"The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." -- Bertrand Russell

Sunday, May 27, 2012

What God Would Fancy

A number of Christians (or otherwise religious people) are astounded at how well designed our universe appears to be for human life; that God must rather like us for making a universe like ours. Well, I don't think this is right at all; as far as I can tell, if God exists, He rather fancies diffuse clouds of hydrogen gas.

Edit: Apparently, I'm not alone in this thought. Philosopher Brad Weslake of the University of Rochester sent me this quote from J.B.S. Heldane: "The Creator would appear as endowed with a passion for stars, on the one hand, and for beetles on the other, for the simple reason that there are nearly 300,000 species of beetle known, and perhaps more, as compared with somewhat less than 9,000 species of birds and a little over 10,000 species of mammals. Beetles are actually more numerous than the species of any other insect order. That kind of thing is characteristic of nature..."

And a sophomore from Virginia Tech tells me: "The universe is life-destroying machine. Humans aren't even a blip on its radar and we won't exist for 99% of its history. We're at the mercy of every solar flare and asteroid that narrowly misses destroying us all. If God exists, he's got a sick sense of humor."

I replied to her that perhaps the Almighty is simply woefully unconcerned with (or perhaps even ignorant of) the plight of humans.

I should comment that I have seen Neil deGrasse Tyson say strikingly similar things to some of the sentiments that I have placed here. An example is given in his talk here (with a shorter clip here.) Another line of similar thought has been expressed both by Richard Dawkins and by Stephen J Gould, both in connection with the fact that biological systems do not appear to be particularly well designed for the purposes that one would most immediately think they would be designed for. Dawkins made this comment about the laryngeal nerve (link here) and Gould made such comments about the panda's thumb (link here).

Philosopher Elliott Sober responded to both Gould and Dawkins in what I view to be a quite persuasive way by noting that we do not know what the motivations of a deity would be. In fact, any attempts to speculate about a deity's motives could not possibly be empirically backed in a manner that isn't simply question begging. Therefore, we cannot surmise what a deity would be either more or less likely to make.

Nonetheless, Sober's comment was partially what led me to my thought above. We might not know what a deity's motivations would be or what arcane motives might move such a being to create the quite bizarre structures we find in nature; nonetheless, we can be sure that provided such a being exists, the things we see in nature would be precisely what that being ordered. In that sense, there is no way in which we should be seen as of central interest in any imaginable cosmic narrative.

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