Arguments about ‘design’ in creation have been around a long time. The earliest one I’ve been able to find that explicitly explores it is from Xenophon, 4th Century BC, (and diligent readers if you know of earlier texts I would love to be directed to them!). Xenophon was a sometimes-student of Socrates and, like the wise teacher’s more famous student Plato, wrote a series of dialogues featuring Socrates and various interlocutors. One of these, from his Memorabilla, sounds like it was lifted right out current intelligent design creationist debates.
Here is the scene. A bunch of guys are hanging around Socrates at the saddler’s shop near the Market, they are talking about the godhead (and yes he uses that word) and the opinion of a rather atheistic fellow named Aristodemus the dwarf is being examined by Socrates. It seems Aristodemus does not offer sacrifices, pray, or even use divination to sort out the perplexities of life. Socrates probes whether he admires anyone engaged in the arts. Aristodemus lists of a cadre of people who he thinks are undisputed masters. Then Socrates asks,
Which, think you deserve the greater admiration, the creators of phantoms without sense and motion or the creators of living, intelligent and active beings.
Of course, the contrarian is unhesitant in praising anyone who can pull off making intelligent beings as long as, “they are created by design and not mere chance.”
(He would have loved Dr. Noonien Soong the fictional creator of Star Trek’s beloved android Data.)
Socrates, starts circling for the kill,
Suppose that it is impossible to guess the purpose of one creature’s existence, and obvious that another’s serves a useful end, which, in your judgment is the work of chance, and which of design?”
Aristodemus answers as expected as one of Socrates’ foils.
Socrates, presses ahead, “Do you not think then that he who created man from the beginning had some useful end in view when he endowed him with his several senses, giving eyes to see visible objects, ears to hear sounds.” Socrates then starts a very nice list of designed features in creatures. Paley, the eighteenth century author of Natural Theology the book that most completely and thoroughly argued the proof of the existence of a creator from design in nature, would be nodding in agreement
Again, the incisors of all creatures are adapted for cutting, the molars for receiving food from them and grinding it. And again, the mouth through which the food they want goes in, is set near the eyes and nostrils; but since what goes out is unpleasant, the ducts through which it passes are turned away and removed as far as possible from the organs of sense. With such signs of forethought in these arrangements, can you doubt whether they are the works of chance or design.
Aristodemus, beat into submission, answers: “No, of course not. When I regard them in this light they do look very like the handiwork of a wise and loving creator.”
Socrates wins the day.
However, these days Natural Theology has fallen on hard times. First, we know now that organisms are designed poorly in many respects (I mean sheesh, it is so not fair that Octopi get better eyes than us). Unintelligent design is rampant in biology. Second, evolution completely explains how design arises through natural selection, inheritance, and variation. And when I say, ‘completely explains’ what I mean is, ‘completely explains.’
But this opens a question: How important is ‘design’ to LDS thinking? I don’t see that it necessarily enters our theology at all. Why bring in this Greek-derived concern? Why should we even bother with the argument from design? Does it really add anything we need?
Xenophon, Memorabilia, translated by E. C. Marchant (Cambridge, Mass.: Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 1923), 56-57.