Archive for Wisdom

Intelligent design? Did God have to intervene?

Intelligent design has caused huge division, particularly in the United States. In a nation that is predominantly Christian, the debate is not just between atheists and theists. Rather, even within the Christian community, there is deep divide about the influence that God had in bringing about human life. In this article, we set aside the question of whether or not God exists. Instead, starting with the premise that God does exist, we ask whether or not intelligent design makes sense.

The real question is: After God created the universe, did he continually intervene so as to bring about the evolution of life and human beings, or did this happen as a result of natural processes such as genetic mutations and natural selection? Many Christians feel that the natural selection viewpoint implies that life and the evolution of humanity is something akin to a random occurrence or accident, and that given the complexity and special nature of human beings, such a viewpoint cannot possibly be correct. Furthermore, if each and every one of us has a soul, and the human body is a vehicle for this soul, how could it not have been designed? Other Christians, however, have seen the compelling evidence for natural selection as the driver of evolution, and feel that to disregard this evidence is to bury our heads in the sand.

So, can we believe in God, believe we each have a soul, believe in heaven, and yet not believe that God created and designed human beings? The answer is that we do not have to. As we shall see, whether we believe that evolution was driven by divine intervention, or by the forces of nature, it is still quite correct to say that God created and designed human beings. The reason is simple: if God is both omniscient and omnipotent, then when he created the universe, he knew exactly how life would evolve and how human beings would come about. It is similar to shooting an arrow at a deer: although our action may be to simply pull an arrow against a bowstring and subsequently release, anyone would agree that by doing so, we kill the deer. It would be absurd to argue that the laws of gravity and momentum killed the deer, and that we had no part in it. Similarly, for an omniscient God, creating the universe such that human beings would evolve, and directly creating human beings, amounts to the same thing.

Hence, the dispute is not over whether God created human beings. Instead, it is the less controversial question of whether the initial creation was enough to bring about human beings, or whether God subsequently intervened to bring them about. Those arguing for the latter viewpoint are effectively arguing for a less powerful god, because their viewpoint raises the question: “why did God have to intervene?”.

Returning to our arrow analogy, suppose that God were to shoot an arrow at a deer. We then ask, would the arrow take its course and hit the deer, or would God have to subsequently intervene to ensure that the deer is struck? Two possibilities that might require intervention are (1) if the deer were to move, or (2) if the wind were to change and blow the arrow off course. This implies that there are forces outside of God’s knowledge, such as the wind, or the will of the deer. Therefore, intervention is required if God is not completely omniscient.

Even if God is omniscient, intervention may still be required. Suppose that the deer is far away and the arrow cannot reach it. God may not be able to achieve the force necessary to strike the deer without breaking the string of his bow. The argument here is that, if God is bound by the laws of nature, then it may not be possible for him to create an initial universe in which human beings are guaranteed to evolve. This implies that God is bound by the laws of nature, and thus his omnipotence has limits.

So we are left with two cases in which intervention is required: The first is that God is not completely omniscient, and thus his initial creation may not lead to the results that he wants, necessitating later intervention. The second is that God is not completely omnipotent but is rather bound by the laws of nature, and that it is impossible to create a creation that leads to human beings within the bounds of these laws.

As a final point, we note that we can also disregard divine intervention as a possibility, and yet still not believe that genetic mutations and natural selection alone explain the evolution of human beings. To make a final return to the arrow analogy, the path of an arrow cannot be completely described without considering the phenomenon of air resistance. Similarly, there may be a third, completely natural factor, that has also contributed to evolution. Currently, scientists tell us that such a factor is unnecessary to explain the observed evolution of life, but perhaps that will change.

As always, the goal of this site is not to argue for one position over another, but rather to encourage people to think about why they believe what they do. For those who believe that God created human beings, we point out that such a belief can be perfectly consistent with natural selection. For those who insist upon subsequent divine intervention, we ask them why: is it because God is not completely omniscient, or because he is not completely omnipotent? Or perhaps you will come up with another reason, such as that he changed his mind about how the creation should look. Whatever your viewpoint, we encourage thinking about it, challenging it, and asking whether it really makes sense. It is sad that people become so emotional and caught up in this debate over intelligent design, and yet despite their willingness to attack the convictions of others, they have seldom investigated their own.

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Why unbelievers will not go to hell

The British philosopher Bertrand Russell was once asked his response if, upon dying, God were to ask why he had not believed. Russell’s answer: “Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!” He raises an interesting question: why are we obliged to believe if we do not think that the evidence supports it?

The emphasis on belief is peculiar to theistic religions. The common question in the West is “what are your religious beliefs?”. It would seem that a more pertinent question would relate to one’s spiritual practices or views. After all, there is more to religion than sitting quietly in a corner and believing something. Surely it is more important to love thy neighbour, practise forgiveness, speak the truth and give generously. These things have a much greater effect in the world.

People hold many views on how the universe was created, how humans came about, and the role of God and whether he exists. Some of these views may be wrong, and they may be many different perspectives on the same thing. In Good Company, there is a story of an elephant who appears in a village inhabited mainly by blind people. Each wanted to experience the elephant, but of course each touched a different part.

The one who felt the foot said an elephant was a pillar, the one who had felt the tail said it was like a stick, and so it went on with the ears, trunk, tusks, fat belly, etc. Each person described it according to the type of experience to which they could relate it. Then they started arguing. ‘Yours was not the proper elephant, yours was illusion, mine is the only real one, etc.’ Later on the mahout told them, ‘You cannot have a complete picture of the elephant. All you can do is put together all your different experiences of “elephant”, and out of these experiences you can imagine a novel creature known as “elephant”. But it is the sum of all these parts and something more, which represents the wholeness of the creature known as “elephant”.’

Like the blind men and the elephant, it is easy for us to disagree about the nature of the universe or a concept such as God, even if we are all talking about the same thing. Does this disagreement matter?

At the end of the day, I do not think we will go to heaven based on our understanding of metaphysics. Our religious beliefs are not a strong indicator of our character. The Truth is beyond our comprehension, and there is no shame is saying that we do not know, or in saying, as Russell said, “Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!” If we are to judge our character, it should not be based on our beliefs in God, a soul, or life after death. Instead, it should be based on who we are, how we treat others, and how we live our lives. It is qualities such as honesty, integrity, and love, that will determine our final destination.

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