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Suggested Related Essay:
"The conundrum of Evolution and Creation"


Letter to a "creationist"

June 2006

Dear Creationist:

You are absolutely right.  That which we all call "creation"  – the Universe and all that is in it –  is of such complexity and order that the notion that it could have arisen without intelligent guidance is beyond belief.  Our species' history proves that point:  Of all the societies who have depended on belief to explain our origins  – that is to say, all the societies we know of –  none has concluded that these arose through unguided vagaries.  Clearly, such a notion is beyond belief.  Far beyond belief.

Now, it's in this realm far beyond belief that scientists do their daily work.  It's not that they don't have beliefs, just that their work doesn't involve belief. They're like referees and timekeepers in sports:  No matter what they personally may believe and expect, it's the objectively registered result that matters. Scientists register what they find in the Universe, and try to explain how each finding fits with others.

I know of no group of people who stand more in awe and wonder at the beauty and complexity of our Earth and of the Universe that we belong to than scientists.  They are the human species' agents charged with elucidating the workings of this wonderful place where each of us is privileged to spend a few years.  Their discoveries that add to our understanding are invariably humbling, and in total the wonders that have been discovered and in small part elucidated by science are awe-inspiring.  Scientists know better than most how little we yet understand of our Universe, our Earth, and ourselves, and more than others wonder at the mysteries these hide.  Indeed it's their wondering that drives them to explore and try to explain.

In your own effort to be "scientific", you are right to look for the neatest, simplest, most satisfying answer available to the question of origins.  That's part of the scientific method;  it's using the "razor of Ockham"  (see, for example, my January '06 note on this).  And so, since you believe that the Universe and all that is in it is too marvellous to have arisen without intelligent guidance, you have come up with what you expect is a more reasonable, more believable solution: that it all must have been created by a great incorporeal intelligence.

But have you not here painted yourselves into a corner, Mr. and Ms. Creationist?  It appears that the "more believable" solution that you propose substitutes an even more inconceivably complex entity  – a supreme creative intelligence –  for that which you thought too complex to have arisen without intelligent guidance.  The great insubstantive creative intelligence that you posit must necessarily be of greater complexity than that which it created!  Can you then believe that it, itself, arose without intelligent guidance?  No, that turns out to be even more inconceivable than the original problem which led you to look for a more believable answer.  Your great creative intelligence cannot, by your reasoning, have appeared without an even greater intelligence creating it;  and so we see that this line of reasoning does not lead to a more believable solution.  This attempt to use "Ockham's razor", to find the simplest solution to the creation conundrum, results in the opposite, an endless logical chain of increasing complexities which are clearly senseless.

We are of course familiar with the standard reply of religious establishments, that the great "first cause" exists as a mystery;  we are not to ask questions about how it arose.  That reply may do for a priest, but for you, Mr. and Ms. Creationist, who are attempting to place your position on a rational (even "scientific") footing, such a retreat from thought is indefensible.

In sum, your attempt to simplify the puzzle of creation, to find a more believable solution by resorting to the existence of great and mysterious ethereal intelligences, falters as soon as you realize that the solution you have proposed is yet more complex, unfathomable and unbelievable than that which it was to explain.  You thus make no progress at explaining the natural world, except perhaps to yourself, to the degree that you are willing to retreat, like the priests, from thought into mystery.

© 2006 H. Paul Lillebo

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