[First Things, July 29, 2008]
Though I’m not very informed about the Intelligent Design debate, the idea sounded inoffensive enough: scientists have not discovered a Designer, and neither can they prove there’s no Designer, so why not leave the question open? But the concept of Intelligent Design was greeted with outrage; clearly, it struck a nerve.
When I tried to picture why, I thought of a page in Dr. Seuss’ “The Cat in the Hat,” one that comes near the end. “Sally and I” have been standing by helplessly while the hatted Cat, with his Thing One and Thing Two, made havoc of the house. The toy boat is in the cake and the cake is on the floor, the rake is bent and mother’s new dress has gone sailing through the room on a kite string. The fish has been trying to warn us, but we have stood by bewildered.
And then, through the window, we see her. There is a flash of red skirt and a leg striding into view, terminating with a high-heel pump with a bow. “Then our fish said, ‘LOOK! LOOK!’ And our fish shook with fear. ‘Your mother is on her way home! Do you hear? Oh, what will she do to us? What will she say? Oh, she will not like it to find us this way!’”
This is the crisis point of the plot, you probably remember. I can recall as a child finding it a terrifying moment. What if you had made a terrible mess of things, and suddenly Mother came home?
I think that’s how our materialist friends feel when they hear the term “Intelligent Design.” It is essential, indispensable, to believe that Mother is *never coming home*. Otherwise the things we do might have unanticipated meanings, as well as unforeseen consequences.
For materialists, it’s essential that the material is all there is. If our bodies are just machines, then we can use them however we like, and the smartest course, obviously, is to accumulate as much pleasure as possible. When the pleasure is sexual, sometimes new little bodies come into being, despite our emphatic inhospitality. But no matter; those tiny bodies are just more meaningless fleshy machines, and can be dismantled and discarded handily. It happens every day. In fact, it happens three thousand times a day.
In the last 34 years we’ve done a great deal of discarding; about 48 million little American bodies have gone down garbage disposals, into incinerators, and into landfills. If we stopped for a moment to imagine that some day Mother might be coming home, we might have a prickle of anxiety.
And if the purpose of life is pleasure, what do we do with people who reach an age or a state of health when they are enjoying substandard levels of gusto? The obvious response is to terminate them, right? No one would want to survive in a permanent coma.
No one would want to survive in a conscious state either, I guess, if they were brain damaged. And they probably wouldn’t want to live even if they were fully alert and aware, but quadriplegic.
Paraplegic. Had a limp. I expect some would look at me, a plump, graying grandmother, and find it terribly poignant, suitable grounds for “release.”
These pink billows of compassion flow outward further and further, embracing all the weak and old and unsightly of the world. Tender poison would free them from their misery—or, at least, make their misery disappear. And a world without misery is a perfect world, isn’t it? Last week I saw a young woman with Down Syndrome, and realized how rare it is to see them any more. Prenatal testing means they can be tagged and terminated before they are born. Thus we make progress toward a world where everyone is uniformly healthy, hearty, and attractive. And if they know what’s good for them, they’ll stay that way.
“‘But your mother will come. She will find this big mess! And this mess is so big and so deep and so tall, we can not pick it up. There is no way at all!’”
For those banking on the theory that that this is only a material world, it would be a very uncomfortable thing if Mother were to appear. They were just having fun on a rainy day, assuming that the cake and rake and cup and ball were their toys to play with. But all these bodies we were indulging or starving or tearing apart might turn out to belong to someone else after all. And that is a prospect the materialist cannot bear.