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Intelligent Design

Dubya continues to provoke me to the very core of my bitchitude.  He’s an easy target – so full of delusional, prevaricating, sleazy and backward bullshit that the biggest problem is choosing which aspect of his evil administration to rant about.  Cheney, Condi, Rove, Scooter…the cast of characters calls yet another Pulp Fiction quote to mind: “We should have fuckin’ shotguns for this.”
In any case, I’m gonna leave the Idiot President alone this month in favour of an education-related topic that, for some freakish and moronic reason which totally escapes me, is drawing a lot of press (rather than being dismissed for the complete and utter foolishness it is): Intelligent Design.

Intelligent Design is the idea that the universe, and particularly life on this planet, is such a complex, finely balanced and seemingly perfect arrangement that it must have been created or directed by some external thinking planner (God) as opposed to the random and unguided forces of natural selection and the laws of physics.  Proponents of this “theory” are lobbying to have the concept presented as an alternative to the Theory of Evolution in high school science classrooms.

In one American town embroiled in this argument, the citizens were so outraged by this bit of foolishness that they voted out their entire Creationist school board, prompting Pat Robertson to suggest that the town had abandoned God and would suffer some cataclysmic disaster.  Good Christian, Pat.

Let’s be clear about one thing: If you want to believe that God created everything – even if you want to insist that the earth is a mere 6000 years old (as some creationists do) and that God scatters dinosaur bones about just to fuck with us – well, be my guest.  If you want to believe that the earth was created in it’s entirety last week and all our memories were implanted by super-intelligent space aliens, again be my guest.  However, if you want to teach those ideas as part of a SCIENCE curriculum, you’re going to need some better evidence than the bible, or the shoddy, ass-backward, circular reasoning the ID camp relies upon.

ID supporters argue that complex biochemical systems could not possibly have been produced by evolution because they are “irreducibly complex.”  Just like mousetraps, these systems cannot function unless each of their parts is in place.  Since natural selection can only choose among systems that are already working (say the IDiots), there is no way that Darwinian mechanisms could have fashioned the complex systems found in living cells.  And if such systems could not have evolved, they must have been designed. That is the totality of the biochemical “evidence” for intelligent design.

To explain the origin of life by invoking a supernatural Designer is to explain precisely nothing, for it leaves unexplained the origin of the Designer. You have to say something like “God was always there”, and if you allow yourself that kind of lazy way out, you might as well just say “DNA was always there”, or “Life was always there”, and be done with it.

When one is dealt a bridge hand of thirteen cards, the probability of being dealt that particular hand is less than one in 600 billion.  Still, it would be absurd for someone to be dealt a hand, examine it carefully, calculate that the probability of getting it is less than one in 600 billion, and then conclude that he must not have been dealt that very hand because it is so very improbable.
This is the lame reasoning that sits at the core of ID.

I have no problem with ID being taught in school…so long as it’s taught in a theology or philosophy class. The argument for God by design is an interesting bit of mental gymnastics and a great jumping off point for the various arguments which purport to demonstrate the existence of Him/Her/It.  Of course, I would want the answers to each of those arguments taught in the same segment. 
But the science classroom is where we teach science, which might be loosely defined as follows: 
Observation and description of a phenomenon or group of phenomena; formulation of a hypothesis to explain the phenomena; use of the hypothesis to predict the existence of other phenomena, or to predict quantitatively the results of new observations, and performance of experimental tests of the predictions by several independent experimenters and properly performed experiments. 

Not even the IDiots claim to have observed God, or to have developed an experiment which might reveal God.  Until they do, they have no business in the science curriculum.

Now, all you blind watchmakers and mutating strands of DNA fuck off.  I’m busy.

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10 Responses

  1. Though I’m not a proponent of the ID camp, it seems that, rather than “the random and unguided forces of natural selection”, that life (however it began in the first place) seems to become more complex over time. As well, it can be observed (perhaps from our arrogant standpoint) that the consciousness or self-awareness of certain species has also become more complex over time. Whether or not one would say that God does this or that it is a process of natural selection, clearly this complexification indicates that evolution has a certain inbuilt direction favouring the development of intelligence.
    Maybe I’m just supporting a complex version of evolution, but my main hesitancy is with this word “random”. This word, in its use in evolutionary biology, promotes a bias not supported by evidence, that being, an understanding of the mechanisms by which life came about in the first place. If science is unaware how life came about in the first place, whether it be purposeful or random, then it cannot pass judgement on the nature of its unfolding with any authority. The fact that life arises at all is curious, isn’t it?

  2. Not being able to provide a Theory of Abiogenesis does not, in any way, prevent science from “passing judgement” on “the nature of its unfolding”.
    The nature of its unfolding is described by Evolutionary Biology and its many disciplines, with evidence, harmony, predictability, testability, and (to be simply redundant) mountains and mountains of incontrovertible evidence. It may be modified or adjusted, from time to time, as that understanding increases – but evolution is a demonstrated fact, like gravity and the atomic composition of water.
    Yes, that life arose is most assuredly curious. People spend a great deal of time and money investigating just how that happened. Simple answer: We don’t know.
    Better answer: We don’t know yet.
    One must be careful not to let one’s hopes and fears write answers to those many questions in the absence of evidence; to accept explanations because one hopes it is so.
    You seem to be suggesting something like the following: Life becomes more complex over time. This complexity is accompanied by the development of “intelligence” Whether or not God created life, “evolution” is making us smarter and thus “favours intelligence”. If evolution favours intelligence, it must be somehow directed…intelligence is not an accident.

    It seems to be some way of cozying up to, “There must be something greater, else why would we be getting smarter?”

    There are so many problems with this, not least is the (you were right) arrogance of it, but the anthropomorphism, the relativism, the selective sampling…
    Who’s to say beetles, ants, jellyfish or mole rats aren’t outperforming us on whatever objective scale of evolutionary success one might propose? Bacteria and virii seem to be holding their own, at any rate.
    Intelligence? The problem with talking about comparative measures of inter-species intelligence is that you’re doing the measuring, defining the terms and grading the test. None of them have developed weapons that might kill us all while children starve. Perhaps one or two of those species CHOSE not to. Maybe they’re simply so evolutionarily advanced that it is beyond occuring to them to devote resources to destroying their habitat. What mean intelligence?
    In any event, I take it you’re not positing a measurable increase in intelligence for any other species than our own – which is to say, you do not contend that ants, beetles or jellyfish are exhibiting previously unexpected or unreported levels of intelligence.
    Not like, y’know…people.
    This alone is sufficient to put the proof. Were the process of evolution designed to promote intelligence (whatever you might want that to mean), then we would see increasing levels of intelligence? among all species, or at least SOME other species, over time. It is only our own intelligence upon which we remark.
    It is nothing more than hubris that permits the argument evolution is in any way directed.
    If “intelligence” is adaptive and increases survival, to the degree it is a heritable trait, it flourishes.
    Leaving aside the nature/nurture arguments about intelligence and accepting – as your proposition requires – that evolution plays a role in intelligence, it would seem to be an adaptive trait for humans only. That certainly removes it from the realm of things like the opposable thumb, focusing eyes or body hair even if we restrict the field to the class of mammals.
    Life, and the universe it which it resides, is great enough, amazing enough, wonderful and awesome enough all by itself. It doesn’t need anything driving it.

  3. What about dolphins and whales? They’ve been around far longer than us, and again curiously, with a troublesome lack of explanation as to why from biologists, have a greater brainmass to bodymass ratio than humans?

    So it DOES occur not just in humans. Thus this idea of evolution promoting increased consciousness (which was what I really wanted to imply in the first place but thought I’d crack it open with ‘intelligence’ first) has some traction. I think it is YOU that are being coy and relativistic when saying perhaps the ant just decided not to publish the Encyclopedia Antica or something and instead thought it was better to cut leaves and farm mold in the bowels of the colony instead. Intelligence, conciousness even better, is a natural outcome of evolutionary mechanisms as an adaptive trait that promotes survivability. If a big meteor hadn’t come along the dinosaurs probably would have evolved into ‘intelligent’ (oh here we go again) beings capable of cleverly, and collectively taking advantage of all that yummy meat running around and all the rich soil too. Someone with scaley fingers would probably be typing this right now. It’s an inevitablility in the evolution of life because awareness, creativity, intelligence, complex communication are the best weapons to gain advantage over that which lacks it. Yes the amoebi will always survive, and the algaii, but the only way they’re getting off this rock is with us, or something like us….

    That said, just curious, do you believe in ‘intelligent’ life on other planets in the universe? Statistically guaranteed, they could have been around for 13 billion years compared with our 1 million years and might have figured out how to get around this whole ‘lightspeed’ thing. Though there is no direct evidence to it, it is a statistical assurance to be respected.

    Signed,
    Not an Alien Worshiping Nut-job, Just Like My Universal View as Expansive as Possible

  4. What about dolphins and whales? They’ve been around far longer than us, and again curiously, with a troublesome lack of explanation as to why from biologists, have a greater brainmass to bodymass ratio than humans?

    Are you going to take longevity OR brainmass as your indicator of whatever it is your trying to suggest? There are plenty of species that have been around longer than either dolphins or whales.
    Are you suggesting brainmass:bodyweight ratio is some fair measure of either intelligence or consciousness? Or is it to be measured in liklihood of getting off the planet (one supposes this would be as a matter of will, rather than carried along on some debris following a meteor strike).

    Regardless of how you sift and pluck your terms and strategies – and the mad hopping about that seems to entail – neither species longevity or brainmass:bodyweight provide any sort of evidence for suggesting that (a) dolphins and whales are more or less “intelligent” than previous members of their species, (b) possess a greater of lesser degree of “consciousness” than previous members of their species, or (c) that evolution favours the development of intelligence or consciousness.

    The problem, as I keep trying to point out, is that your “expansive” view makes room for a whole truckload of stuff for which there is NO EVIDENCE: Evolving “intelligence” in other species; super-smart alien life forms.
    You started out with the assumption that evolution favours the development of intelligence (now consciousness – another trait that is at best difficult to define and impossible to measure relatively) because you claim it has emerged in whales and dolphins among others, presumably), and a scale of comparison that is designed to support the conclusion you want without regard for the mechanisms employed by the process (evolution).
    It is precisely the same weak reasoning that lies at the heart of ID, whether you see it, or admit it, or not.
    “Ooh, ooh…the lack of biology’s explanation for brain to bodymass ratio is troublesome” is exactly the same as “Ooh…ooh…there are gaps in the fossil record!”
    Your position is like that of the creationist who insists that the banana MUST have been designed because it is fits so perfectly into the hand for eating. Your logical cart is well out in front of your reasoning horse.
    And from there, you leap to the conclusion that intelligence (whatever you mean by that…you seem to enjoy NOT defining your terms in any meanginful way) IS emerging in other species. Ants and jellyfish and whales…well, whales and dolphins, at least…ARE “more intelligent” than they were 1000 generations ago. Talk about a claim without evidence! And please note that your conclusion – that evolution favours the development of intelligence – was also in your premise. This is simply bad argument.

    Faith, which you apparently have, is a cute thing. You really need to stop trying to force science to support your belief in a prime mover, and attacking it for refusing to do so.
    I’m not being COY. There is simply no evidence whatsoever for any of your assumptions about the DIRECTION of evolution. Your position is tautological: I see consciousness, thus evolution must favour consciousness.
    I will say it again: If evolution (the mechanism vis natural selection by which random genetic mutations either succeed or fail relative to whether they provide benefit to the organism’s ability to survive and reproduce) favoured the development of intelligence and/or consciousness, one would expect to have seen it develop in far more lines than your hand-picked, “oh-these-suit-my-position” examples. Simply finding whatever you call intelligence, or consciousness, here and there does not mean evolution favours it – EXCEPT, perhaps, in those specific cases (and that assumes evolution has anything at all to do with either quality in the first place – a proposition I find spurious and without evidence to support it). Finding what you call intelligence and/or consciousness here and there IN NO WAY translates into some overarching fundamental premise regarding what evolution FAVOURS.

    Why don’t you argue that evolution favours the development of wings, or bipedal locomotion, or laying eggs? All of these things exist; have existed for a very long time. Do you expect that dolphins, given enough time, will develop any of those?

    Intelligence, conciousness even better, is a natural outcome of evolutionary mechanisms as an adaptive trait that promotes survivability.

    Then why do we not see the development of intelligence/consciousness in kudzu, corn, potatoes, jellyfish, virii and bacteria? And PLEASE don’t try, “You can’t prove that they DON’T have intelligence and consciousness!” I’ll let you define your terms to mean whatever the fuck you want them to, but there has to be SOME logic in this.

  5. The reason why corn doesn’t rule us is because we got the upper hand first.

  6. And for that, we may be thankful.
    Praise the stalk, worship the husk, bow down before the niblet.

  7. You mentioned ….To explain the origin of life by invoking a supernatural Designer is to explain precisely nothing, for it leaves unexplained the origin of the Designer. You have to say something like “God was always there”, and if you allow yourself that kind of lazy way out, you might as well just say “DNA was always there”, or “Life was always there”, and be done with it.

    While your reasoning is understandable being from a secular humanist ingrained perspective, You’re being presumptuous inisisting that God NEEDS an origin in order to satisfy as an ONLY answer that fits your reasoning. However God does NOT FIT into the natural reasoning but is understood better when He is looked at as being SUPERnatural, therefore making it possible for Him being ALWAYS THERE.

  8. I dislike feeling obligated to approve such comments as above for fear of being branded a censor.
    Pfft. What twaddle. I ought to impose some sort of threshold rationality test…
    Let me guess. You’re a follower of Thor. No ? Krishna?

  9. Your under no obligation to approve anything you can’t deny with facts beyond calling it twaddle.

  10. There is a place for theology if one wants to pursue it. It’s my opinion that public school, particularly high school, is not the place to teach it. Furthermore, the environment is not conducive to learning all things holy. I can’t remember ever feeling the slightest bit inclined to think about God in school. The one exception might be praying that the really hot dude sitting in front of me in class might want to smoke some plant later on. Who can say for sure though? Maybe after a few tokes, we might have wanted to chat about ID. Probably not though.

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