Tuesday, 6 January 2015

MONK: Jan 6 2015 Why did the almighty create mosquitoes?

Why did the almighty create mosquitoes?

RECENTLY Eric Metaxas, an American religious writer and author of a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote on these pages that there is increasing evidence that the probability of the universe existing at all, and in such a way that intelligence life evolved, is so astronomically small that these things cannot have happened by chance but must be the work of an intelligent designer —Science turns to God as universe appears to be ultimate miracle.
Metaxas badly wants to believe something he calls “God” exists and created the universe and the conditions for intelligent life but his argument is flawed and the ­evidence suggests otherwise.
Metaxas claims that in recent years, as the number of factors needed to make life possible kept growing (never mind intelligent life), “the odds turned against any planet in the universe supporting life, including this one”. He adds that if the value of any one of the four fundamental forces that govern the physical cosmos was slightly different, the universe as we know it could not have come into existence and that the odds of these forces all having exactly the right value are so enormous that only the presence of an intentional designer — God — can have made it possible.
The search for extra-terrestrial life has generated fascinating debates and many books about the probability of finding it, including Amir Aczel’s Probability 1: Why There Must Be Intelligent Life in the Universe (1998); Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee’sRare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe (2000); and Paul ­Davies’ The Eerie Silence: Are We Alone in the Universe? (2010). Only in the past decade, however, have our instruments begun to detect significant numbers of planets, even in our galaxy, so the real search has only just begun.
In this month’s Scientific American, Canadian astrobiologist Rene Heller says there is growing evidence for large numbers of habitable planets in the Milky Way and our Earth “may not be anywhere close to the pinnacle of habitability”. Our sun is a perfectly ordinary, mid-range yellow star and our proximity to it places us, for now, in a “Goldilocks Zone” of heat and habitability but there are many candidates for what Heller calls “super-habitability”.
These are planets larger than the Earth, orbiting so-called K dwarf stars, which are more stable than our sun and will burn longer without exhausting their hydrogen fuel. We are finding many more such stars and most of the planets we have started detecting are of the “super-Earth” kind so it is far from clear that the odds are against the existence of extra-­terrestrial life.
But even if Metaxas were right about the odds being overwhelmingly against the existence of a “fine-tuned” cosmos and the existence of life elsewhere, we could still not infer the existence of God. As Steven Weinberg, a Nobel-prize winner in the field, put it at the turn of the century, the more plausible, if daunting, hypothesis is that we are part not of a “universe” but of a “multiverse”, in which universes come and go with infinite variations. We just happen to be in one in which things worked out this way.
Metaxas makes no mention of the multiverse hypothesis and one suspects it is because he is so eager to embrace the old theological answer to the conundrum of existence. But even if it did make sense to infer the existence of a designer of the cosmos and a creator of life we would be left with more questions than we started with. For example, if God had wanted to create a universe with intelligent life in it, why would he have created one in which the odds were overwhelmingly against life and immense stretches of space consisted of superfluous and sterile stars and dark matter?
Why would he have made life struggle through billions of years of biological evolution and had intelligence emerge through the brain of a primate with many flaws, instead of — like his Biblical avatar Yahweh — just plonking a more ideal form of intelligent life into an ideally formed biosphere? Why would he, as David Hume ­famously asked two centuries ago, have created mosquitoes — or infectious microbes or ferocious predatory beasts?
All these things make sense in an evolutionary frame of reference, but an intelligent designer makes them inexplicable.
Finally, although he does not own up to it in his article, Metaxas, like most intelligent design advocates, almost certainly infers that not only that there is a God, but that it is his God, to whom he and others can pray and who meddles in his creation in arbitrary ways. That God sent his only begotten son to save from their sins a species of intelligent primates which had evolved over billions of years on a remote planet way on the periphery of an ordinary galaxy in the middle of nowhere. None of that, however, has the slightest connection with scientific fact or the new cosmology.
Paul Monk is the author of The West in a Nutshell.

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