Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Intelligent Design At the Checkout Line

Yesterday, standing in the supermarket checkout line, the woman in front of me turned and presented me with a pamphlet.

"The end of all suffering is at hand," said the pamphlet.

"Do you have any thoughts on this topic?" asked the woman. I told her I thought that'd be awfully swell but, unfortunately, I didn't believe that the end of all suffering was actually all that imminent. She plowed ahead with a plug for the creator and when I quickly interrupted her to clarify - "I don't believe in a creative god" - she went on the defense.

"Well," she said, "there is actually lots of evidence in a creator. Did you know that the creation is proof that there is a creator?" Momentarily stunned by this vicious tautology, it took me a second before I could inform her that, while that may be technically true, I didn't believe in creation either. I preferred evolution.

"Well," she countered, "did you know that most scientists see design in evolution. That it's just, well, so complex that there must be design. That's what all the good scientists believe."

She paid for her groceries while I attempted to explain that, actually, nearly every scientist worth her salt thought exactly the opposite and that the problem with the intelligent design theory she was advancing was precisely its unscientific character. Then we wished each other well and she went on her way, thus concluding my first face-to-face encounter with a non-academic intelligent design pusher. Fun times.

In honor of that checkout line encounter, here's a recent LA Times review of three recent books that each debunk, in their own way, the myth of intelligent design. For those who wish to go straight to the source, the books are:

The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution
David Quammen
Atlas Books/W.W. Norton: 304 pp., $22.95

Intelligent Thought: Science Versus the Intelligent Design Movement
Edited by John Brockman
Vintage: 258 pp., $14 paper

Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design
Michael Shermer
Times Books/Henry Holt: 202 pp., $22


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