I was intrigued to read an article in Crude Ideas that pushes back on the claim sometimes made by many naturalists: "The world looks exactly the way it should look if God didn't exist." Crude considers this to be an intellectually vapid statement that theists can easily deal with if they just use the right tool.
Intellectually, there's a way to describe it: weak. It's nothing but a subjective claim (not even an argument) with little in the way of intellectual content, little in the way of evidence. Powerful subjectively, but most self-described atheists aren't going to want to stick with it once the subjective, evidence-free aspect is pointed out to them.But what is the right tool for answering this claim? It isn't theistic arguments like the cosmological arguments. It is "an explanation of metaphysics and God's role in relation to such" that will do the trick, he says. If only we naturalists had some inkling of the fundamentals of metaphysics, we would understand how stupid it is to make a statement like that.
Unfortunately, crude does not bother to elaborate on how an understanding of metaphysics would cure us of this supposed intellectual problem. He doesn't deign to enlighten the reader with even the briefest of explanations of what this metaphysical concept is that theists understand but that eludes naturalists. Which leaves me wondering whether he actually has any such understanding himself, or if he is just spouting his own subjective take on things in his usual manner, without substantive argument or justification for the hot air that so freely flows from his wide-open mouth.
Let's take a closer look at the naturalists' claim. What are they saying? I think it's fair to say that this is a claim about teleology. It is about design and purpose - or in this case, the lack of design or purpose. If the world exists as a result of natural processes that lack any intent or design, we would not be surprised to find that much of it plays no role in human existence. Planets, stars, and galaxies come into existence and are destroyed again, without ever affecting our lives. We would not be surprised to see much that is imperfect, or poorly "designed" for some apparent purpose. Like animal species that become extinct because they are not adapted for the changing environment, or bodies that are vulnerable to succumb to disease without ever having a chance to experience the fullness of life. We would not be surprised to find that suffering is ubiquitous. Billions of sentient creatures experience pain and die in agony, without ever contributing to the spiritual well-being of mankind in any discernible way.
Under the theists' worldview, the world we live in was created by God. It has a purpose, which we suppose is to provide a place for mankind to live and learn the lessons of life in preparation for his eventual transition to the spiritual realm, where he will live in eternal bliss in the presence of God. From the Christian perspective, the world was designed for that purpose, and it is exactly what it should be. It is the "best of all possible worlds". In other words, our world is exactly what it must be in order to fulfill God's divine purpose. In this view, it is assumed that whatever seems to be problematic to explain under the concept of a God who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omni-benevolent, must be necessary, because without it there would be unavoidable consequences that would result in an overall reduction of the goodness of the world. So, for example, if we imagine a world where one single creature long ago was spared the agony of being devoured alive, that would necessitate consequences that would make the world a worse place than it is. And the same would be true for any possible scenario where some flaw or imperfection in the world were eliminated.
It is worth noting that the reasoning behind this theistic worldview is the assumption that God, being maximally good, must have created the best world achievable without entailing some detrimental consequence. This is not based on any evidence, or any analysis of what kind of world might be achievable. It is based purely on the presumed properties of God. And furthermore, this view pre-dated much of modern science. And that gives us an opportunity to glimpse the Christian view of what their "best of all possible worlds" should look like.
Before science gave us the ability to see the world with much more clarity than was possible in ancient or medieval times, the conception of the world was much different from what it is now. The earth was at the center of the cosmos, and there were no distant stars and galaxies. Why should there be, if it was all created for us? The whole thing was ideal for human existence. There were no vast reaches if inhospitable space. There was no past consisting of millions of years, in which countless species lived, suffered, and died, leaving only the faintest of traces behind. Why would there be, if God could just make us and place us in this world? But now that we know so much more about our world than we did in the past, the theist has much more to explain. And of course, as their explanations grow ever more attuned to modern scientific observations, they become increasingly incoherent in terms of divine intent. The all-powerful God, who designs the laws of physics, had no choice but to do everything exactly as we see it, in order to fulfill his purpose, they say. Um, OK. But why couldn't he just make a world like the one the ancients believed in?
Naturalists, on the other hand, don't have to explain why the universe would be designed to be so vast, with humans occupying only a tiny little corner of it. It wasn't designed at all, much less designed for us. We don't have to explain why so much of it is inhospitable to life. There was never any intent for it to host life. We don't have to explain why a good God would make so many animals to suffer. We don't think that would happen if God really had the attributes that Christians insist he has. We don't have to explain why a young child would die without having a chance to gain the life experience that theists believe is necessary to abide with God for eternity. Because the child was not created for that purpose, or any other purpose that God might have had in mind. If there is no God, there is no intent to make humans for any particular purpose, and there is no intent to make a world that is suitable for us to live in. The world that we observe fits perfectly with naturalism. Not so much with theism.
We can explain how the world turns out to be what it is by the laws of nature, without any design or any purpose. And those laws don't entail intelligent life, but neither do they preclude it. We can explain how evolution adapts creatures to their environment, giving them the appearance of design, but without any intelligence or intent involved in the process. But evolution doesn't entail perfection. It adopts sub-optimal features that are good enough to survive in the existing environment, but there is no intelligent force driving toward the best possible design, or any design at all, for that matter. We can understand the existence of suffering, in light of the fact that there is no benevolent God who wants to make the world the best that it could be. In short, without God, what we see in our world fits perfectly with our expectations of how it should look.
Christians once had a view of how the world should look if it were designed by God. Science has shattered that view. Christians are left with a struggle to rationalize what we see now in light of their theistic beliefs. They haven't discarded their old theodicies and beliefs about divine design. But it all becomes a bigger hill to climb. That doesn't stop them from heaping criticism on naturalists who look at the evidence and draw a completely different conclusion about how the world came to be what we see. In their mind, failing to presume God and his divine purpose constitutes an intellectual deficiency.
To people like crude, metaphysics deals with being, and being means only one thing: God (as in God is being itself). But metaphysics is about ontology (among other things), which attempts to examine the nature of being and what kinds of things exist. It doesn't presume God. Crude should shut his mouth for a moment, open a philosophy book, and start reading the chapter on fundamentals of metaphysics. It wouldn't hurt if he learned a little science, too. Having done that, he should then proceed to enlighten the rest of us on what is so ignorant about the claim "The world looks exactly the way it should look if God didn't exist."