But not cards, for a change. I was listening to a programme (essentially a religious one) on Radio 4 recently, about ‘Intelligent’ Design (ID).
It was the second time that day that I had heard SETI pulled in to support ID. The thesis seems to be that, since SETI searches for meaningful information hidden within random noise, it is “the same as” the search for a designer amidst the seeming randomness of the universe. The proponents of ID think that the complexity of the real world means that there must be an intelligence behind it. But the main thing these people need to learn is that complexity does not equal design.
Or not necessarily, at any rate. They are doubly confusing themselves — and others, who may be unsure about the realities of science and the tricks of creationists. They look at the search for order among the chaos, and liken it to — really, identify it with — the belief that order lies behind the chaos.
Let’s put it another way. SETI searches through random noise and attempts to find ordered data, all the while aware that the ordered data may not be there; indeed, to date it has not been. It further proposes that, if ordered data is found, then that may imply that there is an intelligence behind it.
The ID proponents observe the order in the universe and assume that there must be an intelligence behind it; they also see the randomness in the universe, and jump to the conclusion that SETI is doing the same thing as they are.
It is arrant nonsense, of course, but then ID is, from start to finish. Oh, don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing in the laws of physics, chemistry or biology that precludes the existence of a designer, a creator, a supreme being: a deity, in short. As, indeed, there is no need for science to be incompatible with belief in, or the existence of, a deity. Back when I was a Catholic, I remember one of my primary-school teachers explaining that, while the Bible says that God created the world in six days, a day to God might be a million years to us. Don’t take it literally, in other words.
And therein lies the problem: creationists and believers in ID (who are just very thinly-disguised creationists) take the Bible (though which version, I have to ask?) literally.
Which is a bit like taking any of humanity’s great history of myths literally. Why stop with the Christian Bible, and their strange god, “God”1? Let’s take the Norse gods literally, for example. So the next time you’re caught in a thunderstorm, remember, it’s not just the random discharge of static electricity in the atmosphere: Thor is after you.
Or the Greeks: they had some great ones. When you light the gas to cook tea tonight, say a prayer of thanks to Prometheus, OK?
Oh look, we seem to be back at my latest Book Notes post, American Gods. Which makes sense, since it is American fundamentalist Christers who want to foist their god on the rest of their country — and by extension, on the rest of the world. By the not-so-subtle device of using the law to control what can and can’t be taught in schools. What is wrong with these people? Have they never heard of the separation of church and state?
Fortunately the US courts seem to be holding the line of sanity so far; but oh my non-existent, speculative all-powerful creator-figure: I hope we don’t get a branch of the Christian Taliban trying to introduce this shite into our schools over here. I have children to bring up, so I have a direct interest in these things.
Let’s not teach our kids to be stupid.
1. As the NME used to say.