October 17th, 2005

Unintelligent Design

I wonder if the "Intelligent Design" argument would have such cachet if people realised that, ultimately, it is nothing more than animism of the most primitive and grovelling sort.

I recognized this in my atheistic youth, when reading "Golden Age" SF novels by, I think, none other than John W. Campbell. In these books, Campbell, militantly trying to throw aside superstition, had his scientists, when they needed to swear, swear "By the First Cause!". This semed pretty cool, until I thought about it a bit. Even in fiction these scientists did not know what the "first cause" was, how it happened, or anything about it. In fact, they placed it in a position of worship just BECAUSE it was the ultimate mystery. These supposed scientists were putting themselves in exactly the same position as ancient sun-worshippers who assumed the Sun must be a god becasue of its wonderous charictaristics, and because they actually knew little about it.

I ran into this again when I read an essay on the Net by a microbiologist--it might have been Scott Minnich, but perhaps not, and I can't find it right now--but the gist of it was that he became a convert to intelligent design theory through his work in microbiology. New technologies gave him ever-greater insight into cell structure, which was ultimately so complex, he concluded it "had" to be the work of an intelligent designer.

If this man were on my staff, I would have fired him at once. This is not science! He concluded that because HE could not get HIS mind around what he was seeing, there was no other explanation but a preternatural one. This is against any principle of scientific method. The true scientist will not say, "We cannot understand this," the scientist will say, "We cannot understand this NOW. We do not yet know enough. Our Science is not sufficiently advanced yet." In these times, it may not yet be a generation before we unravel the structure of the features that croggled this man, and even things an order of magnitude more complex still.

To claim that life is the product of "Intelligent design" is no different than saying that anything we don't understand is due to "spirits." As another commentator pointed out, to adopt this idea as "science" would in fact be the death of science: no need to research anything at all, if, at bottom, it all runs by the will of God.

Not "Just" a Theory

On the otehr side of the coin, Creationists attack Evoution as being "just a theory." If we could do one useful thing in this debate it would be to clarify that in the scientific context, a theory is that explanation that best fits all the known facts at the time. It may be changed as new facts become known, but is far from a mere hypothesis, which is what people really mean when they say "just a theory," implying that it is merely a respectable title away from a wild-ass guess.

Well, guess what, Creationists, "gravitation" is only a theory, too. We have only empirical observation and some supporting mathematics to support that gravity works, and how it works, but not a scrap of evidence as to "why" it works. No one has ever detected a gravity particle, gravity wave, or gravity packet. Would you leap off a tall building in the hopes that gravity was "just a theory"?

One would think the Germ theory of disease was generally accepted. One would be wrong. Despite manifold demonstrable evidence, there are many people who persist in attributing most human disease to subluxations of the spine, or poor nutrition. Christian science holds that all illness can be treated with prayer.

Of course, there are many illnesses that, so far as we know, do not conform to the Germ theory, but the theory is well supported and there is ample evidence showing it to be applicable to infectious disease.
The theory of gravitation is notably lacking in pysical evidence; however, so far as can be observed, it is a universal phenomenon with no exceptions. Evolution occupies a middle ground. There is substantial physical evidence. No exceptions have been discovered, but, on the other hand, it is hard to observe "evolution in action." For those that can't wait, I would be glad to stage a personal demonstration of the principles of gravitation. This way to the roof--.

The Gods Must Be Looney

And now for something completely different:

Our friend, Orange Mike, after taking a course on Classical Mythology, was heard to opine: “The Gods must be tooney.” When asked to expound, he said that the exploits of the gods of old reminded him of modern cartoon characters, but that he lacked the subject knowledge to draw concordances. Never being one to waste an opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of a Liberal Arts education, I herewith give you my analysis of the Gods of Ancient Greece and how they manifest themselves in the classic Warner Brothers cartoon canon:

“The Gods Must Be Looney”

Of course Marvin the Martian is Ares (Mars), god of war, easily shown by his costume, bellicose habits, and typical lack of success in battle. But what others are there?

Bugs Bunny is Hermes: messenger of the gods, trickster, shape shifter, thief. Swift of foot, Bugs is always there to deliver a message, even if it is only “What’s up Doc?” Bugs is a classical trickster character, as is his Hermes. He uses manifold powers of confusion and obfuscation to baffle his foes. (The Egyptian Hermes was patron of magicians as well.) Hermes frequently went about in disguise on his godly missions or in company with Zeus, and Bugs is a master of disguise as well. Hermes was patron god of thieves as well, since his first recorded exploit was the theft of Apollo’s cattle, although in this case it would more likely be Apollo’s carrots.

Because, Elmer Fudd is none other than Apollo. His shining round visage is a solar symbol. His head glows when he is embarrassed or gives off heat when he is enraged. Apollo’s great bow is replaced with Elmer’s shotgun. Like Apollo, Elmer is an incessant pursuer, yet often thwarted in his pursuit, especially when the object of his pursuit is a lovely maiden (and especially when the maiden is Bugs in disguise). Elmer also has elements of Actaeon, the huntsman changed to a stag and killed by his own hounds after being caught spying on Diana bathing. In Elmer’s case it is frequently his own shotgun that turns on him--.

Zeus is represented by Yosemite Sam: Thunder and lightning leap from his blazing six-guns. He is named for an Olympian mountain. Like Zeus, he is susceptible to wine, women, and song, and bears long grudges.

His brother, Pirate Sam, represents Zeus’ brother Poseidon, earth shaker (with his cannon), ruler of the seas, and also famously bad tempered.

Daffy Duck is Hades, dark lord of the underworld. This has been demonstrated by the number of times Daffy has been portrayed as going to Hell or doing the “Dare Devil” vaudeville act, in which, costumed as the devil, he ingests explosives and detonates himself. Hades is the ruler of the treasures of the earth (hence “plutocrat” from his Roman name, Pluto) and Daffy is the Warner Universe’s chief exponent of greed and lust for treasure (c.f.: the “treasure of Ali Baba” episode and others).

Wile E. Coyote combines aspect of both Hephaestus and Tantalus. Like Hephaestus, he is the maker and inventor. Like Tantalus, he is constantly tortured by hunger, the satisfaction of which remains always just out of his reach.

There are others, although the connections are more tenuous. Modest and unassuming, Porky Pig could be cast as Epimetheus (“Afterthought”), Prometheus’ brother, to whom Pandora was given as a bride. Perhaps Tweety Pie is Nike, a.k.a. Winged Victory, since she always wins out even against larger and more powerful foes.

The goddesses are comparatively underrepresented, although we do have Granny (Tweety’s keeper) as a mother goddess and keeper of the hearth (Hera or Vesta), Babs Bunny as the closest pulchritudinous analog to Aphrodite, and Witch Hazel, a true follower of Hecate, if not actually the dark goddess incarnate.

But what of others? Is the Road Runner with his continual scorching headlong career Phoebus? The spiteful and envious green eyed Sylvester actually the catty goddess Eris in male drag? And what of Foghorn Leghorn, who is chiefly Miles Gloriosus, a commedia del arte archetype of a more modern era? Does he fit in at all?

If there is a lesson to be learned from this light-hearted excursion, it is that some things indeed are verities. There is much modern in that which is ancient, and much ancient in that which is modern. The Gods of old could be foolish, and in today’s foolishness there is much that is godly.