Monday, August 15, 2005

Everything They Know Is Wrong

So when we got back home from the beach yesterday, the first, panicked thought that went through my head was "Sweet Jesus on a broke-down Zamboni, lookit all them weeds!"

In two weeks the goddamned crabgrass had absolutely taken over the front beds, there are literally hundreds of these miserable invasive, smelly trees-I-cannot-identify poking up everywhere, and there's a pokeberry bush the size of a young woolly mammoth eyeing the raspberries with obvious malign intent. The lawn's a mess, vines everywhere, and the whole wall of vegetation that surrounds my three-acre forest clearing has advanced another three feet inward. Now it's two-and-a-half acres, and if I don't get hopping with the machete -- and look right slippy about it -- it'll be two acres by Saturday.

And let's not even talk about the vegetable patch, okay?

I'm glad to see nobody turned off the Completely Natural Course of Things in my absence.

I've harped about this before, but it bears further examination. I stopped and took this picture this morning, because it illustrates what I'm going to say quite nicely:

Bucolic, no? But what you're looking at there, in that pretty, butterfly-festooned country lane, is Nature Red in Tooth and Claw -- just in a slightly more protracted way.

Once not long ago that road was open to the sun. The young trees by the side of the road noticed -- in whatever way trees can be said to "notice" anything -- that a resource vital to all of them -- light -- was to be had by the simple extension of a branch in the direction of the road. All the trees extended their branches into the light, competing among themselves for height advantage, until the shady tunnel that you now see came into being.

Now, I'm a complete 6-by-2 plank when it comes to biological science, but even I -- who have read only a couple of Richard Dawkins' books, having most recently bogged down hopelessly in "The Ancestor's Tale" -- even this complete gooberhead can see that there must be winners and losers in the competition for available resources. The winning strategy -- faster growth rate, better branch design, more efficient leaf production -- is not something the trees consciously try to produce; the winner is determined by just plain dumb luck. The loser dies. This is not a concept requiring advanced thinking or a huge, bulging brain fed by a steady diet of fish.

But this, I think, is probably the thing that most bothers our Intelligent Design friends -- the randomness of natural selection. Faced with the prospect of living in a world where a whole species can be wiped out because of a chance event that suddenly changes the nature of the competition -- a meteor impact, say, or (gulp) global warming -- the true infantility of their belief system becomes self-evident, and they rock back and forth, sucking their thumbs, hoping against hope that this utterly imbecilic idea, this neo-Medieval, peabrained Thomist notion just might -- oh pleeeease! -- turn out to be true. Otherwise, Everything They Know Is Wrong.

Try this on for size. Let's for the sake of argument allow for a moment that 160 years of solid, painstaking science has been completely discredited (forehead slap -- How could thousands of highly trained biologists have been so wrong!) and the map of Micronesia, if you connect the islands together in just the right order, actually spells Deus Me Fecit in handsome script -- what then? Darwin wrong, ergo... Parting of the Red Sea? Transubstantiation? Virgin Birth? Resurrection?

If not this, well, then, quite ineluctably and beyond the shadow of a doubt, that! Glory Halleluiah!

In the febrile little mind of the ID Creationist, I'm very much afraid that's just about exactly the level of critical thinking going on. If you can somehow refute the theory of evolution, goes the logic, you have pretty much won the whole enchilada and we can zip on back to that happy pre-Enlightenment time when the preachers made the laws and those pesky scientists were constrained to damned well ask Mother Church if their investigations jibed with current dogma or risk the label of heresy and losing their funding.

I don't usually get too hot under the collar about stuff -- you know me better than that. But this this is capital-S Stupid, comin' atcha. If the Forces of Dumbness are emboldened by Commander Cuckoo Bananas to use the power of local politics to force ID to be taught as a competitive "theory" over the objection of every credible scientist in the world, you can kiss goodbye to the notion that our standard for objective belief is observable, predictable, and testable facts. Welcome, instead, to the world that obtained when all you needed to say to win an argument was, "Well, Aristotle said it, so it must be true."

That's not how you run a civilization, kids. That's the bell, there. It tolls for thee.


Anonymous said...

I'll wager they are sumac trees..quite the smell.

Rob Hill said...

Then of course there is the Flying Spaghetti Monster theory.

Neddie said...

AC: Nope, not sumac. Somebody pointed to one once and said it was an invasive speices and rattled off a string of Latin that started with an "A," but it was't sumac, which is genus Rhus. I'll keep poking around at the Virginia Weed Index; I'll find it sooner or later.

CT: Of course! The Flying Spaghetti Monster theory! Why didn't I think of that!

(Crap, why didn't I think of that, it's zarkin' brilliant...)

Anonymous said...

Oh my God. The Flying Spaghetti Monster theory rocks! Or flies! Or -- whatever!

Bobby Lightfoot said...

Hulking, bedimpled ass meat.

That's what The Virginia Weed Index kicks.

Linkmeister said...

I can excuse Neddie for not having run across He of the Noodly Appendage since our host was out of town, but I'm surprised you hadn't seen it already, Blue Girl. Y'all should read PZ Myers' blog; there's all manner of manic scientists over there who find these magnificent theories and post 'em in the comments.

The Viscount LaCarte said...

RE: Spaghetti Monsters: I love the bit about the pirates.

This reminds me of a quote by Asimov, that I can't dig up so I will paraphrase it:

"There is debate as to whether the Empire State Building is either a skyscraper or a country cottage. The country cottage side of the debate declares that since two engineers who have studied the Empire State Building disagree as to the speed of the elevators, The Empire State Building *must* be a country cottage."

Employee of the Month said...

Anonymous said...

Hello Neddie,
I'll wager that the trees are “Alanthus” (sp??). Lot's of people call them Heaven Pole for obvious reasons. Farmers, on the other hand have another name for them...“Trash Trees” pithy, weak wood. As a kid growing up in Clarke County they couldn't be beat for makeshift sword fighting and spear throwing.
take care,

Neddie said...

Ailanthus Altissima -- Tree of Heaven thanks VERY much, Peyton.

Hateful things, may they succumb to root rot. Yes, unusable wood, smelly, tenacious as hell -- no redeeming features. Brought from China by an 18th century Papist, wouldn't you just know it.