Roger Riordan: Rants & bright ideas

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[This letter was written on the 21st of August 2005, in a reply to an article by Barney Zwartz in The Age, on the 18th of August 2005]

Intelligent design


Barney Zwartz proposes "Let's have a proper scientific debate" (The Age, 18-8-05 ). But science, by definition, is concerned with matters which can, at least in principle, be logically proven. If I claim that there are fairies at the bottom of my garden, no one can disprove me, but this does not justify my demanding that school biology classes should be taught about fairies.

Most biologists believe that life is the result of an unguided process of evolution. However the proponents of intelligent design claim that the structure of living organisms is so complex, and their interactions so involved, that life could not have evolved as it has, unless some divine intelligence was guiding the evolutionary process. But this is no more capable of being proved, and is of no more practical significance, than my theory of fairies.

Barney Zwartz is entitled to believe in both intelligent design and life after death, and I am equally entitled to believe that life is the result of random evolution and that there is no life after death. But both these theses are impossible either to prove or disprove, so they are matters of faith, not of science.

We are all mortal, and our deaths will often be extremely unpleasant. Many of us will die prematurely, as a result of errors in the reproductive processes, and we will be ravaged by diseases and by parasites. If we assume that life has arisen spontaneously, and that the individual’s sole function is to reproduce himself, without being limited by any moral considerations, this is pretty much as we would expect.

The process of replicating our genes is decidedly errorprone. Occasionally one of these errors will confer some advantage on the bearer, and it will be passed on. Far more often he will die prematurely, but this is irrelevant if enough offspring survive to maintain the species. Once someone has passed on their genes, and their offspring are mature enough to look after themselves, there is no reason for them to live any longer, and the way they die is irrelevant.

Every form of life will be constantly searching for homes which offer them some advantage in the struggle to survive. Our bodies offer a whole host of desirable residences and, sure enough, many parasites have evolved to take advantage of these residences, without the slightest consideration for the welfare of their landlords.

The interactions between parasites and their hosts are often unbelievably complex, and provide some of the best arguments for the existence of an intelligent designer. But, if we are His handiwork, our often painful deaths suggest that He had scant regard for our welfare, the frequent errors which occur in the reproductive process imply that He was a very slipshod workman, and the existence of parasites suggests that He had a very sick sense of humour.

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 © Roger Riordan 2004-2019

Evolution - or Intelligent Design?