God of the Gaps
Intelligent design theory, and I use the word theory in its strictest colloquial sense, is one giant appeal to ignorance. It rests entirely upon the unknown and seeks to present such negative evidence as a positive scientific basis for the theory that an intelligent designer created the universe. But ignorance, as most rational people know, can only testify on behalf of ignorance and nothing more. To put it logically, the absence of knowledge about ‘X’ (origins) in no way vouches for knowledge of ‘Y. (god)’ This god of the gaps basis for intelligent design is fairly well-known by well-read atheists, so I thought I would add to the attack against this preposterous theory by addressing it from a psychological and neurological point of view.
When I first began reading about pareidolia, it caused me to ponder its connection with psychological projection, which in turn led me to consider the psychological foundation of intelligent design theory. However, as is often the case, I am getting ahead of myself, so let me start at the beginning.
I guess I should first begin by explaining what pareidolia is and how it relates to psychological projection, and how that connection offers a compelling explanation for the false nature of the theory of intelligent design.
Pareidolia is a phenomenon in which random and meaningless images or sounds are seen as forming recognizable or significant patterns.(1) The alleged face on mars that became popular fodder for ancient alien theorists and other members of the tin-foil hat crowd, as well as the $28,000 grilled cheese sandwich with the apparent face of the Virgin Mary on it, which, if you ask me, looked more like Marilyn Manson, are just two examples of visual pareidolia. This phenomenon exists because our brains are predisposed to seeking out and finding familiar patterns, even where there aren’t any. We do this by adding to, and subtracting from, data, or by data mining in order to produce recognizable patterns in a mess of otherwise random stimuli. Not only are our brains hardwired to discover both existent and non-existent patterns in this way, but they are also geared to imbue these patterns with emotional meanings, meanings that only exist within our minds.(2) It is this editing process that got me thinking about how both pareidolia and psychological projection are linked and how they relate to intelligent design theory. But, once again, I am getting ahead of myself.
Psychological projection, as it is popularly known, refers to the projection of personal attributes or qualities onto people and our surrounding environments. To give you a basic idea of this psychological phenomenon, an angry person may erroneously accuse another of being angry, or a rude person may falsely charge another with being rude. These are very simplistic examples, but prior to Freud’s formalization of psychological projection, the ancient Greek writer, Xenophanes (570 ~ 475 BCE) described the kind of projection relevant to this post. In his words:
“…the gods of the Ethiopians were inevitably black with flat noses while those of the Thracians were blond with blue eyes. ” (3)
This kind of observation was later reflected in the words of a famous Socratic philosopher, Aristotle, who remarked:
“Men create gods after their own image, not only with regard to their form, but with regard to their mode of life.”(4)
It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that this form of projection would be formalized into a systematic critique of all religion by the Hegelian philosopher and humanist, Ludwig Feuerbach. In his ‘Essence of Christianity,’ he remarked:
“…the object of any subject is nothing else than the subject's own nature taken objectively. Such as are a man's thoughts and dispositions, such is his God; so much worth as a man has, so much and no more has his God. Consciousness of God is self-consciousness, knowledge of God is self-knowledge. By his God thou knowest the man, and by the man his God.”(5)
As sentient and social beings, we are great projectors. We project onto our loved ones, onto celebrities and politicians and also onto inanimate and, as noted by Feuerbach and our two ancient Greek witnesses, onto non-existent beings. Most of what we think we know about anyone is but a pale reflection of the reality of that person, a shadow reflected upon our cave walls, as Plato might have put it. A large portion of what we believe we know about someone is merely a projection of our own internal model of that person, an edited reality constructed by a series of neurological and psychological mechanisms. The same, as noted, is true of the gods and here we arrive not only at the link between pareidolia and psychological projection, but the psychological basis for intelligent design theory.
As far as I am aware, there has not been a single paper published from a single proponent of intelligent design, that argues for the existence of a creator who created the world on the back of a tortoise, or a creator who, like Marduk of ancient Babylonian myth, slayed the angry goddess and split her body in half, creating the heavens and the earth, with her dissected carcass. No, most, if not all of the proponents of intelligent design, argue for the biblical version of creation, the familiar model of reality present within their own culture, their own religion and most revealingly, their own minds. Their scientific theory is merely the subjective projection of an egocentric religious worldview relative to the proponent’s own religion. Being this is the case, we cannot help but conclude that intelligent design, and the creator they seek to drag from the depths of un-falsifiable superstition and assemble in a noise of otherwise random data or lack thereof, is a very expensive grilled cheese sandwich, a great projection.
- Leonard Zuzne & Warren H. Jones. ‘Anomalistic Psychology: A Study of Magical Thinking.’ Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., (1989). p. 77.
- Steven Novella M.D. Your Deceptive Mind: A Scientific Guide to Critical Thinking Skills. The Teaching Company, (2012). Lecture 5: Pattern Recognition—Seeing What’s Not There.
- Arthur Fairbanks. ‘The First Philosophers of Greece: Xenophanes – Fragments and Commentary.’ K. Paul, Trench, Trubner, (1898). p. 79.
- Aristotle. Politics. (Trans. Benjamin Jowett). Oxford at Clarendon Press, (1916). p. 28.
- Ludwig Feuerbach. ‘Essence of Christianity,’ 2nd Ed. Calvin Blanchard, (1857). pp. 32-33.
Photo Credits: Tara Hunt