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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

ID, Part a Billion

"“Let’s get back to evolution,” I said. “With all your talk
about God, do you think he caused evolution? Or did it all
happen in a few thousand years like the creationists believe?”
“The theory of evolution is not so much wrong as it is
incomplete and useless.”
“How can you say it’s useless?”
“The theory of evolution leads to no practical invention.
It is a concept that has no application.”
“Yeah, I hear what you’re saying,” I said. “But you have
to agree that the fossil evidence of earlier species is pretty compelling.
There’s an obvious change over time from the earlier
creatures to the newer ones. How can you ignore that?”
“Imagine that an asteroid lands on Earth and brings
with it an exotic bacteria that kills all organic matter on
Earth and then dissolves without a trace. A million years
later, intelligent aliens discover Earth and study our bones
and our possessions, trying to piece together our history.
They might notice that all of our cookware—the pots and
pans and plates and bowls—all seemed to be related somehow.
And the older ones were quite different from the
newer ones. The earliest among them were crude bowls, all
somewhat similar, generally made of clay or stone. Over
time, the bowls evolved into plates and coffee cups and
stainless-steel frying pans.
“The aliens would create compelling charts showing
how the dishes evolved. The teacup family would look like
its own species, related closely to the beer mug and the
water glass. An observer who looked at the charts would
clearly see a pattern that could not be coincidence. The
cause of this dishware evolution would be debated, just as
we debate the underlying cause of human evolution, but the
observed fact of dishware evolution would not be challenged
by the alien scientists. The facts would be clear.
Some scientists would be bothered by the lack of intermediate
dishware species—say, a frying pan with a beer mug
handle—but they would assume it to exist somewhere
“That might be the worst analogy ever made,” I said.
“You’re comparing people to dishes.”
The old man laughed out loud for the first time since we
began talking. He was genuinely amused.
“It’s not an analogy,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.
“It’s a point of view. Evolution is compelling not because of
the quality of the evidence but because of the quantity and
variety of it. The aliens would have the same dilemma.
There would be so much evidence for their theory of dishware
evolution that opponents would be mocked. The alien
scientists would theorize that forks evolved from spoons,
which evolved from knives. Pots evolved from bowls. Dinner
plates evolved from cutting boards. The sheer quantity
and variety of the data would be overwhelming. Eventually
they would stop calling it a theory and consider it a fact.
Only a lunatic could publicly doubt the mountain of evidence.”
“There’s a big difference between dishes and animals,”
I said. “With dishes, there’s no way they can evolve. Logic
would tell the aliens that there was no way that a nonliving
dish could produce offspring, much less mutant offspring.”
“That’s not exactly true,” he countered. “It could be
said that the dishes used human beings in a symbiotic relationship,
convincing us through their usefulness to make
new dishes. In that way the dishes succeeded in reproducing
and evolving. Every species takes advantage of other living
things to ensure its survival. That is the normal way living
things reproduce.
“You believe, without foundation, that the alien scientists
would see a distinction between the living creatures and
the nonliving dishes, and classify the dishes as mere tools.
But that is a human-centric view of the world. Humans
believe that organic things are more important than inorganic
things because we are organic. The aliens would have
no such bias. To them, the dishes would look like a hardy
species that found a way to evolve and reproduce and thrive
despite having no organic parts.”
“But the dishes have no personalities, no thoughts or
emotions or desires,” I said.
“Neither does a clam.”
“Then why do people say they’re as happy as a clam?” I
joked. He ignored me.
“Does it strike you as odd that there isn’t more evidence
today of the mutations that drive evolution?” he asked.
“Like what?”
“Shouldn’t we be seeing in today’s living creatures the
preview of the next million years of evolution? Where are the
two-headed humans who will become overlords of the oneheaded
people, the fish with unidentified organs that will
evolve to something useful over the next million years, the
cats who are developing gills? We see some evidence of mutations
today, but mostly trivial ones, not the sort of radical
ones there must have been in the past, the sort that became
precursors of brains, eyes, wings, and internal organs.
“And why does evolution seem to move in one direction,
from simpler to more complex? Why aren’t there any
higher life forms evolving into simpler, hardier creatures? If
mutations happen randomly, you would expect evolution to
work in both directions. But it only works in one, from simple
to complex.”

-Scott Adams, God's Debris

cranked out at 3:08 PM | |

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