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November 14, 2005

Pat Robertson preaches gross heresy (again)
Posted by Teresa at 05:14 PM * 170 comments

The perennially appalling Pat Robertson has self-confidently announced his supersession of divine mercy, the Holy Spirit, the noachide covenant, the omnipresence of God, and two thousand years of Christian grace, in order to call down curses upon the town of Dover, Pennsylvania:

I’d like to say to the good citizens of Dover, if there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God. You just rejected him from your city, and don’t wonder why he hasn’t helped you when problems begin, if they begin, and I’m not saying they will. But if they do, just remember you just voted God out of your city. And if that’s the case, then don’t ask for his help, because he might not be there.

Dover’s unforgivable sin was to vote out a school board that wanted the doctrine of Intelligent Design taught as part of its science curriculum.

Julia at Sisyphus Shrugged really nails this one. Have a look.

Comments on Pat Robertson preaches gross heresy (again):
#1 ::: Randall P. ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 05:38 PM:

Is Pat Robertson even worthy of anyone's comments? I mean, really...he only has an audience of millions, his own television station, books, radio shows, and a fanatical, loyal following who would do anything he asked because "God" told them to...


...Wait, scratch everything I just said. BURN HIM!!

#2 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 05:47 PM:

One of the problems with people like Pat Robertson--though minor compared to the threat he and his supporters pose to my freedoms and my sanity--is that he leaves me trying to explain to strangers that, no, really, there are lots of Christians who aren't like that, and in fact there's real question whether people like Robertson are entitled to the name Christian. I'd like to be able to leave the defense of Christianity to the Christians, but while I'm happy to do that on theological points, I'm not prepared to see my decent Christian friends, like our hosts, misunderstood and even slandered.

#3 ::: jane ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 06:06 PM:

I especially liked the words about his support of Giuliani.

When it comes to Robertson, the only repsonse has to be head-shaking and giggles. Even God, I am sure, does that.

Jane

#4 ::: MaW ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 06:21 PM:

Pat Robertson makes me very cross a lot of the time. Then I realise that he's not really worth the effort. Then I remember how many people do seem to listen to him, and get irritated again. Admittedly, I'm not one of his favourite people - as a Pagan, I'm sure he's got lots of things to say about how bad I am. Fortunately, he's not even aware I exist.

When he says things like this, though, I want to laugh at him and hit him at the same time. He gives Christians the world over a bad name, and in fact tars all religious people to a certain extent. Gargh.

#5 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 07:02 PM:

My favorite Born-again Christian has got to be Jimmy Carter. I remember in the mid-nineties when he had written a book about his first political campaing. His tour took him to San Francisco so of course I had to go. As I was waiting for my turn, I observed him. He'd sign people's books and smile the smile of someone who had to smile. Then the woman ahead of me introduced her 10-year-old daughter to Carter and boy, did he smile back. A true smile that really lit up things.

#6 ::: Wim ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 07:10 PM:

Though, Pat Robertson has gotten so famous for making these kinds of comments that some of the quotes floating around attributed to him are actually satire misreported as truth. He's probably only 90% of the raving lunatic he appears to be.

#7 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 07:15 PM:

Considering all their "Got Jesus?" talk, a lot of Evangelicals seem awfully disgruntled about the New Covenant.

#8 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 07:23 PM:

If Hitler ruled, Pat would rah-rah for Hitler.

If Pol Pot ruled, Pat would rah-rah for Pol Pot.

He's like Goebbels: an opportunistic mouthpiece.

#9 ::: Lis Carey ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 07:25 PM:

Jimmy Carter's newest book, Our Endangered Values, appears to have been written this summer in an upwelling of extreme irritation at what the fundamentalist-Republican alliance has been doing to religion, politics, and general civility.

Chapter 5 is "No Conflict Between Science and Religion", and he speaks in rather strong terms about how he, as an evangelical Christian, regards it as a perversion of the Bible to attempt to use it as a science textbook. And also about the disrespect involved in limiting God to what shepherds and farmers several centuries B.C. were educationally equipped to understand.

#10 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 08:52 PM:

Not to worry.

Going by recent trends in the news, it's only the Protestant Fundamentalist God that got voted out; the Catholic God was actually rather pleased. (Other deities probably didn't even notice.)

#11 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 09:39 PM:

Pat received a message from God Almighty that Scibonics is the Truth, the Light, and the Way.

Or maybe it was just Pat's prostate acting up.

#12 ::: Craig ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 09:39 PM:

If I were one of the good citizens of Dover, I'd be giving thanks that Pat isn't on my side. After his recent support for assassination, does anyone really want him on their side??

#13 ::: Irene Ferris ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 10:08 PM:

Pat Robertson is my mother's wet dream. She adores the man.

Yes, I still speak with her. Occasionally. Under controlled circumstances.

#14 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 10:24 PM:

"...to be the agents, rather than the victims, of history..."

#15 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 11:24 PM:

Were Pat Robertson and Bill O'Reilly separated at birth or something? I mean, O'Reilly has already announced that The Terrorists(tm) can come blow San Francisco off the map, free of charge; now Robertson has taken a page from O'Reilly's book and given God a free pass at Dover, PA. Honestly, I expect some originality from my Archvillains.

#16 ::: Meredith ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 11:25 PM:

When Robertson finally shuffles off this mortal coil, he's going to be so confused when he gets into the elevator and it starts going down.

#17 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 11:43 PM:

Thank you, Teresa. I've been internally screaming about Mr. Robertson for several days. Remember Satan tempting Jesus in the Gospels? ("Turn these stones into bread... throw yourself from this pinnacle and let the angels catch you...) I've decided Pat Robertson is my temptation, as in, God, please, please, can't I just kill him? Hurt him a little? HATE him?

You mean I have to love him, too? You MEAN that? You do, don't You. Shit.

#18 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 12:16 AM:

[disbelieving amused contempt]
"Reverend?"
[/disbelieving amused contempt]

#19 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 02:07 AM:

Yesterday, I happened to read Bertram Russell's speech, "Why I Am Not a Christian." My first thought was, "Hey, they had intelligent design then, too."

"When you come to look into this argument from design, it is a most astonishing thing that people can believe that this world, with all the things that are in it, with all its defects, should be the best that omnipotence and omniscience have been able to produce in millions of years. I really cannot believe it. Do you think that, if you were granted omnipotence and omniscience and millions of years in which to perfect your world, you could produce nothing better than the Ku Klux Klan, or the fascists?" -- March 6, 1927, National Secular society, South Long branch, Battersea Town Hall.

Myself, I'd add Pat Robertson to the list of things that makes mockery of intelligent design.

Um, how is it that that argument is supposed to be secular, again?

#20 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 03:08 AM:

Lydia, there's a very tough question of computability buried in the "watchmaker" argument ("Is the Church-Turing (-Post) hypothesis correct?"), and a really interesting semiotic question ("Give an object with a complex formal order, are its complexities the result of design?") But neither of these are within experimental reach yet, though quantum computing is nibbling at Church-Turing and so they are the domain of philosophical speculation rather than scientific research.

The fundies, of course, don't want such subtleties; they just want to believe.

#21 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 04:43 AM:

Bad examples from Mr Russell. Both fascism and the Klan arise out of the darkness and wickedness of humans, nothing more. You can't blame God for them.

He'd have been better sticking to the anthrax bacillus and the verviform appendix.

#22 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 04:58 AM:

After his recent support for assassination, does anyone really want him on their side??

On the other hand, given that, I'm not sure I want him not on my side. He's probably mulling over pre-emptively absolved assassins, as in "The Amber Spyglass"...

"Don't call on God, because he might not be there". Honestly. Hasn't he read the Books of Kings? (as in the Bible, not some George RR Martin thing) He's not talking about God any more, he's talking about Baal. I can see him mocking Dover now.

"Call him louder - for he is a god! He talketh; or he is pursuing; or he is on a journey; or peradventure he sleepeth; so awake him! Call him louder!"

Why is no one willing to call this loon out? I mean no churchman (trad or evangelist). Would it take that much for a cardinal or a bishop or a preacher to say "Well, I don't know about whatever Mr Robertson is worshipping, but my God is omnipresent, loving and forgiving." It's not like cardinals normally avoid controversy or anything - and this is their area of expertise, dammit, unlike politics or biology, and Robertson's been pretty offensive to them.
Someone get on to the Pope and tell him to be tougher on heresy. Gosh, it feels odd as a Covenanter Presbyterian to write that, but, you know, if you have a big ugly hound, it's a messy nuisance most of the time until you need to scare someone.

#23 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 06:02 AM:

Is it my imagination or do people who like their God to be in the Patriarch style ("Disobey me and I'll squish you and everybody close to you") are way more likely to go for the Republican Party while those who see their God as Atticus Finch tend to be Democrats?

I ask because I don't know, although if my wife's sisters and mom are any indication, then the answer is yes. I'm an atheist, once a Catholic who even did the altar-boy thing, but that was a long time ago. That doesn't keep me from looking forward to setting up the Christmas tree in the living-room. No contradiction there. Heck, my Jewish friend Merle loved doing that do.

#24 ::: Lis Riba ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 06:15 AM:

AmericaBlog pointed out that Pat Robertson has just completely destroyed the hopes of Intelligent Design ever prevailing in the courts, by openly saying it's all about Xian religion.

He's scum, but he's clumsy scum. Which is to our benefit.

#25 ::: JoseAngel ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 06:16 AM:

"Don't call on God, because he might not be there"

That sounds sensible - in isolation.

#26 ::: Jodi Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 06:38 AM:

Oh bleh. I've only heard little bits about him before this. Now he's all over. Urgh. Great. Just what Christianity needs. Because enough people don't already hate us, right?

If only "Christians" didn't give them a reason to.

The other day I was standing at the Narnia display at the Christian book store, and a pair of ladies stopped behind me and commented, "Why do they have *Narnia* in the *Christian* book store?"

I was pretty sure I wasn't supposed to answer, but I'm a snarky young upstart, so I turned around and said, "Well Lewis was a Christian."

And she stared at me for a little while like I'd been supposed to snark something about SFF and Christianity not mixing EVER because SFF is EVIL. Then she said, "Yeah, but the *books* aren't," and walked away before I had a chance to ask her if she'd *read* the books, or knew what allegory is.

It's people like that--and Pat Robertson--who make me shake my fist and growl.

#27 ::: Mark D. ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 06:46 AM:

Why Journalists Love Pat Robertson.

This blog is a daily read for me.

#28 ::: Paul Arezina ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 09:24 AM:

I'll never understand why, when discussing intelligent design as a theory, people never say "it's not useful" and leave it at that.

I mean, a good deal of research on anything that isn't human is done in the belief that the conclusions will help understand humanity. F'rex, some work was done on Feline Immunodeficiency Virus and Simian Immunodeficiency Virus in the hopes of understanding HIV. That's only got some rhetorical heft behind it if you buy the "common ancestry" idea of evolution.

Maybe I haven't had intelligent design pounded into my head enough, but doesn't it present a world which is, essentially, arbitrary?

#29 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 09:42 AM:

Paul, I think that the ID-proponents believe our vision of the world is the one that's arbitrary.

#30 ::: jason evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 09:43 AM:

Watch your back, Jesus, watch your back. Patty's got his eye on a spot in the Trinity, and not you or anyone else is gonna stop him.

#31 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 10:07 AM:

Re: Narnia

I suppose it's cruel, but there is a part of me that would love to see some sort of fundamental Christian group attack Narnia in the same way Harry Potter is unjustly maligned just to see what the reaction would be. (However, according to NPR, Disney is already courting the Christian groups for the movie so this seems unlikely.)

Re: the ultimate uselessness of Intelligent Design

I think that's a great argument, but there isn't enough common language between those who fervently believes that there is a Great Designer and those who want to understand how things work to convey that argument effectively. If you can claim that Intelligent Design is a theory with a straight face then the utility of it is a non-issue. Your concern is not whether you can use this to better understand the mechanisms of the universe. Your concern is just to have an answer to the mysteries of the universe and this one is irrefutable (by definition since there is no way to test it).

(BTW, are there Intelligent Design supporters worried about bird flu? If so, they are being inconsistent since the mechanism at play there is bird flu evolving into a form which transmits from human to human.)

I don't make rounds in the Intelligent Design circles so I don't know if any of them have articulated this and this is not an original thought in any case but it seems to me that what they are really fighting against is (some flavor of) humanism. Science is ultimately predicated on the premise that human beings can understand the universe. Through the process of rational observation and experimentation, we can uncover the mechanisms by which the universe operates. I think this worries some people. The relevant references are probably the Tower of Babel and the Forbidden Fruit.

So, in the narrative of their own lives, they are fighting for the continued existence of Life As We Know It. If we venture to Places We Ought Not Go, we will be Smited With All of His Might. I admit to not understanding this point of view at all, except to say that the awareness of consciousness event (symbolized by eating the forbidden fruit in Christian theology) is a more positive event in other theologies, IIRC.

BTW, this is not to say that there are not issues of arrogance and ethics to deal with in science. This is just to say that to give up on science completely is not the best answer we can come up with. Likewise, this is not to say that there aren't some meta-scientific issues to deal with. The weak anthropic principle is kind of scary and for good reason. It probably comes about because we have only one universe to sample from. When we are scared, we seek comfort. Some people find comfort in merely having an answer to life's mysteries whether it's a useful answer or not.

#32 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 10:17 AM:

I suppose it's cruel, but there is a part of me that would love to see some sort of fundamental Christian group attack Narnia in the same way Harry Potter is unjustly maligned just to see what the reaction would be.

You're ten years too late. Texe Marrs and his pals have been banging that drum for a long time.

#33 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 10:22 AM:

When I first read about the Anthropic Principle, I thought it was kind of lame, at least from what I understand of it. So what if it appears that the universe is well suited for the existence of humans? It's also well suited for the existence of my idiot cat Jefferson.

#34 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 10:37 AM:

Serge said: So what if it appears that the universe is well suited for the existence of humans?

It is? But there are so many climates I can't live in without artificial clothing and some kind of artificial shelter, if at all. Wouldn't a world ideally suited to humans be, basically, Polynesian Island Planet? And my lower back tells me constantly that it's not really happy about the whole walking-upright thing, yet I do not travel swifty on all fours, and besides, that negates my use of opposable thumbs when I most often need them. Design flaws there, by golly.

#35 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 10:37 AM:

It's not exactly speaking out against Pat Robertson specifically, but a Cardinal from the Vatican issued a statement on "intelligent design".

http://www.news.com.au/story/0,10117,17162341-13762,00.html


(I wish they had the full text of his remarks, but alas, I haven't found those yet. More remarks here.)

#36 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 10:42 AM:

A nice thing I saw once that stuck with me:

The mutual problem of Christians and feminists

Warning: site may drag you in for hours with insufficient reward.

#37 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 10:46 AM:

I was just trying to be concise, Aconite. I think the Principle refers to the physical laws that allow the Universe to exist. But there are still plenty of things that get in the way of our existence. Or in the way of the existence of my cat. (Besides his proverbial cat-killing curiosity.)

As for Independent Design... If that's what's really going on, then the actual work must have been subcontracted and outsourced because the design sure is buggy. (Maybe Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits had it right about the origin of the universe.)

#38 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 10:53 AM:

Design flaws there, by golly.

You want to talk design flaws? How about putting the optic nerve connection right in the middle of the retina? (If you were setting out to design an eye would you include the "blind spot" in the specs?)

How about using the same tube for breathing as for eating? (In a well-designed body the Heimlich Maneuver wouldn't be necessary.)

The whole "design" has the definite air of "good enough for government work."

If the world is "designed" well for humans -- it seems to be designed even better for cockroaches.

#39 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 11:10 AM:

Serge -- I think you're talking about a different meaning of "Anthropic Principle" to the one I'm familiar with, which is (roughly paraphrased because I don't have any original sources with me and can't be bothered to look it up) "The fact that the universe seems ideal for us is nothing unusual -- it has to be, otherwise we would be different or not here to observe it." There's a corollary: "Given that infinite universes with different parameters have existed, of course we will arise in one that is close to ideal for our existence."

This is the only argument you need to defeat any intelligent design argument. The fact that we are here to observe means that (e.g.) the eye must have evolved, however unlikely that is. But given sufficiently many trials it will have evolved somewhere, so obviously we are observing from the location in which it did. By examining the size and composition of the universe, we can determine that there were likely more than adequate trials.

(And yes, I'm aware that I'm assuming evolution, but as this is the assumption that the irreducible complexity is trying to negate, I feel justified in assuming it to show that the negation is not necessary.)

#40 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 11:16 AM:

Vicki: I don't think he's Christian in anything but self-description. In fact, can anyone seriously claim to be Christian who preaches that his followers will be rewarded (by somebody) with money and power? The last I checked, that promise was coming from the other side.

I have occasionally suggested praying that Robertson and the fundies be converted to Christianity.

#41 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 11:20 AM:

"F'rex, some work was done on Feline Immunodeficiency Virus and Simian Immunodeficiency Virus in the hopes of understanding HIV. That's only got some rhetorical heft behind it if you buy the "common ancestry" idea of evolution."

I suppose an ID supporter could claim that it's just a case of 'common design', rather than 'common ancestry'.

The flaw there, of course, is that it's a one-off. Saying "Hm, three immunodeficiency diseases caused by viruses! I bet The Designing Pony designed them with common features!" won't help you if a related virus causes a disease without immunodeficiency symptoms, which appears to be unrelated.

What I want to know is if there are multiple Intelligent Designers; if so, is there a multiverse version of 'Trading Spaces', and if so, were we designed by Hildy?

#42 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 11:22 AM:

Yeah, Jules, I probably got my understanding of the Anthropic Principle all wrong. It HAS been a long time since I read Hawking's A Brief History of Time.

As for your proposal on how to debate ID proponents, it won't work, because you assume that logic is in their tool kit. Me, I'd ask them what it is that they think designed us? Star Trek's Archons, the Martians in Quatermass and the Pit, or one of Jack Kirby's superduper aliens like the Watcher, the Eternals or Galactus...

#43 ::: theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 11:23 AM:

Jules: What you describe is what's known as the Weak Anthropic Principle, and there's little argument with that. But there's also a Strong Anthropic Principle: "The Universe must have those properties which allow life to develop within it at some stage in its history." And there's a whole lotta dispute over that one.

#44 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 11:36 AM:

Jon H: Maybe, but I think Kia is more likely.

#45 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 11:44 AM:

Why is no one willing to call this loon out? I mean no churchman (trad or evangelist). Would it take that much for a cardinal or a bishop or a preacher to say "Well, I don't know about whatever Mr Robertson is worshipping, but my God is omnipresent, loving and forgiving." It's not like cardinals normally avoid controversy or anything - and this is their area of expertise, dammit, unlike politics or biology, and Robertson's been pretty offensive to them.
Someone get on to the Pope and tell him to be tougher on heresy. Gosh, it feels odd as a Covenanter Presbyterian to write that, but, you know, if you have a big ugly hound, it's a messy nuisance most of the time until you need to scare someone.

I bet Pope Benedict XVI is getting tired of that particular designation... But if you want to read what at least one evangelical Protestant pastor thinks of Robertson, check out Sojourner. (It has a website but I'm blanking on the address.) Jim Wallis has been horrified and angry with Robertson in public for quite some time.

I suspect that the Pope knows only vaguely who Pat Robertson is. And the American cardinals, who do know who he is, probably whisper, whenever Robertson makes it clear that his concept of Christianity is not sane, "Thank You, Lord, that this man is not a Catholic! He's Your problem but not our problem..." Which may be short-sighted of them but given the sex-abuse scandal, the issue of gay priests, the issue of women priests, the issue of NO priests, closing parishes, and the rising dissatisfaction of their parishioners, I can understand their reluctance not to comment on Pat Robertson.


#46 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 11:46 AM:

Sorry -- I meant their reluctance TO comment on Pat Robertson.

#47 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 12:06 PM:

Cost of moving from Virginia to Massachusetts: Thousands.
Missing all my old friends: depressing
Lost wages from my old job: Thousands
The realization that Pat Robertson isn't "my" local fanatic any more: Priceless

#48 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 12:21 PM:

Personally, I see a good deal in common between Intelligent Design and Narnia: they're both attempts to wheedle Christian proselytizing into places it doesn't belong. I remember reading the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader where the lamb turns into the lion and the Christian allegory completely breaches the fourth wall. And don't even get me started on The Last Battle.

That said, Narnia at least has the virtue of being interesting and entertaining (at least when Aslan is off stage), something which cannot be said of Intelligent Design, and moreover, at least in my school, it was always elective reading material, which is not the status the wingnuts want for Of Pandas and Plankton.

As for Pat Robertson, I'd like to ask him if he thinks the 1918 influenza pandemic was the result of God being cranky about the Women's Suffrage Movement, and if not that, then what?

#49 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 12:28 PM:

Jules: This is the only argument you need to defeat any intelligent design argument. The fact that we are here to observe means that (e.g.) the eye must have evolved, however unlikely that is.

Stephen Jay Gould once got a letter from Jimmy Carter, asking about the watchmaker problem; arguing for it in fact. Gould sent him a reply.

At some point (as I recall) there was a telephone conversation.

Gould included the whole thing in one of his essay collections. I think I am, going to go buy his book, just to see what he has to say, in light of that little series of events.

#50 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 01:08 PM:

Design quirks? I nominate the vagus nerve, which looks to me like a retrofitted kludge.

I also nominate the rock hyrax, with a sub-nomination of Paenungulata and/or Afrotherians in general. The hyrax looks like a housecat-sized rodent, and it fills a niche where a rodent would do nicely, but it's actually an ungulate, and its nearest relatives are the dugong, manatee, elephant, aardvark, elephant-shrew (a.k.a. sengi or quufer), golden mole, and tenrec. It's got all kinds of interesting peculiarities, including a seven- or eight-month gestation period, more vertebrae than any other mammal, a social structure thatís startlingly similar to that of elephants, and really cool weird feet that are adapted for running up vertical rock faces.

The Afrotherians only make sense as a group if you assume that they evolved. Otherwise, you're left wondering how it is that the Intelligence behind intelligent design decided to ignore Its fully developed rodent product line, and instead populate the rocky grasslands of Africa with an elephant that's been shrunk in the wash.

#51 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 01:20 PM:

you're left wondering how it is that the Intelligence behind intelligent design decided to ignore Its fully developed rodent product line

Maybe It wanted a backup product line in case the original versions didn't work?

It must have a sense of humor: look at turtles and tortoises (for which there don't seem to be any earlier versions)!

#52 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 01:21 PM:

Facts don't matter to the IDiots. They'll simply say that God put things there as a test of Faith.

#53 ::: cicada ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 01:24 PM:

Kip W, welcome to Massachusetts. It's not so bad.
(-:

#54 ::: Trey ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 01:25 PM:

Teresa,
It may make ID a moot point, but the rock hyrax suggests biological design by committee - the only form of life with more than three stomachs and no brains. That or the team was headed by a business type who originally came up with the ungulates to begin with.

#55 ::: Carrie ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 01:27 PM:

Oh my goodness, Teresa, those things are adorable. They've got this stoic hamster look going.

#56 ::: Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 01:31 PM:

Kip, there are some religious loons up in Massachusetts, just not many of them. Like, you don't have a senator who's a religious loon like I do...

Teresa (et. al.) - is it my imagination or are the current government people who are getting all in a lather about "bird flu" not willing to use the word "evolve" or "mutate" when they attempt to discuss the operations behind changes in said virus?

I don't think the upcoming flu-related pandemic will be bird flu. It's been around for a few years and hasn't really spread that rapidly. Or that flu virus in the US last year that killed a bunch of children in Colorado in November...but then almost nothing else happened. The problem with a real, virus-driven pandemic is that we won't know what it will be until many thousands of people on multiple continents have it. And then someone who understands virology will have to start studying it almost from scratch. That means (heavens!) someone who really understand the evolution and mutation of viruses. And who knows how few of those will be left in America given the current anti-science breast-beating.

#57 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 01:31 PM:

"Who're you going to believe? Me, or your own two lying eyes?"

#58 ::: AnimeJune ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 01:33 PM:

God (on phone with Pat Robertson): Wha-? Dude, stop phoning me....Yes, yes I know it's you, I have Prayer ID...Yes, I did get your last 53 messages, I just ignored them...No, I'm not going to send a hurricane to destroy Pennsylvania...What? What the hell have you been saying about me?...Hell no! I know Jesus, okay, I KNOW my own Son, MeDammit! I don't care what you think you heard...wait, let me get him. JE-SUS! Did you tell Pat Robertson you were sick with the abortions and gays in New Orleans?... No, Pat, he says you're taking him out of context...Yes, Pat, I love you, but that doesn't mean I don't love everybody else...yes, even Bush, although he should get his act together...Intelligent design? Intelligent design? Let me get this through to you, I'm Intelligent, and I Designed - evolution! Dude...you're not even listening...where did you even get this number? Okay, stop calling me, Pat...I mean it, stop calling.
I'm screening my Prayers now...yes I am, I'm screening them - you even hint of "smiting" or "Godly wrath" in any of them, I'll ignore it...that's right...play nice Pat...yes, I'll say hi to your mom for you...okay...okay...bye now.

Weirdo.

#59 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 01:38 PM:

TNH: the vagus nerve is just one of, IIRC, nine cranial nerves that penetrate various holes in the skull (including the spinal cord). Some of 'em are quite alarmingly badly designed; I seem to recall that some dental ops require a local anaesthetic injection to numb one nerve that, if mislocated by a few millimeters, accidentally damps out the optic nerve at the same time (which can be quite alarming until it wears off, one gathers).

What I want to know is why the Octopus ended up with our eyes while we got this second-rate crap. That damned Flying Spaghetti Monster has got a lot to answer for ...

#60 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 01:40 PM:

Terry,

The Gould essay about his conversation with Jimmy Carter is in Bully for Brontosaurus, which is a fantastic collection of essays.

I just started reading Dinosaur in a Haystack and even though most of the essays are ten or eleven years old, the subject matter is as immediate as if I were reading a blog by Gould (he even mentions in one essay of Pandas and People, which I found prescient).

#61 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 01:44 PM:

"Who're you going to believe? Me or your lying, badly-designed, back-to-front eyes?"

And I like the idea of God as either Bob Newhart or Peter Sellers (on the phone with the Soviet Premier in Dr. Strangelove). Almost thou persuadest me to become a Christian.

I can see potential for a Bob Newhart-on-Mount-Sinai sketch, spelling out the commandments to a slightly dim Moses.

"Okay. First one. I am the Lord your God; thou shalt have - no, semi-colon between 'God' and 'thou'. No, I mean there should be one there.
No, that's not part of the commandment.
Okay, let's start over..."

And finishing up with "Oh, hi. Back again, huh? SO what can I... uh huh... uh huh... you did WHAT? You SMASHED them? Why on earth would you... uh huh... I see... Okay, I guess we can go through them again. Do you have a fresh slab?"

#62 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 01:48 PM:

"The Afrotherians only make sense as a group if you assume that they evolved. Otherwise, you're left wondering how it is that the Intelligence behind intelligent design decided to ignore Its fully developed rodent product line, and instead populate the rocky grasslands of Africa with an elephant that's been shrunk in the wash."

aesthetic reasons. no accounting for taste.

#63 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 02:06 PM:

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?"
"I am averting my gaze, Lord."
"WELL, DON'T!"

(King Arthur having a chat with God in )

#64 ::: orangemike ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 02:09 PM:

A lot of Christians have been calling out that heretical hatemonger for a long time. He ignores us.

More irritatingly, so does the mainstream press. Their worldview, by and large, is that he is a big-name Christian loudmouth, and therefore a good go-to guy as far as what Christians believe. And he gives good quote!

#65 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 02:30 PM:

Double-yeah and ditto on the folly of the mainstream media giving Robertson attention. The process by which raw events become quote news unquote is pretty fundamentally broken, IMHO. What passes for news is worse than useless, it's sometimes distracting.

Actually, I think the way the culture as a whole processes information and arrives at decisions is flawed. It might be interesting to attempt to construct a model of the process by which the U.S. culture makes decisions.

I bet it wouldn't take a whole lot of work to get the rate of successful predictions up above 80%. (Somebody phone Sid Meier!)

Hmmm. Now that I think about it, inasumuch as a culture is a system, it should be possible to test the intelligence of that system. I bet it goes something like:

gentle monarchy
is smarter than
dictatorship
is smarter than
small parliamentary system
is smarter than
larger parliamentary system

With the qualification that I'd only count the numbers of entities that have meaningful input into the political process when assessing whether a parliamentary system is small or large.

For instance, the U.S. may (for all I know) be a small parliamentary system. I've no idea how many corporations actually get to be involved in the decision-making process.

#66 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 02:32 PM:

Randolph:

Lydia, there's a very tough question of computability buried in the "watchmaker" argument ("Is the Church-Turing (-Post) hypothesis correct?"), and a really interesting semiotic question ("Give an object with a complex formal order, are its complexities the result of design?") But neither of these are within experimental reach yet, though quantum computing is nibbling at Church-Turing and so they are the domain of philosophical speculation rather than scientific research.

I looked at some of this stuff in Wikipedia. What I think I see is the theory that, with world enough and time, the universe can be understood. What I don't see is purposeful development, a single guiding hand. I guess I'm missing something. Please help.

#67 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 02:51 PM:

Dave Luckett:

Bad examples from Mr Russell. Both fascism and the Klan arise out of the darkness and wickedness of humans, nothing more. You can't blame God for them.

God created the human race. Our minds, our brains, our natures, our very souls -- temporarily assuming that any of that stuff other than the brain actually exists. How, then, can the Klan and the Nazis not be his fault. If I throw a stone in the air, and I know that through an unlikely concatenation of events, a child will die, am I not responsible?

If, on the other hand, I throw a stone in the air in perfect ignorance of its future, and the stone hits a frog near a highway, the frog is unable to move and lies there in at the side of the road for half an hour, and a hawk, seeing easy prey, stoops on the frog, and the driver of a car is so startled by the hawk that he ends up driving off the road, and he and his young son die of the impact, then am I actually responsible for their deaths? I won't ever even know about these consequences, could not have anticipated them. In what sense can I possibly be morally responsible for them?

Another one, involving free will: you are given a box of candy. You know your roommate likes that kind of candy, and you don't. You leave it out with a note that says, "I don't want these, they're all yours," your friend eats it, it turns out the candcy is laced with arsenic, and he dies. Assume the arsenic is as much of a surprise to you as it is to him. Are you morally responsible?

Now assume you're really, really pissed off with your roommate. Your ex gives you a box of candy that you hate and you know your roommate likes. You're pretty sure, based on what you've heard through the grapevine, that they're poisonous. You put them on the table with a note that says, "I don't want these, they're all yours." The note is true in every respect. The poisoning of the candy was done of your ex's own free will, you had nothing to do with it. Your roommate chooses to eat the candy out of his own free will. Can you hide behind their free will as a justification?

Omnipotence and omniscience make all the difference. Once you have both, you are responsible for everything that happens in your universe.

It all seems very simple to me, although many people don't see it as either simple or clear. Omnipotence, omnicience, omnibenevolence, pick two. I'll duke it out with free will later. But either god's responsible and doesn't like people near so well as he claims, or he's not all powerful, no matter how fond he is of my species.

#68 ::: Avery ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 03:00 PM:

Mark Rosenfelder (www.zompist.com) offers an interesting test of whether or not you live in a science fiction or fantasy universe. Basically, if you meet your god and everything about the encounter makes perfect sense to you, it's fantasy. If your brain melts, it's science fiction.

Pat Robertson's God seems to be a kid who has mom's credit card numbers and an account at http://shop.lego.com.

#69 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 03:02 PM:

I once read that there is one issue that Theology has a real problem with.

Did Adam have a belly button?

I kid you not.

#70 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 04:01 PM:

"Omnipotence, omnicience, omnibenevolence, pick two."

Personally, I'd like to think that God is really clever and benign and is just operating at a level I can't comprehend. For instance, my personal understanding of what constitutes ethical behavior has matured in only 36 short years--enabling alcoholism, for instance, might feel kind when you're doing it but is probably not the best strategy over the long term.

I can't imagine what concept of "kind" behavior will be like if I live to be 1 billion.

"no matter how fond he is of my species"

I find it very, very hard to conceive of a deity that could prefer human beings to, say, dogs.

#71 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 04:06 PM:

Randolph suggests:
"Give an object with a complex formal order, are its complexities the result of design?"

The issue is not really whether there is design or not. The issue is whether there is a designer; that is, an individual (or group, or whatever) that performs the design.

Under evolutionary theory, there is a designer: the forces of variability and natural selection.

The process is identical to how TV shows and movies are greenlighted: products that are similar except in detail to those already existing are produced by non-intelligent forces, and then culled if they don't perform. The quality of most of the results (as noted by earlier posters) is similar as well.

If there was an intelligent designer we would have more "Lost"s and fewer "Stacked"s.

#72 ::: Brooke C. ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 04:22 PM:

Taking a perverse kind of pleasure in the Big Scary List quotes. Especially the phrase "godly fumigation."

If the widespread practice of homosexuality will bring about the destruction of your nation, if it will bring about terrorist bombs, if it'll bring about earthquakes, tornadoes and possibly a meteor, it isn't necessarily something we ought to open our arms to.
-- Pat Robertson, The 700 Club television program, August 6, 1998, on the occasion of the Orlando, Florida, Gay Pride Festival

Well, obviously. QED. (I also wonder if the phrase "open our arms" in re homosexuality isn't an...interesting choice of words, here.)

I think we ought to close Halloween down. Do you want your children to dress up as witches? The Druids used to dress up like this when they were doing human sacrifice... [Your children] are acting out Satanic rituals and participating in it, and don't even realize it.
-- Pat Robertson, The 700 Club television program, October 29, 1982

I enjoy the image of druids in 1 AD, or whenever, dressing up in pointy black hats, buckled shoes, and green makeup. Especially if you also imagine the usual stereotypical long white beards, quasi-wizard white robes, blue tattoos, and oak-leaf crowns (maybe around the hat's brim, for safekeeping?) Iím not even going to address the five million historical issues there, Iím just enjoying it. (They'd naturally hold the all-Isle of Mona apple-bob before sacrificing virgins in a wicker man at a stone circle under the full moon of midsummer. And then they'd go TP the Roman legions.)

ajay, as a fellow Presbyterian, you'll also be interested to learn that you're part of the spirit of the Antichrist:

You say you're supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense. I don't have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist. I can love the people who hold false opinions but I don't have to be nice to them.
-- Pat Robertson, The 700 Club television program, January 14, 1991

And may I just ask about the phrase, putting your finger in God's eye...WTF? For me, any attempt to visualize this either goes to a place of extreme ick or, more commonly, giggles. "Ow! Quit it. Ow! Quit it. Ow!..."

#73 ::: Seth Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 04:31 PM:

TNH: "I also nominate the rock hyrax..."

According to Rabbi Nosson Slifkin, the hyrax is probably the shafan that the Bible refers to in its list of cud-chewing animals that don't have cloven hooves.

(Or perhaps I should say "ma`alei gerah that don't have cloven hooves...there are translation problems across the board here...which is the short response to anyone who says "but hyraxes don't chew their cud"....)

Does this count as a Biblical proof that God subcontracted out to the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

(Of course, Rabbi Slifkin knew enough science, and was sufficiently unafraid to reveal his knowledge in his books, that despite his impeccable Orthodox credentials, he was condemned by some of the Robertson-like elements of our own community.)

#74 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 04:31 PM:

The Episcopalians and the Presbyterians AND the Methodists? Is there anybody that meets his standards?

He reminds me of 1986's episode Dead Run of revived Thw Twilight Zone, written by Greg bear, I think. In it a trucker realizes that what he's doing is transport souls to Hell. When he asks an old woman why she's going to Hell, she can't think of any reason why - except for the time she stood up to book burners. Yes, Fundamentalists are now in charge of deciding who goes where. Pretty scary, especially since John de Lancie is in charge.

#75 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 04:40 PM:

*sobbing* I want a rock hyrax! I know I wanted a pygmy mammoth before, and a pony before that, but this is really, truly, my one true and only pet wish! Please, Mommy!

On a more serious note: Perhaps I'm the only one who doesn't think Pat Robertson is crazy. That would imply he actually believes this stuff. I think he's coldly cynical, absolutely amoral, and completely self-interested. He's obviously a ChINO, too, but you knew that.

You see, if he's crazy I have to have compassion for him. (Actually I do anyway, but that's my own perversity.) As things stand, if he dies horribly I can dance in pure, unfettered joy.

#76 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 04:48 PM:

'Well, obviously. QED. (I also wonder if the phrase "open our arms" in re homosexuality isn't an...interesting choice of words, here.)'

in the original version of that speach he said 'bend over and take it' iirc.

#77 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 04:51 PM:

Quoth Sandy:

Warning: site may drag you in for hours with insufficient reward.

Dragged me in for two years with insufficient reward. The site is like gold mixed with sand.

Slightly more on-topic, I don't think the Catholic Church should pass comment on Robertson. There are entire sections of the evangelical community who would take a condemnation by the Whore of Babylon as a sign he was doing things right.

But what do I know? I live in a land of darkness. (Actually, my Seasonal Affective Disorder is in agreement with Pat there...)

#78 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 07:38 PM:
What I want to know is if there are multiple Intelligent Designers...?

Jon, I believe you might be looking for Multiple Designer Theory.

#79 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 08:27 PM:

I noticed at least two references to the Great Spaghetti Monster so far in this thread, one from Charlie Stross. I didn't realize the GSM Theory had become known all the way across the Atlantic.

#80 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 09:15 PM:

*sobbing* I want a rock hyrax! I know I wanted a pygmy mammoth before, and a pony before that, but this is really, truly, my one true and only pet wish! Please, Mommy!

Xopher: How do you think I feel? I want a House Hippo.

#81 ::: Craig McDonough ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 10:18 PM:

Those critters are obscenely cute.

They really have some hidden mind-control gland, right?

#82 ::: Leonid Korogodski ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 11:05 PM:
Chapter 5 is "No Conflict Between Science and Religion", and he speaks in rather strong terms about how he, as an evangelical Christian, regards it as a perversion of the Bible to attempt to use it as a science textbook.

"No Christian would dare say that the words of the Scripture are not to be taken figuratively."
--St. Augustine (354-430), from the first paragraph of his "Literal Commentary on Genesis"

#83 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 11:16 PM:

Remember, the FSM created the octopus in his own image. That's why they got the better eyeball design.

#84 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 11:21 PM:

I maintain that Quatermass's Martians are behind our existence.

#85 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 11:42 PM:

James, Teresa, and other nominators of bad design: there's a joke about what kind of engineer God is, that concludes he's a civil engineer -- because who else would run a sewer through a recreation area?

Meanwhile, on the other coast, a church is being pursued by the IRS because a (guest?) preacher asked the congregation to think WWJD, with a tone that suggested that Jesus was in favor of peace, shortly before election day. (\Very/ weak summary; see NPR or LA Times .) Why the IRS is bothering these people and ignoring the Archdiocese of Boston having a sign-the-petition-for-a-referendum-against-gay-marriage day would baffle me if I thought the current administration were more scrupulous than Nixon (IIRC the last person to try to set the IRS on his enemies).

#86 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 12:35 AM:

Craig, CATS come with a hidden mind-control gland. Plus they emit soporific rays if you let them rest within any ind of proximity of your hands/brain. But we loves them anyway.

And actually, a Hyrax could probably hold it's ground versus a cat, they're on par in size. I remember the real movies/home photos of the true story of Born Free, I vaguely recall that they had a 'pet hyrax," a critter that had been found after it's mama had been killed. Don't know about manners/housebreaking though.

#87 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 12:54 AM:

Xopher, it's a pretty small jump from pygmy mammoth to rock hyrax. The hyraxes are fairly close relatives of the elephants. And they have the added advantage of not being extinct.

#88 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 03:16 AM:

The biggest argument against literal interpretation of the bible is the Book of Revelations. The Harlot of Babylon? Well, literally, she has to be a woman living somewhere near Baghdad who is shagged regularly for money...and somehow produces wine by having sex, which everyone in the world gets drunk on, even the teetotalers...

Of course, once the genetic engineers have produced the seven-headed sheep and dragons, a few more things become possible, but it still beggars belief to have a single woman produce enough high proof poontang to get the entire world schnockered, let alone everyone wanting to drink it. Besides which: Eww....

Of course, if you go with a figurative interpretation, and say the "wine of her fornications" is crude oil, then this all makes a bit more sense, but is hardly a literal interpretation.

#89 ::: Zak Jarvis ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 03:59 AM:

I nominate Toxoplasmosis gondii as proof of malevolent design.

#90 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 04:38 AM:

Xopher, compassion towards all those enmeshed in maya is commended, whether that maya be simple craziness, or the sort that leads to cold cynicism.

DaveL, congratulations, you have discovered the world-soul, or perhaps the noosphere.

I think it's clear that, if there is some spirit or spirits designing the life of earth that the design is a collection of on-going projects, rather like the works of various architects, with intermediate versions of the projects being built and occupied. I suppose, also, that like architecture, the only final words come when there are no more occupants.

Lydy, more tomorrow, when I'm not drunk with sleepiness.

#91 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 05:03 AM:

Well, no, fair enough if Pat doesn't like the Methodists. I've always thought there was something a bit suspicious about them.

Hedley Lamarr: I want you to round up every vicious criminal and gun slinger in the West. I want rustlers, cut-throats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperados, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, con men, Indian agents, Mexican bandits, muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, hornswogglers, horse thieves, bull dykes, train robbers, bank robbers, ass-kickers, shit-kickers - and Methodists.

And the phrase "putting your finger in God's eye" just makes me assume you're doing it to get the mote out...

#92 ::: Lis Riba ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 06:53 AM:

The biggest argument against literal interpretation of the bible is the Book of Revelations.
The biggest argument against literal interpretation comes in the very first chapter.

My husband teaches Sunday school (Jewish) to grade-schoolers. He thinks that having two contradictory accounts of creation, one right after the other when you start the book, makes it clear that these can't be read on the level. And the kids have little trouble understanding this.

#93 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 08:32 AM:

Design quirks? How about the location of the male prostate?

That took some forethought.

Jeez....

#94 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 08:36 AM:

The prostate's location... The reason why I always look forward to a physical. Not.

#95 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 09:03 AM:

Jimmy Carter tells us that this isn't the real America.

#96 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 09:58 AM:

My personal entry into the "whaddya mean intelligent design?" contest is the entire female reproductive system. From its stupid way of regulating its hormones, to menstrual cramps, to the whole painful process of birth (which, without modern medicine, killed what percentage of women?), all the way to the dopey way it decides that its in menopause. Even given the constraints of the complexity of hormonal interactions with each other and with neurochemicals -- and every other damn thing in the body -- the way pregnancy and the inadequate design of the lower back interact is ample evidence that if there was a designer, he wasn't too damn intelligent.

#97 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 11:04 AM:

Eyes, knees, sinus orientation, lower back, the entire idea of a plantigrade, graviportal, cursorial biped, the whole slew of reproductive peculiarities -- those Lydy mentioned, and also the idea of using the same kind of sex as both reproductive and social mechanisms, and the general primate pelvic arch/head size problem -- and, getting away from just humans for a moment, parasitism in general, that vast, gruesome, and wildly popular lifestyle.

#98 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 11:23 AM:

So what would an "intelligently" designed organism look like?

#99 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 11:30 AM:

Hey, the male reproductive system isn't up to much either. Anyone who comes up with a setup where the extremely delicate evolutionary payload (the whole purpose of the entire creature, from an evolutionary point of view) is so damn temperature-sensitive that they has to be put unprotected on the outside of the body, rather than tucked neatly away inside a nice bone casing and padded with plenty of fat... Say what you like about the female setup, but at least the ovaries are nicely protected. What the hell is that all about? (The prostate - well, that kind of has to be close to the rest of the stuff, for plumbing reasons. But the testes? What a complete design muckup.)

And another thing - palms sweating with fear. I'm a primate. If I'm worried, the first thing I'm going to do is climb a tree. (Causes problems in the office when there's a deadline due, true, but my workmates have got used to it by now.) And if I'm in a tree or up a cliff or something, I'm probably going to be nervous about falling out. So what I do not, absolutely do not want is hands that suddenly become nice and slippery and friction-free whenever I feel stressed.

And the knees - but frankly I think I won't be happy until I get titanium-alloy knees with teflon synovial membranes, buckyball synovium and kevlar ligaments. Too many people I know have blown out knees. I want my knees, at least, to be organic tissue over a metal endoskeleton.

And not being able to synthesise our own vitamins internally. Honestly, is that too much to ask? A few extra metabolic pathways in the liver? Especially the whole Vitamin D-sunlight thing. If not for that we would all be an even dark brown colour and sunburn would be a thing of the past. (I'm sure we'd find some other reason for hating each other, even so, but at least no peeling skin, and no rickets, beri-beri, scurvy and so on.)

Baldness. What's the point? Either you need hair or you don't. Make your mind up.

#100 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 11:38 AM:

"...the male reproductive system isn't up to much..."

You said that on purpose, right, ajay?

#101 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 11:40 AM:

Laura:

Good question.

"Evolved" organisms/programs/whatever have a number of advantages that straightforwardly designed ones don't (they're better at self-repair as a rule).

Most of what we design is shaped by our limitations. We aren't Moties, so we design modules (mechanical or software) and build up to complexity in that way (again, unlike evolved systems); this tends to provide comprehensibility for extension or maintenance, and lower costs by using standard parts, at the expense of efficiency, redundancy or other benefits which can result from approaching a system as a whole.

Presumably a system with perfect intelligence behind it would be designed as a whole with perfect optimization across all possibilities to provide the best balance of tradeoffs (a sort of Leibnitzian product).

The main thing that would probably distinguish it from an evolutionary product would be that it wouldn't embody the constraints imposed by prior history (which are, of course, the basis for many of the problems which have been outlined above) since everything would be designed from scratch for best effect.

#102 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 12:18 PM:

James --

You're taking mechanical and electrical design rules and applying them to the biological. This isn't sensible. (Especially since resiliency and redundancy is perfectly well available in modular design; it's just more expensive so rarely seen in commercial anything.)

Pointing out that the difference is the removal of the constraint of history -- there were only two ligaments there, so when our lineage became obligate bipeds, that's all there were to use in a knee derived by natural selection -- is much more sensible, since that's pretty much the only difference.

ajay --

Knees can't be fixed by solely by improved materials. Knees need two bone disks free to rotate (some) with respect to their common axis, which also happens to be the long axis of the leg, a thick shock absorber cartilage between them, and six ligaments (four for stability; two to stop over-extension in either direction) instead of the present two.

If you make the whole thing out of much stronger materials than the rest of the leg, all you're doing is shifting the point of failure. Not so good.

#103 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 12:19 PM:

ajay, you forgot a huge design flaw: aging.

I'm told that there have been species that didn't age. They're all extinct, because they weren't as adaptable as species that reproduce rapidly and age and die frequently. Some of the most successful species on the planet (insects) have the shortest individual lifespans.

But we humans are individually adaptable, which is pretty rare. This whole shortening-of-the-telomeres aging thing is designed in so that the old makes way for the new; we no longer need it. What we need, instead, is something that makes reproduction impossible prior to brain maturity (roughly 25 years old). Everything else should work the same, but no kids having kids.

Generation lengthening would take care of at least part of the population problem caused by the unaging. And once people were emortal, their desire to have kids would probably decline: people would have children for better reasons generally.

I think. But aging has got to go. And let it begin with me!

#104 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 12:26 PM:

So what would an "intelligently" designed organism look like?

A super intelligent beetle with opposable thumbs on all six limbs, redundant hearts, titanium alloy exoskeleton with extra fat cushioning around the brain, the previously mentioned ability to synthesize vitamins internally, the ability to regulate body temperature independent of the sun and a backup brain node that would make the sleep cycle unnecessary. That's just for starters.

#105 ::: Lis Carey ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 12:30 PM:

Leonid, yeah, St. Augustine spoke in even stronger terms about reading the Bible literally. But Augustine of Hippo was a pretty combative kind of guy, and I think Jimmy Carter finds it painful to have to say bad things anyone.

That he's doing it is a measure of how far he's been pushed.

#106 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 12:46 PM:

James said:

The main thing that would probably distinguish it from an evolutionary product would be that it wouldn't embody the constraints imposed by prior history (which are, of course, the basis for many of the problems which have been outlined above) since everything would be designed from scratch for best effect.

Designed from scratch, starting when? It seems to me that history, i.e. change, is unavoidable. I mean, you design your perfect creature and then an asteroid hits your planet, or an Ice Age crops up - then what? (Unless of course, you designed it with the ability to withstand extreme climate change. I guess you could have done that.)

Keith Kisser said:

A super intelligent beetle with opposable thumbs on all six limbs, redundant hearts, titanium alloy exoskeleton with extra fat cushioning around the brain, the previously mentioned ability to synthesize vitamins internally, the ability to regulate body temperature independent of the sun and a backup brain node that would make the sleep cycle unnecessary. That's just for starters.

I wouldn't mind being a beetle (reminds me of some story by Vonda McIntyre), but I enjoy sleeping. Dreams are endlessly fascinating.

#107 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 12:47 PM:

"What we need, instead, is something that makes reproduction impossible prior to brain maturity (roughly 25 years old). Everything else should work the same, but no kids having kids."

I've had the same thought for a while. Move puberty up a decade; menopause, too.

College wouldn't be as much fun, but grad school, whoo!

#108 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 12:48 PM:

I wouldn't mind Wolverine's healing factor myself.

#109 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 01:50 PM:

There's a lot of design in beetles that doesn't scale well [legs, circulation, exoskeletons.]

Personally, I like to fall over and bruise, rather than falling over and cracking.

#110 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 01:59 PM:

I've had the same thought for a while. Move puberty up a decade; menopause, too.

I read somewhere that the average age of menarche used to be later than it is now - not much later, something like 16 instead of 12.

#111 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 02:13 PM:

In Mozart's day 17-year-old boys could often still sing soprano. And no, not castrati.

But I wasn't talking about moving puberty, actually. ONLY fertility. I want to prevent teenage pregnancy, not teenage sex.

#112 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 02:13 PM:

Stefan - I think the better idea than moving all puberty would be for puberty to come in two stages; sexual awakening, followed many many years later by reproductive ability. Otherwise, you just have 25-year-olds acting like 14-year-olds, which just moves the problem around.

The idea is to get out all those angsts and confusions and the first flush of sexuality now, but in a way that, if the person experimenting gets careless or irresponsible, the worst consequences fall on themselves, not on someone else (the baby).

Of course, I'm a believer in sex education, in parents being open to discussion and information in a way that encourages the teen to ask them for help with birth contol and other issues, and in controlled, protected, and reasonable experimentation by teens with teens. (It's how I was raised.)

If you don't believe teens should be allowed any of that, then by all means, delay puberty.

(I'm alarmed by the rash of early-onset puberty happening now, however. Everything in its time, neither too late, nor too early.)

#113 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 02:14 PM:

Cross-posted with Xopher.

#114 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 02:14 PM:

What Lenora Rose said.

#115 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 02:41 PM:

Graydon:

What I was trying to express was more that if we posit an intelligent enough intelligence -- Arisians, or some variant of deity -- there wouldn't be any tendency to work on a modular basis because the entire organism could be held in the mind and fiddled with as a whole to an arbitrary degree of accuracy during the design phase. Would such an intelligence ever be likely to develop modular design at all?

Laura:

If you remove the "designed from scratch" constraint, it seems to me that you'd be back to some form of evolutionary design (or of continuous interventionary tinkering, which would look rather like designed from scratch if the tinkering could just throw out older design decisions on the basis that they were suboptimal now.

On the other hand, if you posit that intelligence is expressed along Larry Wall's line by laziness, evolved design with only very rare (to nonexistent) minimal intervention would be what you'd end up with -- it combines the least effort of input with the maximum output, even if the individual products were less than ideal.

#116 ::: jhlipton ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 02:44 PM:

Narnia: I've only read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, but in that, I take Lewis' claim that it's not allegory at face value (if, for no other reason, Edmond is not Judas).

Citing the reproductive organs of humans is easily refuted by Original Sin ("In Adam's Fall, We sinn'd all"). A better question is why non-human mammals where simularly cursed.

Best Design: I've always been rather fond of this design:
Echer's Critter
Opposable thumbs, can walk or roll as needed, excellent defenses, and can move in any dimension!

#117 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 03:00 PM:

I think the eye-stalks on the Escher critter look a bit vulnerable, myself, but if they were retractable, then it would be a pretty cool design!

#118 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 03:19 PM:

"I think the better idea than moving all puberty would be for puberty to come in two stages"

If you could find a way for that to work, sure.

"A better question is why non-human mammals where simularly cursed."

In case we uplift them?

* * *

Freeman Dyson has a line I like:

"The question that will decide our destiny is not whether we shall expand into space. It is: shall we be one species or a million?"

Dyson thinks the best excuse for settling the solar system is to give humanity a chance to speciate in all sorts of peculiar ways.

#119 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 03:22 PM:

James: what I was trying to say is that IMO some amount of tinkering would probably be necessary, unless you could guarantee that external conditions would never change. A creature that is perfectly designed for one environment wouldn't work so well in a different environment.

Slight change of subject: are plants well designed, or better designed than animals?

#120 ::: Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 03:31 PM:

OK, back to evolution for a minute as opposed to sex... ;-> This is close to what I was trying to say yesterday, but this E-mail says it much more amusingly, so...


Subject: evolution
From: "Carol A. Sullivan"
Date: Wed, 16 Nov 2005 14:43:10 -0500


The problem: a shortage of flu vaccine.
The solution: Kansas.

Flu vaccines, as we know, are redesigned every year to fight mutated strains. "Why must they redesign those vaccines?" asks Kansas. "Flu viruses can't evolve. Evolution is just a theory." Kansas would be happy with last year's left-over vaccines. Kansas would be happy with a vaccine for the 1918 influenza epidemic. It's the same as the virus that Noah took with him on the Ark, isn't it?

If Kansas and other creationist states would take creationist vaccines, there would be plenty of real vaccines for the rest of us. By "real" vaccines, I mean vaccines designed by biologists who believe in evolution, just as real bridges are designed by engineers who believe in gravity.

#121 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 03:31 PM:

It kills me to hear guys complain about getting a prostate check as if they alone suffer the yearly indignity of an invasive exam. Try lying in stirrups while a *(%^&#!!!!! speculum is inserted and then fingers and long swabs get involved.

#122 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 03:41 PM:

Try lying in stirrups while a *(%^&#!!!!! speculum is inserted

Some of the doctors warm them first, or have plastic rather than metal. Still isn't fun, but at least you aren't against the ceiling. (As someone who's been biopsied more than once in places that bandaids never go, a cold speculum is relatively minor.)

#123 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 03:59 PM:

Heck. Just try filming someone lying in stirrups...

:)

#124 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 04:02 PM:

I should add that our faculty were very attentive to warming all tools to keep the patient's discomfort to a minimum.

#125 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 04:30 PM:

James --

Even an Arisian has a complexity-handling limit, and if they want to design something non-trivial from their own perspective, they'll run up against that limit. So they will start using modular design.

Tetrapod DNA is highly modular; try googling for "HOX gene" sometime, frex. (Or look at the 'functional unit' approach to biology -- nephron, neuron, etc.) It's just that the interfaces between the modules are very messily defined.

#126 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 04:48 PM:

Biology is modular in the way that Motie engineering is modular. One widget serves two purposes (or sometimes transitions through two purposes until a gene is replicated and divergence takes place, as with the HOX genes and the globins); two different mechanisms support the same end. Even in DNA, the same stretch of nucleotides can code for more than one gene depending on the offset and editing afyter transcription, and the map between expression at the gross level and the genetic level is not a module-to-module mapping at all. ("This gene? Oh, it codes for a protein which affects ovarian cancer and male pattern baldness.") Spaghetti code has nothing in comparison.

One of the reasons I postulate an effectively infinite capacity for detail is that the original question is in response to the ID people's claim for intelligent design; and since we know that they also explictly claim that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is not an adequate explanation either -- after all, they aren't aiming at just displacing the question of evolution to another location -- I'm trying to meet the ID argument as such: assume an omnipotent and omnicompetent --and active, not a passive "start the ball rolling and then sit back" -- designer.

If I were asking in an attempt to build an SFnal plot, I'd have very different criteria for a designer and for the shape of the design, and I'd probably assume that "evolutionary" methods were used in implementation, but with artificial inputs, design constraints, and culling. (Are modern dogs the product of intelligent design?)

#127 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 05:28 PM:

No no no, I'm not complaining about Massachusetts. They have a statue of a Civil War soldier in the Westfield town square -- from the North! It's just that I left my friends and the major portion of my job there, and it gets kind of lonesome and not lucrative. (Expecting a visitor from out of town tonight, though!)

Has Pat Robertson done his definitive autobiography yet? Cause I have a great title for him: God Is My Hit Man!

#128 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 05:36 PM:

James --

You're confusing the representation of information and the organization of information.

Genes are a complete muddle so far as representation goes, yes; it's not a Von Neumann machine, no separation between data and instructions, and since the access is by insertion at some (almost arbitrary) point in a sequence, the same sequence can be and generally is part of multiple functional representations.

That doesn't mean that there aren't 'build a finger', 'build a liver', 'build a hand', etc. modules in the organization of the information, and that these aren't switched on and off by small numbers -- sometimes single -- genes.

This is one of the things that allows evolutionary reversals, because the switch genes can change without (necessarily) changing any of the instructions in the module; because the information is also part of other pathways still subject to selection pressure, the 'go do it' modules can last a surprisingly long time. (Different researchers have successfully switched back on "grow a toothed jaw", "grow clawed hands", and "grow a long tail" genes in chickens, frex.)

So if you could unwind the representation of a genome, so that each functional unit was represented uniquely, you'd end up with a modular structure.

It'd be a messy modular structure -- genes have never heard of "code should not be called by code which calls the code that calls it" -- but it would be a modular structure. (Natural selection more or less guarantees this, by being strongly biased in favour of the shortest available path.)

Modern dogs are the result of selective breeding -- unnatural selection, if you will -- but no design; none of them are eight legged, chartruse, or twelve feet tall at the shoulder. "Design" would imply that those things were in the available choice space for a dog, and they're not.

#129 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 05:48 PM:

Some of the doctors warm them first, or have plastic rather than metal. Still isn't fun, but at least you aren't against the ceiling. (As someone who's been biopsied more than once in places that bandaids never go, a cold speculum is relatively minor.)

For me, at least, the issue isn't the speculum or its temperature, it's having somebody swabbing/scraping at a part of the body that ordinarily is well-protected from direct contact. In short, pelvic exam = sure, fine, whatever. Pap smear = SO glad they've shifted the recommendations for my age group to once every 3 years, not annually.

#130 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 06:07 PM:

SO glad they've shifted the recommendations for my age group to once every 3 years, not annually.

For various reasons which I won't go into I was going through that check every six months. You get used to it really fast, but it still isn't what I would call comfortable. And one wonderful afternoon I was a guinea-patient for a teaching clinic (paid, thank you).

Some doctors put posters on the ceilings.

#131 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 08:49 PM:

Serge writes: "I wouldn't mind Wolverine's healing factor myself."

There was recently a story in the news about some lab mice who were found to have something similar. If I recall correctly, it was just a freak mutation.

I don't have a link, but I know there was a post about it at Pharyngula.

#132 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 01:47 AM:

To those upthread looking for a churchman to call out Pat Robertson, here ya go.

#133 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 02:27 AM:

Heresiarch, of course the addled nonsense that emanates from extremist radical fanatics like Robertson is offensive to mainstream Christianity. He is, as has been rightly said here, preaching heresy. Unfortunately, Bishop Spong is, too.

Spong denies the virgin birth; he denies the unique divine nature of Christ; he denies the reality of the miracles as miracles, that is events wrought by God beyond the order of nature; he denies the truth of the Redemption; he denies even the personal several existence of God Almighty Himself. Spong is an unregenerate heretic, like me. I can't for the life of me see how he manages to square it with himself to wear a dog-collar and allow himself to be called a Bishop, but that's his affair.

The point is that for a person like this to criticise Robertson is a given, but it's one that plays right into the hands of the fundamentalists, who will gleefully point to Spong's record and his known views. Spong is, so far as ordinary Christians are concerned - and here I don't mean tub-thumping Bible-bashing lunatic fundamentalists like Robertson, but ordinary church-going Godfearing folk - a mere unbeliever, one who has denied his Lord, and who arrogantly continues to deny Him. Indeed, although I agree with much of what Spong says, I detect a fair amount of spiritual and intellectual pride in him. He seems to be claiming to know much that is, by its nature, not knowable.

What is needed is a conservative theologian of impeccable credentials to point out what is obviously the truth about Robertson - that his statements are blatantly offensive to the mainstream Christian belief in a loving God who has redeemed humanity by the sacrifice of His only Son, and who does not take revenge on the guily by punishing the innocent.

#134 ::: jhlipton ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 03:10 AM:

Last exam, my PSA was a smidge over acceptable, so I was expecting the dreaded DRE (Digital does not, in this case, mean the opposite of analog!) Instead, I drank 5 (small) cups of water, walked about for 15 minutes and had my very first ultrasound. Cold, yes, a bit, but far better than the DRE!

#135 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 05:23 AM:

Serge writes: "I wouldn't mind Wolverine's healing factor myself."

Oh, definitely. Rapid, scar-free healing would be a huge bonus. (Or rapid healing at least; I am reminded of a T-shirt I saw once that said "MOUNTAIN BIKING: because fractures heal and chicks dig scars").
And I think Iain Banks has given this a good deal of thought; there's a list of Culture modifications in one of the novels that includes blister-free callusing (yes! hillwalkers of the world unite!) and clot-filtered arteries in the brain to prevent strokes, as well as the infamous drug glands and enhanced, er, payoff...

Buzz Aldrin had the idea of a species that spends several years as an intelligent adult before becoming sexually active, in 'Encounter with Tiber'. And, of course, the Pak are sexually active before becoming intelligent. (Now there's a list of modifications. Skin that can turn a knife, secondary heart, big joints for muscle attachments, superintelligent... and immortal.)

#136 ::: OG ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 05:30 AM:

Some doctors put posters on the ceilings.

And some doctors put Chippendale calendars on the ceiling.

#137 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 12:17 PM:

Oh, and a hyperoxygenated blood reserve, like a grendel. And a much better hypovalemic shock response. And a better response to arterial bleeding, like valves or something. And, for heaven's sake, no airway constriction during mast-cell-mediated immune response! I mean, what the hell? Don't build it so the throat can swell up and close the airway whenever you smell a peanut! Come to that, the whole allergy thing needs work, too. Do something about nitrogen saturation in the blood (whales manage) and altitude sickness. Better vision in water. Longer time under water (bigger lungs, higher RBC count, some sort of enhanced myoglobin reserve?). In fact, less sensitivity to pressure differences in general. Wider visual spectrum; far IR is probably impractical, but near IR and/or UV would be great. And I like sleep too, but couldn't we cut it down to two or three hours a night?

Graydon: yes, you're right; I'd need a better-designed knee, not just one made out of better materials. And I don't mind about moving the point of failure somewhere else: the knee's so much weaker than the rest of the limb. For example, I doubt that a superknee would lead to me breaking my femur on the rugby pitch instead of blowing a ligament, because stress of that level would be really painful - the horrible thing about knees is that a relatively small stress at the wrong angle can completely blow it out.

(I'm actually slightly glad that Jim Macdonald isn't posting here, because I think his recommendations might be really scary...)

Serge: "...the male reproductive system isn't up to much..."
You said that on purpose, right, ajay?

There's no way you'll believe me if I say 'no', is there? But: no. I realised it about half an hour after I posted.

#138 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 12:22 PM:

Sometimes a male reproductive system is just a male reproductive system, ajay.

#139 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 12:39 PM:

Let's get rid of this whole menstruation thing. While we're at it, let's make fertility entirely voluntary for both genders. In fact, let's make it DIFFICULT, like, say, a little ritual you have to do once a day for ten days to get fertile, and every day or two to stay fertile. Your fertility would also shut off if you were under severe stress for periods of greater than a day or so.

Let's make gestation something either gender can do, and distinguish between gestative and non-gestative fertility. In fact, let's make it so the parents have to keep sharing hormonal material throughout gestation, and the non-gestative parent's fertility would be limited to the gestative type until a gestation was successfully completed. (I think this, without the biological mechanism, was Simone de Bouvoir's idea.)

Add gills. Add replenishing tooth buds, so that if a tooth is lost or pulled, another grows in its place. Make the eye more durable, eliminating presbyopia; to go with the gills, add a nictating membrane. Improve the visible spectrum, adding new colors at both ends.

Make all hair growth voluntary. Eliminate pattern baldness, and other genetic defects like soft enamel. Find some better way of conferring resistance to malaria, eliminating the need for the sickle-cell gene. In fact, make us immune to all disease. Make our skin produce sun-reflective material, or as much melanin as we want, our choice. (I think I'd look silly with dark skin, but I wouldn't mind being bright and shiny if it meant I could go out in the sun!)

Hardest of all: make us wise.

#140 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 12:40 PM:

Yes, true, but if I wanted to make lewd double-entendres about it I'd be posting at unfogged.

#141 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 12:40 PM:

Serge, and sometimes a male reproductive system is a cigar...or can be treated as such.

No, no, I've said too much already.

#143 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 12:53 PM:

Hmm. Gills aren't really practical for human-sized and -shaped organisms - you need about three times the surface area that you do for lungs, so that would involve a major redesign. I was trying to stick with a more or less humanoid body plan.

Interesting idea on gestation, but the drawback is that if the father (non-gestative parent) a) dies b) is imprisoned c) is posted abroad for a period of weeks or months, then the exchange of hormonal material stops and presumably the embryo is lost. Which would be rather rough on, among other people, soldiers and their spouses. (I wonder how many Britons were born after their fathers died? Lots in 1914-18, I should think; two of my grandparents, for a start.)
Opt-in fertility I like, though. How about delayed gestation, badger-style - or is that a bit gimmicky?

Also the stress thing seems a bit counterproductive; it's pretty stressful to be trying and failing to conceive anyway, after all. (And we already have half the species with the potential for stress-related sexual dysfunction, and it's never struck me as a particularly good thing...)

Replacing teeth? Yes, dammit, absolutely. And better eyes: I don't mind the blind spot so much, but I'm terrified of my sight getting poor.

You think you'd look silly dark brown, but not silly all shiny and reflective? Well, de gustibus non disputandum, dude.

#144 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 01:02 PM:

"Let's get rid of this whole menstruation thing."

Shhhh! Quiet man! The last thing you want is to have the feminine hygiene industry put a price on your head.

Their secret bio-labs are probably working on a virus which retro-configures men so they can be added to the customer base.

* * *

I have novel fragment, somewhere, that includes an alien society where youngsters design and gestate -- in their own bodies -- pets and semi-sapient servent creatures. A high-bio-tech version of those exercises where teen take care of a sack of flour for a few days to show how hard it is to nurture a baby.

#145 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 01:09 PM:

Their secret bio-labs are probably working on a virus which retro-configures men so they can be added to the customer base.

I think it was Gloria Steinem who wrote an article about the things that would be different if it were men who menstruated. Things like "It would be a sacrament" and "Men would brag about how much and how often."

#146 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 01:11 PM:

I am now imagining Pat Robertson, up in stirrups, looking at a Chippendales calendar on the ceiling, while an intelligently designed beetle conducts his DRE(s).

Yeah.

#147 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 01:16 PM:

Change 'conducts his DRE(s)' to 'devours his privates' and I have a similar vision.

#148 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 01:22 PM:

Tanith Lee's Biting the Sun and Drinking Sapphire Wine, IIRC, involve a society where the young (artificially) had many years of sexual freedom before they could reproduce. And I'm sure somewhere in Heinlein there are similar situations.

#149 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 03:01 PM:

Lydy, the semiotic question raised by "intelligent design" or watchmaker arguments is simply, "how do we know we are looking at the work of intelligence?" Crystals look designed. Lunar craters look designed--actually took in someone people when they were first observed. The forms are the result of simple physical laws, but this was not obvious. Biological form is the result of a more complex process, clearly. But an intelligent process? How do we tell? If we could, somehow, address this question scientificially, this would be a very worthwhile achievement; it would, more-or-less, lead to a scientific definition of language.

Church-Turing is significant here because it addresses the question of the nature of intelligence. If Church-Turing is valid, then "god" is unnecessary; a god with access to infinity and eternity could do nothing more than a time-bound physical process like evolution. On the other hand, if Church-Turing is false, some sort of "spirit" exists. So solid experimental evidence that addresses Church-Turing would profound philosophical and theological significance.

The god of the fundamentalists is unlikely to exist, if only because one must discard all the physical evidence of deep time, deep space, and physical life to allow for such a god. But if Church-Turing is false, the first question of spirituality becomes not, "does it exist?" but "what is its nature?" and that might be subject to scientific study. A single "god" of some sort would be at least a possibility.

#150 ::: Brooke C. ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 03:38 PM:

Hm. Design flaws...it's not a *flaw* exactly, not compared with some of the other suggestions, but I've been asking around for years now if anyone knows why yawns are contagious. The most common answers have been:

It's a social thing. Makes people more comfortable to have you mimic their body language.

Which is all well and good, but there are plenty of other semi-voluntary thingamabobs that are slightly socially embarrassing but not at all contagious. (Unless you're a hypochondriac, I mean) You don't sneeze or burp when other people sneeze or burp, do you? Okay, I suppose you could make a case for vomiting, but then that's always a body's way of saying "OMG you really shouldn't eat that, okay?"

Or: It's a survival thing. When you yawn it's because your body needs more oxygen, so maybe if other people are yawning your body thinks the air in the room is running out and it'd better grab as much of it as it can, pronto.

This always makes me think of a group of homo erectus trapped inside a doorless metal box. Or something. Could be fun (or disturbing) as a story, but even as a story the logic doesn't work, since a) there's no way on earth such a situation (even without the metal box) could happen often enough to cause a biological imperative, and b)a dab more oxygen in the short term wouldn't help enough for survival, anyway.

Any thoughts from all you brilliant science-y people?

(Also, have added "pet rock hyrax" to my Christmas list. Ten bucks says I get an irate phone call from my mom, who's looked it up and doesn't understand why I would waste her time asking for something impossible. Ah, the simple joys of family life...)

#151 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 04:00 PM:

Pat Robertson tells Dover: "I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected him from your city. And don't wonder why he hasn't helped you when problems begin, if they begin.... [D]on't ask for his help because he might not be there....If they have future problems in Dover, I recommend they call on Charles Darwin. Maybe he can help them."

Gee, that's just about the same advice that I'd give them. (Or to anyone.)

It's odd that such thoroughly secular advice for living was given by a (nominal) clergyman. Maybe this "Enlightenment" experiment is further along than it might seem.

#152 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 04:07 PM:

Dave Luckett said: Spong denies the virgin birth; he denies the unique divine nature of Christ; he denies the reality of the miracles as miracles, that is events wrought by God beyond the order of nature; he denies the truth of the Redemption; he denies even the personal several existence of God Almighty Himself.

I am assuming you actually know of Bishop Spong outside of this instance (which I do not), and this is where you are getting your information regarding his heresy. I didn't really notice any of that in this reading. If so, well I suppose I was taken in by the "bishop" bit. I generally rely on the Catholic Church to keep an eye on their own heretics, and at the very least not make them Bishops.

Xopher said: While we're at it, let's make fertility entirely voluntary for both genders. In fact, let's make it DIFFICULT, like, say, a little ritual you have to do once a day for ten days to get fertile, and every day or two to stay fertile. Your fertility would also shut off if you were under severe stress for periods of greater than a day or so.

Sounds like a great way to wipe out the entire species to me. Really the whole "Oh-god-the-world-is-falling-apart-LET'S-MAKE-BABIES" syndrome is one of evolution's better tricks to my way of thinking. When people are dying like flies, you've got to get the replacement generation started right quick.

#153 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 04:20 PM:

Heresiarch: you have in fact rooted out my hidden motive. If we can't do any better than THAT...we deserve whatever happens.

#154 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 04:32 PM:

I know John Spong. I've met him several times, and heard him preach.

Btw, he was the EPISCOPAL Bishop of Newark. He's not subject to the rules of the Roman Catholic Church.

I haven't read much of his work (a pamphlet on why Hell is empty, that's about it), but as I said I've heard him preach. Based on the sermons I've heard, I'm in a position to tell you that Dave is incorrect when he says that Spong denies the Redemption. He just doesn't believe that repentance is a prerequisite for it. Neither do most liberal Episcopalians.

#155 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 11:13 PM:

"The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed." John Shelby Spong, A Call for a New Revelation.

He calls this one of his "theses", comparing them, with charming modesty, to Martin Luther's, and says that he "stands ready to debate them". Luther, of course, was not only ready to debate his. He was willing to die for them, with the strong likelihood that he actually would.

#156 ::: Nancy C ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2005, 12:17 AM:

Episcopal bishop, in the case of Bishop Sprong, refers to bishop in the Episcopalian Church.

The Wikipedia article lists a lot of types of bishops, which is why I was confused. I thought Episcopal bishop was a flavor of bishop like Suffragan bishop is.

#157 ::: Jonathan Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2005, 12:32 AM:

But Dave, to reject the idea of the cross as a sacrifice for the sins of the world is not the same thing as rejecting the idea of redemption. There's a fabulous book, Constantine's Sword by James Carroll, a Catholic priest, that presents a convincing historical case for the cross having become central to Christian thinking only with the advent of Constantine and the hijacking of the Jesus movement by imperial power. Paradoxically, "fundamentalists" might nonetheless regard the pre-Constantinian view as heresy.

#158 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2005, 12:48 AM:

Heresiarch: thanks for the link to Bishop Spong. I liked this: If ignorance is not his excuse, then one has to wonder what motivates him. In academic theological circles he is treated as a buffoon.

What motivates Pat Robertson? That's not hard. Greed, fear, and the lust for power. Being treated as a buffoon only makes it worse.

#159 ::: Mina W ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2005, 01:43 AM:

Without evolution, it's hard for me to think of a reason for horseshoe crabs to have trilobite larvae, but they do. Isn't that great, living trilobites?

One of Darwin's contemporaries had what he thought was a wonderful way to reconcile the biblical timetable since creation (at that time counted as 3000) years, I think) with the fossils in the rocks. He thought god had created the universe in play, fossils and all. He was crushed when nobody liked his ideas. But he was a lot more logical and intelligent than the 'intelligent design' types. That is a way to reconcile biblical literalism with the scientific evidence.

3000 yearsóthere's recorded history a lot further back than that... say, you suppose that's why the Bush administration was so willing to see the library and archaeological museum in Iraq wiped out? Don't just deny the evidence, destroy it? (Joke, I hope)

#160 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2005, 02:09 AM:

Bishop James Ussher's calculation of Creation as taking place in 4004 BC (to be precise, on October 23rd) was written in the 1650s. The calculation, which you can find various places online, is not quite crank work, in that Ussher was a perfectly serious scholar, but it follows the crank patter of throwing various ancient documents and vaguely related stray facts into the Cuisinart and hitting pulse* until fully amalgamated.


*[The Welcome Waggon of Mahanarim] brought beds, and basons, and earthen vessels, and wheat, and barley, and flour, and parched corn, and beans, and lentiles, and parched pulse, and honey, and butter, and sheep, and cheese of kine, for David." -- II Emeril ... uh, Samuel 18:28-9.

#161 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2005, 02:10 AM:

It would be nice to think of Hell as empty, but I think that Luke 16:23 refutes that idea. Perhaps Spong addresses this verse; I haven't read his pamphlet. (Myself, I simply disbelieve in Hell [or any other kind of afterlife for that matter].)

#162 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2005, 02:35 AM:

"a pamphlet on why Hell is empty, that's about it" Omigod. Origenism?

#163 ::: Alexis Duncan ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2005, 02:55 AM:

Luke 16:23 occurs in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Surely even a literalist isn't required to believe that this particular rich man ever existed in fact, let alone went to hell, any more than they would have to believe that the parables of the Good Samaritan or Prodigal Son were factual reportage?

(Although the story does lose its teeth, if not its point, if there is no hell or no way to get there.)

IIRC, the idea that parables need not be read as literal truth is used by some inerrantists to square the apparent contradiction of this passage with some others which state that the dead sleep until judgment day.

#164 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2005, 04:28 AM:

"a pamphlet on why Hell is empty"

Because all the devils are here. (Sorry. I'll feel better after some coffee.)

#165 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2005, 08:09 AM:

"to reject the idea of the cross as a sacrifice for the sins of the world is not the same thing as rejecting the idea of redemption."

Not redemption in general, no. It is, however, to reject the idea that Jesus died so that we might be redeemed, which is the doctrine of the Redemption, capital R. This, I confess, requires that we accept that by "the cross" Spong intended a metaphor for the death of Jesus thereon. Spong's prose is frequently a little loose for someone who presents himself as an academic and intellectual theologian, but that seems to me to be a reasonable imputation.

#166 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2005, 09:46 AM:

IHNC, IJLS "Sponggggg!"

#167 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2005, 04:49 AM:

Of course the parable is fiction. But it's clearly intended as realistic and mimetic fiction, and it rests on the assumption that there is a Hell to which some people go after death. The story treats that as obvious truth. So, if you're going to accept that worldview, it seems to me that you have to accept that also as obvious truth.

#168 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2013, 10:01 AM:

James #101:

Presumably a system with perfect intelligence behind it would be designed as a whole with perfect optimization across all possibilities to provide the best balance of tradeoffs (a sort of Leibnitzian product).

Vernor Vinge had something like that in A Fire Upon The Deep: Transcendent design was too complex for lesser beings to analyze, but worked nevertheless.

The main thing that would probably distinguish it from an evolutionary product would be that it wouldn't embody the constraints imposed by prior history

There's also various other constraints provided by: (1) potential conditions (planning for environmental change, discussed above). Evolution is good at this because it's slow -- most creatures have a lot of features representing disasters that befell their distant forebears. (2) Physical law. For example, those knees: It's not just that metal isn't so much better than bone (and doesn't heal easily). It's also that the knee is a hell of a stress point. Any joint or angle is going to focus mechanical stress, and the knee is doing so for most of the body's weight and upright activities. (3) That's not just walking, it also includes situations where we're purposely pushing the limits of out capacity, such as racing or weight-lifting (let alone combat). Push the body hard enough, and something will give -- and we've long since arranged that someone who can't walk can still be useful to society.

#169 ::: Clarita Girolami ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2013, 01:30 AM:

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#170 ::: Benjamin Wolfe sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2013, 01:36 AM:

Well, old posts aren't a place for personalized messages. I see spam.

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