Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Don't Let Them Make A Monkey Out of You

One of my invisible friends tipped me to this story about the nationwide movement to promote intelligent design theory, or "intelligent" "design" "theory." Wouldn't you know it, the land of Dorothy, Toto, and Tom Frank figures prominently.

Nothing in here surprises me a great deal, but the article synthesizes some things helpfully. And the reporter. Peter Slevin, makes it unmistakably clear that intelligent design is a P.R. slogan, the sugar coating on a pill intended to purge the culture of Enlightenment rationalism.

This is important to understand, because when I first heard it, I thought intelligent design was a nice phrase. See, to me, Charles Darwin was divinely inspired. All great writers and thinkers are. The theory of evolution is a partial description of the divine intelligence. To my mind (semi-educated as it is), the interplay in nature between order (that science can describe) and randomness (some of which is permanently beyond science's potential to describe) is intellectually pleasing. I conceive of a divinity that takes similar satisfaction.

But I think humankind should follow scientific inquiry as far as it will take us. And I'll never enter a church that requires me to check my rational mind at the door. The people who employ the phrase I.D. do it with sinister and deceptive purpose. In the end they want to deny our intelligence and ignore nature's design.

In this interview I cited elsewhere, Dave Durenberger paraphrases Garrison Keillor, suggesting that when conservatives rail against liberalism, they ought to pause to consider everything liberalism has done for them. We wouldn't have child labor laws. We wouldn't be able to dial 911 in an emergency. We wouldn't have interstate highways (hell, Eisenhower got the idea from the damn Nazis!). This is not an appeal to ideology, but to proportionality.

Now think of the advances in technology since Darwin's time. We've eradicated many deadly diseases. Air travel has shrunken the world to a friendlier scale. Computers have enhanced our productivity. A thousand other technologies have eased and enriched our lives. Renouncing evolution is a kind of renunciation of telephones, television, antibiotics. All of them are part of the same fabric. I don't expect anti-Darwin conservatives to stop using technology. I expect them to keep using it, and to be used by it, and to surrender the notion that they can master it.

Willful ignorance is people's right, I suppose. The jarring thing to me, the moment when I slam up against cognitive dissonance, is when I read of someone who wants to insist on the literal truth of Genesis AND wants to become a doctor. Look, viruses mutate. Homo sapiens adapts gradually to environmental demands. Medical technologies develop through the use of scientific method and rules of evidence. If you're a Biblical fundamentalist, then by definition, you have a huge hole in your training and acculturation to the practice of medicine.

I'm not arguing absolutes. If you believe God created the universe in six days and that settles it for you, fine. But consider all the ramifications of that worldview. Modern life rests on the scientific approach. Somebody is going to keep developing and applying technology, and it won't be you.

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