Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Retarded Design

It should come as no surprise that I find the religionists arguments in favor of "intelligent design" (the newest way of guising creationism in new clothes) to be laughable. It's another attempt at getting something that has no basis in science whatsoever into public schoolrooms across the country. They figure they can do it if it only almost smells of creationism, instead of blatantly so.

It's funny that I say this, because when I was more devout (pre-college), I felt that intelligent design seemed like a perfect compromise. Then again...I didn't want it tought in schools.

All that being said, the NYT has an interesting piece from the weekend on "unintelligent design," or the idea that if there was a higher power at work, it was a stupid, or mean, etc. power.
What can we tell about the designer from the design? While there is much that is marvelous in nature, there is also much that is flawed, sloppy and downright bizarre. Some nonfunctional oddities, like the peacock's tail or the human male's nipples, might be attributed to a sense of whimsy on the part of the designer. Others just seem grossly inefficient. In mammals, for instance, the recurrent laryngeal nerve does not go directly from the cranium to the larynx, the way any competent engineer would have arranged it. Instead, it extends down the neck to the chest, loops around a lung ligament and then runs back up the neck to the larynx. In a giraffe, that means a 20-foot length of nerve where 1 foot would have done. If this is evidence of design, it would seem to be of the unintelligent variety.
Male nipples indeed! And none of the above gets into the truly awful...

Consider how humans and other animals are intermittently tortured by pain throughout their lives, especially near the end. Our pain mechanism may have been designed to serve as a warning signal to protect our bodies from damage, but in the majority of diseases -- cancer, for instance, or coronary thrombosis -- the signal comes too late to do much good, and the horrible suffering that ensues is completely useless.
To say nothing of a "designer" that created things like tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, etc. that kill life everywhere without remorse.

I'm pretty agnostic. I probably could be convinced to go back to church if it came right down to it. But, among the many questions I would need adequately answered before doing such a thing...I want to know how a "benevolent" God allows such things to happen. If man/woman was created perfect...why do we live such (relatively) short lives, so often full of pain? Why, if we are going to God, are our death so often incredibly painful (leaving out violent deaths)? Why is there so much suffering allowed to exist in the world? The human condition seems to point to an answer that cannot be found in theology...at least, not in the standard Judeo-Christian-Islamic theological milleau. Here, I've begun to think that perhaps the Buddhists really were on to something when they started their pillars with "All life is suffering." Something to think on.

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