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Intelligent Designs

A while ago, I was listening to a discussion on the radio about Intelligent Design ("ID") theory, and someone -- I think it was Al Franken -- said something along the lines of, "Well, that theory means you believe biological evolution on Earth was designed by an advanced, alien civilization, right?"

Whoever he was talking to -- a proponent of the ID theory -- paused, confused, then ducked the question in some manner I cannot now recall. Meanwhile, I'm going: DOI-YOI-YOI-YOI-YOING!!!!!!!.

Which is my feeble textual expression of the famous double-take John Cleese does in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when he first espies the approach of the Giant Rabbit.

I guess I'd never thought of thinking of ID theory in that way. But after all, they don't say the intelligence behind the design has to be God. In fact, they seem to go to very great lengths to avoid saying that. They just say "an intelligence" and leave all the wink-wink, nod-nod, 'nuff-said stuff to others. But if it is a theory, and if it postulates an intelligence behind evolution, then they cannot deny the possibility that that intelligence springs from an alien civilization with a technology millions, maybe billions of years ahead of ours.

Hey! In that case, sure! Let's have an Intelligent Design theory with early precursor texts on the discipline by Arthur C. Clarke and many others! I look forward to speculation on alien intelligent design appearing soon at all the ID websites.

Which brings us to the estimable Sir John Marks Templeton who says:

There is here no knockdown argument for design and purpose, but certainly there are strong hints of ultimate realities beyond the cosmos. One of the strongest hints, in our opinion, relates to the new understanding of the creativity of the cosmos, its capacity for so-called self-organization. ... From a theological perspective it is indeed tempting to see this remarkable self-organizing tendency as an expression of the intimate nature of the Creator's activity and identification with our universe.

Are we sure it's the Creator, Sir John? Being scientists, we need to consider the plural, neh? Perhaps the best, most non-prejudicial thing to do is to write: "the Creator(s)".

You'll all know Sir John, I'm sure, from either his eponymously named mutual fund, or from the famous Templeton Prize. But the Templeton Foundation does not just award prizes; it funds research as well.

The mission of the John Templeton Foundation is to pursue new insights at the boundary between theology and science through a rigorous, open-minded and empirically focused methodology, drawing together talented representatives from a wide spectrum of fields of expertise. Using "the humble approach," the Foundation typically seeks to focus the methods and resources of scientific inquiry on topical areas which have spiritual and theological significance ranging across the disciplines from cosmology to healthcare....

I actually, atheist though I am, think this is great stuff. Good on you, Sir John. For example, just the other day I read in Science magazine about how the alpha constant might not be quite so constant:

Scientists debate whether the laws of physics have remained the same since the universe began or have changed over time. Much of the controversy has centered on a constant called alpha, or the fine structure constant. Alpha is at the core of electromagnetism, the theory of how light and matter interact. If alpha is changing, then so are such fundamental rules as the speed of light, and that would spell doom for Einsteinian relativity.

The debate over alpha started in 2001 when a team led by Michael Murphy, an astrophysicist at Cambridge University, U.K., analyzed light from a few quasars, the super-bright hearts of galaxies. Murphy's team was shocked to find a slight shift in the metallic fingerprint of quasar light that had traveled billions of miles (and therefore billions of years) to Earth. Because alpha determines the position of visible lines within this fingerprint, the researchers argued that the shift was caused by an increase in alpha of about 0.001% since the big bang. But another team of physicists challenged the theory in 2004 after they found no evidence for a shift in alpha by measuring the constant to great accuracy with an atomic clock.

Now Murphy's team has answered the challenge. Using the most powerful light telescope in the world, the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, the team fingerprinted light from 143 quasars, the largest survey to date. According to their analysis, presented 11 April at the Physics2005 conference in Warwick, U.K., alpha has indeed been on the rise. Murphy says the new measurement is 10 times more sensitive than the atomic clock experiment.

You can read more about all that by visiting (post-)Dr. Murphy's page, and there you will also discover that his research is partially funded by... The John Templeton Foundation.

We can't know, of course, why Sir John's outfit is putting up the money for (post-)Dr. Murphy's research. Based on what we do know, however, we can probably assume that somebody thinks that studying the possibility of changing universal constants will lead to some sort of evidence of God.

Which, you know, I think is great. As long as the research is intriguing, and the experiments are rigorously performed, and so long as it's their own money and not mine, who the hell cares why the money is put up? And I'll tell you what, I'm in a hell of a lot better position, as an atheist, if they do prove God exists than a believer would be. I mean, then I could go, "Oh. Okay. What do you know? There's a God." The believers, on the other hand, would have a cataclysmic crisis of faith, which is to say they wouldn't have any faith at all anymore. How can you have faith in the existence of something that you already know exists? I'd stay away from the subject, were I them. But, hey, it's no skin off my nose.

The horror for me would be if everything the most obnoxious, radically-right, fundamentalist, fire-and-brimstoner types say about God turns out to be true. You know, being a mortal, if my situation gets so god-awful I can't stand it anymore, I can at least kill myself and flee into the eternal peace of oblivion. If, however, I am immortal and I am faced with an eternal being that demands I love him no matter how despicably he behaves... well, where you going to go then? There's Hell, I guess, but from what I hear that ain't no picnic. You're looking at eternity, pal, either burning in Hell or sucking up to a right-wing nightmare. (For more on this, see: Michael Tolkin's The Rapture.)

So, let me just say that if Sir John or his ilk do discover a God, I hope to Him He's the decent sort of Fellow a lot of decent people I know seem to believe in. Keep it up, Sir John. Keep funding that legitimate research. Of course the fan in me hopes that what you find is the Alien Civilization, but I could take a decent and truly loving God, in a pinch.

See, here's the real evidence of Intelligent Design, in my opinion. We live in a culture where crackpot millionaires spend their own money methodically researching out-there questions, and maybe in the process they find answers that will take us to places we never dreamed of being able to go. Coming up with a culture like that takes some brains.

Well, except I guess if we are going to be completely honest, we have to admit that the culture out of which Sir John springs wasn't really designed or anything.

It just sort of, you know, evolved.


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Then, of course, there's Haddon Industries...


(He's talking about a Plot Element/Character from Contact, for those who are behind in their Crackpot Billionaire Correspondence Course workbooks.)

I've always liked the Philip K. Dick version where God is dead and they found the body.

I remember thinking about this awhile ago when first exposed to ID (nee Creationism). ID proponents always seem to duck the question of designer. Why the hell not the crashed-space-ship-survivors theory (I think it was Hitchhiker Guide that did this one - and it doesn't get the planet but does get the people here.)? What about the cosmic zoo or cosmic experiment idea that makes for so many Sci-Fi stories?

Go far enough down this path and you end up at Heinlein's "world-as-myth" idea and quickly solipism. Any time somebody defends ID they should be asked the alien question and made to defend it. (They won't and they can't because their position is never based on a reasoned, consistent and logical arguement.)

ID always comes down to "shucks, I can't imagine how _that_ could have happened without some kind of designer". That is, it is actually the theory of Imagination Deficit.

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