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Eugenie Scott
National Center for
Science Education, Inc.

Australophithecus afarensis
Could this animal have ever eventually built starships without the aid of externally directed evolution? More importantly, could we now detect the fingerprints of that directed guidance?

The Star Child
The next stage of human evolution as architected by the Overmind, as portrayed in the movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Photo credits:
NCSE, Inc.

May 8, 2006

Part II: Is Evolution Sufficient?

The Challenge of Intelligent Design
Eugenie Scott, National Center for Science Education, Inc.
62 min. (slideshow requires QCShow Player)
Audio only (mp3 format)
View as a webpage (quicktime, real player) (notes)

Although its most ardent advocates argue otherwise, for most people the Intelligent Design movement is an obvious, transparent attempt to reintroduce creation science — and thus religion — back into the American classroom.

Nevertheless, political and religious motivations aside, there is an interesting scientific question at the heart of the ID thesis: "If the evolution of life on Earth had been directed by an external agency, could we detect that interference now?"

In an odd twist on the old adage that one man's religion is another man's science fiction, one of the finest movies made to date deals with the theme of the directed evolution of mankind, although that aspect of the film generally goes unrecognized by most of its viewers. Rated 22nd in the American Film Institute's list of the best 100 movies in the last 100 years, Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, explores the possibility of the directed evolution of man by an unseen omniscient immortal, the Overmind.

In the movie, black monoliths, which are computers/gene resequencers, are simultaneously placed 4 million years ago on the African plain amid a group of australopithecines, buried on the Moon and put in orbit around Jupiter by the Overmind.

In the most punctuated of punctuated equilibrial events, when the apes touch the monolith, they are transformed, and a bone now learned to be used as a weapon is thrown to the sky in celebration, only to become an orbiting nuclear weapons platform circling a modern Earth in a brief 4 myr instant of time.

The second monolith is discovered on the Moon almost as soon as mankind has evolved the capacity to cross this short synapse of space. The lunar discovery immediately leads to the third monolith orbiting Jupiter.

When a lone astronaut approaches the Jovian monolith, space and time are ripped apart as he is transported across space, to live out the remainder of his life, slightly out of phase with himself, in zoo-like conditions. At the end of his life, a fourth monolith appears at the foot of his deathbed, and the information that is modern humanity is transformed into the next stage of human evolution, the Star Child.

The Star Child appears above the Earth in the final scene of the movie, as 30,000 nuclear weapons explode on the surface below (unshown in the movie), wiping the planet clean in preparation for the arrival of the next stage of the directed evolution of mankind. But even the Star Child may yet only be intermediate to the final end-goal, and Earth be only one of a thousand planets on which the Overmind is orchestrating similar evolutionary progressions.

In that, Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey retells Friedrich Neitzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra, in which Neitzsche writes:

Companions the creator seeks, not corpses, not herds and believers. Fellow creators the creator seeks — those who write new values on new tablets. Companions the creator seeks, and fellow harvesters; for everything about him is ripe for the harvest.
Clearly, no one in the ID community is specifically arguing the 2001 story, but their arguments are strikingly similar: an external intelligent agent has interfered with the evolution of life on Earth at specific times: e.g., at the point of the origin of life, the origin of the digital code inherent to DNA, the evolution of the nanotechnology of molecular motors, and in the explosion of body plans at the onset of the Cambrian.

The ID argument thus becomes a modern recapitulation of that found in William Paley's 1802 book, Natural Theology. A mind can recognize the design of another mind, and although the designer may be unseeable and unknowable, the presence of the designer can be detected and some sense of its thoughts can be discerned.

Just two weeks ago, TVW, Washington State's Public Affairs Network, held a televised debate between Peter Ward (Univ. Washington) and Stephen Meyer (Discovery Institute). The debate can be viewed here (100 min/300 kbps; right-click on the image to view at full-screen). In this discussion, Meyer was provided sufficient time to provide an eloquent explanation of the Discovery Institute's position, and his comments provide an excellent bookend to this week's lecture.

In this lecture, Eugenie Scott not only succinctly outlines the scientific questions surrounding Intelligent Design, but also the philosophies of its fellow travelers and supporters, very few of which, as you will see, readily agree with one another.

— Wirt Atmar

About the Speaker

Eugenie C. Scott is the Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education, Inc. She was educated as a physical Antropologist at the University of Missouri.

She has been both a researcher and an activist in the creationism/evolution controversy for over twenty years, and readily addresses many of the components of this controversy, including educational, legal, scientific, religious, and social issues. She has received national recognition for her NCSE activities, including awards from the National Science Board, the American Society for Cell Biology, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the Geological Society of America, and the American Humanist Association. A dynamic speaker, she offers stimulating and thought-provoking as well as entertaining lectures and workshops.

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