Intelligent Design

If I could cite one advantage to these early years in the Third Millennium, it would be that, due to the abundance of idiots and stupidity, there is always a topic at hand for a rant. That there is “serious” public debate about teaching something politely called Intelligent Design alongside the scientific, testable hypothesis of Natural Selection is as ridiculous as if some faction contended that alongside Astronomy be taught the idea that the Sun is dragged across the sky behind Apollo’s chariot!

Most, if not all, the technological marvels we today take for granted, are tangible results of a method of organized study and pursuit of The Truth which we’ve dubbed The Scientific Method. Drawing upon thoughts of great minds for thousands of years and refined by the heirs of this philosophical legacy, scientific method honors only one deity – that which is true. The scientist, a devotee of the scientific method, concerns himself/herself only with matters that can be surmised and testable within the confines of human experience, and the senses as extended by available technology such as magnetometers, electron microscopes, radio telescopes, etc. Simply put, the scientific method follows these simple steps:

1. Observe
2. Propose a hypothesis to explain observation(s)
3. Create experiments to test the hypothesis
4. Interpret the results of the experiments and accept or reject (or perhaps, revise) the hypothesis.

 There are many additions to the basic method, some of the more important being:

1. Experiments must be controlled and repeatable.
2. Results must be subjected to peer review – though this is not a “majority rule” situation – many hypotheses criticized by peer review have been ultimately accepted;
3. Multiple theories derived from scientific method are subject to “Occam’s Razor”, the idea that the simplest explanation is the best.

It’s important that the scientific method does not eschew intuition and “non-linear thinking” – in fact many great hypotheses have been the offspring of these modes of thought. However, all hypotheses must be testable – those that are not testable, by definition, have no place in scientific thought.

The concept of “Intelligent Design” is based on a feeling, not an observation. The proponent often cites such marvels as The Human Eye as “evidence” that life, as we know it, is far to complex for the mechanism of evolution. Though it is difficult to imagine the slow, grinding process which as taken billions of years to bear this particular fruit, to argue that it is impossible is to deny that it exists. The human eye DOES exist, so it must not be impossible!

The problem with the sloppy thinking that leads one down blind alleys such as Intelligent Design is that EVERY state of the universe is equally improbable. But with the existence of any given state of the universe, that state’s probability becomes a certainty.

Consider the couple that plays Scrabble frequently… they draw a letter for first play. The husband wins the draw 50 times in a row -- without peeking! The odds of this occurrence, prior to the event, are ½ * ½ * …. * ½ or 2-50, or about 9 out of a QUADRILLION!!! You have better odds of winning the Texas Lottery TWICE!!! However, once the event unfolds, the odds suddenly skyrocket to ONE – a dead certainty!!! As strange as this is, this happened to me and my wife a couple of years ago! (Of course, this says nothing about the ass-whoopin’ I took in the actual games.)

It’s simply an extension of the monkeys at typewriters conjecture. Given every combination of Latin characters, spaces, and punctuation marks, War and Peace would be an unlikely product of a million typing-monkey-years. Still, if we carried out the experiment, and it happened that the monkeys produced a classic, the odds are no longer infinitesimal, but rather simply ONE… it happened… it IS. Our stunned disbelief that our primate hunt ‘n peckers could produced the tome would not lend credence to a theory that said it DID not happen because it was, at the outset, too unlikely.

Of course, there are many who still reject the Theory of Natural Selection for still more idiotic reasons, most primarily rooted in ignorance of the theory. Only last week, I heard yet another opponent of Darwin stating as a critique of the theory, “Chevy’s don’t turn into Buicks!!! Ain’t no one ever seen a monkey turning into a human neither!” Take it from me… if you find yourself in the midst of a crowd of such overpowering intellect – don’t argue, just leave. They’ll be callin’ you “Puddinhead”.

-September, 2005