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Are you a disciple of Intelligent Design, a believer in Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, a devotee of the Invisible Pink Unicorn, or a staunch supporter of Evolution?

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I know a lot of people (some of whom even admit to knowing me). Many of them are of the religious persuasion; others, not so much. In the case of the religious folks, their beliefs range across the spectrum.
The Evolution Of Humankind
Some — like my dear old mother — are happy to accept that scientists know what they are talking about when they say the universe is about 13.8 billion years old, that our solar system is about 4.6 billion years old, that life emerged on Earth about 3.7 billion years ago, and that we all evolved from these original life forms. She also believes that God created the universe and that everything — including evolution — is part of His (or Her) master plan. I also know people who believe that the Earth and all its lifeforms were created in their present forms by supernatural acts of God approximately 6,000 years ago. These are the folks who don’t believe in evolution and are fond of saying, “Even scientists say it’s only a theory.” Well, yes, that’s true, but so is the general theory of relativity, which is our current best guess as to the way in which gravity works. Personally, I don’t care to argue with anyone about religion, although I do tend to oppose teaching intelligent design (ID) — a pseudoscientific argument for the existence of God — as an alternative to evolution in public school science classes. As part of this, I’m a big fan of Bobby Henderson, the founder of Pastafarianism (a.k.a. Flying Spaghetti Monsterism). As Bobby concluded in 2005 in an open letter to the Kansas State Board of Education, which was — at that time — proposing to teach only intelligent design in biology classes:
[…] I think we can all look forward to the time when these three theories are given equal time in our science classrooms across the country, and eventually the world; one third time for Intelligent Design, one third time for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, and one third time for logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence […]
One reason I mention this here is that I happened to find myself at a pastor’s house last night. He’s a really nice guy and I wouldn’t want to enter into a dispute with him. However, I blundered into a conversation about evolution where he was telling someone that he absolutely refuses to believe that we are descended from monkeys. On the one hand I have to agree with him because I believe that monkeys and humans are both primates who share a common ape ancestor, but I fear that’s not what he meant. My knee-jerk reaction was to think, “you might change your mind if you met some of my relatives,” but I bit my tongue, smiled vaguely, and meandered on my way. One of the arguments used by the supporters of intelligent design is that if you were to find a sophisticated artifact like a clockwork pocket watch, you would be forced to conclude that this had not come together via natural processes, but rather that it must have been designed and created. They then use this as a basis for claiming that something as complex as the human eye could not have come about through random evolutionary processes. As is says on the Wikipedia page for intelligent design:
ID presents two main arguments against evolutionary explanations: irreducible complexity and specified complexity. These arguments assert that certain features (biological and informational, respectively) are too complex to be the result of natural processes.
What the members of the ID fraternity fail to mention is that, as wonderful as it is, the human eye actually has numerous design flaws, not the least that light has to pass through a layer of tissue before reaching the photoreceptor cells, which themselves appear to be orientated the wrong way round (their “wiring” faces the light and the photodetectors point away from the light). In Your Inner Fish, A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body, Neil Shubin lays out what I would consider to be undeniable proof that we are evolved beings, not the least that our bodies have so many design flaws. Similarly, in Kluge: The Haphazard Evolution of the Human Mind, Gary Marcus provides compelling arguments that the human mind is highly flawed, at least from “design” or “engineering” viewpoints. Of course, the tricky thing is when an ID cheerleader cheerfully asks, “How could life spontaneously arise from inert matter?” The funny thing is that this is pretty much the founding tenant of ID, with God as the motivating force. On this basis, why could God not have provided the initial impetus to create the first instance of primitive life from which we all evolved? If you are interested in learning more about all this stuff, there are three books that I would heartily recommend. The first is Wetware: A Computer in Every Living Cell by Dennis Bray. This takes us from single-cell creatures like the amoeba, through the simplest of multi-cell creatures, all the way up to the pinnacle of evolution, which would be me (and you, I suppose). But how did life get started in the first place? Well, Life’s Ratchet: How Molecular Machines Extract Order from Chaos by Peter M Hoffmann provides a compelling solution that is hard to refute. Last but not least, The Machinery of Life by David S Goodsell provides the most amazing illustrations depicting the inner workings of our cells. Although not related to this particular discussion, in a recent email, my chum Charles Pfeil said, “Thinking about life in general, it is so impossible, so incredible, so beautiful, so mysterious. Yet, what is even more astonishing is that we are conscious of it.” I couldn’t have said this better myself. How about you? What do you think about all of this? Are you a disciple of Intelligent Design, a believer in Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, a devotee of the Invisible Pink Unicorn (a being of great spiritual power as evidenced by the fact that she is capable of being invisible and pink at the same time), or do you opt for “logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence,” a.k.a. Evolution?

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Charles Pfeil

Intelligent? It appears to me that life is something beyond intelligence. If we add up all the time humans (who are supposed to be intelligent) have spent trying to understand life, how many years would that be? It wouldn’t be absurd to say at least a million years. But were are we when it comes to fully understanding it, let alone being able to create it from nothing?

Aubrey Kagan

“But were are we when it comes to fully understanding it, let alone being able to create it from nothing?”
Unfortunately we are closer to creating than understanding and that is frightening. See this article on the creation of brain organoids (tiny brains) that appear to becoming more complex and could even feel different sensations (like pain) as the become more complex.


Charles Pfeil

A Nobel Prize scientist dies and is standing before God who says, “Can you tell me your most significant accomplishment?”
The scientist replies modestly and almost in embarrassment, “I was able to create life .”
“Now that is unique, never heard someone say that! Can you demonstrate it for me?” responded God. ”
“Well, yes. But I need a pen and paper to write down all the elements, chemicals and other materials I will need from you to do the demo.”
God smiles and says, “If you are so talented that you can create life, certainly you can create all those other things as well!”

Charles Pfeil

Oh my. I wonder if consciousness is required to feel pain.

Charles Pfeil

Here is another consideration I found myself contemplating 50 years ago. We have senses to experience what we are immersed in. I am so glad to have limited sight. Imagine if our eyes were able to see all wavelengths of light at the same time. I contend it would be the same as being blind because, in a Zen kind of way, seeing everything would be the same as seeing nothing. However, maybe the miracle of life would have enabled our eyes and mind to see the entire spectrum if desired, yet also be able to filter out certain wavelengths at will. But that is almost what is actually happening, except for the dial that is needed to adjust the variance. All wavelengths of light can reach our eyes and yet our eyes and mind filter out everything but what we call the “Visible Spectrum”. Humm.

Charles Pfeil

Would it be appropriate for me to say OMG in this thread? Max, I read through your paper (when I say “read through” that means after my mind couldn’t grasp all the details, my eyes glazed over) and I find your knowledge and the ability to express it amazing. Kudos!

Tom Burke

If this meat sack I call home is of an intelligent design, then I suspect I’m due for some (hopefully) warranty covered upgrades. If designed intelligently one would think you could go in for some replacement parts. And, given the advances in, well, everything, the replacements should be better than the originals. Right? My wife firmly believes my CPU is severely flawed, for example. Do lemon laws apply? Yes, I’m well aware that I can get certain body parts replaced, but in general they are poor knock-offs compared to the original.

I also fear my OS is more than a few revs behind…

I’ve tried to explain to my children that, as their parent, I have godlike powers as far as they are concerned, i.e. being omniscient and omnipotent. So far no buy-in from them. Being a god isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Heavy sigh.

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