Wednesday, February 24, 2010


In this post atheist Larry Moran criticizes attempts to “prove God” (sic; how can we expect to “prove God” if Larry can’t even expect to “prove evolution”?) from the appearance of design. In his opinion life shows signs of not being designed: He is probably thinking of some of those biological structures that look as though they have been cobbled together as a result of the accumulation of historical accidents. The end product is the kind of legacy architecture one sees in old towns where the next development is constrained by and has to work from the fiat of what has gone before. (If you ask Larry he could probably reel off a whole list of biological examples) In Larry Moran’s mind this concept of haphazard accumulative development is set against the notion of the intelligent planner who starts from a blank sheet and can therefore design a much more direct solution to a problem, a solution unencumbered by past random legacies.

There is, needless to say, a hidden counterfactual theology in the atheism here; namely the assumption that God is a kind of technical whiz who sits down like a human engineer with a virgin drawing board in front of Him and designs his best solutions. (Ironically many anti-evolutionists conceive a similar concept of designer). But perhaps God is a story teller first and an engineer second? Clearly ours is a story, a cosmic story of change, evolution and contingency snatched from the platonic limbo land of possibility, that can and has been told. Perhaps like a human author Deity has sat down not in front of the engineer’s drawing board, but rather in an armchair beside a fire and told our story. If God is God, infinite and inscrutable, how can we be so sure (and naïve) about His motives?

But whatever; at the end of the day we are always left with the Logical Hiatus of having something for nothing; why is there something rather than nothing? Where, if it exists, is the logical necessity to support the apparent contingency of our cosmos? So, in a more abstract sense than we find in the engineering metaphor we seem to have a design question, a question of, as Paul Davies puts it in the “Cosmic Jackpot”: Why this universe and not another? Is it all just random? But what is randomness other than a mathematical description of a particular class of pattern, a pattern that creaks under a huge burden of complex brute contingency. The big question then is who or what sources such complex patterns? Or is the source a hidden ontology that somehow reifies our notion of “chance” in the sense of being a source that can make choices mindlessly?* But to envisage such a source of mindless purposelessness working behind a facade of pattern is itself a perverse kind of theology; an “atheology” that makes the ontology of chance into a god and stultifies further questions because it believes there is neither point nor meaning in asking them. This is the theology of the absurdity of it all.

* What does it mean to make choices without mind? It can’t be randomness because randomness is to do with pattern description and as such makes no necessary allusion to the mechanism of “choice” that sources the pattern. As human minds we can only empathize with mind as the source of choice, so it seems that an ontology of mindless “chance choices” is forever utterly beyond our understanding; we can no more understand what it is like to be a mindless “chance source” than we can understand what it is like to be an ant.

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