The Simple Creator

Moira Shea FAITH Magazine May-June 2004

The Simplicity of God

Scientists find no sign of intervention in the process of evolution and no evidence that it was directed to a particular end. It did not unfold or develop as if in accordance with a predetermined plan; very many animal species have become extinct, which seems to suggest failure or mis-creation, nor did our own species evolve along a straightforward con­tinuously progressive line. From this it is all too easy to jump to the conclusion that there cannot have been a Creator who had a particular purpose in mind.

But this is to overlook an alternative conclusion to which the evidence points: a Creator who works in the simplest possible way. Simplicity does not do a multitude of things where one is sufficient.
Intervention from time to time in order to direct the process of evolution along a particular path, or to fill in evolutionary gaps, would suggest that the original act of creation had been insufficient for the purpose intended. Or had evolution been directed to proceed along a straight path to produce the intended outcome, additional acts of creation would have been needed in order to add the diversity which enriches the world. Instead evolution was evidently left to happen as it would. It was a process of "billion-fold trial and error" (as Teilhard de Chardin called it), groping now this way, now that; here coming to a dead end and there going ahead, which eventually brought us, weaknesses included, into a complex environment filled with an incredibly vast variety of life forms.

The road to intelligent life

From primordial chaos patterns of ever-increasing intricacy emerged; as time went on more and more complex chemical compounds were produced including, eventually, plant and animal life. With this growth of complexity the possibilities were forever widening, and chance trial and error came more and more into the picture with consequent increasing diversity.

Moreover the evolution of various life forms on earth was not totally random because the properties of matter set certain limits. The many different species of plants and animals each have their own particular natures because of a long history of interactions and cause-and-effect sequences which have made each species what it is. All of these, including random mutations, are limited by the regular way in which matter behaves, indicated by the fact that scientists have been able from their observations to deduce particular 'laws' of physics and chemistry. Evolution was evidently always under certain constraints although the possibilities were enormous.
Whether it was inevitable that life and intelligence would eventually occur somewhere in the universe, given the nature of matter and sufficient time to allow random processes to explore all the possibilities, and whether intelligent life may also have occurred elsewhere in the universe, are questions which scientists have long argued and sought to ascertain. Such were the coincidences leading to life on earth that some scientists have come round to believing that supernatural intervention must have been necessary, while others will have none of this. Wait long enough, they say, and a win will eventually come up on the football pools. As the limerick goes:

There was once a brainy baboon
Who always blew down a bassoon,
For he said 'it appears
In billions of years
I shall certainly hit on a tune'

.... and his friend, the tireless monkey tapping typewriter keys at random, will eventually spell out all Shakespeare's sonnets, especially if some selecting factor eliminates all the letters which do not fit in.

It may be so, but it does not rule out God. A God who created so perfectly that everything necessary is plumbed into the physical laws is not eliminated so easily: such a God would also know the odds and have infinite time and patience, as well as providing the 'typewriter' for monkey Chance to play with. If life and intelligence could come eventually, somewhere, somehow, from the nature of the universe, then there was no need for any intervention nor for the exact road to be predetermined.

A specific aim – a natural tendency

The possibility remains, therefore, that there was an original intention that creatures with intelligence and abilities like ours would evolve in one way or another: God is still not ruled out. If the random process failed along one road, it would succeed along another. If the Creator is not subject to the time dimension of the created universe, it would also be of no importance how long evolution might take to produce the intended end.

A specific aim built into the very fabric of things could not be expected to stand out for observation by scientists; rather it would appear to be a natural tendency – it would be a natural tendency springing from the very source of existence. The tendency throughout evolution has been for growth in complexity, which in turn pressurized for growth in organization because the unorganized could not survive. The human brain and its related nervous system is the most complex and highly organized product of evolution, and natural selection would have favoured its development because of the survival advantages which intelligence gives its possessor.
While, therefore, the existence of God cannot be proved, it is not contrary to reason to believe that the source of existence is a creative Mind which knows and purposes and can therefore be termed 'God': a God who created so perfectly and so simply that although no intervention in the process of evolution was necessary, and although living organisms could have the freedom to behave randomly within their natural limitations, yet still the intended aim would be reached.

Chance and Necessity

If there is a God who intended random evolution to produce a vast array of creatures including, eventually, intelligent ones such as ourselves, then it is not chance – that is, it is no accident – that this is what happened, but the exact forms which various species take may be chance.[1]

The relationship between chance and necessity might be likened to a game of chess between an amateur and a master, where the outcome is a foregone conclusion even though the amateur is free to move as he chooses within the rules of the game and the limitations which build up from earlier moves as the game progresses. What is unpredictable is the precise course of the game and the length of time it will take. Analogy with a computer programmed to play chess suggests that once set up the universe could play God's 'game' without divine interference.

But non-interference does not necessarily mean loss of interest. Unlike with a wind-up clock, it may be necessary for the continuing existence of the dynamic universe that its ground-of-being is never other than maintaining it in existence, rather as a computer program would fail if the computer were cut off from its source of power. Nor is there any reason why the source of all that exists may not be equally at the heart of whatever exists – the Judaeo/Christian God who both transcends creation and is immanent within it.

The evolution of life forms on earth proceeded like variations on a number of chance themes. Dinosaurs and primates were two of many variations on the verte­brate theme of life; chimpanzees and our pre-human ancestors two of the variations on the primate theme. As it happened it was the latter which evolved the furthest, eventually reaching the stage evidently intended by the Creator – the stage when the time was ripe for the gift of spiritual soul.

The simplicity of perfection

From his point of view as a physicist Paul Davies marvelled at the unity, economy, efficiency, beauty and mathematical subtlety of nature; its organization, ingenuity and cleverness.[2] Konrad Lorenz wrote that to a scientist like himself (his particular field being animal behaviour) it is a constant source of wonder that nature has created its highest works without ever violating its own laws;[3]and that to the true scientist there is only one miracle, namely, that everything, even the finest flowerings of life, have come into being without miracles; for him the universe would lose some of its grandeur if he thought that any phenomenon, even reason and moral sense in noble-minded human beings,could be accounted for only by an infringement of the omnipresent and omnipotent laws of one universe.'[4]

The evidence of science shows that the universe, or 'nature', is cleverer than a God who needs to create each species separately, cleverer than a God who predetermines everything from the beginning so that there is no room for freedom, and cleverer still than a God-of-the-gaps who needs to intervene or infringe the physical laws in order to make evolution work, thus implying that the original act of creation was insufficient for the purpose.

But if for 'nature' we read 'God' then we see that science indeed points to a Creator of the utmost simplicity, the simplicity of perfection.

[1] cf Russell Stannard, The God Experiment (Faber & Faber 1999), 174.
[2] The Mind of God (Penguin 1993), 194-209.
[3] On Aggression, (Methuen 1984), 9.
[4] ibid 201-202

Faith Magazine

May - June 2004