Sunday, April 24, 2011

Intelligent Design

I was all set to write about Intelligent Design today, but before sitting down to start typing, I decided to eat a mango. I really like mangoes. As a matter of fact, I like a lot of tropical fruits, such as papayas and coconuts. I also like the look of tropical plants, and if I had an aquarium, I'd probably fill it with tropical fish. I don't think I'd like the weather, though -- I've never been too big on oppressive humidity and hurricanes.

But as much as I like mangoes, I don't eat them very often, because I've never been able to figure out how. They've got a peel on the outside and a big flat seed in the middle, so if you try cutting them in half with a sharp knife, all you'll end up with is a mango with a cut all around the perimeter.

At that point, I'll usually try something like twisting one half of the mango off the seed. It never works, but it's the only thing I know how to do. What happens is that some most of the mango will stick to the seed and the rest will stick to the peel. The only thing to do next is to scrape the mango from the peel with your teeth, and then gnaw the rest of the mango from the seed. Then when you're done with that, you do the same thing for the other half.

It's kind of a messy job, but it's worth the effort because mangoes are so good. I can't help thinking I'm eating like some wild animal, though, like maybe a raccoon or something. And that's why I believe there's no good way for a human to eat a mango.

Okay, with that out of the way, let's talk a little about Intelligent Design. It gets attacked for all sorts of reasons, such as being a religious belief pretending to be science, but that's not why I don't believe in it. And it's not because I'm an atheist or anything like that. My reason is much more fundamental.

About a year ago, I was seeing a physical therapist about my bad back. He always told me that my hamstring muscles were too short, which was contributing to my lower back problems for some reason. I don't remember the reason exactly -- all I remember is that it makes me take shorter steps than I should, which is somehow bad for my back. But here's the thing: I'm a little taller than average -- about 6'0" or 6'1", depending on my mood -- and my therapist was telling me that taller people have a tendency to have disproportionately short hamstrings. That didn't make any sense to me so I told him, "So much for Intelligent Design."

And that little story pretty much illustrates why I don't believe in Intelligent Design: We're not designed very intelligently.

Oh, we're pretty cool, there's no doubt about that. I like how if I get cut and start to bleed, the blood will coagulate and the flesh will heal, usually without even leaving a scar. It's not as cool as automatically growing a new arm if our old one breaks off, the way a lizard can do with its tail, but at least we've got bones that, if broken, will eventually fuse back together.

We're also designed sort of efficiently in some ways. A lot of our organs have two purposes. I can think of the ears, the mouth, the genitals, and the nose, right off the top of my head. There are probably others. Having an organ for one specific purpose seems sort of ad hoc, so having multiple functions is pretty clever. And the mouth actually has at least three -- it can be used for eating, talking, and even breathing when the nose is unavailable. And I'm not even mentioning all the lesser functions, such as kissing and glass-blowing.

But these multi-function organs can be a curse as well as a blessing. For example, you can't talk while you're eating without sounding incomprehensible or having food fall out of your mouth. If we had two dedicated organs, this wouldn't be a problem. If you were really hungry and also had a lot to say, you could satisfy both of those needs simultaneously. But with only one organ responsible for eating and talking, you're out of luck.

And that's not even the worst of it. Another reason I don't think we're very intelligently designed is that sometimes we get injuries that can't be healed, such as, in my case, a bad back caused by a few herniated discs in the lumbar region of my spine. There are other incurable conditions as well, and if you've read this blog before, you know that I have a couple of them. I just don't see what's so intelligent about susceptibility to fatal diseases.

But even if humans never got sick and were physically invulnerable to severe permanently life-altering accidents, I still wouldn't think we were all that well thought out, at least not compared to some of the other creatures on the planet. We can't breathe underwater like fish, and we can't fly like birds. We can't hear as well as dogs and cats, and we can't track other animals by scent. Childbirth for women can be difficult and painful, whereas for most other living things, it doesn't seem like that big a deal. We can't change our color like chameleons and some types of octopuses, and we can't jump from tree to tree like a bush baby. For that matter, we can't even eat a mango without a sharp knife, and even then the results aren't very pretty.