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Nothing intelligent about it

Alan Braunholtz

Kansas is a good place to have a Flat Earth Society, and their Board of Education is doing its best to oblige.In 1999 they forced creationism into school science standards. Not being science, it didn’t last too long. Now it’s mutated and evolved into “intelligent design.” We’ll see how this adaptation fares under the natural selection of public opinion.In its criticism of evolution, intelligent design offers nothing new. As usual, Darwin’s critics haven’t bothered to understand evolutionary theory and how it works. This is similar to primitive South Pacific islanders who knew nothing about the theory of aerodynamics yet assumed that the first pilots who land planes on their islands must be gods.”Complex systems obviously can’t happen by chance” shows little grasp of the designing hand of natural selection and genetics. Darwin asked himself these questions in “The Origin of Species,” and biologists are always answering them. With the eye it’s not hard to see that an animal with a light sensitive cell is better off than one with none. Then one with a cluster would be even better off, and then if it could wrinkle its skin to point this cluster, etc. There are books detailing these arguments. One to check out is Robert Pennock’s “Tower of Babel.”Where intelligent design has evolved is in its movement away from accepting the Bible as a literal text on science and history. Creationist museums portray the Earth as only 10,000 years old, with people cavorting with dinosaurs and the Grand Canyon created by Noah’s flood in a few days.Intelligent design accepts most geological science and even a limited role for evolution. Intelligent design focuses on what it sees as a few holes in evolution to claim that some “supernatural force” must have stepped in to guide now and again. That’s it! Maybe when they read books such as “Tower of Babel” and the holes are filled in, they’ll see that Mr. Supernatural isn’t needed, at least where the diversity of life is concerned, and go home.That’s unlikely, since those who want to confuse theology and science embrace intelligent design. For conservatives, “godless evolution” is a social issue up there with gay marriage and abortion. They see intelligent design as another chance to prove evolution wrong and that God exists. But since when did God need proof? Whatever happened to faith? As a proof for God intelligent design doesn’t much improve on creationism, which actually makes God look like a bit of a deceiver, charlatan and mechanic. In intelligent design, he’s a God of holes, apparently picking and choosing when to act. Religion and science exist on different fields and shouldn’t be competing, each trying to be the other. It’s a false choice that some on both sides push. Physicist Hawking’s famous quote, “Know the mind of God,” and Dawkin’s brilliantly argued books on evolution and his beliefs on atheism come to mind. Using science to question God is as extreme as playing with it to help your religious beliefs. It’s bad science and bad religion.Scientific theory involves a hypothesis that explains observed data and make predictions for future discoveries. It can be tested and if found false, a new theory is needed. So far evolution has stood up to scientific testing. If a religious conservatives want to impose their beliefs on science by putting “WARNING: not a fact, only a controversial theory!” stickers on evolution texts, hoping to confuse scientific theory with guesses, are they prepared to allow scientists equal time? Say Bibles with “CAUTION: mostly undocumented, sometimes contradictory hearsay. Often misinterpreted by persuasive demagogues for personal gain” stickers?Since high school I’ve been suspicious of anyone who spends most of their time promoting themselves as the only game in town. In high school the really cool kids just were. They didn’t have to sell it to anyone.The last pope believed in the compatibility of evolution and religion, and many evolutionary scientists do, as well. Kenneth Millers’ “Finding Darwin’s God” is a great book for clearly debunking creationist myths while still accepting the Bible and modern science.Intelligent design would find more fertile ground with the big bang, string theory and the search for the natural constants. One of the more interesting problems of string theory is why all these constants are perfectly suited for life to exist. Tweak any of them a little and suddenly everything is ripped apart by anti-gravity, fusion reactions don’t happen to power the stars, and atoms are unstable. The anthropic explanation that if they weren’t we wouldn’t be here to observe them feels clumsy to some scientists.The heartless competition of evolution can make one question the apparent cruelty of it all, but then how does any religion rationalize all the suffering in the world? Evolution can give any perspective you want. The chances of all your ancestors meeting back through time is astronomically small, but it happened or you wouldn’t be here. Your life is a miracle, so use it. That’s the other thing, evolution’s progress to complex organisms with greater and greater intelligence has produced us. We can think. We’re able to see how our actions affect others. We’ve got empathy and altruism. No other species does this. With global communication and trade, we’re connecting with more and more different kinds of people and even animals. We no longer see wars as anything but hell, and we’re now concerned for the environment. Perhaps we’re transcending the whole “nature red in tooth and claw” basis that set it all in motion.If humanity becomes more humane, it will be because of cultural, not genetic evolution. A player in cultural evolution is religion. The golden rule “treat others how you’d like to be treated,” which is common to most religions, is a great moral foundation for religious and secular life. Voltaire may have been ironically accurate when he wrote, “If God did not exist it would be necessary to invent him.”Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a weekly column for the Daily.Vail, Colorado


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