Saturday, July 13, 2013

Mini-rant: Intelligent Design

One thing I don't bother with is trying to disprove religious beliefs. It seems pointless since you cannot disprove faith. I believe we should let people play in whatever sandbox they choose. However, the attempt to makeover creationism into intelligent design, brings religious people into the science sandbox. When that happens, the standard is proof and thought - not faith or wishes - and the gloves come off.

So-called intelligent design is a PR job on the literal belief inherent in creationism, with the goal of making creationism look and sound like science. However, the distinction is really window dressing since the intended objective of the two schools of thought is the same. They both aim to replace science with superstition. Please note, I do not equate religion and superstition. It's totally possible be religious (i.e., to be Christian, Muslim, Hindu, etc.) and yet not accept superstition (e.g., some guy somewhere created the universe in six days).

Source: Massimo Pigliucci, Skeptical Inquirer, October 2001
Intelligent design - in trying to sound scientific - avoids literal interpretation of the Bible. Instead, ID proponents argue that the universe is so complex, beautiful (or symmetrical), and works on such elegant laws that it must have been 'designed' by an intelligent being. Of course, what ID proponents do not do is point out that they are not just claiming intelligent design, they are claiming infallible design because - since most of these people are Christian - they believe an infallible, omniscient deity created the universe.

This is a very important distinction because intelligent design (say by space aliens or people from the future traveling back in time) might be acceptable in a flawed universe. An infallible being, however, cannot create a flawed universe. So if our universe is not demonstrably perfect, then it cannot have been designed by the Christian God.

So let's restate the ID position in its true light: the universe is so complex, beautiful (or symmetrical), and works on such elegant laws that it must have been 'designed' by an infallible being. Understood in it's true light, ID is easily destroyed if you consider a handful of facts about the universe and life on Earth:

  • The universe is largely a wasteland of empty space that is unimaginably cold, devoid of oxygen, and filled with high energy radiation such as cosmic waves and x-rays (one could almost call them 'death rays') making any kind of life impossible.
  • We live on a planet orbiting a runaway nuclear fusion explosion.
  • While this explosion protects us from the death-rays of space, it will eventually incinerate Earth.
  • This runaway explosion (paired with the off-center wobbling of our planet) have and will continue to create extreme climate changes over time. This unstable climate has helped to wipe out a vast majority of living things that have ever existed on Earth.
  • There's a lot of trash and messy left-overs floating around places where life exists. They're irregular hunks of rock or metal called asteroids and comets, and they can be devastating to life (ask a dinosaur).
  • In the short-term, the runaway nuclear fusion explosion that makes life possible will kill you if you spend too much time exposed to it. Say by standing outside for long periods of time.
  • Also in the short-term, before our planet is incinerated, those of us who do not die in car wrecks, plane crashes, wars, bizarre moments of poor judgement, etc. will die when our bodies just break down (i.e., cancer, Alzheimer's disease, etc.). These are referred to as 'natural causes' and, by the way, the time when these natural causes kick-in is completely random. You might live to 100, but if you happen to have been dealt a gene for ovarian cancer you could die at 40.
  • Millions of humans are born with defects that kill them instantly or lead to abbreviated life. Many of these defects are genetic, meaning the basic code that 'builds' a human just inexplicably goes 'ker-plooey' on a regular basis. 
With this handful of facts about the universe and life on Earth, we can make two points:
1) The universe is far from 'perfect'. You can't even really call it 'well-designed', and much of it makes absolutely no sense if you want living things to thrive. The fact is that just because the universe has physical laws and can evolve pretty symmetrical creatures like butterflies does not make it a perfect system. The fact is it's a violent place, full of randomness, and - when it comes to humans - it's downright inhospitable.
2) I'm not an infallible God, and yet I can think of a dozen ways to improve on the 'design' we see around us (e.g., lose the death-rays, make the Sun a bit more conducive to life, clean-up the rubble, and work out all those bugs in the genes). Since totally fallible little me can easily find errors that need to be improved, then that means - even if I grant that the universe was 'designed' - it was certainly not by an infallible entity.

For my argument to work, I don't even have to lay out how to improve on genes or how God could clean up those pesky asteroids, etc. I don't have to do this, because Christians believe their God is not only infallible but also all-powerful. In other words, all he'd have to do to solve these issues is cross his arms and nod his head like Barbara Eden in I Dream of Jeannie and viola! Instant fix. But he didn't. And because he didn't we know that, if there is a Christian God, he didn't create the universe.

So much for 'intelligent design'.  Now take your faith back to the religion sandbox where it belongs.

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