Big Bang Theory

BigBang

You’re probably familiar with William Paley’s teleological argument for the existence of God. If you haven’t used it yourself then you’ll have been subjected to it by proselytising believers. A couple of days ago I had someone treat me to an updated version of the argument.

I was on the phone with a sales-person, talking about his company’s product, when he decided it would be a good time to dust off the old idea, give it a make-over and use it to convince me of God’s existence.

He started by asking me if I would agree that a computer must have an intelligent designer; I agreed this was so (though I have my reservations.) He responded with ‘how much more then must the universe and life on Earth – being so much more complex than a computer – also have an intelligent designer.’ He said this was ‘something to think about,’ and I agreed it was, though maybe this wasn’t the best answer I could’ve given.

Having ‘demonstrated’ that everything must be intelligently designed, my new friend announced that this was therefore irrefutable proof that Allah must have made everything.

Oops. I’m sure this isn’t what the Reverend Paley had in mind when he devised his watch analogy two centuries ago. His proof, however, is every bit as much a demonstration of Allah’s existence and creativeness as it is Yahweh’s. Or Vishnu’s or Marduk’s or any other of the multitude of deities credited with intelligently creating the universe and life in this insignificant part of it. Any one of them could’ve done it according to the teleological argument. Take your pick and sign up for the set of beliefs that corresponds with your choice.

But wait – complex machines like watches and computers bear no relation to anything in nature. A watch found on a heath, as Paley conjectures, or computers in hedgerows, can only have got there because a human being put them there (fly-tipping again). They would not be there because they’d arisen, like the rocks, grass and other plants that surround them, through the processes involved when nature creates something. Moreover, we know that machines have intelligent creators, because we are they. What doesn’t follow is that because man-made objects are demonstrably the product of intelligence that natural ones, which, remember, bear no relation to computers, watches, cars and CAT scanners, are as well.

We are gaining more understanding of how the universe came to be. Significantly, it doesn’t require that there is intelligence behind it. If it did, we would then need to explain how that intelligence arose, who created it and by what process. To say, as religious believers are wont to do, that this supreme intelligence has always existed is no explanation at all. If we’re to have something that has always existed then it is far more likely to be that which we know really does exist, rather than something we don’t. Conceding the longevity of the components of the universe, which we know to exist, is a far better bet than inventing deities to account for it. A God no more explains life, the universe and everything than do fairies the intricacies of my computer (gremlins maybe, but not fairies.)

For all that, life on Earth does have a creator. The genealogy of the universe tells us that physics begat chemistry begat biology. (‘But if life emerged from physical and chemical processes, then how come there’s still physics and chemistry?’) All life on Earth, including ourselves, is the product of these processes, ‘the blind watchmaker‘ that Richard Dawkins speaks of. They are not intelligent, do not have names like Yahweh or Allah and do not, on their own, create the machines that only humans can design.

Christians’ Favourite Delusions 20: The Lord God Made Them All

creation

The poster outside a church in my neighbourhood informs all who pass by that ‘the Earth is the Lord’s and everything that is in it’ (Psalm 24.1). Christians seem to think it’s important that their deity is the one who made the universe and life in this particular small part of it. Some even go so far as to say their God (though being Jewish he wasn’t their God back then, of course) made the world and all of its occupants including ourselves, literally within 6 days, about 6,000 years ago. I suppose that’s where you end up if your premise is that mythical beings, like ol’ Jehovah, actually exist. A third of Americans believe in Creation, innumerable web-sites insist an Intelligent Designer is responsible for life on Earth and street preachers are happy to tell you that evolution is a lie. ‘Were you there?’ asks Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis, as if this clinches the deal.

But let’s be generous. Let’s concede that we don’t know how life started on this planet – because we don’t – and let’s jump to the conclusion that therefore it must’ve been the Christian God. It’s not a very convincing line of reasoning, I know, but I’m being generous as I say. So let’s acknowledge that the Lord did indeed make hummingbirds and butterflies, roses and angel fish, lambs and tygers and all other bright and beautiful things, more or less in their present form.

But that means we’ll also have to concede that he made mosquitoes, flies, lice, ring-worms, parasites of all descriptions, E-Coli, pneumacoccus, all manner of harmful bacteria, viruses, AIDs, cancer – and on and on. The naturalist David Attenborough points out that Creationists are quick to give credit to their God for hummingbirds but that he himself sees ‘a little child in east Africa with a worm burrowing through his eyeball. The worm cannot live in any other way, except by burrowing through eyeballs. I find that hard to reconcile with the notion of a divine and benevolent creator.’

How do Christian creationists square their loving God with such harmful creatures?

There are only four possible ‘explanations’ available to them:

1. Harmful bacteria, viruses and parasites were ‘good’ when God first made them (Genesis 1.31). Then, like everything else, they become perverted when Adam and Eve ate some forbidden fruit.

But this creates more questions than it answers. What were these creatures like in their original forms? How did they live, when their ‘life-cycle’ depends on them infecting other forms? How did they change from being ‘good’ into the creatures they are today? It can’t have been by the process we know as evolution because, of course, evolution is a lie.

2. The Devil made them to plague mankind. He even made sure they survived Noah’s flood – no doubt in the bodies of Noah’s family and the animals supposedly on the Ark.

But if Satan did create them, doesn’t that make him as clever as God in his own way? (I know, I know, the devil doesn’t exist either but I’m trying to think like a Christian here). In any case, why would God let him? Ultimately, he’s responsible for his creation.

3. God made them because, even from the beginning, infections, infestations and disease were all part of what he considered ‘good’.

If this is the case, what an evil bastard he is, indistinguishable from Satan himself.

4. God, the Intelligent Designer just set things in motion at the beginning before leaving evolution to do his work for him.

But, as Darwin pointed out, evolution is a mindless, haphazard, wasteful process that relies heavily on sex and death. What is a supposedly loving, intelligent designer doing using it to bring about his creation? Did he forget that evolution is lie?

Which leaves us with the fact that if God designed and created all life intelligently, as many Christians want to believe, then much of his creation shows little sign of either his love or his intelligence. It does, however, show every sign of having come about as the result of a mindless, haphazard, wasteful process, in which all life-forms occupy their own particular niche to which they have adapted and have evolved, through an infinite amount of sex and death, into the life-forms we see today – hummingbirds and eye-burrowing worms included.