Mind the Gaps
Intelligent design as an answer to all life's great conundrums.
The good people of Dover, Penn., are in court this week fighting for their right to tell high-school students that evolution is an elective, not a requirement. Intelligent design isn't just your great-grandpa's creationism, they contend. Instead, it fills in the myriad "gaps" and "problems" in Darwin's theory of evolution with an unnamed, omnipotent "designer." (Hint: His name rhymes with "Todd.") For this exceedingly pluralistic and tolerant worldview, Dover School Board members have gotten themselves into a world of trouble with parents, the ACLU, and pundits across the land.
But the critics are missing the beauty of this new theory. Because the really great thing about intelligent design is that it takes all the awkward uncertainty out of science. It says, "You know those damn theoretical gaps and conundrums that send microbiology graduate students into dank basement laboratories at 3 a.m.? They don't need to be resolved at all. Go back to bed, sleepy little grad students. God fills those gaps."
Let's face it: The problem with science has always been that each new discovery unleashes thousands of new questions and ambiguities. So really, the more we discover new stuff, the stupider we get. Clearly, that isn't working. ID says we shouldn't bother ourselves with resolving scientific inconsistencies or untangling puzzles. We should recognize that what God really wants is for us just to stop learning.
Think of the applications. Science is, after all, teeming with unresolved conundrums. What if we just recognized, for instance, that we can't make the Standard Model of particle physics work? This theory, which purports to describe all known matter—including subatomic particles, such as quarks and leptons, as well as the forces by which they interact—is plagued by scientists' failure to observe something called "proton decay." Now, if we apply the ID principle to particle physics, no one ever needs to put on a lab coat again. Quarks and leptons? They're made of God.
And so are quartz and leprechauns.
There are many thorny medical mysteries doctors can't explain: How can pluripotent stem cells give rise to any type of cell in the body? Why is the genetic marker for Huntington's disease characterized by an excess of trinucleotide repeats? What accounts for the phenomenon of spontaneous remission in some cancers? With intelligent design, we don't ever need to find out. Years from now, we'll all lie in our hospital beds while ID-trained doctors hold our hands and assure us that we are merely dying of God.
We'll all be able to huddle around our radios and listen to Car Talk as a family. After the question is posed, we can all yell out in unison with Click and Clack that the mysterious drut-drut-drut coming from that lady in Vermont's carburetor is … "God!!"
And Law & Order: Special Victim's Unit will be vastly improved when Mariska Hargitay can look ruefully over at Chris Meloni, shake her head over the dead victim's limp frame, and shrug: "Heck if I know what happened. It's a real mystery. I guess we'll have to get a warrant for God." Sigh. "Again." Cut to closing credits.
Replacing every single gap in human knowledge with a theory of divine agency would save us billions of dollars in wasteful public education. In fact, while we're at it, replacing every single Gap store with a God store would save us billions of dollars on flat-front chinos.
My modest proposal would be that, instead of using intelligent design merely to fill in the gaps and inconsistencies of our most intractable scientific puzzles, we roll back what we've already learned about science and plug God into the equation at the outset. Kind of cut out those annoying scientific middlemen. That apple didn't fall onto Sir Isaac Newton's head because of gravity. It was God. God didn't want Newton to study science, and he doesn't want us to, either. And I, for one, am relieved. As Galileo famously said, and Teen Talk Barbie famously paraphrased: "Science is hard."
Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate.