The Intelligent Designer returns to the drawing board

The parable of the Really Big Man, the log and the turtle

Photo Illustration by Marianne Mancina

The American Indian tribe known as the Kiowa lived in the area that is now northern Texas and southern Oklahoma. They were a numerically small band of people surrounded by much larger neighboring tribes that had the annoying habit of coming around and mistreating them. In self-defense, they became a tough and resourceful bunch.

Like most people, the Kiowa considered themselves superior to their neighbors, but they had difficulty explaining why they were so outnumbered. If they were as special in the cosmic scheme of things as they knew themselves to be, why were they so few in number, and why were they so frequently getting picked on by their numerically superior but culturally inferior neighbors—the Comanches, the southern Cheyenne and the Pawnee?

Using the resourcefulness that is a prerequisite to survival on this planet, the Kiowa came up with an explanation. In their worldview, existence was divided into two planes—this physical world known to living things and the spirit world on “the other side.” The Kiowa came into this world from the other side, and they made the journey here through a hollow log that linked the two worlds. As the Kiowa made their way into this world through the log, however, one of their number—a fat woman—got stuck in the log, thus preventing the rest of the Kiowa from joining their brethren on the plains of what later would come to be known as Texas.

So, there was the explanation. They were not a small tribe after all; they were a really big tribe. It was just that many of their number were over on the other side, prevented from joining their earthly brethren because of a narrow log and a fat lady.

Meanwhile, over hill and dale, lived their enemies, the Pawnee. The Pawnee believed that the physical world was, in fact, a giant turtle swimming through a vast inky sea. All the people lived out their temporal lives while riding on the back of this turtle.

The log-believing people and the turtle-believing people took turns beating each other up because, as was obvious to both groups, their neighbors were completely nuts and thus undeserving of good treatment. Later on, both of these tribes would be beaten up rather badly and then subjugated by yet another tribe of people who came from far, far away. The people from far away believed that the world was created in six days by a man with ultra, ultra superpowers, a man who looked just like them, only much, much bigger. The Really Big Man, sometimes called Jaweh, sometimes called Jehovah and sometimes called God, created people by first making a man and then fashioning a whole other gender out of an extra rib the first man just happened to have handy. Thus, in that explanation, women were basically just a bunch of spare ribs.

The descendants of all those people—Kiowas; Pawnees; and the people from far, far away who believed in the Really Big Man—still live in northern Texas and southern Oklahoma, but only the views of the people who believe in the Really Big Man get much traction with politicians and school boards. Those politicians and school boards now are in the midst of a dispute in their own ranks about how to explain the origin of things to themselves. The hollow-log story is out, of course, as is the big-turtle tale, but some of the people from far, far away think that the Really Big Man who created the first man “designed” everything, while other people from far, far away believe that things keep changing all the time in response to changing conditions. They call this idea “evolution,” and they insist that the idea is based on another idea called “science.” The idea that everything was thought out ahead of time by the Really Big Man is called “intelligent design,” and that idea is based on another idea known as “faith.” In the intelligent-design way of thinking, the Really Big Man sort of planned everything in minute detail from the get-go. What with his super intelligence and size and all.

Meanwhile, those people from far, far away who now live everywhere the American Indians once lived (and a whole bunch of other places, too) are in a state of conflict with a bunch of other people from far, far away who believe that a guy came to Earth a long time ago, a guy named Mohammed, and he knew exactly how everyone should live, but lots and lots of inferior peoples, called infidels, just wouldn’t listen. Therefore, in the view of some of these Mohammed-believing people, those who just won’t listen should be killed because they are annoying to other people who know how to listen and therefore know how to live—which, in their view, means preparing to die.

The people who believe in the Really Big Man who designed everything also believe that the Really Big Man had a son. He sent the boy down to this temporal plane of existence, where he was born of a virgin mother so he could live long enough to be nailed up on a piece of wood and then later rise from the dead as a way of telling the creatures who were made in his image that the Big Guy wasn’t mad at them anymore for all the ways they constantly screwed up. An expression of love on the Really Big Man’s part.

But the people who believed in Mohammed and the people who believed in the Really Big Man’s son were constantly at each other’s throats, a condition that only got worse when a substance known as “oil” was found to be buried in the ground underneath the place where the people who believed in Mohammed lived. This oil substance was thought by the evolutionist people to be fermented dinosaurs, but the intelligent-design people seemed to think the stuff was invented by the Really Big Man, who, in an exceedingly rare lapse of judgment, managed to mis-locate this particular part of his design, placing the oil under real estate belonging to the wrong people.

Meanwhile, other people, known as Jews, had moved in large numbers to a place the Mohammed-believing people considered to be holy. The Jews thought the place was holy, too, though the weather was extremely hot and the land was abundantly oversupplied with sand and rock. Many of these Jew people had left the area a great many years ago because of (a) bad weather, (b) sand and rock, and (c) increasingly nasty neighbors who drove them away. They came back to the holy place because the people who believed that the Intelligent Designer had made them just like him, only smaller, had decided that the Jews should be killed in vast numbers because the Jews didn’t believe the Really Big Man had sent his son to be killed on a piece of wood. Killing the Jews in great numbers was a plan that had the added advantage of allowing the people who believed in the Really Big Man with the rather unfortunate son to have all the stuff the dead Jews had once owned.

The people who believed in the Really Big Man with the hapless son had a major falling out around this time. Their dispute swept in nearly everyone on the planet, and it came to be called World War II, an event so big that for a time there, the marital problems of film stars were barely covered in the major media.

The dust hadn’t even cleared from that conflict when the people in the world divided up again based on who believed in the Really Big Man (who not only gave the world his only son, but also gave it an economic plan called “capitalism”) and other people, mostly from Russia, who believed in an idea called the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Both groups developed extremely powerful weapons capable of destroying all life on the planet, and so convinced were they of the absolute rightness of their respective views, they came close to doing just that a number of times.

But then the mostly Russian people who believed in the dictatorship of the proletariat ran themselves broke while trying to compete with the Really Big Man believers in the contest to see which of the two belief systems could amass more weapons of mass destruction, bringing that dispute to a crashing end. What had been the Soviet Union devolved into just another bunch of feuding provinces.

Which pretty much brings us back to the dispute between the intelligent-design believers and the evolutionary-theory believers. Considering the history of human beings, the idea of an Intelligent Designer who made a universe where Homo sapiens were the smart species seems kind of far-fetched. In fact, in view of all that, the intelligent-design notion begins to make those log and turtle theories look pretty persuasive.