Monday, August 08, 2005


George W. Bush has now weighed in with his unsurprising opinion that American school science courses should include theories of Intelligent Design, which hold that the universe and everything in it came about not through the workings of natural physical processes, but were assembled by some superior being. Before this holy rolling bandwagon gets up too much momentum, let’s take a good hard look at I.D.

Most arguments in favor of Intelligent Design rest on two concepts. The first, which dates back to around 1800, is known as the argument from design, and is illustrated by what its originator, theologian William Paley, offered as the “watchmaker” analogy: If you found a watch lying in a field, you would logically infer that it was created by a conscious designer, not just the result of random natural events and processes. The idea of such a mechanism somehow evolving simply defies all logic and reason.

The second concept, more recent, is that of irreducible complexity, which maintains that the world is full of biological forms and organisms that only work as complete systems and therefore could not have evolved, bit by bit, as incomplete and nonfunctional works in progress. Just the pupil of the eye alone, or the retina, or iris, or rods and cones, would not produce vision; you need the entire eyeball. How could natural selection have produced all those individual elements piecemeal? they ask.

Basically, intelligent design assaults the premise of evolution by (1) appealing to simple logic and common sense, and (2) demanding that evolutionary science provide reasonable explanations for seemingly inexplicable phenomena.

There are numerous convincing refutations of all of these lines of I.D. attack, but I am no scientist and am unqualified to articulate them. What I can do is take a leaf from the I.D. crowd and require that they explain what seem to me to be serious flaws in their theory, things that defy logic and common sense.
Therefore, I put the following questions to proponents of Intelligent Design.

1) What exactly is so intelligent about it? Not to be glib or snide, but it clearly wasn’t sufficiently intelligent to avoid an almost endless array of design flaws, ranging from lymphoma to migraine and from envy to savagery. And that’s just with regard to humans and other living creatures. What about earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tidal waves and hurricanes? These are not the characteristics of a truly well blueprinted planet. This is more like poorly fired pottery.

I am hardly the first person to question the wisdom of “our creator” based on empirical evidence--it’s been done with keen wit and insight by writers from Mark Twain to Joseph Heller--but it’s still a valid point. If the human eyeball must, of necessity, be the handiwork of some gigantic intelligence, why wasn’t that intelligence sizable enough to factor out glaucoma, or at least color blindness?

Indeed, what kind of designer builds into his/her supposed supreme creation--i.e. us--things like Alzheimers, multiple sclerosis, PMS, wisdom teeth, epilepsy, addiction, impotence, peanut allergy and AIDS? Where the hell did this designer train at, General Motors? Indeed:

2) Where did our Grand Designer learn to do this? The very notion of “intelligent design” implies a scientific approach, which in turn implies some technical or educational background. Did s/he go to designer school, some kind of trade school for universe designers, like, say, Basic Universe Building University (BUBU)? Or some professional postgraduate institution, such as Physical Law school? And what kind of grades did s/he get? Home schooling seems fairly unlikely. That s/he could be self-taught seems a considerable long shot, but it might help explain such lapses as diabetes, termites, and Pat Robertson.

3) What kind of intelligent designer goes to the trouble of creating a magnificently well balanced biosystem that includes thousands of remarkable and ingenious forms of life and then adds a final species whose purpose and intent seems to be to gradually eliminate most of them? This may seem to merely be a corollary to question number one, but if we were in fact designed, it’s reasonable to ask why were we given the ability and the will to do so much damage to almost everything other than ourselves. Even a ten-year-old knows that you don’t top off that aquarium full of precious tropical fish by tossing in a pirhana.

4) Where did our Intelligent Designer go, and why? If you’re going to create an entire universe, from galaxy superclusters right down to the last charmed quark, shouldn’t you at least come around now and then to perform periodic maintenance? Why has there been no helpful tweaking or refinement of the Grand Schematic: the addition of male multiple orgasms, for example, or the elimination of mosquitoes, arthritis, and telemarketers?

5) What happened to God? Its proponents insist that “intelligent design” is not, swear to God, just code for “God.” Fine, well and good. But what does that leave us with? Instead of a fabulous creator endowed with supernaturally limitless powers whose “mysterious ways” were forever beyond our comprehension, we are now stuck with a kind of infinitely brilliant, inventive and proficient technical geek. Instead of being made in the very image of the Almighty, humans may be little more than minuscule elements of a lab experiment on an enormous scale, part of a term project required to complete Advanced Unified Field Formation 16A. Thanks for eradicating the magical and the sacred elements of our existence.

6) A fundamental premise of I.D. is that merely the human eye, let alone a whole human being, is so unimaginably complex and sophisticated a creation that it, and we, couldn’t possibly have simply evolved, but surely had to be designed by some vastly intelligent entity. But if so, then just think of how ineffably complex and sophisticated that entity must be. Indeed, if our complexity can only be the work of some supreme designer, then that designer’s far greater complexity logically could not have simply evolved either, but must have been designed by some really really REALLY super complex and sophisticated designer, who, in turn, must have...well, you can see where this leads us. Totally off the charts and reeling with conceptual vertigo. So: how do Intell Designists resolve the sheer endlessness of the “complexity necessitates design” hypothesis?
(This is an old philosophical/theological conundrum--where did God come from?--but deists could always fall back on the incomprehensibility of the supernatural, the ETERNAL I AM mysticism. The I.D. crowd, alas, have no such recourse, and are instead hoist on their own “reasoned objectivity.”)

Anyway, those are my questions. I just think that before we start radically restructuring our class curriculums, someone should be asking them. It may or may not be you. It certainly won’t be the president.


Blogger ....J.Michael Robertson said...

I was filled with contempt for your godless ramblings until I got to your point about the absence of multiple male orgasms.This *is* a vale of tears. It's not just an accident; it's a multi-car pileup.

August 8, 2005 at 4:13 PM  
Blogger John Garratt said...

Doesn't our eye see things wrong at first? And it has to be corrected?

And just because something's complex doesn't mean it was created by an entity.

June 19, 2014 at 1:35 PM  

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