Imagine you were walking in a deep forest with a friend when you both stumbled upon a log cabin. You would naturally assume that something with intelligence created it (presumably a person or a group of people), even if there was no empirical evidence of a builder other than the cabin itself. Unless you had more evidence, you will NOT presume a specific builder by name, but the assumption of intelligence will become a base premise that is non-negotiable.
Now suppose your traveling companion said the cabin is just a result of the random forces of nature, matter and energy coming together over time to form the cabin. You would not only disagree, but perhaps also steer your friend toward some psychiatric help. Even if your friend could recite astonishing details about the forces of nature, matter and energy to prove his sanity, you might then conclude that he is so smart, he has become stupid. To accept your friend’s conclusion would be not only unreasonable, but also irresponsible.
- Now, just begin to increase the physical size of the cabin. Suppose it was the size of a mountain. You would have the same conclusion about “intelligence”. You will not presume the builder must specifically be Paul Bunyan, but the same impartial assumption about an intellect remains.
- Now, increase the size of the cabin to the size of planet earth…same conclusion about intelligence, although you might drop the part about the source of it being human.
- Now, keep increasing the size of the cabin to the size of the universe…same conclusion.
- Now consider our minds, our bodies, our planet and the finely tuned universe we live in that are all much more complex than a log cabin… same conclusion. Intellectual honesty tells us that it’s all beyond what random mindlessness can do for itself.
The science of the past took reason seriously with a premise like this, “We know the creator is intelligent, so we must go forward assuming the universe is intelligible.” This is similar to our approach about the cabin. If you desired to learn more about the construction details, you would do so under the assertion that there is “thinking” behind it all. Today, many hold the backwards, upside down and non-negotiable premise of, “We know the universe is intelligible, so we must go forward assuming there is NO intelligence behind it.”
“It is truly glorious for a religion to have such unreasonable men as enemies.”
- Blaise Pascal
All this might sound very similar to Paley’s watchmaker analogy, which may in turn remind some of the rebuttals offered by philosopher David Hume. For example, very complex self-order is observed in nature regularly, such as the process of snowflake generation from water molecules. This is true, but assuming intelligence behind it is still reasonable. Observing an application running on a computer may give the appearance that the computer is a self-ordered thing, but we know there is a programmer, not to mention a host of other precise, intelligent conditions needed for a computer to run.
Here is another; who designed the designer? If a well-ordered natural world requires a special designer, then this great designer requires an even greater designer and so on and so on ad infinitum. If we can accept a mysteriously self-ordered intelligence as an explanation for the natural world, why not just accept a mysteriously self-ordered natural world by itself?
The problem is the reality we observe in the natural world; the data and the logic. Nothing in the natural world is really self-ordered. The order everything has is contingent upon the order of something else that came before it, until you trace back to some final reality that requires no other condition for its order. Why the need for a final reality? Why not just keep tracing conditions back to infinity? The reason is that an infinite succession of past conditions presents us with a contradiction.
- Premise #1:Infinity as applied to an accumulating succession is always more than can be ever achieved. It is unachievable.
- Premise #2: For something to exists, all the conditions needed for its existence must be achieved.
- Conclusion: Anything that exists cannot come from an infinite succession of conditions because it would depend upon an unachievable number of past conditions being fulfilled. To say it can is like saying the unachievable has been achieved, which is a contradiction. This is true for an infinite succession of intelligent designers as much as anything else.
An unconditioned intelligent “something” that transcends the natural world is the reasonable and responsible position to hold using reason alone, and we would all do well to ponder what a curious “something” that would be. Nothing in this post definitively proves all the Catholic theology there is about God, but to say the universe and everything in it, from the stars in the sky to the love in your heart, is a mindless accident that magically happens by itself is truly wishful thinking for the non-believer who wishes to avoid the reality of things. In terms of believing in fairytales, never was the shoe so firmly on the other foot.
“Man does not explain himself to himself without the odd suspicion that he is missing something.”