Chicken or Egg

In arguing against naturalistic accounts of how the world got to be as it is, some religious folk advance the argument that it’s inconceivably improbable that the earth could have come into existence more or less randomly, given how well-suited it seems to be for the life that thrives upon it. For example, it’s often pointed out that the earth is just the right distance from the sun to get sufficient light without getting too much heat for the life that thrives here. On the surface, this seems a compelling argument in favor of an intelligent designer.

But in fact this is a backwards approach. It’s not that the earth was especially formulated to accommodate the physical makeup of human beings and the other extant organisms. Rather, it seems reasonable to suggest that the planet emerged as it did and that whatever organisms could survive under its conditions survived. Organisms that require extremely high or low temperatures or greater or lesser light than our sun provides simply died out. For those of us left, it may seem as if the earth was especially formulated to our needs. And while that is perhaps a plausible assumption, it certainly isn’t a necessary assumption, and it doesn’t on its own make a very good case for the existence of any intelligent designer.

A thought experiment may be useful here. Consider a basketball tournament. Let’s assume that all games are played on the same court. Initially, there are many contenders for a championship title. As playoffs progress, less able teams are pared off the bracket. Finally, you get down to two teams, and one of them prevails. Now one could suggest that the basketball court was created in such a way that it was ideal for the team that ultimately won. That is, it was created in such a way that its court and rims and backboards provided just the right bounces for the winning team, that its acoustics were just right, so that cheering in favor of the winning team bolstered the team, while jeers went essentially unheard. In this case, one must surely credit the builder of the basketball arena for the team’s victory. But this is backwards. It was of course the team’s collective skill that led to its ultimate victory.

Similarly, in the matter of the fitness of the earth for its inhabitants, one must conclude that the inhabitants of the earth are those who were suited to inhabit it and not that the earth was suited to its ihabitants.

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