Monday, September 12, 2005

Katrina, Part VII...Intelligent Design vs. Evolution...
Amazing how this event can be so relevant to what, to me, is an irrelevant debate, but here we go:

Intelligent Design is a theory which intimates that the development of species cannot be held to be a random event. There must be some system or mystical plan by which an organism is formed and evolves because life is just too complex to be an accident. For example, a human being sees in color. In order for your eyes to be able to discern color there are multiple, minor details that must all be wrapped up in a tight little bundle and co-ordinated in order for you to display and utilize this talent. Eyeballs have to be specially crafted to interpret light in such a way, lenses and retinas must have certain properties, the brain must be able to process light information passed on as chemical or electrical stimuli. If any of the precursor traits are available without the others, then seeing in color is a non-starter. According to Darwin's theory, organisms keep and pass on useful systems and appendages and discard the non-useful. So, if you had a brain capable of translating color, but did not have the eyes for it, according to Darwin, that brain enhancement would either have to be chucked or the organism would have to evolve the other required equipment.

Either way, Darwin cannot be wrong, which is the wonderful thing about evolutionary theory. All you have to do is give an organism enough time and it will do everything, in both directions. How an organism first becomes aware of a useless feature is not described. How an organism then goes about rejecting or modifying the useless feature is also curiously absent. It is assumed that somehow the organism "just knows". In way of example, try to think of the precursor to the girrafe standing around one day thinking to itself "Gee, those leaves up on top of the tree look mighty tasty". Somehow it figures out that if it stretches it's neck to it's fullest extent, it can reach some of those leaves. Somehow the girraffe has made a conscious effort to solve a problem, managed to succeed, and then somehow made it possible for it's offspring to solve the same problem. We cannot guess at the mechanism except to say "the giraffe must have thought about it really hard".

Intelligent Design says, basically, that the giraffe was designed, from the start, to have a long neck, eat the leaves from the tops of trees and it doesn't have to give a second thought to such mundane matters as how and why. All previous models of giraffes before the long-necked variety were merely prototypes that having failed to eat the leaves from the tops of trees, were merely discontinued. As if there was a factory turning out giraffes somewhere.

Intelligent Design then, is merely a theory that attempts to introduce the concept of God, or at least of a superior intelligence, that has mapped and planned out the ways of life (at all levels) of all creatures on the planet. It's supposed benefits are that it closes the holes in the theoryof evolution and gets people thinking about the God of the Book of Genesis, even if He/She/It isn't exactly mentioned as such.

Now we apply both theories to Hurricane Katrina.

According to intelligent design afficianados, human beings were designed with perfectly functioning brains, the ability to adapt to and manipulate their enviornment and with certain instincts for survival, the prime one being the overwhelming instinct for self-preservation. One look at the events that played out in New Orleans puts that theory to bed, big time.

If the people of New Orleans had perfectly functioning brains and an overwhelming desire to save their own skins, they would not have stayed in New Orleans. They would have heeded to two requests by the mayor to evacuate the city. They would have watched the storm inch closer to the Gulf Coast on the television (processing information is what a perfectly functioning brain is supposed to do). They would have made efforts, either individually or collectively, to ensure survival (arranged car pools, pooled food and water resources, collaborated on escape routes and means, etc.). Instead, they made a conscious effort to stay, and in the aftermath, engaged in activities that very little to do with survival. If you believe in Intelligent Design, you would be sorely disappointed by what the actions of New Orleaninans said about your theory.

On the other hand, if you believe in Darwin full-throttle, you would have been somewhat vindicated, but still somewhat surprised. To begin with, the activities of some residents of the flooded city made it clear that they have not evolved past the semi-ape-like state. Panic took hold when logic and reason were needed, baser instincts overrode the need to ensure the survival of the species. Looting, rape gangs, shooting at rescuers, are not the activities an evolved organism engages in when fighting for survival in the face of a natural disaster. According to Darwin, organisms only make positive change or undertake positive activities to ensure their survival. Therefore, Darwin must be wrong.

Therefore, both theories must have serious flaws, if they're not ourtright hogwash.

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