Skip to main content

Intelligent Puddles, Early Religion and Fine Tuning

James McGrath's blog really is a mighty blog. He is single handedly responsible for sending over 80 readers to this weeks carnival. If you can keep up with the volume of posts (which now I work full time I struggle to do) and can filter out the obsessive Dr Who references you will always find somethiing interesting. He shares this image with a quote from Douglas Adams of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Fame,

Which elicited a great deal of discussion. Despite the protests of one commenter, Adams did intend this analogy to critique the biblical idea that this world was made for humanity to live in. A fuller extract of the speech the quote is from is very interesting and worth reading, before he gets to the puddle analogy Adams argues that early tool making man would look at the world and see a world made for his existence. He continues,

Now imagine an early man surveying his surroundings at the end of a happy day’s tool making. He looks around and he sees a world which pleases him mightily: [ . . .] But our early man has a moment to reflect and he thinks to himself, ‘well, this is an interesting world that I find myself in’ and then he asks himself a very treacherous question, a question which is totally meaningless and fallacious, but only comes about because of the nature of the sort of person he is, the sort of person he has evolved into and the sort of person who has thrived because he thinks this particular way. Man the maker looks at his world and says ‘So who made this then?’ Who made this? – you can see why it’s a treacherous question. Early man thinks, ‘Well, because there’s only one sort of being I know about who makes things, whoever made all this must therefore be a much bigger, much more powerful and necessarily invisible, one of me and because I tend to be the strong one who does all the stuff, he’s probably male’. And so we have the idea of a god.

Which seems rather compelling except for the fact that even the most cursory student of early religions would know that the world view and theology of Genesis 1 and 2 is not typical of early tool making man but an innovation. Early religions did not see the world as the product of an anthropomorphised and benevolent creator figure but as a result of forces of chaos. If there were anthropomorphised gods running around then they certainly did not make the world for the sake of the humans in it. The world was not comfortable, safe and amazingly convenient but terrifying, painful and unbelievably brutish. The idea that our planet is a freak chance of unpredictable and uncontrolable forces is not an innovation of materialistic naturalism but has been a given in most, if not all, ancient religions until the (as far as we know) the coming of the Israelite faith. Adams is in this instance talking out of his backside. he also seems to be unaware that in primitive religions gods were frequently female and in fertility religions the objects of worship were female. Whatever criticisms you want to level against Christianity you can't possibly claim it is intuitive!

But back to the puddle, as James points out and others have noticed, if a puddle thinks anything at all then it is not only entitled to that opinon but also entitled to wonder at its ability to be aware of itself and its world. However the analogy falls down even before that because a self aware puddle (bear with me here) would be self aware enough to realise that he or she would fit rather neatly in any such hole because they were fluid and adaptable to a number of environments. Self aware humans however, are aware that they would not exist or be able to be self aware in any but the most specific environments. An excellent non religious exposition of this topic from the point of view of astronomy is this book which I need to take back to the library today. Suffice to say if you don't think the fine tuning argument needs at least some acknowledgement, or that you don't think we know the probability of there being life on earth to any useful degree then you haven't read this book.

I'm not saying it proves anything, but it certainly shows Christians aren't alone in sometimes grasping poor arguments that seem to confirm what they already believe.

Let me know what you think. :-)


  1. Great post sir. Loved the bit about Christianity being unintuitive :)


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

That one time Jesus got the Bible wrong

It's so typical isn't it? You are preaching all day long, training your disciples, sparring with the Pharisees, encouraging the poor and down trodden, healing the sick and casting out demons, all day, day after day, and even when you go up a mountain to get a rest the crowds hunt you down and follow you up, and then the one time you get a bit muddled up with some of the details of a biblical text . . . that is the one they write down in the first gospel - verbatim. At least Matthew and Luke had the good sense to do some editing. But Mark, he always had his eye on giving the public the "historical Jesus" whoever that is supposed to be . . . warts and all. Thanks a lot Mark!

Some think I made the mistake on purpose, just to show the Pharisees up.

For some there is no mistake worth mentioning, only a slightly ambiguous turn of phrase.

Others think I am doing something tricky with Abiathar's name, getting him to figuratively stand in for the priesthood.

It really has…

Thor Ragnarok and Parihaka: Postcolonial Apocalypse

Thor: Ragnarok is a riot of colour, sound, violence, humour, sci-fi and fantasy. As a piece of entertainment it is the best Marvel has produced so far. As in many of Taika Waititi's films the plot often seems secondary to the humour and a number of quirky moments seemed only to serve for a quick giggle. I left the theatre overwhelmed by the sensory experience, but ultimately unimpressed by any deeper meaning.

It wasn't until the second morning after my trip to the movies that I woke to the realisation that the movie could function as a profound postcolonial metaphor (I do some of my best thinking while alseep, also it can take me a while for the penny to drop). Unfortunately a quick google showed me that I was neither the first, nor the second to have this thought.

[Spoiler Alert!]

It's easy to miss with all the other stuff going on but Thor undergoes a postcolonial awakening during the film as he slowly realises that his beloved Asgard and its dominion of the nine realms …

Dale Martin does Mark

Dale Martin is an important and frequently controversial NT scholar. Those of us who can't make it to Yale to hear him teach can access some of his lectures, in fact his entire introduction to the NT course, through the magic of the internet.

Here he is holding forth on Mark . . .