September 05, 2005 | Graham

Intelligent design

The latest trend to be hitting metaphysics appears to be “Intelligent Design” (see this article by Hiram Caton in On Line Opinion). The theory that the universe is so obviously well-constructed that it must have been intelligently designed is apparently so compelling that it has led Brendan Nelson to suggest it ought to be discussed alongside evolution in school (although I note that he doesn’t appear to be a proponent of it as being true).
It’s not a particularly good theory, as my now 10 year old younger daughter (named Sophia, which sometimes appropriately means “wise”) pointed out when she was three. Driving along late one Sunday she asked me “Who made the world Daddy?” Not wanting to needlessly complicate the answer, and conscious she had been to Sunday School that morning I replied, “God made the world darling.” Silence. A few minutes later: “Who made God Daddy?” Good question. You can’t explain complex systems just by proposing even more complex systems behind them if the existence of complexity is the issue in the first place. So much for intelligent design. Out of the mouths of babes (which is a quick precis of yesterday’s gospel reading as well).
But metaphysics isn’t the only area where we have trouble accepting that things just happen. Take natural phenomena like Hurrican Katrina. We are already being earnestly told that it is all due to global warming, despite the fact that even the IPCC, so frequently accused of boosting the global warming case, predicts little significant increase in hurricane strength as a result of global warming.
We’re so hooked on the idea of intelligent causation that if it’s not God, it must be us. It couldn’t just happen. Someone must be to blame.
Of course someone is to blame, not for the hurricane, but for the consequences. The problem in New Orleans isn’t the hurricane so much as the lack of expenditure on maintaining and developing infrastructure. It’s not a problem unique to the US. It exists here as well, as our frequent power black-outs attest.
The recent House of Lords report into Greenhouse essentially said that adaption to Greenhouse was likely to be more fruitful than abatement. The story of the Anglophone world since the Reagan tax revolution (and the rest of the world for all I know) has been under-investment in infrastructure as a way of lowering tax rates. The devastation of Katrina shows just what false economy that can be, not to mention the human cost of that economy – it’s not very intelligent, by design or otherwise.

Posted by Graham at 9:10 am | Comments (7) |
Filed under: Environment


  1. Any one with just half a brain could see that someone -The Allpowerful God – created everything, including us humans. Evolutionists have a far greater amount of faith than do Christians like myself and my wife.
    The only way we can explore space,as we do, is because it is so regular. We KNOW where all the planets will be at a certain time – WE KNOW! numbat

    Comment by R. Patterson — September 5, 2005 @ 4:00 pm

  2. The only way we can explore space,as we do, is because it is so regular. We KNOW where all the planets will be at a certain time – WE KNOW!

    What a fatuous statement. Not to mention uninformed. Space is anything but regular, which a little reading and a tad of understanding will confirm. To claim that WE – the grand and gloriously royal, self-righteous and sanctified ‘WE’ no doubt – know all about such a vast and complex concept as the Cosmos is utterly ludicrous, especially so if one attempts to assign validity for such claims to a metaphysical deity which exists only in the minds of the believers therein.
    Science holds all answers. That science can’t adequately explain everything right here, and right now merely proves that humanity has not yet evolved a scientific understanding sufficient to cover all eventualities. Hawking calls it a Grand Unified Theory. Perhaps such a thing is the scientific equivilent of the Holy Grail, but that doesn’t mean we should not continue to seek it.
    Remember, Einstein once claimed nothing travelled faster than light and for decades, we believed him because – well, because we couldn’t prove otherwise. These days, we can. Who knows what else science will prove in decades and centuries to come? Maybe even the existence/non-existence of ‘God’ 🙂

    Comment by Neil Cook — September 6, 2005 @ 5:04 pm

  3. “Any one with just half a brain..”
    Quite a delicious comment really.

    Comment by spog — September 7, 2005 @ 1:55 pm

  4. Numbat, actually it is impossible to simultaenously know the exact postion of an object and its velocity. As the very act of observance has its own effects. So we don’t know Numbat and we possibly never will.
    Did Einstein really say that nothing can travel faster than light?
    Hurricane strength won’t significantly increase with global warming, but hurricane frequency will.
    And on intelligent design, humans and other animals aren’t perfect at all. Only a sick perverted thing wouldn’t consiously create them.

    Comment by Benno — September 7, 2005 @ 6:53 pm

  5. Benno, you’re thinking of quantum physics, and when it comes to sub-atomic particles you’re correct, but for all atomic particles you can do both. Now, I’m not agreeing with Numbat, but I’m not agreeing with you either.
    Einstein did say that nothing could travel faster than light, and as far as I know no-one has found anything that can travel faster than light. There has been some conjecture that one could, in effect, travel faster than light, by using “worm holes”. But worm holes are really conjectural anyway, and the travelling faster than light using them is not a matter of speed but rather finding a shortcut.

    Comment by Graham Young — September 7, 2005 @ 9:44 pm

  6. Intellegent design – give me a break. Cobbled together through the complex processes of evolution over millions of year – now that makes sense to me. Why would an itellegence give us malaria (one of the biggfest causes of death worldwide), cancer, any of the zillions of inherited diseases, etc?
    You don’t just have to rely on the theory of evolution to know there’s very little intellegence involved. The greatest strides in medical reasearch these days seem to be coming from our understanding of the human genome, how we produce amazingly complex proteins that perform (or fail to perform) a critical step in the process of keeping us functioning normally.
    And what are we finding in the genome – the very things that confirm evolution. We can now identify a whole host of changes that have occurred in the human genome as early humans spread across the globe in waves, bringing in new genetic material, sharing it (my favourite bit) and passing it on to the next generation. And why does nerely every human cell include a component from plants – the mitocondria?
    Now either all these billions of dollars on medical research are being wasted or we can accept the fact that the broad concept of evolution underpins our understanding of how humans work, even though we’re still finding out the details of exactly how.
    Intellegent design by contrast doesn’t even rate as a theory. Where is the research, where is a testable hypothesis? It’s an assertion of belief and nothing else.
    I’ve come to expect this sort of nonsense from the fanatical christian right in America – the ones who scare me almost as much as fanatical muslim extremists – and the likes of American expat Hiram Caton in Australia. But to have this supported by the Federal Minister for Education is the real worry. Brendon Nelson must be forgetting just about everything he learnt in medical school in his efforts to harness the growing power of the christian right in Australia.

    Comment by Keith Williams — September 9, 2005 @ 10:28 am

  7. Just because I enjoy thread jacking: I agree with you on the first point, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle applies only to quantum mechanics and to bouts of smart-arseness.
    I am pretty sure, but not certain that Einstein actually said that nothing that is travelling slower than light (ie normal matter) can travel faster than light and that nothing that is travelling faster than light can travel slower than light. The speed of light is a barrier that cannot be crossed as to do so takes an infinite amount of energy. So he left open the possibilty of ‘particles’ that do travel faster, but they can never travel slower.
    So my question to Neil is what has been proven to travel faster than light?

    Comment by Benno — September 10, 2005 @ 3:46 pm

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