Friday, June 02, 2006


Stacking Turtles

You've probably heard the story of the elderly woman who confronted Bertrand Russell, the great British philosopher, mathematician and free thinker, at the end of a lecture on orbital mechanics.

"We don't live on a ball revolving around the Sun," she said, "we live on a crust of earth on the back of a giant turtle."

Wishing to humor the woman Russell asked, "And what does this turtle stand on?"

"On the back of a second, still larger turtle," was her confident answer.

"But what holds up the second turtle?" he persisted, now in a slightly exasperated tone.

"It's no use, young man," the old woman replied, "it's turtles all the way down."

It's easy to laugh at the old woman's lack of sophistication, but the truth is, despite its scientific veneer, the intelligent design movement makes just such an argument.

Intelligent design activists think that life is far too complex to have developed through natural causes. They often cite the DNA found in our cells or the flagella used by single celled organisms for locomotion as examples of the sort of complexity that nature would be unable to create without the aid of an intelligent designer.

Although they downplay it, almost all intelligent design activists doubt common descent, as well. The don't believe, as Darwin showed, that all living organisms are descendants of one, or a few, ancient single celled organisms. Most believe instead that all living species were created pretty much in the form we now find them. Many also believe that act of creation happened less than 10,000 years ago.

Life is too complex to be a product of the natural world? Wouldn't their designer, by definition, have to be more complex than the universe he created? If that is so, what is their explanation for the origin of their intelligent designer?

Intelligent design advocates say science can offer no natural explanation of origins. However, their science not only fails to offer an explanation of the origin of life based on natural, observable causes, it also fails to offer any explanation of the origin or nature of their intelligent designer.

The reason this argument is so unsatisfying intellectually is that it solves nothing. In fact, it makes the problem more difficult because, like Bertrand Russell's little old lady, they simply add another turtle to the stack.


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