Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Atheist Side to the Argument from Design II

I have often heard anti-evolutionists respond to evolution by saying that the theory is ridiculous because clearly the world could not have been created by chance and must have had a creator. This completely misses the point. The theory of evolution sidesteps the argument from design. It offers a process in which one can, given 500 million years or so get from a single-celled organism to human beings. Atheists can argue that just as we can account for how we got from level plains to the Rocky Mountains simply by postulating millions of years and sifting geological plates so too we can account for how we got from single-celled organisms to human beings by postulating Darwinian evolution; species evolve through natural selection. In both cases, one should have no need to seek recourse from some intelligent designer. Evolution raises some very serious theological questions. First and foremost is the validity of the argument from design. It also calls into question divine providence, the notion of a human species and the validity of human intelligence. I can think of many other issues raised by evolution. Way at the bottom of my concerns is the validity of a literal reading of Genesis or, of many Midrashim. From a theological perspective, I would be far less bothered by anti-evolutionists if they would rally around the very real theological issues that are at stake. By rallying around biblical authority anti-evolutionists show that they do not really care about God, religion, or theology. What they care about is power. The bible must be defended as the ultimate authority because as the ultimate authority it gives ultimate power to those who possess the authority to interpret it. If God wrote the bible he did not do it in order that people could believe that it is true or to allow some people to strut around and claim to be better then scientists. The bible is a moral and theological text. It points to more than just its own authority.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Atheist Side to the Argument from Design

The teleological argument for the existence of God (the argument from design) postulates that the design of the world is so unbelievably complex that it must have been the creation of some sort of intelligent designer. If you were to paint a masterpiece and tell someone that the painting was created by randomly throwing paint at a canvas, that person would think that you are either a liar or a raving lunatic. Says the theist: the world is so much more complex then a simple painting therefore only a liar or a lunatic would ever suggest that it came to be through random forces of nature.

There is a flip side to this argument that needs to be acknowledged. For this argument from painting also offers us a standard from which to judge randomly created designs. If I were to randomly throw different colors of paint at a canvas I can create some unbelievably complex designs. So complex that it would be difficult to reproduce those same exact designs even if one set out to consciously copy each and every splotch of paint on a different canvas. Furthermore, with just a little push of the imagination one can often see pictures in the splotches of paint that are quite detailed. When I was younger I used to play a game with myself in which I would try to make out pictures from the cracks on the walls and ceiling. The pictures that I saw were far better drawn then anything that I ever could draw on my own. We must admit that random splotches of paint and cracks in the ceiling are in fact better artists then many people.

If we look at the world we must admit to the existence of complex objects randomly created by nature. Even the most ardent creationist would admit that there is no intelligent design in the placement of every peak, valley and rock in the Rocky Mountains. The Rocky Mountains are in the specific shape they are in due to random forces of nature such as wind, volcanoes and the shifting of geological plates. Despite the fact that the Rocky Mountains are the creation of random forces of nature, it would not be possible for human beings to recreate the Rocky Mountains down to each and every pebble. Clearly random forces of nature are far more capable designers then even people.

When we look at the world, what sort of design are we seeing? Is it the design of the Mona Lisa or is it the design of random splotches of paint thrown against a canvas?