The Other I.D.

/ by Maggie Wittlin /

An interview with Don Wise, creator of "incompetent design"

donwise.jpg Incompetent design theorist Don Wise. Courtesy of Don Wise

Don Wise, professor emeritus of geosciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, is the nation’s foremost proponent of ID. No, Wise isn’t getting ready to testify on behalf of the school board in Dover, PA. Rather, he advocates for a different version of the acronym: “incompetent design.”

Wise cites serious flaws in the systems of the human body as evidence that design in the universe exhibits not an obvious source of, but a sore lack of, intelligence. Seed asked him to chat about his theory, reactions he’s received to it, and the anthem he penned to rally people to his cause.

Regarding incompetent design, why is the creator not intelligent?
I didn’t say that! We don’t get into religion. The last thing we want to do is get into arguments of religion, a creator and so on. We’re just: “Is there, or is there not, intelligence in the design?”

So is there intelligence in the design?
Yes! No, no there isn’t. The thing that perhaps is closest to all of us is our own skeleton, and there are certainly all kinds of stupidity in our design. No self-respecting engineering student would make the kinds of dumb mistakes that are built into us.
All of our pelvises slope forward for convenient knuckle-dragging, like all the other great apes. And the only reason you stand erect is because of this incredible sharp bend at the base of your spine, which is either evolution’s way of modifying something or else it’s just a design that would flunk a first-year engineering student.
Look at the teeth in your mouth. Basically, most of us have too many teeth for the size of our mouth. Well, is this evolution flattening a mammalian muzzle and jamming it into a face or is it a design that couldn’t count accurately above 20?
Look at the bones in your face. They’re the same as the other mammals’ but they’re just squashed and contorted by jamming the jaw into a face with your brain expanding over it, so the potential drainage system in there is so convoluted that no plumber would admit to having done it!
So is this evolution or is this plain stupid design?

dentalxray.jpg Wise argues we have too many teeth for our mouth.

You must have received some serious criticism of your somewhat jestful theory?
Well, I got one, which I showed at the Geological Society of America (GSA) meetings.
An envelope postmarked Minneapolis, with monkeys all over it and inside it, with a great big blue ribbon, a note saying I had been awarded the “Moron of the Month” award, that I was a dork, an idiot, that only someone who thought their ancestors were monkeys would be dumb enough to say what I had, asking me if I wanted to debate it. It left an email address at “darwinistsaredumb@hotmail.com.”
These are the kind of things you NEVER really answer, but I couldn’t resist. So I used the H.L. Menken approach:

Dear Sir,
You should be aware that some idiot is writing absolute nonsense and signing your e-mail address to it. You should take action on this before your reputation is further sullied!

But most of the things I’ve gotten have been positive.

If you were to redesign things, how would you make design intelligent?
Well, for one thing I would put fewer teeth in our mouths. I would put fewer bones in our face, so that it could drain properly. I would straighten up the pelvis so we wouldn’t have to have that bend. I would certainly take out the appendix so we don’t have that problem and the tonsils, too.
And I did have one other. Some guy from Texas listed a number of things with this and he said, “Actually I would write more, but I have to go pee in Morse code, because some idiot designed my aging prostate.”
Intelligent designers and, in fact, everybody from the creationists and so on back to the beginning of the last century used to talk about the wonderful design of the eye—which somehow has all your receptor cells behind a membrane curtain!
I mean, evolutionarily all of these things make sense but in terms of a reasonable, intelligent design? They’re idiocy. So, the argument is there is no intelligence there in a lot of these things.

Some people argue that the system of evolution itself is some sort of intelligent design. Do you have any response to that?
Again, you’re dealing with the supernatural, and this is something that’s not science. Basically we operate with questions that are answerable by evidence. Once you get into the supernatural there is no evidence. Anything can go one way or the other. So, I think it is just kind of nonsense to suggest otherwise, that there is no way you can prove it one way or another.

The song you wrote is wonderful. (Download a video of the song here.)

(Here are the lyrics, sung to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”)
My bones proclaim a story of incompetent design.
My back still hurts, my sinus clogs, my teeth just won’t align.
If I had drawn the blueprint, I would cer-tain-ly resign.
Incompetent Design!
Evo-Evo-Evo-lution! Design is but a mere illusion.
Darwin sparked our revolution. Science SHALL prevail!

The singers were all perfectly off-key. 
Oh, they’re terrible!
But I still had an audience of about 300 singing that lustily at the end of the GSA meeting in, I would think, at least four different keys and out of sync. Oh, it was gloriously terrible.

Originally published November 15, 2005

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