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By definition, design includes plan, intent, and purpose. As a consequence, most atheists make it a point to deny the existence of design in nature. Mostly, they restrict the word “design” to products of human creativity.
Here are some quotes that I copied down from an atheist blog site: “It's easy to see that there is no design involved in anything around us.” “The appearance of design is an illusion.” “I disagree that there is the appearance of design in the universe.” While some atheists use the word “design” in a way similar to how theists use it, there appears to be a movement toward avoiding it and the dilemma it creates.
Atheists do use the word “pattern.” That word does not necessarily include plan, purpose, or intent. Without access to intellect, the wind may cause a rhythmic series of waves. In time, land uplift and rain can cause the formation of a dendritic watershed. Pattern as in a shirt pattern, a blueprint, or a prototype results from intellectual input, but that is not obvious for all patterns. Many atheists claim that all patterns in nature are the result of natural processes and the characteristics of matter. That supposedly eliminates the need for design.
Denying design requires a huge step of faith and runs contrary to scientific discovery. First, we have this amazing universe that is fine-tuned so that it can exist for billions of years. That fact is the main driving force behind atheists' faith that there must be many universes exhibiting such an array of characteristics that at least one had to get it right. Being right, of course, not only had to be stable for billions of years, but also had to accommodate the evolution of life and intelligence.
I struggle to comprehend the amazing complexity of natural patterns. They exist in subatomic particles and in the structure of atoms. The processes that have yielded the necessary balance of carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen are fascinating. The structure of a simple water molecule is sublime.
At the other end of the spectrum, planets, solar systems and galaxies add patterns in the heavens. Hubble telescope images amaze us with structures and patterns. Another quote from an atheist blog is, “As to the laws of physics … they are not real.” That remark amazed me. I am not sure how many scientists endorse it, but it is probably more consistent with the simplicity demanded by no design.
Chemist John Buehler wrote, “I postulate that man will never make a universal law of nature.” In scripture, God asked Job, “Do you know the laws of the heavens?” (Job 38:33 NIV 1984). It is recorded in Jeremiah 33:25 f, “the Lord says, ‘If I have not established my covenant with day and night and fixed the laws of heaven and earth, then I will reject the descendants of Jacob … .” Those phenomena we have long considered to be laws of nature are very real and entirely consistent with the biblical, theistic viewpoint.
The artist Salvador Dali responded to the intrinsic beauty of the double helix DNA molecule with the words, “And now the announcement of Watson and Crick about DNA. For me this is the real proof of the existence of God.” The artist could not help but see beyond the science. Herein was pattern unattainable on canvas or by any other work of humanity. The perception that it could self-construct out of chaos, unless that was predisposed by design, seemed absurd.
However, that code of life is the hem of the garment. It is abundantly present in even dead organic matter. Its function demands an amazing set of molecular machinery. It constitutes the highest order of pattern known. To imagine that it self-constructed without design is a colossal leap of faith. No wonder that some who deny the existence of God have been obligated by their intelligence to ascribe a level of plan and intent to the universe itself. Of course, it is more popular to imagine that an infinite number of universes result in unimaginable events.
When the programed information in DNA encounters a particular living environment, it can direct the construction of its specified organism. Pattern in the biological realm taxes our ability to comprehend. Within the cell, the message coded in the DNA has to be transferred to cellular machinery outside of the cell nucleus where it is read and used to construct the proteins needed for specified structure or function. Beyond that simplified explanation, the complexity is multiplied.
When we encounter pattern of this magnitude, the conclusion that design is obviously missing seems contrived. At some point, pattern begins to require the logical explanation that it resulted from the intent of intelligence.
In an attempt to lessen the impact of pattern, some atheists state that our brains are wired to see patterns even when they do not exist. By use of human imagination, we have grouped stars into constellations and assigned imaginary images. No doubt that has aided nighttime navigation. However, that does not diminish the pervasive pattern all around us. It is real.
The presumption that science is leading us to an understanding that there is no purpose, no values, and no place for God is an unsatisfactory interpretation of the world in which we live. John Clayton does not need to change the name of his “Dandy Designs” pages to Possible Patterns, nor do I think he will ever run out of material to fill those pages.
Title illustration: © Old Man Stockerr. Image from BigStock.com
© Old Man Stockerr. Image from BigStock.com
© Kholywood. Image from BigStock.com
NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration
© Sergey Nivens. Image from BigStock.com
© Marmoset. Image from BigStock.com
© Yakobchuk. Image from BigStock.com
© kostik2photo. Image from BigStock.com
Scripture links/references are from BibleGateway.com. Unhighlighted scriptures can be looked up at their website.