Intelligent Design: The New Polytheism
So I have been reading Dawkins book "The God Delusion" and despite all the reaction I've read on various discussion boards etc, I actually am enjoying his viewpoint. Admittedly, I've a long way to go before finishing, but I have not seen anything in it that is offensive. He certainly challenges the theological viewpoints on nature and Dawkins takes religion to task, but since when is strong criticism of any idea a bad thing? Anyway, I was reading the bit on polytheism and monotheism which somehow led me to thinking about the Intelligent Design (ID) movement.
ID has been called 'creationism lite' because of its religious underpinnings. ID'ers of course claim there is no need to bring religion into ID while at the same time suggesting that supernatural explanations should be allowed in science. Michael Behe refers to this as "d
esign beyond the laws of nature". Well, if the design is beyond the laws of nature, then one might begin to imagine that supernatural explanations are also valid. All one needs to do is find an irreducibly complex system (biological or otherwise) and assign credit for this system to a supernatural intelligence. Since the intelligent design movement is publicly cautious about identifying this 'supernatural designer' and acknowledge that there may be more than one designer, I thought this might be the religion for me!
There are systems in nature that appear irreducibly complex. According to Behe, an irreducibly complex system is:
a single system which is composed of several well-matched interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning
Behe applies this definition to several biological functions (the bacterial flagellum) which has been discussed ad-nauseum on the web. The intelligent designer was very busy supernaturally creating this flagellum for bacteria and other organisms while allowing humans to evolve naturally from an ape-like ancestor. Presumably, the supernatural being responsible for the flagellum is (were they able to) worshipped by bacteria. Since bacteria lack the cognitive ability to create a god, we shall call the god of bacteria "KHYT" (the Russian translation for flagellum). The God KHYT is responsible for designing all irreducibly complex structures found in small organisms.
ID is usually applied to biological systems, but there is no a-priori reason for limiting ID to biology. One might apply irreducible complexity to lightning. Lightning is a natural system and although we know much about how lightning happens, the system itself is irreducibly complex and not fully understood. You can read about the various theories of lightning formation here. Here is a description of the physical process involved in 'negative lightning':
An initial bipolar discharge, or path of ionized air, starts from a negatively charged region in the thundercloud. The discharge ionized channels are called leaders. The negative charged leaders, called a "stepped leader", proceed generally downward in a large number of quick jumps, each up to 50 metres long. Along the way, the stepped leader may branch into a number of paths as it continues to descend. The progression of stepped leaders takes a comparatively long time (hundreds of milliseconds) to approach the ground. This initial phase involves a relatively small electric current (tens or hundreds of amperes), and the leader is almost invisible compared to the subsequent lightning channel. When the downward leader is quite close to the ground, one or more smaller discharges (called positive streamers) arise from nearby, usually tall, grounded objects due to the intense electric field created by the approaching leaders.
As one of the rising streamers meets a stepped leader, the circuit is closed, and the main lightning stroke (often referred to as the return stroke) follows with much higher current. The main stroke travels at about 0.1 c (30 million meters/second or 100 million feet/second) and the peak current lasts for tens of microseconds or so. After the peak, the current typically decays over tens or hundreds of microseconds.
In order for a bolt of lightning to occur, the following must be present in the system:
(1) an initial bi-polar discharge must be present in the system (thunderclouds)
(2) negative leaders must form.
(3) the leaders must survive long enough to reach the ground
(4) positive streamers must arise from the ground in the region of the negative leaders.
(5) the circuit must close
If we remove any one of these elements, lightning cannot occur. Note too that the formation of the 'initial bi-polar' discharge is unknown. There are many speculations about how such a bi-polar discharge might arise, but no unified theory of this initial phase is known. Even if the bi-polar discharge occurs, without leaders no lightining will occur. If leaders are present, but bifurcate such that they never approach the ground surface, lightning will not form. Positive streamers must be present and must reach the negative leaders for the circuit to close. Without positive streamers, the circuit cannot close and lightning will not form. In short, if you remove any of the above steps, so-called 'negative lightning' will not occur. The system is irreducibly complex. While some might protest, 'but we observe lightning happening in nature, therefore it does not require intelligent intervention'. However, since science has no consistent explanation for how the initial charges form or why they form, it is equally valid to assume they require intelligent design.
I will call this intelligent designer "Thor" and add "Thor" to our KHYT. One can imagine doing this for any irreducibly complex system. That means that our supernatural designers form a body of 'Gods' each responsible for that particular system. Indeed, such polytheism seems a valid explanation for the intelligent designers and should be promoted as a new religion. While this removes some of the importance from the Flying Spaghetti Monster, he can remain one of many Gods responsible for irreducibly complex systems.