Saturday, January 28, 2012

Intelligent Disdain

In Missouri and Indiana this month, bills have been put forward in the legislature to return "intelligent design" to the classrooms. Because their children are apparently not stupid enough yet.

I occasionally hang out on a blog called Stone the Preacher (it's run out of Hope Chapel in Hermosa Beach, CA); I ended up there rebutting one of the standard canards of the fundamentalists (I think it was "atheists have no morals," but at this late date, I'm really not sure), and I kept going back, probably because I thrive on conflict. And run-on sentences. And recently, Pastor Steve, a young-earth creationist, made the mistake of mentioning "intelligent design."

I've always loved that phrase because of its inherent idiocy. "Intelligent design" is creationism wearing glasses and a clown nose, and the adjective is so clearly in conflict with the noun that people should be unable to avoid stuttering when they say it. Every attempt to sneak it into schools gets thoroughly destroyed in the courts, but that doesn't stop them from trying over and over again (for example, in Missouri and Indiana - and probably in some other state any day now).

Let's be honest: evolution explains why some of the ridiculous design flaws exist in the world. There is no "intelligence" in the "design" of the world, and examples are everywhere. Comedians have been pointing them out for years.
"God is a mechanical engineer! Look at this marvelous collection of joints and levers!"

"No, God is an electrical engineer! Look at the intricacy of these neurons and synapses!"

"No," said the city planner, "God is obviously a civil engineer. Sometimes, when nobody's looking, it's just easier to run a sewer pipe through a recreational area."
But fundies, being fundies, keep soldiering on, like particularly pious zombies on a quest for children's brains.

Let's consider the evidence. And remember, the people who believe this silliness also believe that God doesn't make mistakes.

1. As we develop in the womb, we form three sets of kidneys. The pronephroi ("forekidneys") appear in the fourth week; they degenerate pretty quickly, but the ducts are recycled to build the mesonephroi ("midkidneys"). And then those degenerate and the tubules are recycled in the metanephroi ("hindkidneys"), which are our permanent kidneys.

This almost seems like an elegant bit of engineering, but really, it's more like building an Eiffel Tower as scaffolding for another Eiffel Tower, which is used as scaffolding for a final, bigger Eiffel Tower, and you rip down each one as you go (I don't remember where I saw that metaphor, but it's perfect). It's an unnecessarily complex process, and it's just evidence that evolution had a number of false starts along the way, and had to go back and refigure what it was building.

(On the subject of kidneys, why is the gene for polycystic kidney disease dominant? Why make it 50% likely that you'll inherit a painful, life-threatening condition?)

2. The female quoll (an Australian marsupial) has only six teats, but gives birth to a litter of 18, meaning that the 12 slowest or weakest die of starvation. A 66% death rate makes sense to you? Was God weeding out the weak ones? Why didn't He just build them right to begin with?

3. While you’re in Australia, look up the mystery of a kangaroo’s teeth, for that matter. The grasses they eat are tough, and wear down the front teeth of the 'roo. So, to make up for this, they evolved were designed with an unusual ability: as the front teeth wear down, they fall out and the back teeth move forward to replace them.

Which sounds great, except that they don't have the ability to grow new teeth. So by the time they're 15 or 20, they run out, and starve to death. Apparently, God hates kangaroos, and wants to see them suffer.

4. Birds of the family Sulidae (boobies and gannets)...

...heh, heh... I said "boobies"...

4. Birds of the family Sulidae are diving birds, plunging into the water from the sky. One of their adaptations to this is that they don’t have external nostrils – the water would get shoved up their noses on impact. But even without external nostrils, they have everything else that makes up a nasal airway inside their beaks. It’s just that the nostrils are sealed off at the outside. Having nasal airways that can’t work is pretty pointless design. Although evolution tells us why they’re there, it makes you wonder why God would choose to install a completely pointless structure inside the bird's beak. Did He build it from spare parts from another bird?

If these things, and so many others, are designed, that’s some pretty shoddy craftsmanship.

Maybe God occasionally gets drunk on sacramental wine while He's working?

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