St Stephen Lewisham
26th July 2011
Design – or Accident? – Part Two:
Perhaps it wasn’t an Accident
If you have a good memory you may remember that almost exactly a year ago you heard me preach a sermon called Design or Accident. It was always intended to be the first of two sermons, but until today there hasn’t been any opportunity to preach it.
But don’t worry if you missed or have forgotten it. There’ll be a copy both parts available after Mass.
But let’s recap. In Part One saw that whenever and wherever in life we recognize a design (or pattern), our first instinct is to say ‘Someone designed that’. Whether we’re looking at a painting, or a building, or listening to a piece of music or admiring somebody’s dress, we know almost for certain that it didn’t ‘just happen’, but that somebody had a hand in creating it.
Let’s imagine that we’re Robinson Crusoe, living alone on a small desert island. We’ve never seen any trace of another human being on the island. Then, one morning, we notice that on the beach some shells and stones, which till then had been lying all over the place, had become a recognizable pattern – say a straight line, a cross or a circle. What would be our first reaction to this discovery? We’d think that someone, rather than the wind or the tide, created that pattern, wouldn’t we? So we conclude that there is, after all, probably some other intelligent being on the island beside ourselves, or perhaps that someone came by sea during the night, arranged the stones and shells, and sailed away before we woke up.
Now if we look carefully at the everyday world, especially if we examine how our body actually works, we find it consists of an incredibly complex arrangement of cells, muscles, hormones and many other components ceaselessly and purposeful working to keep us alive. If you doubt this, then watch this DVD called Inside the Human Body and you will be amazed at what is going on inside every moment.
So, like our Desert Islander we may say of our body, ‘Someone has probably designed this!
That is called the ‘Argument from Design’. It’s very simple to understand – and it really helps unbelievers see perhaps, for the first time, the evidence for the existence of an Intelligent Being behind Creation.
But the Argument from Design also has its limitations. Firstly, there might just as easily be a hundred-and-one intelligent Creators; secondly, it doesn’t tell us whether the Creator, singular or plural, has the slightest interest or involvement in what they’ve made. But the third, and most serious shortcoming about the Argument from Design is that it tells us nothing for certain about whether the Designer (or Designers) are good or bad, whether there is any purpose or plan for us, or whether we should use our freewill to behave morally, or simply feel free to do whatever we like.
In Part Two this morning we shall tackle this third problem and leave the other two for another Sunday. So the question today is: If indeed there is an Intelligent Being who has created the world and ourselves how do we know if He has a purpose for us, and cares about how we live our lives on earth?’ And the Argument from Design provides no help in answering those questions.
To find an answer, we have to ask if that Creator has told (or ‘revealed’) to us anything about Himself. And the first place to go for an answer is that extraordinary collection of writings called ‘The Bible’.
If we read the Scriptures sensibly, we shall come to learn that, although they were written over the course of a thousand years or more, by people who were as different from each other as you and I are, its writers had three beliefs about God which they all held in common. First, they realized that He has a plan both for His Creation and the part He wants you and me and every other human being to play in it; secondly they believed that their duty in that plan was to persuade other people that God loves them; thirdly they were all convinced that we must all trust and obey Him if we are to stand any chance of becoming the sort of people He intended us to be.
The first part of the Bible, called the Old Testament, the Patriarchs and the Prophets believed they were appointed by God to tell His people about the Plan which He had for them, both as a nation and as individuals. It describes how God worked that Plan out in history of their nation, including a record of not only what He said to them, but also what He did for them by saving them from their enemies and rescuing them from their various captivities. But, on the whole the Old Testament is concerned with the prelude to what He had in mind to do ‘in the fullness of time’.
For when the critical moment arrived God did the most incredible thing of all: He took flesh of the Virgin Mary, became a Man called Jesus Christ, and spoke directly not just to the Jews but to all mankind.
But Jesus didn’t just tell people what they ought to do and not do. He did Himself what no man has done before or since. He lived the perfect life upon earth which His Heavenly Father intended all people to participate in, not only in Time but in Eternity. The New Testament is a record of how God’s Plan unfolded and made it possible not only for us to be reconciled to Him but also to get a pretty good idea of what God is really like. And then as the climax and turning point of His Plan, God allowed His Only Son to be put to death on the Cross, and be raised from the dead on the Third Day.
The Incarnation, the account of God becoming Man which is what the New Testament is all about, is in fact the ‘missing piece of the jigsaw’ in discovering what God in Whom we believe is really like.
The Argument from Design is a good starting point to learn about God, because it leads people to conclude that there is a Designer involved in our Creation. The Old Testament describes how in the past ‘at various times and in different ways’ God showed Himself as a loving and righteous Being. That takes us a stage further by helping us understand where our sense of right and wrong come from, and why trusting our Creator and obeying His will gives us both purpose and fulfilment. That is what one might call the Old Testament Argument, and is what the Prophets were trying to tell people about God.
But it’s what we might call the ‘Argument from the Incarnation’ which really clinches the deal.
We can know by other means that God created us, that He loves us, and that we should obey Him. But it is only by becoming united with Him through Jesus Christ in His Church that we discover how the history of mankind, as well as Creation is no mere Accident, but a miraculous piece of supernatural Design!
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