It fascinates me that even with the war, hurricanes, a housing price bubble and more, it’s been such a slow-boil kind of summer that intelligent design has become a topic du jour. Maybe I’m not the only one with fond memories of long nights spent in dorm hallways, quoting philosophers half-understood. At least it moves the gathering clouds of kulturkampf to a somewhat higher plane.
A few days ago, I was standing in the shower, thinking about this and the rest of the vortex. I had to open a new can of shaving cream. I popped the small plastic top off (it was the kind that just covers the button on top of the can; about the diameter of a half-dollar, and maybe a quarter inch wide on the rim).
At this point I should tell you that I have a guilty pleasure when it comes to small bits of trash — bottle caps and the like. I thoroughly enjoy chucking them over my shoulder, over a fence, whatever, devil-may-care where they land. I think it helps me keep my sanity in what I otherwise try to make a highly regimented life.
So I popped the plastic cap off and as is my custom, I immediately threw it over the top of the shower door, land where it may.
I thought it made an odd sound.
I washed my hair, lathered and rinsed, checked for cancer, and slid the fiberglass door back to grab my towel and exit. And that’s when I saw my little cap, thrown blindly and randomly, standing straight up on its edge along the sloped seat of my toilet — a perfect 10 of a landing.
Which got me to thinking. There were an infinite number of possible resting positions for that cap. Granted, this was a bounded infinity, limited by my strength, the physical limitations imposed by walls, ceilings, and fixtures, etc., but infinite nonetheless. And yet, of all the possible positions, my cap came to rest in one of the most unlikely.
Clearly, this was a rare event. And it begs the question, how did it happen? I threw the cap with just the right force, at just the right angle, with just the right vectors of motion. The slight breeze blowing through the room was perfect. There was just enough moisture on the cap to overcome a certain amount of friction on impact, etc. I’d need a Cray and a math Ph.D to model it, but even though I can neither replicate it nor truly describe it it DID happen.
To make a giant leap, this is a quite a bit like like the creation of the universe, and by extension our planet. An initial set of preconditions led to one outcome (possibly very rare among all possible outcomes) with one result being that I’m here and able to throw small objects out of my shower.
And this is where the intelligent design folks get their gas from. On the cosmic scale, these events are so rare, they say, the preconditions so extraordinary, that that in itself provides evidence that there is some kind of intelligence which set those conditions, and possibly intervened at subsequent points, too. Further, the intelligent-designers almost always seem to believe that since their own sentience is undeniably a good [FOR THEM, at least ... Rick Santorum, I'm looking at you], that by extension the Designer itself is also good.
You see my point here. My shaving cream cap standing on its end was no product of intelligence. And the outcome achieved was extraordinary, it was not planned, or even hoped for. While it’s true that there was an agent who caused the outcome — or a “prime mover” to use the classical formulation — the agent in this case was acting without awareness of the outcome. I was simply “what came before,” and again there’s an analog in modern theories of cosmology (it’s generally accepted that the initial singularity must have come from some previously existing state).
Finally, there was no “goodness” in my throwing of the cap. In fact, quite the opposite if you happened to be the one tasked to pick up after me.
In the end, we’re left only with a universe that may be nothing more than a bottle cap standing on its end, designed by a balding Polack, and filled with reactionaries who want to waste our children’s time in school.