Bad Design

In his book Why Evolution is True, Jerry Coyne says, “Although organisms appear designed to fit their natural environments, the idea of perfect design is an illusion. Every species is imperfect in many ways. Kiwis have useless wings, whales have a vestigial pelvis, and our appendix is a nefarious organ.” He goes on to say, “What I mean by ‘bad design’ is the notion that if organisms were built from scratch by a designer – one who used the biological building blocks of nerves, muscles, bone, and so on – they would not have such imperfections. Perfect design would truly be the sign of a skilled and intelligent designer. Imperfect design is the mark of evolution; in fact, it’s precisely what we expect from evolution.”

This field of study is often referred to as dysteleology. This is the philosophical view “that existence has no telos or final cause from purposeful design.” (Wikipedia) The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as the “absence of purpose in nature especially as manifested in rudimentary or nonfunctional structures.” (11)

However, the argument of ‘bad design’ is interesting and worth our attention. Is it true that our bodies and various other biological systems reflect ‘bad design’ in some cases? Does this hurt the creation model?

Examples of ‘Bad Design’

Inverted Retina

  • The argument:
    • For light to reach the photoreceptors, it has to pass through the retina’s neural apparatus, which is rather bulky. As a result, the image is degraded. This system is called ‘inverted’ because the sensory ends are directed away from the light.
    • Richard Dawkins, in his book, The Blind Watchmaker, explains, “Any engineer would naturally assume that the photocells would point towards the light, with their wires leading backwards towards the brain. He would laugh at any suggestion that the photocells might point away, from the light, with their wires departing on the side nearest the light. Yet this is exactly what happens in all vertebrate retinas. Each photocell is, in effect, wired in backwards, with its wire sticking out on the side nearest the light. The wire has to travel over the surface of the retina to a point where it dives through a hole in the retina (the so-called ‘blind spot’) to join the optic nerve. This means that the light, instead of being granted an unrestricted passage to the photocells, has to pass through a forest of connecting wires, presumably suffering at least some attenuation and distortion (actually, probably not much but, still, it is the principle of the thing that would offend any tidy-minded engineer). I don’t know the exact explanation for this strange state of affairs. The relevant period of evolution is so long ago.”
  • It is argued that the eye’s “nerves interfere with images” resulting in a “blind spot.”
    • The nerves couldn’t go behind the eye because that’s where the choroid is located. Do the nerves impede vision? No, because they are so small that they are practically transparent and have “about the same refractive index as the surrounding vitreous humor.” (3)
    • Regarding the blind spot, it is “very small in relation to the visual field of an eye, occupying less than .25%.” (4)
    • Some evolutionists claim that the cephalopod (i.e. octopus, squid) eyes are much better, but they don’t see as well as do humans! Besides, these are much simpler eyes and thus cannot be compared.
  • There is good design in the ‘inverted retina!’
    • First of all, evolutionists admit that the inverted retina serves the creatures who possess it very well.
    • “The photoreceptors thus need to be in intimate contact with the retinal pigment epithelium, which is opaque. The retinal pigment epithelium, in turn, needs to be in intimate contact with the choroid (also opaque) both to satisfy its nutritional requirements and to prevent (by means of the heat sink effect of its massive blood flow) overheating of the retina from focused light. If the human retina were ‘wired’ the other way around (the verted configuration), as evolutionists such as Dawkins propose,these two opaque layers would have to be interposed in the path of light to the photoreceptors which would leave them in darkness! Thus I suggest that the need for protection against light-induced damage, which a verted retina in our natural environment could not provide to the same degree, is a major, if not the major reason for the existence of the inverted configuration of the retina.” –Peter Gurney (4)
  • “The idea that the eye is wired backward comes from a lack of knowledge of eye function and anatomy.” –Dr. George Marshal, ophthalmologist (3)
  • Are some animals’ eyes better than ours? In some respects, yes. But as Peter W.V. Gurney put it, “The human eye represents an excellent balance between versatility and performance.” (4)

Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve

  • “One of nature’s worst designs is shown by the recurrent laryngeal nerve of mammals…It is much longer than it needs to be. Rather than taking a direct route from the brain to the larynx, a distance of about a foot in humans, the nerve runs down into our chest, loops around the aorta and a ligament derived from an artery, and then travels back up (‘recurs’) to connect to the larynx.” – Jerrry Coyne, IBID
  • Evolutionist and paleontologist Donald Prothero explains, “In mammals, this nerve avoids the direct route between brain and throat and instead descends into the chest, loops around the aorta near the heart, then returns to the larynx. That makes it seven times longer than it needs to be.” (9)
  • Richard Dawkins has said about the laryngeal nerve: “It is a branch of one of the cranial nerves, those nerves that lead directly from the brain rather than from the spinal cord. One of the cranial nerves, the vagus (the name means ‘wandering’ and is apt), has various branches, two of which go to the heart, and two on each side to the larynx (voice box in mammals). On each side of the neck, one of the branches of the laryngeal nerve goes straight to the larynx, following a direct route such as a designer might have chosen. The other one goes to the larynx via an astonishing detour. It dives right down into the chest, loops around one of the main arteries leaving the heart (a different artery on the left and right sides, but the principle is the same), and then heads back up the neck to its destination.” He concludes, “If you think of it as the product of design, the recurrent laryngeal nerve is a disgrace.
  • Giraffes are the ‘poster child’ of the recurrent laryngeal nerve. Because of their long necks, the laryngeal nerve is “fifteen feet longer than the direct route” (Coyne, IBID).
  • The recurrent L nerve is explained by evolutionists as a leftover from our ‘fishy’ past:
    • Richard Dawkins explains, “During the evolution of the mammals, however, the neck stretched (fish don’t have necks) and the gills disappeared, some of them turning into useful things such as the thyroid and parathyroid glands, and the various other bits and pieces that combine to form the larynx. Those other useful things, including parts of the larynx, received their blood supply and their nerve connections from the evolutionary descendants of the blood vessels and nerves that, once upon a time, served the gills in orderly sequence. As the ancestors of mammals evolved further and further away from their fish ancestors, nerves and blood vessels found themselves pulled and stretched in puzzling directions, which distorted their spatial relations one to another. The vertebrate chest and neck became a mess, unlike the tidily symmetrical, serial repetitiveness of fish gills. And the recurrent laryngeal nerves became more than ordinarily exaggerated casualties of this distortion.”(7)
    • In essence, the vagus nerve descends from the brain to the nerves in aorta and related nerves in the chest, but the laryngeal nerve breaks off from the vagus in the chest, makes a U-turn and returns to the larynx, which is close to the brain.
    • “No engineer would ever make a mistake like that!” –Richard Dawkins (7)
  • How the creation model explains this:
    • “As the recurrent nerve hooks around the subclavian artery or aorta, it gives off several cardiac filaments to the deep part of the cardiac plexus. As it ascends in the neck it gives off branches, more numerous on the left than on the right side, to the mucous membrane and muscular coat of the esophagus; branches to the mucous membrane and muscular fibers of the trachea; and some pharyngeal filaments to the Constrictor pharyngis inferior.” (Gray’s Anatomy, available online at (7)(8)
    • So the laryngeal nerve also supplies the heart, windpipe muscles and mucous membranes and the esophagus.
    • Jerry Bergman, Ph.D, with the Institute for Creation Research, lists the following reasons for viewing the laryngeal nerve as the product of design: (10)
      • Much evidence exists that the present design results from developmental constraints. [This is discussed at length in Bergman’s article.]
      • There are indications that this design serves to fine-tune laryngeal functions.
      • The nerve serves to innervate other organs after it branches from the vagus on its way to the larynx.
      • The design provides backup innervation to the larynx in case another nerve is damaged.
      • No evidence exists that the design causes any disadvantage.

Male Testes

  • “The descent of male testes, a result of their evolution from fish gonads, creates weak spots in the abdominal cavity.” –Jerry Coyne
  • This is a case where the anatomical feature is the result of embryological development, not evolutionary history. It has to do with sexual dimorphism (characteristics of both sexes):
    • The characteristics of both sexes have the same basic genetic information.
    • In all human embryos, both the Mullerian duct (female) and Wolffian duct (male) develop. Later in development, chemical signals cause this information to be expressed differently. The presence of the Y-chromosome dictates this.
    • For this reason, the testes and ovaries both develop from the same structure – the genital ridge – near the kidneys. In males, a cord joins the testes to the scrotum. Because the cord doesn’t grow causing the scrotum to move further away, taking the testes with it through the body wall.

Vas Deferens

  • WHAT IS IT? Also known as the ductus deferens, this is a structure which stores and transports sperm from the testes to the penis for insemination.
  • Richard Dawkins criticizes the vas deferens here in his book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, “The vas deferens is a pipe that carries sperm from the testes to the penis…It takes a ridiculous detour around the ureter, the pipe that carries urine from the kidney to the bladder. If this were designed, nobody could seriously deny that the designer had made a bad error.” He goes on to say that “Examples like this must surely undermine the position of those who hanker after ‘intelligent design.’”
  • Why the vas deferens DOES NOT reflect bad design:
    • See the section highlighted in red above. The vas deferens follows the testes along this route.
    • “The course of the vas deferens is a result of the embryonic development (ontogeny), not the evolutionary development or phylogeny (contra Dawkins), just like male nipples, for example.” –A. van Niekerk (5)
    • It is also worth noting that sperm is temperature dependent. This is why the testes move closer and further from the body using the cremaster muscle (which contracts when exposed to cold and relaxes to move away). (5)
      • If the vas deferens took the shorter route to the penis, the cremaster function wouldn’t be possible. As it is, the testes have slack to move closer to or away from the body. (5)
    • Dawkins suggests that the vas deferens should go directly from the testes to the penis and avoid the ureter altogether. BUT:
      • Semen is composed of many ingredients, some of which are added by various glands (seminal vesicles, prostate gland, Cowper’s gland) that sit between the ejaculatory duct and urethra.
    • A shorter vas deferens would also result in:
      • A smaller volume and thus less sperm per ejaculation.
      • Pressure Gradient causes a higher power generation in a longer vas. This helps to better mix the semen and aids in ejaculation.
      • For more on this, see

Prostate & Urethra

  • The Issue:
    • “Males are further disadvantaged because of the poor design of the urethra, which happens to run right through the middle of the prostate gland that produces some of our seminal fluid.” –Jerry Coyne
    • “A large fraction of males develop enlarged prostates later in life, which squeeze the urethra and make urination difficult and painful…A smart designer wouldn’t put a collapsible tube through an organ prone to infection and swelling.” –Jerry Coyne
    • Jonathan Sarfati with Creation Ministries International sums it up well: “The prostate is a walnut-sized gland in male mammals that secretes a clear, slightly alkaline liquid that comprises about 10–30% of the volume of semen. Thus it is a vital musculoglandular organ for reproduction. Some critics of creation/intelligent design complain that it is badly designed because the urethra (the tube through which urine flows out) passes through it, so if the prostate enlarges, it restricts urine flow.” (6)
  • The good design of this system:
    • The prostate produces a major component of semen. The prostate has 30-50 glands which secrete into 16-32 ducts that open into the urethra independently. During ejaculation, the prostate contracts and empties its contents through these ducts into the urethra.
    • The prostate contains nerve plexuses which are responsible for much of the pleasure for males during sexual activity.
    • The prostate serves as a spacer between the blddar and the urogenital diaphragm. “This provides a support for the bladder, and prevents the urethra kinking when the bladder is full.” Jonathan Sarfati (6)
    • If the urethra didn’t go through the prostate, there would have to be a new duct system and extra systems in place to propel semen.
  • “As for the problems with enlargement, they are not normal features but pathological ones, so in a biblical framework they would be regarded as post-fall.” –Jonathan Sarfati (6)

Female Reproduction

  • “[Women] give birth through the pelvis, a painful and inefficient process that, before modern medicine, killed appreciable numbers of mothers and babies.” –Jerry Coyne
  • “If you had designed a human female, wouldn’t you have rerouted the female reproductive tract so it existed through the lower abdomen instead of the pelvis?” –Jerry Coyne
  • The small gap between the ovary and fallopian tube:
    • “And would an intelligent designer have created the small gap between the human ovary and Fallopian tube, so that an egg must cross this gap before it can travel through the tube and implant in the uterus?” –Jerry Coyne
    • Abdominal pregnancy is a result of this “bad design.”

Human Pharynx

  • WHAT IS IT? It is a “cone-shaped passageway leading from the oral and nasal cavities in the head to the esophagus and larynx. The pharynx chamber serves both respiratory and digestive functions.” (13)
  • An evolutionist and zoologist has observed regarding the ‘poor design’ of the pharynx: “Think of the number of lives that have been lost by food or water getting into or obstructing the air passageway. It certainly would have required very little intelligence for the Creator to have designed a more efficient and less dangerous arrangement” (12)
  • This is seen as evidence of our evolutionary past:
    • The aforementioned zoologist concluded, “However, if you trace the evolution of the head and especially the development of the food and respiratory passageways from the fishes up through the amphibians, reptiles and early mammals to man, you will note that the relationship turns out to be a masterpiece of evolutionary achievement enabling aquatic organisms to become adapted to air breathing and thus capable of living on land.” (12)
    • Scott Atrain, a professor at the University of Michigan, adds, “As creatures evolved from water onto land, the opening to the respiratory system was jerry-rigged to share the preexisting digestive tract’s anterior structure, including the mouth and pharynx [throat]. In terrestrial vertebrates, the pharynx became a short passage linking the mouth to the esophagus and the windpipe. Any mistiming of the swallowing mechanism that blocks off the air passage in routing food to the esophagus causes choking.”
  • How the pharynx reflects GOOD design:
    • As observed by C. Walter in his book Thumbs, Toes, and Tears and Other Traits that Make Us Human, the pharynx serves as a single passage for three systems – the respiratory, digestive, and communicative – for many very good reasons. A major one is, unlike other primates, our airway and esophagus intersect. This can cause choking, but allows speech.
    • The proposed two-tube system would be inferior for the following reasons: (13)
      • It would require two separate mouths, tongues, etc.
      • It would require a more complex tube and networking system.
      • The more openings there are, the more difficult it is to protect the body from pathogens.
      • Our sense of taste is partially dependent on our sense of smell.
    • Also, choking can be attributed in most cases, not to poor design, but to abuse or disease. Children often choke on toys and some of the elderly have struggles due to diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, etc. (13)

Other quotes about ‘bad design’:

  • “If a designer did have discernible motives when creating species, one of them must surely have been to fool biologists by making organisms look as though they evolved.” –Jerry Coyne


(1) Jerry Coyne, Why Evolution is True







(8) Gray’s Anatomy, available online at

(9) Prothero, D. 2008, Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters, pg. 37-38







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