Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Intelligent Design?

The President wants Intelligent Design theory taught in public schools. This is just one of those moments when compromise doesn't work. ID Theory basically accepts the ideas of post-Darwinian evolution, but also posits that the whole thing is just too complicated to have started off on its own, so there must be a God.

This is not a new argument. In fact, this is Aristotle's "prime mover." Everything exists must have a cause, the universe exists, therefor it has a cause, only God could cause the universe... You might notice that the phrase "only God could cause the universe" doesn't logically follow, but, hey, that's kind of why this kind of debate didn't end the second Aristotle finished talking.

Thing is, Americans kind of have a thing for compromises between extremists. In this case, on cursory inspection, it seems like the the evolutionists get their evolution and the religious get their God and we can all be happy.

Problem is, truthful information isn't supposed to necessarily make people happy. Truth is not beauty. It's often inconvenient for one person or another. I, for example, was really bad at math in high school. I never even got past pre-calc. I didn't like it. It made me so uncomfortable that I got problems wrong even when I darned well knew how to get the right answer, I used to freeze up. And, you know... not one math teacher ever tried to compromise with me, not even once. Nobody ever said, "Mike, I see why you think x = 6. Indeed, there's a certain elegance to your calculation and an esprit that seems to add, rather than detract, from th discipline. Why don't we just say that X = 6 AND the 23 that everybody around you got?" Never happened.

I had views of history, too. To me, Viet Nam draft dodgers are heros and should have been given ticker tape parades and then hookers. But no history teacher ever said, "Mike, your view of justice and rightness is so advanced, and, indeed, that would have been a great way to deal with Viet Nam draft dodgers, so... let's just say that happened!"

In the South, should we tell people that General Lee didn't surrender so much as "show mercy to Grant?" Should we tell Japanese students that Emperor Hirohito didn't want to be emperor of Japan anymore anyway and merely saw the Hiroshima and Nagasaki H-Bombings as an easy way to a quick retirement? Can Gore be in his second term as President, far as I'm concerned?

Certain matters don't benefit from compromise. Now, some will say that Evolution and other advanced scientific theories don't necessarily preclude the existence of God. This is true. In fact, most scientists, observing the world, are not even thinking about the implications for God in the system. But, Stephen Hawking remarked (I'm paraphrasing) in "A Brief History of Time," that while modern cosmology doesn't mean say there's no God, it also doesn't leave him a lot of room for fooling around. Sorry, it is what it is.

Of course, I can't prove the non-existence of God. I also can't prove that my life isn't an illusion and that I'm not in The Matrix. I can't prove that there isn't an Edenic Paradise on the far side of the moon that would dissapear if glimpsed by mortal eyes. But, if you take a basic philosophy class, or read nothing more complicated than "For Beginners..." comic books, you'll learn every quickly that you can't logically prove a negative. That means, it's on the people who say there is a God to prove it. If they want to say it's beyond proof and that belief is all that matters, fine. Teach that at home, or in church. Nothing taught in school should be beyond proof. Intelligent Design is just a fun, and pretty juvenile little game where you say, "Isn't it possible that God set Evolution in motion?" We can talk like that when we're stoned or fantasizing, but that's not the kind of thing you teach in school, as fact.

Probably, the Biblical literalists hate Intelligent Design as much as I do. I've read Genesis. The best you could do, to square it with ID, is to say that metaphorically, when Eve chose to take the Apple and God kicked the dynamic duo out of Eden, their environment changed and they evolved. But, that's pretty fraught with flaws. For one thing, it makes Evolution the result of human choice. And, for all the time I spend, straining in thought to evolve mutant powers, things don't work that way.

If they are going to teach ID, by the way, there's no reason to assume that it's "God" behind Evolution. Why not a sentient shade of the color blue? Why not an astral projection of L. Ron Hubbard? It could be anything, behind it all. I just hope she's hot and single.


At 4:52 PM , Blogger hooey said...

Almost 2,000 dead in Iraq and for what?

At 6:14 PM , Blogger Mike M. said...

Howie, man, I like your site and I appreciate that you read, and linked to, this one. But, please, don't spam the comments. If you want me to plug a post, send me an email.

At 11:19 PM , Blogger Jon E. said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 11:54 PM , Blogger Jon E. said...

Absolutely right, Mike.

ID strikes me as an uncomfortable compromise in itself by people who on the one hand can't bring themselves to be straight-up hardcore fundamentalists who simply dismiss 150 years of increasingly detailed and expansive work in all the physical sciences that proves the world to be radically different from the Biblical description of it but on the other hand who just can't accept the implications of that science. They don't like the possibility that the're part of an accident. They don't like the possibility of being alone in an indifferent universe.

I can sympathize, but I also don't think the unpleasantness of a possibility means that its possibility isn't a fact. The fact is there are a lot of unplesant possibilities in life. There's a possibility that I'll die alone and embittered. There's a possibility I'll go bankrupt by year's end. There's a possiblity that some asshole from al-Qaeda will blow up my apartment building with me in it. And it's a dead certainty that I'll never get to kiss the young Katharine Hepburn. I hate those possibilities, and I resent that certainty, but my emotional dislike of them doesn't make them any less possible or any less certain.

My other problem with "intelligent design" is that it's a relatively unintelligent appraisal of the data. It's unnecessary, inelegant, and, to my way of thinking, goofy in its understanding of the time frame involved. Life itself took billions of years to evolve from the primordial soup from to the present. Humans took millions of years to evolve from proto-hominid ancestors into what we are today. We're just not equipped (biologically? culturally?) to think in terms of millions or billions of years. But it's an outrageously long time by the standard of a human generation, more than enough time for fluke to produce mutations and for sexual and natural selection to build up human traits out of those mutations.

One last point. IDers and creationists alike like to point out that the odds of human beings existing are vanishingly slim and then argue that that slimness proves the hand of a creator was at work. Hardly. If I throw four pebbles in the air and they land in such a way to form a perfect square six inches on a side, it doesn't mean that a higher power has intervened to give me .25 pebble-cornered square feet. It was just as unlikely for them to have all landed in ANY quadrilateral of about the same dispersal. It's just that a square means something to me, and an irregular figure 2x3x7x9 or 6x3x8x1 doesn't. It's the same way with human existence: we only think it's significant that the universe produced us because we think we're significant. That's a comment on us, not on God's interest in us.

At 9:17 AM , Blogger tifanie said...

Yes, yes, science boys! I do agree, even if I don't personally feel comforted by the lack of warmth in Darwin's theory. And I certainly think teaching "ID" in schools is ludicrous. How bout teach neither? Chapter heading:

"Creationism or Evolution?"
Editor's note: No one can agree on what to teach you kids, so just sort it out your own damn selves. In the meantime, please turn to Chapter 14 on financial planing and how to use credit.

Give them something useful, at least.

At 10:45 AM , Blogger hooey said...

Mike M., sorry dude. Wo'nt happen agaim.

At 6:42 PM , Blogger tifanie said...

Oh, "wo'nt" it, Howie? "Wo'nt" it?


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