Google Reader is a great little service. I have some of my favorite blogs registered there, so that I don’t miss new posts when they are written. I have a few theist blogs that I monitor, and occasionally comment on, because, well, it good to keep track of the “other side”, so to speak.
One I keep tabs with in Google Reader posted today about the Universe. He simply observed that atheists and theists have two separate perspectives about the beginnings of the universe. He set them out and asked commenters which one made more sense. I don’t always jump in to his posts, but given the invitation, I left a comment. You can probably imagine which perspective makes more sense to me, but I’ll reproduce my comment here, because well, it’s post-worthy, in my humble opinion.
I think you’re partly right, but only partly in that there’s more to the atheist/theist dichotomy than “How did the Universe get here”. However, I’ll deal with the question as you pose it. Here’s how I’d explain it.
We are part of an amazing, spectacular, unfathomable, intricate universe. Before we even consider our microscopic little blue planet, there are the stars orbited by uncountable planets, gathered into galaxies numbering in the multiplied millions.
Can’t disagree with you too much here. Except, not millions, billions. What I find mind boggling about the universe is its sheer size. The closest star to us is 4 light years away. 4 sounds like a small number until you tag on “light year” to it. That means that it takes 4 years for the light from that star to reach us. Convert that to miles, and you get 186,282 miles per second x 60 x 60 x 24 x 365 x 4 (126,144,000 seconds if I did the math right) equals 23,498,356,608,000 miles. 23 ½ trillion miles, and that’s only the closest star. The farthest reaches of the universe are something like 12 billion light years away. There are approximately 100 billion stars in our galaxy and there are probably hundreds of billions of galaxies, each containing hundreds of billions of stars, in the known universe. Try that math on for size.
So, yes. That’s simply unfathomable. The human mind has not developed enough to fully comprehend the size of such a universe.
Then there is our tiny island with the only life we are presently aware of.
And most likely the only life we will ever have contact with, given those distances. As far as we know now, nothing travels faster than the speed of light. Nothing in the universe so far has been clocked faster. Even if life circles that nearest star, and it could travel at the speed of light, it would still take it four years to get here. Intergalactic space travel is most likely a practical impossibility. So, the interesting question for me is, why would a god create a universe of that size, and that unreachability, just for us humans?. So we can look at it at night? We can’t even see most of it with the naked eye.
Intricate complexity and design is increasingly evident as we delve into the subatomic realms.
Here’s where I start to disagree with you. Where you see design I see, simply, order. There is order in nature, because without order, we’d have no nature to observe. That doesn’t mean there is design, to the extent that you imply a designer. It may look like design to someone who marvels at the design of a watch (like Paley) but to a scientist, there is nothing supporting intelligence behind the order of nature. There ARE natural laws of physics, chemistry and biology that tell us how things work, and predict how they will work in the future. So, you’re skirting on the classic teleological argument that imputes some purpose behind the orderliness of nature, yet without some evidence for it, it’s still just fanciful surmise. It boils down to ignorance, i.e. we don’t know everything, and to impute some purposeful design behind a process just because we don’t know simply puts the cart before the horse. Just because we humans think something looks like it was designed, doesn’t make it so. For instance, both stars and light bulbs give off light. One is clearly designed, but just because they do the same thing doesn’t mean they were both designed.
Atheists call this the “GODDIDIT” argument. “We don’t know the answer, so Goddidit”. Not very logical, is it?
That tends to underscore the different “perspectives” you and I have, theist and non-theist. You tend to look at something and if you don’t understand it, attribute it to something you say you understand – god. I tend to look at something and if I don’t understand it, withhold judgment, maybe even accept the fact that I’ll never understand it, until someone proves to me what the explanation is. But I don’t attribute it to something supernatural.
The theist looks at the universe and concludes there is no way this complexity, intricacy, design and order could happen by itself. The atheist looks at all the complexity, intricacy, design and order and concludes that it did indeed happen by itself.
I don’t think that’s a fair formulation of the dichotomy. A better way to put it would be:
The theist looks at the complexity, intricacy, apparent design and order of the universe and concludes that a supernatural being snapped his fingers in an act of what amounts to pure magic and created it all from nothing. The atheist looks at the complexity, intricacy, apparent design and order of the universe and concludes, based on his limited knowledge and experience, that most likely it was a natural process that created that order, because so far that’s the only explanation for which there is evidence, and natural processes have explained everything else that used to be a mystery, and he leaves it at that.
Remember, historically there were far more things in human existence that were mysteries, that were once attributed to gods(s), but have since been explained naturally. Lightning, thunder, death, drought, eclipses, earthquakes, sun rising, sun setting, etc. All used to be “Acts of god” (my homeowners insurance policy still says that). Of course we now know better. Indeed, one can truthfully say that whenever humanity has conclusively determined the explanation for some earthly mystery previously unexplained, 100% of the time it has been determined that it had a natural origin. All of those previous examples of earthly mysteries have been explained naturally, and many more. Not once have humans ever concluded that a mystery had supernatural origins. Not once.
Me, I’ll go with those odds when looking at the mysteries of the universe that are currently unexplained.