Are purpose and design inherent in the universe, as theists believe, or do humans impose the idea of purpose on the universe as we look at the world through rose tinted glasses?
Many Christians that I’ve spoken to appeal to creation as evidence for God. They list examples of incredible and intricate structures found in nature, such as the cell or DNA, and then argue that these structures, that work together so efficiently, indicate purpose and design. “If this is design, who is the designer?” the theist asks. The natural answer is God.
On the other hand, Michael Shermer, in his book, Why People Believe Weird Things, argues that purpose is imposed. The human mind is a skilled, pattern and causal finding machine. This ability allowed humans to detect connections between things and events in the environment, which made us extremely successful animals. However, the pattern-seeking ability of the brain is so good that it sometimes makes the error of observing patterns where none actually exist.
For example, if we look at clouds we automatically see recognizable shapes, but few would argue that clouds are intentionally created by an intelligent designer to look like dragons or cars. We know that clouds are created purely by natural means, through processes that we know well. In other words, when we look at clouds, the brain automatically thinks it observes design when in fact there no design at all.
What does the cloud below remind you of?
Could the theist’s belief that purpose and design are evident in the universe be a cognitive mistake of the same nature? As in the case of clouds, is it possible that the universe had a purely natural beginning, without a creator, but the human mind mistakenly imposes the belief that design is present?
So which is it? Do we live in a purposeless universe in which we impose design, or do we live in a created universe in which we discover design?
What do you think?