My apologies for the late update today. Crazy weekend, nuff said.
This cartoon draws inspiration mostly from Neil DeGrasse Tyson's excellent essay The Perimeter of Ignorance, especially this paragraph:
Turns out that some celestial bodies give off more light in the invisible bands of the spectrum than in the visible. And the invisible light picked up by the new telescopes showed that mayhem abounds in the cosmos: monstrous gamma-ray bursts, deadly pulsars, matter-crushing gravitational fields, matter-hungry black holes that flay their bloated stellar neighbors, newborn stars igniting within pockets of collapsing gas. And as our ordinary, optical telescopes got bigger and better, more mayhem emerged: galaxies that collide and cannibalize each other, explosions of supermassive stars, chaotic stellar and planetary orbits. Our own cosmic neighborhood—the inner solar system—turned out to be a shooting gallery, full of rogue asteroids and comets that collide with planets from time to time. Occasionally they've even wiped out stupendous masses of Earth's flora and fauna. The evidence all points to the fact that we occupy not a well-mannered clockwork universe, but a destructive, violent, and hostile zoo.
Emphasis mine. By now most folks feel cozy in the assumption that Intelligent Design has found disgrace as a movement, even among creationists. Just recently a bill to impose I.D. into the high school science curriculum died in the legislature — in Oklahoma
! The land of milk and Cheney!
But the "controversy" still rages in some circles. The Catholic Church has added I.D. as a topic for discussion at a conference commemorating the 150th anniversary of the publication of "On the Origin of the Species" — but only as a "cultural phenomenon," not as a legitimate scientific theory. The challenge for believers is reconciliation between a divine origin to the universe and a developing scientific explanation. Most probably ascribe to Stephen Jay Gould's "non-overlapping magisteria" approach, and were probably relieved to hear President Obama announce the return of science to "its proper place" in shaping public policy.
I don't feel so cozy. For one thing, the religious reactionaries have been fighting against science for hundreds of years and against evolutionary theory since Darwin's little book came off the printing press. Obama's victory is great news for scientifically-sound policy-making, but it only drives the religious right back into its little corner. They'll be back, strong and swinging, with another wacky theory that attempts to put a modern spin on old mythologies. And the public will scratch its head and shrug, "D'okay! Teach the controversy!"
What also concerns me is our longstanding penchant for magical explanations for natural phenomena. Tyson's essay is not just an attack on Intelligent Design as recently concocted by creationists, but as a habit of thought for even the greatest minds of science. Newton, LaPLace and other groundbreaking observers of celestial phenomena would reach the limits of their technology and understanding, then declare that beyond it, Here be God's Work. Tyson puts it best:
What do you do with that line of reasoning? Do you just cede the solving of problems to someone smarter than you, someone who's not even human? Do you tell students to pursue only questions with easy answers?
There may be a limit to what the human mind can figure out about our universe. But how presumptuous it would be for me to claim that if I can't solve a problem, neither can any other person who has ever lived or who will ever be born. Suppose Galileo and Laplace had felt that way? Better yet, what if Newton had not? He might then have solved Laplace's problem a century earlier, making it possible for Laplace to cross the next frontier of ignorance.
Science is a philosophy of discovery. Intelligent design is a philosophy of ignorance. You cannot build a program of discovery on the assumption that nobody is smart enough to figure out the answer to a problem. Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes. We know when and where they start. We know what drives them. We know what mitigates their destructive power. And anyone who has studied global warming can tell you what makes them worse. The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms.