[#] The other end of the light switch

I don't know how you spend your Sunday mornings, but I start out by reading the paper. I have this habit of waking up at 5:30 AM in order to get 60 minutes in at the local health center (to keep my blood pressure down, not to be a pro wrestler) before work, while my family is asleep. The health center isn't open at 5:30 AM on Sundays, so I read the paper.

It's painful, usually, but it does make sure that I'm not just reading other blogs and I have some contact with the world beyond rural Central Time, USA.

There is apparently a newer book out called Monkey Business: The True Story of the Scopes Trial, by Marvin Olasky and John Perry which advocates that the Scopes trial was misrepresented as a solid victory for Evolution over the years, and the results of that misrepresentation has lead to America's moral decay.

I haven't read the book, but I have read the review by Asher Price from the Austin American-Statesman, as published in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. So this entry is not about the book per se but about Price's review, and in particular about a question Price has asked.

Price makes two complaints about the book. The first is that the authors overlook some of the moral victories that have come to pass since the Scopes trial and the acceptance of Darwinian theory -- like the civil rights movement and the decline of racism. Yes, well, on-net we also, have more abortions per year and (if you ask the other side of the aisle) more poverty, so I'm sure there's room to debate that matter.

The second is that "the authors do not spell out how intelligent design instills personal responsibility". Particularly, Price asks, "Suppose I act immorally because I have bought into materialistic explanations of human evolution. Now I find out we were created by space aliens. Why should I change my behavior?" It's a fair question if Olasky and Perry do not address it, and I have some time before I have to wake the family up this morning.

The problem for Mr. Price is that Intelligent Design (ID) doesn't really advocate for some intra-creational motive for the development of life. See: he cites ID theorist Phillip Johnson (who is not that Phil Johnson) as saying that while the designer "could be space aliens or time travelers," Johnson favors the God of the Bible. In saying that, Johnson is not saying that time travelers are a viable explanation for ID: Johnson is saying that his theory requires an intelligence of the proper scope -- something greater than man.

In that way, Price himself has (I think unwittingly) put himself inside the group Olasky and Perry are criticizing in their book. But the answer to Price's question is valuable.

In my recent family vacation to St. Louis, we took the kids to both the Magic House and the Science Museum. Because I can't really remember at which of these I saw this display, I'll say that you should visit them both because they are both worth visiting anyway. There's a set of batteries, switches, and simple machines on a table -- a light, a bell, a fan. If you line up the parts in the right way, you can ding the bell, runs the fan, or light the light.

Now the standard answer from the ID side is that if you have a simple machine -- like a light bulb -- the irreducible complexity of the machine points toward an intelligent design. Function indicates purpose. When there's a light at the end of the light switch, it points to design and purpose. And that's well and good, I suppose -- a decent apologetic and a simple argument.

But when we are faced with a question like Price's, there is something else to consider: the fact that the light switch is turned "on" when we find it. Sure: there's a machine we call life rattling and humming along as we enter the scene as observers -- but we didn't turn the machine on: we found it running. There's another light at the end of the light switch -- and it's not at the end where the bulb is. It's at the end of the switch which made the machine and said "let there be light"; it's at the tip of the finger which did not just set things up but actually set things in motion.

Machines are easy enough to be made, I suppose. But why set them in motion? If the light is turned on in an otherwise-dark room, the question is not "who designed the light" but "why is it on rather than simply dormant or at rest?"

If it turns out that space aliens have been the guiding hand in human evolution, then Mr. Price should ask them why they did what they did and then apply that to his ethical and moral worldview. But the light is on, and he should seek out whatever it is on the other end of the light switch in order to find out why it is on in the first place. That will answer the question of personal responsibility.