Science shows us what makes up the world around us, but it’s not always so concerned with the metaphysical why. Water is a basic building block for life on Earth, for instance. Does it matter why hydrogen and oxygen combine to create water? Was there some sort of divine plan underlying this behavior? A divine creator, who spoke everything into existence, wouldn’t need to worry with the details, and yet, the world we inhabit is infinitely complex. The physical realm we experience is built on top of an electrical level, where atoms and molecules are bound together by a tremendous amount of energy. If we exist simply at the whim of the creator, why is there such an enormous level of intricacy?
To question whether this creator intervenes in the universe one must first develop a clear notion of how this intervention is manifested. If a child is about to run out into a busy city street and an adult is standing nearby, any attempt by the adult to prevent the child from entering the street can be construed as intervention, but can we not also say that whoever built the road intervened in the situation, by providing the means by which it came about, or that the parents intervened by not keeping closer watch over the child? If any act which influences the situation can be considered intervention, doesn’t that include taking no action, and allowing the situation to play out as it will? Do the drivers on the road intervene by being there and reacting to what occurs?
Our ancestors came up with the idea of a divine creator because they could not conceive of a spontaneous world which sprang from nothing. They could only see the finished product without all the steps that went into it. They crafted tools and artifacts with their hands and so they assumed objects in nature had been crafted as well. They couldn’t see the cells, couldn’t observe the DNA of the plants or creatures, couldn’t peer beyond the surface to the microscopic level to see the molecules and atoms and quarks. They made the best guess they could with the information they had.
Those who maintain that the universe could not have sprung from nothing ignore the fact that being spoken into existence by a creator also constitutes springing from nothing. When we get to the molecular level, “nothing” takes on a different meaning. The most basic elements which make up all existence have lives of their own, and exhibit their own unique behavior which influences what they become. Perhaps the creator does not exist on a massive, universal scale, but in the tiniest, most imperceptible bit of that which underlies the fabric of all that is, the matter that makes up everything, including us, and the energy that binds it all together.
In contemplating our place in the cosmos, perhaps we’re looking at the process backwards, starting with the fact that humans are able to perceive the world around us and attempting to reconcile why this is. Thinking this way, however, ignores the many steps that came before, which led to our acquisition of reason. To understand the world, one must first have a means for organizing one’s thoughts, a language for defining the phenomena we experience. Language arises from the need to communicate basic ideas, find food, build shelter, fend off predators, procreate. Humans are social animals who naturally come together in tribal configurations, which necessitates coordinated efforts. We communicate to better understand one another and to avoid conflict. From simple necessity sprang more complex reasoning, eventually leading to contemplating why it all developed this way.
The Earth existed for billions of years before the earliest ancestors of humans first evolved. Numerous creatures, from trilobites to dinosaurs inhabited the world before them. Did any of them gain the capacity to contemplate the world in which they lived as we have? If so, were their conclusions the same as ours? We have only their scattered remains to provide clues to their existence. Will some future species one day examine our bones to try to sort out who we were, and why we were here?