September 28, 2005

It's the Rael thing - 2

In an earlier post, I introduced the basic Raelian idea of how the various life forms on Earth were planted here after being created by the Elohim genetic engineers living on their distant planet. (See Robert T. Pennock's excellent book Tower of Babel, pages 233-242.)

The Raelians have a pretty comprehensive theory that in the wealth of its details puts the IDC theory to shame. The Raelian explanations for many of the features of life are stunning in their simplicity and their explanatory power.

Take for example, the fact that many flowers and birds and animals have beautiful colors and scents and ornamental features that seem to serve no obvious functional purpose. Evolutionary theorists have to work hard to show how these features could arise from the small differential advantages they provided along their slow evolutionary trek to what we see now. (See Richard Dawkins' book Climbing Mount Improbable, among others, for how some of these seemingly designed things came about according to Darwinian theory.)

IDC theory on the other hand simply sees biological sophistication and complexity as evidence for a designer, which is not really an explanation. But the Raelian explanation is far more straightforward. Their Elohim biological engineers worked closely with their artists to create not just functional organisms but also things of beauty. These artists were allowed in many instances to allow their creativity to run wild, even if in some cases form took precedence over function so that some birds, like peacocks, were barely able to fly but looked terrific. The spectacular plumage of some tropical birds can be attributed to a Raelian Jackson Pollock letting fly with the pigments.

What about the creation of human beings? This was their biggest technical challenge because we were to be created in the image of the Elohim. To achieve that result, they started with monkeys and tweaked them, experimenting with adding the kinds of features that make us human. Not all their experiments were successful and the errors resulted in the fossils found on Earth that, according to Raelians, Darwinian evolutionists mistake as being our evolutionary ancestors.

So in a sense, the Raelians agree with evolutionary theory that there is some hierarchy in the order in which biological organisms occurred on the Earth and thus there is some element of 'descent with modification.' But they disagree with modern biology (and agree with the IDCs) by saying that these organisms were designed and not the result of natural selection. The increasing complexity of life with time as revealed by the fossil record is, according to the Raelians, the consequence of more and more advanced and ambitious experimentation. But they disagree with the IDC people by saying that the designer was not god or anything supernatural but simply Elohim genetic engineers.

If you are looking for the 'best' explanation of life on Earth according to the criteria that IDC people would like to have us use, then the Raelian explanation beats ID hands down. With god as the intelligent designer for IDC, there is always the awkward question of how to explain those features of life that are not well designed, such as the human appendix. Or to explain the presence of diseases and death and other things that seem to not be very intelligently designed. Or to explain the existence of suffering. It is hard to understand why any intelligent designer would create Down's syndrome and the many other cruel diseases that afflict children and adults. Looking at those seeming defects makes one want to echo the words of Alfonso X (king of Castile and Leon from 1252 to 1284 CE) who, surveying the increasingly messy picture of the solar system that was being described by the Ptolemaic system was driven to proclaim that "if God had consulted him when creating the universe he would have received good advice." (Thomas Kuhn, Structure of Scientific Revolutions, page 69.)

The IDC response to these challenging questions is to invoke the inscrutability of god. They say that we cannot know the aims and purposes of the designer so we are not in a position to judge the suitability of the design. They say that the purpose of the design is currently hidden from us but we have to accept on faith the existence of a purpose. It is not an unreasonable response, once one accepts the existence of an inscrutable god, but it does come off as somewhat defensive and unsatisfying to all but the true believers.

But the Raelian explanation has no problems at all with these questions. If some designs are flawed it is because they were made by imperfect aliens who, while advanced in their technology, were still experimenting and made mistakes. So cancer, Lou Gehrig's disease, and the like are bugs in the design. Raelian genetic engineers, squirreled away in their distant research laboratories, are presumably still working on better models. It is just our bad luck that we were based on engineering blueprints that were available before they had developed better models of humans.

The Raelian model explains a lot of other stuff as well. There is a huge industry involving speculations that aliens have visited the Earth. Even in the Bible there are passages that are puzzling but have been interpreted by some as being evidence of early alien visits. For example, in Genesis 6:1-4, just prior to the great flood story, there is a passage that says that "the sons of the gods saw that the daughters of men were beautiful so they took for themselves such women as they chose…In those days, when the sons of the gods had intercourse with the daughters of men and got children by them, the Nephilim were on earth. They were the heroes of old, men of renown" (The New English Bible adds a footnote that translates Nephilim as giants.)

Who are these mysterious "sons of the gods" who, without warning or explanation by the writers of Genesis, suddenly appear on Earth and just as suddenly disappear? I have no idea what conventional theology says about this but Raelians say that these were a few of the Elohim aliens who were so enamored of their own creations that they formed liaisons with them. And there's more. The fire and brimstone that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah? Atomic bombs dropped by the aliens. The Ten Commandments? Given to Moses by one of the visiting aliens. And so on.

Similarly Raelians suggest that the other Biblical and non-Biblical "evidence" for visits to earth by extraterrestrials that were championed by Erich von Daniken in his book Chariots of the Gods (which enjoyed a huge vogue a few decades ago and is still a source of inspiration to UFO enthusiasts) are also due to visits by the Elohim.

Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke makes the point that any sufficiently advanced technology will seem like magic to the naïve observer. Since the writers of the Biblical books had no understanding of such advanced technology, the Elohim and their acts were baffling to the writers who, being unable to comprehend such an advanced technology, saw in them acts of gods.

As you can see, the Raelian theory is pretty comprehensive. So if you want a theory that really "explains" things that other theories cannot, which is the measure that IDC advocates assert is the measure of a good theory, Raelism leaves IDC theories in the dust.

But is it science? We'll see in a future posting. But if the suspense is unbearable for you, here's a hint: The answer is no.

POST SCRIPT 1: When bad things happen

Stephen Colbert of The Daily Show ponders the age-old question: Why does God allow things like Katrina to happen?


Trackback URL for this entry is: It's the Rael thing - 3
Excerpt: In two previous posts (here and here), I discussed how the Raelian theory of how life was far more comprehensive...
Weblog: Mano Singham's Web Journal
Tracked: September 29, 2005 08:18 AM


Hah, this story about the Raelians reminds me of the story at the beginning of "A Brief History of Time." An old woman listens to a physicist's lecture, then afterwards she stands up and tells him that the earth is not round - it's a pancake on the back of a giant turtle. The physicist smugly asks, "And what does the turtle stand on?" The old lady replies, "Very clever, young man. It's turtles all the way down!"This story about the Raelians is more elegant and provides a better explanation for humans' existence than the theory of evolution or creationism. But the question remains, how did the Raelians come to be?

Posted by Audrey Nemeth on September 28, 2005 11:00 AM

Yes, that is true. But if you are only interested in explaining life on Earth, then the Raelian theory 'works'.

On the Raelian website they have a FAQ that addresses your question. They say:

"If we believed in God, we might ask "Who created God". If we believed in evolution and the "Big Bang" we might ask "where did this matter and energy come from that created the big-bang?".
For the Elohim, it is the same - they were created by people coming from the sky as were their creators. It's an infinite cycle of life. One day scientists from earth will also go to another planet and populate it."

So there you go, infinite regression rears its ugly head again.

Posted by Mano Singham on September 28, 2005 11:30 AM

I find it very, very interesting that the Raelians' theories (which, interestingly, use one of the Hebrew names for G-d for the creators) are more appealing to you than the Bible. As the Raelians wrote their theories more recently, they were able to make them more elaborate; G-d had to write Genesis so that it would make sense back then and still be true today. For an explanation on how Genesis does not conflict with science, please see Gerald Schroeder, Genesis and the Big Bang. In neither case, though, do these non-scientific items belong in a science class - ID is little more than disguised Creationism; Raelian theory isn't much better.
Also, you may want to recheck your translation of Genesis 6:2. While the Name of G-d does appear in an unusual context, it also appears in a similar context in Exodus 4:16 - where it clearly means "master". So, either it means that the ruling class subjugated the lower class or, alternately, that G-d-fearing men (hence Sons of G-d) took non-righteous women as wives, who corrupted them. (Both opinions, especially the latter, are from Jewish commentators.) As I have written before, be very, very careful with translations of complex works - things are often far more complicated than they seem...

Posted by William Sherwin on September 29, 2005 12:41 AM

I think you're missing the point. In part 1, Prof. Singham remarks,

want to take the IDC argument about using better 'explanations' as the yardstick for theory quality at face value and see where, if the IDC policy is accepted, it can lead.

Nowhere has he said that "Raelian theory should be taught." Instead, he's said, "if we take ID at it's face, then Raelian theory proves to be on par, if not superior to it."

Posted by V on September 29, 2005 07:59 AM

Yes, as V points out, it should have been clear that I was just exploring the consequences of taking the IDC premise seriously, not endorsing the Raelian view. Although, I have to admit, the Raelian theory is one of the most fun theories I've come across in a while!

Posted by Mano Singham on September 30, 2005 07:35 AM