Monday, December 19, 2011

Bad Designs and the Pharmaceutical Industry

Irony Found In Drugs
Over the last decade or so, it seems to me that the commercials for pharmaceutical drugs are getting longer and more entertaining. One of the things that I find ironic is that the narrator spends the majority of the commercial explaining the possible side effects of the drug rather than what it is designed to accomplish for the patient. The confusion really begins when they describe the trade-offs: do you want sleep? You must sacrifice breathing. If you want to not be constipated, urination may be uncontrollable. If you wish to escape allergies, you may become suicidal. If you desire to not be so depressed, you might experience a heart condition that may cause death.

Change the Subject- To Intelligent Design
One of the challenges to the theory of intelligent design is that there are imperfect designs in nature. The argument goes like this:

  1. If an all-powerful and all-loving God is the intelligent designer of the universe, there would be no imperfect designs in His creation.
  2. There are imperfect designs in nature.
  3. Therefore, if there is an intelligent designer, he is either not all-powerful, not all-loving, or neither.
The logic of this argument is valid. If one wishes to show that this argument is not sound (the conclusion [#3] does not follow), then they must show one of the premises (#1 or #2) to be false. Both of the premises are up for debate among ID theorists, but I want to focus on the first for right now.

They're Related

Purpose in Engineering
In order for us to know if a design is imperfect, we must know what it is "perfect" or "imperfect" to accomplish- in other words, we must know the purpose. In the pharmaceutical industry, in order to accomplish the successful treatment of an ailment, there are implications that are the result of the natural systems in which they are working.

One way to show the first premise to be false is to posit that an imperfection in a design is the result of a balance of multiple purposes in the given system (our natural laws). Engineering requires sacrifices to accomplish certain purposes. Multiple opposing purposes (such as sturdiness and cost) require that no single attribute be maximized. These balances are necessary. Designs that balance the opposing requirements on par with the weight of each of the opposing purposes is said to be a good design; while others that contain an improper balance are said to be poor designs. This is the same  with creation.

Multiple Purposes In Chemical Engineering
With the chemical engineering of the drugs, at least, two opposing purposes exist: eliminate the ailment and eliminate the negative risks. The ailment may be completely eliminated, but the risks may be maximized; the risks may be eliminated, but the ailment may not even be alleviated a little bit. When the engineers comes to an acceptable balance between the level of treatment and the possible risks, the drug is presented to the FDA, and it goes through the rest of the process to reach the public.

Multiple Purposes In Creation
Creation and the Intelligent Designer are not different. Many theologians recognize the Designer (God) as an engineer, who has purposes for his creation and must balance certain features to accomplish multiple purposes. Some do not accept this, though, because they believe that that makes the Creator not all-powerful (he should be able to maximize all attributes regardless of limits of nature). But this challenge does not take into account that the Creator of the creatures in the natural realm is also the Creator of the natural realm and its laws- the Designer designed the limits in which He must work. By implication, the Designer had a purpose for choosing the specific natural laws that He did. Since He chose them, he knows the implications of all designs, so even the side-effects or implications of a specific design also have a purpose.

The only way that someone may claim that a design is imperfect is if they know the purpose that is not accomplished by the design. Because someone cannot imagine a purpose that is accomplished by all the implications of a specific design, they are not justified in concluding that one such purpose does not exist. Thus they are not justified in concluding that premise #1 is true. Since premise #1 does not have justification for its truth, the argument is not sound, and the conclusion does not follow.

For more specific information on this specific response (including possible purposes of God derived from scripture) to the "imperfect design" challenge to intelligent design, I highly recommend the book by astrophysicist Hugh Ross "Why The Universe Is The Way It Is". Dr. Ross was also interviewed in a series of podcasts regarding the content of each chapter of the book.

1 comment:

  1. Two related design considerations:
    1. a design is often environmentally-constrained (an iPhone was not designed to work underwater).
    2. often functionality trades off with robustness; the FRP (functionality-robustness product) is the closest thing we have to a sensible measure of design "goodness". Unfortunately, "functionality" is subject-dependent (i.e., it is not a strictly objective quantity, though we could construct a statistical measure by polling? a large population)
    Good designs in the history of human design often require considerable maintenance to achieve non-trivial FRP. On the other hand, "life" has been millenia-robust with functionality many MANY orders of magnitude beyond any human design.


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