Sunday, August 3, 2008

How a Plate of Broccoli Got Me Thinking About God and the Whole Evolution v. Intelligent Design Debate

Am I a Creationist or an Evolutionist?

Frankly, it's easier to declare what I am not. I am not a fundamentalist Christian or a person who espouses a strictly literal interpretation of any religious text.

Right now I certainly can't claim to be an atheist or a strict materialist either. Some of the most arrogant, obnoxious, disrespectful fundamentalists I have ever read or heard speak have been atheists. I do, however, accept the Theory of Evolution as the best explanation we have for our observations of living things.

I sometimes enjoy the debate between rational empiricists and people of faith. It can be like watching that last tournament between Nadal and Federer. Whether you were rooting for one or the other, watching the volleys was fun.

Here are a few "volleys" I consider weak arguments for either side:

  • There's a watch here, so there must be a watchmaker somewhere.
  • God must exist because there's so much beauty and goodness in the world.
  • God must not exist, or must not be a loving God, because a loving God wouldn't allow so much pain and suffering in the world, especially by innocent people.
  • God must be an UN-intelligent designer, or there must be no designer, because so many "designs" in nature are suboptimal - a perfect God would design a perfect world.
I don't believe that last idea holds or is necessarily even logical. But just for fun, what are some of those design flaws?

Well, for one thing, I've always thought the need to eliminate waste was a royal pain in the...well, you know, a big annoyance. Not to mention gross. That's it! Dirt must be proof against the existence of a Creator! NOT. But it would be nice to be energy-effiicient enough not to have to deal with it.

Then there's childbirth. Have you SEEN how big some babies' heads are?! I don't care HOW stretchy a woman's birth canal gets during pregnancy. Having to push a watermelon out through a STRAW is just plain WRONG! And back in the day, before C-sections, it could KILL people.

And there are other "poor" designs in that area - the features that predispose to ectopic pregnancy; undescended testes; descended testes leaving behind the right mix of ingredients for future hernias...

For that matter, let me extend my thoughts to ovulation itself. Think of all the problems of the world that could be solved if women could ovulate at will. No pesky menstrual periods. No unwanted pregnancies. No overpopulation.

Then there are all those animals (including us) with "useless" or downright maladaptive parts (which I read about on wikipedia, with many more described in Robyn Williams' book Unintelligent Design: Why God Isn't as Smart as She Thinks She Is) - ostrich wings, giraffes with several feet of extra recurrent laryngeal nerve, babies with malformations or metabolic defects, panda thumbs which aren't really thumbs, armpit sweat glands, the appendix, and every anesthesiologist's favorite: the shared passageway for both food AND air. Gotta love that stroke of genius.

So how is it that I got to thinking about all this at the local Chinese restaurant, where I ordered a steaming plate of Yu Shiang Broccoli, cooked just right so the stems were still crunchy, the green was still bright without a hint of overcooked brown, and the sauce neither too spicy nor too garlicky?

Taste. I began to realize how maladaptive one's sense of taste can be, yet also what a prominent role it can play in human experience.

Even if you're an eat-to-live type of person, you can't tell me that you think raw veggies are the greatest pleasure known to humankind. But surely if "nature" wanted us all to be healthy, we'd have evolved, or been created with, taste buds that sent signals to our brains along the lines of, "That flax seed is SOOOOOOOOOOO much yummier than chocolate," or "Mmm, green leafy vegetables instead of ice cream - sign me up!" Alas, my taste buds, at least, would pick chocolate over flax any day.

Which brings me to my plate of broccoli. I start to think of all the sodium in the soy sauce bathing each little cooked-to-perfection crown. Not to mention the added sugar, just enough, that makes it taste so goooooooooooooood. Then there's the added oil, though thankfully this restaurant isn't too heavy-handed with that. And I love it. Every bite. Darn my maladaptive sense of taste!

Sigh...the gift of taste definitely has its dark side.

But to my mind it also hints at a few things, like a clue to a bigger mystery.

I think it suggests we as creatures are meant for enjoyment. Happiness, not misery. At the hospital even patients who can't really eat well are sometimes prescribed soft foods by mouth simply for quality of life, for the pleasure of eating. We have become creatures with a capacity for pleasure, for play, for laughter, for enjoyment. Whether or not you believe there's a giver, that's a gift.

Secondly, I think we are meant to learn stewardship. Existence gives us certain natural human rights, but with them a certain inalienable responsibility for the times and spaces in which we participate in that existence, including our bodies, our planet. I know I'm not supposed to let my taste buds run the show, and that's something I'm constantly having to work on. Stewardship can be hard when one is a total foodie!

Finally, I think we are meant for development. The very path we take from embryo to adult seems an incarnation of this intellectual, and some would add spiritual, destiny. We're supposed to evolve within our lifetimes, as the universe is meant to do during its lifetime. We are supposed to deal with imperfection, and thereby to LEARN, grow, and strive for perfection.

This is why I think any arguments for or against religious concepts made on the basis of the world's imperfection are intrinsically flawed. It's NOT supposed to be perfect here; this "site" is under construction, and it's up to us - not some invisible, intangible God - to put our hands in the earth, with all its grit and dirt and hidden dangers and treasures, and do the work of constructing it. The work of perfecting it. The work of creation.


Mary Ann said...

WOW! Deep thoughts over a plate broccoli, t. :)

This reminded me of being inspired recently by spinning my favorite smooth wooden top, an object of the loveliest wood, smooth to the nth of degree of perfection and led ME to thinking about God and the physics of momentum, and how perhaps we could harness something like "perpetual motion" to move vehicles.

Now a top's perpetual motion eventually least in our world with our laws of gravity...but what if we can design something that STAYS in motion and doesn't require an outsource of an energy that needs constant replenishing (gas,biofeuls, hydrogen, etc.,)

NOW I am no physics expert, whatsoever. I pretty much suck at math, but the more I retake any math course, the more I learn. And HOW I wish my brain functioned on that level! But I, like you, do a lot of creative thinking with what gifts God has given me...and thus know that the Creator of us all can make one or several of us come up with some new idea on how to create a perpetual motion auto.

Maybe that new Fermi lab they've got going in Europe will find some answers for us? (Chasing around those neutrinos and whatnots in that huge collider?)

Isn't it funny where the mind will wander over the simplest thing? And then again, maybe not as much funny as the mind of our own brilliant CREATOR.

K. said...

Oh my, T. You are so brilliant! I am so intimidated and inspired by you...thanks for the summary of your "best of"...I'm going to try to work my way through them...