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Editorial

Published on August 21st, 2012 | by Saransh Sharma

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‘God did it!’ approach to the Universe and its mysteries

I’ve noticed a lot of people somehow see God as a “magical default.” That is, unless there is no natural explanation available for a phenomenon OR even if all the evidence in the world is available for a naturalistic explanation, but they are either unaware of it or never really understood it is simply assumed “God did it!“. This article hopes to only examine how ‘God did it! is a terrible explanation for the questions about the natural world and the universe. I see people on a daily basis killing their own and more importantly their children’s natural inquisitiveness about the natural world with the intellectually lazy ‘God did it!/God made it this way’ answers. With the ‘God did it!’ approach, the net increase in knowledge is nothing. What they don’t realize is that, they are still standing exactly where they were before getting this ‘answer‘.

The idea of a creator of the universe

The levels of scientific ignorance in our society alarming. Most(Yes. Most!) of the ‘educated’ adults in our societies don’t have understanding of elementary science. I think in part the reason for this is the way science is taught. Very few school level science teachers are able to expose the seduction of science to children. Thus, many develop this notion of science being too boring! Which is just not true. Science(i.e., understanding the nature of reality of the universe) is magical in the truest sense of the word. The other reason for this widespread scientific ignorance is that our education system is broken, i.e., it is possible for students to pass; not just pass, but even ace in terms of marks and still have no appreciable understanding of the concept. This widespread scientific ignorance makes the ‘God did it’ pill easier to swallow.

Whenever I have casually asked theist why do they suppose that a God exists, most often than not, I get an answer which is a variance of:

Who/What else do you suppose {made / created / makes} the { (humans,plants and animals) / (magnificent Mountains,Massive oceans,Earth,moon,Sun,stars) / (seasons,tides,monsoons,day-night keep coming and never missing a beat) / (etc..) } ??

But now science knows so much!

We now have a very good understanding of: How did the mind boggling variety of plants animals came about? How old the Earth/our Solar system is? How old the Universe is? How did the stars and planets form? How did complexity such as the Human eye/Brain or a butterfly’s beautiful wings arise in nature? etc.. Thankfully for our species this list is now massive(and grows everyday). Modern science is less than 400 years old; and in its beginning science didn’t have a large and strong edifice of knowledge and techniques. But modern science is a force to reckon with. Although, there is still so much that we still don’t know! But this doesn’t automatically imply God as a ‘magical default’. Ill let one of my favorite astrophysics Neil deGrasse Tyson put it:

Neil deGrasse Tyson on how you want to play the god game

Religion was the discourse that we had when all causes in the universe were opaque. We didn’t know the basis of anything. We didn’t know why we were here, we didn’t know how diseases spread or what disease was. We didn’t know why some people died early and others flourished. We didn’t know what’s causing thunderstorms or causing the crops to fail. Then very naturally, as a cogitative and behavioral imperative, we formed descriptions of the world in order to figure out what’s going on! We told ourselves stories about our origins and about where we are going and about the causes in the world. These stories, given our pervasive ignorance and our disposition to see agency in the world and to see our selves in relationship to the world, entail being in relation to invisible friends and enemies. So we have this parent figure in this guy who is going to take care of things if you live rightly.

Bertand Russel on Religion being left over from infancy of intelligence

So why is the ‘God did it!/God created it!’ idea so popular?

I could think of 3(which are actually variations of just 1) reasons other than the obvious fact the its much easier to simply think that ‘God did/created it’ than to actually read/research about the real explanation.

1.) Things aren’t always what they look like to be:

Also, our brains are pre disposed to see agency in the world. That is, if we see a car, we assume there is a car maker. When we see a phone, there has to be a phone maker. As our understanding of the nature of reality of the Universe increases, it becomes clear that things are not always what they seem.

The Earth seems flat but is a sphere.

We seem to be in a state of rest, but in fact, you, me and everything on Earth(incuding the Earth)  is moving at the crazy speed of 107826 Km/hr around the Sun, while spinning on its own axis at around 1600 Km/hr. While Earth,Sun along with our entire Solar System is revolving around the center of the Milky Way galaxy at around 80,000 Km/hr and our galaxy, the Milky Way along with its 400 Billion stars(our Sun among them) is moving for a huge galactic head on crash with our nearest galaxy, the Andromeda at the speed of around 400,000 Km/hr. (Luckily for us Universe is Big, so this collision is due in 3.5 Billion years!) Not just this, Milky Way and Andromeda + 52 other galaxies; together known as the Local Group are moving towards a much bigger supercluster of galaxies called the Virgo Supercluster consisting of several hundreds of galaxies. Now Local Group + Virgo Supercluster + hundreds of other Superclusters of galaxies are all moving toward the super massive gravitational anomaly called the Great Attractor!

the neighborhood

On a side note this makes me think about the supreme arrogance of religious thinking: That a carbon-based bag of mostly water on a speck of iron-silicate dust around a boring dwarf star in a minor galaxy in an under populated local group of galaxies in an unfashionable suburb of a super-cluster would look up at the sky and think, ‘It was all made so I could have a personal relationship with the creator of the entire Universe’

The plants, animals, etc and the natural beauty in the world looks as if it was designed, but science tells us that isn’t the case. Just a little more than high school level biology is needed to understand that this apparent illusion of design in things like feathers of a bird, the human eye, etc, is explicable by understanding evolution via natural selection. To our naïve eyes it ‘looks’ as if its designed by a designer.

This is what legendary naturalist David Attenborough has to say about it: “When Creationists David @ 'God did it!' is a terrible explanationtalk about God creating every individual species as a separate act, they always instance hummingbirds, or orchids, sunflowers and beautiful things. But I tend to think instead of a parasitic worm that is boring through the eye of a boy sitting on the bank of a river in West Africa, [a worm] that’s going to make him blind. And [I ask them], ‘Are you telling me that the God you believe in who you also say is an all-merciful God, who cares for each one of us individually, are you saying that God created this worm that can live in no other way than in an innocent child’s eyeball! Because that doesn’t seem to me to coincide with a God who’s full of mercy.”

Here is a video of a guy in an evangelical Christian video spreading his ignorance of biology in order to support his flavor of ‘god idea’:

Banana! The atheist nightmare!

If you didn’t watch the video, read the transcript here: “Behold, the atheists’ nightmare. Now if you study a well-made banana, you’ll find, on the far side, there are 3 ridges. On the close side, two ridges. If you get your hand ready to grip a banana, you’ll find on the far side there are three grooves, on the close side, two grooves. The banana and the hand are perfectly made, one for the other. You’ll find the maker of the banana, Almighty God, has made it with a non-slip surface. It has outward indicators of inward contents – green, too early – yellow, just right – black, too late. Now if you go to the top of the banana, you’ll find, as with the soda can makers have placed a tab at the top, so God has placed a tab at the top. When you pull the tab, the contents don’t squirt in your face. You’ll find a wrapper which is biodegradable, has perforations. Notice how gracefully it sits over the human hand. Notice it has a point at the top for ease of entry. It’s just the right shape for the human mouth. It’s chewy, easy to digest and its even curved toward the face to make the whole process so much easier. Seriously, Kirk, the whole of creation testifies to the genius of God’s creation.”

Quick response to the banana man:

 

wild-banana

The modern banana is a cultivated fruit, i.e. present day banana has evolved as a result of 50,000 years of selective breeding. This is how the actual wild banana is. This banana argument was a embarrassingly poor variation of the classic ‘argument from design’. 

2.) Science is tough:

The human brain did not evolve to understand the mysteries of the Universe, it evolved to survive on the African savanna. Thus is the reason after a point science starts getting very complex. Theoretical physics at the level of string theory, relativity, quantum physics gets incredibly tough. Quantum physics is said to be so weird and counterintuitive that one of the greatest theoretical physicist Richard Feynman once said ‘if you think you know quantum theory you don’t know quantum theory’. But quantum theory yields experimental predictions which have been verified to an accuracy; number of decimal places so accurate that Feynman himself compared it to the accuracy of predicting the width of North America to the accuracy of width of one human hair. That is why quantum theory has to me taken seriously and it doesn’t matter that quantum theory is deeply mysterious and tough.

Science is tough!

3.) Big numbers stop making sense:

Space is BIG! Really BIG. We just cant comprehend how vastly, hugely, mind bogglingly BIG it is. It’s difficult for us humans to truly realize the scale of the universe as very big numbers stop making sense to the human mind.

When somebody says the universe has more than 400 billion galaxies, each with over 100 billion stars, everybody realizes that’s a lot of stuff but it’s difficult to get a feel of ‘how much stuff’.

Human brain can easily feel the difference between 17 sheep/books/houses/trees and 4 sheep/books/houses/trees. Even a few thousand is ok. But when things go into millions and hundreds of millions, billions, suddenly things stop making sense.

Conclusion:

Main problem with the ‘god did it!’ approach is that. It masquerades a non-explanation as an explanation. That is, if one is honest, it isn’t tough to realize that ‘God did it!’ is a non-answer. Compare the ‘God did it!/God made it this way’ approach and with a real answer(the scientific explanation) on any of the question you or your child has about the Universe and see the difference in intellectual satisfaction.

This to me is one of the main horrors of religion. It makes us feel satisfied with non-answers.One of the dangers about religion is that it can foster intellectual laziness. You need to be open and constantly question. To say that I don’t understand X so it must be magic, therefore it must be supernatural, it must be a miracle.

That is cowardly and defeatist, lazy.

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4 Responses to ‘God did it!’ approach to the Universe and its mysteries

  1. Billie says:

    “David Altenburg” should ofcourse be “David Attenborough”,
    but it is a nice article though.

  2. name says:

    u seem to have a very narrow view, the same which is shared by the creationists and the theists..
    u are hell bent on proving there is no god, or so it seems from this passage..
    1) If u suggest the universe can exist on its own without a creator, why cant a benevolent creator exist?.. surely u ll understand why we cant see him/feel him/ – “cos things are not always like they seem to be”, or so u have observantly pointed out.
    2) and if science is though, and u dont understand the concept of god, cant there be a tiniest speck of possibility that the ultimate answer to everything science has to show is god?.. m sure u understand math given that u have shown a considerable level of intelligence..
    3) if space is huge and not so easy to comprehend completely, how can one comprehend god and not just that, declare his non-existence even though it is a known fact that god is omni-potent, present and all that?.. doesnt that mean god is too big to comprehend?..

    conclusion:
    one cannot conclude absence of god based on failure of religion. and without religion too, there are many things which are taken for granted and not bothered for an answer. like say love, happiness.. who has time to get to know about all these things? religion or no religion, it ahs very little effect on the intellectual hunger of a person. of course if by intellectual hunger u mean knowing god didnt create universe and nothing else, then u can right; narrow, limited; but right..

    • Hey,

      I think I come off strong in article and that might give the impression that I have a narrow view. In fact, far from it, unlike dogmatic theists, I can be reasoned in or out of any position or belief I hold, provided the arguments from the other side are good enough. This is how I became an atheist in the first place.
      This post wasn’t about disproving god. I haven’t written that post yet. Primary purpose of this article was to encourage people to look for actual scientific answers for trivial everyday curiosities such as why the sky is blue/why there is life on earth/etc, instead of simply saying that ‘god made it this way’

      1.) The cause/event behind the creation of the universe is not known as of yet. Similarly it wasn’t known once how did all humans and rest of biodiversity arise on earth. The only logical explanation at the time was that a god put all plants/animals here. Its now understood that all life on this planet is result of evolution by natural selection going on for almost 4.5 billion years. There are thousands of phenomenon which were earlier attributed to god until science provided a naturalistic explanation for them.

      Even if it is assumed that there is a creator to the universe, there is absolutely no reason to think that this creator is benevolent or has any interest in what humans eat, wear, do, etc. Just because one wants something to be true, it doesn’t make it true. The idea of a all loving, all caring god might make one feel all warm and fuzzy inside and might feel right, but has no bearing on reality. Roughly 11 million children under the age of 5 die ever year at the rate of roughly 21 every minute. There are countless other miseries in the world. All this doesn’t point to a benevolent god. Other than this, there doesn’t exist a shred of scientifically verifiable evidence for existence of any god from any religion.

      2.) I dont deny that the remote possibility exists that a sentient-god-entity could be behind the creation of the universe. But then again, there is no reason to think that entity is one of the lead characters from the Hindu/Islamic/Christian/Mormon/etc fairy tails.

      3.) ‘..it is a known fact that god is omni-potent, present and all..
      There doesn’t exist an iota of scientifically verifiable and testable evidence for existence of any god. No evidence at all. In fact, many scientific/rationalist societies have challenges out offering millions of $ if anyone comes up with any supernatural claim of any sort and prove its validity.

      one cannot conclude absence of god based upon failure of religion

      This is spot on. Shows your clarity of thought. My fight with organized religion is primarily because of social reasons, that is, religious dogma has always been used by powerful men to control women and other men. Also, lot of miseries in human history/current affairs can be directly traced to religion.

      Religion being evil, doesn’t have much to say about existence or not existence of god. My problem with the god idea is merely scientific. I don’t find the answer ‘god made the universe’ intellectually satisfying as then I wanna know who/what made god.

      There is nothing more important than love, happiness. I like to think of my self as a good human and do good things not because some god commands me to, but because I want to.
      Morality isn’t derived from religion, it precedes it. I think its the ultimate insult to human dignity if one thinks that its not possible to be good without believing that you are under supervision of a supernatural rewarder/punisher of deeds, that is, god.

      Look into the idea of secular Humanism.

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