Of Babel Fish and God

Back in early July I offered a post citing the wit and wisdom of atheist Douglas Adams in his book, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: A Trilogy in Four Parts. There I discussed the bleak and pessimistic view of the meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything found in materialistic naturalism, because, of course, if materialism is true, then there is none.

In this post I want to cite Adams again, this time with regards to the argument over Intelligent Design. Considering the Hitch Hiker's Guide was largely written back in the 50's and 60's as a radio program, long before ID debates became all the rage, his insights are rather interesting, and shed, I believe, some light on the difficulty the advocates face in trying to convince people that evidence of intelligent design points to an intelligent designer of some sort. Adams takes some time to discuss the existence of an amazing creature known as the Babel fish, and why its existence disproves the existence of God. The argument goes like this:

'The Babel fish,' said The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy quietly, 'is small, yellow and leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy received not from its own carrier but from those around it. It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. It then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix formed by combing the conscious thought frequencies with nerve signals picked up from the speech centres of the brain which has supplied them. The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language. The speech patterns you actually hear decode the brainwave matrix which has been fed into your mind by your Babel fish.

'Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mind bogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.

'The argument goes something like this: "I refuse to prove that I exist," says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing."

'"But, says Man, "the Babel fish is a dead giveaway isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't."

'"Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly disappears in a puff of logic.

'"Oh, that was easy," says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing."
D. Adams, The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy: A Trilogy in Three Parts, pg. 52

When one reads the above it is, of course, pretty hard to not to laugh. Adams uses his humour to demonstrate that for some it will not matter if anyone ever demonstrates that something is so incredibly unlikely to have evolved by chance. In fact, it is more likely that the sceptic will turn the argument on its head, and seeking to prove that black is white, attempt to demonstrate that the evidence proves that God could not possibly exist. One wonders where Adams got his prophet like abilities.

Later on, Adams returns to the theme in the section titled _Life, the Universe, and Everything_ where he explains:

Very few things get manufactured these days, because in an infinitely large Universe such as, for instance, the one in which we live, most things one could possibly imagine, and a lot of things one would rather not, grow somewhere. A forest was discovered recently in which most of the trees grew ratchet screwdrivers as fruit.
Ibid. pg. 345

I can only imagine the ID advocate gnashing his teeth, saying to himself "if only we found trees like that! THEN we would PROVE that Intelligent Design was true."

Somehow I think that this unfortunate soul would be disappointed even in the face of a discovery such as ratchet screwdriver producing trees. As I watch the debate unfold, I am left to wonder if anything will actually serve as the magic bullet that demonstrates once and for all, to everyone, and beyond all question (if not all possible reasonable doubt), that there is a purpose and design to our universe that betrays the hand of a designer. As I argued earlier in the week in my post Is ID Compatible with Scientific Methodology?, a person who has already reasoned that something can never happen by anything except random chance or naturalistic causes will be compelled to rationalize away any evidence to the contrary. If the Universe is all that there is, and all that there will ever be, then even Babel fish and screwdriver trees would not shake such a faith.



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