By Dave, the WM
A look around at the tremendous variety, beauty, power, and complexity in nature can evoke admiration, awe, and wonder from even the most hardened cynic. Modern Christians often appeal to these emotions to argue the existence of a creator deity. Many Christians consider the arguments from nature to be powerful and convincing evangelistic, apologetic tools.
The concept of nature somehow proving the existence of god isn’t particularly new. In 1691, John Ray, one of the most eminent naturalists of his time, as well as an influential philosopher and a theologian, wrote, “The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of Creation.” One of the most popular books on the subject was written in 1802. Authored by William Paley -- British Christian apologist, philosopher, and utilitarian – the book was entitled “Natural Theology, or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity Collected from the Appearances of Nature.” Paley is also the one credited with birthing the now famous Watchmaker analogy that is so often recited as some great “AHA” by Evangelical Fundamentalists.
To be concise, Natural Theology asserts that the vast complexity of nature points to a designer much in the same way a watch points to a watchmaker.
But is this line of reasoning really effective for proving the existence of Christianity’s god?
While a watch assuredly implies some sort of a watchmaker, it can also just as likely imply a whole group of watchmakers, or an apprentice watchmaker, or even a watch making machine. The “god” found through Natural Theology lacks any of the attributes associated with the god of the Christian Bible, and describes more accurately the god of Deism. And, by analogizing god as a watchmaker, the basis for the design argument rests on the premise that God behaves much like a human being.
But there are more points to consider:
1) We can easily confirm the existence of watch factories, watchmakers, etc. We also know that watches do not naturally occur and that watches are in fact made by people. We cannot, however, be sure whether the universe is really designed or not. There is no way for us to compare a designed universe with an un-designed universe. We have no reference point, no measuring stick, and no knowledge about the matter.
2) The watchmaker argument is basically an argument from ignorance: “I cannot imagine how an intricate system could come about without an intelligent designer.” Therefore, god exists?
3) The argument from design seeks support from the emotions of awe and wonder rather than from reason.
Intelligent Design (ID) is nothing but a repackaged version of the old Natural Theology. ID purports to be scientific, but the fact that ID is primarily argued for in the courts of law and public opinion, rather than in scientific arenas, presents an interesting picture. Lately, the most vocal proponents of ID appear to have a clear political and social agenda which has nothing to do with science.
Further, ID explains nothing. If GOD, in a spontaneous act of design and creation brought the universe and all that is in it into existence, then that event wasn’t exactly natural. An event like that would be supernatural and miraculous. And by definition, supernatural, miraculous events are unexplainable. All we can do with a supernatural event is label it as supernatural. There is no way for us to explain things that lie outside of nature. In fact, should we actually explain a miracle, it is no longer miraculous.
If Intelligent Design lacks the ability to explain anything beyond simply saying the universe is inexplicable, what is the real point behind the rabid promotion of ID?
Online Reading List
- An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish by Bertrand Russell (1943)
- Bible Teaching and Religious Practice by Mark Twain
- God is Imaginary
- Is there an Artificial God? by Douglas Adams (1998)
- Skeptics Annotated Bible
- The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (1795)
- Which Way? by Robert Ingersoll (1884).
- Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)