Sunday, October 30, 2005

On Supreme Beings, and Such.

Sorry folks—this one’s a bit long.

I have an issue, folks, a serious issue with these Intelligent Design people. My issue with them isn’t ignorant, either: I keep reading their books, and, mostly, their books (Denyse O’Leary’s By Design or by Chance, Geoffrey Simmons’ laughable What Darwin Didn’t Know suck—tautological junk that presupposes a personal god and ignores or dismisses the overwhelming evidence toward the randomness of reality. Intelligent Design is based on a certain principle: because Darwinian Evolution Science contains incompletion and inaccuracies (the source text The Origin of the Species was published in freakin’ 1859, ferchrissake), there must be an Intelligent God behind this entire thing that we collectively refer to as “the universe.” This argument is akin to espousing that because 2+2 does not equal 5, that it must reflexively equal 723; it suggests that because a rational argument is incomplete and perhaps slightly errant, that a ridiculous argument is necessarily its antidote.

Well let me tell you a little something: flaws in a theory do not, and have not, and cannot prove another theory correct. This idea is a logically invalid argument, akin to my saying, “I don’t fully understand jet propulsion, so I should immediately convert to Judaism.” I will, now, put my biases on the floor: I am an unapologetic secular humanist. I’m not an atheist, because atheism is a faith of its own and not really different from other presuppositive faiths. Atheism is firmly entrenched in the business that there is no intelligent god, and hence has its own belief structure supporting that. I’m an agnostic, which differs from atheism in that I possibly allow for the principle of an intelligent god while espousing (quite accurately) that no scientifically testable evidence for that presupposition has ever actually been offered. Basically, agnostics like me are atheists who are still a bit scared of Catholic Hell should we be mistaken.

But here’s why ID, and especially indoctrinating children with it, bugs me (and all true scientists, and all agnostics, and especially all atheists): the scientific community doesn’t demand that subatomic structure or mitochondrial DNA be taught at seminary. Really, we don’t. Every scientific organization that I’ve run across does not actively seek to impose the scientific agenda upon Jesuit theology, on Roman Catholic dogma, or on Christian, Hindu, or Islamic metaphysics in general. Science allows that kind of formulation a certain side of a fence: things assumed on faith are powerful motivational tools for controlling human behavior, but they aren’t science; call it a separate discipline and teach it in a separate classroom. Science proceeds, by its very nature, according to a method; that method asks questions that faith cannot answer: Is your supposition testable? Can that test be repeated? Can, in the face of all this testing, assertions be materially proved or disproved? ID’s logic (that of proving imperfection of theory through critique) can, admittedly, convincingly prove that the internal combustion engine does not run at 100% efficiency on fossil fuels; it cannot possibly, as it tries to do, assert that the same engine might run better on pureed lettuce.

ID can meet none of the established standards of rationality and empiricism, and hence is fundamentally not an empirical discipline. When anyone can introduce a “god quotient” into the language of human science, a manner in which any god, meaning a supernatural force which presupposes, alters, or predicts the forces of astrophysics, geology or biology, that can be measured, examined, and tested—well then, let’s talk. Until then, prehistoric cave myths really ought to stay in the schools privately funded to propagate them.

Science asks some pretty hard questions of Faith: Where is god (or the Designer, or the Creator, or any other paraphrase one likes)? How can god be measured? Is god predictable? Is experimental proof of god repeatable? Faith, as it argues itself science, offers not even hypothetical responses to the inquiries of actual science. The Faith/Intelligent Design/Creationist community offers a purely negative and circumstantial rebuttal: because evolutionary science (which argues random chance) cannot fully explicate at present the origins of the physical universe and biological life, a wholly different explanation (an animal intelligence) must necessarily be the alternative. That dualism is false and ridiculous—it is akin to suggesting that because modern forensics sometimes (or often) fails to solve crimes, that we should use crystal balls to solve them instead. It replaces the newest and best model of procedure with an ancient, pragmatically useless one.

Science, however, allows for the possibility of god; it merely demands a kind of proof that has never been offered by the teleological community. The teleological community, on the other hand, seeks to undermine the presuppositions of science based on…generally nothing, without even the reciprocal courtesy of allowing that there possibly is no god. The community demands that its presuppositions be given equal time in the forum of educational classroom science without a shred of verifiable evidence that any of its presuppositions are true. And that burns me up. Anyone with a paper in the works proving the existence of a higher power without the childish and facile straw man tactic of attacking 146-year-old data from Charles Darwin is free to disagree. Everybody else ought to shut up and do their homework.

Monday, October 17, 2005


I have a confession for you, dear reader (and the singular may be oddly appropriate, as I am sometimes my only reader), one that has languished deep in my heart for many years, and that only now will I exhibit the temerity to unveil: I don’t much care for loud music; usually, I find it a bloody lot of racket that gets on my nerves and inhibits my ability to think clearly. That’s right: all this time you thought that I was a hip, cool longhair (or not, probably having never seen me and/or given the matter no consideration at all), and now you find that, well before my time, I am a stodgy old man who deeply appreciates peace and quiet and solitude. I rather like hearing the clamor of mosquito wings and distant generators; such offer me the comforting illusion of knowing what the bloody bejesus is happening.

But what can I say? I used to try to read and study to music, before I realized how utterly distracting it was, and tried to sleep to music, before realizing that everything written outside of Simon and Garfunkel occurring after the year 1900 just keeps me awake instead, and tried to work to music, until I got that it just made me pay less attention to what I was doing, ultimately concluding that I prefer the noise and rhythm of the everyday environment in almost any social situation.

Now, this probably reads a bit queer, as it certainly writes a bit queer, so perhaps I should clarify the premise: I quite like (especially of recent) making music; I quite like listening to music in specific contexts that I have freely chosen, like going to see a show or agreeing to listen to a novel new CD (or classic old one) with friends on a road trip, or at a party. But I’m very discerning with what I listen to, and to when it’s listened: this pervasive idea of music being the ubiquitous and requisite background noise to one’s life just, well, strikes a bad note with me. The radio would be the primary bitch-target: it sucks, no matter what genre one prefers, unless a lass or lad has a college or indie station from which to pick, and even then there’s not much guarantee. And I don’t, and mosta y’all don’t either. This supposition is fundamentally true, or else the need for CD burners and other individual sub-selection to reduce the generally horrid broad swaths of publicly-broadcast music never would have come into existence: partly we tailor and reward our individual tastes via mechanized recording because we are individuals, but partly (or perhaps concurrently) we do so because any commercial station attempting to please a large audience will usually displease any of us with its unselectivity and general administration of drivel.

But I’ve wandered afield: I do, in fact, love the music that I love (Stones, Pixies, Bowie, Beethoven, Wagner, Lucinda Williams, Jonnie Cash, Willie Nelson, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, whateverthehellelse) when and where I have the time to relax and love it. But live music in bars, unless I was specifically there to hear it, just interferes with conversation—and I generally love conversation a lot more than music. When I’m out in public, I’d rather hear the din of traffic or the crash of the ocean; the buzz of streetlamps or the cadence of the crickets and the cicadas; the whistle of the breeze or the cacophony of background human chatter. These things are themselves musical and rhythmic and, frankly, noisy enough—plenty of evidence that our sphere is one of life and motion and not a dead, silent space in the cosmos.

Has this address (particularly that last paragraph) been clichéd and pedantic and trivial enough? Probably that and more so. But the intention that informs it is sincere: there is precious little quiet left in the industrial world, and all the noise for the asking. The societal dependence on electronically supplied music seems to me just another symptom of a restless place, a place that doesn’t pause to hear heartbeats and breathing, that can’t intuitively process aural information rather than be dragged off into a cacophony of iPods and car-systems and, well, noise. For chrissake can’t anybody understand the relaxing benefit of reflection?

My protest is my own, and unquestionably anachronistic and ridiculous, but, hey, you’ll have that. I am, in the terms presented, just a music hater, in the same sense that I’m a TV hater: physical reality provides a deeply entertaining, base sensory context, with nary an additional industrial sound needed to improve it. I’m all happy for light bulbs and modern civilization and all, but…Could you please turn that goddamn radio down? I’m trying to think here.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

My Brother Stole My Title.

So it was midnight, and I was walking to the library (Just how many stories, you ask, might I begin with “It was midnight, and I was walking to the library? I have, I reply, as a noted American patriot/Led Zeppelin bassist once mentioned, only yet begun to fight) and there, on the sidewalk, was this thing which people do not typically see on your average sidewalk: it was a snake, slender and black, still in a manner that instinctively told me that it was dead. I’m a big believer in instinctive judgment, and from everything that I know about snakes would expect one to move with a 155 lb. animal bearing down on it, but also new to the region and devoid of any knowledge about the potential venomousness of local serpents. (I knew I meant to ask for Venomous Snakes of North Carolina for my birthday. Why didn’t you remind me?) So I decided to locate a stick to make sure that the little fellow was in fact deceased and hence unbothered by my continued intrusions into his private affairs. I scrounged around until I found a fallen branch near the gully from one of the many pines planted around the campus. I prodded the snake a few times, able to tell almost immediately from the weight and structure that this was a real animal and not a rubber toy left as a joke, and quite dead, and then dragged it until we were underneath the streetlight and I could get better look at it.

He (or she, as I believe one needs to be a certified herpetologist to tell the difference) was about 24-28 inches long, and all black except for a little patch of white underneath the jaw. There were only a few insects around the spot that I found it, and no smell of decomposition, so I gathered that it couldn’t have died more than a few hours earlier. Closer examination revealed that what I had initially assumed to be sidewalk dirt clinging to the middle of the animal’s body was in fact some kind of innards poking through the side. It could have been defecation, as I don’t know where a snake’s backside is located, but looked to me more like intestine that had come through the skin. Likely answer equals: my reptile friend was trying to cross the street (which people drive down at like 50, so that I, much quicker than the snake, have problems crossing it myself) and fell afoul of an unwary motorist, who almost certainly had no clue what he’d done, and the sidewalk was as far as it got afterward before giving up the ghost. Poor little thing, I thought.

I kept on looking, as far as the dim yellow light of the streetlamp would allow me to see: scales covered the entire body except the tiny head, which was glassy and smooth, and I wondered why and how that worked. After getting over my initial “Mom told me not to touch dead things” aversion (hey, I can pick up a chicken breast, right?), I ran my finger a few times across the snake’s skin, warm as the surrounding air, rough as an ancient creature, protective enough to deal with things not as crudely-but-powerfully engineered as automobiles.

I left the snake there, that it might satisfy someone else’s curiosity, or at least make some undergrad girl shriek, the thought of which lent me a childish chuckle. It didn’t even seem appropriate to give it some kind of symbolic burial by throwing it into the drainage ditch, as snakes certainly don’t do that sort of thing for one another. It was still there when I returned from the library at three A.M., and again at seven A.M. when I was on my way in again. But by sunrise a group of various and competing insects had pitched camp at the feast and were busily enjoined in nature’s cleanup work. Among them were a group of tiny snails, perhaps a quarter the size of one’s thumbnail, attached and engorged on the snake’s outer body. I’d never seen this kind of animal before, and was happy for them and their good luck in wandering upon such an abundant caloric source. And then I giggled inwardly, at my morbid curiosity and the scene lain out before me. Snakes and snails and puppy dog tails, I thought: that’s what little boys are made of.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

I! Live! Again!

Or whatever it was that Mum-Ra said. I have discovered, under sufficiently exigent circumstances, three items with which one may badly play an old, banged-up, six-stringed acoustic guitar. (Yes, I'm afraid it's true: all longhairs do play the guitar, if ineptly and infrequently. This is an undiscovered law of physics, and only my humility keeps me from penning a genre-shattering essay on the matter.) They are as follows:

(1) One's thumb, lest we overlook the obvious.
(2) Plastic paper clips found discarded at the local collegiate library.
(3) A penny, which actually sounds really tuff on metal strings, if conspicuously upping the volume to a point at which the neighbors might begin to notice how bad I suck, as well as imperiling the general unbrokenness of those same strings.

Why the sudden need to improvise? Thank you for asking. This not being a particularly large burg, and one still (for the moment) featuring a number of Mom & Pop local franchises, the stores don't tend to be open as late as I'd like or am used to. Rushing out in search of guitar picks at 9:48 PM doesn't yield much in terms of results, unless coming back to the house with a bag of egg noodles and a story advances the cause of music much.

Why don't I have a pick? Because the one that I inexplicably managed not to lose (mostly by not playing) for several years has broken in half and fallen into my guitar itself, where it is waging an attrition war with my patience regarding the liklihood of its ever being retrieved. Picks are inanimate and require no food, so I'm afraid it may have the upper hand in our struggle.

Why don't I just complete the long, tedious, plainly evil library assignment I'm putting off and stop playing inaccurately transcribed Bob Dylan songs that I've cribbed from the internet? Let's not be rude, now. I don't take you to task every time you waste a bit of time thinking that your duties might just, this once, execute themselves if you simply avoid them for long enough. Mind your own business, like Momma taught you.

I, for one, have to go play "The Times, they Are a Changin'," now. With a penny.