Sunday, June 19, 2005

On blind chance ...

Rumor has it my previous post will stir up a hornet's nest. Well, that's good. If everyone stays reasonable we may all end up learning something. In the meantime, here's a passage worth pondering from A.S. Byatt's novel Still Life:

Consider the bee orchid, that trap in the form of a female bee that invites the agitated male to grasp, to penetrate, to shake on the flower flesh that then tips him into a vegetable prison where he must roll, for its fertilization, until it withers. Marcus, like most human beings was constrained to see this as a work of intelligence, not of pure chance. If over millenia the form of the flower has more and more exactly approached the deceptive form of the bee, and the live mechanism has been perfected, it is beyond our intelligence to conceieve of this happening without intelligence. Blind chance is so much harder to imagine, and bears little relation to what we usually mean by chance, the random blow of fate or stroke of luck, the falling of the coin, or rocketing of the billiard balls, this way or that. Through centuries we have believed that our minds mirror the order of things and can therefore appreciate it. The flower has no eyes to see the exactness of its parody. How it knows, if it knows, that it is exact is beyond the scope of our apprehension. Because of the bee orchid, because of that disturbing trope (like Coleridge's marble peach in once sense, a copy, not an image), Marcus had come to extend his ant-god into a pervasive organizing intelligence. He still believed it had nothing to do with him. He struggled not to say, "It was designed to look like a female bee," but it was almost impossible not to believe in a Designer.

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