Poems about Science, Evolution, Creation, Intelligent Design, and a short story, The Watchmaker

Geological Timescale

Click here for Mark Twain Questions The Intelligent Design Hypothesis


Paradox [how science works, pragmatically]

Not truth, nor certainty. These I forswore
In my novitiate, as young men called
To holy orders must abjure the world.
‘If…,then…,’ this only I assert;
And my successes are but pretty chains
Linking twin doubts, for it is vain to ask
If what I postulate be justified,
Or what I prove possess the stamp of fact.

Yet bridges stand, and men no longer crawl
In two dimension. And such triumphs stem
In no small measure from the power this game,
Played with the thrice-attentuated shades
Of things, has over their originals.
How frail the wand, but how profound the spell!

Clarence R. Wylie Jr.


Fear of God

Galileo was chided by the God-fearing for observing that the solar system is Copernican, not Ptolemaic. And yet… the wanderers did and do move about the sun.

Newton was chided by the God-fearing for describing all motions with mathematics, not with divine will. And yet…measurements in mechanics could and can be predicted with precision through calculation.

Lavoisier was chided by the God-fearing for explaining chemistry as quantative reactions, not as miracles or magic. And yet…substances did and do appear and disappear with predictable regularity in labs everywhere.

Darwin was chided by the God-fearing for showing the diversity of life resulting from ecological factors and adaption to them, not from theistic interventions. And yet…life had and has a single structure and has changed and does change forms in time.

Einstein was chided by the God-fearing for demonstrating the democracy of observers, not the absolute Godʼs-eye view. And yet…space and time have changed and do change from frame of reference to frame of reference, and the laws of nature have been and are the same for all frames.

Perhaps the God-fearing are right to fear God. If God is the source of reality, they have been fighting or ignoring Godʼs facts for four hundred years!

Ronnie J. Hastings, Ph.D. (1983)


The Watchmaker

While walking through the park, I found a watch. Watches (in my experience) do not simply spring into existence alongside the path. Someone of fairly high intelligence must have made the watch, then left it there. Wondering why someone might do such a thing, I decided to find the Watchmaker.

Luck was with me. On the way home I saw an advertisement for similar watches available free (with the purchase of a meal) at a popular fast-food chain. I went to the nearest franchise and asked to see the Watchmaker. The counter-person was not helpful. “Dude, thereʼs no Watchmaker here, we just pull ʻem out of a box.”

I expressed my conviction that the watch could not simply happen. There must be a Watchmaker. The manager (who took an interest when I began to raise my voice) was able to shed some light on the matter. “Sir, we receive these watches from corporate headquarters in Vermont. If you want to find the Watchmaker, you will have to contact them.”

A very nice person at corporate headquarters was able to refer me to her contact at an import company, who referred me to his contact at a Far-Eastern manufacturing firm. Once I convinced him that I was not investigating his companyʼs employment practices, he was kind enough to provide me with a description of their manufacturing process.

The watches were assembled by unskilled workers paid the equivalent of about two dollars a day. (For some reason my contact thought it was important to point out that this is nearly one-and-a-half times the local minimum wage.) The watch band, case, and face were injection molded in an automated process. The electronic portion of the watch was purchased in bulk from another company.

Contacting that company, I found that the electronic portions were produced on an assembly-line using a combination of industrial robots and semi-skilled labor.

The microchips were cut from blanks grown from vats of molten silicon and traces of other elements. The machinery that did this is impressive, but it did not build the blanks so much as control the environment so that the silicon could assemble itself.

The control circuitry is photo etched on to the silicon chips. The photo etchers are fairly complex, as machines go, but hardly intelligent. The operators of these machines are better trained than the laborers who assemble the finished product. However, their knowledge is limited to running the machines. They had nothing to do with the design of the watch.

The doohickey that counts off the seconds is a small bit of quartz. Quartz is a naturally occurring crystal that vibrates at a constant rate when an electric current passes through it.

Iʼm sure all the folks involved in the manufacture of the watch were quite competent. Many of the folks I talked to seemed quite intelligent; but none of the people directly involved in the watchʼs manufacture would have been able to make a watch themselves from scratch. No one I had talked to so far was truly the Watchmaker.

The engineer who actually produced the design was knowledgeable and helpful. Unfortunately, his enthusiastic description of the process of circuit design was largely beyond me. I was able to glean two important facts: First, he used a computer aided design system. Second, his design was an enhancement of a previous design by another engineer, who based her design on an even earlier design, and so on; back through several decades.

The engineer was also able to provide me with a very interesting pamphlet entitled A brief history of time-keeping. This pamphlet traced the development of quartz clocks and watches back to a team of designers in the sixties. It went on to trace time-pieces in general back to the water-clocks of the ancient Greeks. It even contained a little speculation about the prehistoric people who built Stonehenge.

The watch was the product of intelligent design and construction, but there was no single Watchmaker. The watch embodies the combined intelligence of countless entities over the course of millennia, from the geniuses who invented the semi-conductor, to the minuscule “intellect” of the silicon and quartz crystals, back to the Babylonian scribe who invented astronomy, and even the purely mechanical motions of the heavenly bodies that inspired him.

Seeking respite from thoughts of watches and Watchmakers, I returned to the park. As I walked along, I found a flower. Flowers (in my experience) do simply spring into existence. The flower grew from a seed, which grew on a flower, which grew from a seed, and so on. The flower is its own manufacturer. This makes the initial design of the flower all the more impressive.

Before researching the Watchmaker, I might have supposed the flower had a single, super-human designer. With the Watchmakers firmly in mind, I contacted the nursery that produced the flower.

A staff member described the process. The flowers indeed grew from seeds. When I asked about the design of the flower, I was surprised to hear that they were a patented variety developed by a midwestern firm specializing in such things.

A botanist developed this variety from existing varieties by selective breeding. The botanist knew what he wanted, but had no way of making the design changes directly. There was also no way to communicate his desires directly to the plant. For that matter, there was no way for the plant to make the changes had there been a method of communication. There were small changes in each generation of plant, but these mutations were random.

Together the botanist and the plants were able to make deliberate, intelligent changes through a process similar to a game of twenty questions. The variations in each new generation were the previous generationʼs way of asking “How should I change?” The botanist supplied the answer by growing the next generation using seeds from the plants representing the closest guess.

In times past, gardeners made it a practice to save seeds from the best flowers to use in planting next yearʼs garden. In hindsight, I saw that this was a kind of selective breeding.

Again the development was a cooperative effort between humans, and the existing varieties of flower. The gardeners had only a general idea of what they wanted, namely better flowers. The variety still asked the question “How should I change?” Humans still supplied the answer by growing the next generation using seeds from the plants representing the best guess.

There was a blight at the turn of the century that nearly caused this species of flower to become extinct in North America. For several years the American population of this flower declined, then it leveled out, then it started a slow climb. Eventually the flower returned to its previous numbers. Seeds imported from Europe continued to do poorly against the blight. Americans had to rely on their new, blight-resistant varieties.

There was no intelligent botanist or gardener, but the development of blight resistance was, in a sense, still an intelligent design choice. The variety still asked the question “How should I change?” The blight supplied the answer by destroying a greater proportion of the plants representing the wrong answer, leaving a greater proportion of plants representing the correct answer to provide the seeds that would grow into the next generation.

Blight was not the only non-human quiz master. Insects, other plants, higher animals, cooperative microbes, and many, many others all contributed their limited intelligence to the plantsʼ design. Even the Sun, rain, and soil (literally dirt-dumb) made a contribution.

Even discounting the human intellect of the botanists and gardeners, the flower is the product of intelligent design and construction of a sort. There was no single Designer. The flower embodies the combined intelligence of countless entities, over the course of billions of years; from the tiny intelligence of the bee, to the minuscule “intellect” of various microbes; and even the nearly mechanical actions of wind and rain.

Returning to the park I contemplated this process of evolution. I marveled at the diversity and complexity of the life it creates. I considered the process of evolution itself. I meditated on its elegant simplicity, and sublime design.

Old habits die hard. Soon I found myself wondering if there wasnʼt some subtle intelligence behind the design of evolution. Suspecting the answer almost at once, I was able to complete my research quickly.

Sexual reproduction, one of the key elements in the whole process, was itself a mechanism that evolved from a simpler process of asexual reproduction. If the process of evolution itself can evolve, it requires no great leap of imagination to trace the process back through the ages to processes so basic that they are none other than the laws of physics.

The process goes the other way, too. The learning ability of higher animals is essentially an improved form of evolution; able to make improvements in less than a single generation. Our own natural intellects are yet a further enhancement. Beyond even that, we develop better ways of learning, and of sharing our knowledge, nearly every day.

I am able to make it back to the park before nightfall. I watch the Sun set, then I watch the stars come out. I am a direct descendant of the laws of physics, the product of intelligent design and construction, but with no single Creator. I embody the combined intelligence of countless entities since the beginning of time, from the first primates who used stone tools, back to the first creatures to experiment with sex, forward to my college instructors, and back again to the laws of physics themselves.

The stars are out in all their glory. As I stargaze, I think how lucky I am that the universe is a place where the laws of physics allow life and intelligence to evolve. I wonder, for just a moment, if those laws just happened, or if they were the product of intelligent design. I laugh, and go back to stargazing. I do catch-on eventually; given enough time.

By James Huber, “The Watchmaker”


At first men try with magic charm
To fertilize the earth,
To keep their flocks and herds from harm
And bring new young to birth.

Then to capricious gods they turn
To save from fire or flood,
Their smoking sacrifices burn
On altars red with blood.

Next bold philosopher and sage
A settled plan decree,
And prove by thought or sacred page
What Nature ought to be.

But Nature smiles — a Sphinx-like smile —
Watching their little day,
She waits in patience for a while
Their plans dissolve away.

Then come those humbler men of heart
With no completed scheme,
Content to play a modest part,
To test, observe and dream.

Till out of chaos come in sight
Clear fragments of a Whole;
Man, learning Natureʼs way aright,
Obeying, can control.

The great Design now glows afar;
But yet its changing Scenes
Reveal not what the Pieces are
Nor what the Puzzle means.

And Nature smiles — still unconfessed
The secret thought she thinks —
Inscrutable she guards unguessed
The Riddle of the Sphinx.

William Cecil Dampier (published in A History of Science and Its Relations with Philosophy and Religion)


So Far, So Good

From Labrador to Coral Sea
Our lives were stunted, bleak, unfree.
We shared our huts with rats and fleas
And lost our children to disease.
(Our holy men would sigh and nod
and tell us, “Thatʼs the will of God.”)
But then, with steam, vaccines and votes,
Our fortunes rose like tide-raised boats.
Weʼd more to eat; drew breath more years;
Dethroned (or worse) our tsars, emirs;
Sent men and mirrors as our eyes
To search the black galactic skies;
And in our cells, till then unseen,
We found our Fates, our djinns: our genes.
The worldʼs still cruel, thatʼs understood,
But once was worse. So far so good.

James C. Davis (from the Epilogue to The Human Story: Our History, From The Stone Age To Today by James C. Davis, James Cushman Davis)


Creation

For the discoverer of the Grotte de Lascaux, Marcel Ravidat, 1923-1995

On all the living walls
of this dim cave,
soot and ochre, acts of will,
come down to us to say:

This is who we were.
We foraged here in an age of ice,
and, warmed by the fur of wolves,
felt the pride of predators
going for game.

Here we painted the strength of bulls,
the grace of deer, turned life into art,
and left this testimony on our walls.
Explorers of the future, see how,
when our dreams reach forward,
your wonder reaches back, and we embrace.
When we are long since dust,
and false prophets come,
then donʼt forget that we were your creators.
So build your days
on what you know is real, and remember
that nothing will keep your lives alive
but art - the black and ochre visions
you draw inside your cave
will honor your lost tribe,
when explorers in some far future
marvel at the paintings on your walls.

Philip Appleman, New and Selected Poems, 1956-1996


What is Man?

Not a superman who stumbles,
but an ape with makeshift manners
in whose nickel-plated jungles
roam mechanical bananas.

William Tenn (famously funny sci-fi writer)


Design

The poet, Robert Frost once wrote a little gem, titled, “Design,” in which he described a “fat, dimpled spider” sitting on a flower, having just finished devouring a moth, “itʼs dead wings carried like a paper kite.” Frost pointed out that this “snow-drop spider” was of the same white hue as the flower it sat upon, so it could lie in wait without being detected. The flowerʼs sweet scent attracted moths to dine at the very place where the moths then became the dinner of the camouflaged spider. Frost asked:

What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?—
If design govern in a thing so small.


Oh Rose, thou art sick;
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night,
In the howling storm,
Hath found out thy bed
Of crimson joy,
And his dark, secret love,
Doth thy life destroy.

William Blake


Hornworm: Autumn Lamentation

Since that first morning when I crawled
into the world, a naked grubby thing,
and found the world unkind,
my dearest faith has been that this
is but a trial: I shall be changed.

In my imaginings I have already spent
my brooding winter underground,
unfolded silky powdered wings, and climbed
into the air, free as a puff of cloud
to sail over the steaming fields,
slighting anywhere I pleased,
thrusting into deep tubular flowers.

It is not so: there may be nectar
in those cups, but not for me.
All day, all night, I carry on my back
embedded in my flesh, two rows
of little white cocoons,
so neatly stacked
they look like eggs in a crate.
And I am eaten half away.

If I can gather strength enough
Iʼll try to burrow under a stone
and spin myself a purse
in which to sleep away the cold;
though when the sun kisses the earth
again, I know I wonʼt be there.
Instead, out of my chrysalis
will break, like robbers from a tomb,
a swarm of parasitic flies,
leaving my wasted husk behind.

Sir, you with the red snippers
in your hand, hovering over me,
casting your shadow, I greet you,
whether you come as an angel of death
or of mercy. But tell me,
before you choose to slice me in two:
Who can understand the ways
of the Great Worm in the Sky?

Stanley Kunitz


A Mouse that prayed for Allahʼs aid
Blasphemed when no such aid befell;
A Cat, who feasted on the mouse,
Thought Allah managed vastly well.

Saki, “For the Duration of the War” 1915


The Flea

I think that I shall never see
A God so cruel
heʼd make a Flea!

A Flea whose hungry mouth is pressed
Against my dogʼs
hot itching breast.

A Flea that looks for dogs all day
And jumps three feet
to land its prey.

My dog (who may in summer wear
ten nests of Fleas
deep in his hairs)

Upon his bosom they have lain,
He intimately lives
with pain!

[And humans too:

Brave doubts are born in fools like me:
There is no god
whoʼd make a Flea!

Rosemary E. Morgan (1965)


Itʼs a Long Way from Amphioxus

Photo of an organism called, Amphioxus:

Oh a fish-like thing appeared among the annelids one day
It hadnʼt any parapods nor setae to display
It hadnʼt any eyes or jaws or ventral nervous chord,
But it had a lot of gill slits and it had a notochord.

(CHORUS)

Itʼs a long way from Amphioxus
Itʼs a long way to us,
Itʼs a long way from Amphioxus
To the meanest human cuss.
Well, itʼs good-bye to fins and gill slits,
And itʼs welcome lungs and hair,
Itʼs a long, long way from Amphioxus
But we all came from there.

Photo of an organism called, Pikaia, an Amphioxus-like organism from the Middle Cambrian, about 500 million years ago:

It wasnʼt much to look at and it scarce knew how to swim,
And Nerius was very sure it hadnʼt come from him
The molluscs wouldnʼt own it and the arthropods got sore,
So the poor thing had to burrow in the sand along the shore.

(CHORUS)

He burrowed in the sand before a crab did nip his tail,
And he said, “Gill slits and myotomes are all to no avail,
Iʼve grown some metoplural folds and sport an oral hood,
But all these fine new characters donʼt do me any good.”

(CHORUS)

He sulked a while down in the sand without a bit of pep,
Then he stiffened up his notochord and said “Iʼll beat ʻem yet,
Let ʻem laugh and show their ignorance I donʼt mind their jeers,
Just wait until they see me in 100 million years!”

(CHORUS)

“My notochord shall change into a chain of vertebrae,
And as fins my metoplural folds shall agitate the sea;
My tiny dorsal nervous chords shall be a mighty brain,
And the vertebrae shall dominate the animal domain.”


Evolution

When you were a tadpole and I was a fish
In the Palaeozoic time,
And side by side, on the ebbing tide,
We sprawled through the ooze and slime,
Or skittered with many a caudal flip
Through the depths of the Cambrian fen,
My heart was rife with the joy of life,
For I loved you even then.

Mindless we lived and mindless we loved,
And mindless at last we died;
And deep in a rift of the Caradoc drift,
We slumbered side by side.
The world turned on in the lathe of Time,
The hot lands heaved amain,
Till we cought our breath from the womb of death,
And crept into light again.

We were Amphibians, scaled and tailed,
And drab as a dead manʼs hand:
We coiled at ease ʻneath the dripping trees,
Or trailed through the mud and sand,
Croaking and blind, with our three-clawed feet,
Writing a language dumb,
With never a spark in the empty dark
To hint at a life to come.

Yet happy we lived and happy we loved,
And happy we died once more:
Our forms were rolled in the clinging mold
Of a Neocomian shore.
The æons came and the æons fled,
And the sleep that wrapped us fast
Was riven away in a newer day,
And the night of death was past.

Then light and swift through the jungle trees
We swung in our airy flights;
Or breathed in the balms of the fronded palms,
In the hush of the moonless nights.
And oh, what beautiful years were these,
When our hearts clung each to each;
When life was filled, and our senses thrilled
In the first faint dawn of speech!

Thus life by life, and love by love,
We passed through the cycles strange;
And breath by breath, and death by death,
We followed the chain of change;
Till there came a time in the law of life
When over the nursing sod
The shadows broke, and the soul awoke
In a strange, dim dream of God.

I was thewed like an Auroch bull,
And tusked like the great Cave Bear;
And you, my sweet, from head to feet,
Were gowned in your glorious hair.
Deep in the gloom of a fireless cave,
When the nights fell oʼer the plain,
And the moon hung red oʼer the river bed,
We mumbled the bones of the slain.

I flaked a flint to a cutting edge,
And shaped it with brutish craft:
I broke a shank from the woodland dank,
And fitted it, head to haft.
Then I hid me close to the reedy tarn,
Where the Mammoth came to drink:
Through brawn and bone I drave the stone,
And slew him upon the brink.

Loud I howled through the moonless wastes,
Loud answered our kith and kin:
From west and east to the crimson feast
The clan came trooping in.
Oʼer joint and gristle and padded hoof,
We fought and clawed and tore,
And cheek by jowl, with many a growl,
We talked the marvel oʼer.

I carved that fight on a reindeer bone,
With rude and hairy hand:
I pictured his fall on the cavern wall,
That men might understand.
For we lived by blood, and the right of might,
Ere human laws were drawn,
And the Age of Sin did not begin
Till our brutal tusks were gone.

And that was a million years ago,
In a time that no man knows;
Yet here tonight, in the mellow light,
We sit at Delmonicoʼs.
Your eyes are deep as the Devon springs,
Your hair as dark as jet:
Your years are few, your life is new,
Your soul untried, and yet —

Our trail is on the Kimmeridge clay,
And the scarp of the Purbeck flags:
We have left our bones in the Bagshot stones,
And deep in the Coralline crags.
Our love is old, our lives are old,
And death shall come amain:
Should it come today, what man may say
We shall not live again?

God wrought our souls from the Tremadoc beds,
And furnished them wings to fly:
He sowed our spawn in the worldʼs dim dawn,
And I know that it shall not die;
Though cities have sprung above the graves
Where the crook-boned men made war,
And the ox-wain creeks oʻer the buried caves,
Where the mummied Mammoths are.

For we know that the clod, by the grace of God,
Will quicken with voice and breath;
And we know that Love, with gentle hand,
Will beckon from death to death.
And so, as we linger at luncheon here,
Over many a dainty dish,
Let us drink anew to the time when you
Were a tadpole and I was a fish.

Langdon Smith


Fiddling

Evolution doesnʼt make things new from scratch.
It takes a lot of work to find something that works
and then it fiddles with it and makes variations on it
forever.

We
are a result of that fiddling.
Consciousness
is a result of that fiddling.

So now we —
late bright fiddlers on the scene —
find ourselves in the midst
of a timed test,
to see if we can fiddle more consciously,
intensely, brilliantly aware of
how
we are fiddling.

But first, it seems, sadly,
we must fiddle drunk while burning
our own earth empire,
barely aware
of what we are doing.

Deep inside our collective noise,
I hear the greatest music teacher,
Natural Selection,
reminding us, sternly,
to get serious soon
and practice, practice, practice
fiddling consciously,
awake, sober, wise…

Because as Evolution
comes awake,
we become its playing.
And if it rolls back to sleep
weʼll be gone.

Tom Atlee


Thanksgiving

O let us give thanks for the glorious spasm
that spurted atoms on an endless quest
for the far edge of everything, letʼs
praise the ancient heave and buckle,
the burn, blister, and boil
that birthed our blue-green planet,
be grateful for the lucky spark
that seasoned our primal soup,
and honor the ultimate sacrifice
of the creeping pioneers
who dragged us up onto dry land.
Letʼs be thankful for the heroism
of all those fallen fathers
who bequeathed to us these novelties,
our clever arms and legs,
thankful too for the company
of moles and manatees, sloths and seals,
horses and hedgehogs - and thankful for
the monkeys, gibbons, and gorillas
who once upon a time set off
on gambles of their own, aping our long,
long hunger, vines
choking trees to reach the sun,
predators lurking at water holes.
Now, somewhere out there, the atoms race on,
still searching for the edge of everything,
but here, snug in our tundra and grassland,
our forest and savanna, let us thank
the furry ancestors who brought us
along this way, and now stay at our side
as we press on to some great adventure
just beyond our dreams.

Philip Appleman


Our Intelligent Designer

Our Intelligent Designer,
Who art in the unspecified-good-place,
Unknown be Thy name.
Thy flagella spin, Thy mousetraps snap,
On Earth, as it is in the
Unspecified-good-place.
Give us each day our unchecked apologetic.
And forgive us our invidious comparisons,
As we smite those iniquitous Darwinists
With rhetoric.
And lead us not into encounters with people
Who ask us to state our theory,
But deliver us from biologists
Who know what weʼre up to.
For Thine is the irreducible complexity,
And the wiggly parts of bacterial bottoms,
And the inapplicable theorems,
Now and forever.
Amen.

Wesley Elsberry (on The Pandaʼs Thumb blog)


IDʼs ID
by Tom McIver

ID, ID, burning bright,
Rescue us from Darwinʼs fright,
Beastly origin of our race,
Evolutionʼs dread embrace.

But what science or what art
Frames immortal hand, eye, heart?
Can we force religionʼs claim,
Dare pronounce His very name?

Yahweh, Zeus, or Allah, then?
Yaldaboath, Urizen?
Raëlʼs ET DNA?
Hosts of deities at play?

Ask the Ichneumonidae
Did he who made the lamb make thee?
Who created Heavʼn and Hell,
Human creativity?

IDʼs ID burning bright
Through obscuring fog and night,
Whether wielding Wedge or prism
ID is: Creationism.

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