The World is Not Enough?
May 12, 2011
Religious people remain astounded by the notion that the world wasn't made for us. Why isn't the world a world enough?
Believers still search the world and scan the skies for signs of a creator's loving hand. But they keep seeing things that aren't really there.
There is a peculiar kind of deception causing the problem here. There's plenty to see out there in nature -- and religion makes people see way too much that isn't really there. Religious people earnestly want to see signs of design, and so they do manage to "see" those signs in their ignorance.
Religion is full of this kind of ignorance responsible for seeing illusions of design. It is rampant in contemporary denials of natural evolution. It is rampant in theological demands that only a God could cause the big bang origin of our universe. But an illustration of this illusion doesn't require intricacies of genetics or cosmology -- just an easier example can illustrate what is going on here in believers' minds.
Let’s hear from William Leitch, Presbyterian minister and the president of Queen’s College in Canada. He admired science and astronomy, and he published some natural theology himself. His popular book was called God’s Glory in the Heavens, or, Contributions to Theology and it was published in 1862. Leitch talks about how the observation of the strange paths of comets in the sky helped to destroy Medieval astronomy and its theological dogma that heavenly bodies track perfect orderly circles. But Leitch knew very little about comets. He still thought that he could perceive God’s hand in comets:
“The constitution of comets viewed in connexion with the arrangement of the solar system strikingly illustrates the wisdom of God. Were comets not composed of such attenuated matter, the stability of the solar system would be destroyed and life would soon be impossible on our globe. The stability depends on all the principal bodies being confined nearly to one plane but the comets move in every possible plane and hence if they were possessed of a planetary density they would fatally disturb the equilibrium of the system. The motion of comets would interfere similarly with the regular motion of the planets did they move in the same plane and when we consider the thousands of comets that are constantly sweeping across the solar system the chance of collision would be by no means inconsiderable.” (pp. 173)
Well, we know better. We don’t observe many large comets now threatening Earth because the big comets had mostly crashed into Earth and the other planets billions of years ago when the solar system was younger. There still are plenty of comets out there, and the rare collision with Earth is capable of destroying most life including our species. We happen to now flourish on the Earth during a period of relative calm in the astronomical neighborhood, but that calm could end at any moment. The idea that God took a hand in designing the paths of comets so carefully to protect humanity now just looks silly. Only ignorance of the solar system's real history could permit any "observation" of its careful design.
So many things about the world or our whole universe still look like "signs" of a creator's careful hand to faithful believers. But it's only "faith goggles" that are doing the work, not any sort of genuine knowledge. Don't let any believer tell you about any "evidence" for God; its not even a debatable matter.
#1 Bruce Gorton on Friday May 13, 2011 at 2:05am
The world is not enough, but its such a perfect place to start…
#2 Pau (Guest) on Friday May 13, 2011 at 3:03am
Gorton, do you really find earth a perfect place? I rather see it as a place full of errors, disgraces and suffering. Whoever made it, sure was a blunderer!
#3 Bruce Gorton on Friday May 13, 2011 at 3:07am
Its a Bond reference.
#4 Eric Charles on Friday May 13, 2011 at 5:30pm
The irony is that Leitch is right about almost all of what he said. In fact, life as we know it would not work out well if the comets had planetary density, etc. He is just wrong about the explanation for such a fortuitous set of circumstances. We have fortuitous circumstances now, because (as John points out) really bad stuff (from the perspective of life) happened for millennia. He is also wrong that really bad stuff won’t happen at some point in the future. So, this is another case in which the descriptive content of the theological observations is correct, its just that the explanation doesn’t hold up.
#5 gray1 on Friday May 13, 2011 at 9:05pm
Apparently there are the heavens and then there are the heavens, and never the twain shall meet.