One of the things that creationists will often say to justify their beliefs in God goes something like this:
"Have you ever looked at a butterfly? Or a the colours on a tropical fish? Have you ever seen a baby being born, or watched as a child takes its first steps? Have you ever looked at a beautiful rose and smelled its perfume? Have you ever bitten into an apple and tasted the amazing sweetness in it? All these amazing things in the world, all the wonder and beauty, and all of it here with us to enjoy it. Doesn't it prove the existence of God?"
I have been offered up all of these examples and many more from people trying to prove to me that there is a God, and that all things are created by Him. In fact it's possible that stories of gods came from just such attitudes toward the world, the idyllic paradise we live in all so amazing and beautiful, all created so man could enjoy it
.What a lovely picture, all this is just for us!
But one only needs to scratch the surface a bit and these arguments come tumbling down. Let's look at the above statement and the examples it contains as an example of just how wrong this thinking is.
First, people always use the example of a beautiful butterfly or the colours of a tropical fish to back up their claim. The claim is "the colours we see are very attractive to us, so why else would they be here? Surely a fish or insect can't appreciate beauty the way we do.
" Well, the fact of the matter is these colours have developed over millennia, and not for the benefit of mankind, but for the benefit of propagating their own species. These colours are used to attract a mate, to help animals identify others of their own species, and to warn predators away from them. It is just happenstance that humans see in the right part of the visible light spectrum as to make these iridescent colours so vibrant to us. To a butterfly for instance, a colour in a flower or another butterfly would appear quite differently, due to the fact that they see a different part of the light spectrum to humans. Some tropical fish
can detect colours far beyond the visible spectrum we see, so to them much more information can be conveyed in the appearance of another fish than we can see with the naked eye. These colours and the ability to see them have co-evolved, and have proven beneficial to the organism, or have at least not proven harmful.
Secondly, the "miracle" of childbirth is the next bullet in the believer's arsenal as an example of the existence of God. "Can't you see just how amazing that baby is? it's a little human being! Complete with toes and fingers and a little face! Look at the miracle as the baby learns to walk."
This really is an amazingly joyful time in the life of a human being, watching a new life come into the world. It's packed with emotion and excitement, and people react in such a way that the new life comes into the world into a welcoming environment. We are wired this way. We welcome new lives into our families and have an instinctive and psychological need to look after them. The human animal, though very complex indeed, is still an animal and is self perpetuating and preserving. The "miracle" is nothing more than humans projecting their emotional selves onto another, firstly in the case of a newborn, then as the toddler grows up. Humans have an innate ability for empathy, we can see what is happening to another person and understand what that must be like. In this case, we project our own emotions onto the child and the parents, imagine the joy and elation they must be feeling. And in times of extremes of emotion, we can lose track of ourselves and come to conclusions that aren't there. This is not a miracle. This is an example of humans acting and reacting as we should, as we have evolved to.
And thirdly, the example of the rose and the apple. One smells good, one tastes good. "Surely these are on earth for our own enjoyment. Why else would the perfume of a rose be so intoxicating, or the sweetness of an apple be so pleasant to us?"
This argument is by far the most misguided one of all, using examples such as the apple and the rose. The fact of the matter is, both the rose and the apple (as well as Ray Comfort's banana
) are man-made, we have selectively bred these plants to be what they are today. Without our interference, the apple
would still be a small pithy fruit, difficult to eat and digest, the rose
would be a small insignificant flower not unlike the blackberry blossom with very little in the way of smell, and the banana
would be seed-riddled, woody and inedible. In fact, the banana we eat today is cross-bred from a mutant sweet banana and a plantain. We have as a species made changes to almost all the foods we eat, and most of the flowers and plants in our garden, and we have modified them to suit our purposes.
So the argument for God in the natural world of "miracle and wonder" can easily be refuted with some simple research and deduction. The other side that this argument seems to be making is that what world is filled with beauty and harmony and tranquility, that all of God's creatures live together in balance, each with its own little place. It is a quaint "cottage-garden" view of the world, all thing bright and beautiful, the Lord God made them all.
But of course we all know this is not true at all. The blinkered view of the subjective beauty of the world is to be only seeing a fraction of the picture. There are more things in nature and the enviroment that humans would naturally find objectionable, abhorrent or disgusting than this view can give credit for. In the second part of this blog piece, I will be countering this "cottage-garden" view of the universe with a few examples, to illustrate that not all things are "Bright and Beautiful".
In the previous post, I was countering the often espoused idea that the world is filled with a miraculously designed and beautiful environment, filled with beauty and wonder, designed for the delights and pleasure of the human race. Some creationist types like to believe that the world is all puppies and rainbows, all there for them to use and made by a benevolent creator who loves them dearly. Now don't get me wrong here, I'm not saying that the world is not a beautiful place, I am constantly amazed by the sheer breadth of variation in organisms on earth, and I am in awe of the ingenious ways that nature has adapted creatures over millennia to specialise and adapt to changes in the enviroment. I think the world is a far more amazing place with the understanding of how things work rather than throwing up my hands and saying, "There are rainbows here to tantilise our senses, therefore there is a benevolent creator God."
I used this as an example argument:
“Have you ever looked at a butterfly? Or a the colours on a tropical fish? Have you ever seen a baby being born, or watched as a child takes its first steps? Have you ever looked at a beautiful rose and smelled its perfume? Have you ever bitten into an apple and tasted the amazing sweetness in it? All these amazing things in the world, all the wonder and beauty, and all of it here with us to enjoy it. Doesn’t it prove the existence of God?”
The universe around us is not here for us, and I would argue, is not all beauty.
We see the beautiful butterfly in our gardens, but we rarely see the wasp that seeks to parasitise the larvae with its own eggs. The caterpillar the acts as a "womb" for the wasps, who will mature to the point of hatching and eat their way out of the caterpillar's body, killing it. Watch this video to see the wasp larva in action.
Another rather gruesome example of parasites comes from Leucochloridium paradoxum
, a banded flatworm that uses the bodies of living snails as an intermediary host as part of its life-cycle. The infection causes the snails, who would normally seek out darkness for safety, to seek out light, making the snail easy prey for birds. The parasite's life-cycle then continues on inside the bird where it reproduces and lays eggs which are dispersed via the bird's excretions.
The birth of a child is a wonderous and joyous occasion, but it doesn't always go to plan. Most severe cases of birth defects result in the death of the child, but sometimes the child is well-formed enough to survive the birthing process. Obvious abnormalities include conjoined twins, spina bifida
, a cleft palate or being born with internal organs on the outside, Harlequin type ichthyosis
, or any number of other congenital disorders
, and can be caused by numerous environmental factors or because of a chromosomal mismatch or a genetically inherited trait. Some of these children die early, and some live long and uncomfortable lives. But not all congenital disorders are this extreme. Many people have congenital disorders that don't present themselves until much later in life, or may not even be a problem at all. There are minor mutations in us all from our conceptions, and as people grow older, other mutations may occur as our cells get worse at self replication. And in the extremes of mutation, cancers may occur.
The natural world around us has evolved in spite of us, not because of us, with the few exceptions of plants and animals we see a use for. We have forced evolution onto all the food plants and animals around us, changing them to better suit us. By selective breeding we have created our world, domesticated many plants and animals. In plants we have changed their colours and flavours, made them more adapted to the environments in which we would like to grow them. In animals we have made them larger, smaller, faster, more aggressive, less aggressive, fatter, leaner, stronger, more passive, all to suit the job we want them to do.
When someone uses the "look how beautiful it all is" defence when claiming God's existence, remind them of all the things that aren't so beautiful, remind them of all the things that go wrong, remind them that natural disasters kill good and pious people as well as heathens, that illness and poverty happens all over the world. If god created the butterfly, then he also created the rat, cockroach and the malaria mosquito.
I leave you with the words from a song by Monty Poythin which inspired these two blog pieces.