Intelligent desig, or creationism in sheep's clothing, goes something like this: If you examine a finely crafted Swiss watch, you immediately assume someone smart made it (presumably someone Swiss, but don't rule out the Chinese). Now you apply this premise to human beings and the known universe. How could entities so intricate and marvelous as you and I -- and the other heavenly bodies -- have just happened along without the deft hands of Intelligent Design, who shall henceforth be referred to as Mr. ID?
I have been mulling over this wholly speculative hypothesis lately, and the first thing that comes to mind is "American Idol." Have you caught an episode of that hit television show, with its parade of grating contestants and that repugnant trio of catty judges? Try to square those primetime monkeyshines with intelligent anything -- or evolution, for that matter.
Next, my thoughts wandered wistfully to summer vacation and the "clothes optional" beach that my family frequents. You can walk along the shimmering sands for quite a spell without spying a body that you'd want to take credit for creating. Sadly, several miles of sightseeing induce this inescapable revelation: If human beings were automobiles, there'd be one hell of a massive recall. I don't need to go into particulars, do I?
Of course, that's just on the surface. Once you slice us open, you'll find as many design flaws as there are in a new Pentagon weapons system. Take my appendix -- please! The atavistic organ is totally useless, as its name connotes. It's an evolutionary time bomb waiting to rupture, probably in the middle of my next vacation. Or what's up with gallbladders, our superfluous repository of excess bile? It's as necessary as heated car seats and SUVs the size of three-bedroom apartments. And why do we have two kidneys but only one liver? Perhaps our alleged creator, Mr. ID, is so elusive for fear of divine litigation.
But enough about us. Let's move on to the virtually infinite universe, our Manifest Interplanetary Destiny. It's humongous and getting bigger every time we gaze skyward. Yet in all that unexplored, inaccessible space, scientists can't identify, with their exquisitely sophisticated telescopes, any planet near or far that is likely to support life forms comparable to us. Even if intelligent beings exist out there in the void thousands of light years away, it's unlikely we'll ever get to palaver with our cosmic cousins.
Now I enjoy my personal space as much as the next person, but doesn't that lifeless expanse -- with its black holes, supernovas, nebulae, pulsars, and white dwarfs -- strike you as over the top?
After infinite space, let's check the time. How long did it take Mr. ID to "perfect" you and me, we darlings of the unfathomable ether?
Scientists estimate -- I know, what do scientists know, but let's humor them, OK? -- that the universe is 15 billion years old. A mere 14 billion, 999 million, 500,000 years later along we come, homo sapiens, staggering out of the jungles onto the African savannas.
Yikes, what took Mr. ID so long? Was it to make sure we didn't take ourselves too seriously? If so, it didn't work.
We humans tend to think we're the bees' knees, the cat's pajamas. It's all about us. The incalculable space and time of existence has but one purpose. Religious fundamentalists will never forgive Nicolaus Copernicus for pointing out five centuries ago that the Earth wasn't the center of the universe, wasn't even close. And if it had been left up to the zealots, the scientific discoveries of Galileo and his ilk wouldn't have seen the light of day.
We need to gain some perspective as a species. Our thoroughly modest planet revolves around a rather undistinguished star, of which there are 70 sextillion -- that's a 7 followed by 22 zeros, or about 10 times the grains of sand in all the world's beaches and deserts.
We can trace our iffy evolutionary tree back 20 million years. The cockroach, by comparison, has a pedigree of 250 million years and will almost certainly survive us at the rate we're abusing our habitat.
Is this any way to design a universe?
David Holahan is a freelance writer.
© 2005 Boston Globe