Wednesday, November 06, 2002

The blind watchmaker
I have to admit, there are times when I can see the appeal of creationism. I think this was first in AP Biology, when I was learning about the electron transport chain, and I found myself thinking how neat it was that everything fit together so perfectly, and how likely was it that this could have arisen by random chance, anyway? I could certainly agree that if you gave a random anaerobic bacterium the whole apparatus for the Krebs cycle, it would rapidly rise to dominate over its brethren, but it doesn't seem like the kind of thing to suddenly pop out by itself. (Especially since I don't see how any intermediate stages would be particularly useful, and we don't see anything around today with, like, only half of the Krebs cycle. But I'm just wildly speculating here.) Of course, the flip side of this argument is, while the electron transport chain is really neat (well, not that I remember anything about it these days, except "cytochrome C"), it certainly seemed like it was unnecessarily complicated, and that if you were designing cellular respiration from scratch, you could probably make it a much simpler process.

I wonder what creationists have to say about language. In many ways, the same kind of thinking applies: languages are also immensely complicated, to the point where, if you think about it, it seems surprising that they could have evolved just from chance, and a lot of that complexity is completely unnecessary (think about all of the weirdnesses of English, or the 125+ verb forms in Latin). And indeed, those languages which have been explicitly designed (not that I know anything about Esperanto, aside from "-oj") have stated that part of their goal is to eliminate a lot of the unnecessary complexity inherent in any modern language. Of course, we know that languages *did* evolve (not quite in the same sense as standard evolution, since "natural selection" doesn't translate perfectly into the linguistic world), and they did so over a much smaller time frame than the evolution that produced us had. So, looked at from that angle, it suddenly doesn't seem incomprehensible at all that all the complexity inherent in us could have come from chance.

(Hmm, I wonder if there are any creationists who say that God planted the Canterbury Tales to fool us, too?)

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