Sunday, August 17, 2008

BY DESIGN

How did we get here, friends, human and all on this beautiful and (diminishingly) plentiful planet of us? Why – how dare you ask? ‘t Was by Design*!

(What else, I ask you? What else? C’mon!)

A while ago, the online magazine Salon cast a brief shadow of a doubt over my certainty. Their argument: Cave-dwelling moles and salamanders and whatnots crawling around in the absolute dark possess not eyes but vestiges of such, eye remnants if you will. (Right. Yeah. How do we know they “used to” have eyes? Huh? Tell me that!) Why, the intrepid reporter asked himself and the small fraction of the nation that reads such filth, would an Intelligent Designer either (a) design these useless vestiges instead of dispelling with the sockets altogether, or (b) equip those cave-dwellers first with functioning eyes and then allow them to devolve?

The answer is obviously Duh: who are we to know that that’s not by design**? And saved is the day!

Remember, friends: Intelligent Design is a beautiful notion. It explains EVERYTHING, and it absolves you of the need to keep track of all that pesky phylogeny. That’s hard***, dude – why don’t ya jess sit down and trust yer Maker?

I wasn’t always a believer.

My own favorite example, which I used to roll out at parties, back in the day when I was still invited to parties (the righteous do not make good partying company, and that too is by Design), is the misengineering of the count of human limbs. A third hand, so I quipped with one hand clasped around the stem of my Chablis and the other around a plate of lark tongue antipasto, would sure be – uh! - handy now, to, like, transport the food right to my saliva-soaker! Adding a third hand in the blueprint: Not exactly rocket science!****

Or childbirth. Most human-engineered machines deliver the goods less damaged and a good deal faster than most mothers do. I never met an ATM that upon my legitimate request for cash would stand there shaking and moaning for 14 hours and then necessitated the intervention of a sterile-clad guy with a crowbar and a circle saw. And even the largest Suburban leaves the factory through a door that’s more than wide enough – who would willfully engineer a passageway that gets the car stuck and crushes its body and scrapes off its paint, with the ultimate risk that it will bring the whole plant down with it?

So: doubts.

Then I thought a little harder about the ATM example.

Like most of us, I am an occasional customer of soda machines.
On average, they work: In goes your money, out comes your can. Do note the variability around that mean: Sometimes you get zero cans, and sometimes two. Sometimes the zero can comes with your money back, but there’s no guarantee. Sometimes, lucky you, down slides your can and you get your money back.

Not so with cash machines.
They always work. You ask for a hundred buckaronis, you get your hundred buckaronis. There is no random variation. Ne’er shalt thou receive a paltry eighty, ne’er an undeserved hundred and twenty. They’re always (ha! ha!) on the money.

Put another way: It’s easy to rig a soda machine. Look around on YouTube – tutorials galore. But it’s impossible to rig an ATM machine, short of some major pyrotechnics.

That’s when it hit me.

The ATM machine works flawlessly because there is, simply and literally, a lot of money involved – both or either yours and the bank’s. With the soda machine: not so much. Few quarters here or there - it’s give and take.

The simple rule to be derived from this example is: Yes, we can design a flawless machine, but only if the stakes are high enough.

The moral of this story, then, is that in the Intelligent Designer's eyes us humans just ain’t worth it.

Which, in my estimation, is just about right.

Now go twirl your tongues.


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* Some folks who like to use big ten-cent words where nickel-sized verbiage would suffice invoke the Anthropic Principle.
** Like to make those pinko liberal Darwinists puzzle for a while whilst we ID-enthusiasts smile from the sideline and throw peanut shells at them.
*** In summer, all I hear on campus is Hindi, Urdu, Mandarin, Tamil, Cantonese, and Bengali, with the occasional snippet of French. That, I bet, is for the same reason the landscapers on my street all speak Spanish. Mowing lawns in 95-degree heat and math/engineering are hard, and hard is in essence un-American. (Especially around here. Did you know that those Southerners used to ‘import’ folks from, like, a totally different continent to do all the hard work for them? Oh my! If only they could have persuaded those folks to fight the Civil War for them, they might not have lost it! But then, if they had, they would have nothing to kvetch about all day on their porches, and no bumper stickers imploring the Yankees to keep driving north.)
**** I know I am being silly. A roll-up tongue would do the job just as well. It might all come down to a mere lack of training of the faculties the ID’er has equipped us with!

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