Australian animals are amazingly goofy looking creatures. I can totally understand how someone can look at a kangaroo and wonder whether a capricious god slapped together a deer and a bunny, or combined a duck and a beaver to make a platypus.
On the surface, these exotic animals seem so odd that they must be designed. How could an atheist like me dismiss the complexity and divinely intelligent assemblage of the natural world?
This was the question that was put to me as I wandered through an Australian-themed animal park. It was a fair question, which deserved a friendly response.
The answer to the question is that kangaroos are designed naturally by the hammer blows of natural selection. We can see the different adaptations develop as we follow the trail of evidence of the marsupial ancestors migrating from their earliest incarnations in (what is now) Alaska, down through (what is now) South America, through (what is now) Antarctica, and finally into Australia, where their traits were selected in isolation as the continent separated from it’s neighbors.
It just so happens that I was introduced to an expert on mammalian paleontology (via Rob and Laurie’s Louisville Science Cafe) on the very same day that I had this discussion about the beauty of the kangaroo. The paleontologist mentioned the sequence of marsupials migration that I noted in the previous paragraph, and it made me smile to think about my day of marsupials circling in upon itself.
To be fair, the question of the divine-inspiration of kangaroos was posed to me by someone who believes in evolution. She just thinks that evolution is part of the master plan, and that’s a position that I can accept as a possibility which can’t be proved or disproved. However, as I pointed out to her, if we accept that premise, we must also accept that God included the millions of bacteria, viruses, single-celled organisms, and all the inherently evil entities such as ichneumon wasps and the person who created Desperate Housewives. When it comes to kangaroos, God’s plan seems obvious, but when it comes to gang rapes in Somalia, he works in mysterious ways which we will never understand?
If we grant the overwhelming evidence of evolution then we must also grant the evidence for the age of the Earth. And, as we all know, the evidence for the age of the Earth invalidates the Bible and those who interpret it literally. More importantly, an ancient Earth, one in which humans have only enjoyed for only .0044 percent of it’s history, invalidates the idea that God cares about people. If he cared so much, why did he take billions of years to get us to the point where I could write about him in a blog post. Is it because he works in mysterious ways?
Not only is the immensity of time a challenge to overcome for the believer, but so is the immensity of space. When the bible was written, people thought that the stars were lights in the firmament of the world. They couldn’t have envisioned the swarms of galaxies that Hubble and other telescopes would discover by looking into the farthest regions of the known universe. If there’s a god, he wasted an awful lot of space to make us the center of attention.
And then the argument comes: how can we come from… nothing? And every atheist should be able to answer that with one counter-question: how can god come from nothing?
The faithful have no easy answers for the “how” of the universe other than “God did it.” Atheists do have answers that tell an indirect story… an expanding universe, fossilized bones, radio-carbon dating. These facts might not satisfy believers, but they are far better explanations than “God did it.”
Religious believers are posing the wrong challenge to atheists when they follow the path of “how” the complexity of the universe was created. The better challenge is “why” the world exists at all. Atheists can give their opinion (I certainly have mine), but this takes the atheist into a philosophical place to which there are no definitive answers. I’m not saying that the faithful will have the upper hand in the argument. I’m just saying that focusing on the “why” puts us on an even playing field.
I suppose I shouldn’t be offering advice on how to challenge an atheist, but I felt it was worth noting that there are some questions for which we don’t necessarily have an easy answer.