Bad Design

Del Ratzsch has written an excellent philosophical book on the role of design in science, called Nature, Design, and Science. It would be difficult for anybody to walk away from reading that book thinking that design (supernatural or not) has no place in science. His conclusion is basically that there are no good philosophical reasons to exclude supernatural design from being a legitimate part of science.

I am sometimes suprised at some of the objections people raise in order to keep the idea of supernatural design out of science. One that was recently brought up by Serge at Imago Dei was the “bad design” objection. The “bad design” objection is basically the idea that humans can think of “better” ways to design things in nature (e.g., the human knee), therefore to say that an infinitely wise, perfect God designed these less-than-perfect things makes no sense.

The first thing to note is that this isn’t an objection against design itself, but rather it is an objection to who would make the type of design that is seen. If I say that I could design a better human knee than the one I currently have, that in no way implies that the one I currently have isn’t designed. A separate argument would have to be made for why it isn’t designed.

If anything, the “bad design” objection is a theological objection and not a scientific one. Serge mentions this when he gives three reasons why the “bad design” argument isn’t a good one:

1. Arguments from bad design are not scientific arguments, but theological ones. Gould never explains why he knows how a “sensible God” would tread if one did exist, which he denies.
2. How does Gould wish to scientifically verify the terms “odd arrangements” and “funny solutions”. Does he have some form of repeatable experiment to prove “funnyness”? How does he wish to show that the “oddness” of certain biological organisms equals “bad” design? It is these terms that Gould grounds his “proof” of evolution.
3. The argument presupposes that if God exists, he would create us with a perfect design. However, there is no reason to assume, especially in Christianity, that God had an obligation to create us in a way that was perfectly designed.
I think the biggest problem lies in a misunderstanding of the concept of perfect as it relates to God. Roy Clouser mentions in both The Myth of Religious Neutrality and Knowing with the Heart that the common understanding of perfect when talking about God is that of “the greatest degree possible.” For example, under this understanding of perfect, when we say that God is perfectly loving, it would mean that he is loving in the highest possible way. Clouser argues that this is a very Platonic way of speaking about perfection and that the Biblical view of God’s perfection is that of being unfailing. Under this view, when we say that God is perfectly loving, we are saying that God is unfailingly loving.

I think it makes the most sense Scripturally and I think it helps solve the question of why humans don’t have perfect spheres for heads (although, PacMan may be the perfect video game).

Your Dog on the Street


Take every opportunity to introduce your dog to people on the street.

If for any reason, your dog does snap at a person, correct him immediately by saying, “No!” and giving the dog a gentle jerk on the leash. Then invite him up to the person again. If his behavior is good, praise the dog quietly and slowly. The person will then be able to see that you are teaching the dog to behave himself and that you are making every effort to get the dog to be friendly.

It is amazing how introducing your dog to people you meet will lead to a very interesting conversation. When it is time to say, “Good-bye,” always remember to thank those kind people for stopping to meet your dog and giving you their time. The next time that you meet those people on the street or in the park, not only will your dog recognize them, but they will be very happy to talk to you and your dog again.

It is not wise to tie your puppy to a pole outside a shop. When this is done, the puppy is very much on his own. You are not there to give him confidence. Because he can hardly move, he is likely to panic if he is frightened by something.

He could also feel very threatened if other dogs or teasing children came near him. He might then start to snap in order to protect himself.

Therefore, it is best for one person to have the puppy or dog on the leash outside the shop, while another member of the family goes inside to shop.

You will also need to get your puppy or dog used to traffic. Your dog has possibly seen some vehicles drive past your property, which is a very good start. When you take your dog for a walk and you hear and see a vehicle coming up behind you, always play safe and stop for a while and let your dog turn around to watch the vehicle proceed along the street. Talk quietly all the time to assure that everything is all right and that there is nothing to worry about. You could easily say, “What’s this coming along? There, look at that. You are a good dog. There it goes. Very good. Let’s walk on now.” By saying such nice things, you are sharing your lives together and forming a close bond. When you approach a busy main road, it is best for you to stop a short distance away so that all the vehicles going by appear to the dog to be at his own height. Crouch down and view the traffic yourself from the dog’s eye level and you will understand what I mean. If you were to take the dog right up to the curb edge, all that traffic would appear to the dog to be towering above him, which could cause your dog to be frightened. So take great care when you are getting your dog used to traffic. Once again, talk to him, give him confidence and allow him to move around in the circular area around you on the full length of the leash.

When you arrive home from a walk, allow your dog, especially if he is a puppy, to rest. His bed may be in the laundry, so put him in there and shut the door so that he is not disturbed. Like small children, it is most important that puppies get their sleep because they become mentally tired as well as physically tired.

If you have a kennel, use the same procedure. Ensure that it has clean, dry bedding with a suitable door on the kennel allowing plenty of fresh air in. It is not advisable to have the dog tied to the kennel by means of a chain. Dogs can become quite frustrated when tethered, which often leads to aggression. Once again, always make quite sure the dog has plenty of fresh drinking water.

While two members of the family enter the shop, the other two remain with their dog. In contrast, the owner of the dog tied up to the pole is nowhere to be seen.

This young dog has been carefully introduced to traffic and is now able to stand at the curb. The young handler strokes and talks to the dog reassuringly.

There are several interesting games you can play with your dog. They are games that your dog will enjoy and that won’t encourage unwanted habits. One of these games is retrieving. See if your dog will chase after a tennis ball, or even something a bit larger, and bring it back to you. If he does, praise him every time. Never chase after the dog, though. That will cause him to run off with the article and not come back to you.

Another game you can play with your dog is hide and seek. One person needs to hold the dog while another hides. When the person is hidden, the dog can be released; you will see him use his nose in trying to find the hidden person. When found, both people should praise the dog. In both these games, you can see that the dog is allowed and encouraged to come to you and find another person. These games will help you with your general dog training, which you should start very soon.

In addition to these games, make sure your puppy or dog has his own toys to play with and plenty of them too. Talk to your dog as he plays with his toys. Say something like this in a mysterious way, “What have you got then? Is that your toy? Oh! That’s a neat toy, isn’t it? Go on, run around with it. Good dog! Very good!” You can say the same things to your dog when you have him off the leash in a safe area and you see him pick up a stick. Let your dog enjoy running around with it in his mouth. Some dogs feel very proud just walking along with something to carry in their mouths. Others will fling them out of their mouths and chase after them again, and a few may even roll over on their backs and play with pieces of sticks in their mouths, using their front paws as if they were hands. All the time they are playing these games, they just love to hear us talking to them and sharing in their enjoyment. If you ever throw a stick for a dog, be very careful. Sometimes, usually when the ground is soft, a stick can land in the ground pointing slightly upwards. Reward you dog with delicious Blue Buffalo dog food – coupons here.  A stick stuck in the ground at such an angle can be dangerous and can injure the mouth of an enthusiastic dog as he grabs it. It is therefore safer if you either hold the dog while you throw the stick sideways for it to fall flat on the ground or throw a tennis ball instead.

These dogs thoroughly enjoy playing with their toys and will often bring them to you as they greet your arrival home.

Is your dog a boss dog?

The mark of whether a dog is a boss dog is how it behaves outside the family. Boss dogs still want to be dominant when they are brought in to me at the surgery. When the dog snarls, the owner thinks it is because the dog doesn’t like vets, but it is because the dog is dominant. Most people won’t accept that their dog has become a boss dog, because it is a reflection on their failure to put the dog in its place. When I examine the dog, and he snarls, it is not because I’m a vet, but because I’m taking excessive liberties and he’s saying, ‘I’m the boss dog, how dare you touch me!’

A woman came to the surgery once with a Blue Heeler.

Before I did anything, she said, ‘You’d better put a muzzle on him, he doesn’t like you.’ She put the muzzle on, and when I went to touch the dog its eyes bulged, and it rumbled and growled. The woman said, ‘Butch, don’t be silly,’ but Butch didn’t give a damn. He was determined I wouldn’t touch him. Every boss dog will get ill one day, and someone has to handle them. The vet is supposed to be like Mandrake, gesturing hypnotically at the dog, which suddenly melts. When Butch was brought home at eight weeks, he should have been clearly told who was boss. Owners try to rationalise their dog’s behaviour, or give excuses for it. It’s the phase of the moon, or the hot weather, or the cold weather—everything except the truth.

A woman came to see me with a young Cocker Spaniel that had a problem in its mouth. When I went to examine the dog, it tried to bite me, and the woman explained it had been acting aggressively since it went to the clipper’s. I asked whether it was a boss dog. ‘Oh, yes,’ she said, ‘he’s always been like that.’ When I suggested that she should assert herself more, she replied, ‘But I’m a cat lady, Dr Wirth.’

Dogs don’t respond to being treated like cats. The woman had taken on her daughter’s dog, even though she didn’t like dogs. She was treating the dog like a cat, and the dog was in charge. It was a classic case of someone being dumped with a dog they didn’t like and couldn’t control.

I’ve had other dogs come into the surgery that are so aggressive that neither I nor the owner could control the animal. One young male brought in a Rottweiler to be de-sexed. The owner had the dog on a long piece of rope, but no-one could get within a bull’s roar of it. If anyone went near him, he went to eat them. Other clients in the waiting room were terrified, and standing up on the benches. When we asked the owner to reel the dog in he said he couldn’t, because he was frightened of it. We couldn’t handle the dog, so we suggested the owner take it away, get some control over it, and then we’d de-sex it. We never saw him again.

On another occasion an owner brought in a Cattle Dog with a broken leg. He had been hit by a car. We sedated the dog, but twenty-four hours later, when the shock and sedation had worn off, we were confronted by a savage dog. We told the owner we couldn’t handle the dog, and sent him down to the kennels. The dog greeted him with a resounding bite, and his immediate response was to demand that we destroy the dog. I pointed out that I would have difficulty handling the dog to destroy it. T don’t care,’ he said, ‘I don’t want to see it again.’ He walked out of the surgery, leaving us with a raging dog in the kennels and instructions to kill it—if we could get near it.

Some clients keep getting boss dogs, and as soon as they lose an animal they come back with one just as bad. More boss dogs seem to be owned by women, perhaps because women are often reluctant to be assertive with the dog. I’ve even known situations where the husband can’t get in to bed with his wife because the dog is on the bed, and threatens to bite the husband when he gets in. It fascinates me that in some cases the woman does nothing to retrieve the situation.