Saturday, April 7, 2012

God of the Gaps

In the opening scenes of Pixar's Wall-E, the robot returns home from a full day of garbage cleanup with a little pile of treasures to add to his extensive collection. Carefully, Wall-E puts each item in its place, but a spork stumps him. Does it go with the spoons, or with the forks? He's never seen it before, so it will take some investigation to determine exactly what it is. This type of questioning is at the root of good science.
Neil DeGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, author, speaker, and professor says: 
"In contemporary America, the notion that a higher intelligence is the single answer to all enigmas has been enjoying a resurgence. This present-day version of "God of the Gaps" goes by a fresh name: 'intelligent design.' The term suggests that some entity, endowed with a mental capacity far greater than the human mind can muster, created or enabled all the things in the physical world that we cannot explain through scientific methods. 
But why confine ourselves to things too wondrous or intricate for us to understand, whose existence and attributes we then credit to a superintelligence? Instead, why not tally all those things whose design is so clunky, goofy, impractical, or unworkable that they reflect the absence of intelligence? 
Take the human form. We eat, drink, and breathe through the same hole in the head, and so, despite Henry J. Heimlich's eponymous maneuver, choking is the fourth leading cause of 'unintentional injury death' in the United States. How about drowning? Water covers almost three-quarters of Earth's surface, yet we are land creatures--submerge your head for just a few minutes, and you die. 
How about the silent killers? High blood pressure, colon cancer, and diabetes? It's possible not to know you're afflicted until your coroner tells you so. Wouldn't it be nice if we had built-in biogauges to warn us of such dangers well in advance? Even cheap cars, after all, have engine gauges. 
Stupid design could fuel a movement unto itself. It may not be nature's default, but it's ubiquitous. Yet people seem to enjoy thinking that our bodies, our minds, and even our universe represent pinnacles of form and reason. Maybe it's a good antidepressant to think so. But it's not science--not now, not in the past, not ever. 
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. The only people who still call hurricanes "acts of God" are the people who write insurance forms."
As a person that does not believe in intelligent design, I want to explain myself. I'm not against the people who do. But people who believe in intelligent design are trying to put this into the classrooms to teach children ideas that do not stand up to scientific questioning, and that's wrong. Keep it in your Sunday schools. Science has never knocked on the doors and insisted that evolution be taught alongside whatever it is that you teach. So why then is religion knocking on the doors of the science classrooms and trying to get their agenda passed?
Yesterday I got reviewed by Ben at the book blog, Dead End Follies. Please go read his review of SLIPSTREAM if you are so inclined (and introduce yourself to very intelligent young man). I will see you on Monday for my "H" post in the A to Z challenge.


  1. Lovely quote in the last pic.Great post, Michael.

    --Damyanti, Co-host A to Z Challenge April 2012

    Twitter: @AprilA2Z

  2. I respectfully disagree about school curriculum but that is the nature of debate. We all have our opinions and that is a good thing.

  3. Loved this post. I've seen him speak on television before and he's very engaging.

  4. oh, me hates religion so much....

  5. I totally understand why people don't believe in God and I understand why people do. What I don't understand is why people are arguing.

    I say teach both in school and allow people to make their own decisions. We live in a free America, we should be allowed to make up our own minds. If the theory of evolution is true, it will become blatantly obvious to all. If the intelligent design theory is true, it too should be blatantly obvious.

    I feel the same way about banned books.

    Just stop arguing and use your brilliant minds to find a cure to cancer. That's just my opinion.

    Have a great weekend!

  6. Well said, Clarissa. And science can prove creation as easily as it can prove evolution.

  7. What I have a problem with is even great scientific minds like Tyson confuse religion and spirituality. In so many ways, religion is the "evil twin" of spirituality.

    And Tyson also lumps all of those who believe in God to be fundamental literalists. I grew up Catholic, and the theory of evolution, the idea of alien life outside of Earth, etc. did NOT contradict true Catholic teachings.

    Catholics (real ones anyway) for example, do not practice sola scriptura, nor do they take the bible literally. Catholics understand that the bible is also riddled with errors, mistakes, and all kinds of human interference. And that many of the stories are fables and myths meant to teach a moral lesson. Southern Baptists have a completely different belief (as many other more fundamental religions).

    Biblical literalists are the ones pushing for creation to be taught in the schools.

    Ideally, it would be cool if public classrooms could discuss any and all beliefs, theories, etc. But that'll never happen unfortunately.

  8. People will always try and reconcile science and religion. I don't see why either one needs to be restricted, like Clarissa said. This isn't a case of an either and an or.

    Science has thus far been able to provide fairly limited answers, most of which is based on theories that cannot be 100% proven. Religion, to most, provides those answers, and the fact that many of its concepts, like an afterlife, cannot be scientifically quantifiable does not make it any more untrue than say the theory of evolution.

    P.S: I'm also blogging from A-Z and doing a movie theme @

  9. Recently Tyson keeps cropping up in posts and videos; I think I'll need to properly take a look at some of his work. Thanks for the info!

    Fellow A-Z bloggy buddy
    Mithril Wisdom

  10. I love your Pixar theme. All great posts.

  11. Excellent intro to Tyson. The quote that sticks with me is that assertion dinosaurs were on the ark. Really? Beam me up, Scotty. And congratulations on your book; it looks like an interesting read.

  12. If you want to teach intelligent design as part of a religion class then fine, but stop trying to call it "science." I mean how you can call "a Big Man in the Sky made this happen" in any way scientific is beyond me.

  13. To Thine Own Self Be True. I heart you Michael, no matter what the gaps.

  14. I think a lot of people have a love/hate relationship with science. Love it for the tools and gifts it gives us, like the internet or Plasma televisions... but are angry with what it teaches us about the universe we live in.

    I actually think that we shouldn't try so hard to educate the masses anyway. 1000 hours a year of critical thinking skills taught by well meaning teachers can be done in after watching a one hour episode of Ghost Hunters.

  15. Creationism and intelligent design shouldn't be taught in a science classroom, because they aren't science. If a school has a comparative religion class or something of that nature, that's where creationism belongs. And it always seemed to me that intelligent design truly is an attempt to say, "Oh, by the way, God did this."

    It seems strange that people want to inject God into the science curriculum in the first place. Religion requires faith, which is a sincere belief that is not based on empirical evidence. They know they can't scientifically prove God, so why bother? People have every right to believe what they do, but they should understand that forcing God into the curriculum helps no one.

    And I LOVE Neil deGrasse Tyson!

  16. I'm on board for teaching both creation and evolution in school. God's not threatened by the evolution theory.

    Interesting post.


  17. I agree. I don't think intelligent design belongs in classrooms--I don't have a problem with it being proposed as a theory, but just from my perspective, it isn't science.

    I love those quotes by NDGT!

  18. I saw this guy on Bill Maher the other day. He was really smart.

  19. I had to come back and say thanks for stopping by on the A-Z blog hop. It's nice to read another Tebow fan.

  20. The reason I am against Creationism being taught in school is that it is only one religion's idea. What about Buddhists? What about Hindus? What about Native Americans? etc. There are many religions that have teachings on how the world began. How can we teach in public schools that perhaps the Christian God made the world and not include all other religious teachings?

    I believe God created the universe and this world, but I don't want my beliefs forced on anyone else. As for our bodies being fragile - that is true, but it wasn't so in the beginning. There was no death until sin.

  21. Really good quotes from DeGrasse. He's not terribly outspoken and I read a response from him on WEIT about the outspoken atheists (whom I love because it is their voices that helped me let go of some things that were dragging me down) that I thought was-- well, a little arrogant. But his work in educating people in science is most appreciated.

  22. I agree with Belle that if we push Christianity and Creationism into schools, we should have to include all religions if we are truly doing it in order to give children options and to inform and education them about each choice they have.

    I read somewhere (can't remember exactly where now) that some Christians believe in the theory of evolution. They see it as the foresight of God because he knew the Earth was going to change and made it possible for his creations to change with it.

  23. I love that last quote, and I'm off to check out Dead End Follies. As for the rest, I'll leave it to others to debate.

  24. I would like to copy and save the the quote by Mr.Tyson. It is exactly what I feel, although I feel that time could be running out on me. I am overwhelmed with worries right now, but once a lot of things get sorted out I want to do some good.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Sarah Pearson blog about your book is a nice one.

  25. People who pretend to disregard science scare me. Yet they benefit in more ways than they could imagine. I'm going to share this post on Facebook later.

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  27. Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of the best of the best this country has to offer.

    I am trying to read all the A to Z blogs, but coming back to the ones I really like.
    Looking forward to seeing what you do all month!

    The Other Side
    The Freedom of Nonbelief