vestigial remains of our ancestors—as well as the predisposition to cancerous tumours and stuff. Seriously, you thought your house burning down was bad?

So you’re forced to either believe that God is a shitty programmer (which is probably against your religion) or you’re forced to acknowledge that “DNA is like God’s programming language” is a shitty analogy.

Stop me if you’ve heard this analogy before: “The human eye couldn’t have evolved, because if you remove any part of the eye it would cease to work, just like removing a gear from a clock will cause it to stop telling time.”

If you correctly identified this as an example of irreducible complexity, aka the foundation for intelligent design, you win a prize: the light of reason!

First off, the analogy is wrong. Just flat out wrong. Granted, an eye without a cornea wouldn’t be quite as useful, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have any use at all.

There are numerous examples in the animal kingdom of earlier iterations of the human eye that are still widely in use, and many that have even evolved independently alongside it. Each of them adheres enough of an evolutionary advantage that they remain, however imperfect by our standards of sight, generation after generation.

Many examples of supposedly irreducibly complex organs don’t take into account that they may have been used for other purposes at one point, or they neglect that those organs once contained additional parts, which were made redundant or useless by subsequent evolutionary tweaks.

For example, gills are pretty useless when you have a perfectly good mouth to breath through, and when you don’t live underwater. So away they go. But never forget: we couldn’t have gotten to this stage without them.

When looking at the pyramids and wondering how they were constructed, it can be tempting to say, “Space aliens must have done it,” when you don’t know all the support structures and scaffolding that needed to be constructed alongside it, and then were disassembled following its construction.

Or in the case of evolution, no longer needed and thus no longer selected for.

American author and naturalist Henry David Thoreau once said, “All perception of truth is the detection of an analogy.”

As naturalized American citizen Christopher Hitchens often says, creationism has the advantage of being the first attempt to explain the fundamental questions of life, “Why are we here? Why is there something instead of nothing?”

Science, when used productively, can explain almost all of the mysteries of the universe. Analogies, by analogy, can make even the most complex rational argument for even the most erudite theorem graspable by the public at large—until a better analogy comes along, of course.

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 12, published November 2, 2010.