Turtles all the way down

I was going to write about King Lear today, and I may yet, later. But in the meantime, eyes must be rolled and lips pursed over the state board of education in Kansas, hosting a little show trial for creationists before they vote to allow Genesis to become part of the state’s science curriculum.

But no, I hear them say, they’re not creationists. Oh, no, they’re proponents of intelligent design. G*d didn’t create the world… but it couldn’t have happened without him. Her. Them.

Honey, please. I am not about to get into arguments pro/con on this blog, because the whole thing is preposterous. But two comments made by the creationists testifying before the Kansas board bear examination.

One is the whole “teach the controversy” shibboleth. Charles Thaxton, creationist chemist and author of a book that says so, said, “There is no science without criticism.” He and his cohorts are described as arguing that Darwinism has become a dangerous dogma, and they are simply open-minded.

Fooey. Anyone who believes that Darwinism isn’t constantly examined and challenged by scientists of all stripes needs to vote Republican. All science is constantly critiqued. That’s what experiments are for. That’s what peer-reviewed journals are for. Biologists and their compeers have been bickering about the details of the evolutionary process since before Darwin sailed on the Beagle.

But suggesting that science should include ideas that cannot be tested is not open-minded, it is lame-brained.

Witness the other statement, by another chemist, one William S. Harris. He and his fellow travelers had been dazzling the Board with the complexities of RNA and all that jazz. “You can infer design just by examining something, without knowing anything about where it came from,” he said. Referring to the scene in The Gods Must Be Crazy in which the Bushmen marvel at a Coca-Cola bottle thrown from a plane, he said, “I don’t know who did it, I don’t know how it was done, I don’t know why it was done, I don’t have to know any of that to know that it was designed.”

Well. That was not exactly the Bushmen’s response, was it, Dr. Harris? If they had thought like that, they wouldn’t have assumed it was from the gods, would they? They would have realized it was a man-made object, albeit one from a society whose technology they could not fathom.

No, the Bushmen did not infer design. They inferred divine intervention, and that’s exactly what the intelligent designists want us to infer as well, despite their disingenuous pose.

Not only that, but while the complexities of life on this planet may cause some of us to infer an intelligence behind it all, they do not necessarily imply that at all.

One day an incident occurred in my elementary media center that put this in perspective for me. I was working at my table on my spiffy PowerBook laptop, using my graphics tablet pen as a mouse, when one of our special education students stopped by to watch in wonder as I worked. Finally she asked, “Mr. Lyles, is your computer magic?” I gently explained that although it looked like magic, it was just a very complicated machine, and demonstrated the tablet for her.

These people fall in the same category: it’s too complicated for us to explain, so it must be the work of powers beyond our comprehension. It is a lazy, intellectually dishonest way of looking at the world.

Turtles, all the way down.

3 thoughts on “Turtles all the way down

  1. Hey, why not creationism? After all, evolution is a religion. Both are marked by plenty of evidence in favor, some apparently against, and both are meaningless without a fairly substantial leap of faith on the part of the believer.

    “But suggesting that science should include ideas that cannot be tested is not open-minded, it is lame-brained.”

    I agree. We shouldn’t teach either.

  2. Pish tush.

    Creationists presuppose that the mechanical facts of evolution presuppose that there is not room for the personal agency of God in an individual’s life.

    This is not science; this is demagoguery.

    The problem is that humans are limited. Some primitive tribes have no words for numbers greater than three: 1, 2, 3, many. The rest of us are not much better when it comes to conceptualizing the trillions/quadrillions/googols of blunders, slips, and mischances that have led to life on this planet as it stands today.

    The eye is too fabulously complicated to have evolved? That’s not faith; it’s a lack of imagination.

    Let’s stick to science in the classroom.

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