Saturday, October 21, 2006

BUNGLED INTELLIGENT DESIGN

Harvard linguist and psychology professor Steven Pinker contributed to a brief four man debate in Time magazine. The topic of the debate was: "Can You Believe in [Both] God and Evolution". Pinker has the full debate on his website. Since I agree with Pinker, here is his take on this question:

It's natural to think that living things must be the handiwork of a designer. But it was also natural to think that the sun went around the earth. Overcoming naive impressions to figure out how things really work is one of humanity's highest callings.

Our own bodies are riddled with quirks that no competent engineer would have planned but that disclose a history of trial-and-error tinkering: a retina installed backward, a seminal duct that hooks over the ureter like a garden hose snagged on a tree, goose bumps that uselessly try to warm us by fluffing up long-gone fur.

The moral design of nature is as bungled as its engineering design. What twisted sadist would have invented a parasite that blinds millions of people or a gene that covers babies with excruciating blisters? To adapt a Yiddish expression about God: If an intelligent designer lived on Earth, people would break his windows.

The theory of natural selection explains life as we find it, with all its quirks and tragedies. We can prove mathematically that it is capable of producing adaptive life forms and track it in computer simulations, lab experiments and real ecosystems. It doesn't pretend to solve one mystery (the origin of complex life) by slipping in another (the origin of a complex designer).

Many people who accept evolution still feel that a belief in God is necessary to give life meaning and to justify morality. But that is exactly backward. In practice, religion has given us stonings, inquisitions and 9/11. Morality comes from a commitment to treat others as we wish to be treated, which follows from the realization that none of us is the sole occupant of the universe. Like physical evolution, it does not require a white-coated technician in the sky.

The other debaters were Francis Collins (a prominent biologist and human genome expert who has no problem with a belief in a God who carefully supervised every mutation and variation responsible for the tortuous and sometimes tragic paths of natural selection), Michael Behe (Lehigh Univ. biochemist and frequent spokesperson for "Intelligent" Design, and Albert Mohler (President, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a young-Earth creationist, who apparently has no problem with a God malicious and tricky enough to create a young earth replete with apparent geological, fossil, and cosmological photon evidence to lead a common sense scientific investigation to the conclusion that our universe is about 14 billion years old: if humans persist in believing their meters, eyes, and mathematical models which seem to make all the sense in the world, then this God says: Catch 22: you spend eternity in the fires of a literal Hell).

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