Wednesday, 18 October 2017

On Intelligent Design and Penguins

Note: this has nothing to do with the Absence of Meaning.

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I noticed, at one point during my stay in Craig-Land, that there had been quite a few threads on intelligent design (ID).  Oddly enough, all had all been generated by theists, so I thought I'd shake things up a little by having a non-theist start up a thread on the topic.

As said, there were already a few threads: one on ID and complexity, one on ID and simplicity becoming complexity, one on the trouble with Darwin, one containing challenge to debate formally on the topic of design (with a focus on "design" as implying something other than necessity), one on ID and the watch and a stupid question (those were the theist’s words, not mine).

The examples brought up as evidence of design in these various threads included: the eye, the cardiovascular system, DNA, the flagellum, sandcastles and teeth.  There seems to be a set pf specific staple examples that are brought up again and again in arguments for design - and even when a new item is brought up, such as teeth, which I don't recall being raised before, the shape of the argument always seems rather similar to all other versions: "this is a complex thing that appears to be useful only when fully constructed with no intermediate steps that I can identify, therefore design".  (Here's something on the evolution of teeth, so perhaps it's not such a new argument after all.)

What I wondered about was why the range of topics seemed (and continues to seem) so limited.  About that time, I had watched March of the Penguins (as narrated by god) and it occurred to me that there was an opportunity here for creationists (oops, I mean proponents of Intelligent Design [IDiots]) to argue for design via emperor penguins.  Think about it for a moment.

These birds mate and rear their young during winter in Antarctica.  To get to where they are going, they have to walk (despite being, primarily, aquatic birds that swim rather than flying) a very long distance.  When they have successfully navigated their way to their breeding ground, across largely featureless terrain, they have to survive the terrible cold of an Antarctic winter, without eating, for months on end.  When an egg is laid, it cannot touch the ice for more than the briefest moment or the chick within will die.  The penguin’s feet, therefore, must be able to not only withstand the cold of standing directly on ice and snow (for months!) but also to keep the egg warm.  The penguins must be able to transfer the egg from the mother's feet to the father's feet with sufficiently high probability of success that enough eggs survive to ensure that the next generation of penguins is viable.

All of these must line up.  The parents must have the capacity to store enough fat to last the winter, their feathers must be good enough insulation to allow the birds to survive the long dark, their feet must be able to withstand ice below, they must be able to travel 100km across a difficult land surface (despite being flightless, aquatic birds) and so on and so on.

Why is the amazing story of the emperor penguin almost never used to argue for intelligent design?  (Although, of course the story is occasionally used, as indicated in the wikipedia article on the film.)

Maybe because the habitation range of penguins, as a mirror image of that of creationists, is almost exclusively restricted to the Southern Hemisphere*?  (The exception there is the Galapagos penguin, and even then we’re only talking about those on the northernmost 20km of Isla Isabela, an island which is about 130km long north to south.  Occasionally there is a mix-up in the penguin version of GPS and some poor penguin ends up in the wrong hemisphere.)  The vast majority of creationists have never seen a penguin in the wild, not even the rare Australian ones like Ken Ham (from Queensland).  The few examples from New Zealand, like the Bananaman Ray Comfort, are likely to have seen them though.

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* This is a bit of an exaggeration.  While Australia and New Zealand are not quite as heathen as, say, Sweden, they are at about the level of secularisation of France (slightly less heathen than the UK).  Other nations in the Southern Hemisphere however are significantly more religious (South Africa [more religious than the US], Chile and Argentina [about as religious as the US]) and are more likely to fall prey to creationism.  It’s odd that Australia and New Zealand should have produced so many creationists – and spawned not one, not two but three creationist behemoths (Answers in Genesis and Creation Ministries International from Australia and Living Waters/The Way of the Master from New Zealand [link there is actually to The Way of the Mister, from Mr Deity]).