Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Doesn’t the Beauty and Majesty of the Natural World Prove that God Exists?

A question that gets frequently asked of atheists is how we can possibly look at all the wonders of the natural world and not believe in God? Now, sure, this is partially just a restatement of the classic “Argument from Design” (which I cover in detail here), and it also involves a fair amount of arguing from ignorance or incredulity (“I can’t personally imagine how such a thing is possible without God, therefore it must not be possible”). But I think it actually goes a little deeper than that.

After all, once upon a time, we really did have no idea what caused sunsets, how mountains formed, how rock structures came to looked like they were carved into interesting shapes, etc., so it only made sense to think that such things were specifically created for our benefit. But now we obviously are able to explain how all these things are caused by purely natural forces and principles, so this question can’t just be due to sheer ignorance of how the natural world works. There must be more to it than that.

But hey — maybe all this means is that God created all the natural laws in the first place and therefore is ultimately responsible for it turning out the way it has. Sure, God didn’t personally sculpt the amazing rock formations seen in Utah’s Zion National Park or the Grand Canyon, but can’t we still give Him the credit for creating the rocks and wind and water and setting up a natural system whereby rocks can be eroded by wind and water? And sure, maybe God doesn’t personally paint every single beautiful sunset by hand, but we can still praise Him for creating the water cycles that causes clouds to form and making it so that sunlight refracts when it strikes water droplets, etc., right? And, OK, so maybe God didn’t personally cause those majestic mountains to rise out of the crust and get covered with snow, but we can still worship Him for coming up with the idea of plate tectonics and snow in the first place, right? After all, God created the entire universe from scratch, and therefore every beautiful and awesome and great thing we see in that universe must therefore be the result of God’s will, right?

So, maybe the argument is not simply about how could all these things exist without God but instead why would they all be so majestic and beautiful and awe-inspiring without God. Surely God must have set things up so that the end results would be so amazing, right?

OK, let’s play that game. The natural world is full of amazing, beautiful, wonderful and awe-inspiring things that prove that God exists and loves us enough to share all this beauty with us. Gotcha. Now let’s take a look at all the things in the natural world that aren’t so great shall we? Let’s look at the volcanic eruptions instead of just looking at the majestic mountains. Let’s look at the vast dust storms instead of just looking at the pretty sunsets. Let’s look at the floods and earthquakes and droughts and lightning strikes and tornadoes and hurricanes and tsunamis instead of just looking at the amazing rock formations. And then go look at the children dying of genetic diseases and the ugliness of things like Ebola and smallpox and parasitic infections and flesh-eating bacteria. Care to look at some picture of people with half of their face eaten off? Seriously — go ahead and do a Google image search for flesh-eating bacteria. It’s OK, I’ll wait for you to finish vomiting at the sight and come back here.
Still with me? Wonderful. Now, after looking at all that ugliness in the world, you go ahead and tell me that it’s all a testament to just how depraved and sadistic and cruel God is, since He created the universe from scratch and therefore every horrible and ugly and terrible thing we see in that universe must also be the result of God’s will.
  • No, you can’t claim that the ugliness is just random stuff not under God’s direct control or all the work of Satan.
  • No, you can’t claim that all the bad stuff is the result of man’s exercise of free will, since I didn’t even mention anything related to man’s inhumanity to man.
  • No, you can’t claim that Adam and Eve sinned and somehow caused the entire universe to enter a “fallen” state since (a) that would mean that a supposedly loving God decided to punish the entire universe for the sins of two people and (b) it would also negate all the previously “great” things that you previously gave God credit for. I mean, seriously — either the world is full of ugliness because it is in a fallen state or else it is full of beauty and greatness because of God. You can’t have it both ways.
So, please. Go ahead. You admit that all the ugliness in the world is evidence that God is a sadistic bastard (or, perhaps doesn’t exist at all), and I’ll admit that the beauty in the natural world is evidence that He does exist and loves us so much that He wants to share His glory with us. You don’t get to just look at the good and ignore the bad and claim that it somehow proves something.

Having said all that, let me just make it clear that I do think there are many beautiful, majestic and awe-inspiring sights in the natural world, both here on earth and out in the rest of the known universe. And no, I don’t think the entire universe is a dark and depressing place just because there are also many ugly, hideous and scary things as well. I take the good with the bad and understand that this is what happens when you have a universe that operates on impersonal natural principles and that wasn’t designed specifically for our benefit.

No comments:

Post a Comment