It is dark in this forest clearing, and a small fire flickers in the centre of a circle of huts. It's darker than you're imagining right now. Come on, get your finger out. The shadows are bluer. The trees are taller. That's better.
No electric light brooks this primeval sky. Stars and a thin moon hang silently and do their best, but can't quite manage to pull off the effect you get when the light of six million sodium street lamps bounces off concrete. As a result the night sky is staggeringly beautiful.
An old man shuffles through the dust and settles down next to the stones around the fire.
"Let me tell you a story," he says. "Gather round and hear the old man."
"What sort of a story?" asks a little boy, sticking his finger in his mouth in an irritatingly coy way.
"The story of the creation of this world," says the old man, "so sit down and shut up and let me tell you the bloody story."
The little boy sits cross-legged in front of the man and he is the only obvious audience, but grown-ups are sitting in the shadows of the huts, mending nets, fixing pots, tending to scrapes and cuts from the day's fishing.
"Before the world began," says the old man, "there was nothing. Then came a man-"
"What sort of a man?" asks the little boy.
"A great big man, huge muscles, strong and brave. His name was Gerry. Gerry took some mud and fashioned the world and everything in it. He made the sun and the stars to lighten the day and the night-"
"Where did he get the mud from?"
"Where did he get the mud from, if there was nothing?"
"He made the mud," says the old man. "And then he made the world from the mud. 'Took' is figurative."
"Look just shut up, all right? Gerry came and made the world."
Sniggers from the grown-ups in the shadows.
"Gerry made the world," says the old man in a louder voice, "and everything in it. He made the trees and the seas, the earth and the sky, and he took some of the earth, gave it a soul, and made YOU!"
The little boy quivers at the old man's pointing finger.
"And what did you say to him when he did that?" says the little boy.
"It's a figure of speech," says the old man. "I wasn't there."
"Oh," says the little boy. "Sorry, but...where did Gerry come from?"
"Gerry always was," says the old man.
"How does that work?" asks the little boy.
"It just does," says the old man, and the little boy nods.
At this point I stride out from the shadow of the third hut from the left and cuff the old man around the head with a stick, because it's my story and I'll do whatever the hell I like.
"What in Gerry's name did you do that for?" asks the old man.
"Because you're talking bollocks," say I.
So; how are you? I want to talk about complexity today, the unease of ignorance gives as it rests on the human mind, and our appetite for stories, but not necessarily full stories.
If I told you that an ex-girlfriend once swore to kill me with a sword, but it was a long story, and I also told you that I once mistook a supermarket manager for a minor radio celebrity, but it was a long story, which story would you rather hear?
You'd prefer to hear about the ex-girlfriend, right?
Because listening to a story is an investment of your time. You want a return on your investment. You want to be entertained, to learn, to be scared, to enjoy the experience.
As with any investment, if things are looking bad, you think about pulling out. If you're halfway through a book and the writer is mid-stride on a lengthy description of a testicular wart, the shape of which is crucial to the outcome of the story, you're going to be weighing up your options.
You've read this far, but is it really worth going any further?
Maybe you're thinking that about this post, because it's fucking long, and there were a bunch of other updated blogs on your Kinja, you're feeling a little hungry, and you're not sure what I'm getting at.
There can come a point when someone is telling us a story that we don't really want to know any more. We don't care. If it is difficult to understand, doesn't seem relevant and isn't very interesting...we're more than happy to drift off and do something else.
I am not challenging the world's religions with the semi-story above; I just wanted something that would illustrate that moment of not wanting to ask the next obvious question, or not being bothered about the details. Sorry that a religious theme suggested itself first; that's the way of things, I'm afraid.
You're wondering if it's true about my ex-girlfriend swearing to kill me.
There is a story which has become part of the accepted wisdom; the current scientific understanding of evolution and natural selection. It stands independent of religious belief and history, it doesn't detract from those beliefs. Some would argue that evolution renders religious texts irrelevant, others would say that the two do not contradict one another, and others would say that because of religious texts the concept of evolution simply cannot be right.
Evolution is a very complex idea. Douglas Adams said that if it hasn't blown your mind, you haven't understood it. I'm not going to go into it. I just want, in this little ditty I'm penning, to paint the current scientific state of the understanding of evolution as a very complicated story, one which involves one hell of a lot of explanation, new ideas, new concepts, and, as a story, an awful lot of investment from the listener.
When you ask questions about evolution...'How does that work? Seriously? Are you shitting me?' eventually you get down to the big question that no one really knows the answer to, which is, 'How did life start?'
Science doesn't know, and we don't like that science doesn't know.
There is an awful lot that is difficult to understand about the mechanism of evolution, and it takes a lot of listener investment. If an alternative is posited - 'It happened this way because an intelligence made it that way', then most...and I say most, because I'd like to believe that some wouldn't- most people, and children certainly, will happily accept that, because they're close to their investment-pull-out moment and they're not really that bothered.
The alternative of Intelligent Design is, effectively, undercutting evolutionary science, giving an easier route out of the story, an easier explanation of why things are the way they are, and I think, regardless of religious belief, motivation or political cant, the teaching of Intelligent Design would be a disgustingly underhanded trick to play on the children of America.
Teach creationism, teach evolution, teach Flying Spaghetti Monsterism for all I care, but what I feel is totally, completely and abhorrently wrong in all of this would be the act of intellectually undercutting something that you are opposed to as an attempt to depose it.
As a species we love our stories to be simple. Simplicity is often mistaken for truth.
Occams' Razor is often quoted as being 'The simplest explanation is probably the right one'.
This is wrong.
Conveniently for my point, Occam's Razor is a little more complicated.
'Whichever explanation rests upon the fewest assumptions is probably the right one.'
One of the reasons that the tool is misquoted as the former is because we want that to be true. We love our simplicity.
And you're still wondering if it's true about my ex-girlfriend.