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Chaos Theory, Doctor Who, and Fossil Butte

American history is a fascinating subject. It’s a study of events triggering other events which trigger further events. It’s a study of choices made, or choices not made, or choices poorly made. It’s a study of unrelated decisions converging a hundred years later and meeting up under odd circumstances to form a result that we now take totally for granted. It’s chaos theory, really. Some events, some choices, lead to predictable results, but every now and then, there’s a chunk of randomity, a bit of chaos, that throws things a bit askew.

History buffs, especially rank amateurs such as myself, love to play little “what if” scenarios. What if Ben Franklin suffered a heart attack while securing French support for the Revolution? What if Texas wanted to stay an independent republic? What if Lincoln sued for peace after Secession? What if oil was never discovered in Pennsylvania? What if we stayed with the gold standard? What if Oswald’s shot from the Texas Schoolbook Repository missed? What if 538 people in Florida voted differently in 2000? If these things happened differently than they did, would we still be America?

This is an interesting question. Would we still be America? Various events, going differently than we know them, would that still result in an America? I would have to say … yes. Probably. There was a cause, and a desire, and it sort of propelled things along. Sure, things would be different, but it’d probably still be America. Maybe smaller, maybe bigger, maybe more free, maybe less, maybe Hispanic, maybe without a slave legacy, maybe a 3rd world country, maybe a militaristic tyrant. Who knows?

I’m babbling about all of this for two reasons. One, I’m writing this during Doctor Who commercial breaks, and that show always makes me think of things like this. Two, thinking about Fossil Butte National Monument, a site in southwestern Wyoming preserving fossils up to 65 million years old, makes me think about the concept known as Intelligent Design.

Intelligent Design is the notion that the human race – intelligent, spiritual, thoughtful, opposable-thumbed individuals that we are – is so rare, so special, and required so many remarkable and special circumstances to develop, that it is impossible to conceive that our existence is the random result of various chaotic happenstances since the Big Bang. There must be some driving force, some incredible, thoughtful, magnificent presence, guiding all of creation to develop humanity to this point. Our existence is the result of this Presence, this Guidance, this Grand Design. We have to be the result of none other than God’s Grand Intelligent Design.

Now there’s a great deal of compelling evidence to believe this is indeed true. The Earth is at the right distance from the sun: too close and we’d cook, too far and we’d freeze. The Earth is the right size: too small and gravity couldn’t hold an atmosphere, and too large we’d gather too much atmosphere and be crushed by the pressure. The moon is a factor: the tides cause the oceans to move, improving oxygen absorption and enabling terrestrial life to form in the watery/airy boundary between low tide and high tide. Without the moon, terrestrial life, including humans, wouldn’t exist.

All sorts of changes, small changes in the cosmic scheme of things, would drastically change the way life evolved on the planet. If we were closer to the galactic core, radiation levels would be too high. If we didn’t have Jupiter, Earth would be constantly pulverized by comets. If we didn’t have plate tectonics and volcanoes, plants might not have enough carbon dioxide to thrive. If we didn’t have the properly sized asteroid hit the planet 65 million years ago, mammals would never have risen in dominance, and man wouldn’t exist.

So many incidents, so many requirements, so many little intricacies were required to evolve a species as complex and intelligent as Man. Truly amazing. We’re talking one chance in a billion billions. Mathematically, it seems unbelievable. There’s no way one can say this was all “random”.

Or is there?

The problem with intelligent design is it looks at the problem in reverse. It looks at the result and sees only one possible formula. It’s mathematics, but one-way mathematics. You’re told “here is the answer, now come up with the problem”. Looking at it that way, there is only one answer: someone must have designed us that way. But life is not a math problem. You can’t look at it in one direction only (that’s how we got the Earth-centrist nonsense Copernicus fought 500 years ago). To externalize yourself, and thereby approach and solve problems like this, requires that special power mankind has: imagination.

Imagination moves us beyond math problems and into a realm that allows us to see other paths, other alternatives, other outcomes. We arrogantly presume Humanity is the greatest thing since sliced bread, but there are other answers. Can it be proven that a planet without a moon and its tides can’t develop life? Maybe it wouldn’t be our life, but it would be life nonetheless. Can it be proven that dinosaurs with enough evolutionary freedom couldn’t have grown to be intelligent themselves? 65 millions years is a long time.

Even the very chemistry of our bodies doesn’t limit life. The blood of the horseshoe crab is based on copper, not iron. What if man was copper-blooded? There are forms of life in the ocean that exist purely on chemical and heat reactions from deep, undersea volcanoes. Could life exist on planets far from their sun? Maybe intelligent life could even form on gas giants given the right conditions.

The point I’m trying to make is this: mankind exists on this planet because the circumstances of this world, like numbers and operands in a specific math problem, can yield only one result: the advancement of mankind as the dominant species of the planet. But there are billions of other possible circumstances in this great, wide universe of ours. It’s entirely possible, I’d actually say it’s guaranteed, that there are other acceptable outcomes. It’s entirely possible there are other intelligent life forms out there, each unique and amazing and wholly suited to their own numbers, their own operands, their own planets.

None of this precludes the possibility that there is a Creator deserving of our honor, respect, and love. When I think of Intelligent Design, I don’t think of it as an argument regarding the existence of a Supreme Being. I see it as a symptom of the most dangerous and limiting emotion that mankind can ever have. I see it as arrogance. It is an arrogant proposition that we are the only beings to be valued, that we are the only ones deserving of a God. I see it stemming from the same arrogance that says we are the center of the universe, that we are the most powerful nation in the country, that our race is the only one worthy of prosperity and justice, that our party is the only one who deserves to be in power, and that we are the only ones who can run red lights whenever we want or that we are allowed to be pushy in grocery stores.

Arrogance, otherwise known as pride, is one of the seven deadly sins for a reason. Intelligent Design is a symptom of that sin. People need humility, and consideration of all the possibilities of the big, broad universe can give us that humility.

[All pictures on this post are mine and thusly copyrighted. Please do not reuse without my permission. I don’t have too many more Fossil Butte pics, but you can still visit my similarly-copyrighted Photobucket page.]

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Links:

Fossil Butte National Monument

Counterview to my post: Probability, Statistics, Evolution and Intelligent Design

The Doctor Who Wiki

Google map to Fossil Butte

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