Sunday, August 30, 2009

A few thoughts on the idea of intelligent design.

If one takes the conventional theological view of existence you end up with a story like this: Once upon a time there was a deity. This deity existed for all of eternity. At some point that deity created a universe, apparently for the purpose of making humans the central point of it.

I admit to not buying that story at all. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t contemplate the story and consider the ramifications of the theory. Doing so raises some interesting questions.

If a deity existed for all of past eternity, but he only created the universe and our species at some relatively recent time in the past, what was he doing for the rest of the eternal past? In terms of the eternal— whether you take the Creationists seriously, and accept that humans are a few thousand years old, or whether you take the scientists and accept that the universe is billions of years old—creation is a relatively recent event. So, for the blink of the eye the universe has existed and before that was an endless eternity of void, with a deity hanging around somewhere, though where is not exactly clear.

So, what was that deity doing for the billions and billions and billions of years before he acted to create all that is? And, whatever it was he was doing for all that time, why stop doing it in order to create a universe?

The most logical explanation, given the premises of theism, is that the being was perfect and hence had no need to do anything. He merely existed, content in his own perfection for all that time. That certainly would explain the lack of activity prior to existence coming into being. But it raises another difficulty. If this being were content in his own perfection, then why suddenly act to change existence?

The great Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises argued that every conscious action is taken to improve the actor’s satisfaction or well-being. This doesn’t apply to things acted upon, such as leaves being moved by the wind. Nor does it apply to unconscious entities like plants. But for life forms, animals or human, the being acts to improve its own condition.

If a deity existed in his own perfection then what sort of dissatisfaction could cause him to act in any manner? Surely, the perfectly content being has no reason to act at all. All action, in a state of perfect satisfaction, can only lead to less satisfaction, not more. Perfect satisfaction is that above which no greater satisfaction can exist. So no action can increase the perfection and it can rightfully be argued that every action must reduce it. There is no other possibility.

Such a theory of a perfected being may explain the inactivity of god for eternity, but it cannot explain his sudden need to act. What dissatisfaction could possible have existed to cause this deity to suddenly fling galaxies into existence?

A perfect being would not act. An imperfect being would act. Yet, theology tells us that the perfect being acted. In Genesis we are told he created all that exists and proclaimed it “good.” Apparently before it was created it was not good, he existed in an imperfect state that he acted to improve. But, can a perfect being, upon whom all that is depends, ever exist in an imperfect state? The whole thing seems to be one massive contradiction.

If a perfect being existed he would have no need to act. He would simply exist in his own perfection. The mere act of creation implies an imperfect being or a completely unintelligent source for the universe. Considering the contradictions of the theistic position I can only hold to a natural, explanation for all that is. A deity who acts is a contradiction in terms.

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