This is where atheism and agnosticism join forces against religion, but first we must consider the alternatives again. Either you believe that life, reproduction, adaptation and innovation and all their associated processes came about by chance – a belief that requires an act of blind, irrational faith – or you believe that they were designed, which represents an equally blind and irrational faith in a designer. There is no middle way here. Natural selection came later, after life began and after every adaptation and mutation. Dawkins states categorically that attributing life to a designer is a “total abdication of the responsibility to find an explanation” (p. 155), and believes that through natural selection “we can now safely say that the illusion of design in living creatures is just that – an illusion” (p. 158). His attribution of the multiple complexities of life to luck and statistics is clearly a far more satisfying and "responsible" explanation for him. But if, on the other hand, you opt for a designer, you open yourself up to all kinds of additional problems, quite apart from Dawkins’ unanswerable (though in relation to our understanding of life on Earth, also irrelevant) one of who designed him/her/it/them. What is its nature? Why did it create our world? Where is it now? (I shall use “it” in order to avoid unwanted associations.)

Some religions past (Greek and Roman) and present (especially Hinduism) have opted for a multiplicity of deities, and some for just one, but the same questions apply. The answers can, of course, only be speculative, but the advantage of agnosticism is that the speculation can remain free from all the intellectual paraphernalia that encumbers the established religions. An agnostic can look at the work of art and draw conclusions about the artist. An adherent of any religion will tend to start with the artist. This is why theologians have tied themselves in knots trying to explain the origin of evil and to reconcile it with their belief that their god is all-powerful, allknowing, and all-good.

It is always dangerous to assume that a work of art (let us continue the analogy for a moment or two) reflects the artist directly. Who would have thought that the Ode to Joy with which Beethoven’s 9th Symphony reaches its triumphant climax was written by a sad and lonely, relatively old man? Or that the writer of King Lear could also pen A Midsummer Night’s Dream? But what we can assume is that no artist can create something totally unknown to him. Even the most fantastic creatures of science fiction and fairy tales have some features that make them into recognizable living beings. What, then, do we learn from the world about the possible world-maker?

At this stage, I should like to change the image, or at least extend it. The artist is, or was, also a scientist. We're not talking here about big bangs or primordial soups, but we’re not talking about supernatural powers either. For a designer to have created life, it would have needed the right conditions, so it found the Earth, or maybe it created the Earth. Once the conditions were right, it set about devising the mechanisms that eventually led to us. The astonishing variety that has arisen out of those mechanisms is ample evidence of the designer’s ingenuity; the beauty is evidence of its aesthetic sense; the love and self-sacrifice (not just human – we shall talk about animals later) is evidence of its goodness; the chaos, violence, cruelty are evidence of its darker side. Evil could not have come into being without its knowledge of evil. Man’s sense of humour, though, is a great comforter, and that too can only have sprung from a corresponding trait in the designer. Even the most ardent believer in the literal truth of the Bible can hardly ignore the all-important line in Genesis I: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him.” If we are in God’s image, then he is also in ours, and at a stroke we can do away with all the twists and turns of casuistry.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the designer is an old man with a white beard. It may be such, of course, because the mechanism it created, once set in motion, could have populated the world over time. On the other hand, it may be something as vast as a planetary system, and capable of holding the Earth in the palm of its hand (or the unearthly equivalent of its hand). The latter would be helpful if we wanted to explain some of the cataclysms that have struck the Earth in its history. Once the designer had decided to take drastic steps to change the physical Earth, it would have had to use physical means. But instead of using the hand, maybe it could have created tornadoes, earthquakes, floods – all through science, of course, not mere magic. When scholars find natural explanations for historical or mythical phenomena, like the parting of the Red Sea, they are not disproving the interference of the designer. If it wanted to part the Red Sea, it would have devised a physical method to do so.

The atheist will complain that we are entering the realms of fantasy, but is this any more fantastic than the idea that inanimate, unconscious matter can become animate, reproduce itself, and develop new organs by chance? Remember, we are now considering the alternative to the atheist’s fantasy, and we are speculating. If there is/was a designer, it will be beyond our comprehension and perception, but it will in some ways mirror what it designed. So let us talk of microcosms and macrocosms. Within our own world there are many parallels between cells and the universe, between individual and society, between the body of man and the body of the Earth – so perhaps it is the same between us and our designer. Perhaps the cells that microreflect the body that microreflects society that microreflects the Earth that microreflects the universe are also a microreflection of the designer. The designer may even be the universe, which may even be a body, within which the galaxies are limbs, and our solar system a mere cell.

What we have, then, is the artist/scientist creating the mechanism of life. Now we must ask why. Why does an artist paint a picture, write a book, compose a symphony? Why does a scientist invent a machine, devise a technique, conduct experiments? Why do we sing, play games, gossip? Because that’s what we humans do. And so our designer did what designers do. That may not seem very helpful, but it sets us off on an interesting track. Why did it take so long for the design to evolve into human beings capable of questioning, investigating, even denying the existence of the designer? Why all the mindless organisms, the monsters, the creatures incapable of acknowledging it?

We cannot answer these questions, of course, but we can go on speculating. Here are some ideas: 1) the designer set the whole process in motion and then sat back to see what would evolve; 2) the designer carried on experimenting (occasionally destroying whole swathes of its creation, having got fed up with those particular species); 3) the designer didn’t know what it wanted, but kept fiddling till it got us (human-centred interpretation); 4) the designer lost interest, gave up and walked away, leaving the process to look after itself; 5) the designer is still there watching. These are not meant to be alternatives; they may be phases. But on the analogy of the designer being in man’s image, we might assume that it gave us and all the other creatures the freedom to do what we wanted to do, because automata would have been dull.

Let us not, however, ignore the churches, the mosques, the synagogues. Worship is central to most religions, and who is to say that the designer doesn’t/didn’t want to be worshipped? That too would be an understandable analogy: the artist hopes to be praised for his masterpiece, the scientist for his invention. Since this is natural to man, why not to his image? But if so, it does seem like an afterthought, bearing in mind the lateness of our appearance on the planet. It certainly cannot have been the prime motive, unless the designer simply couldn’t come up with the goods first, second, or umpteenth time around. Entertainment seems a more likely candidate, with all the different creatures evolving, surviving, killing, dying, being born.…

Microcosm, macrocosm: we watch the world fall to pieces, and our designer watches us watching the world fall to pieces. Step by step. Natural disasters: just that. Part of the unpredictable scenario. We watch gruesome disaster movies for our entertainment. We are a disaster movie for the designer’s entertainment. But this is not fiction. A conscious being creates situations in which children die in excruciating pain, and their parents must witness their agony, unable to do anything about it. Just as the theologians tie themselves in knots to explain evil, they fall over backwards to excuse their creator for allowing the guiltless to suffer. When all else fails, they offer hope of consolation in the next life (of which more anon), but what consolation can there be for a mother who has watched her child screaming in agony before the pain finally ends, cutting short a life that has barely begun? I’m referring to disease, accident, natural catastrophe, and you can extend the range of suffering in any direction you want. What sort of inventor invents the slaughter of the innocents?

While on the subject, we may as well deal with an extraordinary piece of paininfliction. Christians believe that Christ died his agonizing death on the cross in order to redeem them, whatever that means. What sort of father allows his son to suffer such pain in the first place? And what precisely is the point and process of this “redemption”? If we are good, we will be rewarded; if we are bad, we will be punished. So where does Christ’s agony fit in? Couldn’t the designer have “redeemed” us without Christ’s blood? Of all the verses in the story of Jesus, there is none so resonant and chilling as Matthew 27, 46: “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? That is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

Christians may argue that Christ's suffering is an example to all of us: so long as we have faith and behave ourselves, we will be rewarded for our pain. It is the same message as that given in the story of Job (see "Religion"), but why inflict such suffering? Christ and Job were presumably both "perfect and upright", so they should have been saved anyway. And I, who am not "perfect and upright", will not be made so by Christ's crucifixion or by Job's losses, since it is clear that I too must have faith in God (or Christ, which - mysteriously - amounts to the same thing thanks to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity) and obey his commandments, or I shall be condemned. We are told by John, in his first epistle general, that if we walk in God's light, "the blood of Jesus Christ his [God's] son cleanseth us from all sin." But if I already walk in God's light, what need is there for Christ's blood? Will I obey the commandments simply because Christ died an agonizing death? And could I not have had faith in him anyway without such a death?

The fact is, I am no closer to "redemption" after Christ's death than I was before it. This is not to deny that he may have been a great teacher, and many of his principles set out a good moral and social basis for living (most religions do). It is simply a comment on the senselessness of the sacrifice. The nature of the "Creator" as it emerges from this story is very much in tune with a haunting line from a Madonna song: “Only the one that hurts you can make you feel better.” God hurt Job and Christ, then made them feel better, but that won't help the rest of us, unless we can live up to their noble standards - and even that is no guarantee of favour.

What about love, then? If we are to follow our parallels, might not the artist love his own work? Might not the playwright take pity on his characters? Of course he might. If the great spectator takes a liking to you, why shouldn’t he offer you special terms? Once you are free from the scientific faith of atheism and the dogma of religion, you can pick any scenario you like, because they are all equally possible/impossible. If I cannot discount the possibility of life etc. through random miracles, I most certainly cannot discount the possibility of a conscious designer taking note of little me and putting its metaphorical thumb up or down. We may shift the parallel here from the playwright to the great dictator: if The Father of the Nation likes me, he’ll be nice to me; if he hates me, he’ll make me suffer. It is not a comforting thought, but it is just as likely/unlikely as any other of our scenarios.

At the beginning of this chapter, I asked three questions about the possible designer: What is its nature? Why did it create the world? Where is it now? On the assumption that the design reflects the designer, I have suggested that it is fair enough to ascribe all the good and all the bad qualities of life on Earth to the being that created it; this leads to the possibility that the act of creation was a sort of pastime, maybe for entertainment; and this in turn brings us to the third question. Is it still watching? But in order to speculate on that, we need to return to a different aspect of the first question.

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7. Where is it now?

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