The opinion piece is about Intelligent Design, and it is written by Sally Jenkins, a sports columnist for WaPo. That probably explains the strained sports analogies.
It’s called "Just Check The ID", and it goes a little something like this:
Athletes do things that seem transcendental — and they can also do things that are transcendentally stupid. They choke, trip and dope. Nevertheless, they possess a deep physical knowledge the rest of us can learn from, bound as we are by our ordinary, trudging, cumbersome selves.
What are you saying? I’m fat? Well, fuck you too, Sally!
Ever get the feeling that they are in touch with something that we aren’t?
You mean, besides body-altering drugs and over-inflated paychecks?
What is that thing? Could it be their random, mutant talent, or could it be evidence of, gulp, intelligent design?
Ummmm . . . no. No, it couldn’t.
The sports section would not seem to be a place to discuss intelligent design, the notion that nature shows signs of an intrinsic intelligence too highly organized to be solely the product of evolution. It’s an odd intersection, admittedly.
You might ask, what’s so intelligently designed about ballplayers (or sportswriters)? Jose Canseco once let a baseball hit him in the head and bounce over the fence for a home run. Former Washington Redskins quarterback Gus Frerotte gave himself a concussion by running helmet-first into a wall in a fit of exuberance.
Trust me on this, Sally. Even if I never heard of Jose Canseco and Gus Whoever, I still wouldn’t even ponder the connection between intelligent design and ballplayers.
But athletes also are explorers of the boundaries of physiology and neuroscience, and some intelligent design proponents therefore suggest they can be walking human laboratories for their theories.
Athletes are explorers of the boundaries of physiology and neuroscience in the same way that the local junkie is a "pharmacological scientist".
First, let’s get rid of the idea that ID (intelligent design) is a form of sly creationism. It isn’t. ID is unfairly confused with the movement to teach creationism in public schools.
Sally, there is no movement to teach creationism in public schools. That movement got trounced years ago (giving rise to the new ID tactic). Where have you been?
The most serious ID proponents are complexity theorists, legitimate scientists among them, who believe that strict Darwinism and especially neo-Darwinism (the notion that all of our qualities are the product of random mutation) is inadequate to explain the high level of organization at work in the world.
I don’t want to get too far down the rabbit hole, but the world is not highly organized. It’s randomness far exceeds its structure. Have you ever seen two birch trees that look exactly alike? Or humans?
Creationists are attracted to ID, and one of its founding fathers, University of California law professor Phillip Johnson, is a devout Presbyterian. But you don’t have to be a creationist to think there might be something to it, or to agree with Johnson when he says, "The human body is packed with marvels, eyes and lungs and cells, and evolutionary gradualism can’t account for that."
Why not? Seriously, why not? Because eyes, lungs and cells are "marvelous", they can’t be explained by evolution (which, by the way, does explain those things)? Since when do subjective assessments ("marvelous") of a trait have to do with objective determinations of that trait’s origin?
By the way, what makes Phillip Johnson an authority on the "science" of ID? Is it because he is a law professor, or because he is a "devout Presbyterian"?
The idea, so contentious in other contexts, actually rings a loud bell in sports.
"Actually, this square peg fits rather nicely in this round hole."
Athletes often talk of feeling an absolute fulfillment of purpose, of something powerful moving through them or in them that is not just the result of training.
"Son of Sam" and Jeffrey Dahmer spoke of the same feeling. Your point?
Jeffrey M. Schwartz, a neuroscientist and research professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, is a believer in ID, or as he prefers to call it, "intrinsic intelligence."
Sounds like "intelligent design" and "intrinsic intelligence" have nothing to do with each other (except that both phrases have the world "intelligent" in them).
"Intrinsic intelligence" suggests that the factor at work comes from within each person. But the touchstone of "intelligent design" theory is that the force at work is something extrinsic, i.e., God.
Schwartz wants to launch a study of NASCAR drivers, to better understand their extraordinary focus.
Could it be explained by . . . Jesus?
He finds Darwinism, as it applies to a high-performance athlete such as Tony Stewart, to be problematic. To claim that Stewart’s mental state as he handles a high-speed car "is a result of nothing more than random processes coming together in a machine-like way is not a coherent explanation," Schwartz said.
If indeed that is Schwartz’s position, then he is an ass. Darwinism involves the evolution of species over geological time. It does not account for — nor does it try to account for — minor variances within a species.
I am, for example, taller than most people. Darwinism does not attempt to explain that.
Instead, Schwartz theorizes that when a great athlete focuses, he or she may be "making a connection with something deep within nature itself, which lends itself to deepening our intelligence." It’s fascinating thought. And Schwartz would like to prove it’s scientifically justifiable.
Schwartz, by the way, is a Buddhist. Wonder how that would fly with the ID people.
Steve Stenstrom, who played quarterback for the Bears and 49ers, works as a religious-life adviser to athletes at Stanford, where he organized a controversial forum on intelligent design last May. "I don’t think it’s a reach at all," he said. "Talk to any athlete, and if they really are honest, they realize that while they have worked and trained, and put a lot of effort into being great, they started with some raw material that was advantageous to them, and that it was meant to work a certain way. We all recognize that we have a certain design element."
If Steve Stenstrom were "really honest", he would acknowledge that he has no first-hand idea of what goes on inside good athletes.
A strict Darwinist would suggest this is an illusion and point out that there are obvious flaws in the body. Peter Weyand, a researcher in kinesiology and biomechanics at Rice University, observes, "Humans in the realm of the animal kingdom aren’t terribly athletic."
And some of them aren’t terribly bright either (Sally, I’m looking at you).
Racehorses are much faster, and, for that matter, so are hummingbirds. We seem to have a basic quest to go higher, farther, faster — one of our distinguishing features is that we push our limits for a reason other than survival, and construct artificial scales of achievement — but we have some built-in debilities. Human muscle can only get so strong, it will only produce as much force as it has area, about 3.5 kilograms of weight per square centimeter. "We’re endowed with what we have by virtue of evolution, and it’s not like engineering where we can pick materials and throw out what doesn’t work," Weyand said.
And why is that, Sally? Because, as a species, in order to survive, it isn’t necessary for us to run 50 yards and catch a ball made of pigskin.
Our bodies break down a lot. If we were designed more intelligently, presumably we wouldn’t have osteoporosis or broken hips when we get old. Some evolutionists suppose that the process through which people evolved from four-legged creatures to two, has had negative orthopedic consequences.
Yeah, but evolution isn’t done yet.
We are flawed cardiovascularly. Horses carry much more oxygen in their blood, and have a storage system for red blood cells in their spleens, a natural system of blood doping. Humans don’t.
Humans don’t have spleens. You heard it here first.
Also, while a lot of aerobics can make our hearts bigger, our lungs are unique. They don’t adapt to training. They’re fixed. We’re stuck with them, and can only envy the antelopes.
So, because no human can ever train enough to run as fast as an antelope, that is evidence of intelligent design?
Yeah, God. Why are you holding me back?
Besides, you’re wrong. Humans, through training, can change the physical cahracteristics of their hearts and lungs.
None of which satisfies Schwartz, or Stenstrom. "I don’t think we can attach athletic design to ‘better’ design," Stenstrom said. ". . . Some people are designed with an ear for music, others with a capacity to think deep thoughts about the world."
Which means that BOTH of your "experts" think your theory is bizarre, Sally.
Schwarz finds little or nothing in natural selection to explain the ability of athletes to reinterpret physical events from moment to moment, the super-awareness that they seem to possess. He has a term for it, the ability to be an "impartial spectator" to your own actions.
Unlike the rest of us clods, who walk slow on burning hot sand.
"The capacity to stand outside yourself and be aware of where you are," he said. "Deep within the complexities of molecular organization lies an intrinsic intelligence that accounts for that deep organization, and is something that we can connect with through the willful focus of our minds," he theorizes.
Unlike the rest of us clods, who stand in the rain and wonder why we are wet.
Crackpot speculation? Maybe — maybe not.
Whatever it is, it’s not intelligent design.
ID certainly lacks a body of scientific data, and opponents are right to argue that the idea isn’t developed enough to be taught as equivalent to evolution.
Then that should end the debate, and render your article moot.
But Darwin himself admitted he didn’t know everything about everything.
Neither does Mr. Schwartz. Again . . . your point?
"When I see a tail feather on a peacock, it makes me sick," he once said, before he understood it was for mating.
So, Darwin couldn’t explain peacock tails, but then he learned that peacock tails are for mating. Good thing he didn’t pack up his bags and just attribute it all to a deity.
And try telling a baseball fan that pure Darwinism explains Joe DiMaggio.
Shorter Sally: athletes are great physical specimens, and only God could have made them so.
Oh, and steroids.
As Tommy Lasorda once said, "If you said to God, ‘Create someone who was what a baseball player should be,’ God would have created Joe DiMaggio — and he did."
Yeah, but then who created Tommy Lasorda?
None of this is to say that we shouldn’t be wary of the uses for which ID might be hijacked. In the last year, numerous states have experienced some sort of anti-evolution movement. That makes it all the more important for the layman to distinguish the various gradations between evolutionists, serious scientists who are interested in ID, "neo-Creos," and Biblical literalists.
Not to mention good athletes from mediocre has-beens.
One of the things we learn in a grade school science class is a concrete way of thinking, a sound, systematic way of exploring the natural world.
Yes. I hope there’s no "but" coming…
But science class also teaches us how crucial it is to maintain adventurousness,…
Is there anybody out there who would agree with this?
…and surely it’s worthwhile to suggest that an athlete in motion conveys an inkling of something marvelous in nature that perhaps isn’t explained by mere molecules.
Again, just because it is "marvelous", does that mean it is divine? And why is it less marvelous simply because there is a knowable scientific explanation, i.e., evolution?
Johann Kepler was the first to accurately plot the laws of planetary motion. But he only got there because he believed that their movements, if translated musically, would result in a celestial harmony. He also believed in astrology. And then there was Albert Einstein, who remarked that "Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind." Historically, scientific theorists are sandlot athletes, drawing up plays in the dirt.
Well, they do more than "draw up plays". They actually test out the "plays". And eventually, the truth comes out. It’s like the guy who first came up with the curve ball. He theorized and tried it out. It worked. He developed it further, by moving his fingers over the seam of the ball. He learned to move his wrist a certain way. Was the curve ball divinely inspired? No, like science, it was a process of experimentation. And now every pitcher knows how to throw one.
Intelligent design theory, at least the version being pushed by The Discovery Institute, does not rest in scientific proof. At its core, the theory is philosophical, not scientific. It is unprovable (or un-dis-provable). Hence, it is not science.
Sally, stick to what you know. Presumably, that is sports. Presumably.