Many people have tried (and ultimately ended up regretting it later) to corner me on my ‘beliefs’ – or at least those ‘beliefs’ that would most closely resemble what most consider to be a ‘belief system’.
“Do you believe in God?” (big ‘G’)
“Do you believe in life hereafter?”
“What is your religious affiliation?”
It is of course, not an easy subject to address due to the potential misunderstandings that will occur as I try to relate what I know to be extremely abstract concepts.
This has become an increasingly growing debate as of late due to the apparent need of my mother to broadcast her new found interest in the ‘church’. (My impression on the subject is that she is feeling guilty for never really having taken an interest in the church previously, perhaps getting ‘worried’ as she grows older that her ‘immortal soul’ may have trouble getting past the proverbial gates and also beginning to feel ashamed for who knows what reason that my brother and myself turned out to be rather secularist and pluralized – go figure!)
This is of course also an ongoing debate in society – we see it rear it’s head in the abortion issue, partisan political debate, animal “rights”, euthanasia and probably about 90% of the recent ACLU case load. Of course the subject of religion as it pertains to public schools has not been the least of these issues.
The most recent of the church-in-schools issues that seems to be rising to the surface appears to be the so-called ‘new’ intelligent design theory and the whole brew-ha-ha over whether or not it should be taught along side evolutionary theory in public schools. To me, even though I understand the alleged differences, it is just another euphemism for ‘creationism’ – i.e. a Judea-biblical view of creation. In short, the notion is that some organisms are seen to be so infinitely complex that one should therefore conclude that they had to have been ‘intelligently designed’. This waxes as euphemistic to me because a design by itself is little more than paper on a drawing board until someone actually ‘creates’ something from the design – the fact that something can be seen and in turn assumed to have been designed requires the intermediary action that someone or something else has to actually build the design. Or if not build ‘the’design (in the case of a life form you are observing), at least build ‘a’ design to spawn the one you eventually find yourself staring at under the microscope.
The theory is perhaps best displayed through a metaphor that often comes up – mainly, William Paley’s “Watchmaker” argument. The metaphor goes as follows:
. . . when we come to inspect the watch, we perceive. . . that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose, e.g. that they are so formed and adjusted as to produce motion, and that motion so regulated as to point out the hour of the day; that if the different parts had been differently shaped from what they are, or placed after any other manner or in any other order than that in which they are placed, either no motion at all would have been carried on in the machine, or none which would have answered the use that is now served by it. . . . the inference we think is inevitable, that the watch must have had a maker — that there must have existed, at some time and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer, who comprehended its construction and designed its use.
As with most things, my view on this is a little different than most. When I see to people (or groups) involved in a heated discussion, I have learned one of the better things to do before taking a side is to look not only at both views but, and more specifically, to look for view points that both groups are missing or at least are not focusing on in the process of their argumentation. The concept of the watchmaker listed above also brings up thoughts of the metaphor often used to describe probability, mainly the Infinite Monkey Theorum:
It stands to reason that if an infinite number of monkeys are each left banging on one of an infinite number of typewriters with no specific time limit, sooner or later one of them will type out the entire works of Shakespeare.
For most of us, such a concept seems absurd, thus the need for the metaphor. When speaking of concepts such as probability within incredibly large samples, it can be difficult to fathom the abstract concepts necessary to gain a full understanding. When speaking of natural selection in a universe that is said to be tens of billions of years old on a planet that is about 4 1/2 billion years old, we and the duration of our lives are less significant than a fly spec on a dinosaur’s butt! How could we possibly fathom the process of evolution of life taking place over the majority of that span!
[Darwin’s] evolutionary theory doesn’t simply involve the concepts of the “common ancestor” and subsequent changes through “descent and modification”, but it also includes the notion of ‘natural selection’ – the proverbial ‘survival of the fittest’. In short, it is not just simply a room full of monkeys typing away on a bunch of typewriters. There is also this very fickle bitch running around with a really big stick, and whenever any monkey is typing something that looks closer to Hamlet, she pairs him off with some other sweet little monkey who is also doing good on her key-banging to make more little monkeys. But if she sees some monkey typing something she doesn’t like, she clobbers him over the head to make room for other little monkeys!
Some proponents of the Intelligent design theory point specifically to what they refer to as ‘infinitely complex‘ microorganisms as one of the greatest signs of proof of intelligent design. Basically saying that some of the extreme complexities in even some of the simplest of creatures therefore equates to the watch found in the field.
However, using the above reasoning in regards to both the age of the universe/earth and the bitch-with-the-stick in a room full of monkees, it would stand to reason that the organisms that would have been around the longest [on earth] and thereby would have had the most trial-and-error (and bang-on-the-head with the big mutha’s stick) would be the microorganisms. Therefore, extreme complexities in such creatures would not only be observable, but likely.
I saw a good reference to put this in perspective; if someone was dealt a royal flush in a game of cards – and they fully understood the improbability of getting such a hand straight out of the deck – they would likely not assume, therefore, that the hand couldn’t possibly exist. Or, since I really like to quote from Douglas Adams:
…imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in—an interesting hole I find myself in—fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ — Douglas Adams, speech at Digital Biota 2, Cambridge U.K.
Let’s Flex those verses!
Most of those supporting ‘Intelligent design’ will of course claim it is a ‘new theory’ (it is not, it actually stems from similar notions pre-dating Darwin), that it is not creationism in a new package, etc. Specifically, most ID‘ists will point to the fact that they do not ascribe to the notion that the earth is only 6000 years old and they do deny that some level of ‘changing’ of organisms occurs on earth – a nice way to save face with the fact that observable facts since the Beagle voyage seem to give strength to some (if not most) of Darwin’s notions.
So, which part or parts of the bible are to be taken literally?
- Many hasidic orders of judaism still follow precepts of grooming, clothing and behavior ascribed in various books of the old testament. If all of ‘christian’ society would do the same, men would similarly wear their hair with curls down the sides of their faces with beards (or no beards depending on which book(s) of the bible you read) and women would all still be wearing long gowns, staying at home, serving their husbands and only speaking with permission.
- Many judeau church celebrations have been merged with pagan or non-christian holidays and even moved half-way around the calendar to increase the popularity of the church. (ever wonder what bunnies and eggs had to do with calgary? Or trees, wreaths and red/green with bethlehem?)
- George Carlin managed to launch his career in part by out of pointing to the hypocrisies of church dogma – “how many guys are in hell still doing time on the meat rap?”
Over the years the ‘word of God’ (big ‘G’) has been used by Christians to support any number of questionable acts from war and genocide to the spread of hatred, ignorance and prejudice. They have brought us the crusades, the inquisition and many would even argue World War I, World War II and even the revolutionary war. (and no, we are not talking about Muslim fundamentalism here) It seems that when necessary, the [Christian] Bible (and any other religious texts for that matter) can be used to construct any number of poor choices and be used to justify any number of bad actions or results.
So it begs the question, just how ‘flexible’ is the interpretation of holy scripture? Is the bible a living document?