Unintelligent design, redux

Last Thursday I went along to hear Robyn Williams promote his new book, Unintelligent Design. (I can’t stop myself from feeling pleased with myself for having a post of the same title almost a year ago [I know, it’s pretty obvious].)

It’s a pretty good gamble, going to hear a radio presenter speak. You know he’s not likely to be dry and boring. (Well, unless he was a dry and boring presenter.) And I do love a good English accent.

Superficialities aside, Robyn’s talk was excellent. Like the book itself, he’s very chatty and entertaining. His talk touched on the main points of the book, which goes through the history of the science vs creationism/intelligent design (ID) debate, and unpicks the ID side.

It was interesting to hear the questions at the end. Some of the questions were really comments in disguise, but people did have interesting ideas. There wasn’t as much heckling as I expected. Just one polite, reasonable question from a young man who was most likely part of the campus Bible study group. He asked about whether Robyn thought that believing in evolution precluded one from believing in Jesus, and Robyn gave a suitably (for an atheist) vague, diplomatic answer.

I bought the book afterwards. Robyn was signing them, which was cool. And we had a chance to chat with Mike Archer about the future of science education, which was fun. I think Mike Archer is great and UNSW is lucky to have him.

As for the book itself…

It’s a slim little book and he does rush through topics, but it’s an easy read nonetheless, and not designed (haha) to be comprehensive.

Still, the main arguments are all there, from the flaws in our design (poorly draining sinuses and bad backs are two that I suffer from), to the non-scientific agenda of ID, as detailed in the Wedge document. From the use of religion to justify injustice to the flaws in the statistics that ID proponents put forward (it might be unlikely that we’re here, but we are).

It’s full of references to popular culture and his famous friends, like Richard Dawkins and Douglas Adams. And his rather interesting life. Which is probably what makes it such an enjoyable read. He is a little too harsh with his atheism (nothing like Dawkins, of course) but with the fundamentalists around these days, I can forgive him for that. He does acknowledge that science deals with the “how” and religion tackles the “why”, but is overly critical, in my opinion, of religion in general. Yes, religion has been the root of many terrible things, but it also has a lot of good to offer.

However, that doesn’t mean that religion, Judeo-Christian or otherwise, should be distorted, presented as science, and forced down people’s throats. Which is really the point.

3 thoughts on “Unintelligent design, redux

  1. Sounds like an interesting point, but I don’t know if ‘flaws’ in our ‘design’ are necessarily indicative of the absence of a (perfect) designer. A person of faith might argue that bad backs and poorly draining sinuses are things that serve a purpose in their own right but, of course, they are commencing with their conclusions in hand.

    For me, the fundamental issue is that ID is not the same as science and should not be treated on a level. Whether the ID proponents are correct or not, well, that is something that nobody can say for certain. And when it comes to faith, Richard Dawkins is possibly the most religious atheist there is.

  2. You are right that ID’s non-scientific nature is the main thing keeping it out of the classroom, but ID proponents do tend to go on about nature being perfect.

    However, you’re not quite correct in saying that “nobody can say for certain” whether ID is right or not. Research into biological structures such as bacterial flagellae and the eye (which evolved separately and radically differently around 40 times) does show beyond reasonable doubt that they are wrong.

    That’s why it’s worth going into the details of their claims, because it’s so easy to blow their “irreducible complexity” argument out of the water. It’s not just a matter of opinion — all available evidence contradicts them.

    One point that Robyn made was that these days, people see information as consumable. They can “choose” to believe x or y.

    Fine, but if you choose to believe the sky is green, that doesn’t mean your opinion requires respect. It’s wrong, plain and simple.

  3. This “flaws in the design” argument has been done before: notably by George Burns in the 1977 movie “Oh God!” where he says the design of teeth was a flaw…
    (and “It’s true. People have trouble remembering My Words. Moses had such a bad memory I had to give him tablets.”)