Thursday, July 19, 2007

Fine Tuned for Life, But Not Necessarily Ours

A common argument used by theists for the existence a God is that the Universe is "fine tuned" for life. And of course since the God most of them worship is the the God of the Bible, that means they agree with the passage in Genesis 1:26 "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the Earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.'" (NIV Edition).

In other words, God created the entire universe just for us. Now of course, the people who passed down the creation myth of Genesis by word of mouth and then put it into writing had no idea of the almost infinite extent of the universe. All they knew of the universe was what they could see with their own naked eyes while peering at the night sky, which constituted just an infinitesimal amount of the tremendous expanse of outer space. They believed that God had given them dominion over the Earth, but their knowledge of the expanse of the Earth was but a fraction of the total as well.

But if God really created the Earth so that man would reign supreme over it, then why does the Earth contain so many organisms that are hostile to human life? A popular argument that atheists like to use against theists is the existence of evil in the world. For example, if God really loves us, why did he allow the Holocaust to happen? I tend to shy away from this line of argument because if one presupposes a God that creates a Heaven to reward the good and a Hell to punish the evil, then in the afterlife justice will be served. I believe a stronger argument against the existence of the God of the Bible is the fact that not only are there organisms that are lethal to humanity, but that the victims of these organisms are frequently innocent of any wrongdoing.

I was thinking about this recently when I was reading the July 2007 issue of National Geographic magazine. I was deeply affected by an article about how malaria is devastating the developing world, particularly sub-Saharan Africa. The following excerpt is quite telling:

"One of these spotlighted countries—perhaps the place most closely watched by malaria experts—is Zambia, a sprawling, landlocked nation carved out of the fertile bushland of southern Africa. It's difficult to comprehend how thoroughly Zambia has been devastated by malaria. In some provinces, at any given moment, more than a third of all children under age five are sick with the disease.

Worse than the sheer numbers is the type of malaria found in Zambia. Four species of malaria parasites routinely infect humans; the most virulent, by far, is Plasmodium falciparum. About half of all malaria cases worldwide are caused by falciparum, and 95 percent of the deaths. It's the only form of malaria that can attack the brain. And it can do so with extreme speed—few infectious agents can overwhelm the body as swiftly as falciparum. An African youth can be happily playing soccer in the morning and dead of falciparum malaria that night.

Falciparum is a major reason nearly 20 percent of all Zambian babies do not live to see their fifth birthday. Older children and adults, too, catch the disease—pregnant women are especially prone—but most have developed just enough immunity to fight the parasites to a stalemate, though untreated malaria can persist for years, the fevers fading in and out. There are times when it seems that everyone in Zambia is debilitated to some degree by malaria; many have had it a dozen or more times. No surprise that the nation remains one of the poorest in the world: A country's economic health has little chance of improving until its physical health is revitalized. Zambia's goal is to reduce malaria deaths by 75 percent over the next four years."

If theists could demonstrate that the presence of disease in the world was their God's way of punishing the wicked, they might have a point. But when "20 percent of all Zambian babies do not live to see their fifth birthday," I fail to see what justification they could possibly offer. Often, the best argument they are able to summon is that it is not possible for us to comprehend everything that God does though everything that God does is right and just. Such a response serves the purpose of absolving them of having to offer any reasoned argument at all.

I submit that a loving and caring God, if it really existed, could easily have created a planet for us without diseases that kill us and there would still be people who would commit evil acts. It would still be possible to judge between the righteous and the wicked and sentence each accordingly. It would not be necessary for innocent children in remote tropical regions to suffer and die from malaria. But the fact that diseases transmitted by insects allegedly created by God causes the death of so many children can only lead to one of two possible conclusions. Either the God of the Bible exists and it is in fact a cruel and callous being or the God of the Bible does not exist.

4 comments:

Stardust said...

the people who passed down the creation myth of Genesis by word of mouth and then put it into writing had no idea of the almost infinite extent of the universe. All they knew of the universe was what they could see with their own naked eyes while peering at the night sky, which constituted just an infinitesimal amount of the tremendous expanse of outer space. They believed that God had given them dominion over the Earth, but their knowledge of the expanse of the Earth was but a fraction of the total as well.

Tommy, this is enough said. There is nothing mentioned in the Bible about other planets, galaxies, quasars, pulsars, black holes, etc. etc.

But if God really created the Earth so that man would reign supreme over it, then why does the Earth contain so many organisms that are hostile to human life? A popular argument that atheists like to use against theists is the existence of evil in the world.

(Don't you mean "theists like to use against atheists"?) Yes, that is exactly what I was thinking. The predictable "it's because of evil in the world that there is all this illness and disaster!"

I have countered that with "well, where did evil come from, or the evil intention come from if god made everything?" Christians usually just overlook that question or say they have to go but will be back later to answer that and never return. Sometimes they attempt to answer with the "we can't know everything about god or why he does what he does" excuse.

One thing that is mind-boggling is how people can think a loving god would allow innocent babies to be thrown in a garbage can, brutally tortured and beaten, to be molested and violated in the most horrible ways...little children and babies, many children who believe in god, cry out "help me, help me" as they die agonizing deaths from hunger, torture, abuse, and any number of senseless horrors.

The fact is, nature is brutal. The way things have come to be and the way things continue to evolve may not be to our liking and cannot be explained away with an absurd excuse that Adam and Eve ate an apple they were told not to a few thousand years ago. The fact is shit happens, and the only ones to be able to at least try to rescue some of these unfortunate ones are OTHER HUMANS. No god causes evil, no devil causes evil. There is no god to beg or mercy or to blame. No god is there to help any of us. We must help ourselves, and those less fortunate the best we can.

tina said...

The question I have is, why don't religious people step out of the box and try to see the rational truth? Or do they?

JayG said...

A loving and caring God did create a world that was not hostile to humans, it was called the Garden of Eden. But the world is broken now, because Adam and Eve couldn't even keep the single commandment G_d gave them, which might explain why the rest of us have such a difficult time keeping all 10.

Tommy said...

Jay, the Garden of Eden story never actually happened. It's just a story, like that of Pandora's Box. It does not represent an actual historical event.

But basically you seem to be saying that it's cool with God that one out of every five Zambian children die from malaria before they reach age 5?