Creation v. Evolution Metaphor Watch: Intelligent Design and the Problem of Etiological Narratives

An example of an etiological narrative (a mythical story that purports to account for the existence of something) in a children’s book:


The story is a retelling of the fourth day of creation in Genesis 1, and seems to answer the question, “Why are there stars and a moon out at night—what is their purpose in being there?”

The answer offered is: “To give nocturnal animals light to see by.”

Thus the conceptual metaphor is: “The stars and the moon ARE lights, and were made to function AS lights.”

But wouldn’t any clever child quickly see that this “explanation” is, at best, not terribly persuasive?

For example, if God wanted some animals to see at night, then why didn’t he simply give them night vision?

And even this begs the question.

Why would God want some animals to see at night in the first place?

To hunt?

And to hunt whom? People and other sleeping creatures?

Why would God make a world like that?

And why is there night at all?

Or eyes?

Thus this page from a children’s book seems to inadvertantly stumble upon the incoherence of all “intelligent design” explanations for the universe, for it seems impossible to pin down why, exactly, a designer would make the world in one way, and not in another.

No “intelligent design” narrative, however simple or complex, can account for the universe without this kind of question begging.

And this is one reason why it can never achieve the level of being a science, as evolutionary biology is.

This is not to denegrate “intelligent design” as an explanation, only to say that it is (by its inherently metaphorical nature) not capable of being framed in scientific terms (except in the vaguest of ways).

And because it is an anthropomorphic projection onto nature, it must necessarily speculate about what is IN the mind of God in ways which are impossible to independently test or verify.

In other words, it is an explanation that raises as many mysterious questions as it purports to explain.

Evolution, with its more modest range of questions, and testability, is thus ameniable to the scientific method in ways that “intelligent design” cannot be.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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2 Responses to Creation v. Evolution Metaphor Watch: Intelligent Design and the Problem of Etiological Narratives

  1. Pingback: Darwiniana » Etiological narratives

  2. Santiago says:

    I agree with Professor Agazzi, who says: If you read Darwin’s books, Darwin directly, You can see that he was never opposed to the idea of Creation. Never. He was always opposed to the idea of individual species being created by God or by Someone, Separately rather than being the result of a transformation. What happens nowadays? Unfortunately once again in the United States there is a minority of fundamentalist Evangelicals, Seeking to take the Bible word for word, as a discourse that tells us how the world was created. They call themselves creationists. Once again the term has been seized for another use. The term “creationists” does not mean in the slightest. That the book of Genesis should be taken as a true story about the Cosmos. But for them it does. They say yes, here is something that at the very least. Should be taught alongside the theory of evolution.. Once again a mistake has been made. And people say, Creationists are enemies of science and enemies of Evolution.
    Santiago Chiva
    Granada, Spain

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