Esquire explains it all for you

BookLernersSomeone at Esquire decided it was time to warn the fashion-conscious men of America about the perils of Intelligent Design, so the November issue offers not just one air-raid siren, but two.

Charles P. Pierce’s “Greetings From Idiot America” offers a unified theory of everything annoying to an Esquire contributor, explaining not only Intelligent Design but also George W. Bush, the war in Iraq, and — oh, the injustice — why Fox News draws better ratings than the erudite Keith Olbermann.

Tom Junod’s “The Case for Intelligent Design” is a wry attempt to claim I.D. on behalf of agnosticism, if not for process theology.

Neither author makes much effort to describe I.D. in terms other than caricature — while railing at nearly 6,600 words about intellectual laziness, Pierce dismisses I.D. as nothing more than slack-jawed creationism in a lab coat. Neither article is available through Esquire‘s penurious website, so some blockquotes will have to do.

Here is Pierce:

On August 21, a newspaper account of the “intelligent design” movement contained this remarkable sentence: “They have mounted a politically savvy challenge to evolution as the bedrock of modern biology, propelling a fringe academic movement onto the front pages and putting Darwin’s defenders firmly on the defensive.”

A “politically savvy challenge to evolution” is as self-evidently ridiculous as an agriculturally savvy challenge to euclidean geometry would be. It makes as much sense as conducting a Gallup poll on gravity or running someone for president on the Alchemy Party ticket. It doesn’t matter what percentage of people believe they ought to be able to flap their arms and fly, none of them can. It doesn’t matter how many votes your candidate got, he’s not going to turn lead into gold. The sentence is so arrantly foolish that the only real news in it is where it appeared.

On the front page.

Of The New York Times.

Gadzooks! Even the Times has become captive to the know-nothing patrons of bars across America? And yes, the bar is an image invoked by one of Pierce’s interview subjects, then beaten into the ground by the author:

“The reason the creationists have been so effective is that they have put a premium on communication skills,” explains [MIT professor Kip] Hodges. “It matters to them that they can talk to the guy in the bar, and it’s important to them, and they are hugely effective at it.”

It is the ultimate standard of Idiot America. How does it play to Joe Six-Pack in the bar? At the end of August 2004, the Zogby people discovered that 57 percent of undecided voters would rather have a beer with George Bush than with John Kerry. Now, how many people with whom you’ve spent time drinking beer would you trust with the nuclear launch codes? Not only is this not a question for a nation of serious citizens, it’s not even a question for a nation of serious drunkards.

Here is Junod, who never quite recovered — theologically, at least — from an acid trip’s revelation that God bears the blame for evil, what with creating thorns and all:

It’s an interesting exercise, to try to find a rationale for the crucifixion — and, by extension, for Christianity itself — in the precepts of intelligent design. Christians of all stripes tend to love it, so you’d figure it would offer some kind of foothold for their sanguinary and human-centered vision of the cosmos. It doesn’t. Intelligent design offers, instead, the Cult of the Really, Really Smart God, which undercuts Christianity at least as much as it supports it. How can humans be redeemed if they’ve been designed? What are they being redeemed from? Their animal nature, which is so integral to their design that it’s woven into their DNA? Their DNA itself? A design flaw? A mistake, either in conception or in execution? And if so: How intelligent is a designer whose design is so flawed that it can only be repaired by the sacrifice — the torture slaying — of his innocent offspring?

. . . I’m pretty sure my own response to my own lysergic noodling was gnostic — more gnostic than Christian, anyway. My gnosticism permitted me to stay Christian. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth the only way he could, the only way he knew how. He was really, really smart, but there were limits to his smarts, as there were limits to his power. To make the creation work, to make it come into being, he had to incarnate forces that poor, befuddled human beings, coming into consciousness many, many years later, would come to regard as evil. It was the only way. And so God was not innocent of human suffering any more than humans were innocent. He evolved as we evolved, as the universe evolved. Hey, he needed us — he needed us to humanize him, he needed us to be human. He not only listened to our prayers, to our inchoate wailing; he listened to our music. He read our books. He existed in our music and in our books. And he was moved. He took pity. He apologized. And that was Jesus — God’s apology. His apology for making us the way he did. His apology for the sin of implanting sin in our hearts. His apology for putting us in really sort of an impossible situation. His apology for evolution.

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  • Carl

    Well, if evolution supporters are all in their “here I stand; I can do no other” phase, does that mean that truth exists and post-modernism is dead?

    RIP Relativism, we hardly knew ye!

  • http://agrumer.livejournal.com/ Avram

    Postmodernism is primarily a literary movement. What makes you think it has anything to do with evolution? The scientists I know generally turn their noses up at postmodern literary theory.

    (Aside from silliness like this.)

  • http://www.dailycontentions.com Lucas Sayre

    Quick question: can science prove the existence of God?

    A corollary: if science could prove the existence of God, what then is Faith?

    I ask these questions to illustrate a point: ‘intelligent design’ is not and could never be science. It posits the unprovable: the existence of a supernatural creator.

    Many of these “politically savvy” proponents of ID are disingenuously pushing it as a science, by connecting it with a real work of science: irreducible complexity.

    Irreducible complexity, as laid out in a famous (though hardly widely accepted) paper, is an argument that evolution cannot explain the diversity of lifeforms that exist.

    It is an argument against evolution; it is NOT an argument for intelligent design’s supernatural creator.

    So I ask: as believers, do we need to teach creationism in science classrooms, in order to have faith in God and the magic of His creation?

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    It sounds like an argument most theologians consider a load of dingoes’ kidneys.

  • http://www.dailycontentions.com Lucas Sayre

    Will, are you referring to my comment or to some other argument?

    If you are referring to mine, could you please elaborate.

  • Stephen A

    Re: the article – yet more snootiness from the wine-sipping, Volvo-driving cosmopolitan club.

    “Exhibit 4,597″ in the long list of contemptuous articles about the lowlifes between LA and NYC who think they have the right to believe what they want to believe about God and the universe (and morality and faith.)

    Thanks for exposing it here.

    If we had to read every example of elitist nonsense, we’d be online all the time prowling ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Wash Post, NYT, etc. Glad you’re doing it for us, so we don’t have to.

  • http://agrumer.livejournal.com/ Avram

    Lucas, I’m pretty sure Will was making a joking allusion to the story of the Babel fish from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

  • Michael D. Harmon

    Doesn’t anyone else see that the argument, “If science ever proves the existence of God, then it’s not science” as entirely circular? That is, if science proves the existence of God by scientific means (which I do not believe to have happened, BTW), then those means (and, presumably only those means) are removed from the province of science by an a priori definition.

    The assertion that the existence of a supernatural creator is unprovable by scientific means is a statement of faith, not of science. It says that something that has not happened yet can never happen.

    Prove it.

  • http://www.dailycontentions.com Lucas Sayre

    Mr. Harmon, belief in an all-powerful creator, God, is indeed an article of faith. There is nothing circular about it, it is rather by definition.

    Something which is all powerful and ‘supernatural’ by definition transcends this world and scientific understanding. For something to be “all-powerful” that thing must be able to defy consistent cause and effect, the hallmark of science.

    If your scientific version of “god” were provable, then he would not be all-powerful and supernatural, but rather he would be natural, and subject to the same scientific constraints as humanity.

    This is not a god that Christians, Jews, or Muslims believe in.

  • http://agrumer.livejournal.com/ Avram

    Well, Lucas, that depends. I figure an all-powerful deity who wanted to could make its presence knwon in a blatant and obvious fashion. Y’know, descend from the clouds with a choir of angels, perform a few miracles (“Watch as I create a rock so big I myself can’t lift it!”), repeat as often as necessary around the world for whoever asked.

  • Michael D. Harmon

    Once again, if God so moved in the world to show Himself as a cause of events that could be measured and judged by scientific standards, would science then deny those events took place? “Here we have an event whose only possible explanation is supernatural. Therefore the event — which we can measure and study — did not occur.”

    Or, perhaps you are saying that such events do occur, but, since science cannot find a material cause, it has nothing to say about them. But that makes faith a superior way of understanding the world, because it can explain things that science cannot. If, that is, science self-limits itself to only material causes.

    But that is exactly what the ID movement is saying, is it not? Material events occur for which material explanations are insufficient. The event points to an intelligence acting in nature. “That’s not science,” you say. Well, duh. Tell me, why should those of us who understand the universe better than you do accept your crippled and limited understanding as a sufficent explanation of anything?

  • http://www.dailycontentions.com Lucas Sayre

    Michael, I do not know to whom you direct that last sentence.

    I do not think the majority of scientists would ask any Christian to give up their faith in God.

    Nor is this debate about ID and evolution about that. It is purely and simply about whether these items of faith (God and creation) should be passed off as science in science classrooms.

    Furthermore, Avram and Michael, you both provide creative but ultimately failing arguments regarding the possible scientific provability (is that a word? :-) ) of God. Yes, He could choose to show himself in scientifically observable manners, but science would still only be able to prove that which they can see, touch, hear, etc. They could not prove a supernatural, all-powerful God, because those aspects are beyond scientific measurement and experimentation.

  • David

    Such as incarnation?

  • http://agrumer.livejournal.com/ Avram

    They could not prove a supernatural, all-powerful God, because those aspects are beyond scientific measurement and experimentation.

    Hmm. Actually, Lucas, our hypothetical guinea-pig God (a God who’s willing to show up on camera, in labs, answer all sorts of questions directly and in detail, etc) could demonstrate all sorts of abilities that violate physical law, while still being measurable, like moving faster than light, or violating conservation of mass-energy. That’d be measurable evidence of the supernatural.

  • Carl

    No, it wouldn’t be scientific proof of God, it would be scientific proof of Q from Star Trek. The scientific method is to assume that *everything* has a logic cause. If you see something you can’t explain, then you just assume you need to get better at explaining stuff. A true scientist could die and go to heaven (or the other place) and still presume there’s a rational explanation for it all. The scientific method must deny even the voice in the sky.

    This is naturally why the scientific method is a poor way to conduct life in general, since all it can do is help you make mathematical formulas for predicting what will happen.

  • http://www.dailycontentions.com Lucas Sayre

    Thank you, Carl. I believe you made my point.

  • http://agrumer.livejournal.com/ Avram

    Carl, the scientific method wasn’t designed as a way to conduct daily life. I’d hate to have to use the scientific method to choose a girlfriend or a favorite restaurant.

  • Tom Harmon

    Lucas, Carl:

    Might it be the case that, given the finitude of human intelligence, that something could be both logical and not discernible by humans as logical at the same time? Couldn’t a superior being such as, say, God, perform an act that might be logical in itself but not appear so to us, given our our limited powers of reason?

    This whole discussion is a bit frustrating. Lucas, “belief in an all-powerful creator, God, is indeed an article of faith,” is tautological. Once we can prove God’s existence through natural means, our knowledge of God becomes based on science rather than faith. And, yes, God can be known through the world around us, at least according to a very long tradition of theistic philosophers.

    Also, I don’t think anyone (or at least very few people) would want to say that the condition for omnipotence is the ability to make a circle into a square at the same time, in the same place, in the same respect. That’s a contradiction, which is impossible for any being, even God. It’s not impossible because it is beyond God’s power, though, but rather because contradictions have no existence. Ask any garden-variety analytic philosopher what status a rock heavier than an omnipotent being can lift or a square circle has, and they’ll tell you that, while you might be using words to attempt to dscribe a thing, thye in fact signify nothing. God is sovereign over that which is, not over that which is not. God can create actually existing thigns where there were none before, but cannot create “nothing” itself.

    Finally, there’s no reason to think that observation of God’s effects (the world) by which the above mentioned tradition of theistic philosophers demonstrate the existence of God makes God subject to the scientific method and therefore neither supernatural or omnipotent.

  • http://agrumer.livejournal.com/ Avram

    Tom, I’ve thought of at least two ways that an omnipotent being could create an unliftable rock.

    1) Create a universe without gravity. In the absence of gravity, the very concept of lifting makes no sense. Of course, in the absence of gravity, some other force would be needed to hold the rock together.

    2) Create a universe consisting of empty space, and a single rock. As the sole source of gravity in this universe, the rock would occupy the lowest point, and therefore be unliftable.

  • http://www.renewal-1.com Dale R. Evans

    The word “logical” as used in this discussion really means, “to render consistent with an Aristotelian view of reality.” “Science” derives from and is dependent on Aristotle. But when and by whose authority was his view judged absolute? Aristotle had hoped for a vision of the divine like that of Plato. It didn’t happen. Only then did Aristotle author a contrary world view. A Platonist would say order in reality derives only from humans whose soul has been ordered by a transcendent reality. Plato anticipated our need for Christ, and provided a superior logic.