Saturday, 1 October 2005

Unintelligent design, Part 3

Continued from yesterday.... Do you remember the Scopes Monkey Trial, which was immortalised in a play and two exceptional films titled 'Inherit the Wind'? Creationists in Tennessee passed a law banning the teaching of evolution in schools; when the law was challenged in court, both Creationism and its defenders were shown to be, as Bill Lawrie would say, completely lacking in logic.

The 'Intelligent Design' movement is in many ways a rearguard action against this embarrassing loss. ID attempts to move on from the obvious idiocies of Creationism by wrapping myth in an aura of scientism rather than poetry. Despite the aura, it is still a movement attempting to give respectability to stupidity. Tom Cruise's Scientology almost begins to look sane by comparison.

"Every living cell contains many ultrasophisticated molecular machines," says ID proponent Michael J. Behe. So? There is no logical connection, nor any shown causal connection, between naturally occurring complexity and a Creator that brought that complexity into the world. Just because machines of man-made complexity are products of intention and design is no reason to extrapolate this intentionality into naturally occurring entities or processes. Crikey, that's been pointed out since Greek scientists began their inquiries nearly 2,500 years ago. As Benny Hill used to say, "Why you no 'rissen!"

Ayn Rand pointed out there is a profound confusion in a claim such as Behe's: a confusion between things on the one hand about which there is some choice, that is, things that are man-made, that someone has chosen to design and to produce, and might very well have chosen to produce otherwise; and another class of things that in her words are "metaphysically given," that is, entities or processes that exist in nature, and whose properties are given by the nature of the entity, and about which neither choice nor free will can apply. The key to the difference between these two classes of entities is that human beings have free will, whereas nature does not.

Man-made things are generally as someone chose them to be (I exclude here my numerous failed efforts to produce a decent home brew); natural things by contrast are as their nature determined them to be (in the case of home brew, manifestly determined to piss me off).

Was existence itself brought into existence by a Creator? There's no evidence for that claim, and nor is there any need for it. Nor is there any evidence for the claim of there being a Creator -- and as I said Thursday, if you say that existence was brought into existence by a Creator then you have the 'infinite regression' challenge of explaining how the Creator who brought everything into existence came into existence herself. There is no evidence for a Creator; there is however abundant evidence for existence. That existence exists is axiomatic, meaning that no explanation is actually needed to explain its presence. As Ayn Rand put it:
"To grasp the axiom that existence exists, means to grasp the fact that nature, i.e., the universe as a whole, cannot be created or annihilated, that it cannot come into or go out of existence. Whether its basic constituent elements are atoms, or subatomic particles, or some yet undiscovered forms of energy, it is not ruled by a consciousness or by will or by chance, but by the Law of Identity."
Proponents of 'Intelligent Design' completely fail to grasp that point. (And they aren't the only ones.) It is somewhat hard to grasp, it's true, but it's much harder to grasp the fact that otherwise intelligent people believe in an Intelligent Watchmaker who somehow brings order to the universe through his very will. Because here's the thing: if we do see an 'order' in existence, if things look orderly to us, then we might reflect that the 'order' is what we ourselves bring to the judgement of existence; existence itself is neither ordered nor disordered, it is just what it is, and it could be no other way.

That's right. Things couldn't be any other way than what we are -- there is no alternative existence in which all possible forms of existence were worked out; if anything were substantially different, if for instance the weight of the Hydrogen nucleus were something other than what it is, we would not be here to talk about it. Things would be different, and we wouldn't be here to talk about it over a Martini.

Further, to ask 'what caused existence' is itself a silly question. Existence does not require a cause; causality is inside existence, not vice versa. Causal explanations do back to what exists, not the other way around. The universe itself, meaning all that exists, has no cause -- if you insist on poetry, you might say that existence is its own cause. Nathaniel Branden summarises the point:
Existence is all that exists, the non-existent does not exist; there is nothing for existence to have come out of and nothing means nothing. If you are tempted to ask, ‘What’s outside the universe?’ recognize that you’re asking, ‘What’s outside existence?’ and that the idea of something outside of existence is a contradiction in terms; nothing is outside of existence, and ‘nothing’ is not just another kind of ‘something’—it is nothing. Existence exists; you cannot go outside it, you cannot get under it, on top of it, or behind it. Existence exists, and only existence exists: there is nowhere else to go.
So there you go.

In any case, who is this all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-perfect designer that ID proponents posit as the Prime Mover of it all, and that millions around the world worship? According to just some of the evidence produced by those who support the notion of a Creator, their personal choice of God is responsible in the past for razing entire cities to the ground in a fit of pique [Gen. 19:24], encouraging child rape [Gen. 19:8], and sending bears to kill the children of disobedient followers [2 Kings 2:23-24].

So, both all-powerful and all-loving then.

Indeed, if she does exist, then God has been busy since Boxing Day. The Asian tsunami killed 200,000 or so, and an all-powerful Being must also have designed -- or at least allowed to happen -- a series of weather patterns that devastated vast swathes of the God-fearing USA. What a great sheila, huh? What a Loving God. Or at least, what a creation, since the only place this entity exists is in the minds of those who need to believe in, or to explain, something they can't, or won't, understand.

Let's move on from the imperfection or unattractiveness of this 'all-perfect' God that's been created by some as a super-position of their own selves. Instead, let's examine the imperfections of her 'creation', the creation that Intelligent Design bunnies praise so highly: what about, for example, our own bodies -- those temples of perfection that God created in her own image and likeness. As an examination of either your own body or your neighbour's will demonstrate (put her down!), it's certainly 'irreducibly complex' (and decidedly pleasurable if you do it right), but WTF is the point of all those coughs, colds, cataracts, cancers, the appendix (what's with that?), gout and all those ongoing chronic spinal problems and arthritis as those bodies get older? What sort of bad design is all that anyway? Baaaad Watchmaker. And what's the deal with people being born with spina bifida and multiple sclerosis, and all those birth defects and congenital deformities? And what sort of way is that to give birth? Who designed the birth canal for goodness sake! Just who is this Creator trying to punish, and for what...?

Now, as sober reflection will demonstrate, there is no supernatural being 'punishing' anyone. The whole idea of a supernatural Creator is just absurd on its face; we are how we are because that is who we are. Our nature was not chosen for us by an Intelligent Designer; our nature is given to us by the Law of Identity: we are what we are, and once we understand that we can, if we understand how to do so, change some things, as long as we do so in a manner consistent with our Identity. There is no more evidence for a Creator or any supernatural Prime Mover than there is for green spiders on Mars, and the onus of proof for those asserting the existence of either is on those who assert that there is.

Nor do we even know anything about this Designer. Apart from the 'evidence' adduced above, all we have boils down to assertions she is all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing, immaterial, immortal, and infinite, and exists outside what we understand to be the universe. Frankly, this amounts on its face to nothing more than an embarrassing admission that we know nothing about this entity. To say that this is a useful description of the Chief Designer is an admission that 1) we don't' really know what she is specifically, but that she is unlimited in some way we're quite unable or unwilling to specify; and 2) that we're happy to accept the multitude of contradictions that these mutually contradictory descriptions require. The acceptance of the existence of a Designer demands faith, and it demands too the denial of reason.

Bertrand Russell was once asked what he would say if he died and found himself in Heaven, and God asked him why he was not religious during his life. Russell said he would reply, "Not enough evidence!" That's what this whole case boils down to. There's plenty of evidence that existence exists, but none at all for a Designer who created it all, and not a skerrick to suggest that the existence of which we do have immediate first-hand experience even needs a causal explanation. After all, wave your hand around and there it all is. Hard to explain all that stuff away, but hard to explain something about which there is not a scintilla of evidence, only a mountain of wishful thinking called faith.


There is one single reason for the birth of the Intelligent Design chimera, and that is to smuggle Creationism back into American schools and so allow the continued indoctrination of impressionable young minds with supernatural nonsense. By giving equal measure to science on the one hand, and to faith on the other, its proponents hopes to give belief in faith and the supernatural some legs for a few more years. It's not intelligent, in fact it's completely transparent, and it amazes me that in the Twenty-First Century such stupidity still gets house room.

And that's my last word.

This is the last of a 3 part series. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here.
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  1. there is no alternative existence

    I was going to refute this assertion with the observation that you appear to live in an existence alternative to mine, one in which "martini" is capitalized. But then I realized you didn't mean talking over drinks, but over a crate of Martini-Henrys. Do carry on.

  2. It seems to me that ID is a cynical ploy to gain power,the more people you can convince to follow you the more power you have.Getting ID into schools is like free advertising.Rather like getting an artical about your business published in a newspaper.

  3. Hippolyte, you've hit on the crux of it all for which I've been unable to find a defeintive answer: Should Martini be capitalised or not?

    Formerly I used 'martini' uncapitalised, and been happy to do so, but I've recently noticed that it's not always written that way.

    Apparently, the cocktail was first produced by a NY barman called Martinez, after whom the drink was named. In his honour, the drink was named Martini, in which case it seems to me that like Hoover, it should be capitalised.

    Nonetheless, it is still consumed out of a martini glass, so God knows what the answers is -- and I mean that quite sincerely. :-)

  4. I wonder if the corollary of "intelligent design" - the idea that something as intricate and elegant as life on Earth must have an intelligent designer - is that something as blunt and inelegant as the intelligent design hypothesis must have a moronic designer?

  5. Ann Rynd Said:

    Whether its basic constituent elements are atoms, or subatomic particles, or some yet undiscovered forms of energy, it is not ruled by a consciousness or by will or by chance, but by the Law of Identity.

    What if conciousness (or ideas or thoughts, if you prefer) is a form of energy, and that it is actually the basic stuff from which things are made? Again there is an element of dogma marring an otherwise great observation: existence is the only thing of which we can be certain. Good to see you state that in later paragraphs, though.

    Starting with that idea, it is not far to understanding the apparently contradictory idea, "Buddha was an Atheist".

    People don't necessarily object to the idea that some awesome concept is required for existence to be, they just don't like this suggestion that it's some paternal figure noting down what they do and speaking only through some "priestly" figures. This is anti-libertarianism to the worst degree.

    Instead, to take the Buddhist view, you are God, or God doesn't exist if you prefer. You have empowered yourself with your current position and chosen what it is that you are able to do with what free choices you leave open to yourself. Fortunately this explanation which sits outside of provable or disprovable space is ambivalent - you don't have to 'swallow' it for it to apply or not apply - it doesn't imply that you are required to do anything other than what you feel preconditioned to do. Doing otherwise is then simply gambling, and you can pull out Occam's razor and slit that dictating creator's throat.

    However it does say, that when it hurts too much, try these practices instead - you might like them (Cue Dilmah advert), and if you are confused about why you make decisions, then try observing your thoughts, and here is a large history of things that are known to drive people in certain ways.

    Some would say that the Bible is really only a guide like this, too - if read properly. However those people are also usually characterised as "new age freaks", who break the 'the Bible is The Word Of God' dogma that is perhaps the most offensive facet of Christiantity to a large group of thinkers.

    In my opinion, the "God doesn't exist because He is supposed to be loving and there is suffering" argument is pretty worn out and easily deconstructed, be it with an argument about contrast, punishment/karma, bad lifestyles, building for a revolution or anything like that. Personally I think the answer to that one is "mu"; I try to avoid seeking the answer of purpose for facets of existence :-). In short this argument pre-supposes the nature of something which is then argued not to exist.

    But otherwise, nice piece.


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