Why Nature Doesn't Need A God
Published originally as an answer to the following question for Vox Populi 15:
3. Christians like to point at something in nature and tell us how it proves the existence of God. What would you point at to show a Christian why you can’t believe in God?
Nature has many examples of why god isn’t necessary. But it’s impossible to prove a negative, so we don’t know what might or might not be out there in distant space or time. We don’t know who or what went on before the Big Bang or what may come after our universe freezes or crunches or burns. It’s a big universe and making a sweeping negative claim would be almost as absurd as Christians with their sweeping positive claims about God. And I guess that sort of puts me in the camp of an ignostic, since I don’t really consider the question to be that important. I am concerned only with combating the negative results of theism. Ontologically, it’s an open question that has no relevance to life on earth. Empiricism is the only relevant method, and with empiricism, the burden of proof shifts automatically to the theists. They are the ones claiming to the positive proposition. Not only can they not prove their claim, I daresay they won’t even be able to agree amongst themselves as to what would CONSTITUTE positive proof of a deity.
I say prove or show or demonstrate the positive proposition, if you think it’s real. Give me a set of phenomena you will agree to that will prove empirically the existence of god. Be willing to stick to it this criterion even if you can’t find the evidence. Theists squirm in their chairs at the thought of such a commitment and what it would mean to their faith. So they hedge on concepts like "you can’t prove a negative."
The truth is, we don’t and can’t know what caused or preceded various formative cosmological events. We can study. Basically we’re just putting together the pieces, and we have to use Occam’s razor.
Now of all the so-called evidence, none is more compelling to me than the brilliant efficacy of evolution and evolutionary algorithms as seen in nature. I see all the design problems that have been solved. We see the history, the fossil and DNA records of these changes taking place. And the only method of feedback to tell evolution about the results of its attempts to solve problems has really been survival or non-survival.
We can do the same thing in the laboratory or on a computer. We take a solution or set of solutions, and break it down into symbolic parameters which we can "breed" with other potential solutions. We allow them to produce offspring that are then tested for their efficacy of solving the problem. The ones that work better carry forward. The other non-solutions are "terminated." When successive generations of evolutionary algorithms are used, brilliant and novel methods and designs emerge that are better than those produced by the best human designers. We are now seeing the first products to benefit from this process. These include everything from antennas, to software, to industrial bacteria.
If evolutionary algorithms regularly exceed the skills of the best human designers, it gives us a clue as to how powerful this process can be. Moving from evolution in the laboratory to natural evolution represents an intellectual leap, to be sure. But it’s a lot smaller one than seeing some kind of god revealed behind every tree, flower, waterfall, canyon, or sunset.