The lines from ‘New Year Letter’ (p. 213 Set in 12. 1. ISBN 1 74114 923 1.com Web: www. 2. ISBN 978 1 74114 923 4.The lines from ‘Annus Mirabilis’ (p. 152) from Collected Poems by Philip Larkin are reproduced courtesy of Faber and Faber. Ltd. Religion and science. 21) by W. Allen & Unwin 83 Alexander Street Crows Nest NSW 2065 Australia Phone: (61 2) 8425 0100 Fax: (61 2) 9906 2218 Email: info@allenandunwin. Unintelligent design : why God isn’t as smart as she thinks she is. First published in 2006 Copyright © Robyn Williams 2006 All rights reserved. including photocopying. 3. electronic or mechanical. Science . Title. Maryborough 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 . Robyn. Intelligent design (Teleology). 1944– . whichever is the greater.Philosophy. Auden © 1941 are reproduced by permission of Curtis Brown. without prior permission in writing from the publisher.com National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry: Williams.5/16 pt Bembo by Bookhouse. to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.allenandunwin. Sydney Printed by McPherson’s Printing Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means. The Australian Copyright Act 1968 (the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or 10 per cent of this book.H. recording or by any information storage and retrieval system. I.

does God ever get a bad back? 57 5 Original sin: trouble in the brain 74 6 Intelligent sex 88 7 From Dayton to Dover 103 8 ID in Australia 120 PART II 9 God’s only excuse 10 Williams versus God 133 151 V .CONTENTS Contents In the beginning 1 PART I 1 Proud ignorance 9 2 A cosmic coincidence? 22 3 Four revolutions 42 4 Vile bodies. or.


you owe me! And thanks to Richard Walsh (RW1) . .For Melvin Schmendrick . .


It was also inappropriate. 1935 This is a little book about ‘ID’. to give ID what Margaret Thatcher used to call ‘the oxygen of publicity’.IN THE BEGINNING The believers in Cosmic Purpose make much of our supposed intelligence but their writings make one doubt it. Bertrand Russell. but it is more than that. I had long regarded creationism and its belligerent teenage cousin Intelligent Design as small if noisy players on the fringe of public life. I should not think Man much to boast of as the final results of all my efforts. 1 . and millions of years to experiment in. Religion and Science. If I were granted omnipotence. and thus not worthy of serious consideration. according to a few more sombre scientific commentators.

opined in the thirteenth century that complicated systems invariably have designers. Benedict de Spinoza. 2 . he felt. Noises off ! Pshaw!’ Such views got Spinoza into trouble and caused him to conclude: everyone who ‘strives to comprehend natural things as a philosopher. ID is a restatement of an old philosophical line about complexity and worth reexamining as an idea. a designer was on the cards. terrorism focused on public education. In truth. in a way. in the seventeenth century. in place of admiring them as a stupid man. So ID needs to be taken seriously as a possibly malign presence in our times. God made a universe for some undisclosed reason. an ID supporter. the arguments deceitful and the consequences profound. and ID is. came to office. Nature is complex and therefore. found that people turned up as a result and concluded: ‘So what? Mere collateral walk-ons. In his view. The means are devious. In 2005 and early 2006 it became plain that the movement was planned.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN Thatcher was talking about terrorists. is at once regarded as impious’. intense and on course. it stemmed from the same neoconservative origins as forces that have swayed politics in the United States since President George W. Thomas Aquinas. Bush. believed in such a Creative Being but thought it improbable that He had any direct interest in little old us. someone who cherished science and its deliberations.

which wanted to tell science students that Intelligent Design existed as ‘an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view’. so we would expect to be able to work out what it is made of and how it operates. That is simply an exercise in self-reference. certainly. But in the 2005 US court decision against the Dover school district in Pennsylvania.IN THE BEGINNING Then David Hume (1711–76) asked why we are so excited by a universe that we find ourselves able to understand. in the light of the latest discoveries in physics. So much is out there for readers to enjoy that I find it gobsmackingly outrageous that ID can be allowed to pretend our state of knowledge is inadequate. Like finding that a mathematical theorem tells you something about your world when you have yourself defined its terms in relation to your surroundings. So the second reason to bother about ID is that it provides a wonderful excuse to take another brief look at First Causes. Incomplete. but expanding at a ferocious rate. he retorts. Whether ID is a case of proud ignorance or deliberate mendacity is for you to decide. These three philosophers are among many who have laid the groundwork for conjectures on our universe and why it exists. 3 . But we are products of the very stuff of that universe. the presiding judge was clear: it was the latter. The third reason for this book is the science itself.

it appears as if the arch was erected miraculously or put up by human engineering. But what if you immersed the structure in sand? The arch would be supported until the end. Once it was the unelaborated bone in a fish’s gill. anvil and stirrups. snug in your inner ear. reside there as direct descendants of that ancient adjustment. almost amphibiously. Take the arch in your ear that carries sound. As the eons passed. The two vertical columns can go up just so far before the bricks on the curve begin to fall down. Put it another way. Soon a second function was associated with the humble gill-prop. presto. Take the proposition of irreducible complexity.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN Science is replete with delicious examples that scotch ID’s claims. and hearing on land was invented. not the Burmese mouse killer snoozing next to me. The hammer. That fish came to live close to land about 370 million years ago. It began to take in air from the atmosphere instead of through water. The gill was therefore held open by a more articulated bone. forming a tube. This happens in nature all the time. whose halfway stages are well worked out. There are no halfway stages. 4 . the fish found it could pick up sound via this arrangement. Remove the sand and. A mouse trap is useless unless all its parts are aligned in a unique way. This is the standard ID argument and applies to mechanical mousetraps from hardware stores. You try to build an arch from bricks.

it didn’t. Another story concerns the origins of DNA. We already know that viruses reproduce by invading our cells and their nuclei. The science is endlessly fascinating. What if. containing a computer program for the design of living things. like Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. of course.IN THE BEGINNING I come across similar stories dozens of times a week. How could such an astonishingly complex molecule. two billion or more years ago. just appear de novo? Well. Why buy a vehicle flogged by the Dodgy Brothers when there’s one tested and retested by the best firm in the business? Science may have its occasional miscreants and liars. taking over our DNA and forcing it to make more viruses instead of the stuff from which we are made. That one was published in the journal Nature in January 2006. but they are quickly exposed and expelled. It is also rigorously tested. on the other hand. manages to duck. 5 . Proud ignorance. Now the evidence suggests viruses may have been responsible. So the third reason for this book is really that it’s another excuse to gossip about the science itself. humbler viral-RNA manufacturing device will become the DNA we know and cherish and like to pass on to our lovers. a kind of free-living Lego set based on RNA? Eventually that smaller. So go back a few steps. you were a virus without multicellular creatures to invade? How would you reproduce? Why not build a template out of what’s available.

but we can agree that protecting it merits our profound attention and loving care. Science matters and religion matters. That’s been the role of the proudly ignorant throughout the ages.’ ID may be a distraction. ‘Science and religion may differ about how the Earth was made. And like him. Robyn Williams Gerroa. In the words of the late Carl Sagan. Its consequences. but they matter in different ways. may be to divert both science and religion from doing the work so necessary in our difficult times. We need the best science we can get to make our world safe.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN weave. however. it’s almost indestructible. 16 April 2006 6 . disappear and then reform in disguise.




Proud Ignorance
Science cannot solve the ultimate Mystery of Nature. And that is because in the last analysis we ourselves are part of the mystery we are trying to solve.
Max Planck

Sir, I am amazed at your faith in evolution. It far outweighs my faith in creation. My faith requires only one mechanism: God’s love. Yours requires three: that something can come of nothing (the ‘Big Bang’), that rocks can spontaneously spawn living things (life from inorganic elements) and that genetic mutations can turn a flatworm into an Einstein. You win; there is no doubt that your faith far outweighs mine.
Stephen Brahm, California, letter to The Economist, January 2006



You look like a miracle. The odds against your existing are 115 quadrillion to one. Starting locally: when you were conceived there were a couple of million other sperm that could have beaten yours to your mother’s egg. Then there is the chanciness of conception. Every minute 60 000 men ejaculate but only 500 women conceive. Before that, there was the fluke of your parents’ meeting. In my case they happened to attend some tedious leftist meeting in London, and a woman whose family came from deepest Poland began an affair (they never married) with a Welsh tenor-minerrugby-player refugee from a once-green coal-blackened valley. Then there is ancient history. If only one entity in the chain of living things going back three and a half billion years from you to the primitive blob—the hundreds of people; the thousands of hominids; the countless mammals, lizards, amphibians, bony fish, horridlooking lamprey-like sucking parasites, spineless swimmers and millions upon millions of microbes and archaic lifelets—if only one of them had failed to reproduce before being snuffed, you wouldn’t be here. Consider the gigantic eruption of Toba, a volcano in Sumatra, 74 000 years ago. It shut out the sun for six years and caused the deaths of all but an estimated 2000 of our human forebears. Fewer people than today occupy a city office block or a country village carried the future of humanity.


Did I say 115 quadrillion to one? Call that 230 quadrillion to one. You must be special? Perhaps not. My friend Melvin P. Schmendrick wouldn’t think so. He can’t think so—he doesn’t exist. Except in my mind. He is like Harvey the White Rabbit in the old James Stewart movie, or the person who might occupy the empty chair at the dining table. His was the sperm that missed out, the parental encounter that was thwarted by the sliding doors closing too soon. Melvin has several trillion cousins—all those who might have been there instead of you, there behind your eyes, being. Yes, we are indeed fortunate to be here. But our presence on Earth does not therefore imply some Grand Plan, some hidden meaning, some divine purpose. Melvin’s almost-sad absence simply gives resonance to the old Irish refrain, ‘We’re here because we’re here, because we’re here, because we’re here . . .’. But he isn’t! Professor Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society of London, presents the same argument about universes (we’ll come to that), reflecting on the stunningly tight physical limits within which our own universe, and our solar system, are ‘arranged’. One smidgen of a difference in the value of the force of gravity, and the life cycle of stars like our sun would be changed catastrophically. Catastrophically for us. It is not surprising that many people look at this fluky history and infer that it has been arranged or designed: an argument by statistical incredulity—always

The late Stephen Jay Gould wrote his penultimate book on that theme. The Earth was not flat. I’ll take what came before!’ Fair enough. stumbling through clumsy. One system of explanation did not have to vanquish 12 . Gods. Nor is God one of the Dodgy Brothers. God had to be pushed back in time from what appeared to be a more and more messy creative process until He was back there in The Beginning. and for the ‘here’ itself. makeshift attempts until we get it almost right. Trouble was that our interpretation of God’s handiwork kept having to be adjusted as science revealed more about nature. In the late twentieth century there developed a friendly agreement between science and religion that their ‘estates’ were essentially separate and that science could look after most of the ‘how’ questions. and what God made had to be perfect.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN dangerous. the only corner left to stand in. He got crowded out. God is never a tinkerer. Before the modern scientific revolution of the past 400 years. found there were fewer and fewer gaps to fill. are not ham-fisted as we are. the sun and stars did not revolve around us. all living things were not produced at the same time. As Pope John Paul II once remarked to my friend. God was held responsible for putting us here. ‘You can have what came after the Big Bang. God. physicist Paul Davies. after all. who’d always been assigned to fill the gaps. while religion would handle the ‘why’.

in the headlines. sometimes on air. So where did Intelligent Design spring from. argumentativeness and the love of ideas (and wine). Is this the kind of strident accusation that is sometimes seen coming from atheists such as Richard Dawkins? Like him. They could coexist in a society that respected individual world views so long as they did not seek to impose themselves on others. a politically sinister movement whose intentions are not enlightenment but rather conversion to a cause. or something more insidious? I want to suggest it is the latter. It is an outrider of a conservative movement having roots in both the US and other centres of self-righteous atavism. making noise? Is it merely a stroppier version of the usual debates. We have lots in common: books. and one that seeks to limit intellectual freedom and gain recruits.PROUD IGNORANCE the other. at length. like a boil on a bum? Why is it in the courts. It is no coincidence that some of my closest and dearest colleagues are in the religious department of the ABC. and its rejection of science is one of the most shocking manifestations of relativism in our postmodern age. It was one of the delights of a civilised society that those holding spiritual beliefs of various kinds could engage with the scientifically minded to discuss it all. am I guilty of jaundiced bellicosity about a mere passing nuisance? When I discussed Intelligent Design with religious broadcaster John Cleary on Breakfast on ABC Radio National towards the end of 13 . scholarship.

spreading the anti-Christ. We are not lacking anything that matters to us. As though such spleen were totally unjustified. But I disagree. or of some remote Being who cares a jot for whether we live or die. as if there were some clandestine movement with cadres hiding in dimly lit rooms plotting the downfall of God. discredited. But God doesn’t arise. we do not see believers possessing something we covet. he remarked that scientists should carry some of the blame for the spread of ID because of the spleen vented by Dawkins and his ilk. first published in 1986. We have no feeling whatever of a mystical presence. Atheism. To be accused of such malfeasance is absurd.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN 2005. and be amazed. in this sense. isn’t an absence of something. We think about everything else that life’s rich burden thrusts at us. carefully argued and with every creationist chestnut—from perfect eyes to fully formed wings and missing links—demolished with evidence stacked to the sky. Atheists like me don’t think about God at all—unless provoked. a hidden creative hand. We have a clearly argued belief as to where an ethical code comes from 14 . How dare anyone bring out these tired. at the same time. It’s all there. shop-soiled neocreationist wares and expect to be taken seriously? Richard (a friend of mine) has every reason to be cross. And to be accused. like some newly hatched lunge against the monasteries. of evangelical atheism. Go back to Richard Dawkins’s magisterial book The Blind Watchmaker.

executed 152 convicted criminals. I have some passing knowledge of the character of Jesus. most after years incarcerated on death row in cells smaller than the average cupboard. as governor of Texas. Would Jesus pull the switch on the electric chair or squeeze the hypodermic syringe containing deadly poison? Would he really? Richard Dawkins has also mused about Islamic terrorists’ conviction that they will not face oblivion after their short careers as living bombs but receive virgins. Bush. is that our times are dominated by powerful men causing misery ‘in the name of God’ while insisting that theirs is the only way. for us. What also makes us angry. some innocent. (How female bombers are rewarded has been the subject of much unsavoury speculation. 15 . like Melvin Schmendrick. we have absolutely no feeling of emptiness in our lives because God. to be cross. many mentally ill or daft (10 per cent is the official figure). have as much resemblance to these qualities as Little Dorritt does to the Boston Strangler. Bush. isn’t around. love and restraint.) It is a spectacularly nasty Get-Out-of-Jail card and Dawkins has every right.PROUD IGNORANCE and why human beings need one to survive. both loud proclaimers of piety. proximity to the Prophet and various other rewards for their acts of cruelty. once more. apart from ID’s proud and wilful ignorance of what science actually says. of his doctrines of forgiveness. The deeds of leaders such as Tony Blair and George W.

The religious right in America has been trying to regain the classrooms ever since. 40 per cent that astrology is scientific. is being jostled on all fronts. Is all this a minor fuss at the back of the playground? Is it an American drama with no significant import for Australia? The answer is NO in both instances. Science.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN Intelligent Design is a morphed version of creationism. Get into the science curriculum and you win tacit credibility—although Intelligent Design is as scientific as the tooth fairy or Santa Claus. The Founding Fathers. as provided by the First Amendment. however much recognised as humanity’s greatest achievement. rebranded after the latter’s collision with the American Constitution and the Supreme Court in 1987. and so also from education. many of nonconformist stock. About half of America’s immense population believes that the creation story as told in the Bible accounts for the origin of human beings. ID is their latest Trojan Turkey. coming from the harsh lessons of an institutionally sanctioned church in England. opted from the start for a separation of religion from the state. That is when creationism was seen clearly and unambiguously as a religious movement and therefore. 88 per cent in alternative medicine. Sixty per cent (according to findings published by the National Science Foundation) believe in ESP. forbidden from formal inclusion in schools. 16 . 30 per cent that UFOs are space vehicles from other civilisations. however powerful.

who writes for Scientific American. He is a classic neocon and inveighs whenever he can against ‘intellectuals’. He used to edit the leftleaning magazine New Statesman but now writes regularly for the conservative Spectator. On Darwin he writes: ‘The decisive culture war of the 21st century is likely to be between the Darwinian fundamentalists and those who believe in God and the significance of human life. estimates that a staggering 70 per cent do not comprehend the scientific process. tolerant Blighty. Science is becoming more and more inconvenient for many of our leaders with its warnings about biodiversity. He goes on: Most observers today would put their money on the Darwinians. whom he sees as agents of Robespierre and the French Revolution bent on tyranny and the establishment of concentration camps. It will be prolonged and bitter. They already control the universities of the 17 . Paul Johnson is a historian. Science is at the same time being forced to become more commercial and to compromise its independence for the benefit of those special interests who fund it. The attacks on its probity are becoming almost bizarre. home of Charles Darwin himself. climate and the impact we have on nature in general.PROUD IGNORANCE Michael Shermer. not Louisiana or West Virginia—mild.’ This is Great Britain he is writing about.

or at least their science departments. reminding one of the fashion for Armageddon in some sections of Republican America:‘I foresee a sorrowful process of events in which the triumph of the Darwinians may ultimately lead to the extinction of the human race. Johnson is accusing a major section of British (and Western) culture of ambitions for the same kind of vicious thought control that Joseph Stalin attempted in the Soviet Union. Evolution to destruction. or self-destruction. now it is intended to denote the kind of self-elected. and persecute with ferocity any who deviate from their narrow orthodoxies. A final Johnsonian flourish. In Australia this section is smeared as ‘elites’. and are marginalised in the media and public debate. Intelligent Christians are lumped with the Mad Mullahs or the Bible-Thumpers of the Midwest. cosseted few who parasitised the majority in the Soviet Union: the nomen18 .’ Anti-intellectual by his own confession.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN West. Such heretical scholars—whatever their qualifications or the strength of their arguments—are simply labelled ‘creationists’ and dismissed or barred from academic posts. Not inconceivable though. that indeed would be a singularity. but if the theory itself should bring it about. is part of the Darwinian concept. Odd how the word once implied high status.

marshalling the religious right. funded by the taxpayer). such as universities. were accordingly displayed to tempt them during the campaign. This is the base from which ID’s boosters have launched their attempt to force an entry into the public school system. A goodie bag of rightist favourites. In his troubling book The Republican War on Science. including ID. the Discovery Institute. which warned Republicans that they risked becoming (like British Conservatives) the ‘stupid’ party. 19 . for the first time effectively. Karl Rove. like Paul Johnson. to heading in 2005 the institute promoting ID. journalist Chris Mooney shows how Bruce Chapman. has travelled the full distance from liberal to neocon. Their sometimes bleak prognostications on growth are seen as undermining the vigour of the nation’s economy and as being an impediment to progress. ensured its reelection in 2004 by. from being the author in 1966 of The Party That Lost Its Head. some schools and— whoops!—the ABC. they apparently drink chardonnay and chatter a lot.PROUD IGNORANCE klatura. Rove changed this and George W. elites include all those from ‘sheltered workshops’ (that is. under the spell of its shameless Machiavelli. In America the Republican Party. According to their critics. Bush swept back into power (having fiddled his way there on the first try). This substantial chunk of the voting public had hitherto neglected the ballot box.

In this little book I shall take a swift look at some of the political terrain covered by ID in recent times and revisit a few of the movement’s favourite biological howlers. No matter how many conservative Christian scholars Bruce Chapman and the Discovery Institute manage to get on their side. its aim to send you in search of the full opuses. unlikely and have much to wonder about in the mystery of our origins. But. 20 . however. You and I may be unique. as many have said before. Gould and Sagan on science or Mooney and others on politics. there is far. to match the depth of writers such as Dawkins. ID theorists and other creationists don’t like what the overwhelming body of science has to tell us about where human beings come from. Their recourse? Trying to interfere with the process by which children are supposed to learn about the best scientific (as opposed to religious) answers that we have to this most fundamental of questions. far more wonder and delight in the nature that science reveals and the marvels of intellectual insights by which this has been achieved than in any Just So stories dreamed up by shamans.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN Of this campaign. Mooney writes: That is where the true threat emerges. This will be more of a primer than a text. such interference represents the epitome of anti-intellectualism. I cannot begin.

or ‘elites’. who I’m sorry to say.PROUD IGNORANCE As for intellectuals. 21 . W. The word ‘intellectual’ suggests straight away A man who’s untrue to his wife. Is a keen observer of life. Auden had it well summed up last century in ‘New Year Letter’: To the man in the street.H.

Albert Einstein. but an equation is something for eternity. matter would be merely a thin mist. more locally. the suit wouldn’t even begin to fit: life like ours would be impossible. everything would swiftly become a black hole or. Everything about it is just right. Stars wouldn’t live long enough. Then.2 A COSMIC COINCIDENCE? A Cosmic Coincidence? Politics is for the present. just as bad. if the solar system were not just so and Earth not blessed with unique qualities we would either freeze or fry—or both on the same day! Finally. if the moon hadn’t taken its 22 . 1952 At first glance the cosmos looks as if it was prepared specially for you and me by some heavenly bespoke tailor. If only one of half a dozen key qualities of its constituents were different.

But what did they discover? Now. we might be little more than bugs on an arid Martian-type landscape. is it possible for us to tell whether this universe of ours is the ultimate in Intelligent Design. the only universe in which we could exist and begin to enquire about its construction? 23 . They fought. most of them based in Cambridge. they made mad leaps of imagination and they got some things horribly wrong. This is not too much of a surprise. But those who’ve contributed to our knowledge of the cosmos were— are—not remotely like a bunch of beaming boffins all agreeing with each other and toasting their collective successes in port at mutual admiration societies. which looks every inch like a miracle. in other words. William Whewell) actually invented the term ‘scientist’. as Trinity College alone. after nearly turning our planet to rubble. has produced as many Nobel Prize winners as most of the rest of Europe combined. How we scored the trillion-to-one trifecta. crafted to the last decimal place to our convenience—or whether it is simply the only one in which anyone could ever have had the chance to ask this question? Is this. is a story that has unfolded in the past 50 years or so.A COSMIC COINCIDENCE? place just in time. where Isaac Newton and Bertrand Russell did their stuff and where a former Master (the Rev. It stars some of the bestknown names in science. in the first part of the twenty-first century.


And then there is this final conundrum: Why did we take such an inordinate amount of time to turn up? If you stretch your arms really, really wide, as far as your fingers will point, and imagine that that span is the length of time life has been on Earth (3.5 billion years), then our presence here is but the finest whisk of a file across your fingernail, barely a sliver of cuticle. Yet the age of the universe is four times greater than that span of your arms. That’s one heck of a build-up! Or are we an afterthought? Or no thought at all? The universe began 13.7 billion years ago. One of the delights of my trade is that you can be among the first to get answers to some of the really fascinating questions. Answers are coming faster today because there are more scientists working than at any other time in history. They have powerful instruments and even more powerful concepts. Just before I became a science journalist, in 1972, the great British astrophysicist Fred Hoyle was in a standoff fight with the authorities in Cambridge. At the time Fred was probably the most famous living scientist in the world. Yet he came from ‘umble stock’, from a working-class family in Yorkshire, and retained that blunt, plainspoken manner for which the region is famous (and Cambridge less so). He was a novelist of distinction, had some of his science fiction performed on BBC TV, gave


public lectures to packed houses and was in line for the greatest prizes science has to offer—knighthoods, Nobel Prizes, the lot. His contributions to physics were an extraordinary mixture of wild conjecture and inspired brilliance. He and his friends Tommy Gold and Hermann Bondi had underwritten the ‘steady-state’ theory of the universe, proposing that the universe had always been there and that it was capable of hatching a speck of matter regularly from nothing. In fact it isn’t such a loopy notion when you remember that Einstein’s famous equation, E=mc2, describes mathematically the relationship of energy to matter—according to the steady-staters, the energy in the nothingness actually condenses to something material. This ‘continuous creation’ yielded, according to Hoyle et al., about one particle (one atom of hydrogen) per kilometre per year. Unfortunately the evidence was against them, and you can see that evidence on television when you are between channels. The buzz on the screen is the set picking up what’s left of the echo of the Big Bang all those 13.7 billion years ago. How this was discovered is one of the great yarns of twentieth-century science. Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson were taking measurements of microwave radiation at the Bell Labs in New Jersey and kept getting interference. Was the apparatus askew? Had they got the set-up wrong? Why was there always this faint noisy interference coming through whatever they did? Could


pigeon poop on their instruments be causing the nuisance? They cleaned them thoroughly. No good. Still that buzz. At this point the average boffin gives up, changes career, opens a doner kebab shop or retires to Florida. Penzias and Wilson, instead, said Aha! and realised what the buzz really was: an echo of the Big Bang. It still sends out a shimmer of about 4 Kelvin (4° Celsius above absolute zero) and you can see it on your TV screen. There it is between channels, flickering grey, black and white. Actually it was Fred, irascible Yorkshire man that he was, who dubbed that first explosion pejoratively the Big Bang. It stuck. An explosive universe, the alternative to Fred’s steady-state, had been proposed first, in the 1920s, by Alexander Friedman and then elaborated by Eddington and Le Maitre. Its final flourish was given by George Gamov, who explained its heat, and then Alan Guth of MIT, who showed how the explosion could have been in two stages, one of them ‘inflationary’. At Cambridge the Bang was championed by Martin Ryle. Ryle was a toff—and a leftie, something else to irritate the no-nonsense free-enterprising northerner. But Fred Hoyle was a theoretician, Ryle an instrument man who actually looked at the sky. If the Bang was the right theory, you would see stars and galaxies still rushing away from each other as the universe expanded, as Edwin Hubble had proposed.

Fred. My next interview was with Olin Eggen. then professor of astronomy at the Australian National University in Canberra. somewhat controversially.A COSMIC COINCIDENCE? And so they did. He gave no sign when I interviewed him of the turmoil in Cambridge. the colour you would see if heavenly bodies were indeed moving away. During our conversation he 27 . Martin Ryle was a political radical. was delighted with the idea of the Bang—however long ago it occurred. The news from Penzias and Wilson was surely the clincher. the Anglo Australian Telescope on Siding Spring Mountain near Coonabarabran in northern New South Wales. yet he was presenting a cosmology that would please both archbishops and popes. didn’t. Ryle got the Nobel Prize. it seemed to fit the Bible’s narrative of a beginning. The Catholic Church. and in charge of the Australian interests in the telescope. It’s odd how scientific evidence turns up without regard to anybody’s private convictions. Fred Hoyle was a fierce critic of Darwinian evolution. notoriously. They adopted it with alacrity. yet he was offering the world a picture of an eternal universe. in 1951. The ‘red shift’ was the clue. Fred came to Australia back in 1972 to look after the construction and opening of what then promised to be the foremost instrument of its kind in the world. it is now the received wisdom. which was bringing that most brilliant stage of his career to a close. As for the Big Bang.

Well. He had mixed up American with British billions and we got the age of the universe wrong by a factor of ten. In 2002 the stunningly successful satellite WMAP took pictures of the distant edges of the universe and showed how the great vista could be spooled back in time by 13 700 million years. Eggen meant to say 20 000 million years ago. So most of the universe is made up of something nobody knew about before 1997! A further conclusion of WMAP: that the world will 28 . WMAP stands for Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe. it’s no longer that rough round number.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN said that one of the installation’s roles would be to look back to the beginning of time and discover what it was like back then—and at that point he became confused— ‘twenty million million years ago’. Only one listener from one of the 32 countries we were broadcasting to (we were participating in a worldwide Commonwealth Day hook-up) noticed the error and wrote in. Its composition was bewildering: only 4 per cent stuff like atoms. 23 per cent ‘dark matter’ and 73 per cent ‘dark energy’. a tiny satellite which spent a year scanning the sky and taking measurements of the radiation Penzias and Wilson had stumbled across. It produced a picture of the most ancient light yet seen: an oval bluegreen-yellow image with tiny regions of red—the universe as it was near the beginning.

(He had once dismissed the idea that life had evolved through natural selection as tantamount to saying that a hurricane had torn through a junkyard and left behind a Boeing 747. typically. and even HIV. one of the great feats of the human intellect. on the other hand. When the process reaches its end stage the star explodes as a supernova. with hydrogen atoms.A COSMIC COINCIDENCE? expand forever and not just pull back into a ‘Big Crunch’. with a molecular weight of two. He is now dead. Here they become asteroids. showed that they are ‘cooked’ in the immense heat of stars. with heavier and heavier ones resulting.) Panspermia was his theory that the influenza virus. a mixture of triumph and mild farce. a reversal of the Big Bang. and then on to become carbon and the metals such as iron. planets—and. the lightest. a quixotic diversion inspired by his dismissal of Darwinian orthodoxy. My last few interviews with him were. in rare circum29 . fusing first to become helium. I suspect he would have come up with some deft evasion of the inevitable. What Fred thought of this I cannot say. maybe seizing on those mysterious ‘dark’ ingredients as props for his sagging theories. flinging its mixture of elements to the depths of space. His work on the elements. might have descended to Earth as germ clouds from space. The triumph was his revelation of where the elements come from. The farce was his dalliance with ‘panspermia’ and fossil fakery.

why is there this tendency in matter toward complexity? Second. It raises two tantalising puzzles. As my friend Robert Hanbury Brown. It has been said many times. And then there are the billions of stars other than our sun in the galaxy 30 . once put it to me: ‘Can you imagine anything more significant. the basic ingredients of matter. if you please. us. more astounding than working out where the elements. made in his own image. professor of astronomy at the University of Sydney. though not with any natural selection. why make such a large planet? The Garden of Eden could not have been much larger than Central Park—enough to enable Adam and Eve to have an amusing existence—so why all those big continents. why is there so very much of it in the first place? I’ll tackle the second problem first. a spouse. eventually. creatures and. but the significance is sublime: ‘We are star stuff.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN stances. If God’s intention was to put man on Earth. come from? Fred did it!’ This was a kind of evolution. surrounded by parkland. First. deserts and expanses of ice larger even than the whole of Australia? And why a vast solar system with planets enough to make our own look puny? And why a galaxy within which distances are so huge that the sermon on the mount travelling at the speed of light would barely leave the neighbourhood and could reach the galaxy’s boundary only after unimaginable eons.’ For this work Fred should have got the Nobel Prize.

Just as the universe is overlarge for our human story. And beyond that too. . and over aged—why wait ten billion years before getting the whole Genesis yarn going?—so the arrangement for the solar system is strangely convenient. Big Bangs. So why not go for a simpler model? If you want only to go over the hill. . Our planet seems 31 . why not choose a pushbike instead of a Ferrari—a trillion Ferraris at that? This is where even courteous friends have to concede that it’s a mystery. It’s simply a consequence of the basic physical design he chose. Big Physics. It takes an age to make a galaxy. at least in the mature universe—after the first fraction of a second—that’s the physics we have. beyond even the wildest indulgences of those well-known inflators of building estimates the Dodgy Brothers! Intelligent Design it isn’t. inflationary expansions and that is what you get.A COSMIC COINCIDENCE? and then . This is overengineering. I argued this point with another Cambridge astrophysicist. Both theist and atheist must agree that. you need vast star systems to make atoms of carbon. Why didn’t God go for a faster physics or a smaller precinct? He could have made up any rules or scientific laws He fancied. who also happens to be a vicar: Professor Sir John Polkinghorn. John (he’s quite informal) refused to accept that the grander universe is a sign of God’s profligacy. surely. trillions of other galaxies extending as far as one can imagine. Opt for Singularities.

With all these happy circumstances it’s little wonder that a few conclude 32 . Most are bombarded by cosmic missiles and would have their biomass obliterated so often it could barely reach beyond the germ stage. diverting and catching most of the mighty projectiles that would otherwise hammer us to custard. Jupiter. This sits at just the right distance from us to create precisely the gravitational force needed to stop our planet flipping out of its stable rotation every few thousand years. As if this were not enough. the rest tiny. has a set of characteristics that appear to be customised. down range a bit sits ‘the goal keeper’. Of those in our immediate neighbourhood most are too hot. its position is perfect for providing tides to rinse our shorelines. Of the 170 or so remote planets discovered in the last ten years. fused with the flying detritus and formed the moon. Only one so far discovered—20 000 light years away. in Sagittarius—is small and rocky like Earth. Add to this what Jim Lovelock calls the Gaia Principle— what looks like a feedback system maintaining our atmospheric temperatures and gases within certain comfortable limits—and we seem blessed. others giant balls of gas. arid and in deep freeze. meanwhile.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN to be so well ‘designed’ for our presence—not any old planet will do. Early on we were hit by a colossal rock. which gouged a hole. Yet its surface temperature is minus 200°C! Earth. none looks anything like home for people.

and may have queered the issue in some minds. 33 . the ratio of gravity to electromagnetism. They are: • The three dimensions in which we operate. The name Gaia was suggested to Lovelock by his neighbour. Yes. the novelist William Golding. just as we require. Whether this ‘arrangement’ will survive global warming and climate change is something Lovelock and many others doubt. only discs.A COSMIC COINCIDENCE? that Someone’s been setting up a Wendy House for us and our friends. which I cannot even begin to describe. making it seem romantic and oddball. These six are the crucial settings for our world. It doesn’t mean that the planet is an earth goddess. Or even up to eleven dimensions. • epsilon. The same point emerges from Martin Rees’s book. • N. it is possible to have two—a flat place in which there are no globes. Just Six Numbers. In fact it is a rigorous application of chemical and physical relationships to explain how remarkably stable our atmosphere remains. the ratio of mass lost to energy when hydrogen fuses to helium in stars. considerately tuning things to suit us. Lovelock and Lynn Margulis have elaborated a vision of Earth behaving as if it were a living thing. but that the veneer of plants and animals on land and in the oceans is linked to the air in ways that affect it. Alter any one of them and it all collapses.

So how can we reconcile ourselves to this? Well. Fiddle with any of these values and you rearrange everything: the age of the universe. how long stars last and therefore what they make. any other combination and the world we know could not exist. planets and galaxies. the cosmological constant. the total of dark matter. Whether you end up with nothing but custard or. and • Q. Dream up any science fiction scenario you fancy and you get something quite unlike us. Martin Rees cleverly side-steps the problem of a world tailor-made for Homo sapiens by recourse to the 34 . one of Fred Hoyle’s novels. the answer is a kind of reverse engineering. God calculated the universe He needed for people and applied the necessary numbers. would be different. Schmendrick (who still doesn’t exist): in other worlds we would be other living things. There’s no doubt we are here as we are because of those six numbers and the way the solar system is set up. how tightly atoms bind. Simon Mitton and Freeman Dyson refer to The Black Cloud. if it appeared. It’s another example of my old friend Melvin P. lumpy bits that become suns. the scale of smoothness (versus lumpiness) in the universe.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN • omega. instead. In other circumstances life. in which the alien is dissipated like a cloud and doesn’t even need ET’s humanoid bisymmetry and bug eyes. according to ID. • lambda.

have to be adapted to its surroundings. on Darwinian principles. We are not surprised. there is nothing in the cosmos to let us infer. Others are more adventurous. And limited order at that: our time here may be limited indeed. We have no knowledge of any universe but our own. with John Barrow*. The idea that this world is somehow arranged for our own benefit is sometimes called the theory of the anthropic universe. and that’s mind-boggling enough. That we emerge from a particular set of physical limits—and by we I mean all forms of organic life. It is one that another astrophysicist. Not why. Frank Tipler. in which life would be unimaginably different. Except that it would still. on entering a clothing megastore. But some of us don’t accept that free kick and regard it as a move too far. which is their prerogative. Science can tell us how this may have happened. I find this (sorry. the hand of a Designer. Either way. willy nilly. from germs to Germans—is given. has written about (The Anthropic Cosmological Principle. We can infer only necessary order.A COSMIC COINCIDENCE? concept of a profligate tailor and many other universes. So it may be that there are multiverses—other universes with different kinds of physics. he says. Religion can have a go. to find a suit that fits comfortably. in 1988) and taken * Winner of the 2006 Templeton Prize 35 . Martin) a bit of a conjuring trick.

and the rest can carry on in their own weird way. Maybe God wasn’t fussed about time passing or materials wasted. That’s what I sometimes think of as the curate’s egg version. The upmarket version of an anthropic universe is one uniquely established on the basis of Martin Rees’s six (and other) numbers. 36 . then to blow up and distribute them. If He were all-powerful and determined. In its most straightforward form the theory shows the universe as having a few parts in which the laws of physics as we know them apply and in which it is possible for life to evolve. And then a few more billion for a solar system to congeal from them and for the suitable planet to cool down.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN to its limits. Unless He happens to be awfully keen on astronomy.You need only parts of the universe to be suitable for life. it does appear to be an almighty diversion. that is. To sum up: once the universe is given the physical settings it possesses. Add about three million more years for life to reach a metazoan stage and Bingo! you’re up to about the 13. He has certainly gone a very long way around. He could have chosen one of the infinite alternatives Rees has on offer. It takes a few billion years for stars to boil up the ingredients as per Hoyle.7-billion-year mark we have got to in the story so far. then its size and age arise accordingly. If God’s prime focus was to produce human beings. However.

offers Tipler. including you and me. Simon Conway Morris (Cambridge again!) has looked at this in his book Life’s Solution. Could it be leading to us? Are we the ultimate evolutionary purpose? But Conway Morris is 37 . Using the stupendous energies available from shearing forces in galaxies (could my local power provider hope to capture them when it’s hard enough to run a national grid?) we could then reassemble what we fancied.A COSMIC COINCIDENCE? Frank Tipler’s deliciously imaginative twist on all this is to look at a world in the far distant future in which it is possible to compute the quantum nature of virtually everything. from evolving elements to expanding worlds and orderly solar systems. But that may be how He does it anyway. It is easy to be sympathetic to his argument. Why should He have only plain magic or bland miracles? Why not a divine quantum physics? There remains a curiosity I mentioned at the beginning of this chapter: the tendency of matter to pursue complexity. we see the growth of complexity. It is as if it’s all leading somewhere. Everywhere we look. Want to be resurrected? Physics one day. Now you may object that this usurps God’s function. could try. in which he proposes that there is a force intrinsic to our universe which makes it almost inevitable that it should contain humans—or at least human-like forms with intelligence and consciousness.

invoking his since-abandoned idea of a TOE—a Theory of Everything: ‘If we do discover a complete theory. scientists. is yours. Fair enough. but others may prefer to remove their dark glasses. and just ordinary 38 . Then we shall all.’ Conway Morris chooses God. the complexity and beauty of “Life’s Solution” can never cease to astound. The result was provocative indeed. . did not mention the deity in his first draft of the enormous best seller A Brief History of Time. but all is congruent. The choice. . is that the physicists have been infected by more than a little hubris. though. the existence of God. God’s latest good press. Hawking wrote. philosophers. let alone proves. maybe in reaction to. and may in part be a reason that creationism and ID gained their recent momentum. None of it presupposes. Or perhaps it is that of their publishers. or maybe to take advantage of. One of the problems. Stephen Hawking. But he doesn’t choose ID.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN too good a scientist (and not as reckless as Hoyle) to wrap it all up and tie the bow. He says: ‘. it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone. I am assured. built on a rich trove of modern physics. of course. but his editors at Bantam Press encouraged him to do so. For some it will remain as the pointless activity of the Blind Watchmaker. with this exuberant late-twentieth-century cosmic speculation. not just a few scientists.

He was. If we find the answer to that. be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. As a result. Only a few clever colleagues took much notice of them. he felt free also to come up with a few turkeys. Fred Hoyle was a maverick. as a kind of freelance.A COSMIC COINCIDENCE? people. semi-detached thinker. Fred’s best ideas were initially ignored. While he was ensconced in Cambridge he was open to the mechanism which we like to call. This culls the rubbish. a tragic case. ‘the bullshit filter’ of science. Fred was told his steady-state cosmology did not add up and should be shelved. inelegantly but appropriately. This tension is the classic underpinning of the search for truth. His example is both a lesson and a warning.’ Or not. The lesson is that science works best when it encourages flights of the imagination but also the scepticism of the doubtful. it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason—for then we would know the mind of God. indeed. Later. His brilliant contributions were diminished by a willingness to flirt with the absurd. he came up with everything from cosmic germ clouds 39 . but for now Big Banging was better. It could have further relevance as new findings were produced. While he was among his fellows.

they all preferred vaccines and condoms to the celestial umbrellas he advocated. without being encumbered with bureaucratic responsibilities. That way would have given us the best of his iconoclasm. is a different matter. but without the codswallop. No school of public health has adopted Fred’s version of the origin of plagues. Hoyle could have been kept happily attached to academe. Giving it official consent. The same cauldron of brain power that sparked brilliance also yielded dross. Some concepts are inimical to the truth and distort it. 40 . despite his eminence. Is there a lesson to be learnt from his example for Intelligent Design? No wild idea should be banned from intellectual discourse. ID is one of them. Cambridge. has every sympathy with his old colleague. Rees. Not all of these people are given general assent simply because they carry the label ‘professor’. now at the pinnacle of the scientific establishment as President of the Royal Society of London and Master of Trinity College. Martin Rees. realises that institutions can also stifle originality. Debate whatever you wish. All universities have men and women with wild ideas. albeit by proxy.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN through to famous fossils such as Archaeopteryx being fakes. but do not give it official sanction unless it has earned its place in the hard-built edifice of knowledge. It sidestepped the rigour that science demands. says Rees.

curly question.A COSMIC COINCIDENCE? Fred Hoyle was beaten up. 41 . or may even have fallen down and injured himself. during one of his long walks in his beloved countryside. Did he ever regret his flights of fancy? I never got a chance to ask him that final. He never really recovered.

The Queen was crowned. or don’t recall. I was nine and living in Vienna. All this was in the newspaper. is mention of a paper published in the journal Nature in April 1953 by James Watson and Francis Crick on the structure of 42 . director of the US National Human Genome Research Institute 1953 was a very good year. I’m afraid). Everest was conquered and—euphoria!—Stalin died.3 FOUR REVOLUTIONS Four revolutions To see the entire sequence of a human chromosome for the first time is like seeing an ocean liner emerging out of the fog. when all you’ve ever seen before are rowboats. which I read every day (even at that age. What I didn’t read. the Volkstimme. Francis Collins.

or nervous. The journal Science (for Ventor) and the journal Nature (for Collins) came out that day with the genome sequence of our species and. all was courteous and cooperative. Gregor Mendel. We’re like that. Ventor’s cavalier impatience with what he saw as the plodding nature of the old-fashioned methods had enabled whiz kids to 43 . but his work was not properly discovered and made known until 1901. a fast. but Darwin could have got it done a few years earlier if he hadn’t been so laggardly. as with Fred Hoyle’s stupendous insight into the formation of the elements.FOUR REVOLUTIONS deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). the complete sequence of our genetic code. in 2001 Francis Collins and Craig Ventor announced the mapping of the human genome. Despite the notorious rivalry between the two men and their separate projects. The Origin of Species was published in 1859. no one outside a small group saw it for what it was—the start of a revolution. Perhaps. did his genetic experiments with peas in the 1860s. These breakthroughs seem to occur every fifty years. I was in the crowded room when they did so. powerful technique for cracking other genomes. DNA was revealed in 1953 and then. the other private. one public. what’s more. But everybody knew they were at a turning point in history. Both talked about the significance of knowing the complete human genetic code and both insisted it was intended to be freely available information. almost fifty years later. Some journalists sniggered. in Austria.

This—without even mentioning fossils. ran back in a different costume and yodelled ‘ID!’ The enormous edifice of evidence produced separately by different branches of science all fitted together and told the same 44 . Which is why the clown whipped off stage. geological change or ecology—had to put the kibosh on creationism and its weird cousins once and for all. both through history (revealed by the rate of change in DNA) and in organisms (through switches in DNA itself ). I didn’t know then that Collins is an ardent Christian. how the genes give rise to parts of the body and even behaviour (by coding for proteins): and the timing of all this. was surrounded by backslappers. Craig Ventor.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN find means to do the job in years less than anyone (apart from Ventor) had dared hope. meanwhile. how their characteristics are expressed (via their genes). After the press conference there were drinks. changed his funny hat and silly nose. What I do know is that he is now on a world tour in his splendid boat collecting rare creatures from the sea so he can examine their DNA in the hope of exploiting it for drugs. And it did. Of his faith I am not aware. ‘Some day!’ ‘Sure is!’ Such are the profundities of key moments. I found myself standing next to a bemused Francis Collins. That day in San Francisco it occurred to me that now we had nearly all the pieces to the puzzle of life: how species evolve (by means of natural selection). I fetched him a red wine.

was a triumph of ‘design’. as discovered by Nobel laureate Barbara McClintock: segments of DNA that leap about in the genetic sequence at different times. in fact. What course was available to the naysayers other than to agree. as the human genome became known popularly. wonderfully ad hoc. It is a veritable work in progress. Like the flagellum. DNA was a manifestation of God’s role as creative engineer. It has inclusions of past visitors such as germs that left their fingerprints in our very design. our DNA needs to remain stable so that instructions can be read off as needed throughout our lives and so the basic code of us can be passed intact to our children. in part. given an inkling of how structures may evolve gradually for one purpose. 45 . Our finely crafted DNA also consists of no less than about 96 per cent plain junk. impressively organised. they declared. so that they appear to be specially manufactured. but then get diverted for some other purpose entirely. On the one hand. But produced in one hit by an Intelligent Designer? Not at all. the eye or the make-up of protein. DNA is. this was a mechanism that could not exist only in part. Of course our genome is elegant and complex and. I have already. like the rest of the natural world. and coopt it? The Book of Life. It includes jumping genes.FOUR REVOLUTIONS compelling story of how we came to be. in my introduction. But that is where the tension lies.

from diseases.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN On the other hand. It is also now possible to work out how this happened. Our bodies are made up of former parasites! This picture of human life is far from the static. statuesque finished product depicted by ID. us). Other visitors who came to stay. They have their own DNA systems. Killer plagues are usually parasites in new forms. We are. we may sometimes need to shuffle the deck. are the mitochondria and. that can be seen sitting like an ancient spoor right there within the human genome. and take it over. It is not in their interest to murder their host (ultimately. a kind of genetic bar code. so that we can adapt suitably to a challenging environment. as Spanish soldiers were to European flus and poxes. include some rare mutations. dusted His hands in fulfilment and taken a long weekend. other microbes. while the native Americans they conquered were not. Gradually we become accustomed to strains of germs. Some of the toughest challenges come invisibly. in plants. 46 . Some viruses and bacteria have a genome. It is like a scene from the movie Alien. Viruses invade our cell nuclei. where the DNA resides. as if God had made something in His own image. They change the code to their own so that we actually are forced to make more of them. the chloroplasts—vital engines of energy and biochemical processes without which larger plants and animals could not exist. which can be read separately.

Can we say that DNA is the only code shown to reproduce itself in a way that life requires in order to sustain itself ? No. ‘speed 47 . containing lodgers past and present. But how far back do you need to go? Can we say that DNA works only as a full structure? No. rather than bothering to interfere beyond the whistle at the start. For the past forty years. And before even that? Paul Davies has even come up with a model that goes beyond the crystalline earth to quantum systems themselves. which is like a computer at a traffic control centre during the holiday rush. The mud itself had a memory which came before organic coding. At this stage of the argument. as with the creation of matter. ‘If life is formed by trial and error.’ Davies writes. there are plenty of descriptions of simpler reproductive matter.FOUR REVOLUTIONS instead. scientists such as Graham Cairns-Smith have proposed inorganic crystals based on silicates as the predecessors to DNA in their ability to reproduce inherent information. and then there is our genetic code. There was a mud map before the computer code. Somehow the smallest units of matter became able to reproduce themselves and pass on information. there are smaller-scale versions. major organic intersections—our bodies comprise trillions of cells. there are double that number of bugs coming and going in our moist inter-cell spaces. going as far back as certain clays. ID agrees to be pushed back in time to a point when the Creator set the whole game rolling.

not least by Australia’s own emeritus professor of chemistry from Monash University. ‘Quantum systems may be fast. Paul Davies has said that life likely existed on Mars earlier than on Earth and that one of several lumps of Mars actually found here (he used to carry a bit 48 . trading speed for robustness and versatility. without the need for chemical complexity. he says. Fred Hoyle noted that meteorites. One can forgive Fred Hoyle for his panspermia theory: he was half right. which is an inescapable part of the nanoworld. and scores of organic molecules have been registered out there.’ All you require. such as the Murchison. Indeed. Ron Brown. Computers routinely transfer important data for safekeeping from speedy yet vulnerable microchips to slow and bulky hard disks or CDs. but they are very fragile. carry whiffy substances (you can actually smell the stuff ).UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN is the key.’ Davies writes. The way then lay open for hardy chemical life to go forth and inherit the Earth. the world of atoms and molecules. is a quantum replicator and a process for cloning bits of information. You get variation in the system from the uncertainty. This suggests life may have emerged from the quantum realm directly. So how did life arise? ‘We gain a clue from modern computers. Perhaps quantum life began using large organic molecules for more stable data storage.’ Maybe also to inherit the heavens. At some stage these complex molecules took on a life of their own. There is plenty of organic material out there.

towards complexity. Which is where quality or bodginess resides. What happens when we move in the other direction. axles and boxy bodies. oil and water. whether it was through his grandmother or his grandfather that he had descended from a monkey. the argument is light years on from the famous debate in which the Bishop of Oxford sneeringly inquired of Thomas Huxley. Most data in the genome is required just to run the body.FOUR REVOLUTIONS around in his pocket) may even have ‘seeded’ this planet with germs in much the way Hoyle suggested. our relatives (as seen by Darwinians) and trophy creatures like big mammals seem to be top of the tree? We all by now know—it’s become a cliché— that we share over 98 per cent of our genes with chimps. all have wheels. where the products of evolution such as us. whichever body it happens to be. student bangers or flash limos. Nonetheless. So where does all this leave God’s role in the tale? Below the quark and beyond the Blue Planet? There are fewer and fewer gaps for Him to be God of. they use petrol. Last year I stood in 49 . This statement doesn’t do as much for me as it does for others. Cars. it amounts to enough to put one creature in the jungle threatened with extinction and the other in Wall Street trying to take over the solar system. Darwin’s champion. The remaining 2 per cent is a veneer. 50 per cent with bananas and quite a few with pond scum. Although the 2 per cent or less separating us from chimpanzees seems little.

Simon Conway Morris lists six characteristics of evolution that. for him. convergence. combined with what Daniel Dennett calls ‘Darwin’s Dangerous Idea’. Would that knowledge. opposite Keble College in Oxford. then intelligent creatures might have looked like big lizards. Stephen Jay Gould had a different take. point to a creation: simplicity. a way to navigate through a vast number of possibilities. have silenced the bishop? I doubt it. how great is the overlap between our primate genomes and how straightforward it is to chart the contrasts and obtain accurate timing about when we diverted paths from a common ancestor.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN the very space where it happened. in his view. which branched off the primate family tree around eight million years ago. in the higher floor space of the Natural History Museum. If dinosaurs had not been wiped out and mammals had not emerged on a vacated world stage. and the ‘inevitability of the emergence of sentience’—or us. namely natural selection. Evolution is God’s mechanism for making people (in his own image). It is now an airy storage area. He said that the movie of evolution would not look the same if it were rerun with a different start. I mused. Now it is believed that we are even closer to chimpanzees than they are to other apes such as orangutans. A green Jesus with scales or feathers (birds evolved from dinosaurs) is a bit of a 50 . What if they had known then. the swift elimination of misfits. the inherent nature of life.

aren’t a big deal. . and. If it must happen here. Turn God into the Grand Physicist 51 . crucifixions and second comings? Gould’s views don’t embrace such possible overlaps. it will also happen on Planet Zog. He writes: . That is the big whammy of the ‘inevitability’ argument. the contingencies of biological history will make no longterm difference to the outcome. Contrary to received wisdom and the prevailing ethos of despair. Yet the existence of life itself on the Earth appears to be surrounded with improbabilities. Not every niche need be filled. Other eras had other solutions and humans. To reiterate: life may be a universal principle. He says it is a matter of faith. as many of us have argued. But Conway Morris says we are overwhelmingly likely. Are they all to have their virgin births. And there must be billions of planet Zogs. . the constraints of evolution and the ubiquity of convergence make the emergence of something like ourselves a near-inevitability. compared to beetles and bacteria. it is far more prudent to assume that we are unique. Gould could see an alternative modern world devoid of us. apostles. and up to you to choose. Whether or not this is literally true may never be established. and to act accordingly. What Gould denies is the inevitability of our form of life being present.FOUR REVOLUTIONS challenge but workable. but we can still be alone.

he seems to imply. fuelled by naivety and ignorance. in such an empty. What is the meaning of life. Yet Conway Morris counters: Such attitudes fly in the face of traditional wisdoms. producing both ourselves and ET (or lots of them). The real tension between Gould’s indifferent universe and Conway Morris’s intrinsic purposefulness is what would happen if we discovered ourselves not to be unique. from food and drink to the enjoyment of companionship and our natural surroundings—we all have our own enormous list— hardly needs the endorsement of an invisible deity to have meaning. The relish of everyday things. Mutual misunderstandings. then 52 . The point is what we make of it.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN or Biologist and you court embarrassment. the conquered kingdom will lie in ruins. If God turns out to have set the machine rolling. More on that later. indifferent world? If God isn’t in the genes. strewn across a plain of infinite melancholy. it will be a pyrrhic victory. what can be the point of it all? I find this a daft question. can only lead to warfare. let alone a payoff in a distant heaven. maybe in the molecules themselves. Although science may emerge triumphant. and in part explain the existing antagonisms between scientific practices and religious sensibilities.

then that’s it. The more God becomes dragooned into serving as Chief Biochemist or Molecular Engineer. Most of all He is unnecessary. and say God is a matter of faith. as most theologians prefer to do. the more embarrassments pop up in His ‘role’. like belly buttons. If the molecules could just as easily have skipped producing people. On the other hand.FOUR REVOLUTIONS the whole Grand Design Theory collapses. Why so few genes—not 100 000. but 30 000 or so? How do these interact in a cascade of development and timing? What does the junk DNA do. He seems either slapdash or confused. if anything? Is it part of the timing mechanism or standby software? Or leftovers. No wonder it is better to resort to mystery. compromised or simply vague. We are here by good fortune. men’s nipples or appendices? Why do some useful characteristics turn up paired with harmful ones? Is the genome a precise script of our lives—able 53 . then so does intelligent life elsewhere. as Gould insisted. The point we have reached now is one of the greatest intellectual achievements of all time—a point where the pieces of the puzzle are starting to fit together with exquisite precision. if we arise inevitably from the nature of matter. Surprises abound. Fortunately this idea is open to scientific investigation. though it may take a while. and I look forward to the evidence being turned up. Is the story complete? Far from it. as once was presumed.

Only when he started talking about girls did he perk up and raise his chin. how can we keep it private? James Watson. Once at Balliol College. how wellintentioned or evil men have sought to exploit biological knowledge in the interests of better breeding. has been outspoken about what happens next. Oxford. get senile? If it can reveal so much. often in strange postures. Watson is an eccentric fellow. warning against eugenics. and despite occasional correction. He grimaces in what turns out to be a smile. when I introduced him at a keynote address he gave at the University of New South Wales. Many a time I have seen him in front of audiences. He also shared his thoughts on prudence in Australia. wrinkles his nose like a cornered gerbil and regularly addresses whole sections of his speech to his shoes. 54 . Despite having known me for years. I watched him whisper to the floor in front of a hall full of perplexed postgraduates. die. who signed the famous Nature paper in 1953 as a very young man and who later became an instigator of the Human Genome Project. go mad.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN to tell us when we’ll live. He had been wandering along the river that morning and been suddenly reminded of a young woman he hadn’t thought of for 40 years. ‘Where had that memory been lurking for all that time? Which chemical store or frozen circuit had held her image so long?’ He dropped his head and proceeded to murmur away once more. recalling.

I put this as a question at the end of the evening. to have his general opinions tempered by input from all sides: sociologists. economists (inevitably). He was at the Oxford Union talking to a packed house—students actually did hang from the rafters—about the consequences of his DNA research and his later preoccupation with the brain. or 55 . evolved through the animal kingdom. except in the conduct of their own lives. His brain this time had clearly been rogered by some association and I was reminded once more how uncertain and fallible even our greatest minds often can be. He needs. Crick was clear: the latter. despite Descartes’ view to the contrary. much as a dim light becomes bright. artists and philosophers—and plenty of folk who are not expert at all. historians. Although it is never possible to know some of a creature’s mind. I have addressed Francis Crick only once. Watson’s ideas on sociology and politics are quite different in quality from those he holds on biology. and many of his friends would worry if Jim were put in charge of a country.FOUR REVOLUTIONS he insisted on calling me ‘Roger’ all evening. Animals are conscious. My question to him was prompted by Professor Derek Denton. and I’m sure he realises this. founding director of the Florey Institute in Melbourne. Derek had written a book on consciousness and wanted to know whether this essential human quality had sprung de novo from our uniquely large and complex brain or whether it arose in gradual stages.

ET but creatures with supposedly ‘unique’ human qualities as well. It happens in frogs. Another embarrassment: preprogrammed matter gives us not only. planning. theory of mind. The same happens in us. 56 . even humour. followed by the establishment and then the refinement of circuits. after all. All are characteristic of conscious thinking. The progression is manifest. Their DNA programs lead to sets of proteins. Is Fido or Charlie the Chimp also made in God’s image? Isn’t it safer. dogs and monkeys. Animals can be shown to exhibit intention. one can do tests which offer pretty convincing indirect evidence. No theologian can compete with the greatest scientists to explain how the universe developed to be as it is today. to follow Gould and simply keep the ‘estates’ of science and religion separate? No scientist can ever tell us why the universe came to be. There is enough to worry about in thinking through the consequences of the scientific revolution without having non sequiturs thrown into the process. Learning is the removal of circuits you don’t need. These in turn lead to brain growth. potentially.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN even another person’s.

DOES GOD EVER GET A BAD BACK? Vile bodies.4 VILE BODIES. as illustrated by the following passage from 57 . He refers to the very reverend gentleman’s faint understanding of polar bears and their coats. does God ever get a bad back? The proposed intelligent designer was in some exercises hardly an honours student—indeed hardly a pass student. Hugh Montefiore. Dawkins refers to the bishop’s case as the Argument from Personal Incredulity. OR. or. author of The Probability of God. Professor Derek Denton One of the most delicious parts of Richard Dawkins’s book The Blind Watchmaker is where he takes on the Bishop of Birmingham.

though some surprising omissions persisted until very recently (as we shall see in a later chapter. But the point about science is that even the obvious needs to be tested. showed the body as a piece of engineering. If polar bears are dominant in the Arctic.’ Predators need to surprise their prey. and having been educated in classical literature and theology. off the top of my head sitting in my study. exhaustively. never having visited the Arctic. Bishops. Anatomy is a well-established branch of science. This is obvious to some. just in case.’ Dawkins translates this astonishing paragraph like this: ‘I personally. then there would seem to have been no need for them to evolve a whitecoloured form of camouflage. have not so far managed to think of a reason why polar bears might benefit from being white. 58 . it was not until late in the twentieth century that the nerve supply to the clitoris was revealed—with enormous consequences for our understanding of female sexuality). this is not always easily explicable on neo-Darwinian premises. or artists like Leonardo and George Stubbs. Then we can be confident about what we think we know about bears. and lay folk too.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN Montefiore’s book: ‘As for camouflage. never having seen a polar bear in the wild. may like to take the trouble as well to see what science has come up with. Meticulous dissection by doctors such as Galen and Vesalius and Harvey.

can be selected for if they give the slightest advantage. there’s much to be cross about. OR. As it is. thus passing on more flandgwick genes. If an Intelligent Designer is responsible for your poor body. executed through tiny mutations. This is not to insult nature. Need to fashion a larynx or a hearing system? Why not fiddle with some of those gill arches fishes have in over-abundance? Both can be shown to have evolved from the simple supporting scaffolding a fish has in its gills.VILE BODIES.5 billion years of tinkering—but flaws abound. for breathing on land? Why not expand that swim bladder fish use to adjust their buoyancy? Want to take to the air? How about stretching some skin between those fingers or extending the scales you have on your skin or exoskeleton for temperature control? Slight modifications of what’s already there. after all. So what would you expect if you gave your own body a once-over for quality control? If God was really on your case. I think you might quite reasonably expect perfection. the product of 3. Need a lung or two. but it’s tough out there and we can’t yet order state-ofthe-art new organs from Wal Mart 2100. I invented it as a mini-organ of the future) might do slightly better in life and therefore have more kids. only to acknowledge she had to work with the material to hand. DOES GOD EVER GET A BAD BACK? Most bodies last well—they are. Not a perfect system. 59 . This means that the creature possessing a finer flandgwick (don’t look that up.

Not nice. hernias. with the belly horizontal to the ground. shorter for meat eaters—is then slung from the spine. Horrors: the peritoneum. where there are too many exits and entrances and they are compromised by gravity. The digestive system— long for herbivores. Works well. for some daft reason best known to themselves. lead to leaks from the bowel into the vagina. Take the female pelvic girdle.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN then he’s also the one who thought up the British railway system and Internet spam. A system for inducing pliability via hormones is the compromise. but it also fails rather often. founding director of the Florey Institute in Melbourne. decided to stand up. prolapses and squashed babies. caused by rips during childbirth. which needs to be narrow enough for walking and to excite the admiration of men. and it works quite well. Take guts. They may last for years. Fistulas. The plan in mammals was to have a tablelike arrangement: four legs set at each corner. Professor Derek Denton. the bag of membrane containing our guts and reproductive organs is now hanging from a vertical broomstick. Result: piles. also cites the sinuses as another reason for complaining to the manufacturer: ‘The big maxillary sinuses or cavities are behind the cheeks on either side of the face. with pressures at the lower end. They have the drainage 60 . but wide enough to allow a baby’s melon-sized head through. But then our ancestors.

’ An extra reservoir for gunge. Then there are bad backs. ‘Intelligent design should be taught in schools alongside evolution.’ How many people do we all know who are forever bemoaning their stuffed sinuses? Denton quotes Gray’s Anatomy as an impeccable source: ‘Suppuration in the paranasal sinuses is frequent. who had been quoted as saying. so I presume He’s got one. ‘The proposed intelligent designer was in some exercises hardly an honours student—indeed. You and I are supposed to have been created in the image of God. hardly a pass student.’ Denton’s implication is that Nelson. in other words. OR. Pus running down from the frontal sinus or the anterior ethmoidal sinuses is directed by the hiatus semilunaris into the opening of the maxillary sinus.‘The normal opening of the maxillary sinus is high above its floor and is poorly placed for natural drainage. if that is the wish of parents.’ Why did Denton cite Gray at length in The Age ? Why.’ says Denton. I hope He is a little better at looking after His than the vast number of us mortals happen 61 . to wag his finger at Brendan Nelson. a doctor and former head of the Australian Medical Association. the former Minister for Education and Science. DOES GOD EVER GET A BAD BACK? hole in their top. which is not much of an idea in terms of using gravity to assist drainage of fluid.VILE BODIES. would realise that Professor Henry Gray condemns any likelihood of a designer on almost every page of his classic reference work.

if there were one. One of my favourite examples is the koala. in which case I hand in my brief ). you’ll have to concede it wasn’t one of His best moments and must have been a deadline rush job at the end of the Six Days. we originally stood up: to peer over the tall grass. that won’t work. or. The process of adjustment and compromise is seen throughout the natural world. According to different accounts. be a triumph of compromise. Minister. When mine is really bad it takes me twenty minutes to get out of bed. They must. the latest theory. If He were responsible for back design. so severe are the muscle spasms. as meercats do. though he may be airborne. but I doubt that. Our chests would have to be three times thicker. whose pouch opens downwards. to provide a smaller target for huge predatory eagles hunting for our ancestors. It could be that backs are ready-made later to have wings attached for the next phase of our lives. Why would any sensible engineer dream of designing Blinky Bill’s mum’s pouch this way when the sweet creature 62 .UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN to be. with muscles to power flight and. I suspect God did not have to go through the standing-up process and so has a back designed for upright living (God is hardly on all fours. Jordan and Dolly Parton excepted. But the fact remains that nearly all backs could make an instant claim on the warranty. Backs can’t be an example of ID. like Sir Humphrey Appleby of Yes. or to be able to wade through streams.

The simple answer is that koalas evolved from wombat-like marsupials. flinging great paws fulls of soil backwards like an excavator digging out a tunnel. too complicated to change. palaeontologist and coiner of the term Trojan Turkey. preferring to design the icumenid wasps with an intricate interdependence on their prey that requires them to parasitise a grub or spider so that their young can eat them alive from the inside out’. in reference to ID. What about the scary monsters? God made them too! Or was it the devil? Here I defer to my friend and colleague Dr Paul Willis. OR. perhaps to exploit a fresh food source. Paul continues: 63 . ‘must have been a sadistic bastard. if they are important enough.VILE BODIES. the ‘design’ came with it. he says. which burrowed their way through the earth. Had this ancestor’s pouch pointed forwards. I suspect koala pouches may well stay as they are: as humans do with piles and hernias. So backwards it was and. The designer. no. koalas simply put up with the inconveniences and get on with life. Yet in a few squillion years’ time adjustments may be forthcoming. its babies would have had eyes and teeth permanently filled with grit. when one day the creature moved up a tree. DOES GOD EVER GET A BAD BACK? spends most of her life up a tree? Was God intending the babies to fall out and crash to the forest floor? Well.

which cannot. 64 . He wrote in The Origin of Species: ‘If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous. And then there are the dubious ethics of a designer who put together the female preying mantis. It must take a devoted misogynist to design the Australian seaweed fly. it was clergyman William Paley’s story of a watchmaker which inspired Richard Dawkins’s book title and is often quoted as the main argument for a celestial designer. surely. . He.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN The Designer. be much use unless fully formed and ready to take to the air? In fact. it or they. who beats up his girlfriends before raping them. addressed this conundrum. Even Darwin. That’s beautifully balanced by other beetles where the newly hatched males insert their heads back into mummy’s reproductive aperture and devour her from the inside out. It doesn’t sound very Christian to me. where the mother copulates with her sons before eating them. What about ‘perfect’ organs such as the eye? Or the wing. in his day. must also have had perverse oedipal tendencies. who has to snack on the head of her partner during copulation . I hear you protest. judging from the design of the button beetle. . But this is all so much bug-collecting. she. plumbing and baggage handling.

nor the ghastly set up of our eye structure compared to. that of the octopus. Must have been a retarded amateur. my theory would absolutely break down. but let’s not get carried away: we have a case for compensation. DOES GOD EVER GET A BAD BACK? successive. slight modifications.’ So are eyes perfect? Well. Any thoroughgoing examination of our optical system shows compromise. Hopeless.VILE BODIES. in Dawkins’s The Blind Watchmaker and I recommend that anyone still favouring Argument from Personal Incredulity should look at those sections of his book. This is superbly demonstrated. One less brain cell and he’d have been a Brussels sprout! ’Fraid it’s going to cost. say.’ Eyes are excellent. OR. It is like when you buy an old house and every electrician and plumber you call in shakes his head over the bodgie jobs done by his predecessor: ‘Ooooooh dear. 65 . Had to cover it up with plaster. mate. Lucky we found it. of optic nerves barging right through pivotal areas and causing blind spots. not according to the evidence of the glasses on my nose as I write. nor the immense range of eyes in the animal kingdom. The detail is overwhelming—and fun. of components going bung—the indictment of this ‘divine perfection in design’ is extraordinary. Descriptions of light-sensitive cells pointing the wrong way. I can see what he tried to do there. re-routing and patching up. or you’d have been in trouble. and I insist on keeping mine. adjustment. again.

octopuses. mere prongs that whirr like helicopter blades. millions more animals evolved over this key period in organic history. says Walker. simple eyes gave some living things huge advantages. bird wings. thereafter evolved separately at least forty times. like thinly veined leaves. From this. extended-skin wings. Beetle wings. owned by tree gliders that haven’t bothered to invest in full-scale flying kit.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN Take Andrew Walker’s recent books on the role of light-sensitive cells in causing the evolutionary explosion two billion years ago. vestigial 66 . snails—the creator must have been extremely busy. worms. held thin between enormously extended fingers and of immense scale in the flying fox. came the Cambrian proliferation of species 540 million years ago. insects. The same can be said of wings. with feathers that are narrow for darting or wide and broad for high-gliding eagles or vultures. in its various forms. They could perceive (see is too grandiose a term for those first little devices reacting to not much other than light or shade) things to eat and other things to avoid. The eye. It is a sensationally better alternative to not seeing at all. Because they were now able to exploit many more places to live. bat wings. fly wings. paired wings owned by shimmering dragonflies. From a world where life was not much more than clusters of single cells or parts thereof. where the greatest attainment in the accretion of slight modifications was not much more than pond scum. Seeing was the key breakthrough. In squid.

They are the little outboard motors on unicellular 67 . proposed as another ‘perfect’ instrument unable to perform its function halfformed. It was one version of a dinosaur-like creature tending towards being bird-like. If it doesn’t. flapping as semaphores. The first aeronauts were gliders. or ran like heck into winds lifting them upwards and away. They can still be seen to be doing it. The archaeopteryx had teeth and feathers. Their forebears had feathers for temperature control. Except to creationists talking terminal twaddle. as young albatrosses do today. did not start off as living aeroplanes. It is likely such reptilian aviators either ran off hillsides or cliffs. for one. OR. Can we accept a wing on a plane that’s not tried and tested in the factory before being allowed to take off with us aboard? Birds. DOES GOD EVER GET A BAD BACK? wings in ostriches or emus. or wings as steering oars in penguins—can there be any limit to the infinite variety of these invaluable extensions? So what about the unforgiving limits of flight? Surely a wing either works or it doesn’t. just as mammals have hair. The same can be said of flagella. The variety of possibilities is deeply satisfying. ancestral mammals from tree to tree. Ancestral birds did it in the open. As usual with likely alternatives. you hit the deck and bung go your offspring—and your failed lift-off design.VILE BODIES. it’s probable that both ways were exploited by the first flyers. Engineers have tested countless models to see what could have been achieved with primitive flight systems.

functioning state. The ten billion failed flagella. The ID argument is that they. writing 68 . you see smaller. It is a bundle of proteins doing something else. He had begun by doodling. with no clear use. end up in the trash can of biological history. But something like a halfway flagellum has been identified—except that it isn’t functioning in the same way. simpler structures that elsewhere are elaborated as large and complicated ones. which pull across each other in precisely ratcheted ways. are made just so: an engineered marvel of tightly bound proteins. if the bounding lizard wants to go under again and hide in the earth. You can run them through a computer program. like the mousetrap. When a flagellum-like organelle appears from the genetic mix. Can there be any limit to the number of whiplike instruments down there among the protozoa and ciliated cells? Anybody want to fight a patent case? Time and again in the anatomy of microbes and multicells. and they also line body surfaces to move fluids or even pick up vibrations. with what looked like dozens of stick creatures on his computer screen. as Richard Dawkins has done. arms drop off and become stumps once more. natural selection keeps it in the armoury. of amoebae and armadillos. arms become wings and. equally hard to picture other than in their completed. to watch slight protrusions become fins. fins become arms. I saw Richard in the early stages of this experiment.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN beasties. The same could be said of muscle fibres.

Then there is the regional franchise. Nothing in my biologist’s intuition. I had hoped for weeping willows. and nothing in my wildest dreams. The chapter in The Blind Watchmaker shows what happened. too. The difference with Dawkins’s program is he starts long before the objects are remotely like living things. As he makes them evolve. nothing in my 20 years’ experience of programming computers. It’s as if McBody had been licensed out to the seven continents and the locals asked to come up with their own versions. prepared me for what actually emerged on the screen. But it was. Lombardy poplars. I never thought it would evolve anything more than a variety of tree-like shapes. OR. Some of them look stunningly like winged insects! In such a short time. When I wrote the program. I can’t remember when exactly in the sequence it first began to dawn on me that an evolved resemblance to something like an insect was possible. deer. each with roughly the same 69 . perhaps deer antlers. In Europe you had one version of mammalian mice. he sees them turn into biomorphs. seaweeds. badgers. cedars of Lebanon. wolves. DOES GOD EVER GET A BAD BACK? constraints into an evolution-simulation program and seeing where it led.VILE BODIES. in Australia you had marsupial versions. cattle. You can see evolution in action just by looking at the map. lions. rats.

Tails in people. even the pond. in case you see ID moving in and claiming those originals for itself: those too (proto-mammals) can be shown to have come from other ancestors with lizardlike organisations. Earning your living on land gives you just a few options. digesting food and keeping warm. 70 . plus vestigial gills—there’s a lot lurking in our make-up that take us back to the jungle. really: there are limited ways of solving the problems of moving around. No surprise. Fossil evidence shows that their ancestors carried teeth and toes. and when the tickling is done there they are again.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN template for everything other than the kit for reproduction. He tells how biologists have been able to tickle the DNA program of both species and so recapture characteristics suppressed during the evolution of sharp beaks in chickens and hooves in horses. Natural selection has fashioned similar bodies from quite different original designs. Lots of these changes and adjustments remain as ghostly messages in the genetic program. Fiddle with some human DNA and I wouldn’t be surprised to see elements of Freddie the Frog. eating. One of Stephen Jay Gould’s most memorable essays is ‘Hens’ Teeth and Horses’ Toes’ (also the title of the book containing the piece). Maybe the fairy story about the princess has some truth in it after all. and McBodies have exploited them all along parallel lines. And.

. by others wanting to take over our genetic program and make it their own. menopause. sums it up like this. these are not the marks of a designer at the top of his game. Nobel laureate Peter Doherty. ‘Largely’ implies imperfection. Assailed everywhere. brewer’s droop . After all: we die. . where Derek Denton and his colleagues have done as much as anyone to show how the body both runs itself and fights off invaders. Our immune system. vaginal discharge. performs a largely excellent job of meeting. Meanwhile. outside and inside—by revolting nasties wanting to use us for living space and dinner. ‘Everything we know in biology agrees with Darwin’s theory of evolution in a broad sense. smelly armpits. down among the juices. rheumatism. resembling as it does a team of unicellular pond dwellers. But not just yet. It is a constant battle. from the University of Melbourne. farting. warts. greeting and eliminating the beasties who would do us down. OR. They are the trademarks of a natural process giving us only as much as we need to stay alive. reflux.VILE BODIES. DOES GOD EVER GET A BAD BACK? Halitosis. and the theory is tested probably 1000 times a day in various laboratories without anyone going out to test it. snoring. They [the American-funded movement 71 . varicose veins. by yet others entering by mistake through nostrils or eyelids—it is astounding that we don’t implode or explode within days of being born. there is again displayed both brilliant success and abject failure.

particularly in the classroom. in other words. And. 72 . who may well be atheistic anyway. who was inspired by much the same sophistry as ID-ers (he dissected only animals. How can you force recognition of the facts of human anatomy upon reluctant minds? But that is a different thing altogether from saying. with Ralph Zinkernagel. second. believe what you like. His uncompromising rejection raises the question this entire chapter poses: Are scientists too damned sure of themselves? Is the condemnation of the poor old Bishop of Birmingham unfair? Should we be allowed to believe that God made eyes. demonstrated how those amoeba-like cells we grow to serve as our defence forces are informed about an invasion. and the anatomical idiocies of Galen.’ Peter Doherty is an immunologist who. introducing the concept of God into science.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN to foist Intelligent Design teaching onto science teachers in Australia] really want a science teacher. first. is equally worthy of its place anywhere. that wings appeared ready-made and that sinuses have a greater purpose. Nor is that what we would want to do. relative? Well you can. which we are yet to discover? Is truth. incapable of being put to any scientific test. if you want. Science is certainly capable of self-deception. that an alternative version. that science is wrong. It’s a ridiculous idea and has no place in science teaching. Not much I can do—or Derek Denton or Richard Dawkins can do—to stop you.

VILE BODIES. showed exactly what is possible in that regard. if anything. and ignorance is just about the worst quality on which to base a system of education. Both are prime ingredients of Proud Ignorance. But science is. as does the Argument from Personal Incredulity. OR. Self-deception has a proud tradition. DOES GOD EVER GET A BAD BACK? not people). but in science it won’t last long. Mendacity will have its day. the best bullshit filter ever invented. 73 .

if necessary. Britain’s slave trade.5 ORIGINAL SIN: TROUBLE IN THE BRAIN Original Sin An intellectual is someone who thinks ideas matter more than people. Paul Johnson. Birkenau. Beslan. Culloden. The Spectator. the Somme. Imagine the worst and it’s been done. individuals are not interesting and do not matter. put in concentration camps or killed. If people get in the way of ideas they must be swept aside and. the systematic murder of the Inca populations by the Spanish. To intellectuals. Cambodia. America’s 74 . Bosnia. September 2005 People are capable of the most hideous cruelty. And it’s happening now. Rwanda.

Forget serial killer Fred West and the Belgian child torturers. Norfolk Island. The ways in which human 75 .’ It is not sensible for animals to waste enormous amounts of energy—and being a top predator is an exhausting job— on ghoulish self-indulgence. ‘Nature is not cruel. Slowly. Beasts do not expend energy on being cruel for fun. the Japanese torture and killing of Chinese by the hundreds of thousands—and much of this was done with relish. Baghdad. greengrocers and nurses who became. We do it all the time. arbitrarily. History. Kosovo. As the saying goes. excruciatingly. responsible for all this. Intelligent Design? Don’t be obscene. Put aside the nutters. There are many levels at which one can account for human vileness. If I were God the creator. in a matter of a few days. Warsaw. can turn from mild suburban citizen into Hannibal Lecter. psychology and ethology: each provides an account of why we needed to experiment with all the different possibilities of living together in various societies. Much of the misery has been perpetrated by ordinary folk—plumbers. That’s wrong. she is indifferent.ORIGINAL SIN Nazi-style elimination of millions of native people. I withdraw the term bestiality. I’d keep quiet about my role. sociology. in front of family. in specific circumstances. marauding monsters. Every study of human bestiality has shown that nearly all of us. Port Arthur.

the technology becomes more primitive and the people languish without invasion. As happened in Tasmania before the Europeans. rape and pillage to renew the innovative stock. resembles the creation of the devil rather than of a God. philosophical gentleman in ancient Greece or in Thomas Jefferson’s household.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN minds adapted is fascinating in itself. whatever the justifications of history.Z. That it is capable of good is beside the point. or a slave bound in perpetuity to an otherwise urbane. actually adds to the evil it seeks to justify.‘Here is a clear instance where a theodicy. The point is that the human brain.’ Theodicy is the philosophical contortion that seeks to justify child sacrifice or the Holocaust or juvenile cancer as a route to a higher 76 . writes. are yet to be agreed upon. I may or may not agree with that. ID is a baby born with syphilis. Some societies were pleasant enough and rubbed along nicely. such as Margaret Mead’s picture postcard of sexy Samoa. Phillips. D. Evolutionary psychologists (and some are hard to take on an empty stomach) may offer the case that conflict is creative and that isolated societies decline. Others were ghastly. ID is like a computer program with a built-in virus. in The Problem of Evil and the Problem of God. especially if you were an Aztec maiden set to have your heart carved out to appease the sun god. in the very language it employs. ID is an insult to the intelligence. ID is an insult to God. although the details.

as most creatures are. As our population grew with the invention of farming and towns 10 000 years ago. justifying some divine grand plan. It is the kind of Panglossian outrage that Voltaire pilloried so elegantly in Candide. The children in the school at Beslan.’ writes Professor Simon Oliver in the Times Literary Supplement. with its reward in the afterlife? Intelligent design? A kinder description of humanity’s lot dispenses straightaway with any teleological grand plan. most not even toddlers. as does Phillips. ‘some have proposed that suffering is compensated for in heaven while allowing us to develop mature characters on earth. ‘Alternatively. Hunting food and defending your cave required certain swift responses—seen less often in polite society in 2006. new pressures were forced on the brain that had already existed in the skull of the 77 . and their teachers. with scathing examples: ‘What kind of theology. How were these benighted infants in their millions.ORIGINAL SIN order of good in society. but surely not to justify one of God’s mysteriously convoluted plans for a greater good. and had to make the most of it. may have died for many reasons we can try to explain. philosophy or morality would we be articulating if we were able to “justify” cancer in a child?’ In Victorian times child mortality was so high as to rival death rates in war.’ He answers this suggestion. We began as hominids surrounded by a hostile environment. including the effects of incessant war in Chechnya.

UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN species Homo sapiens for some 200 000 years. unarguable kind that ID and its proponents represent. Christian morality is a thought experiment with some understanding of our violent past. The challenge is to make the design work. He elegantly hedges his bets. some say it is fewer. author of The Origins of Virtue. Join hands with your parents and grandparents and so on back through the millennia and what do you get? I make it barely 400 generations standing in a long line hand-in-hand. He begins by wondering why altruism would have a place at all in a harsh environment where a sentimental hesitation could get you eaten or where brutes seem to rule. in stark contrast to the God-help-the-hindmost rape-andpillage version of yesteryear. though not if it’s of the authoritarian. But nature is far subtler than a Rambo movie. flawed as it is. But just look at the distance from us to that flowering of ‘civilisation’. as any high-born Etonian might be expected to do. 10 per cent succumb to depression and 1 in 4 over the age of eighty are demented.) No wonder we behave like brutes. forgiving. Saying it’s all in the design does not help. it offers a pacifistic. At its best. Theology can help. also sees a role for ‘God’. But in his case it is a Genome Organising Device. inclusive approach to living with your neighbours. 78 . We really are so new! (Our newness could also explain why a few malfunctions of our brains persist: 1 per cent of us have epilepsy or schizophrenia. Matt Ridley.

fair reader. The males were captured. while the big stags were rampaging on the mountainside. about 1 in every 200 men alive today. So why do there remain gentler types like you and me. used as slaves or skewered. Hence about 12 per cent of the population of his empire. Throughout history the Khans of the world have ridden through villages burning yurts to the screams of helpless longhaired damsels. attacking each other with all the force and to-the-death commitment of King Kong versus the Tyrannosaurus rex in Peter Jackson’s movie. or the non-dominance of the alpha male. fine art and stroking? The answer. The puzzle was why certain deer. according to Geoffrey Carr of The Economist. What he noticed was that. have DNA on their Y chromosome dating back to Khan and his confreres.ORIGINAL SIN Take what I’ll call the Inverse Genghis Khan factor. according to Cambridge zoologist Tim Clutton-Brock. down in the valley the unescorted female deer were being thoroughly seen 79 . Genghis Khan himself had 500 wives and concubines as well as unimpeded access to any girl he fancied from Mongolia to the Urals. is (and you must forgive this genuinely technical term) the Sneaky Fucker Strategy. apparently dominated by a huge Father of All Bambis (not!). didn’t within three or four generations have only Schwarzenegger stags and no wimps in their number. who prefer poetry to pillage and woo damsels with promises of Tuscany. Clutton-Brock went into the field to investigate.

’ So a brief competition was held to come up with an alternative name. Rule by the mightiest is not built in. we don’t understand. self-consciously tossed around some thoroughly awkward euphemisms. ‘What is this . The Brits had a confab and discussed the problem: ‘We can’t possibly call it what we normally do—the Germans and others either won’t understand or will be offended. This was duly put into the program. Jude Law type lads. Why didn’t you say so?!’ This tale illustrates several things. Alternative Something Strategies Whatever . a shout of recognition: ‘Aha! You mean Sneaky Fucker! . .’ came the perplexed inquiry. . I was touched. Eventually a limping compromise was agreed upon: something like Alternative Deceptive Reproductive Strategies. . echoing down the conference phone from Berlin. like Smith. incidentally. Finally. polite Etonians. . . not least the cordiality between folk who sixty years ago were mortal enemies 80 . . I can just imagine the discussion that ensued as most of the group who. But later the German organiser phoned up the Brits.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN to by the less muscle-bound. were wonderfully well-spoken. Then they explained some more. to hear a story from the now sadly departed evolutionary biologist John Maynard Smith about a time when his colleagues in Germany were to host an international conference. from Germany. Maynard Smith and Clutton-Brock explained.A session was scheduled to discuss the story of the stags and its wider implications.

Which brings us back to Matt Ridley’s GOD (Genome Organising Device). he disappeared. At the same time the drake leapt into the air flapping noisily. Second. aggression and competition may be the way the nineteenth century saw nature (red in tooth and claw. and we see it all around us. a duck with tiny ducklings scooted from the bushes out into the open. They are also risky. First. it is not the version seen by twenty-first century biologists such as Lynn Margolis and Clutton-Brock. who point to much greater subtlety and interdependence. landing just a few steps ahead of us. Families care. When we were safely away from the exposed brood. by a lake near Mallacoota in Victoria. I saw this latter phenomenon on my summer holidays. The broken-wing deception of a cornered mother duck is also well known as a diversion to save 81 . Friends help. that nature hedges its bets and stores reserve supplies of variation. according to Lord Tennyson). it may well be the slim thinkers who are better adapted than the rugged rulers. the ducklings motoring as fast as their minuscule legs could manage. As we walked along a waterside path. Why waste energy and resources fighting to survive if more cooperative means can do the job? Rape and pillage take effort. then did so again. When times change.ORIGINAL SIN and bombing the bejesus out of each other. And again. Ducks divert our attention and put themselves in jeopardy to protect their ducklings. Is kindness (altruism) in any way built into the biological system? The answer is yes.

to someone at risk. genetically. who can be sweet and forbearing within their families but are sometimes rampaging killers with strangers. the more likely you are to put yourself on the line to help them. Other ways. It just so happens that he was the mentor who inspired Richard Dawkins to write The Selfish Gene thirty years ago. He was a hero to many and died. The closer you are to the relative who needs your assistance (and the more likely you are to have matching genomes). A daughter or son in trouble. Hamilton caught malaria and died within weeks. She is inviting you to pursue her instead of the vulnerable brood. This can be quantified in terms of the improved chances you have of passing on or protecting your genes. and you don’t hesitate. on a quest to Africa to look at the chimpanzees. Formulae for tender loving care may seem mechanical. sociology. But they are one way of accounting for how we came to be as we are. the more likely you are to try to help them. I’ve already suggested. Hamilton’s numbers seem to add up. come through history. politics and so on.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN the family. A third cousin twice removed—and you hover by the raging torrent. His last ever expedition was to seek out the origins of kindness—and thuggery. She will scurry across the water dragging the limp wing behind her. But what the biology of love and hate does not show is a clearly 82 . feigning injury. The closer you are. The late Bill Hamilton of Oxford actually produced a formula to describe all this. long before his time.

Lemurs are solitary. Whatever the demographics. Not a march upwards and onwards to perfection—as in one of those slick illustrations that start with monkeys on their knees. pointing to the orangutan. but everyone had to get on with everyone else.ORIGINAL SIN perceptible design offered by the Great Boatman as he pushed our craft away from the biblical shore back in the beginning. knew a few dozen people. is a turmoil of adjustment. He claims he can predict the size of our preferred ‘village’ by looking at our brains. the more people in your tribe. plenty of enemies and barely enough to eat. such as Lesley Rogers of the University of New England in Armidale. The rest are seen as interlopers or worse. Human brains were once well suited to survival in a forest with extremes of hot and cold. dispute this. of the University of Liverpool. argues that we have a ‘natural’ capacity to ‘know’ about 150 others really well. Some biologists. Professor Robin Dunbar. People lived in small groups and. to existing circumstances. lead on to hominids halfupright and finish with a bloke in a suit standing erect and phoning his broker—but a fitting end to contingency. baboons less so. weren’t in the master plan for 83 . I suspect that there was leadership by elders. in a lifetime of barely thirty years. The bigger and thicker your cerebral cortex. What we have. instead. which has plenty of cortex but few friends. when humans began to settle in cities. wet and dry. it’s clear that population explosions 10 000 years ago.

I cannot imagine what my brain would be like without that influence. crime and forgiveness 4000 years ago. then.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN our brain. 84 . or original sin. the title of the second of his books. of his design. Add other products of the ‘extended phenotype’. How to cope? Why. he says it was an unfortunate. as Richard Wrangham sees it. from the ‘design’ that fitted the first humans to the forest and cave. if I choose. but the publishers were insistent. It could easily have been The Cooperative Gene. and we have an entirely different creature who can transcend the brutish unintelligence. if striking title. designed or not. It is not surprising. of ‘demonic males’ is one we are still dealing with. such as photos. without any misleading implication. telly and movies. after The Selfish Gene. The Greek philosophers and playwrights were tackling questions of self and identity. How do we know this? Through what Richard Dawkins called the extended phenotype. We have been at it ever since.* This rather technical term refers to the way humans can store and accumulate their thinking beyond their bodies—in paintings. A book. in 2006. As someone who began reading voraciously from the age of five and has done so for hours every day ever since. with the rest of our intellectual armoury. I am liberated completely. in front of you at the moment. the problem. music. As I shall discuss later. that the atavists wanting to * Now. books and now in computers. You have some of it. for better or worse.

one that has been fought ferociously in the US for more than a century. summed up the situation neatly: The advocacy of ID is not as innocent as it seems. evangelical and 85 . a retired biology professor from the Museum of Earth in Ithaca. Museums from Ithaca to Denver. agrees: ‘It is no wonder that many biologists will simply refuse to debate creationists or IDers . has been attacked in an attempt to change its references to evolution. Dr David Millikan. people who for whatever reason are here to trap you. he said. libraries and schools. Noting that 54 per cent of Americans do not believe that human beings evolved from earlier species. Iowa and New York City have had their staff bailed up by believers arguing against Darwinism. Allmon was quoted in The New York Times commenting on the stream of visitors objecting to the displays on evolution. New York. There. in Washington. ‘Just telling them they are wrong is not going to be effective. It’s the latest battle in the war against the ‘evils of Darwinism’. to bludgeon you. Dr Warren D. Evolution as a topic has been expunged from many biology textbooks in America. .’ Even the Smithsonian Institution.’ Dr Lenore Durkee. Publishers in populous states have bowed to pressure from creationists for fear of having their products banned from schools. a priest who is a former head of Religion at the ABC.ORIGINAL SIN interfere with this new freedom are attacking the very places where promise lies: the museums. .

Bush holds this view too.’ Book burning was a notorious practice of the Nazis. Having failed to dismantle it. much as Caesar burnt the great collection of books in Alexandria in 48 BC. For Christians of this hue. Knowledge is power. or at least to the twilight zone of the Taliban or the early Christian zealots (who set fire both to Bibles translated into English and to the scholars who dared translate them). its destruction amounts to humanity’s shooting itself in the head.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN fundamentalist Christianity have never truly forgotten— and certainly never forgiven—the way they were humiliated by the theory of evolution. George W. ‘When I hear the 86 . The Reverend Millikan ends with a chilling reminder of the scale of the attempt to metaphorically burn the library. This has been the recourse of anti-intellectual bullies throughout history. Whether you call culture an extended phenotype or the store of human knowledge and creativity. they’re spruiking ID in an attempt to destabilize it. ‘Polls indicate that 47% of Americans accept the literal account of creation in the book of Genesis. It is the last resort of those who will ban music and literature and learning. all the expressions of a free human spirit. ID is just the latest offensive weapon. so you ban it. It is the way back to the cave. Hermann Goering liked to boast.

ORIGINAL SIN word culture I reach for my Browning [gun]. ID is part of that long tradition of hankering for darkness. 87 .’ And we know precisely what he meant and why philistinism is so vital to the despot and the thug.

6 INTELLIGENT SEX Intelligent sex Human genitalia were obviously designed by the local council. Sir. did anyone check?’ We were dreadful boys. who looked like a querulous rabbit. Instead we got his considered reply to every tricksy question. Divinity and prayers were not occasions you could 88 . was too decent a schoolmaster and too kind a man to fob us off with a rebuke. Time passed. why did Mary have to be a virgin?’ Bunny Austin would close his eyes in silent desperation. and Bunny. put his fingertips together under his chin and try to formulate an answer. ‘Sir. ‘And. always in pursuit of weak quarry. Only they would think about putting the pisshouse in the middle of the playground. every mischievous setup.

while Jesus was the Son of Man and therefore deserving of a normal fertilisation. . We took our revenge in subversion. . ‘I mean. and one or two other smart-arsed atheists. God works in mysterious ways. . So I. But. where the terminally uninterested were playing cards. Sir!’ after a tortuous answer affirming the Godgiven glories of sexual intercourse (snigger!) and agreeing that. ‘No faith’ didn’t compute. for reasons which remain a mystery . . off he’d go again in perplexed torment. did he have erections and wet dreams?’ By now you could hear embarrassed shuffling at the back of the class. No returns were lobbed across the net demanding. ‘Why do you ask. no. Williams?’ or ‘What’s your interpretation of the answer from the reading you’ve done?’ 89 . he had to be spared icky associations . gestation and parturition. like it or not. Surely Bunny’d capitulate and reject this gratuitous plonker. ‘But. doing his didactic duty to the end. were made to attend. ‘But. Bunny Austin wasn’t anything like the great tennis players whose nickname he knew he carried. isn’t “virgin” just a mistranslation of a term meaning “young woman”?’ As he struggled. Sir. I gave him the scholarly source of this howitzer and watched him slowly implode in jowly stutterings until his opening and closing mouth resembled that of a cod expiring on the fishmonger’s slab.INTELLIGENT SEX duck unless you belonged to another faith. ‘Was Jesus fully a man?’ Silence.

but they became immediately aware of both their likely inability to satisfy that desire and the very great probability that their mates would be only too pleased to step into the breach. Men were terrified by female sexuality. shows that the organ is equipped for extensive stimulation and response. Dissection of the clitoris. Not only were men disconcerted by their partner’s powers of orgasm and appetite for more.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN I never did find out if there were any reliable comebacks to those age-old schoolboy needlings. There were three reasons. in the nineteenth century. and indeed up to the present day. Quetta is the Sandhurst or Duntroon of that Islamic country. and we were hailed in the high street on our 90 . Sex in much of the Bible reflects the male insecurities of ancient times. This was brought home to me dramatically in 1966 in Quetta. Pakistan. it was clear that women are capable of far more sustained enjoyment than the ephemeral pleasure that’s men’s lot. whose writings on exotic sexuality so shocked his wife that she turned his life’s work into a pyre. First. That this was recognised in the ancient world is well documented. not least by the Victorian traveller Sir Richard Burton. completed only a few years ago in Melbourne (one other thorough investigation and description of its elaborate and extensive nerve supply. where I was travelling with my new wife. so it had to be kept under control. was forgotten or suppressed).

but I do recall being manoeuvred into an antechamber by ‘chaps’ in cravats and Sam Brownes to discuss world affairs.INTELLIGENT SEX arrival as hitchhikers by a swaggering commanding officer whose pseudo-British aplomb put David Niven or James Fox in the shade. I can’t remember what we drank. they intended to fulfil their Islamic duty and accept us as guests and give us unquestioning hospitality and ‘protection’. Pamela was being shown a revolver by a couple of officers and being told to come across. While they fully recognised that white women were always ‘gasping for it’. The only way Pamela escaped was by agreeing with what they said but claiming she had a shocking dose of suppurating gonorrhoea. The second. Why should their levels of satisfaction and subtleties of timing be so awry? Girls can be sexy as young teenagers. We were promptly offered rooms in the barracks (Brits were status symbols back then) and straightaway given a rather puzzling lecture about how safe we would be under the soldiers’ care. Men hit their peak of randiness at eighteen. in another room. related reason why men can become bothered by female sexuality is its apparent disjuncture from their own. The chaps backed off. They were in no doubt about her desires—they had seen enough Hollywood movies to know that women like her were constantly on heat. Meanwhile. Until next time. before most of 91 . boys at the same age are dorks. This was kicked off by a cocktail party at sundown.


them have even got started. Women become more and more switched on as they mature, even to forty or fifty years of age and beyond—just when men turn away, drooping. Men become hydraulically challenged in middle age. What was the designer thinking of ? Was He determined to make sexual unions impossible to maintain? Did he foresee the invention of Viagra and serial divorce? The third reason is money and the Church. The wealth of Rome threatened to be dissipated if the offspring of married priests could inherit from them. Answer: celibacy. This of course has been a practice in other religions as well so the holy estate is kept intact. Somehow in all this sexual angst, women are kept hovering somewhere between the roles of ‘damned whores and God’s police’. For strict Catholics, sex is only for procreation; contraception is therefore forbidden. The immediate past president of the Royal Society of London, in his valedictory speech late in 2005, was moved to say that the late Pope John Paul II was responsible for more deaths than Hitler, having resisted the free distribution of condoms in the time of AIDS. ‘He did more to spread AIDS across Africa than the trucking industry and prostitution combined’, announced the New Statesman in a cover story in April 2005, when the Pope died. These are extraordinary lengths to which to take a doctrine. Similarly, how can modern human beings in their millions in North Africa accept the mutilation of


young girls’ genitals with rusty razors, broken glass or kitchen knives? Is female sexual pleasure so revolting to men in beards that they are prepared to see their women forced to put up with a lifetime of pain and humiliation? Control takes many ugly forms. If the Intelligent Design of woman enabled her to have fun, why is so much energy expended, in the name of God, to stop her? Why, for that matter, was the design itself so perilous? The upright woman needs her hips to be narrow enough so she can walk without having the gait of a drunken sailor doing the pasa doble. Yet the passage of a baby with a large cranium—notwithstanding the skull’s flexibility, with its unfused joints allowing the head to shrink slightly during birth—requires a wide canal. As a result a hormone, relaxin, is secreted which makes the pelvis pliable. If the secretion is insufficient, side effects such as permanent spasticity in the child can occur. This is easily explicable as the collateral effect of our having evolved from hominids who walked on all fours; it makes nonsense of ID. In the words of Loretta Marron, a science graduate and businesswoman writing in the skeptic: we meet Barbie, our idealised woman, at the age of 12.
For the next 35 years, when not pregnant, she will have spent a total of up to six years wearing hygiene products. She will also have spent an additional four years with pre-menstrual tension, when she will experience mood


swings, while bracing herself white-knuckled and doubled over during agonizing and debilitating stomach cramps, accompanied by daily unrelenting migraines, just to name a few of her regular monthly symptoms.

Then she’s pregnant! ‘Barbie has spent the first three months or more of her pregnancy with daily episodes of putting her head inside the nearest toilet bowl, looking at regurgitating the ice cream and pickled onions of her previous meal, or lying on the bed staring at her swollen legs and enlarged DD-sized breasts.’ So much for Barbie. But what about Ken? That master of anatomy Leonardo da Vinci put it best 500 years ago in his lament for the penis:
It has dealings with human intelligence and sometimes displays an intelligence of its own; where a man may desire it to be stimulated it remains obstinate and follows its own course; and sometimes it moves on its own without permission or any thought of its owner. Whether one is awake or asleep, it does what it pleases; often the man is asleep and it is awake; often the man is awake and it is asleep; or the man would like it to be in action but it refuses; often it desires action and the man forbids it. That is why it seems that this creature often has a life and intelligence separate from that of the man, and it seems that man is wrong to be ashamed of giving it a name or showing it; that which he seeks

(In His own Image?) Finding an evolutionary reason for the persistence of homosexuals in the human population is certainly a challenge. Lawrence. many more. Plato. Gays have contributed fabulously to civilised society and it would be appalling to consider a world without the contributions of Alan Turing. Oscar Wilde. Elton John. T. here I’m prepared to accept that this is an example of God’s inspired creative engineering. For once. James Baldwin. Pointing Percy at the Pontificate! What can he mean? But implicit is his final plea: If only there were Intelligent Design then the owner. How clever of the designer to allow this latitude in the design.INTELLIGENT SEX to cover and hide he ought to expose solemnly like a priest at mass. k. It persists among them mostly in grown-up females! 95 . lang.d. and interpreted as learning play to prepare them for their lives as adults. Pyotr Tchaikovsky. Who takes responsibility for the ID in this particular case? Could it be that Beelzebub snuk in? Which brings us to homosexuals. Dusty Springfield. Franz Schubert. Noel Coward. Virginia Woolf. I’d wager. Irving Berlin. rather than the organ itself. Gertrude Stein. Ivor Novello. could be in control. Stephen Fry. Australian Greens Senator Bob Brown and many. Leonardo da Vinci. Homosexual behaviour has been observed in monkeys and apes.E. No selfish genes at work there.

who said he could invent a religion from scratch. One further possible explanation remains for the sexual differences between men and women. 96 . But I will now firmly opt for the ID alternative. for example. was started essentially as a bet by science fiction writer L. He proposed a fall from grace on some distant planet. Or pink. that popes. I wonder what form this would have taken in the ancient forest. There are many explanations of homosexuality along the lines that the human genome has preserved maximum flexibility (remember those Sneaky Fuckers?). and shows that you don’t have to be subtle to haul in the suckers. archbishops and ayatollahs immediately relax prohibitions which range from silly to deadly. accordingly. This convoluted codswallop is accepted by glitterati from Tom Cruise to John Travolta (even our own dear Kate Ceberano).UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN Another suggestion is that gayness is somehow linked to genes involved with creativity of some kind. screwball kind. It stems not from orthodox religion but from the modern. followed by banishment to a lower state on Earth. insist it was God’s inspired choice and demand. The challenge of Scientology is to regain enlightenment using so-called ‘E-meters’. and one of the variants included is gayness. Scientology. Ron Hubbard. Fred and Wilma Flintstone are not exactly flamboyant.

Without women. though. as anyone watching today’s more cuddlesome games will know. Science and commonsense have removed most of the wilder phantasmagoria of the ancient beliefs and led them into more sober. but they did have strong aesthetic sensibilities. though they did live quite a long time. Some twenty years ago. Martian men were not distracted by the subtler contemplations of adult life.INTELLIGENT SEX The only difference between this kind of cosmic folderol and some of the more established religions. 97 . how could they possibly procreate? Eternal life was not possible in these idyllic circumstances. Why a virgin? How come homosexuality? Why the loathing by men of women’s sexual appetite? My scenario went like this: Men do come from Mars. from stadium football to ancient Greek Olympic tournaments. I broadcast a Science Show offering a solution to some of the conundrums listed above. But this doesn’t inhibit Raelians and Davidians and the other salvationists at the unending religious smorgasbord. which enabled them to make the most of the violent purple sunsets and unending rocky red vistas. Even rugby union has come out. with their miracles and afterlives. Women Are from Venus. contemplative fields of moral quandary and textual probing. long before John Gray made his squillions from Men Are from Mars. where they spent the millennia playing games and hugging and horsing about— all those things we accept as authentic male behaviour. is age.

as well. made infinitely more fascinating by the absence of men. possibly from a common ancestor. did ultimately become established. intercourse became productive only because of some persistent ancient resonance. Reproduction. was by virgin birth. after a short while. as with other parthenogenetic species such as Western Australian locusts. and before that. Which was why virgin births became so significant 2000 years ago. the girls were in their own special world. Meanwhile. The answer: resurrection. he was able to come to life again as a much younger man and resume his games. As one man crumbled either of age or of a groin injury sustained in play.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN given the lower force of gravity on Mars. according to my reading of what happened. as should be obvious. So sex. I proposed. Parthenogenesis was the means: an egg would split to form a blastula and the rest followed in the usual way. though. so. In fact. When men and women came to Earth (as is described in holy books). They could converse on the finer points of female interaction. they were at first meant only to hang about in loose proximity to each other. Feng shui was made necessary by the constant rearrangement of the Venusian landscape through eruption and earthquake. At first. this was not so. The children of such events 98 . on Venus. as we know. Sex was thought both unlikely and somehow repellent. there were the more physical delights of remedial massage and clothes designed to please themselves.

Never mind! Why waste time with sex at all? In nature. you have costly competition among males. I could have retired with several fortunes to a castle in Cap D’Antibes. No such luck.INTELLIGENT SEX were. of course. No Y chromosome is transmitted in what becomes a virgin birth. In time the male and female genomes were able to interact. if I simply granted myself a doctorate from a Bible college in America and produced a book called Men Are from Mars. I simply had no inkling that. No wonder her teachings and general conduct were so civilised. to ‘codpiece attachment’ and the instinct of men in football scrums to bind securely by hanging on to the jockstrap of the bloke in front. Men continue to hark back to the eternal cosmic changing room and never lose their fear of vagina dentata. Women Are from Venus. female. And the misalliance of Mars and Venus was never resolved. 99 . Worse still. This meant that Jesus was a woman. Women remain the second sex and try to find a role somewhere between Jezebel and Mother Teresa. without feeling much like either. from ‘testosterone poisoning’ to the overwhelming confusion experienced by most men on meeting gorgeous girls. I broadcast all this in 1983. I mean. Apart from the unpredictability and sheer messiness of relationships. but there was a constant percentage of offspring who preferred the same sex. I thought listeners would be impressed at how much it explained.

it doesn’t yield much variation—only that which comes via mutation. . If a new hazard arises. Mutation may be random. One of you is more likely to survive. miscarry. Not random at all! Sex mixes the cards you do possess. catch the clap. Splitting is favoured as a method of reproduction by billions of smaller creatures—microbes and other germs. Would it not be far simpler to go in for something like parthenogenesis or some other variation of the fission beloved of amoebae we learn about at school? Don’t date. The favourite example is of the one-letter difference between FISH and FIST: Not the same thing! Incidentally. make up. Imagine bird flu suddenly starts being transferred among people. The new hazard is most likely to be a killer disease. get pregnant. take a cure. . Just split. all those cumbersome genitalia. But. Trouble is. the suggestion that evolution is a random process is one of the monstrous distortions perpetrated by ID and creationism. Many will die. you will have a different genome from your parents and your siblings. succeed at last . have arguments. So you live. one of the chemical bases of a DNA strand can make a huge difference.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN STDs. Grow a fish on the end of your arm and you’ll die because that’s not what you need to adapt to your environment (unless you live in a very peculiar world). as with the catastrophic Black 100 . A fist on the end of your arm fits. Most mutation is damaging and disappears: you die. but natural selection is supremely focused. Nothing of the kind. Even small changes in. say.

you have nowhere to go. It keeps us one step ahead of the next plague. If you cram all your professorships with Marxist-Leninist revolutionaries or hardline market reactionaries and then Stalin proves to be a rogue or Gordon Gecko loses the plot. incidentally. Maybe we learned this from sex and genes. but their presence has been an undoubted benefit. If we were a parthenogenetically produced monoculture. (That does not mean ID belongs in the science curriculum. it would be curtains all round. some people will be resistant. maybe. scientists have had lots to say—some of it interesting. Natural selection allows this group to live on and continue the species. We humans have two sets of genes. It also gives us cultural variety—and this is where gays may come in again. Sex pays. cards are kept up our evolutionary sleeve. This. elsewhere. is also the argument for free speech and for universities maintaining all manner of opinions within their faculties. We keep the others in reserve.INTELLIGENT SEX Death plague in the fourteenth century. It may not be that God planned their value to the community. Their card shuffle is kind.) As for carnal congress itself. The 101 . when Florence and other cities lost up to 80 per cent of their populations. Only one set need be expressed. some of it silly. Keep a comprehensive range from left to right and you are giving society the hinterland it needs to cope with the future. Other living things may have more.

as Desmond Morris has told us at length and with helpful naughty pictures. ladies are able and even willing to have intercourse at any time in the monthly cycle. swingers.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN bottom line (ahem!) is that we do not have to be slaves either to our primate past or to our recent couple of hundred thousand years in caves and the woods. yes. and that is probably a way to entice a mating pair to bond for however long it takes to bring up Wayne or Dahria. gay. It tells me much more about God than I expected. Think of a sexual variant—and I won’t bore you with a list— and it’s in the personal ads: we do it. No harm! As with brains that can have us become anything we choose—from Dr Mengele and Rosa Klebb to Albert Schweitzer and Mary Robinson—so our sexual legacy is almost unlimited. If that’s a sign of Intelligent Design. and that this is connected to promiscuity. Yes. not-interesteds—just to be ourselves unless we’re hurting someone. And. But you don’t have to be promiscuous or live like the Folks on the Hill. 102 . congregational hedonists. Roger Short is wise to point out that humans have the largest testicles of male primates. This is not necessarily a good thing (as the male spider would say after it is devoured by his recent lover). then I’m intrigued. but it is the way it happens to be. Our biological heritage offers a very wide range of possibilities for sexual conduct and recent history has allowed some of us—straight.


From Dayton to Dover
Jenny is too wonderful, preparing and drinking her tea and doing everything by word of command. She is painfully and disagreeably human.
Queen Victoria, on visiting the second-ever orangutan at London Zoo in 1842

In 2001 I reviewed two books by great-great grandsons of Charles Darwin. One, Annie’s Box (with a different title in the US!), by Randal Keynes, told of the brief, charming life of Annie Darwin, her father’s favourite child, and of her sad death at the age of 10. Darwin was inconsolable. His faith in God collapsed. He could see no grand purpose in the casual extinction of such a sweet spirit. Another part of that book described Darwin’s astonishment when he looked into the face of the first great


ape brought to London Zoo. There in her eyes he saw reflected a human forebear, a subtle mind, a hidden depth. ‘Let man visit Ourang-out-ang in domestication,’ wrote Darwin, ‘hear the expressive whine; see its intelligence when spoken to, as if it understood every word said; see its affection to those it knew; see its passion and rage, sulkiness and very actions of despair; let him look at the savage . . . and then let him dare to boast of his proud pre-eminence.’ Then he added, ‘Man in his arrogance thinks himself a great work, worthy of the interposition of a deity. More humble and I believe true to consider him created from animals.’ (From Charles Darwin’s notebooks, around 1839) Both Annie and the ape changed him forever. The second book, by Matthew Chapman, was called Trials of the Monkey. Unlike Keynes, Chapman is not a learned professor but an occasionally wired Hollywood scriptwriter. He was once married to film star Victoria Tennant. A wise career move following a substance-induced wipeout was to go on the road and write a gonzo book about visiting Dayton, Tennessee, where his ancestor’s evolutionary teachings were put on trial in 1925. I loved the book, and recommend it. Trials began as a way to explore Chapman’s personal heritage, both from his own immediate family and from Darwinism. The Scopes ‘monkey trial’ was actually a set-up. It didn’t have to be in Dayton—the town was chosen as a convenient battleground, and Scopes himself was a


volunteer. The trial was lost in the first instance— notwithstanding national attention, tropical heat and legendary lawyers—but the verdict was overturned on a technicality. Chapman—the groovy smoothie from NY, NY— expected to be put off by the trailer trash he was to encounter on the road. This did not happen, quite. Nor did the creationists he met down in li’l ole Tennessee repulse him. The young folk attached to the Creationist Institute he found open and friendly; the PhD in palaeontology who ran the institute, incredibly enough, had been taught at Harvard by none other than Stephen Jay Gould. But the most memorable discovery for me, at least, was when he found out why the trial took place in Dayton. The town is heartbreakingly impoverished. The old saying about being born ‘on the wrong side of the tracks’ comes from there. On the other side of the railway tracks is a place so bleak, writes Chapman, that it has the highest suicide rate in all of the United States. No wonder the bells and whistles of Promised Lands made such an impact here. He goes beyond the local manifestations of poverty to ask a broader, devastating question about the nation itself. ‘Why is America, a country where 98% of the people believe in God and over 50% believe in the literal existence of angels, why is this so holy a place infested with serial killers, rapists, paedophiles—often men of the

gangs. not least its coherence. the sheer weight of scientific evidence I have mentioned earlier. Before retracing the political steps taken in the past nearly twenty years. it is useful to give a brief summary of the differences between creationism and ID.) Even though creationists had tagged the word ‘science’ after their name.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN cloth—drug addicts. After 1987 there was a rapid rethink of the ‘entrist’ strategy: ID came to be. cults. isn’t Christianity having the advertised effect?’ Eighty years after Scopes it is Dover. the US Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that creationism is a version of recognisable religious doctrine and therefore. The Scopes trial was about the Bible and challenges to the literal interpretation of Genesis. this was not enough to sneak them into the classroom. Creationism was dealt two near-fatal blows in the 1980s. in short. First. is 6000 years old. all life. excluded from being taught in schools. under the Constitution. Creationists seemed to be saying that Earth is young—about 10 000 years or so—and that life. Fossils were produced by the flood. all at the same time. and madmen? Why. Pennsylvania. Second. made creationism look silly. Its case is that there are parts of the natural world so complex and engineered with 106 . that has become notorious—as a battleground over ID. (Australia has similar laws but allows religious schools to be funded without considering them therefore to be ‘established’. It was made by God in one week.

Guess who? ID does allow for evolution to do a bit of the tedious lifting work once the clever stuff. he wants us to recognise that certain phenomena could not possibly have turned up without having been designed to meet their specific purposes. New York. not blundering selection.FROM DAYTON TO DOVER such precision that only a very smart intelligence. and so it gets the best of both worlds. Dembski offers a kind of watchmaker argument. In Carl Sagan’s novel Contact. Behe. the endless elaboration of the value of pi. of Rochester University. messages from outer space did not quite turn out to be the Holy Grail. a biochemist at Lehigh University. has been set up. One is Professor Michael J. He names the two best-known proponents of ID. but were concealed within a commonplace mathematical calculation. that there really was such a code and that it provided instructions on how to build a time machine or how 107 . Let us say. Examples given were the phenomenal complexity of the cell itself and instruments such as the flagellum. The identity of the designer is only hinted at. The other is Professor William A. author of Darwin’s Black Box. both of whom have reasonably respectable scientific credentials. Dembski. A fine summary of all this appeared in The New Yorker in May 2005. a mathematician at the Center for Science and Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. like the cell. could account for them. Allen Orr. for one moment. written by biology professor H.

he argues. It works well by most criteria. But imagine a car produced in the 1990s.’ 108 . Dembski sees the structures of the cell as such ‘messages’. Orr disagrees. it would be an essential piece of automotive technology. that it is impossible to see them accumulating incrementally. in fifty years. the mechanical mousetrap. Too many items of incredible sophistication come together with so much accuracy. equally beguiling. Orr refers to one of Behe’s favourite examples. ‘We add new parts like global-positioning systems to cars not because they’re necessary but because they’re nice. Then comes the new century and manufacturing standards change. This would be like the proverbial monkeys with typewriters really coming up with the works of Shakespeare—so unlikely that we would have to accept some intervention by an Other. computers that rely on GPS actually drove our cars. But no one would be surprised if.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN to travel beyond our galaxy. he says. it would be as clear as all the words in Contact itself that some extraterrestrial intelligence did actually exist. It is common. Their exquisite unity may have been preceded by a different role. which cannot function with just one of its parts missing. In those circumstances. to have several similar proteins produced in a cell which may then change slightly and acquire different functions. written by an intelligence rather than by nature. At that point GPS would no longer be an option.

These creatures no longer need eyes. In 2006 I broadcast an interview with an Oxford zoologist who studies cave fish. The point is that the eyes persist like so much debris. Several of them were 109 . Intelligent Design. as do men’s nipples. passed a resolution requiring ID to be placed on the curriculum. Both Behe and Dembski have been soundly demolished by experts in their fields. On 18 October 2004 the Dover Area School Board of directors.’ This has not stopped the good citizens of Dover. simplify the system. accordingly. Note: Origins of Life is not taught. if you don’t need them. by a vote of 6-3. so better to close them off. appendices and much else in people. Orr sums it up this way: ‘As the years pass. The exact statement read: ‘Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin’s theory and of other theories of evolution including. but this was not good enough for the parents. one of whom called Dembski’s use of one key theorem ‘fatally informal and imprecise’. It costs energy to run eyes.FROM DAYTON TO DOVER Orr stresses that Darwinian evolution also expects many adaptations to be simplifications. But their DNA still codes for them and.’ The directors may have had a majority. but not limited to. They have even been attacked by their supporters. Intelligent Design looks less and less like science and more and more like an extended exercise in polemics. they have them when they are very young but grow flaps of skin across them as they mature.

18 November 2005). Before looking in detail at the judge’s remarkable Memorandum Opinion in the Dover case. the state board of education voted 6-4 to ‘adopt science standards that cast doubt on evolution’ (Science. Is it a skirmish on the fringe of received knowledge or is it part of a darker. It is worth quoting from the notorious master plan. Meanwhile.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN outraged that science had been so compromised and took the matter to court. Kitzmiller et al v. also in late 2005. This followed an attempt in 1999 by several board members to remove both evolution and the Big Bang from curricula. in Kansas. a document that appeared as an apparent leak on the Internet in 1999. the Center 110 . It seemed to emanate from the Discovery Institute in Seattle and was a timetable for attack. it is worth asking why all this hit headlines around the world in this early part of the twenty-first century. Bringing together leading scholars from the natural sciences and those from the humanities and social sciences. Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies. Dover Area School District has become one of the most significant clashes between fundamentalism and Darwin since Scopes. well-organised plan to subvert science itself ? Enter the Wedge Strategy.

Under Phase I (of the Strategic Plan): ‘A lesson we have learned from the history of science is that it is unnecessary to outnumber the opposing establishment. can split the trunk when applied at its weakest points. This is borne out by the timetable. holds conferences. The Center awards fellowships for original research.’ So the ‘thin end of the wedge’. ‘opportunities for life after materialism’. and briefs policymakers about the opportunities for life after materialism. This is no assault on capitalism and the American way of life. while relatively small.FROM DAYTON TO DOVER explores how new developments in biology. Scientific revolutions are usually staged by an initially small and relatively young group of scientists who are 111 . That they have a goal that is far from trivial or even ecumenical is shown in their last few words. They simply mean ungodly. By materialism the document’s authors do not mean consumer culture and democracy via credit card. Under the Five Year Strategic Plan Summary they say: ‘If we view the predominant materialistic science as a giant tree. as they put it. included Phillip Johnson’s critique Darwinism on Trial (1991) and then Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box. physics and cognitive science raise serious doubts about scientific materialism and have re-opened the case for a broadly theistic understanding of nature. our strategy is intended to function as a “wedge” that.

’ (Note: Not coexist or offer equal counsel.’ 112 . talk show hosts. .’ This brings us to the present when. future talent and potential academic allies.’ Phase III: ‘Once our research and writing have had time to mature. The Wedge is clear: Governing Goals: ‘To defeat materialism and its destructive moral. and the public prepared for the reception of design theory. college and seminary presidents and faculty. we will move toward direct confrontation with advocates of materialistic science .) Five-Year Goals:‘To see the beginning of the influence of design theory in spheres other than natural science. scientists and academics. on those critical issues upon which whole systems of thought hinge. . cultural and political legacies. that is. by their own criteria.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN not blinded by the prevailing prejudices and who are able to do creative work at the pressure points. That there is a mixed report from the courts is just a small setback when you consider the long-term strategy. To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God. the words used are defeat and replace. the Wedgers are doing very well. Attention is theirs—in the press.’ Phase II:‘We seek to cultivate and convince influential individuals in print and broadcast media. the scientific journals and among educators. congressional staff. These are not half measures. as well as think tank leaders.

Enter Chris Mooney.’ This statement is so extraordinary that one needs to ask straightaway whether the Wedge is one of those feral flights of the imagination one finds on the Net. dreamed up by some drooling green-haired freak in a shed somewhere. Nothing of the kind. He continued as an enlightened political instigator. In it he shows how two liberally inclined ex-Harvard roommates had combined in 1966 to warn of the Republican Party’s anti-intellectual decline. He became a ‘neocon’. even running as a leftist candidate for the post of governor in Washington state in 1980. The Party That Lost Its Head. like so many on the left cited in this tale. bent on world domination.FROM DAYTON TO DOVER Twenty-Year Goals:‘To see Intelligent Design theory as the dominant perspective in science. as we say in Oz. which began as a branch of the 113 . its main message was that conservatives had to win back the thinkers and not be buried by redneck prejudice. To see design theory permeate our religious. according to Mooney. cultural. was a tour de force of analysis and debunking. suddenly ‘chucked a U-ey’. But then came the Reagan era and Chapman. throughout the 1970s. Their ‘polemic’. He is a journalist based in Washington whose book The Republican War on Science was published in mid 2005. One of the authors was Bruce Chapman. Today Chapman is at the helm of the Discovery Institute. moral and political life. By 2003 he was declaring evolution to be a ‘theory in crisis’.

would be unconstitutional. because it is a religious idea advancing ‘a particular version of Christianity’. after the Supreme Court’s important Edwards decision. a pro-life religious conservative who directs the Center for Science and Culture. admitted ownership of the Wedge Document for the first time. taught in biology classes. ‘In an interview for my story. His ruling was stunning: in favour of the eleven parents who were suing the school board. he wrote.’ So. back to Dover. Meyer. Discovery’s Stephen C.’ 114 . Jones III in the case of Tammy Kitzmiller and friends versus the school. ID. where the good citizens were awaiting the opinion from District Court Judge John E. as noted. telling me that it “was stolen from our offices and placed on the Web without permission”. On the morphing of ID from creationism:‘The weight of the evidence clearly demonstrates. This compelling evidence strongly supports Plaintiff ’s assertion that ID is creationism re-labeled.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN Hudson Institute of Indianapolis but now has leadership and funding from conservative Christian organisations and an agenda to match. He says. In 2002 Mooney was writing a piece about the Discovery Institute for American Prospect and needed confirmation or otherwise of the Wedge’s provenance. however. It is worth examining some of the details of his opinion. that the systemic change from “creation” to “Intelligent Design” occurred sometime in 1987.

’ ‘They are. employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980s. not full members of the political community.FROM DAYTON TO DOVER In what way does this matter breach the US Constitution. favored members of the political community”. ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the 115 . central to ID. ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels. any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation. clearly satisfied that it is a sound source of the ID agenda. which forbids the state establishment of religion and therefore its teaching in schools? Judge Jones quoted the Supreme Court’s ruling: ‘School sponsorship of a religious message is impermissible because it sends the ancillary message to members of the audience who are nonadherents “that they are outsiders. and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders. This is significant.’ he continued: 1. a proposition on which the Court takes no position.’ Judge Jones then referred to the Wedge document. we find that while ID arguments may be true [as a supernatural explanation]. Then the judge moved to the question of ID as science. the argument of irreducible complexity. and 3. He found:‘After a searching review of the record. 2.

It is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community. by sleight of hand.’ Astrology! He also took on ID’s favourite examples—the flagellum. possibly. would also embrace astrology. ‘We therefore find that Professor Behe’s claim for irreducible complexity has been refuted in peer-reviewed research papers and has been rejected by the community at large. different functions.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN science community . blood-clotting cascades and the immune system—and cited evidence that showed how they could indeed have been elaborations of simpler elements with. namely the tree of life. . Judge Jones found that ‘Pandas misrepresents the “dominant form of understanding relationships” between organisms. and ways in 116 . . to change the ground rules of science itself: ‘defense expert Professor Behe admitted that his broad definition of science. which encompasses ID. it has not generated peer-reviewed publications.’ The book also misrepresents how organs may have common origins (‘homology’).’ In examining Pandas and People. nor has it been the subject of testing and research. the ID alternative primer recommended by the Discovery Institute in the Wedge document. represented by classification determined via the method of cladistics. Judge Jones further noted that ID was trying.

.’ said Leib.‘unceasingly attempted to distance themselves from their own actions and statements.’ The school board (the ID defendants). ‘Well. They’re afraid to talk to me because I’m on the wrong side of the fence. whose family has lived in Dover for generations.FROM DAYTON TO DOVER which structures may be adapted for different functions (fingers become bats’ wings or horses’ hooves.).’ My italics. emphatically: ‘The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. He quoted the testimony of Joel Leib. . etc. It is ironic that several of these individuals. and that’s happened to me. which culminated in repetitious. At the end of his exhaustive 139-page opinion the judge showed how the case was more than a row about epistemology and the American Constitution. ‘People are afraid to talk to people for fear. who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public. would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID policy. untruthful testimony . It was about bullying and it was about lies. resoundingly. it’s driven a wedge where there hasn’t been a wedge before. parents. and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserve better than to be dragged into this legal 117 . wrote Judge Jones. The students. And finally.

UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN maelstrom. This is a force with enormous resources and backing. and they’ll be a lot smarter about concealing their religious intent.’ Yes. they’re alarmed because ID is junk science. from the US president downwards.’ And from Professor H.’ So what about the future for ID in America after such an indictment? Can it recover? Undoubtedly. with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources. . remarked:‘I predict that another school board down the line will try to bring ID into the curriculum as Dover did. 118 . As Eugenie Scott. it was possible to wonder whether the movement’s scientific coherence was beside the point. This in the richest and most educated nation on Earth. The point is that none is below 47 per cent. ID has come this far by faith. which they regard as so much anti-Christian propaganda. Meanwhile. a friend of mine who runs the American National Center for Science Education. I’m aware that this quotation gives yet another figure for the proportion of the US population denying Darwin. . more than 80% of Americans say that God either created human beings in their present form or guided their development. Adherents are not put off by evidence. As a succession of ID proponents appeared before the Kansas Board of Education . Allen Orr: ‘Biologists aren’t alarmed by ID’s arrival in Dover and elsewhere because they have all sworn allegiance to atheistic materialism.

119 . then we really do have a problem.FROM DAYTON TO DOVER If you add to this vast ocean of American ignorance all those in the rest of the world who have hardly any education at all. And that problem may extend to Australia. plus the burgeoning numbers from parts of the planet where other kinds of fundamentalism reject modern science.

8 ID IN AUSTRALIA ID in Australia If somebody votes for a party you don’t agree with. That is because I have found Australia to be an open-minded country in which it is possible to have stimulating discussions between scientists and members of religious faiths (sometimes embodied in the same person) without descending to either the rancour or mendacity described by Judge Jones in his Dover judgment. I am aware how much the Australian scientific establishment. But if somebody says. Douglas Adams I am hoping that this will be a short chapter. Furthermore. ‘I mustn’t move a light switch on a Saturday’. is willing 120 . you’re free to argue about it as much as you like. through its academies. you have to say ‘I respect that’.

As the journal Nature commentated in an editorial:‘Science. This has been an important dialogue. and in trying to convince the public it has a future. often with religious leaders.’ 121 . Or nuclear power will solve greenhouse problems at a stroke. science sometimes sounds like a fairground tout promising miracles by next Tuesday. At the same time. Australian science has sometimes sounded strident or defensive. and scientists shouldn’t just charge ahead without listening to them. As a result. To interest potential investors it has to be as direct and shameless as Mae West in a sailors’ bar during shore leave. We can all think of examples: stem cells will cure Alzheimer’s disease soon. when the likelihood is within twenty years if we’re lucky. when in fact the costs could be colossal. depleted of students and worrying about pressures to increase its contacts with commercial interests.’ The trouble is that science in Australia has been struggling. as Nature points out: ‘Victory over mortality is the unstated but implicit goal of modern medical science. Religious thinkers are right to raise concerns.ID IN AUSTRALIA to engage with opinions on ethics and the political implications of research. allied with business. is encroaching on religion’s turf by unleashing technologies that raise profound questions about human nature. in its attempts to be noticed. It has been short of funds. And immortality has long been the realm of religion.

the state can fund religious schools here. December 2005). Unlike in America. funded by US interests. A reader in law at the Australian National University.’ Trouble is. according to this account by Professor Mike Archer. 122 . But in a second chance to clarify. Brendan Nelson. ruled out teaching ID in the state’s public schools because it isn’t science. ID is already being taught in about 100 schools within science classes. appeared to echo the American president.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN Into this antipodean uncertainty landed both the endorsement of ID by George W. Our own then Minister for Education and Science. Carmel Tebbutt. They include Christian community schools. Dr John Williams. and Seventh Day Adventist and a few Anglican schools. ‘It would be a leap of faith to think the Australian constitution would stand in the way of a curriculum that included such things as ID’ (Sydney Morning Herald.’ That may be. In New South Wales the Minister for Education. ‘It’s up to the parents. remarked. he shut the door on suggesting that it could have a place in science classes. Dean of Science at the University of New South Wales. the minister was quoted as saying. promoting ID. Bush and a DVD. He was caught on the hop. Once he became aware that this was gobbledygook and creationism in a tuxedo. who wrote in Australian Science:‘The minister was very humanly led astray by some slick marketing for ID.

It’s there to be replaced or improved—there are many things it doesn’t explain. dogmatic teaching of evolution. a vast and growing body of factual knowledge supports the hypothesis that biological complexity is the result of natural processes of evolution. did Cardinal George Pell.’ In response to these looming threats. But not being able to imagine or explain 123 . It was penned by Dr Mike Archer: As Australian scientists we are gravely concerned that ID might be taught in any school as a valid scientific alternative to evolution. speaking at the National Press Club in Canberra. ‘we would want teachers to talk about the enormous.‘We don’t want a simple. Proponents of ID assert that some living structures are so complex that they are explicable only by the agency of an imagined and unspecified ‘intelligent designer’. with 85 schools educating 22 500 students. the head supports ID being taught in his science classes. They condemned any move to bring ID anywhere near the science curriculum. While science is a work in progress. They are free to believe and profess whatever they like. a coalition claiming to represent 70 000 Australian scientists sent an open letter to the press expressing their concern. implicitly endorsed ID as well.’ he said. The King’s School in Parramatta.ID IN AUSTRALIA At one of our oldest private schools. significant problems in the evolutionary history. So. across Australia the Christian Parent Controlled Schools group.

Evolution meets all of these criteria but ID meets none of them: it is not science. if repeated testing falsifies the theory it should be rejected rather than taught as part of the accumulating body of scientific understanding). The most recent Nobel Prize winners. For a theory to be considered scientific it must be testable—either directly or indirectly—by experiment or observation. To do so would make a mockery of Australian science teaching and throw open the door of science classes to similarly unscientific world views— be they astrology. We therefore urge all Australian governments and educators not to permit the teaching or promulgation of ID as science. flat-earth cosmology or alien abductions—and crowd out the teaching of real science. Professors Robin Warren and Barry Marshall 124 . a scientific theory should explain more than what is already known: it should be able to predict outcomes in novel situations. spoon-bending.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN how something happened other than by making a leap of faith to supernatural intervention is no basis for any science: that is a theological or philosophical notion. Is there a problem in Australia? At first glance the answer is No! Science and technology are well respected throughout Australian society and we are proud of our international reputation. Finally. importantly. The results of such tests should be able to be reproduced by others as a check on their accuracy (and.

As our relationship with the US becomes closer and those with our Asian neighbours more uneasy. 125 . he writes that the right wing’s ‘assault on science’ under Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan pales in comparison to that of the current Bush administration. were feted across the land and given a standing ovation in Federal Parliament. it is likely that compromises based on ideology and not terribly far from religious fundamentalism will be forced upon us. I was there. weapons technology. Stemcell research has received orange lights and abortion laws have not been changed drastically under his government. John Howard. then it is worth looking at a list offered by renowned science writer Boyce Rensberger. Reviewing Chris Mooney’s The Republican War on Science in Scientific American. If this seems a stretch. of MIT.ID IN AUSTRALIA from Perth. Howard has also been prudent in the extent to which he allows his ministers’ religious beliefs to influence policy. nuclear power. Australia. as indeed the global community. bird flu. not least by the prime minister. and no one could doubt his delight in their achievements. But these are febrile times. which in four years has: • rejected the scientific consensus on global warming and suppressed an EPA report supporting that consensus.AIDS and mental health treatment. and many more besides. faces several hot issues that demand action before scientists can provide definitive input: climate change.

at such a time. For Australia. We are encouraged no longer to make the effort to think our 126 . The editors of Scientific American in a previous issue in 2005 likened George W. most of which turned out not to be.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN • stacked numerous advisory committees with industry representatives and members of the religious right. Trofim Lysenko. • begun deploying a missile defence system without evidence that it can work. Bush’s record in this regard as reminiscent of that of Stalin’s chief scientific apologist. indeed. Rensberger ends by claiming that Thomas Jefferson would be appalled at this record of ‘opposition to freedom and science’. • banned funding for embryonic stem-cell research except on 60 cell lines claimed to be already in existence. A success for ID in infiltrating schools would be yet one more victory for relativism—the conviction that we ‘consume’ knowledge like customers in a supermarket. and • ordered the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to remove information about condom use and efficacy from their website. a claim refuted by good studies. • forced the National Cancer Institute to say that abortion may cause breast cancer. We also risk spooking a population already uncertain about the benefits of scientific advances and. the probity of some scientists. caution would seem to be advisable.

127 . implying that he did not require the traditional embroidery of religiosity—unquestioning belief in the entire job lot of doctrine—to adhere to Jesus and his teachings. Once the old shibboleths are jettisoned. as I shall explain in the next chapter. be a good thing. Science provides the story of how the universe and the living world came to be as they are. Religion provides conjecture about where the universe came from and what its purpose may be. but many of its laws and institutions were formed through the influence of churches. to face up to some of the really big questions of faith. and informed enough. but not why they are here at all. Australia is a secular society. in his 2005 Boyer Lectures for the ABC described himself as ‘not a religious man’. But surely we are mature enough. Welcome to the marketplace of ideas. to insist on our right to choose according to fashion or the requirements of our tribal allegiance. How much traditional belief has clearly been scotched by scientific knowledge? Do we really need to carry so much of the detritus of yesteryear? Even Peter Jensen. in the main. As we debate these concerns. instead. This may. perhaps.ID IN AUSTRALIA way through issues but. Some people happily imbibe from both streams. I don’t. Anglican Archbishop of Sydney. Jefferson must be thrashing in his grave. the division of what’s left seems plain enough. it may do us good to consider where we have come from as believers in this and that over the last century.

too. It should be an extraordinarily exciting time for us. Darwin has immeasurably enhanced our perception of nature. to the breath Of the night-wind. But that is not how the majority of Australians I have met see their new secular existence.* a poem Matthew Arnold wrote in 1867.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN Perhaps it is all best summed up in ‘Dover Beach’. long. love and light left him feeling marooned. He saw us languishing ‘on a darkling plain/Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight. down the vast edges drear And naked shingles of the world. Retreating. just eight years after Darwin published The Origin of Species: The Sea of Faith Was once. not least in a part of the world that affords special insights * A poignant echo of the Dover trial? 128 . at the full. withdrawing roar’ of faith in God in a world which seemed so beautiful and new but was really devoid of joy. But now I only hear Its melancholy. Arnold’s despair at the ‘melancholy. and round earth’s shore Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl’d. of how we must cherish and look after the biodiversity still surviving. through evolutionary ideas. So has the understanding. withdrawing roar. long./Where ignorant armies clash by night’.

unless you find yourself so at odds with the facts before your eyes that self-delusion is your only recourse? The great Peter Medawar—joint Nobel laureate with our own Macfarlane Burnet—was once called upon to review Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man. from the origin of marsupials to the vastness of reefs and ocean life and the relationship of this biggest island in the world with Gondwana. But it is a perfect description of ID. and its author can be excused of dishonesty only on the ground that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself. And you can add that to knowledge and wisdom culled from other sources—even theology. 129 . . in which purpose becomes a kind of vitalism culminating in the emergence of humans. the greater part of it is nonsense.ID IN AUSTRALIA into the whole marvellous process. What are you left with after this separation from God? A life according to the new catechisms of science? Not at all. Science doesn’t have catechisms.’ Poor Teilhard. . if you want—to enjoy an incredibly fulfilling life. Why despair—unless you are so embedded in a rigid world view that any shift from it is a shattering wrench. Here is Medawar in his withering critique of the Jesuit palaeontologist’s book:‘It cannot be read without a feeling of suffocation. But you can be inspired by the knowledge it offers. a gasping and flailing around for sense . tricked out by a variety of tedious metaphysical conceits. one of the most famous expositions of an anthropic universe.




making little bangs over a minuscule flame. The parsimonious habits of wartime austerity persisted despite our newly found comfort. ‘He’s been Party for ages. quietly grumbling on the stove. I’m sure.9 GOD’S ONLY EXCUSE God’s Only Excuse Those who can induce you to believe absurdities can induce you to commit atrocities.’ 133 . it may have been John Garfield. Voltaire ‘He’s Party. Tea was made by dripping hot water from the kettle onto leaves in a strainer. The kettle was always almost boiling.’ My mother was reading the newspaper and drinking her tenth cup of tea of the morning. She pointed at the picture of a Hollywood star.

strangely. My father concurred. to do our bidding. We were working class but living in a swank apartment near the famous Prater. and with two servants. The staircases were marble and the chandeliers enormous but being Party. Garfield wasn’t just ‘in the party’—meaning the Communist Party. My parents were in the World Federation of Trade Unions. He was Party: One of Us. But knowing who was Party was of the essence. I was eight.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN I didn’t think it odd then (I was far too young) that ‘Party’ should have a capital P and no definite article. It rivalled Geneva. The WFTU was headquartered in a palace in the centre of Vienna. He and my mother were not often in agreement. it turned out. even on the wetness of water or the nature of pink. Gertrude and Trudi. It’s remarkable how well Party People took to palaces. occupying forces and strange tides of allegiance. Vienna was a city seething with officials from newly placed international organisations. 134 . I knew little about it then and had heard nothing since until. We were living in Vienna not long after the War (another capital-letter word). I came across a mention of it in John le Carré’s novel Absolute Friends. wasn’t a sufficient qualification. a glorious park with the Big Wheel and a spectacular fun fair from which vast stretches of woodland and horse-chestnut avenues reached as far as the Old Danube. It was the city of Harry Lime.

Party people were the opposite of what they sounded like. boy. but not up to speed. Once at a cocktail do in one of the vast reception areas where archdukes had cavorted. Drinkwater. At home I wasn’t punished.’ It just came out. Instead. I didn’t understand the subtlety of these judgments. nearby. Drinkwater languidly asked me to fetch him a canape. they were always making references to 135 . grim-faced. My mother. yet still on the outer. for once at a loss.’ he remarked on my return. Party. that you learn to recognise. for example. lounging in his couch. This was a pity. former Labor Party president Barry Jones once told me. much to my amazement. was definitely Party. began a qualifying sentence but gave up. How could someone be one of us. No bells and whistles. No beating. There’s a quality of silence. His companions froze. not really one of us at all? Would I ever cope with the intricacies of being grown up? And why were Us important? What about Them? As I got older I met people I liked who turned out to be Them. ‘You took your time. silly hats or tangos. He stared at me. I replied: ‘My father says you’re too slow to catch a cold. because they were often more fun than Us.GOD’S ONLY EXCUSE My parents often did a bit of a triage on their comrades. Sometimes I was made to drop them. The moment was allowed to pass. But I became lastingly confused.

The Pioneers were correct-line scouts. There was no in between. Stalin had only a moustache. a Welsh miner and an East London linguist. Unlike fascists. decent people of considerable culture. become ensnared as actors in a le Carré landscape with its codes. certainties and exclusions? The answer is simple: 75 years ago in Europe you chose: you were either for the fascists or against them.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN ‘discipline’ and ‘struggle’. nurseries for Party. Vast portraits of Marx. How did my parents. My parents also saw themselves and their friends as idealists. I wasn’t very good at being Us. they did not wish to rid the 136 . Only fools or drunks or the terminally bewildered allowed themselves to sidestep history. but it sat like a wild animal under his nose). Engels. campers with agitprop. Lenin and Stalin loomed over our small heads. bad at rules. like Presbyterians at a wake. One afternoon I was taken to a Young Pioneer group whose members met in some dark rooms in the basement of a large apartment building along the Danube Canal. this Party. from the start. worse at catechism. I never went back. I was. Not the wellspring of social spontaneity. Even with its newfound comforts. Especially when it was handed down in the presence of frowning men with beards (OK. I would picture struggle as a Houdini-like figure wriggling in a straitjacket and forever failing to escape. The youth in charge talked for hours about what seemed to be rules and procedures.

He was whispering something repeatedly. They were the hollow-eyed. At that time it was because the left. I crept closer and heard the words.GOD’S ONLY EXCUSE world of a race of humans. along with the likes of Nelson Mandela. in the 1950s. nearstarved workers without work who somehow kept their communities alive and for whom the word ‘struggle’ was more than a comrade’s slogan. I saw my father hunched in front of a BBC documentary about Stalin. Subhumans. His heroes were not the square-shouldered tyrants reviewing parades of tanks in Red Square. Why do we not see supporters of Stalin as so obviously evil and culpable as the supporters of Hitler? he asks. ‘You ruthless bastard!’ 137 . Before he died. They were the enslaved gold miners of South Africa whom he went to help. My father’s heroes were. Bigger. The numbers Stalin killed were as big. the ordinary socialists. when I was 18. what my father called the body politic. Us was not the men in suits (like Drinkwater) nor the moustachioed generalissimos with their Cro-Magnon brows and festoons of medallions that would make Idi Amin look modest. They were nothing like the Nazis about whom Martin Amis (whose father Kingsley was also Party in the 1940s) agonises in Koba the Dread. ultimately. the miners and their families he had grown up with in South Wales and with whom he’d toiled underground from the age of 14. saw Us as the grassroots. quixotically.

What is just as significant is how close they could have been to merging. Beslan. as Harvard professor Richard Wrangham argues. We may need to belong. men with beards (or moustaches) laying down the law. but not quite. With banality. ‘Communism is just fascism with a human face. but must this mean that we have to despise those who don’t? A strong commitment to family and friends is obviously vital. The ingredients were there. stupid or just intrinsically nasty? Or does it take crisis to make us evil? Watching the news in the past year it has been easy to assume the first. Auschwitz. Culloden. the call for absolute discipline to face a common enemy. a dogma. almost without feeling. Harsh social circumstances. Otherwise babies would perish and communities crumble. And we can do evil casually. That’s the incubus of mankind. Evolutionary science seems to give some credibility to this view. Anything. Under such circumstances. It takes a lot of energy and resources to be vicious. that we are. you can make people do anything. Do we behave despicably in ordinary times because we’re bored.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN Were Us different from Them? That is a judgment for history. Port Arthur.’ wrote Susan Sontag. Even in extremis we persevere 138 . My Lai— no outrage is beyond us. Peacefulness costs less. Rwanda. an elaborate ideology. demonic. The big question is whether this is an intrinsic quality or whether we first need to be pushed to extremes. ultimately.

we seem to be enraptured by landscape. Its purpose may be to console us for loss and disaster and prepare us for the inevitability of death. and thought-consuming—as religion would not exist if it didn’t have secular utility.GOD’S ONLY EXCUSE altruistically in the cause of Us. David Sloane Wilson. It makes sense to assume we have a strong feeling for who we are and where we come from. energy-. a definition of Us. Religion and the Nature of Society. a totem. whose robust religious paraphernalia provides not a whit of Thou Shalt Not. It is also a powerful means of control. Most of us go to enormous lengths to care for our own. It is a unifier. who in the 1970s allowed their children to waste away in time of famine. We do not need magic or messiahs to help us live decently. Jared Diamond writes of many tribal people. We need more social glue. Our country. Religions exist primarily for 139 . Similarly. Where we belong. Above all. The trouble arises when populations become larger and wealth accumulates. Anthropologist Colin Turnbull’s contrary example of the Ik tribe of Uganda. such as those in Papua New Guinea. it gives us a badge. Harvard biologist Ed Wilson calls this biophilia. sums up the binding role of belief: ‘Something as elaborate—as time-. author of Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution. has been vigorously disputed. By then we can afford priests and shamans to provide it for us. But religion doesn’t necessarily come with an ethical code. to provide a code for living. Religion is apparently universal among human beings.

in tandem with his priest. flagellation and silence. the ritual asceticism. he or she can intercede with the gods on behalf of the peasants (e. Even the scouring. to send rain or ensure a good harvest). has a special line to the deity. Another part of the deal is that the leader. the sacrifice are. paradoxically. They keep us under control. In return for those services. in such circumstances.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN people to achieve together what they cannot achieve alone. Diamond poses the essential question succinctly: ‘But how does the chief get the peasants to tolerate what is basically the theft of their food by classes of social parasites?’ His answer: The solution devised by every known chiefdom and early state society—from ancient Egypt to Polynesian Hawaii to the Inca Empire—was to proclaim an organised religion with the following tenets: the chief or king is related to the gods. reinforcers. but they tend not to last as long as those religions demanding celibacy. Some religions do offer promiscuous sex and sensual massage as part of the deal. Suffering seems a much more likely qualifier for belonging than sweet self-indulgence. The mechanisms that enable religious groups to function as adaptive units include the very beliefs and practices that make religion appear enigmatic to so many people who stand outside them.’ Religions.g. the peasants should feed the chief and his 140 . are adaptive.

We are free to choose concentration camps.GOD’S ONLY EXCUSE priests and tax collectors. More on that later. It is we who get things wrong by misinterpreting God’s intentions. All this was clearly adaptive. because they’ve got it wrong. And to murder children in Beslan. Diamond might have added. The creative role of conflict is crucial. carried out at standardised temples. Or Stalin’s. Gods Know. serve to teach these religious tenets to the peasants so that they will obey the chief and his lackeys. But religions differ from most human systems of ideas in that they are absolute. Even a sophisticated god. Non-Party. Few gods can be sent back. Or to blow up a school bus shouting ‘God is great!’ Religion flourishes as democracy fades. 141 . Nothing like an external enemy to pacify the populace. Standardised rituals. such as the Christian one. Them. When policies fail. we can stir up some loathing of those folk over the mountain who may look like us but worship Goz instead of Zog. The failure is always ours. Religion is in the ascendant in America today. cannot be blamed for Auschwitz (and all those other geographical horrors listed above) because it’s up to us. except in ancient Greece. because human societies survived and grew and are now covering the planet. Should the peasants become restless. in the main.

UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN God is invoked. Gombe National Park. point to the chaotic and deprived state of the habitats where this is done. Tanzania. Democracies require that we regularly hand over power to governments. The forest home is disappearing. flourishing societies be less vulnerable? There are a few clues. where she famously studied wild chimpanzees. mutilate and kill outsiders? Pictures of this being done by our closest relatives are as compelling as they are disturbing. Chimp society is being subjected to the same upheavals as Rwandan and Bosnian human society was—and is. Why torture a stranger and his brothers in this way? Is it just how the chimps are? How we are? Is there a biological original sin in our genes that makes us turn into Stalin. Under such circumstances Us-and-Them differences can easily become the basis for genocide. Pol Pot or their faithful servants? Jane Goodall and other ethologists. while recognising the vicious treatment of those outsiders. The really interesting question is whether the contrary applies: will stable. a book about killer chimpanzees. He also threatens to overwhelm politics in Africa and Asia. Wars between secular democracies are unknown. on the basis. Democracies. of course. also try to keep religion in the cloister. even American ones. Back to Wrangham’s Demonic Males. is being logged and poached. your 142 . And they welcome outsiders (‘Give me your tired. Are they really wired to attack. that they will regularly give it back.

It is what Shier did to change ‘the culture’ that some of us found shocking. He sacked the ABC senior managers. . and unsurprising after 13 years on the sidelines during which the conservatives became understandably cross about a number of ABC activities. in 2000. He committed executive cleansing. A somewhat unsubtle way of tackling this difficulty was to appoint a chum of the prime minister. but claimed his membership had lapsed by then). The aim. To give a contemporary example from my own experience: when. And then. in the words of one Tory. I’m told by a senior Liberal Party member. to appoint another member of the Party. Jonathan Shier (he was once a leader of the Young Liberals in Victoria. were to ‘change the culture at the ABC’. the Howard government looked at the ABC. benefit from biodiversity. It was. Now this is perfectly normal power politics. remember. All of them.GOD’S ONLY EXCUSE poor. Healthy societies. Stalin’s friend Lavrenti Beria would have been proud. Donald McDonald. as chairman of the corporation. in 1996. . )—though not as often as they might. like forests. His riding instructions from the PM’s office. He then set out to do the same with middle management. it saw an institution it didn’t like. ‘our enemies talking to our friends’. the wretched refuse of your teeming shore’ . as managing director. your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. was not to replace a poor leadership with a 143 .

It takes a top-down approach. That was Bill Gates. of 144 .UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN better one. It was to transform the culture of an institution. Not for long. How do you change a corporate culture? At the ABC you could do so by hiring bright kids. But replace one lot of suits with another lot and what are you left with? Suits! ‘Hire the best people you can find and let them do what they want. But religion is also an enormously sophisticated psychological exercise. It works at the fifth. appoint the best. and they will (unless you bind and gag them) trash old-fashioned ideas and biases before you can say the word ‘elite’. You cannot impose a culture from above. highest level of cognition. it simply became more impoverished and resentful. Advertise jobs for young Australians. The culture didn’t change. Did it work? Not at all. Organised religion relies on authority in the same way Jonathan Shier relied on correct-line suits. This is cheaper (Shier wasted $37 million in his cavalier adventure) and far more insidious. The mission to change Them (ABC pinkoes) into Us (rightminded professionals) failed for the same reason that the British failed to quash the Irish rebels and the Americans are failing in Iraq. as anthropologist Robin Dunbar points out in his book The Human Story.’ That wasn’t the New Age rant of a pony-tailed management guru from Byron Bay. It’s human biodiversity.

but they are your ‘village’—the number of close associates your brain is equipped to deal with. all-powerful God.) This capacity for spiritual belief has served us well in history as a unifying force—though at considerable cost. seriously. Your 150 may include several at the end of intercontinental phone lines or email. Anachronisms of faith were quietly abandoned as they became more embarrassing and manifestly absurd. Larger populations require a means of social cohesion beyond the capacities we were born with. As I mentioned before. like Shier’s.GOD’S ONLY EXCUSE intention. fashion—Richard Dawkins’s ‘extended phenotype’. Most modern priests would have been burned as heretics only a few hundred years ago. After an ability to recognise ourselves. Religion. is 150. music. of one person’s intimate community. (This may also explain how we can take the other-worldly nature of modern motivational management. others and others playing tricks on us. literature. Religious infrastructure also 145 . also evolved. Dunbar asserts that the natural size of Us. Beyond that number we find it hard to cope socially. Randy gods with whimsical or capricious habits became one mysterious. other worlds. This could be the shared experience of television. with its initially homely forest gods and limited kit. This is extrasomatic inheritance—it evolves outside our bodies. we humans add our own unique bit of brain power: we can imagine gods. all within the capacities of clever animals such as apes and dogs.

Let me ask the question in a purely evolutionary way. real ale pubs and anywhere with anoraks. In hard times the infidels. And Rome. Crusades. too. nor religion. It is the fanatical force that makes the Islamic army in Iraq condemn the ‘farce of democracy and elections’ by calling polling booths ‘centres of atheism’. as Wrangham might. It is the force. It is the unforgiving force. those not recognised as Party. pogroms.) I do believe the answer is yes in both instances. who died more than 40 years ago. that drove Ronald Reagan against the Evil Empire. cleansings were required. sometimes to disastrous levels. would have recognised these new 146 . Religion. It magnifies the divide between Us and Them in the same way Party did. is fine. had to go. as practised personally and without an inclination to rule the world. Beards belong in trad jazz bands. in certain circumstances. as in Easter Island and Central America. with its visions of Armageddon. Sometimes too well. I wonder whether my father.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN evolved. It demands credulousness and obedience. about demonic males wearing surplices. Church unified our separate societies. Could institutional religion have outlived its usefulness? Are the men in beards too disruptive? (I am not against beards. that drives his successor. Religion has become catastrophically divisive. against an ‘axis of evil’. allied with an apocalyptic. fundamentalist view of history. George W. inquisitions. Bush.

Gwyn used fists or sticks to keep 147 . was necessary. born in 1905. That was another good Party word: argue. Back then. he insisted. Gwynfor Williams. But there was a catch. My last row with him. vainly. before his six-foot miner’s frame collapsed and his George Orwell features eroded forever. My father. I tried to stop him beating my small brother. It was Our bomb. was raised in the shadow of the Welsh Chapel with its unforgiving morality and harsh discipline. Like a contorted priest. No sophistry is too blatant— when repeated forever. Never give an inch. not Theirs. The cold and humiliation killed him. Our last physical fight wasn’t about politics but about family. So was its relentless testing. trying to sell their mouthpiece Soviet Weekly on freezing London street corners. After all. frisky girls-whowould and young men who couldn’t believe their luck. His atheism did not erase its Dickensian mores. I was marching in those first anti-nuclear protests alongside jolly bearded jazzmen and gaunt. The all-inclusive melting pot of the sixties was just beginning. The Soviet bomb. friendly vicars. He argued like a barrack-room lawyer. red flags were plainly seen among the crow’s-foot peace symbols and the odd Christian cross. He spent his last years muttering against the Stalinists yet loyally. was about the bomb. My father seemed to approve of my sudden adolescent politicisation. and therefore all right.GOD’S ONLY EXCUSE antagonisms.

He was meant to keep us cosy. . Poor God. What do you do as a self-styled pacifist disarmer when a selfrighteous demonic Party pugilist starts throwing punches? I lifted my arms above my head and allowed him to pummel my flexed abdomen until he gave up. . as if the prayer were a version of the Communist Manifesto of 1848.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN us in line. He didn’t return. at ceremonies where believers prayed. to the comforts of the Chapel of his youth.‘It’s an affirmation of a just. They didn’t work. The tyrant’s discipline usually is. Conflict 148 . The first is innovation. now a fit rugby-playing youth of some stature. courteously mouthing the Lord’s Prayer. even when in agony. But I did see him sometimes. in real life. He hit my brother. He argued on his death bed. As for God. They are now in the ash can of history. He never attacked us again. translated by Soviet diktat into the Five-Year Plans. a socialist tomorrow. exhausted. He turned on me. I told him to stop.’ he’d say. equal society. Gwyn didn’t give up the promised (Party) land. physically shrunken and sticklike. Is it time He shaved off His beard? Yes! For two reasons. for ‘the people’s democracies’. ‘Kingdom come . Throughout history the main mother of invention has been not a five-year plan but disaster and war. It was for our own good. on earth as it is in Heaven’ was. He is becoming the last refuge of the fanatic.

sees our planet as a kind of living organism. We must find another driver of innovation. satellites. modern science and the Renaissance. We now know that God did not unleash the 2004 tsunamis because he was upset. Human conflict.GOD’S ONLY EXCUSE and catastrophe. we are unified by a contemplation of horror and 149 . rockets to the moon. Margulis’s and Jim Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis. such as Professor Lynn Margulis. led to printing. quoting Stendhal: ‘God’s only excuse is—He doesn’t exist. He wasn’t there. Which brings me to the second reason. the rest of humankind. responding in a unified way to circumstance. nothing much happened. The War. at last. as my parents called it. Now that we cover the Earth as a species.’ Now. computing. we cannot possibly rely on such a disruptive mechanism for creativity any longer. in a startling way. They were unleashed by geology. others. was creative. In between. Disasters. you’ll recall. The costs are too gigantic. If it is not to be us against them it will have to be something to unite us with our neighbours. Beslan or on Boxing Day 2004. As Sartre said. was the seedbed of the modern world: it gave us antibiotics. such as the Black Death. While Wrangham points to the demonic nature of some animals in some conditions. Nor did God go blind at Auschwitz. They are adamant that altruism is not the last refuge of sentiment but a strong force in nature. radar and radio astronomy. show that many living creatures also survive by cooperation.

Differences between them and us become ultimately trivial in the wider context we modern humans.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN loss. enormous needs of humanity. Mere veneer. Perhaps. 150 . that’s what my poor parents were on about after all. That is the future. The alternative is catastrophe. alone. once you dispense with Party. The badges of ideology and dogma fade as we contemplate sheer. can recognise.

with a few public successes including some rugby stars and David Davies. pays all the expenses of the oldest. sapiens has ever dreamed up is that the Lord God of Creation. Heinlein My secondary school in London was a pleasant brick building with wide green playing grounds all about it.10 WILLIAMS VERSUS GOD Williams versus God The most preposterous notion that H. and becomes petulant if He does not receive this flattery. the SAS hero of humble stock who nearly beat David Cameron 151 . nearly genteel. nearly scholarly. without a shred of evidence to bolster it. Shaper and Ruler of all the Universes. Robert A. largest. and least productive industry in all history. can be swayed by their prayers. wants the saccharine adoration of His creatures. Yet this absurd fantasy.

and canings were common. Can he be serious? Is he really bending his knee to a higher power? Can he really believe his prayers (what in heaven can he be asking for?) will reach the Almighty and then (!) make him change His mind? Thoughts like this helped me cope with the tedium. Hore.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN to become leader of the Tory Party. Several masters ruled by fear. delivered by both teachers and older boys. They were not remotely sadistic rituals. It was. an average grammar school with above-average pretensions. given the times. The 1950s were the beginnings of a new enlightenment—but not yet. The masters treated the boys reasonably well. but unpleasant enough.’ Non-violence as a formal requirement was also a long way off. a kind of West Country Prince Philip in manner and persuasion. Colonel W. Then it occurred to me. no foaming Gradgrinds inflicting running welts. sounding like the chimera of a rural Chinese collective farm and an abbey for mad monks in northern France. Most conspicuous was the headmaster. As Philip Larkin noted wistfully in ‘Annus Mirabalis’:‘Sexual intercourse began/In 1963 (which was rather) late for me. He bobbed up and down with the best of them as I looked on in incredulity. in fact. It was called Tooting Bec Grammar School.H. I thought I saw what was really going on here as the sons of lower-middle-class 152 . it was therefore a revelation for me to see them humbly genuflect in church or in assembly. Having seen them intimidate boys on a regular basis.

I can’t recall even nowadays confronting a friend and asking whether what they do is old habit or really meant. The Colonel and the teachers. Peter Sellers called it in an infamous skit). a kind of tacit acknowledgment that we had become sufficiently senior and nearly mates. of course. you can’t be serious. on such occasions both they and we smoked. for that. though my father’s tussles with Joe Stalin may have amounted to the same thing. I looked across at their closed eyes and moving lips and thought.WILLIAMS VERSUS GOD gentlefolk bowed in the thrall of the unremarkable church we attended in Trinity Road.’ I always meant to ask them up front. This was the cane by other means. He and I agree on many things but have different personal histories. Decorum forbids it. in which my colleague and friend Phillip Adams documents his own long-running dispute with the deity. I had no such dark spirits. Lines of command. were showing us who was boss. 153 . and it rubbed him cruelly. surely. Phillip had holy cloth in the family. I surmised. when we were off at a rugby match. They couldn’t really be talking to Him or actually feeling some transcendent contact—they were too smart. They seemed to yield to its sepulchral mood as if it were indeed a monastic retreat closer to Rome than to the Northern Line. just around the corner from Balham Tube Station (‘Gateway to the South’. I never did. One of the books that has sat longest on my shelf is Adams Versus God. ‘Come off it.

154 . West London. really didn’t appear on my youthful horizon. Some of the first editions of The Science Show sounded like New Age seminars from deepest Nimbin or Glastonbury. I was ecumenical to a fault. its uncertainty. I was influenced by Malcolm Long (later deputy managing director of the ABC and head of SBS) and Peter Fry (who invented Lateline. with so many people in the world—hundreds!—one of them might well be Jesus. followed by Whiskers the dog. the powers of the establishment and how hard it really is to shift paradigms without waiting interminably for the deaths of eminent academicians. When I was four.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN God. telling my mother that. up the aisle to where the vicar was sitting. She nodded without comment. I was so affected that I wandered in wearing my short trousers. I asked him to put the record on again. I do remember. I heard what turned out to be my first moving encounter with classical music. Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on Greensleeves was playing from a loudspeaker hanging from the steeple of the church on Turnham Green. somewhere among the pews. the predecessor of Late Night Live on ABC Radio National). and alone in the park. the closest I got. as they do in Japan and China. as I indicated in Chapter One. I’ve been fond of vicars ever since. at the age of about five or six. He did. Their series Beyond the Mechanical Mind had explored the limits of science. It was the demographic approach to conversion. When I began science broadcasting.

I remember a smooth-talking fellow who looked like a cut-price proctologist and claimed to do ‘past lives therapy’. She was endlessly accommodating and agreed without blinking to show me one of her previous incarnations. I was urged. turned up for our interview with his lady.’ ‘Anything else?’ ‘Not really.’ ‘What is it like?’ ‘Big!’ ‘Go on!’ I was getting restless. from Moss Vale. After a while it struck me how very little these latter had to say. We went to the studio. He said he could make a person go into a trance and revisit one of the many lives he or she had experienced before their present sojourn on Earth. Laing. I also tried to give some air time to those with alternative points of view.’ ‘And what do you do there?’ ‘I’m in charge of a big space station. I nodded to Mr Smoothie.D. This fellow. I began to record. ‘Very big. Ask her anything you like. often spiritual ones.’ 155 . and philosophers such as Paul Feyerabend and Thomas Kuhn. from Ivan Illich to R. ‘Where are you?’ ‘I am on the planet X [did she call it Zog?]. who touched the woman’s elbow and— Bingo!—she was off.WILLIAMS VERSUS GOD We put on the critics of science.

They offered such little reward compared with real evidence about real nature.’ If fossil fuels aren’t really fossilised. Even a three-hour intercontinental live investigation of ESP for another program produced hardly more than fluff. and they usually ended up as insults to the intelligence. A Space Odyssey). It was a profoundly unedifying experience. 156 . bang goes the industry— when they realise this.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN All my questioning produced little more than pabulum. because some KGB genius realizes that “creationism” will ultimately destroy the US oil and mining interests. What was surprising to me was how much scientists took notice of oddball religious opinion. Some did so with tongues firmly in cheeks. One example was Arthur C. Clarke (of 2001. From that date on I didn’t bother with Other Worlds. he went on. who wrote The Menace of Creationism and proclaimed it a Soviet conspiracy perpetrated by the KGB to deprive the West of oil supplies: ‘I’m working on a theory that the attempt to persuade Americans that the world is 6000 years old is actually a diabolical Russian plot. who got my history so wrong I shamefully agreed with one or two of her top-of-the-head punts just to keep the program mildly diverting. American energy supplies will stop dead. particularly memorable was the completely offbeam mind reading performed by a world-famous clairvoyant.

She refused.’ Humour has often been the reaction of scientists to sustained assaults on their work. Eugenie Scott was called by numerous outraged people insisting she and her National Center for Science Education answer with an ad containing 200 scientists saying the opposite. . back in Australia. ). . with its supporting checks and sceptical cross-referencing. Steve Pinker.’ Instead she offered. I suspect they can’t believe someone will blithely sweep aside all their meticulously assembled work of centuries. in memory of Stephen Jay Gould. which started with an advert in the American papers signed by 100 ‘scientists’ denying Darwin. . my producer David Fisher wrote a Steve song and performed it on air to accompany the item. Steven Rose . . to find a few hundred Steves—and Stephanies—who would sign a more jocular statement in support of evolution as a theory. You can take it from there . I interviewed Eugenie and. ‘Science isn’t done by plebiscite. and just say ‘Nah! ’Tain’t true!’ Four years ago. answering. Hundreds did so (Steve Weinberg. during a previous skirmish with ID. Then Detroit will be forced to manufacture cars with elliptical wheels. Steve Jones.WILLIAMS VERSUS GOD Clarke proceeded to further mischief:‘The next move is to get Congress to pass a law making pi = 3. Richard Dawkins (and I) may 157 . who’d just died. A few stern souls were annoyed by our levity. as is clearly stated in Kings 7:23 and II Chronicles 4:2.

I remember Barry Williams. in terms of allowing air time for creationist opinions on ABC programs.) Meanwhile. Both were communists attempting to take over and run what appeared to them to be an influential political organisation. We kept the scoundrels out. The Australian Skeptics are of the same ilk. in their innocence. Their language and manner made us suspicious. Neither is in the schedules. I knew something of the background of one of them through my father. as yet. in which successions of retired blimps are paraded denying things like climate change and threats to biodiversity. the essence of ID and what it represents remains. as Chris Mooney is quoted as saying in Chapter Four. an anti-intellectual threat of the first order. of course. 158 . is like requesting equivalent balance in politics or public affairs by setting up programs called Nazi News and Paedophiles’ Half Hour.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN become infuriated at some of the antiscientific antics of creationists. but a majority of scientists. prefer burlesque to bombast. That it was merely a loose assembly of idealistic young hedonists is beside the point. So there’s still hope. besides. editor of the skeptic. Its tactics remind me of an incident of my youth when I and some friends were part of a pleasant group of youngsters running the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in South London. suggesting that ‘balance’. (But the ABC does have a radio program called Counterpoint. Two hulking lowbrows appeared wanting to join.

as former Australian Foreign Minister 159 .WILLIAMS VERSUS GOD Later. where freedom of thought and expression has flourished have become ones where peaceful intention. We owe it to the future survival of decent society to ask why this happens and how it may be stopped. Religion. a similar ‘entrist’ manoeuvre was tried. at its worst. rape and murder in the name of God throughout history and it is still going on. is an authoritarian instrument and resents any questioning of its pronouncements. So it is not a question of Williams versus God so much as Williams versus jackboots. with devastating results. directives or rules of conduct. Though the sheer numbers killed in wars so far in the twenty-first century. The hard-line encyclicals of the Islamic militants are typical of this. orderliness and the understanding of other cultures is most robust. and there are a few. It took a generation and some battering of the leadership to recover. There has been a shocking amount of mutilation. within the British Labour Party. It is the same with other faiths. like Stalinism. What began as a unifying force thousands of years ago as populations expanded has become an instrument of control. in the 1970s in Britain. It is a matter of intellectual freedom. It is a mistake to ‘misunderestimate’ such deviousness. It is interesting that those Islamic communities. Both the Wedge document and the tactics of ID in the US and Australia are disturbingly similar to the Stalinist tactics of those times.

revolution. except perhaps when they hatch. family or even your society. our sense of purpose? Why. The risks are enormous. weddings and funerals are lonely reminders of the sacred tradition of forebears. So what is the source of our morals. that is to be expected. Presentday rules and regulations tend. is nowhere near the appalling scale of the twentieth century. Baptisms. plague or eruption). and working for more distant ambitions for yourself. and it could get much worse. After the upheavals of adjustment (to war. what we decide. to be much more utilitarian and remind one of the systems in nature as described by Lynn Margulis. Those not good at it turn to. I am sure. as Greenfield puts it. it is still bad enough. ‘in your 160 . Orchestrating the appetites of the moment is one of life’s skills. however. Professor Susan Greenfield likes to refer to two general ways of getting the most from life: being ‘in the moment’ on the one hand. match or dispatch. of course. This is not the experience of most people in societies such as Australia who. everything settles to a new stability and most plants and animals much prefer a quiet. less disrupted life.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN Gareth Evans has made plain. It is also insulting to suggest that religious belief is the only source of a moral order. do not give a second thought to a deity as they go through their busy lives. There may certainly be religious fingerprints on various laws and practices as they have been established and refined over the centuries.

violence and crime. flexible and based on an understanding of human psychology tend to work best. Everything’s been tried. We can each of us provide our own appalling list of ghastly failures.) Long-term goals provide the satisfactions of service and achievement. in a social order where the ground rules have been agreed upon. Those of us with greater hedonistic experience and skill cannot understand how anyone can want to choose crack cocaine and oblivion in a world offering chocolate. a bewildering range. societies ruled by fear tend. to fall apart. from Genghis Khan to Pol Pot. Mozart and beaches. It is interesting that the teachings of Jesus. When it comes to the ethical basis for running a society we have had.‘the worst system’ according to Winston 161 . Both ingredients. eventually. (I am being glib—I should remember the lessons of Matthew Chapman in Dayton and the way poverty obliterates choice. Moral codes that are just. then you stand a good chance of building success. reflect this rather well. and only a few things work. minus the referrals upwards to Dad. through history. provide plenty of point and meaning for the average life. immediate and far-reaching. Giving people a say in how they run the village is called democracy. If you leave people alone to explore what’s best for them. Jared Diamond has explored some of the experiments in his book Collapse.WILLIAMS VERSUS GOD face’ turn-ons like drugs. Whatever the contingencies of geography or heritage.

Women. How will any moral codes work in those overwhelming conditions? Be they in a cosy village or a vast metropolis. this is but a blink in history. Coping with life as a humanist or as a believer is a personal choice.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN Churchill ‘apart from all the others’. Can they do so just as well with only a little help from their friends? Well. what do human beings actually require to be able to cope? Do they really need the hope of a reward in heaven to help them get through the thankless struggles of daily existence? Is God a comfort for the miseries most human beings have to endure? All will. Most will experience terrible loss. I. but I am delighted that they are so. one day. This is an extraordinarily short time when you think about it. former slaves and indigenous people have had a say for only one or two generations. Their fulfilled lives enrich a 162 . I hope no one will force them to try one way or the other. personally. regard my religious friends as I do my gay friends: I do not see what they are so excited or moved by. Unfortunately it comes at the very time when our populations are being crushed into vast conurbations of twenty to fifty million mainly impoverished people. So it should be. face death. On any scale. Only in the last few decades have our societies had the opportunity to run themselves with reference to their entire adult populations. This goes back to the Greeks but has only recently been applied to whole societies.

Dennett has had a go in a book boldly titled Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. it is worth trying to imagine how it was. The philosopher Daniel C. at nearly ninety. uncles. In those dreams. But people could dream. though I still haven’t asked him about his God. The men hunted. and life continued unchanging for thousands of years. would feature significantly. I am now even friendly with my old headmaster. Meanwhile. and until 40 000 to 70 000 years ago not enlivened with much art or music. None wishes to impose their beliefs on others. it is virtually certain that departed elders such as fathers. and especially the nights. He is a little too close. that our human ancestors first thought up the notion of God or gods. usually with lean results. were long. the women gathered. their presence was not. suggests Dennett. before civilisation began. What is more natural than to ask advice of those who were so important to daily living previously and whose ‘spirits’ seem to linger? This conversation can 163 . to finding out the truth. maybe mothers and aunts. He is director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University and a rare philosopher who realised that to get to grips with the true nature of his craft he had to get to know the brain and learn some neurology. arduously. Though long gone. a continuing battle against the elements.WILLIAMS VERSUS GOD pluralist society. He asks us to imagine the hostile environment in which we evolved. The days.

They will see me as another liberal professor trying to cajole them out of some of their convictions. As the small band grows to a village. In that recognition we can expose Proud Ignorance for what it is. to distort knowledge. when ideas are allowed to flow freely. like ID. Will such scientific descriptions of origins explain belief. sticks. 164 . I’ll leave the last thoughts on this to Jared Diamond. Diamond is also of firm opinion about our ethical codes and where they came from. the tradition grows around the world.UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN then become ritualised and enhanced by symbols.’ I am less prescriptive. let folk make up their own minds. it becomes someone’s job to be in charge of these connections and a shaman is invented. In the process let us recognise that which serves. in various ways. or even dismiss it? Dennett hopes it will do both. He was born to a Jewish family of scholars and has written much about the ways in which the extra wealth of the first village and town dwellers enabled them to afford the shamans and witchdoctors who later became their rulers. living creatures. and they are dead right about that—that’s what I am and that is exactly what I am trying to do. stones. ‘I appreciate that many readers will be profoundly distrustful of the tack I am taking here. to tell deliberate lies. Let us simply embrace knowledge. Then. So.

when there could have been nothing?’ Religion will thrive as long as there are human beings alive to reflect the mystery of the First Cause. I accept the possibility of scientific explanations for almost every mystery of the natural world—but not for the greatest mystery of all. it’s too small a step from there to justifying the killing of adherents of other religions.WILLIAMS VERSUS GOD Personally. where the alternative would be worse. I accept purely secular reasons to pay taxes and to refrain from murder and theft. and I accept a secular need to do so under extreme circumstances. I still have no scientific answer. so that societies can promote the happiness of their citizens. and expect there never to be one to the challenge ‘Why is there something. as in the past. I deny a religious need to kill members of out-groups. I remain uneasy about relying on religion to justify morality: today. Amen! 165 .

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful