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KillgoreTrout On December - 19 - 2013

Some of you here know my views on organized religion so I won’t waste your time with any polemics in favor of atheism. This post is not about atheism, pro or con. I intend it to be, as I see it, an elegant explanation about the nature and history of intelligent design.

My own thoughts about the origins and workings of our universe and our existence here on one tiny, astounding life supporting planet named Earth are in no way conclusive. Maybe we’ll never learn all the facts, which seems to me to be the likely case. I’m not sure I want to know all the facts.

Of course the arguments over intelligent design are many and varied as are those involving creationism, which, in my opinion is not quite the same as intelligent design. To me, creationism is much more theological in nature. Many battles have been fought over creationism vs evolution. One of the most famous was the Scopes Monkey trials formally known as “The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes,” in 1925. nearly a century ago. My how some things remain the same. (sort of)

The case involved a high school teacher, John Scopes, who was accused of violating Tennessee’s Butler Act, which made it unlawful to teach human evolution in any state-funded school. The trial was deliberately staged in order to attract publicity to the small town of Dayton, Tennessee, where it was held. Scopes was unsure whether he had ever actually taught evolution, but he purposely incriminated himself so that the case could have a defendant.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, Scopes lost his case. The trial itself involved some pretty heavy hitters in those days. William Jennings Bryan, three-time presidential candidate, argued for the prosecution, while Clarence Darrow, the famed defense attorney, spoke for Scopes.

I just mention all this in leading up to a great video I found featuring the famed astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s elegant discussion of the history of intelligent design and the later segment of his presentation that involves evolution as opposed to intelligent design. Personally, I found this video of Tyson’s presentation to be very intelligent and comprehensive. So, here it is;

So, I encourage all of you or at least many of you to take about forty five minutes or so to watch this presentation in it’s entirety. I think you will be glad you did>

After watching, please leave your own opinions on what you’re seen and what your beliefs may be, regarding the nature of the universe and evolution. Thank you all in advance and hope to see some lively discussion on these topics.

Written by KillgoreTrout

Once a wander, working vagabond, fellow traveler on this 3rd stone from the sun. Hurtling through space and time. Lover of books (especially the classics), all kinds of books from novels, poetry, essay collections, fiction and nonfiction and a big Kurt Vonnegut fan. I am a secular humanist and technically an atheist.....Taoist.

29 Responses so far.

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  1. PocketWatch says:

    AT the risk of prolonging this discussion (like the human race hasn’t been hashing all this over for the last…. what?… 15,000 years or so!), I was up early this morning and thinking about this thread.

    I find it a bit amusing that we try and separate religion, philosophy and science. Think about it… aren’t those things simply a way to explain what we don’t know or can’t explain? They just take different routes to discover some facet of the unknowable truth, whatever that may be.

    Early humans looked at the stars and dramatic weather and phenomena they couldn’t explain, and attributed those things to gods or forces to be feared and appeased in the hope that such dramatic and harmful things would not happen, at least to them and those they cared about. And conversely, they developed the idea that you could possibly ask for good things to happen to you (and maybe bad things to happen to those you didn’t like).

    Philosophy takes the same ideas to a deeper level. As supposedly self-aware beings, we have a hard time imagining an end. What’s the point, otherwise? If, when we die, we just end, why worry about what we do, how we treat people, or what happens? By being self-aware and imagining the future, we strive to figure out what happens next, even if we cannot know. Even an idea like reincarnation not affiliated with any religion supposed a non-ending to us. The idea of a soul, the notion of a ‘place’ we go after dead, the notion of reward and punishment of our non-corporial self all stems from our grip on the idea that we do not end. We just can’t shake that notion as humans.

    Science does the same thing. We are all star-stuff (thank you, Carl!). Every atom in our body and on our planet and in our solar system began in supernovas. And our physical bodies will become a part of another star or dust cloud at some time in the far-flung future, to coalesce and be reborn as another planet, star, and maybe life form. Again, not an end, but a transition.

    All these “disciplines” try and answer the same question: Is there an end when we die?”

    There is truth of a kind in each and every one of these approaches, and there is also fallacy. It is up to each of us to decide what makes sense to us as individuals. And remember where we came from not so long ago as these things are measured. We are a species that evolved as tribal and communal groups for survival. Not as ‘rugged individuals’ as many would have us believe. (That is a 19th Century fiction devised by British writers to encourage layabout second sons to emigrate to America, BTW… look it up.) The idea of shunning is a real punishment. It is, in essence, a death sentence for someone living in a pre-modern society.

    The idea that we somehow have to pick a stance among these three approaches is a false choice, IMO. They all have merit in their own ways, and should be honored for their contributions to our approach to life and living.

    That’s my way of looking at the knotty and unsolvable question “Is there a God?” I always say, “What makes no difference, IS no difference.”

    Live well, be kind, do the best you can, and let the universe sort itself out. It will, you know.

    • Hey Pocket Watch! Yes, as long as there are people, these questions will be addressed and debated over and over again. But it’s kinda fun, isn’t it? I have always found existential and moral questions to be very interesting.

      I think there is a distinction between these three disciplines. Sometimes they converge, and sometimes not. Religion and philosophy often converge. But within philosophy itself, there many different disciplines. There is existentialism, ontology, moral philosophy (which is the closet to religion), ethics….etc. Science is the discipline if one can call it that, that is the farthest from religion. Religion is concerned with what happens to our souls when we die, not our bodies. Religion also can be a guide to living as well as a prescription for an afterlife. Science deals with why we die in the first place. Why do we age and then die. The branches of science today are too many for me to know or number. We have biology, chemistry, physics, all withe more disciplines within each of these main categories.

      I don’t think we have to pick a stance among these different areas of study. None of us can ignore science. We may not take a direct interest, but it can’t be denied that through science, our live have become much, much better than say, prehistoric man’s lives. I enjoy reading certain philosophers and in fact it is philosophy that I find a greater guide to living, than religion. Many people say we can’t possibly have morality without religion, and I think that is rubbish. I do think religion serves a purpose for many, many people around the world. Buddhists advise respect for all religions because they are just different paths to enlightenment. Although I admit, sometimes my respect falls short.

      The big question, is there a god will always be with us, because people want to know where we came from. Where did our planet come from, and on and on.

      Thanks again PW for your participation in this thread. It’s been fun.

  2. pinkpantheroz says:

    Well, KT, it certainly gives pause for thought.I don’t believe in Creation ( well, the bible version, that is) because I could never get my head around what ‘7 days’ meant in the concept of eternity.

    Believing in Evolution, which I do, does not, however deny me the ability to call myself one who believes in Religion.

    When I was young, I remember reading an article in ‘the Reader’s digest’ by a very famous scientist who gave ten reasons he believed in God. I don’t remember them, except for a couple. One was that if the mantle of earth were 10 miles thicker, the climate to sustain life would be far too extreme. the other was that if the Moon were a couple of thousand miles closer, the tides would be so drastic that life, again would be unsustainable.

    So the concept that, perhaps, the gentle nudging of a Superior Being in shaping what we call Earth is what has us sentient today, is not as far fetched as one might think. BUT, I also believe that God, for want of a better world, isn’t the slightest bit interested in winning football matches, athletics and all that bumph. Nor do I prescribe to the evangelical, fundamental dogma that states that the bible is to be taken literally. A major problem with the US today is that the Laws and Constitution were written and voted upon by people who were predominantly Christian, which the latest fundamentalist nutters take full advantage of, even with the supposed separation of Church and State. Man mostly strives to achieve peace in future life by doing well, not hurting anyone and doing good for the less fortunate. Not a bad concept all over. Another view is that, if life here on earth is difficult, it is somewhat easier to bear if there is some remote chance that afterwards, there is a better existence.

    So all in all, I don’t have a problem with Evolution, but I do question the ability of Man to decypher and write down the ‘Law of God’ when very few, if anyone living in those days, could even read or write. It’s a mystery, but faith is faith and we who have it, don’t need to ram it down anyone else’s throat. So peace, harmony and love to all.

    Phew, that’s a bit of a mouthful for me! So I’ll have a cuppa coffee and a lie down now. Goodnight!

    • First of all, thank you pinkpanther for taking the time to watch the video. I can’t possibly buy into the story of Genesis as being the literal truth either. I think a lot of people can’t, because it really requires a suspension of reason and scientific knowledge.

      I think there are many very bright religious people who believe in evolution. Some of them are actually scientists. I don’t think the theory of evolution necessarily precludes religious beliefs. One could say that evolution is a tool of creation. If there is an all powerful being, what would prevent such a being from using evolution to create what it wanted to create? Though I do think Mr. Tyson makes some very good points about the many flaws in not only our design, but the design of almost all other species.

      I don’t really get into the “what-if,” scenarios, because they are departures from the known facts that has taken science hundreds of years to accumulate. I prefer to go with what we know is true.

      I totally agree with your statements about the only way to a peaceful future is doing well, and I believe that science is the best way of “doing well,” for the present and the future. And I agree that altruism and genuine spirituality must run parallel with scientific advances. After all, science can also create some very nasty things, such as nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of horrible destruction and lethality. The hands of science absolutely must be guided by altruism and genuine spirituality.

      When I use the word spirituality, I am not necessarily talking about a soul, spirit or some sort of afterlife, but the simple understanding that we are all made of the same stuff. We are all in this world together and should act with respect and decency toward others. This is much easier said than done, and I have found, in my case, that it requires practice. I think that is the intent of religion, or at least some religions. To provide a guide for practicing genuine spirituality. Unfortunately, there are those in the world who use religion to manipulate people into working towards not so spiritual ends.

      I don’t dwell on the possibility of an afterlife, at least not nearly as much as I used to. I was raised as a Christian and have thought long and hard about heaven and hell. I got into Buddhism and gave the concept of reincarnation a lot of thought also. I have come to the point where I believe that dwelling on the concept of an afterlife (not that I am saying you dwell upon it either) leads one to participate less in the life we have here and now.

      Once again, thank you for taking the time to watch the presentation and leave a very well thought out comment! πŸ˜‰

    • PocketWatch says:

      Your comments remind me of what the nuns used to say (8 years of Catholic school) when talking about the sciences. One thing always stuck with me.

      There is one scientific fact that would make life here nearly impossible if it weren’t true: When water freezes, it expands, becomes less dense, and floats.

      If that were not the case, every body of water on Earth would freeze from bottom to top (ice would sink, more ice would form and sink, etc., until all water would be frozen.) A neat case for some intelligence agent making physical laws “work” so that we exist.

      Now, decades later, I need to address the idea of “life.”

      We really don’t know what that is. Used to be that we said “all life on Earth depends on sunlight in one way or another.” Not true.

      “All life on Earth is oxygen-dependent.” Not true.

      “All life on Earth exists between certain temperature ranges.” Not true.

      My point here is, when we talk about “life” and “evolution” and science in general versus “the possibility of life, here or… elsewhere… (cue spooky music)… we really have no notion of what “life” may look like, what environments it may be able to exist in, or even recognize something as “alive” if we saw it. For all we know, stars themselves may be alive in some way.

      So this whole notion of an entity designing the vast and limitless universe that we are living in seems a bit… well, limiting. The notion is Earth-centric and human-centric, IMO. We can’t help it. We have no real words for something better, and it’s not really surprising. It’s tough to talk about something when there is no language for it.

      I am an agnostic for the simple reason is that I believe there is no way to know true reality. None whatsoever. We are limited by our senses and imaginations, by our languages and our cultures, and by science itself, which is an artifact of ourselves as well.

      We suspect there are higher truths and realities, and we search for them in the only place possible…. our own minds.

      • choicelady says:

        I think that’s the wisest position indeed -- it’s impossible to know true reality. When does life begin? Define “life” as opposed to existence. How is it that young scientist discovered a species that exists due to (OK -- I forget what -- arsenic?) not oxygen and carbon. And that is here on earth, never mind the universe.

        It’s pretty arrogant of earthlings to think life could not exist in vastly different forms elsewhere, that we are the final creation and perfect in every way. (Well, OK maybe those of us on the Planet…) I remember one of my profs “proving” that there cannot be any form of mind-mind connection because the tests could not prove it. But the tests were SO unsystematic and primitive, and then along comes quantum physics showing these amazing connects between particles, and… With the discovery of chaos and randomness at the subatomic level, the whole idea of Einsteinian physics got turned on its head. Not invalidated, but enhanced with far more questions than we can answer even now.

        I understand why some people embrace the clean idea of a watchmaker, a One, who set it all in motion, because it’s so hard to wrap our minds around infinity and eternity. But to deny science is to live in a bubble. To deny there are things we don’t comprehend is to live in a box.

        Life is a journey, there are more questions than absolute answers, and it’s just too bad we probably won’t all live to find out. Inquiring minds want to know! But it sure is fascinating along the way!

        • Hey CL, glad you made it back. I have heard a wonderful phrase concerning the “watch maker.” It’s “the blind watch maker.” That suggests a maker, but that the maker is not perfect. I agree with that, if there is indeed a maker.

          I don’t doubt that there is some sort of creative force in the universe, I just doubt that it is an anthropomorphic supreme being.

          I think we may agree on this. ( I think you are a Taoist, and just haven’t realized it yet) πŸ˜‰

      • Hi Pocket Watch. When you say “life,” what are you referring to? Mere existence, or something beyond just the physical world?

        I think from a scientific point, we know an amazing number of things about life. The things we’ve learned about basic biology, genetics, the workings of the brain…etc. I realize that we have much, much more to learn and I see that as a good thing, because not knowing leads to inquiry. I think this is the beauty of science.

        I refer to myself as an atheist because I am a Taoist, and their is no supreme being in Taoism. To me, Taoism isn’t so much a theology, as it is a philosophy. It IS very spiritual in nature and has many similarities with Christianity and a few other “peaceful,” religions, yet it was written over 500 years before the birth of Christ.

        Maybe I am more agnostic than atheist, because I do believe there is intelligence in all living things, even if it”s just a strand of DNA, or just a single cell. In Taoism, it is taught that all things, all things were created by the Tao, and upon dying they return to the Tao.
        So I do believe in some sort of creative “force,” in the universe. I just find it very difficult to believe in some anthropomorphic all powerful “being.”

        Thank you very much for contributing to this thread. πŸ˜‰

        • PocketWatch says:

          Tell me how we know with absolute certainty that something is alive or not. I don’t believe we can define it. And that’s a problem when we talk about spirituality or religion. Is a rock alive? It can move, change, change its nature, and reacts in certain ways to outside forces. I’m being a little simplistic, but when or if we ever get off this planet, we are going to have to think long and hard about that.

          • SmotPoker says:

            For what it’s worth, I’ve always used the “poke it with a stick, and see if it moves” technique in determining if something is alive or not….

            • LOL! Thanks SP. That indeed is a measure of deciding whether something is living or dead. Not always, but generally, pretty reliable.

            • choicelady says:

              LOL!! You’d have been right at home about 1500 CE. It IS a form of scientific observation though probably not leading to huge revelations. Still -- you are in good company, even if the other practitioners are long dead. Yes -- they no longer move…

          • Hey Pocket Watch. In animals and fish and insects, organisms, organs, and cells, we most certainly can tell if they are living or dead. When respiration and heartbeat cease, the organism dies and then decomposes.

            Inanimate things such as rocks, do not move by themselves. They require an external force to make them move.

            I think you are entering into the realm of metaphysics. The prefix “meta,” means above or beyond. Metaphysics means beyond or above physics. It means that whatever object you consider is beyond the best explanation that physics can offer. So far, we haven’t come across anything that can be proven metaphysically. Such things are beyond our knowledge. There are very, very few things that physics can not explain, but we can certainly discern life from no life.

            In the Shinto religion, it is believed that even inanimate objects have life, or at least a spirit. Many Native Americans believe that rocks, trees, rivers, mountains and animals and even the winds have a spirit. But again, that is beyond our capabilities to prove, one way or the other.

            • pinkpantheroz says:

              Wow! Such insights and comments from my little post! Thak you all for a mind-expanding dialogue. Merry Whateveryouwanttocallthistimeofyear!

  3. escribacat says:

    Thanks for posting this, Kilgore. I watched it and thought he was quite brilliant. I happen to agree with what I believe is his central point, that religious thinking doesn’t have a place in the process of scientific investigation, that in fact, it can be debilitating, as it has been for Islamic culture (although he seems to miss his own point that it has not been debilitating for Jewish culture). I think he accurately describes where religion begins — at the place where our knowledge stops, and that this point has moved over the centuries. For my own agnostic way of looking at things, I would choose not to call that the place of ignorance as he does, but the place of mystery. I think “mystery” is a lot less judgmental than “ignorance.” I’ve found that I’m content to allow many mysteries to exist around me, but then I’m not a scientist. I once tried to talk a fellow out of his religious beliefs (he was a devotee of Gurdjieff) and I came to regret doing that after I learned later that my effort was damaging to him. Since I don’t have any lofty goals about actually figuring out the nature of the universe (though I love exploring the subject) I think it’s a worthy goal in my case simply to try not to hurt others in the way I hurt that fellow. That seems unrelated to exploring the nature of the universe but I think that it actually is related. I just don’t know how — and that’s okay too.

    • Hey e cat! You and I have been down this road before, haven’t we? Thank you so much for participating in this discussion.

      I love this presentation, because it’s done by a an actual scientist, and a brilliant one, at that. I also like the fact that he starts out talking about the cosmos and all those from much older times that have contributed such a mass of knowledge to help us get to where we are now.

      I love how he exemplifies that at the stopping point of scientific discovery, lies religion. He makes a great point for how the concept of intelligent design came to be.

      I think when he refers to the end of scientific discovery in ancient Baghdad, he is inferring that Islam was much more strict in enforcing the religion as opposed to the Hebrew religion. I was really surprised to learn just how much the Arab world has contributed to science.

      I think Dr. Tyson uses the word “ignorance,” in it’s literal meaning of not knowing. I don’t think he uses it as a put down or insult in any way.

      I think your experience in trying to talk your friend out of his religious beliefs may have allowed you to understand more about faith and provided you with an opportunity to grow.
      I have also tried to dissuade some people from their religious beliefs and I too felt afterwards that I had done some amount of harm. I try not to do that any longer. But I will scorn and condemn those that use religion to manipulate others to their own ends. I will always scorn and condemn the nastiness of those who are religious in name, but not practice. I think they are hypocrites and bullies of the worst kind.

      Thanks again my friend for adding your thoughts to this thread. πŸ˜‰

      • escribacat says:

        Hi Kilgore, Yes, my friend, we have ventured into this area before. I have to confess I still haven’t figured out how to digest the I Ching. I think we are likeminded on this topic. I’m a lapsed Christian myself (went through a “Jesus Freak” phase in high school) and saw a great deal of hypocrisy among the leadership of my group. (The head honcho, it turned out, was encouraging young ladies to “service the man of God” in his trailer — UGH.) I’m definitely a skeptic but do try to respect the beliefs of others.

      • choicelady says:

        I would point out that Newton, Bacon and others of their time thought that science ENHANCED their spiritual quest, that learning just made them more aware of the vastness of the universe and all its operations. It wasn’t just the mysteries but the discoveries, too, that brought them awe. I know a lot of scientists feel precisely the same today -- awe.

        That may or may not feed into faith (religion being something different from that) but does tend to build within the researchers a sense of the magnificent, no matter there is or is not a ‘prime mover’. It just IS all pretty darned amazing.

        • Absolutely CL. Einstein once said (and I paraphrase) That he got “a religious sense of awe when confronted with the vast intelligence seen in all of Nature.”

          Einstein was not really a religious man, but he understood a religious feeling that is tied to a sense of awe within Nature. He said man’s intelligence pales in the face of the astounding intelligence inherent in all of Nature.

  4. choicelady says:

    Thanks KT -- I’ve not yet listened to the video, but I have ONE question: is the guy with the white hair GOD? He’s creating one man, one woman and the universe there. So what else am I to think?

    Or he’s Santa on vacation…

    Thank you for sharing this!

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