Monday, December 10, 2007


In thinking about ironies (see my post below), it has struck me that one of the greatest ironies about the theism/atheism debate is the issue of creation. To create something (where before there was nothing) is an act of will, mind, consciousness. I can't think of anything in the whole world that has been created, except by a conscious decision.

Definition of terms is important here. I think it's important to draw a distinction between "creating" and "using", and also between "creating" and "making". Plenty of animals "use" things. Birds use material to make nests; animals learn how to use tools, and even machinery to achieve a particular end. Animals "make" things - termites build structures of remarkable complexity; bees build honeycomb structures. But "make" differs from "create" because it doesn't start with having to conceive of something. There is nothing in bees that allows them to say to themselves - "how about we make a honeycomb that consists of a grid of octagonal and square prisms?" - and yet as soon as I say that, you, dear reader, are able to imagine it. There is nothing in termites that allows them to build a large chamber, and within that chamber build a statue of a termite deity - and yet, again, we as humans can conceive of such a thing.

Our ability as humans to create seems boundless. Shakespeare created Hamlet and The Tempest. Engineers created bridges across the River Forth and rockets to take people to the moon. People created the means to speak across distances of thousands of miles. People create music and art, corporations and philosophies. These things don't exist - and then, through an act of will, they do exist. There is nothing in nature from which they are an inevitable outcome. Even people like Cage, Stockhausen and Pollock, whose art perhaps seeks to deny the idea of absolute meaning, still engage themselves in the act of creation. They still make something when beforehand there was nothing.

In The Blind Watchmaker, Dawkins seeks to deny that life is created, and show that instead it is "made" by blind processes. He is keen to show therefore that blind processes can produce outcomes that look created. He presents the "METHINKSITISLIKEAWEASEL" experiment as supporting evidence. If this phrase - the fruit of literary genius! - can appear by a process of random mutation and selection, then surely so can the complexity of life. But the very choice of this phrase is itself an act of artfulness - for more details, see "A Meaningful World" by Wiker and Witt - and there is no correspondence in any case between the drunkard's walk process by which Dawkins arrives at "METHINKS" and the way in which Shakespeare first coined it.

All our experience of artefacts demonstrates a difference between things that have been made and things that have been created. People who want to deny the need for a creator (Dawkins etc.) have also to deny ultimately the creative acts which they themselves work by. If "METHINKS" is the outcome of nothing more (ultimately) than a drunkard's walk, then so is The Blind Watchmaker itself.

But that's not the case. The complexity and subtlety of The Blind Watchmaker isn't the outcome of a blind process. It's the outcome of an act of will; an act of creation has taken place. Given that we see no natural processes that lead on earth to creation, is it reasonable to assume that anything capable of an act of creation could arise from a natural process?

And that's the irony. The fact that humans are capable of creating things means that even when somebody creates something which seeks to deny the presence of God, the very act of creation itself affirms it.
Lord, shall we not bring these gifts to Your Service?
Shall we not bring to Your service all our powers
For life, for dignity, grace and order,
And intellectual pleasures of the senses?
The Lord who created must wish us to create
And employ our creation again in His service
Which is already His service in creating.

From "The Rock", by T.S.Eliot