Opinion | Daniel Klein and Thomas Cathcart

‘Intelligent’ design? Clearly, that’s not the case

Christopher serra for the boston globe

The Theory of intelligent design — that the exquisiteness of the universe and living things is best explained by an intelligent cause rather than by an undirected process such as natural selection — has recently staged a major comeback. Surprisingly, the new rationale comes not from the religious right but from a bona fide philosopher, Thomas Nagel, in his controversial new book, “Mind and Cosmos: Why the Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False.”

Although Nagel denies he is espousing intelligent design, his furious critics are chastising him for having “a dangerous sympathy” for those who do. But the critics need not worry: a recently uncovered transcript from the pre-time era suggests that “intelligent’’ clearly isn’t the right word to describe what actually went on . . .

Archangel Max (Deputy Anatomy Designer): It’s a space problem, Maker. Too much stuff, too little room. Simple as that.


Maker: So put it somewhere else.

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Archangel Max: Like where? In the armpit? Under the kneecap? All we’d be doing is creating a new problem — a delivery problem. By the time the secretions made it to the site, the whole shebang would be over and done with.

Maker: OK, OK, I hear you. So make it very small and slip it in between the other dreck.

Archangel Max: Yeah, I thought of that. But even then it could get in the way, ya know? Block this, block that. Plumbing is funny that way, especially when you’re going micro. Two millimeters here or two millimeters there and pretty soon the pipes go flooey. Think some kid trying to flush a baby alligator down the toilet.

Maker: Right. I see the problem. So let’s try thinking outside of the box.


Archangel Max: How about doing away with it altogether? Just wipe our hands of it. You know, like we should have done with the vermiform appendix in the first place.

Maker: Don’t remind me! I still don’t know how we got stuck with that one.

Archangel Max: The usual. It started with the first drawing. Archangel Floyd was assigned the colon. Big mistake right there. Floyd fancies himself a kind of ornamentalist, you know?

Maker: But why didn’t anyone catch it?

Archangel Max: Hard to say. It looked so — I don’t know — significant dangling there. Everybody thought it just must be real important, so nobody asked any questions. It happens all the time. Something gets by in the first sketch and it just stays there. Garbage in, garbage out. Around the shop, we call it the “in the beginning” problem.


Maker: And there’s nothing we can do about it now?

Archangel Max: Nothing short of building a whole new prototype from scratch. That could take us out beyond the six days.

Maker: We’re already behind schedule.

Archangel Max: Right. The problem with the greater and lesser lights in the heavens set us back. Now with Day 7 idle, we’d be looking at Day 8 at the earliest for winding down. How would that look? “On the seventh day he rested. Then on the ninth day he rested again.” Plus we’re taking a lot of flak from Archangel Cindy and her group on the nipple thing.

Maker: I don’t think I got the memo on that one. What’s that about?

Archangel Max: Here, I’ll read you her e-mail: “We had something unique — related to motherhood, for God’s sake! — and then you had to go and give them to guys too, for whatever cockamamie reason. If they want to nurse, that’s one thing — let them take the 3 a.m. feedings. But just to have them for decoration — please!”

Maker: Okay, enough, enough. Back to the organ at hand. By the way, what are we calling it?

Archangel Max: Working title is “prostate gland.”

Maker: Nice. Catchy.

Archangel Max: So what do you say we do with it?

Maker: Hell, let’s just squeeze it in there. What’s the worst that can happen?

Daniel Klein and Thomas Cathcart are the authors of “Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar.” Klein’s latest book is “Travels with Epicurus”; Cathcart’s upcoming book is “The Trolley Problem.”