Life is precious; without it there is no existence or experience. It only seems natural, therefore, for human beings to ask the fundamental question of how we got to this remarkable state of things.
God, the Designer
By Ronny Nalin
Life is precious; without it there is no existence or experience. It only seems natural, therefore, for human beings to ask the fundamental question of how we got to this remarkable state of things. Why is it that you and I have the possibility of being?
The Bible provides a very straightforward answer to this question. Not only we, but also the world in which we live, are the result of a divine plan. God took the initiative to create the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1; 2:4), and He decided to make humanity (Gen. 1:26, 27).
Seventh-day Adventists embrace this message of divine creative activity. There are many, however, who think the universe and its inhabitants are just the result of a random concatenation of events, governed by natural laws that just happen to be the way they are. This view, known as naturalism, excludes that reality is the manifestation of a plan of God.
A Planned Creation?
The question of origins is intimately connected with a search for meaning and context. There is a radical difference between seeing life as an accident or by-product and considering it the result of intentional design. The Bible not only indicates God as the Creator of the world but also suggests that this creation followed the pattern of a well-planned project.
The implicit suggestion of design is evident in the structure of the Creation account of Genesis 1. The initial condition of the earth is presented as tohû (“unformed”) and bohû (“unfilled”) (Gen. 1:2). The narration continues, showing how God orderly changed this original state first by “forming” a structured environment (day 1: light; day 2: sky and seas; day 3: land with its vegetation), then by “filling” the partitions established in the first three days (day 4: luminaries; day 5: flying and water creatures; day 6: land creatures and humans). The internal correlation between the days of Creation and the methodical approach described in the text clearly convey the message of a planned manner of divine activity.
Fingerprints of Design
If the Bible is clear in revealing that creation was originated by the deliberate will of God, what is the witness of nature itself? Is it possible to infer the existence of a designer just by studying the properties of natural systems?
Designed objects are built in a way that conforms to a preexisting pattern developed by the designer. One can be sure that a certain object is truly designed if it cannot be built by unguided natural processes. Let’s use the example of a pyramid to clarify these concepts. Suppose an Egyptian architect plans to build a structure with a pyramidal shape. Following the directions of the architect, an actual pyramid made of bricks is erected. The preexisting pattern in the mind of the designer is the abstract pyramid, the implementation of the design is the material pyramidal edifice. Several centuries later a tourist looking at the building can be sure that it was designed, because nothing in nature requires bricks to arrange themselves in a pyramidal shape.
Like the pyramid, some of the features we observe in the natural world conform to patterns that bear the impression of the fingerprint of a designer. Consider, for instance, the chemical elements, the atoms, which make up compounds and substances. The properties of the elements are determined by the laws of physics. But why are these laws such that they would determine the aggregation of matter in discrete elements that exhibit orderly, predictable, and periodic properties?
Fingerprints of design can also be identified in living organisms. Consider the DNA, for example. This molecule contains the information needed to build the parts that make us function. Like the sentences of this article, which are intelligible because they consist of a specific succession of letters, the sequence of “letters” in the DNA acts as precise instructions.. No natural law required the “letters” of the DNA to be originally arranged in a meaningful way. Nevertheless, we find that our cells contain pages and pages of meaningful “text,” allowing us to be complex and beautiful living beings.
Even if the study of nature leads some to recognize the existence of a designer, others interpret the same observable patterns in different ways.
Instead of seeing the complexity and organization detected in natural systems as the fruit of intentionality, some ascribe them to the intrinsic properties of matter. Some physical systems, such as the regular lattice of a crystal, have indeed the ability to spontaneously self-organize and produce ordered structures. Additionally, processes observed in nature can also be regular and predictable because of the constancy of the laws of physics.
However, when natural laws bring to existence intelligible arrangements, we are still left wondering why natural laws are the way they are. When the assembly of a system does not require the direct involvement of a designer, the rules that regulate the assembly can still be the product of design.
Another mechanism invoked to explain why things exist without the action of a designer is chance. This view sees the universe as the theater of innumerable random and undirected events, which result in chance combinations of processes and materials. One of these combinations was responsible for the origin of life on Planet Earth. Proponents of chance do recognize the very low probability of life emerging this way. However, they maintain the problem is mitigated by the immensity of time and space.
A Reasonable Choice
We live in a society in which great value is placed upon scientific observations of the physical world. For some, contemplation of the physical world suggests a strictly naturalistic explanation to the question of our existence. Conversely, the believer finds encouragement for faith when considering the patterns revealed by the study of nature, because they confirm that the biblical revelation of God as designer is a reasonable choice.
Dr. Peter N. Landless is director of the Health Ministries Department of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.A.