Get your filthy paws off me you damn, dirty ape!
Sometimes you run into something where the topic at hand is so amazingly stupid that it makes some artery in your skull rip open, causing a cerebral hemorrhage - merely from the exposure to such total human idiocy. Well, I was reading an article about "Intelligent Design" or "ID", the newest Christian attempt to undermine Evolution. Evolution is, I remind you, is, the sole rational basis of understanding modern biology. Evolution is challenged today because Christians would sooner have more Christians than somewhat doubtful intelligent people... a downfall of all major faiths since the dawn of time, really, or at least, since the dawn of the Roman Catholic church (as some scientists found out the hard way).
We've come a long way, but some people would prefer we stay back in the stone age...
Evolution is probably the single most misunderstood part of modern science due to the extensive and meticulous attacks upon it. It, thankfully, is still accepted in a widespread manner amongst many scientists; however the general public is split pretty much along social and religious borders on it. If you are a liberal personality you typically side with the science, if you are a conservative type then you typically side with the faith.
We repeatedly hear Evolution attacked and discredited, especially in school districts who must decide on proper curriculum, and who (instead of having informed educators) must rely on the general public for that proper curriculum. This of course, is the central flaw of our public school system: we do not elect politicians on the basis of their quality of being educators. They are not qualified to determine anyone's study habits nor are they objective in any way whatsoever. No elected official can be because society does not elect people based on these many nuanced features, instead they elect them based on personal biases and agendas.
So, should Evolution be taught side by side in biology with "Intelligent Design"? President Bush thinks it should be, and states like Kansas have already started moving out the old and in with the "Of Pandas and People". This of course brings up the conflict of Church and State. Most religious folk today still stick by the "we can do as we please" interpretation of the Constitution that allows them to integrate as much of their faith into the government as they can get away with, because most religious folk today - as most religious folk of history - have sided with their faith before their government. Our Constitution clearly, absolutely says that there is to be no recognition of religion in its lawmaking powers. This includes the laws that grant the general government the authority to create school districts and educational standards. No, it really does say this, it's called the Establishment Clause, and was elaborated by Thomas Jefferson as a "Wall of Separation" between Church & State, but most simply is:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion
Now, one might say, that this has nothing to do with the various states. This is perhaps true, what Kansas decided to empower it's school board with is the issue of the state of Kansas and not the federal government (well, kinda, the federal government DOES have that whole Department of Education after all). However, no one should think it wise that a state should act in complete denial of a core principle behind our Constitution. Ideally, while Kansas is not the federal Congress, it should abide by similar rules and principles. It's widely understood in a liberty-based society that government and religion are fundamentally separate because government has limited, definite duties while religion is a broad, arbitrary, opinionated philosophical spectra that has no truly definite duties beyond that of individual interpretation. But I'm not going to argue the Constitution here.
Why? Well, for one, the argument is easy. I'm much more well versed in an understanding of the American government, its foundations, and the proper implementation of it's principles than the common layperson. If you doubt that, yon layperson, feel free to leave a comment for me. The second reason I won't argue it is that I do not endorse a public school system, for reasons just like this. Government is not qualified to teach our children anything nor is it designed to operate educational facilities... to suggest government was designed to do this is idiocy (and even a little Communist). Without government involvement, there is no longer a Constitutional or even legal issue with teaching any subject, which is the way it should be. In a private school system, no democratic vote could end a science... and we could choose our educators from a competitive list, or be our own children's educators if need be.
Which gets us back on point, if I'm not going to discuss "Intelligent Design" on a political basis, then what is my problem with it? Well, ID is a resurrection of defeated classic creationism, in a very shoddy, very insincere, very pseudo-scientific makeover. "ID" is the next step in a quest (mostly legal) to outright ban Evolution and is backed by an organization (the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture) which was founded on the principle of replacing "the unscientific principle of materialism" with "the scientific theory of intelligent design". In other words, the entire organization which created this newest fad in pseudo-science, intentionally states it wants to replace the foundation of understanding science through material and object-based study, with the study of a theistic "intelligent designer". Why are we using the term "intelligent designer" instead of God, which is obviously what is meant? Pure rhetoric, no one at the Discovery Institute or the CSC means anything other than the Judeo-Christian God of the Bible when using it. They might as well just say "Yahweh" as "intelligent designer" is just ambiguous nonsense for the same term. Theoretically "ID" could be the result of alien activity, but you wouldn't see anyone at the CSC write a book exploring that idea, even though that premise is less ridiculous than the one they're trying to shove down your throat.
Evolution is often outright attacked by this organization and creationists in general, as that is always the first tactic, to debase the opposition (few sciences base their foundations on merely debasing another respective theory... all scientific theories should be regarded only on their own merits). To get into the various defenses of Evolution against these attacks is beyond the scope of my irritation today, however you are welcome to leave comments if you have a specific attack you want to stage - be it the watchmaker sophistry of "irreducible complexity", the hollow accusations of tautology, criticism of the spectacularly complex and often completely ignored fossil record, mockery of missing links, or even Biblical recitation calling me a heathen for believing otherwise - go for it. Skipping over this to get back to basic criticisms, evolution is often called... *gasp*... just a theory.
Well, "theory" is the most misused scientific term by laymen. "Theory" does not mean "wild hunch" or "speculative guess". Closer to that would be "hypothesis", however, a "hypothesis" is an informed guess, not a wild one... so even hypothesis is not equivocal to what most people mean by "theory" today. The term that most people are looking for when they say "theory" is best emphasized in this term: "bullshit". Now, we can't sound like scientists if we say "Evolution is just bullshit"... so we pretend that "bullshit" and "theory" mean the same thing.
A "theory", in a scientific pretense (it's only proper use), is a series of ideas set to explain facts. To have a theory, you must first have facts by which to create an explanation. A theory is meaningless nonsense with no facts to discuss... likewise it is not science to create a theory to find facts to explain an otherwise baseless supposition. That is why "Intelligent Design" is not a theory. There are no facts to substantiate the existence of an "intelligent designer", which is the only resolute core to the "theory"... without a fact by which to explain, there is nothing by which to base a theory. In this case, the "theory" of Intelligent Design is merely a series of ideas set to find observations that make its initial claim sound more realistic. It is philosophical rhetoric and hasn't shown itself to be anything else. Evolution, on the other hand, has facts. Namely, that the numbers of trait-carrying genomes change over time in populations of gene-based organisms. After all, the various patterned changes in the frequencies of allele in a given gene pool is the definition of evolution. Most standard dictionaries use a broader term, so for clarification I'm referring to that specific term used by Darwin and his peers, the specific science we are discussing.
Yes, evolution is not merely any "progressive change over time" or something equally as broad. It is specifically the shifting of allele (trait-carrying genes) in a gene pool amongst a population. That this happens is a fact, not only can we prove it occurs in nature, but we can make it occur artificially. It is a science, perhaps one of the most important to mankind today, to know how to cross-breed and hybridize many plants and animals... this is sound genetics. ID's response to this is that is to state that yes it does happen, but only on a "micro-" evolutionary scale. They do not acknowledge that there is evidence for speciation or "macro-" evolution. Interestingly enough, the distinction between the two - of genetic changes that happen within a specific species over a few generations and of genetic changes between two separate populations of species over many generations causing an inability to interbreed - was never made by evolution advocates, but instead detractors to suggest that evolution (the various changes in genes) might happen, just not in a way that defeats God's role in creating different fixed "kinds" of animals.
Where does the idea of "kinds" of animals come from? Well, the Bible. Nowhere else in modern biology would we suggest the idea that species are static kinds which are not going to change, become extinct, or diversify over time. The Bible tells us that God created the animals as they are and that's it. Ironically most supporters of this conception of the animal kingdom are not paleontologists nor fossil experts, nor are they biologists or zoologists... but they are usually Christian, or of another faith apologetic to this ideology.
Which gets us to looking at "ID", which itself is creationism - old creationism - dressed up in new dross and in the form of a self-proclaimed "science". The people behind "ID" are not stupid, many of them are actual scientists and professors of varying degrees of achievement, so ID appears much more attractive than versions of creationism to come before it. Likewise, classic creationism caused rifts in Christian populations. Creationism, in all its forms (including "ID") is ultimately philosophically rooted in the Judeo-Christian beliefs stemming from the Bible. "Scientific Creationism", a movement that recently died when "ID" took over in the mid '90s, suggested a number of ideas but sounded too religious - it's entire timeframe was built on an Earth that was 6,000-10,000 years old (a Biblical belief stemmed from adding up the list of "begets" in the Bible to count the generates between Adam & Eve and now), and it's explanation for all fossils were that they were caused by a great flood (the flood of Noah). Many Christians today are not comfortable with full bore, orthodoxy being preached out in the open as "science". Some of them believe that Biblical details like these are not literal fact but instead metaphor or allegory that the original writers could not adequately describe (but these Christians still believe it was divine providence that inspired them to write these stories anyways, as either moral or cautionary tales). The evidence against a great worldwide flood and a young earth are so staggering that they don't bear being repeated. In other words, the Scientific Creationists gave Christian Creationism a bad name because it had too much orthodox religion driving it.
So "ID" came around. As it was the goal of the CSC to create a new way to replace "materialistic science" with "theistic science" (a blatant statement that study and observation of materials is to cease so we can come to a greater understanding of Biblical cannons for explanation of natural phenomenon), they needed to unite divided "old age Earth" and "young age Earth" Christians, as well as Christians divided on finer issues like the flood and like the various details of life as described by Biblical events. So, "ID" was born. It is much more successful, it is theoretically multi-faith (although primarily Christians follow it), and it remains neutral on most of the more questionable religious issues to appear unbiased. However, appearance of being unbiased does not make it a science. The body of work that supports "ID" is still drawn from many of the same sources and speculations, and the same ideas - that animals came universally in kinds created by an "intelligent designer" - are rooted only on Biblical teachings regarding the origin of life. The philosophy is an extension of creationism. However, with pseudo-babble like "irreducible complexity" (the idea that some organs, like the eye, are complex beyond their individual parts and could not have been "evolved" and thus must have been created by something intelligent) beg more questions than they answer.
Most importantly, these objections, which carry little to no weight when you consider that the primary advocates here are multi-level Christian marketers of Biblical ideals and preaching intent on doing anything to sell their message to society, are intellectually dishonest. You cannot suggest that a rival idea is "wrong" as proof that yours is right, an ambiguous reference to philosophical concepts like "intelligent designers" does not make the suggestion scientific or factual, and the idea that people agree with you is not irrefutable proof that there is something to your reasoning. Sounding and looking scientific does not a science make. Most importantly, the premise of Intelligent Design - that there is an intelligent designer - is neither falsifiable nor provable, making little sense to study it in a scientific manner (which typically involves a variety of tests and observations to prove or falsify it).
As an atheist, it doesn't shock you that I support sciences like evolution above theistic philosophies like "ID". However, just because creationism and atheism contradict each other does not mean that evolution and atheism go hand-in-hand. Evolution is not equivocal with creationism in that pretense like advocates against it would have you believe. I used to frequent atheist message boards, and every so often a religious prostelyzer (or "Bible thumper" as was the term) would stumble in and start an anti-evolution thread. Every time this happened, my first post in this thread would be "This thread is off topic." Why? Atheism is a philosophical practice of a substantiated belief that there is no god. It is rooted in a variety of dogmas and philosophies and a great body of literary work and has more to do with moral philosophy and overall worldview than biology or even physics. While most atheists were atypical and jumped into the fight, I refused to participate - if you want to discuss evolution, discuss it with a biologist who has an understanding of genetics, the fossil record, and evolution in general.
The easiest test of whether evolution is a secular science or not is to ask if people who are not atheist, who believe in an "intelligent designer" or God, can also believe evolution is true. The answer is, rather easily, yes. Evolution is not the theory of everything. In fact, evolution isn't a theory of the universe's origins (astrophysics), it isn't a theory of the Earth's origins (planetary astronomy), nor is it a theory of the origin of life (abiogenesis). Arguing against the big bang, for instance, does not debase evolution. Evolution doesn't begin as a theory to explain any facts until the simplest unit - the gene - is present in cellular life. Once genes that dictate traits begin, evolution begins. Most people can rather easily see that the origin of the universe, earth and pre-genetic life could all be explained by a God, then acknowledge evolution as a valid explanation of events since. Likewise, you could believe in spontaneous creation of life without debasing many of the ideas evolution presents. For instance, if you think God made all kinds of animals spontaneously, then evolution suggests that those species will continue to diversify. However, that idea sounds absurd when put against the fossil record and the genetics involved... if the universe was created spontaneously and recently, then it was created in a state to suggest it is far, far older than it is, and created in a much different way than just spontaneous genesis. Evolution would then just be an example of deception in design, to suggest that life all came from common forms, instead of supplanted "kinds".
This brings us to cover one of the last layman objections to evolution, the problem that others have with the idea that the human race originated from apes. Well, that characterization is again oversimplification - evolution does not say man came from apes. Evolution suggests that men and apes, being not only genetically similar but very much physically similar in muscle mass, bone structure, and overall form, may have both come from a third type of now extinct animal, a common ancestor. Artifacts in DNA suggest this, large tracts of ape DNA and human DNA, even sections that are inactive and not dealing with traits, are completely identical (roughly 99% similar, in fact). The fossil record has a variety of not only human lineage fossils but fossils of animals that are older lineages, These artifacts are not random, they are exact. Why would the genetic code of two different species be similar for any reason whatsoever besides the possibility that their populations once came from a common source? Anyways, the idea that animals came from earlier forms is much older than Darwin, but evolution was the first viable presentation of a process. Evolutionary theory did predict the existence of genetics and DNA, a study which came later. The relationship between genetics and evolutionary biology is often ignored. Anyways, why is it we find this an offensive idea?
We often find varieties of animal are derived from common forms. That is how we classify animals. This, even without thinking about evolution, suggests animals came from earlier, common forms. Most scientists before Darwin who studied zoology had some kind of conception of this. As an example of similarities in the organic kingdom, a house cat and a lion share physical similarities, so much so we label them both with the similar term "cat"... however, they can't interbreed. We can only ask ourselves, are these similarities because they are possibly remotely related? It would seem housecats are more related to lions than whales, that's for certain, but this religious debasement of zoology suggests that there is no system by which animals or plants are related, that these similarities between animals are just coincidences. Yet I doubt a Christian would deny that lions and housecats are both parts of the feline family. The main reason the idea of interrelation is found offensive by creationists can only be attributed to one thing - it isn't a Christian idea. The Bible doesn't suggest this type if distinction between animals is true. Anyone who is a devout believer in the Bible has no real reason to believe this offhand.
What would you do if you were the last man on earth (and you had an annoying monkey)?
Another DC: Vertigo line of adult-oriented graphic novels, Y: The Last Man is an interesting tale about a man who is, literally, the last man on Earth. A sudden disease of unknown origin spontaneously kills every mammal with a Y chromosome, except for Yorick Brown, a talented escape artist who is a son of a Congresswoman, and his male monkey Ampersand (you know, that little symbol above your 7 key, "&"). Yorick is stuck in a world broken apart, ruled by the female classes, and his girlfriend was in Australia the time of the tragedy. Hunted by amazon gangs and the Israeli Defense Forces (no women in the world kick as much ass as the IDF, except maybe the armed guard of Muammar al-Qaddafi), Yorick is helped by a variety of women, from lesbian asian geneticist Dr. Mann to a special ops agent known only as "355", having to cross a decimated America to find out the nature of his immunity to the disease and how he can help save humanity from the brink of extinction.
"Y" makes some very fun pokes at the gender gap, as well as some serious ones (after all, 99% of criminals just died in this comic, as well as 99% of rapists and serial killers)... while remaining true to the dialogue-driven story telling method graphic novels are often praised for. It is clearly inspired by comics like "The Preacher" (which I talked about below), Yorick even has Jesse Custer's "Fuck Communism" zippo, however "Y" is much more lighthearted in nature. So, on a less irritable note, I would definitely recommend getting caught up with this comic series. It is an ongoing story, currently on issue #36 (Oct. 2005). I expect it'll probably run for quite a while longer, but the current work is already more than a night's worth of reading. So check it out.
That's it for tonight,
- Good ol' PA