Home • Essays • Lost Articles • Loose Ends • Collections • Computing • Projects • Widdershins • Quotations • Links • Us

 

Intelligent Design 2

Iím sorry, I just canít clam up after doing my initial Intelligent Design page. Quite obviously, this subject is a particular "hot button" for me.

Just the other day, I ran into a great article in an old issue of Gnosis magazine on this very subject Ė written in 1992. Entitled "The Streams of Life", its author was Ted Shultz, former Managing Director of Whole Earth Review and The Fringes of Reason. He was at that time pursuing a doctorate in evolutionary biology at Cornell University.

Now, this article was not written to rebut evangelical Christians. Rather, it was to clear up misconceptions among the New Age, crystal-dangling, bang-haired, spirit-channeling nincompoops that actually comprised that magazineís best customers. In point of fact, back then the notion of a "divine designer" came part-and-parcel with the philosophy of the Shirley Maclaine-inspired chanting, incense-sniffing crackpots, quasi-Eastern guru charlatans, and Druidic-Wiccan phallus-huggers running around at that time. They needed some good old-fashioned, come-to-Jesus "centering" on the subject -- and I praise the integrity of that magazineís editor (Jay Kinney) for allowing it to happen.

The main point of the article was to correct the popular misconception that evolution is governed "by chance". There is no biologist alive who believes that. Evolution is governed by a thing called "natural selection", and there is nothing chancy about that. It says, very simply: If youíre not fit, you donít survive to pass on your "less than optimal" nature (genes) to any future progeny. But the way you get fit is the important thing, and the nature of that mechanism is what the Intelligent Design community seems to want to ignore.

You will inevitably hear the common example presented to refute evolution, relating to the physical development of the mammalian eye organ. The ID guys express this in terms of the odds that something so complex could have developed "by chance". Often they will present it in terms of "rolling the dice" Ė the dice representing gene sequencing. They argue that, to get the dice to all come up favorably, i.e., in a particular state necessary to define an eye, would be extremely improbable. For example, if each of 100 dice (genes) has to end up being a particular number to "make an eye", the odds against getting this unique combination are only 1 in 6100 Ė an impossibly remote chance that could never happen in the lifetime of our universe. And this is simplistic, since the eye must surely be defined by more than 100 genes.  Their main thrust is that an eye, or any other complicated organ, is "irreducibly complex"; that is, it can only function if all its parts magically come together at once.  And evolution, they correctly point out, doesn't work that way.

Well, in point of fact, the eye has arisen not once, but between 45 and 60 separate times in the history of the animal kingdom, with no two designs exactly alike! And none of them are truly "perfect", as they all have certain design flaws Ė for example, our own optical nerve stretches from the front rather than from the rear of the retina, resulting in a blind spot in our field of vision. That is hardly what you would expect from a sensible, omniscient Designer. Something is definitely wrong with this "roll of the dice" argument.

What is wrong is that any complex organ such as an eye is not developed "from scratch" as an "irreducibly complex" entity, but rather by building upon basic sub-features that are beneficial to the organism -- or, in some cases, by sub-features that are useful for reasons other than what they end up being used for. For example, itís beneficial to develop a spot of cells that is sensitive to light. (You can see that in simple organisms like snails and worms.)  This incremental feature develops in the first place by action of any of a number of different change drivers:  gene transcription errors,  random mutation at the gene level, or simply by a particularly propitious intermixing of genes between two different mating individuals.  That's where your dice come into the picture.  Once that benefit is in place, the individual's selective survival is enhanced and passed on to his progeny.  That light-sensitive spot may then get "better" by the incremental evolutionary development of neighboring structures that allow it to detect the direction of the light it senses.  Then by neural arrangements that give a sense of the light's shape.  And so on, and on, over the fullness of time.

But here's the important point:   The genes expressing those novel, incremental features are preserved and are "locked into" future surviving generations by virtue of genetics. Those particular dice are no longer part of future rolls.  Their contribution stays fixed, like one finished cylinder on a slot machine. And once you begin to successively remove dice from the roll, the odds of graduating to a "better eye" combination increase rapidly and dramatically (see note below).   But more importantly, the notion that you have to get all the gene-dice into a preordained, unique pattern before you have an functioning eye organ -- like one single jackpot -- is completely bogus.  Two cherries out of 3 will still give you a decent payout.

Again, this is called genetics, a fairly simple concept that any hayseed knows about, and itís been scientifically described since the 19th century -- before Darwin, in fact. Itís a concept that the Intelligent Design folks seem to have a mental block about when they blat out their specious "dice-throwing" argument.

I want to conclude this rather vitrolic essay with a particularly lucid portion of Shultzís article below. I do so only to highlight my personal disdain for the ID proponents and their notion of a "just and caring" Divine Designer:

Perhaps the most convincing argument for a "here-and-now" evolution driven by expediency is the horrific mercilessness of which nature is frequently capable. The great insect order Hymenoptera (consisting of over 200,000 species and including ants, bees, wasps, and sawflies) is dominated by life strategies that make the film Alien look like a nursery story. In a typical hymenopteran life cycle (shared by over 75 percent of the species in this group) the larva burrows into a host partially paralyzed and imprisoned by the hymenopteran mother. The larva consumes the host from within, taking care to preserve the nervous system so that the host continues to live (evidenced by frequent twitching and moving about) and the meat stays "fresh". The host is finally killed when the larva bursts free of its body. Other horrors of nature: "traumatic insemination", occurring not infrequently in unrelated animal groups, in which the male uses hypodermic-like genitalia to pierce the body wall of the female in order to inseminate her; cannibalistic birth, in which the offspring literally consume the mother from the inside out; and the use of the young as a protein reservoir to be consumed in time of need, common in ants and wasps. If these organisms have been designed, Iíd rather not meet the designer!

   Back to Essays...  

 


The referenced article is from Gnosis No. 22, Winter 1992, published by The Lumen Foundation, Jay Kinney Editor-In-Chief.  Great quarterly magazine, from the kind of small publishing house that makes America truly great.  Subtitle is "A Journal of the Western Inner Tradition".  It has a very Gnostic viewpoint, so it's easy for me to like...

The total number of unique throws (permutations) you can get with dice is expressed as a factorial of the number of dice thrown, times the number of sides on each die.  For 100 dice, this is 6 X 100! or 6 X 100 X 99 X 98 X 97...etc.  For 99 dice, this drops to 6 X 99! or 6 X 99 X 98 X 97.. etc.  So you can see that the total number of permutations in the latter case is 100 times lower than in the former.  For 98 dice, it would be 99 times lower, and so on.  As the total possible number of permutations goes down, the odds that any one unique combination will be thrown go up correspondingly.

Read more about eye evolution  here.

Read more about the probability of achieving abiogenesis (life from non-living materials) here.

 

 

First-time visitors -- including you!

Free Web Counter

Free Hit Counter The Foggiest Notion The Foggiest Notion The Foggiest Notion The Foggiest Notion The Foggiest Notion

 

Luck Favors the Prepared Mind...

Essays • Lost Articles • Loose Ends • Collections • Computing • Projects • Widdershins • Quotations • Links • Us

Site contents Copyright 2004-2008 by Gary Cuba       Email: webmeister at thefoggiestnotion dot com