God designed autumn foliage for human enjoyment

The latest gem from EN claims that autumn foliage was designed for human enjoyment:

(re-posted from my FB page)

Because I love autumn foliage and nature walks, I really wanted to like this essay by an Intelligent Design proponent. But it is just pure silliness and, in my view, perfectly exemplifies the kind of bizarre reasoning that ID folks claim is open-mindedness about evidence for supernatural forces in nature.

The author claims - in seriousness! - that the brilliant colors of fall were (or may have been) intentionally designed for humans to enjoy. Let’s think about all the ridiculous things that would have to be the case in order for that to be true. (Please add more to my list if you can.)

First of all, leaf senescence is an intricately programmed process involving hundreds of genes. While it is most commonly associated with flowering plants (angiosperms), the genes and pathways for this process evolved in even older lineages of plants before plants had colonized dry land, over 500 million years before Homo sapiens appeared. So… plants were engaging this process for 500 million years so that some humans could be treated to nice colors during their nature walks for a few weeks out of the year. Um, okay.

Secondly, humans and their ancestors evolved almost exclusively in Africa for basically all of the last 20 million years. (Yes, waves of other hominids periodically left Africa but these were not our ancestors and probably had little appreciation for foliage.) Even our recent ancestry was almost exclusively in tropical and subtropical areas in which leaf senescence is not a thing. So… the design for fall colors could have been placed where humans were actually living for most of our history, but it wasn’t because… ?

And thirdly, even in modern times, the vast majority of humanity does not live in regions that exhibit anything like the autumn foliage that we see in parts of Europe, North America, and some parts of Central and East Asia. Brilliant and conspicuous leaf senescence occurs in a particular slice of where human beings live. So… this gift was not for all of humanity, but exclusively for those living in specific places. Lucky us!

So to believe this story (for which there is no evidence, of course), you have to also believe that a supernatural power designed this little gift 500 millions years ahead of time, specifically for a small minority of modern humans that would eventually come to live in a small slice of the world.

And fourthly, what about the actual function of leaf senescence for the plant? Was this just a side effect? In the view of Intelligent Design, everything else in nature was designed specifically for the pleasure and comfort of human beings. But, here in the real world, we understand that living things have their own physiology that functions for their own purposes. Not everything is about us.

Besides just being comically unscientific, this particular kind of thinking, that humans are the center of everything and everything was designed with us in mind, has some pretty harmful consequences and corollaries. And before anyone @'s me that this is just poetic flurry, be sure you read the essay. He’s quite serious. And before anyone @'s me saying this doesn’t represent ID, remember that this is now the main featured article on the webpage of “the intellectual home of Intelligent Design.” This is what passes for serious thought at the Discovery Institute.

The silliness of Intelligent Design is why no one takes their ideas seriously. But the harmful consequences is why we do take the movement seriously and why we take time from our other work to refute them at every turn.


Ahh but you see Nathan, the Designer is just much greater than you think. Nothing is a side effect. Everything that occurs is the designer’s plan and intent! Even down to the thoughts running through your head this very moment. All known beforehand, all intended and anticipated and planned to happen.

The designer is so amazing that it was able to predict how the universe’s history would unfold with a particular set of laws of physics and initial conditions, and that given this, somewhere a certain planet with a certain history would occur eventually, and on this planet green plants would evolve eventually and adapt to different climactic zones on it’s surface, and these plants would evolve this process where their leaves would change color and so on. And isn’t it amazing to consider how amazing the designer must be to be able to know and predict this would occur, to make these evolutionary changes be beneficial and guaranteed to happen somewhere eventually, and also be desirable to human eyes down the line?

It’s all part of the plan. No accidents or byproducts anywhere ever. It’s no problem for the omnipotent designer to be able to design a world where senescence is simultaneously selectively beneficial to plants, while also being pleasing to humans who evolve multiple geological eons later! Of course, if we’d found it repulsive, that’d been part of the plan too. Designer is an artist you know, and it works in mysterious ways.


And do you have evidence for any of this?

Sorry. I meant to say “no serious scientist.”

Well I agreed with you. Remember? When I said you [and other scientists] were blind via your paradigm?

Channeling Ken Ham: “…There’s a book”

Not quite. The evidence is all around you. But you have to have eyes to see it.

But see, we build our paradigms by following the evidence and developing explanations that are most consistent with that evidence, and then revising them as needed when new evidence emerges. That’s science. Starting with a paradigm (that itself was exclusively revealed somehow to some person) and then attempting to interpret observations in line with that paradigm… that’s the opposite of science. And it leads you to believe laughable things like the thesis of this essay.

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You are trapped in a big closed-system box and you just love going in circles inside that box as you loudly declare, “Don’t even try! There is nothing outside this box we are in! This is all there is!”

I reached outside the box one day and discovered God.

You as a scientist should know better than to stop at the boundaries of the box. Scientists are curious individuals. Take a risk. Be curious. Reach outside the box for once.

That’s fine and good, but you don’t need to deny and disbelieve everything that science reveals us about the natural world, nor do you need to defend strange ideas like autumn foliage being designed for human enjoyment 500 millions years before the fact. Just ask all the Christians that hang out here and accept the reality of evolution like @swamidass, @cwhenderson, @Jordan, etc.

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I think the box you speak of is in your mind.

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You said, “I think”. Wanna know for sure? There is only one way to find out.

You could start by picking just one of these sentences and supporting it with evidence:

Just one sentence. One piece of evidence.

Ok, one piece, but it would take your involvement. The evidence will come right here:

“And if we did, the reward would be beyond our wildest imaginations.”

And it can only work if you have not already de-converted from Christianity. In other words, if you grew up a believer and later renounced Christianity and your belief in God, this won’t work.

Go to church this week or weekend with Joshua Swamidass or one he recommends. Hang your head when the prayers start and say something like this, “God this is the stupidest thing I have ever done, but here goes anyway. If you even care and if you are even real, show me and show me now.”

God designed {fill-in-the-blank} for human enjoyment

It doesn’t take too much imagination to see how this might go sideways.


I asked YOU for one piece of evidence for the statements that YOU made. Now you have dodged twice, so I’ll ask one more time. One piece of evidence. For just one of the statements you made.

That was my statement:

And the evidence is there, but you must participate.

Gotcha. Well you’ve hijacked this thread for long enough. Since you won’t even try to defend your grand claims, I will not be responding to you further.

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Hmm, but @NLENTS specifically pointed out the “rapturous beauty” of the autumn foliage. Are expressions of beauty and awe required to explicitly acknowledge God’s role in order to be true? That doesn’t seem quite right. The leaves are beautiful, regardless of how they came about. As a Christian I see an additional layer of meaning to this beauty, for sure, but it’s not a requirement to see any beauty. I take your words to mean, instead, that because atheists do not believe in a Creator (a god who builds, through whatever mechanism they choose, the world we see) they aren’t seeing the full beauty of autumn. Is that right?

This makes it sound like you’re saying that the primary purpose of Creation is our observation of it. That doesn’t sound right either. I don’t think the earth was prepared just for us to look at, do you? I don’t think it was even necessarily made for us. You are putting a lot of emphasis on an heavily anthropocentric teleology, which seems just a tad bit in conflict with historic Christian theology. I’m sure God delights in our delight, in our wonder and awe, in our study of nature. We just have to be very careful that we are not implying that this is the only thing God is doing in creation. Who are we to say that God does not have other purposes and plans that don’t involve us?

I would affirm this, and disagree with several things from the EN article.

How do you know what the designer’s plan and intent are? How do you know that everything that does happen is planned to happen? This isn’t a God vs atheism question, I’m curious about how you reach this conclusion.


What ever happened to “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”?

If God made leaves change color for our enjoyment why did He make some people color blind?