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Evolution, Intelligent Design, and Me - Howard Tayler
Ramblings of a Happy Cartoonist
Evolution, Intelligent Design, and Me
(Reposted from the Schlock Mercenary front page)

I'm glad to see that a Federal Judge has ruled against teaching "Intelligent Design" in Pennsylvania biology classes. Intelligent Design is not science - not even BAD science - but it is bad religion. After all, any religion that has to lie about what it is in order to sneak into the building needs to take a long hard look at some of its own tenets regarding morality and integrity.

Now, before my religious friends lynch me... I believe that God created Heaven and Earth, and that His explanation of HOW he did it, as revealed to prophets throughout the ages, is about as complete as He needs it to be. More divine revelation as to His Methods and Means would not make any of us mortals more faithful. After all, most of us pay little enough attention to the revelations that have already been given.

So here I am, devoutly religious, and I detest "Intelligent Design." The ONLY bit about it with which I agree is some of the disclaimer text which the creationists (let's call them what they are, shall we?) want to apply to Evolution: It's a theory, not a fact.

Facts are directly observable and measurable. Fact: we have found fossils. Fact: we have observed the chemical processes by which fossils can be created. Fact: we have observed changes in the genetic makeup of certain populations of animals. Fact: we have observed and demonstrated the mechanics by which genes are expressed, and how they can be damaged through natural events.

We have a very long list of similar facts, and right now the only theory that unifies these into a consistent description of the world in which we live is evolution through random mutation and natural selection. That is not the same as saying that the theory is itself a fact. Sure, we've "proven" that evolution explains things better than competing theories, but that is still not the same thing as saying "Evolution is a fact." Are there holes in the current theories? Absolutely. But let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

I'm not casting aspersions on science. Evolution is some darn good science. It's tricky, you know, examining the fossil record and the living world and coming up with a description for what happened during the last half a billion years. It's a little bit like feeding a dictionary into a wood-chipper, and then attempting to re-create the book by observing just one piece out of every 1000 and extrapolating from there. A LOT of things happened on this planet during its history, and the vast majority of them left no discernable trace that we can read today. Scientists work HARD to fill in the gaps, and to make our lives better by theorizing, testing their theories through experimentation, and then refining their theories.

But for all their strengths, the scientific methods we use don't work well when applied to the description or improvement of the moral codes by which we live. Religion (and by religion I do NOT mean "orthodox heirarchical power structures" -- I mean "community and individual spirituality") DOES work well in this way. Sure, lots of people disagree with the concept of moral absolutes, but it's hard to argue with somebody who has found happiness through adherence to a spiritual and moral code. It can be argued, after all, that the purpose of life is to learn to live happily.

Is there some paradox here? Mightn't Evolution suggest that God was lying, or that Moses was lying, or that religion is a sham? Well, certainly it COULD suggest that, but I don't treat it that way. I believe that eventually our science will be good enough that we can explain to God how we think He did it, and He'll say "Great job! You get an A! It would have been an A+, but you left 'Dark Energy' in place as a fudge factor. Now here's a nebula full of hydrogen. Show Me what you can build." Until then, however, I'm not going to use the book of Genesis as a template for a scientific theory. The answers may be in The Book, but we're expected to show our work. That's the only way that we can enjoy the fruits of DOING the work.

Let me explain it more simply: My faith enables me to live happily. Science and technology enable me to live LONGER. I don't want to see science used to discredit religion, because that will make people live LESS happily, and I don't want to see religion used to discredit science, because that will further delay the delivery of my flying car. If this simple dichotomy can be honestly and openly explained to our children, they can embrace the apparent paradox, and get on with the important things in life: being happy, and figuring out how to build me a jetpack. It's 2005, for heaven's sake. I was supposed to have a silica farm on the moon twenty years ago, and I can't even get my replicator-bots onto the roof of the house.


NOTE: Big E, Little e, What Begins With "E"? By way of clarification in the essay above. Big 'E' Evolution is the theory that life evolved gradually from self-replicating protein chains. Little 'e' evolution is the observable process by which (for instance) strains of bacteria become resistant to antibiotics. I can't remember where I first got this particular nomenclature, but it works pretty well for essays. It works astoundingly poorly in conversation, because the statement "Evolution is only a theory" is indistinguishable from the statement "evolution is only a theory," and one of those two statements is patently false. I suppose you can make the capitalization heard by shouting, but that's what I'm hoping we'll avoid.

ANOTHER NOTE: The number of comments, and the complexity of the threads they've spawned preclude me reading everything you say, or doing much in the way of moderation. Mercy! You people are talkative! Now be nice down there.

A FINAL NOTE: I've had a lot of requests for the rights to reproduce, forward, copy, or otherwise redistribute this essay. I have some simple and generous terms:

1) Linking to this page is 100% okay. Link it as an LJ memory, as a bookmark, as a link in an email message, whatever.

2) If you're quoting me in an essay of your own, or in a sig file, don't change my words. You can bracket them in your own, but don't change mine.

3) Provide attribution. "Howard Tayler says" will work for snippets. For sigs, you can just do the cited text followed by "-- Howard Tayler". If you're copying most of the essay, you can link back to this page with text like "click here for the complete essay."

4) If you want to print it for handouts, I require that you place the following copyright text at the bottom of the page:
Essay Copyright (C)2005 The Tayler Corporation, All Rights Reserved. www.schlockmercenary.com. Reproduced with permission for non-profit use only.

5) If you want to print it for publication, contact me and we'll work something out. My email address is [firstname].[lastname] at gmail.com.

--Howard Tayler

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294 comments or Leave a comment
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comatosedreamer From: comatosedreamer Date: December 20th, 2005 03:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, now that this is here, I can comment correctly!

I like! :D
From: protocoach Date: December 20th, 2005 03:59 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank You, Howard

Excellent explanation. I'm a Catholic, and I always struggle to explain my support of evolution. You couldn't have said it better.
bladespark From: bladespark Date: December 20th, 2005 04:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
*Applauds* I couldn't have said it better myself.
silvergoose From: silvergoose Date: December 20th, 2005 04:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I thoroughly respect you both because you have a great faith and because you are sensible about it. If I had a hat on, I'd take it off for you. Or maybe tip it.
theswede From: theswede Date: December 20th, 2005 04:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
When I had faith, I was miserable. It wasn't until I abadonded faith and embraced reason and rationality fully that I became happy. In my experience and observation of my friends and those around me, faith will make people LESS happy.

I'm curious; why is my observation wrong?
kazriko From: kazriko Date: December 20th, 2005 04:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's a fairly individual thing. I know many people who would be absolutely miserable if forced into religion, and others that would be absolutely miserable if forced away from religion.

You need to find your own way to happiness and it is not the same for every person.

Like with Politics, I wasn't really happy with my former purely republican views until I started laying them out side by side and looking at every one of them logically. I thought them through and reintegrated them into something I thought was more consistant, rational, and Libertarian-republican. I was overall much happier with myself than when I blindly followed the party line. I'm sure others would just hate my viewpoints and would come up with something completely different that made them happy.
kazriko From: kazriko Date: December 20th, 2005 04:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
I hate to throw in another shallow "I agree," but...

I agree. :)

Now bring on the flying car.
pandoras_closet From: pandoras_closet Date: December 20th, 2005 04:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
A friend of mine is a hardcore athesit and she cannot understand how as an intelligent person, I can believe in God. To her, Relgion is unessacary. I've described it as more of a teddy bear. Something to hang on to when it gets dark.

She says that for my first apartment, she's gonna get me a Teddy bear wearing a T-shirt with the word God on it.

Anyways, the other night, it popped up again (we don't normally discuss it for obvious reasons) and I argued that while science has a longer "paper trail" than religion, there is still a point where the paper trail stops and from there, scientists must rely on belief and faith that they're right.

Science, in effect, is a sort of religion.

At that point, she was ready to blow up, so I changed topics to the marvelous amount of batsh8%% that is the Enterprise Mission website and Richard C. Hoagland.

kazriko From: kazriko Date: December 20th, 2005 04:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, I wouldn't say that Science is a religion or faith per se, but Atheism definitely is. Science really cannot prove one way or another that god exists, so an atheist must take on faith that the lack of proof of god is enough to say that he doesn't exist. Proving a negative is rather difficult.
tariq_kamal From: tariq_kamal Date: December 20th, 2005 04:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
I like it. I like it a lot.

Now to dive into your threads and reply to a few of the other comments.
dewhitton From: dewhitton Date: December 20th, 2005 05:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
I hate ID for the reasons you stated. I also have a feeling that it is being used to prove there is a God and with proof there is no need for faith, and faith is what the whole thing is about. The only thing ID proves is that a mash-up of observable facts with half-baked ideas is a Bad Thing.
mamaslyth From: mamaslyth Date: December 20th, 2005 05:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
I sort of agree with you and yet I sort of don't. Hardly surprising.

The thing is, I believe that organisms can adapt and that there is some natural selection in life. I just don't think that everything here evolved from the "ground up", so to speak. Just because we can see it happening, doesn't mean it did and we really don't have enough proof to completely support that.

For the sake of clarification, let's pretend the "space ark" scenario. It's tens of thousands of years from now and Humanity has figured out interstellar flight and matter transmission. We have also got the environment systems all figured out. We've decided to go to another galaxy, but we need a base. We find one planet with proteins on it and leave it alone. But nearby, we find a suitable hunk of rock, terraform it and add life to it. Of course, we need to build up a decent and sustainable atmosphere and water cycle first. Our little genetically engineered microbes are sent to work. We have to give it some time. Perhaps we even have the technology to mess with gravity and time. Perhaps we had to mess with the carbon isotopes to make things work. Then we carefully add our animals and plant life. We might have to work out some kinks in our weather dynamics.

Anyway, for whatever reason, we have to abandon the project. Perhaps the political climate has changed back home and the people demand we spend our funds mining black holes or something. The thing is, our little project is left to itself for eons. Then we send another expedition to this other galaxy. We look for our original planet. Our records was scrambled a little during the Great Hacker War of 67851 AD, so exact directions are not available.

We find two possible planets. Now, we had matter transportors, there would be no technological artifacts left. It's possible that we could track with DNA, but after so many eons, would that really work - and what if both planets have very similar DNA structures? (This is a hypothetical situation, after all.) By checking the fossil records, would we really be able to tell on which planet the life evolved all from the same single cell organisms and which we had started?

I think we would find evidence on both planets of natural selection and adaptation. But on our planet, there would be gaps in the evolutionary records.

Bottom line, I'm an Evolutionary Agnostic/Creationist. I recently had to write a philosophoy of life paper for school and in the middle of putting my material together, I realized that my view of God as a Creator was not dependent on how the Universe came into being.

The Hebrew Bible uses tohu (without form, chaotic, unorganized) and bohu (empty, without purpose and meaning) for “void and without form” in Genesis. This fits very well with my understanding and beliefs of the Creation. I believe that God organized the Earth and the heavens. How He got the materials to do it, I honestly don't know. If I make a piece of art, I am still its creator, even if I didn't make the materials I used in its creation. If I make a cake, I have created it, even if I didn't grind the flour or made the eggs. If I write a song, I am only recreating vibrations and words in a different pattern. I didn't create my own vocal cords or the materials to makes the instruments I used. I didn't even create the tonic scales. I have only reorganized elements to create something new.

Keeping this view in mind, how the matter and energy of the Universe originally came into being is a moot point in my philosophy of life. I could argue that the current mathematical models of the Universe most supported by observed data point to a beginning singularity and that most of the newer theories that have been proposed to eliminate the possibility for a singularity still have yet to be supported by new observations findings. I could do that. I might even be able to do it in a very compelling manner. However, it neither weakens nor strengthens my particular views on God as a Creator.
mzmadmike From: mzmadmike Date: December 20th, 2005 06:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
James P. Hogan has a story on that exact subject.

God creates a universe with Intelligent Beings. The activists override Intelligent Beings in court, because it will screw up the "natural balance." With that out of the way, the predators will run roughshod, and the EPA orders them stricken. Then someone notices the lack of control on herbivores. Eventually, he's authorized an entirely empty universe.


"Oh, it's all in there. It'll just take a while to show up."
cmzero From: cmzero Date: December 20th, 2005 05:23 pm (UTC) (Link)

Well spoken.

And I will see kazriko's "I agree" and raise you a "May I put that last paragraph on metaquotes?"
howardtayler From: howardtayler Date: December 20th, 2005 05:27 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Well spoken.

By all means, metaquote me.
From: zandperl Date: December 20th, 2005 05:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
A very well-written explanation of your viewpoint. Thank you for taking the time to put it all down. Although I am an agnostic atheist, I have numerous friends with varying degrees of religiosity, and I always seek to understand their beliefs, just as I hope they seek to understand mine. We respect each others' beliefs, even when we think they're incorrect, and do not try to convert each other either way, but just look for understanding and communication.

I just wanted to point out one item of terminology. The word "fact" is not generally used by scientists due to the confusion in the term in general English. From what I've experience, we are more likely to refer to things as data ("there is a rock in the side of the cliff," "the rock's ratio of Carbon-14 to Carbon-13 is X"), interpretations ("the rock is a fossil bone from Y animal," "the rock is Z-many years old"), and theories (evolution). It is impossible to 100% completely prove anything but data "true." If we call something a theory, it is as close to being "true" as a scientist will ever admit. If we actually are still uncertain about it, we won't call it a theory, but a hypothesis instead.

That said, the next time someone tells me "evolution is only a theory," I'll bite their head off with "well, gravity isn't even that - Einstein replaced it with general relativity - and yet no one ever debates teaching that in schools!"
demonicgerbil From: demonicgerbil Date: December 20th, 2005 05:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
Of course Gravity has the distinction of being something that we can actually test, poke, prod, and reproduce effects of in a laboratory.

And Einstein replaced Newtonian Gravitation with a covariant theory of gravity. Still, Newtonian gravitation is the weak field limit of general relativity and thus still approximately valid as long as we're not dealing with collapsed objects such as black holes or neutron stars.

Heck, Newtonian gravitation even does a fair job of describing the cosmology of our universe.

So, to sum up: Unless someone manages to completely speciate a population of fruit flies from a base population (as opposed to producing freak populations of fruit flies that are still in the same species), Evolution will have only indirect and inferred proof to back it up, while Gravity, whichever theory you like, can be tested by picking up a weight and timing how long it takes to hit the ground.
mopalia From: mopalia Date: December 20th, 2005 05:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
I thought you were sick and going to bed? So instead you get up and start all this trouble? Sheesh! LOL.
howardtayler From: howardtayler Date: December 20th, 2005 05:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
Couldn't sleep. Besides, I wrote this essay this morning. Cross-posting it here was two fingers' worth of work. :-)
c_wraith From: c_wraith Date: December 20th, 2005 05:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
When I read this on your Schlock Mercenary, I smiled. You perfectly described how religion and science should be orthogonal. They attempt to answer different questions, and I can't understand why people think either is attempting to invalidate the other.
firebyrd From: firebyrd Date: December 20th, 2005 05:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
I really liked what a professor I had for physics said once (and amazingly, this wasn't at BYU, but at WSU). Science is about the how of things. Religion is about the why. They're complementary, not two world views fighting with each other. I don't know why so many people have a hard time getting that...
cheops From: cheops Date: December 20th, 2005 05:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
If you ever need additional income, I could see a regular column by you regarding religion. Your rants on the subject are extremely readable and well-thought-out. You could bill yourself Mr. Logically Faithful Person.
themikado From: themikado Date: December 20th, 2005 06:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
Point of information: evolution is both a fact and a theory. The fact of evolution is that, well, things evolve. It's been observed. If it hadn't been observed then a friend of mine wouldn't be getting a PhD very soon on genes in fruit flies, because they would all be the same.

The theory of evolution is the explanation of the fact of evolution. Without this, none of modern biology would make sense! We would have no idea about things like antibiotic resistance and how different species came to exist. It isn't perfect, but it's important to note that nothing is.

There was a poster above who disputed the idea of 'macro'-evolution existing... but that is merely 'micro'-evolution which lasts a little bit longer. What's the problem with getting to the top of a building by taking small steps? Really this isn't an issue for evolution and hasn't ever been.

As far as the religion is concerned, I'm a pretty hardcore atheist and happy with it. I'm glad you are happy with your beliefs and that you can reconcile science and faith; you're not one of the crazies the world has to worry about!

On morality, perhaps science isn't very good about telling us how to live, but there are massive branches of philosophy which deal with moral codes without the need for deities. Everyone tries to live according to some principles, whether they are religious or not.

One final note: I love your comic, it's the highlight of my morning. :-)
kazriko From: kazriko Date: December 20th, 2005 06:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
BTW, as a small poll, By "hardcore atheist" do you mean "lack of belief in god" or "belief in lack of god"? :)
nikau From: nikau Date: December 20th, 2005 06:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wow. Nicely written.

You sir, are my hero. :)
mzmadmike From: mzmadmike Date: December 20th, 2005 06:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
Actually, I believe in equal time for Aaragon, Abenaki, Acoma, Ainu, Aleut, Amunge, Angevin, Anishinabek, Anvik-Shageluk, Apache, Arapaho, Ararapivka, Arikara, Armenian, Arrernte, Ashkenazim, Assiniboine, Athabascan, Athena, Aztec, Babylonian, Balinese, Bannock, Bantu, Basque, Blackfoot, Blood, Bosnian, Breton, Brul, Bundjalung, Burns Paiute, Caddo, Cahuilla, Catalan, Cayuga, Cayuse, Celt, Chehalis, Chelan, Cherokee, Chewella, Cheyenne, Chickasaw, Chinook, Chippewa, Chirachaua, Choctaw, Chukchi, Coeur d'Alene, Columbia River, Colville, Comanche, Congolese, Concow, Coquille, Cow Creek, Cowlitz, Cree, Creek, Croat, Crow, Crow Creek, Cumbres, Curonian, Cushite, Cut Head, Da'an, Devon, Dihai-Kutchin, Diyari, Dogon, Duwamish, Egyptian, Elwha, Eritrean, Eskimo, Esrolvuli, Eta, Even, Evenk, Flathead, Fijian, Fox, Fuegan, Gaul, Gooniyandi, Gond, Govi Basin Mongolian, Grand Ronde, Gros Ventre, Haida, Han, Haranding, Havasupai, Hendriki, Heortling, Hidatsa, Hindi, Hmong, HoChunk, Hoh, Hoopa, Hopi, Hunkpapa, Hutu, Ik-kil-lin, Inca, Innu, Intsi Dindjich, Inuit, Iroquois, Isleta, Itchali, Itelemen, It-ka-lya-ruin, Itkpe'lit, Itku'dlin, Jicarilla Apache, Jotvingian, Kaiyuhkhotana, Kalapuya, Kalispel, Kamchandal, Kansa, Karuk, Katshikotin, Kaurna, Kaw, Kazahk, Ketschetnaer, Khanti, Khoi-San, Khymer, Kickapoo, Kiowa, Kirghiz, Kitchin-Kutchin, Klamath, Knaiakhotana, K'nyaw, Koch-Rajbongshi, Kolshina, Kono, Kootenai, Koyukukhotana, !Kung, Kurd, La Jolla, Lac Courte D'Oreille, Lac Du Flambeau, Laguna, Lake, Lakota, Lao, Latgalian, Leech Lake Chippewa, Lemmi, Lower Brul, Lower Yanktonai, Lowland Lummi, Lummi, Malawi, Makah, Mandan, Maori, Maricopan, Martinez, Mayan, Mazatec, Mednofski, Menominee, Meryam Mir, Mesa Grande, Mescalero Apache, Metlakatla, Miniconjou, Mission, Moallalla, Modoc, Mohawk, Mojave, Morongo, Muckleshoot, Murrinh-Patha, Nadruvian, Nagorno-Karabakh, Na-Kotchpo-tschig-Kouttchin, Nambe, Namib, Natche'-Kutehin, Navajo, Nes Pelem, Neyetse-kutchi, Nez Perce, Ngiyampaa, Nisqualli, Nnatsit-Kutchin, Nomelackie, Nooksack, Norman, Norse, Northern Cheyenne, Nyungar, Oglala, Ogorvalte, Ojibway, Okanagon, Okinawan, Olmec, Omaha, Oneida, Onondaga, Ordovices, Orlanthi, Osage, Osetto, O-til'-tin, Otoe, Paakantyi, Paiute, Pala Mission, Papago, Pawnee, Pazyryk, Pechango, Penan, Piegan, Pima, Pitt River, Ponca, Potowatomie, Prussian, Pueblo, Puyallup, Qiang, Quileute, Quinault, Red Cliff Chippewa, Red Lake Chippewa, Redwood, Rincon, Sac, Saisiyat, Sakuddeis, Salish, Salt River, Samish, Samoan, Samogitian, San Carlos Apache, San Idlefonso, San Juan, San Poil, Santa Clara, Sartar, Sauk-Suiattle, Selonian, Semigolian, Seminole, Senecan, Sephardim, Serano, Serb, Shasta, Shawnee, Shiite, Shinnecock, Shoalwater Bay, Shoshone, Sikh, Siletz, Silures, Sinhalese, Sioux, Siskiyou, Sisseton, Siuslaw, Skalvian, S'Klallam, Skokomish, Skyomish, Slovene, Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Soboba, Southern Cheyenne, Spokane, Squaxin Island, Steilacoom, Stillaquamish, Stockbridge, Sunni, Suquamish, Swinomish, Tadjik, Takhayuna, Tala, Talastari, Tamil, Tanaina, Taos, Tarim, Tasman, Tatar, Tesuque, Tlingit, Tohono O’Odom, Toltec, Tpe-ttckie-dhidie-Kouttchin, Tranjik-Kutchin, Truk, Tukkutih-Kutchin, Tulalip, Tungus, Turtle Mountain, Tuscarora, Turk, Turkmen, Tutsi, Ugalakmiut, Uintah, Umatilla, Umpqua, Uncompagre, U-nung'un, Upper Skagit, Ute, Uzbek, Vietnamese, Viking, Vunta-Kutchin, Wahpeton, Walla Walla, Wasco, Wembawemba, White Mountain Apache, Wichita, Wik-ungkan, Winnebago, Wiradjuri, Wylackie, Xhosa, Yahi, Yakama, Yakima, Yakut, Yanamamo, Yankton Sioux, Yellowknife, Yindjibarnd, Youkon Louchioux, Yukaghir, Yukonikhotana, Yullit, Yuma, Zjen-ta-Kouttchin, and Zulu Creationism.

They're all equally valid.
kickahaota From: kickahaota Date: December 23rd, 2005 05:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
Coyote's gonna kick yer ass for leaving him off the list. :)
ceejayoz From: ceejayoz Date: December 20th, 2005 08:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
This weak athiest (i.e. I don't believe in a diety, but would believe given sufficient evidence - some call me an agnostic, others call me an athiest) tips his hat to you. A beautiful post.