Saturday, March 28, 2009

Is ID Boring?

At Telic Thoughts Bilbo recalls that in the documentary, Expelled, professor of evolutionary biology William Provine complains that Intelligent Design is "boring." Provine goes on to insist that Darwinism leads to the view that life is meaningless, there's no foundation for ethics, no basis for free will, and no life after death. Provine is surely correct about these entailments of a Darwinian worldview, but he's hardly correct about ID being boring. Nevertheless, a lot of commenter's at Telic Thoughts agreed with him, so I felt constrained to throw my two cents in:

Boring? What could be more exciting than to believe that scientific investigation actually means something, that the whole universe is imbued with purpose, that there's a reason, an intention, for why things are the way they are? What could be more exciting than thinking that one's research is literally thinking the designer's thoughts after it?

On the other hand, what could be more depressing than Professor Provine's view that life is meaningless, moral obligation is groundless, free will is an illusion, and the universe is just a pointless, accidental ontological burp?

Not surprisingly, several readers disagreed with me. One remarked that:

...except that the ID community doesn't do any research. And most of the time doesn't show much interest in biology except insofar as it supports their metaphysical predilections. While Darwin's Theory spawned generations of research, entire new fields of study, ID is a deadend.

Whatever the truth of these claims may be, they're a bit beside the point. The question is not whether intelligent design is a research program, it's whether it's interesting as an interpretation of the results of scientific investigation. Regardless of its merits as a scientific enterprise in itself, ID is a fascinating way of looking at the world. It maintains that the world is filled with transcendent purpose and meaning. It holds that scientific labor is not just mere fact collecting, but is actually a way of discovering how a superhuman intellect thinks.

Another commenter took exception to this claim. He wrote that, "Grandiose self-delusion like that is more properly the domain of theology and philosophy departments."

On the contrary, the idea that science is "thinking the designer's thoughts after it" goes back as far as Johannes Kepler and is certainly the attitude held by many of the founders of modern science. Men of the intellectual stature of Galileo, Newton, Faraday, Boyle, Einstein and, more recently, George Smoot, all have employed some variation of this sentiment in describing their work. To call it "grandiose self-delusion" is to belie an unfortunate ignorance of the history of science.

At any rate, I thought it interesting that no one chose to respond to the second part of what I wrote, i.e. that what's really discouraging and boring is the view Provine derives from his Darwinism that life is fundamentally pointless. If that's true, and I think it is given Provine's atheism, then what is the point of scientific research? Scientists spend their lives gathering a few facts, and some small number of them may even discover something that makes life better for a while, but in the end it's all for nothing. We all die, the world perishes in a solar explosion, and none of it matters at all. That view may not itself be exactly boring, but it sure does sap the motivation to go to the lab each day out of anybody that allows it to sink in. How can someone who really thinks this take their work seriously?


Presidential Trends

Sitting in my favorite restaurant the other day I reflected over lunch on the last five presidential elections and realized that there are some interesting patterns to be found in them:

Since 1992 we have had five presidential elections. In every one of them (3 elections) in which a younger candidate ran against a significantly older candidate the younger man won. In every election in which one candidate was a former governor and the other was not (4 elections) the former governor won. In every one in which one candidate was a war veteran and the other was not (all 5), the veteran lost. In every one of them (all 5) in which one candidate appeared considerably more at ease talking about his religious faith than did his opponent that candidate won.

The implications of this seem obvious. If the GOP wants to enhance its prospects of reclaiming the White House in 2012 they should look not to aging senators but to young, charismatic governors or ex-governors who hold sincere and well-thought out religious convictions.

It sounds like a recipe for Bobby Jindal, Sarah Palin, or Jeb Bush, if he had a different last name. Of course, if the Republicans do decide to go with another war vet in 2012, and choose David Petraeus, the trend against electing vets could come to a screeching halt.


Age of Confusion

National Review's Katherine Jean Lopez reflects on a recent poll of teenagers which found that 50% of them blamed Rihanna for the drubbing she received at the hands of her boyfriend Chris Brown. Half of the teens surveyed believed that Rihanna must have deserved it somehow. Here are some highlights of her post:

It's just one survey. But it's very bad news. And feminists are to blame.

I don't say that to bash Gloria Steinem, or whoever the most easily blamed feminist would be at this point. I say that so we can collectively get our heads out of the feminist fog in which we've been lost.

What has happened - and what Rihanna and Chris have to do with Gloria and us - is that by inventing oppression where there is none and remaking woman in man's image, as the sexual and feminist revolutions have done, we've confused everyone. The reaction those kids had was unnatural. It's natural for us to expect men to protect women, and for women to expect some level of physical protection. But in post-modern America, those natural gender roles have been beaten by academics and political rhetoric and the occasional modern woman being offended by having a door opened for her. The result is confusion.

And perhaps, too, a neo-feminist backlash.

The need for some return to sanity is presented pretty clearly in an article in the April issue of O, the Oprah Magazine. The article details how some women find themselves leaving men in favor of relationships with partners of their own gender.

One recently divorced academic describes what attracted her to a future female lover. "She got up and gave me the better seat, as if she wanted to take care of me. I was struck by that," she said. "I felt attracted to her energy, her charisma. I was enticed. And she paid the bill. Just the gesture was sexy. She took initiative and was the most take-charge person I'd ever met."

This article isn't about closeted homosexuality. It's not making the case that there is a vast population of women who were born to be with women, who are instead trapped in unfulfilling heterosexual arrangements. No, this article, despite its celebration of unconventional lifestyles, boils down to something much more orthodox: Femininity and masculinity mix well together. And women are taking masculinity where they can get it, even if that's in the arms of another woman.

Last year, Kathleen Parker published a book called Save the Males. What a perfect title, what a necessary cause, I thought at the time. As Parker wrote: "For the past thirty years or so, males have been under siege by a culture that too often embraces the notion that men are to blame for all of life's ills. While women have been cast as victims . . . men have been quietly retreating into their caves."

Lopez's article isn't long and could be read with profit by both men and women. Give it a look.