Work and a conference intervene to prevent a fresh dose of Respectful Insolence today. Fortunately, there’s still classic Insolence from the archives that hasn’t been moved over to the new blog. This amusing little trifle originally appeared on August 25, 2005.
Well, I’m back.
Yes, I know I blogged a fair amount while on vacation, my promise to restrain myself notwithstanding. Nonetheless, with the exception of the posts about the traffic wreck that screwed up our trip home and the tragic death of an autistic boy receiving chelation therapy this week, it was mostly fluff or carnival barking. Think of it this way: I enjoy blogging so much that, if I had spent the two weeks at home rather than traveling to various places in the Midwest (and putting over 2,000 miles on my car in the process), I probably would have blogged a lot more than normal because I would have had the time.
One thing about being on vacation is that I had some time to sit back and think about things that I normally take for granted. For example, I spend a fair amount of time poking fun at adherents of “intelligent design” creationism, the claim that there are some biological structures that are too complex to have come about through evolution by natural selection (a concept they term “irreducible complexity“) and therefore must have been “designed” by some “intelligence.” (Who or what this “intelligence” is, they studiously avoid saying to secular audiences, sometimes going so far as to leave open the possibility of aliens being the force behind evolution, while on the side they admit the truth to fundamentalist Christian audiences. Is the “designer” God? Nahhh. Couldn’t be. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.) Frequently cited examples of biological structures or systems that could not have come about without some “design” include the eye, the bacterial flagellum, and the clotting/complement cascade. Sadly, instead of working to look for actual evidence or to do actual experiments to test their mushy claim (which doesn’t even rise to the level of a scientific hypothesis or theory), ID advocates instead use their resources to bring political pressure to bear on scientifically ignorant school boards either to teach the (scientifically nonexistent) controversy, to cast doubt upon how well-supported evolution is as a scientific theory, or to actually teach ID as an “alternative theory” to conventional evolution.
True, ID advocates often richly deserve the mockery that gets sent their way, but (I asked myself) have I ever tried to look at the controversy through their eyes? No! So, I set about to look for evidence of “design” in nature as we tooled about through the Midwest. Anything that looked as though it couldn’t have come about through random natural processes alone was what I had in mind. After all, one of the key arguments of ID advocates is that we can recognize “design” in nature when we see it, even though they tend not to be too specific about exactly what criteria can be used to recognize “design.” In fact, that High Priest of Intelligent Design, Michael Behe himself, has used Mount Rushmore as an example of how we can “know design when we see it” and distinguish “design” from natural processes. Maybe I could find similar examples if I looked hard enough. Scoff all you want, those of you who point out that such reasoning would lead one to conclude that the Old Man of the Mountain was “intelligently designed“! I would not let my attempt to follow Behe’s reasoning be deterred by such annoying intrusions of reality-based thinking! No!
So, at every stop during our last two weeks of travel, from the Detroit area, to Nepessing Lake in Lapeer, to rural Ohio, to Chicago, and all points in between, I looked diligently at every natural object, plant, and creature I saw, searching carefully for evidence of design, evidence that it could not have come about without the intervention of intelligence, without some sort of “design” behind it.
Although I had a fine time on vacation, visiting family, old friends, and favorite places, on the drive home, this failure haunted me. It cast a pall over the return trip. OK, the pall wasn’t so much due to my failure to find strong evidence of “design” in nature that depressed me, but rather the thought of facing the end of my vacation and having to confront the massive pile of paperwork, various patient problems, and writing tasks that were no doubt waiting for me back at the lab and office, as well as the fact that I would be on call today. But stay with me here for the sake of the story.
On our second day back, after having taken a day to recover from the 11 hour drive, my wife and I were trying to get our neglected yard into some semblance of decent shape. Fortunately, the brown grass hadn’t really grown much, given the lack of rain and the fairly hot weather that had predominated the first week we were gone, which made the task a bit easier. I was about to head back inside for a moment, when my wife came up to me. She handed me something.
“Hey, check it out. This looks pretty cool,” she said.
It was a rock. but not just any rock. I stared, dumbfounded. “Do you realize what this is?” I said. I was practically giddy with joy, not unlike Gollum at Mount Doom after he bit the One Ring from Frodo’s hand and danced his way to the edge of the precipice beyond which lay the fiery lava of the Crack of Doom. (It was all I could do to keep myself from hissing, “My Precioussss!”) “It’s what I’ve been looking for all along!”
It was this:
Could it be? I looked it over at different angles:
I thought. I had been looking all over the Midwest for something like this, and there it was, right in my own back yard, the proof I had been looking for! Look at the face! Surely this could not have been the product of random natural forces. Surely this was evidence of intelligent design in nature! And if there could be “design” in geology to produce a stone like this, a stone that looks like a face, then what about the evolutoin of life? I made plans to send photos of this find to William Dembski and Michael Behe. Surely they would be very interested!
My giddiness at my discovery subsided, and my wife stopped looking at me as though I had lost my mind. It was a difficult feat to accomplish for her. I then took an even closer look at the rock.
And a realization dawned on me.
It wasn’t just any face. There was something familiar about that face. Something it reminded me of. But what? I knew it! I immediately went to work. First, a little Magic Marker:
Do you see where I’m going yet? No? (Admittedly, my attempt at artwork didn’t turn out too good.) How about a little Photoshop? (I’m not too good at Photoshop, either, but this looks a bit more convincing.)
Do you see it now? Do you?
Yes! It’s our old friend the Hitler zombie! Not only had I discovered strong evidence of “design” in nature, but I had discovered who the “intelligent designer” must be! None other than the Hitler zombie, that undead eater of politicians’ brains and lover of overblown analogies to Hitler, the Nazi, or the Holocaust to be used to slime one’s political opponents with, of course! I know I promised to try to keep the Hitler zombie in his crypt for a while, but this was just too big a coincidence!
So why not the Hitler Zombie? It makes just as much sense as any other candidates for the title of the “intelligent designer” of “intelligent design creationism,” including even my personal favorite up until this discovery, the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The rotting FÃ¼hrer is even a deliciously appropriate candidate, given how Michael Ruse himself has fallen victim to the monster’s hunger for brains, himself bringing up bad Nazi analogies while apparently endorsing the mistaken notion that Darwinian evolution implies atheism.
What, you say? You can’t believe that a fictional device created to make fun of people who make exaggerated and inappropriate analogies to the Nazis could be the “intelligent designer”? If you believe William Dembski when he says that the “designer” doesn’t necessarily have to be God, then why couldn’t the “designer” be the Hitler zombie, space aliens, or even the Flying Spaghetti Monster? If “intelligent design” makes no assumptions about who or what the “designer” is, as many of its adherents claim while trying to argue that it is a scientific, not a religious, idea, then the “designer” could be anything.
And my evidence that the “designer” was the Hitler zombie is just as convincing as the evidence presented by any advocate of “intelligent design.” Perhaps it’s even more so, given that I actually have a piece of physical evidence. That is better than ID advocates can produce.