The Universe: Two Perspectives

My wife and I enjoy reading and watching mysteries – you know, Agatha Christie, etc.  I like to watch the television versions with her because I often get lost in the details and she doesn’t.  I have to have things spelled-out in simple terms. “Okay, was it the long-lost cousin who showed up from Kenya who took the papers from the study in the dark of night or was it the daughter who stood to lose her inheritance?”  “Who done it,” is easy for her (and Miss Marple), difficult for me.  I have noticed I have to do this with most things.

I can’t claim to have always been a solid theist.  In my university days, I followed in the footsteps of my father and began my studies as an agnostic.  My professors reinforced that position since most of them were either atheist, agnostic or ambivalent on the matter of belief.  Thanks to a teacher who helped me to see there are two sides to the question of belief, I came down on the side of faith in a Creator.  It just seemed much more reasonable.  Still does.

In my life-long attempt to get things straight, I have looked long and hard at the ongoing debate between theists and atheists. I have begun to see that whether to believe or not believe is largely a matter of perspective. 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.  Then there is our tiny island with the only life we are presently aware of.  Intricate complexity and design is increasingly evident as we delve into the subatomic realms. Are the complexity, intricacy, design and order we see the results of accidental, random yet unobservable processes?  Is life the outcome of chemical processes that we don’t yet understand? How do we account for all this?

As for me, this is how it all boils down: 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. Two perspectives – which one makes more sense to you?

My blogs:
Whitticisms: dwhitsett.wordpress.com
In the Charamon Garden: charamongarden.wordpress.com
Whitsett Carving: whitcarv.wordpress.com
Mission South Pacific: missionsouthpacific.wordpress.com

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5 Comments

Filed under Apologetics, Atheism/Theism, Attributes of God, Culture Wars, Discussion, Faith, Persuasion, Religion, Science, Skepticism, Supernatural, Theism

5 responses to “The Universe: Two Perspectives

  1. It’s interesting that you’re willing to take this question on, Dwight. Most theists tend to shy away from it. Probably why I keep checking back here. You give me grist for my mill. 😉

    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 to 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 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.

    Sorry for the lengthy response, but you asked. 😀

  2. dwhitsett

    John, thanks for dropping by and commenting.
    It would be helpful, my friend, if you would not assume I hold certain positions. It would save time, space and energy.
    For example, I don’t believe the universe was just created for humans.
    And, how have I imputed purposeful design simply because I don’t know? Maybe you have me mixed up with someone else.
    And, yes, I am guilty of believing God did it all…but that goes for what I do have answers for and what I do not. When the answers are discovered, it simply adds to my appreciation of the Creator.
    Now then, to the subject at hand. I’m not sure how you can separate design from order and vice versa. It seems to me one is necessary for the other. Order implies design implies order. If order is the product of natural processes, what is the origin of the processes? I believe “Goddidit” you believe they just “are.” Right?
    You wrote, “…but to a scientist, there is nothing supporting intelligence behind the order of nature.” Are you saying that scientists are not believers? A number of scientists would not share your conception of them. I even made a list of some of them in a previous blog. https://dwhitsett.wordpress.com/2010/02/07/atheists-and-thinkers/ John, you must know you are in error when you paint all scientists with the same brush just as you tend to lump theists all together.
    As far as the dichotomy is concerned, what have you said that was different in substance from what I said? As for me and most thinking theists, a Creator is responsible for what we can see and understand and what we, as of now, cannot. It’s really pretty simple, I believe in God as first cause and you (and your fellow atheists) do not. Now correct me if I’m wrong as I know you will.

  3. Terry Smith

    In space and time there was a man named Paul who at first was call Saul he wrote a letter to a group of people who were at one time pagans and in his letter he made this statement:” since what may be know about God is plain to them, because he has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible gualities his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made so men are without excuse.
    When we do not understand something it seems to be our nature to just explain it away. And that may work for now however I would hate to find out right after I took that last breath of oxgen I was wrong and now I am standing face to face with the very one that I had tried to explain away, begging that he not judge me the way I had judged him. I’m afraid I would here the words you are without excuse!!!
    Ever notice that there are no athest in fox holes?
    Humans are funny creatures, something can be as plain as the nose on their faces and they will deny it to there death. I told a Christain lady a few months ago that not one word of the bible was written to her trying to make the point that you first have to listen to what is written through the ears of those to whom it was written to. She said that was untrue that it was all written to her so I ask which book or letter in the bible started off addressing her by name. There is not one and she knew that full well but she was not going to admitt it. She later left still with her mind unchanged.
    I guess this is what is meant by do not cast your pearls before swine. Or do not argue with a fool for when you do all you have is two fools arguing.

  4. When we do not understand something it seems to be our nature to just explain it away.

    Here’s something I have to disagree with. However, I’m not sure what you mean by ‘we” and “our”. Are you referring to humanity in general, we human beings? Or are you referring to the subset of humanity we call Christians? Are are you simply making a passing swipe at atheists?

    Because if you are referring to humanity in general, I’d have to say that the opposite is true. When humanity doesn’t know something, it seems to be human nature to dig, to investigate, to get to the heart of the matter and find the answer so that we can say we DO understand it. Historically, this is truer now, than it was, say, when the Bible was written. As our civilization has advanced, and our stores of knowledge have grown, we’ve found that it is easier and easier to find answers to the questions we didn’t understand in the past. Generally, we don’t stop until we find the answers, which is one of the beauties of science and one of the detriments of religion, the latter of which simply stops asking because it already knows the answers.

    If you are referring to Christians, then I have to say you are correct. As a body, Christians tend to rely on pat answers to questions they don’t understand. If they can’t find the answer, they tend to revert back to a comfortable “well, it a mystery”. In the end it all comes back to God. Don’t know what causes lightning? God. Don’t know what caused life? God. Don’t know how man came to be? God. Stop looking, accept God.

    However, I do think you are actually making that passing swipe at atheists. You accept God’s existence as the explanation for everything, and say that because atheists don’t understand that, don’t accept it, they are “explaining God away”. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    And that may work for now however I would hate to find out right after I took that last breath of oxgen I was wrong and now I am standing face to face with the very one that I had tried to explain away, begging that he not judge me the way I had judged him. I’m afraid I would here the words you are without excuse!!!

    That’s just another way of restating Pascal’s Wager, one of the more non-nonsensical and illogical reasons to believe in god.

    Ever notice that there are no athest in fox holes?

    No, can’t say that I have. In fact, metaphorically speaking, there are millions of atheists in foxholes. Ever heard of Pat Tillman?

    This old canard is just that – a dumb canard that has no support in reality. Really. When repeated, it seriously diminishes the credibility of your argument.

    Or do not argue with a fool for when you do all you have is two fools arguing.

    Ooops. My bad! 😉

  5. one of the more non-nonsensical and illogical reasons to believe in god.

    Oh, phooey. Nonsensical. Not non-nonsensical, which is a double negative.

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