Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Tale of Two Domes

Just to lighten up a little, here is a different tale about a dome (different than the one discussed here).

Antony Flew was a distinguished philosopher and a militant atheist for most of his working life. Later in life, based on newly developing empirical evidence, he changed his views and came to believe in the intelligent design of the universe.

Flew asked us to imagine entering a hotel room on our next vacation. The CD player is playing our favourite music, our favourite books are on the desk and the minibar has our favourite beverages and cookies. The chances are that with each new discovery about our hospitable new environment we would be less inclined to think it was all a mere coincidence. We might wonder how the hotel manager would know so much about our habits and we might want to know how much it is going to cost. But we would certainly be inclined to believe that someone knew that we were coming. The vacation scenario, said Flew, is a clumsy, limited metaphor for what we have discovered about the universe fine-tuned for life and discovery.

Other thinkers have used a different metaphor. Suppose we went on a mission to the Moon, and found a domed structure in which everything was set up just right for human life to exist. The temperature, for example, is set to a comfortable 72 degrees F. The humidity is around 50%. The structure has an oxygen recycling system, an energy gathering system, and a whole food production system run by amazing nanotechnology devices more complicated than a Boeing factory. The dome is porous rather than solid, allowing in the light of the sun while deflecting dangerous radiation, and allowing the inhabitants to make discoveries about the nature of the universe outside the dome. There is a fabulous  water cycle allowing food to grow and making for a nice change in the seasons. Put simply, the domed structure appears to be a fully functioning biosphere.

What conclusion would we draw from finding this structure?

One possibility (let’s call it the blind watchmaker thesis) might claim that all this came about via meteors randomly crashing into the surface of the moon, and the natural forces of volcanic eruption spewing forth the various metals and compounds needed for the structure and then self-organizing in just the right way to form the biosphere. Not everyone is so convinced by this thesis. But the defenders of the thesis are adamant. Anybody who opposes the blind watchmaker thesis is either ignorant or evil.

The proponents of the blind watchmaker thesis are very successful propagandists. So successful that some religious folks are inclined to accept that random meteors and natural volcanoes are the best explanation for the biosphere. Despite the accidental nature of the meteors and the inability of volcanoes to form nanotechnology, they maintain that the Deity is nevertheless behind the whole thing. The accidental nature of the whole mechanism poses no theological problem whatsoever. In fact they see this as an ideal means via which the Creator dynamically exerts His will. They are so persuaded of their view that they demonize their opponents and accuse them of insanity and mental illness for reasons that apply equally to their own behaviour. 

What about the rest of us? Would we draw the conclusion that it just happened to form by chance and natural processes?

Certainly not. We would find the blind watchmaker thesis extraordinarily implausible and the theological arguments weak.  Instead, we conclude that the best explanation for this wondrous dome must be some vast transcendent intelligent agency interested in our well-being and desirous that we understand more about Him from the design of this remarkable biosphere.

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