Christians and skeptics often talk past each other. While both see evidence of design in nature, the Christian attributes this design to the work of an intelligent designer. The skeptic, by contrast, views this as an illicit move. Nature is “all there is,” so any explanation that is proffered must be a naturalistic – nature-based – one. Appealing to a “god of the gaps” as an explanation is both cheating and counterproductive, in their view, since it doesn’t actually explain anything. To the skeptic, attributing creation to God is no different than explaining that a genie is granting wishes – it may be a fun story, but it doesn’t advance knowledge in any meaningful way.
The skeptic’s challenge often takes the form of a question, such as “then who created God?” Or, the challenge might involve a counter-point, such as that the explanation of God as the “first cause” is more complex than attributing causes to the natural forces that preceded them. Since simple explanations are preferable to complex ones, there is no need to discuss God. In the end, with their “faith” firmly entrusted to science, the skeptic holds to the view that science will someday unlock the mysteries that presently beguile us.
Taking one last stab at addressing this point, after several prolonged conversations in response to previous posts, has a certain futile quality to it. I have little doubt that the skeptic will respond, once again, that the believer is missing the point. But for what it’s worth…
Imagine you awake one day and find yourself on a massive interstellar space ship. You’ve emerged from a sleeping pod and as you shake off the cobwebs and look around, you see hundreds of similar pods also opening. You find yourself in good company. As the grogginess of prolonged sleep wears off, and you take roll, you find that the hundreds of fellow travelers are all educated and trained in various disciplines. Any question of how you got there and where you’re headed is of little import; right now, the first order of business is meeting your basic needs: keeping the ship running, finding food and water, and maintaining a source of power. As you begin to explore, you find an engine room that is highly complex and advanced, a fully functional hydroponic garden, renewal sources of water and a power source that is both limitless and mysterious. Unfortunately, there are no “owner’s manuals,” no operating instructions that would simplify the task of understanding and maintaining the equipment. Knowledge is gained through trial and error, aided of course by the native intelligence and industry of the engineers among your group. Eventually, you begin to make sense of the machine, as a whole, and its individual systems, but of course questions and problems remain.
Among your group, however, are a number of philosophers. They recognize the need to make the ship work, keep the environment livable and put food on the table. But they keep wanting to talk about different questions: What are we doing here? How did we get here? Where are we going? The others are too busy to ponder these thoughts, or perhaps they just don’t care. “What does it matter?” they respond. Perhaps the ship has always been here. And anyway, knowing the answers to those questions won’t help us solve the practical problems of understanding and operating the ship. Those questions are engineering questions, practical questions that require scientific testing and analysis in order to answer.
The engineers have a point. The pressing problem involves the actual operation of the ship, and answering the question of who made it or where it is heading will not have much “explanatory value.” But the philosophers’ questions are not without meaning. After all, the existence of something rather than nothing and of a designed set of systems are clues. To the rational mind, they speak to the possibility of a creator. But.…they don’t provide practical knowledge: even if you were to conclude that an advanced space-faring race built and populated the ship, how would that help to dismantle and rebuild the engines, or to tweak the performance of the environmental systems. It may be true knowledge, but what use is it?
Perhaps this brief foray into sci-fi will shed a narrow ray of light on the issue. When the Christian argues that God is the only logical explanation for “why” the universe exists, he is not attempting to provide an explanation as to “how” it works. Those questions, and solutions, are best left to science, to be tackled by scientists and engineers, many of who are themselves devout believers.
So, what is the point? Simply this – it’s silly to ignore the obvious. True, the example I used is extreme. The ship and the pods could not have “evolved.” But this is merely a matter of degree. The universe and its contents – especially its living and intelligent denizens– are so complex that a “nature is all there is” explanation just won’t cut it.
In the end, religion doesn’t seek to answer questions like “how does it work?” It seeks instead to focus the inquiry into areas such as “how now shall we live?” It is interested not in machinery but in morality. Because, like in the sci-fi example, whoever left us here may be waiting for us at the end of the journey.
But we’ll never look for guidance to these questions from the God who created us, and left us here, if we continue to insist that He doesn’t even exist.
Posted by Al Serrato