Saturday, August 06, 2005

What Designer?

I had planned to use this entry to talk about a timely study of why individuals fear people outside their racial, or ethnic, group, lead by Andreas Olsson of NYU. Appearing in the July 29 issue of Science (subscription required), the study shows how a bad experience with "the other" turns into global fear of all brown or black or different people or things. Citing and endorsing the work of Arne Ohman of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, the psychologists suggest that primates have a genetic predisposition to fear snakes and spiders, because fearing them from the get-go and thus avoiding or, presumably, killing them provided an evolutionary advantage. A similar mechanism might be at work in fear of the other, they suggest, as does Ohman himself in a commentary in the same issue--convenient, isn't it? That assertion reminds me of the claim that pointers and setters are preprogrammed to hunt birds.

At least humans seem capable of working around, if not defeating completely, that fear though exposure to the "other." Olsson and his colleagues point to interracial dating as one form of socializing that breaks down those fears. Or as the old Smith and Hawken garden supply store baseball cap put it: "Miscegenation will save the nation."

These are eminent psychologists, who, I'm sure, have conducted brilliant experiments, but on the face of it, they seem to be engaging in the worst sort of genetic determinism. They certainly have never seen a child who is fascinated by snakes--lethal and benign--or begun to explain those people who delight in snakes and bugs of all sorts. Then, too, an erroneous assumption that all snakes and spiders are a threat underlies the experiment.

But that discussion will have to wait while I briefly add my voice to the chorus declaiming against Bushy's endorsement of "intelligent design," as a plausible alternate to the theory of evolution as put forth by Darwin and elucidated over the years. "Intelligent design" is not a theory; it explains nothing. It is a critique of evolutionary theory that is forcefully dissected in the May 30, 2005, issue of the New Yorker by H. Allen Orr.

Ignoring the "science" and politics, I'll say, as I've said before, that if the world we find ourselves in--if we ourselves--are the product of an "intelligent designer" then he/she/it is either really stupid or a sadist or both. There's just no way around that. The problem is that unable to defend their nutty notions through reason, the religious rightists fall back on "faith." It's my belief. I'm entitled to it and to forcing it down your throat, and you can't argue about it because then you'd be mocking my faith. And furthermore, my faith is as valid as any other, because I hold it to be true. In fact, it's better than all those wrong others.

With such faith, you can never lose. But you surely can make a holy mess.

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