Sunday, February 20, 2005

Morbidly Unintelligent Design

Jim Holt offers a trenchant and darkly hilarious refutation of proponents of Intelligent Design in the New York Times Magazine today. Holt isolates the perfect question plaguing advocates of ID: If the canvass of nature can be traced back to an intelligent designer (e.g. God), how can it be so sloppy and bizarre? Proponents have no answer, naturally, because they’re not genuinely concerned with evidence or rational thought. Rather they use pseudo-scientific arguments to get their theology through the back door. Throughout his piece, Holt calls attention to some pretty disturbing trends in nature that should call into question the intelligence of the designer. Here’s one I especially like:

Perhaps 99 percent of the species that have existed have died out. Darwinism has no problem with this, because random variation will inevitably produce both fit and unfit individuals. But what sort of designer would have fashioned creatures so out of sync with their environments that they were doomed to extinction?

Good question, Mr. Holt. I’ll look to see if anyone takes Holt’s challenge and answers his commonsensical questions. But Holt gets morbidly funny when he essentially calls God ‘an avid abortionist.” Here’s his take on the inefficiencies of human reproduction:

Fewer than one-third of conceptions culminate in live births. The rest end prematurely, either in early gestation or by miscarriage. Nature appears to be an avid abortionist, which ought to trouble Christians who believe in both original sin and the doctrine that a human being equipped with a soul comes into existence at conception.

Not only does Holt’s observation call into question the intelligence of the designer, but it also calls into question its benevolence. What kind of God would damn so many souls into a perpetual state of nothingness like limbo when they’re helpless and where their only taint is the archaic, and harsh, concept of original sin? It was this same frustration that propeled Albert Camus to tell brothers at the Dominican Monastery of Latour-Maubourg in 1948 that he shared with them the “same revulsion from evil," but that he could not share their hope (in divine salvation) because he struggled “against this universe in which children suffer and die.”

As Holt argues, with which Camus would have undoubtedly agreed:

It is hard to avoid the inference that a designer responsible for such imperfections must have been lacking some divine trait – benevolence or omnipotence or omniscience, or perhaps all three.

The worse part of all this is that the United States’ education system is being pushed back into the Dark Ages by people who have no regard for the scientific method and are only concerned with having the world they envision in their head stare back at them with nodding approval. And it is because of this need for cultural hegemony that makes fundamentalist Christians a constant and dangerous threat to democracy and free thought in America.

-- M. Wood