Seeing the gardener

Douglas Adams, in a line oft-quoted by atheists, wrote once:

“Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?”

The suggestion is that this accurately portrays the relationship between observation of nature and belief in a creator God. In fact, it is a useless and highly misleading straw man argument.

A belief in fairies would be akin to believing in Bertrand Russell’s flying teapot – we don’t have any proof that there isn’t a teapot orbiting Mars, so why don’t we believe in that too? Again, this is an atheist straw man which grossly misrepresents the Christian belief in God.

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As John Lennox has pointed out, you are welcome to dismiss the idea of fairies, but it would be ridiculous to look at a beautiful garden and dismiss the idea of a gardener. And that is a more accurate reflection of the relationship between the God of the Christian faith and the created universe.

Sure, it’s possible that all the trees and flowers grew up from seeds that just randomly fell into perfectly arranged rows and patterns.

Maybe blind chance directed all the azaleas into one flower bed and all the petunias into another.

Perhaps it was purely mechanistic geological forces which directed the stones into a pattern which just happens to resemble a path.

We know that cows eat grass – maybe there was a herd of very light-footed cows that came and mowed the lawns – and just happened to nibble every blade to the same height. (After all, evolution seems to work on the micro scale, why not take it on blind faith that it works on the macro scale?)

Maybe all the apparent design is just an illusion.

But would this be reasonable?

My understanding of God makes sense of the universe that I see around me. The created order, to me, bears unmistakable hallmarks of its Creator.

Acknowledging the gardener makes sense of the beautiful garden that he has fashioned. Acknowledging the creator and sustainer of the Universe gives us insight into everything else we see. C. S. Lewis illustrated this perfectly when he wrote:

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

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Related posts:

Chesterton on Nature

Two evolutionists walk into a bar…

On reading both books

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35 thoughts on “Seeing the gardener

  1. One of my all time Lewis quotes–and there are many. The conversations that surround this issue take some pretty interesting turns of both rationality and irrationality.

  2. I reiterate from Jeff’s blog:

    “…but is it rational to look at a beautiful garden and doubt the existence of a gardener?”

    No, it’s not rational.

    Unless, of course, someone is trying to convince you that the gardener supposedly has some fairy-like qualities.

    • That is precisely my point: the Christian view of God holds nothing in common with the fairies in the garden. The imagined fairies are merely decorative little embellishments: God’s involvement in the universe is the defining quality of His creation.

      If you have never seen the gardener working in the garden, you would still most rationally accept his existence and ministrations by the evidence of the state of the garden. I suggest that God’s involvement in Creation is evidenced by what we see around us – in every aspect of life, not merely the material sciences.

      • Except that the Christian view of god and fairies in the garden are both supernatural. A gardener isn’t, which is why the analogy or saying that all God is is a gardener fails.

        If you put the garden under surveillance 24/7 and the gardener never appeared, but the garden was still tended, then the analogy might hold.

      • The Christian view of God is not limited to the supernatural – He is understood as continually sustaining and being involved in the physical universe.

        The point is that our belief in the gardener is based on the condition of the garden, despite the fact that we have never observed him. We see God’s handiwork everywhere in the universe.

  3. Excellent analysis, Sentinel, as usual. It seems so often that atheistic quotes like these fail miserably as they are based on straw men or other presuppositions that are blatantly false. It’s like the objection that it is a bad thing for people to waste so much time praying to a deity. Obviously, this would be true if no deity existed, but this begs the question against theists! Such an objection has no weight if a deity in fact exists!

    • Also, how could there possibly be a rational atheist objection against someone investing their time in an activity which they find fulfilling and does not negatively impact others?

  4. “The Christian view of God is not limited to the supernatural – He is understood as continually sustaining and being involved in the physical universe. ”

    But if he is not supernatural, then he cannot sustain and be involved with the physical universe in the way it is implied he does by Christians. His supernatural-ness is a necessary part of who he is. Without it, he’s not god, he’s just some dude coming by and tending the bushes.

    “The point is that our belief in the gardener is based on the condition of the garden, despite the fact that we have never observed him.”

    And my point is you’re not looking at a garden when we’re not talking metaphorically. You’re looking at natural processes that are pretty well understood without the necessity of supernatural intercession.

    “You are still forcing your personal “value for truth” onto someone else, regardless of their own values.”

    Who’s forcing anything? You asked for an atheist objection. I gave one.

    I object when people don’t value whether or not what they believe is true. But I wouldn’t force them to do so. I would merely lose a great deal of respect for that person, and be sure to watch them carefully in the future, as when people don’t value the truth it sometimes leads to danger for those around them. (note I stress ‘sometimes’)

    • morsec0de :
      natural processes that are pretty well understood without the necessity of supernatural intercession.

      I would suggest that there are grave inadequacies and limitations in many of the explanations for issues of origin and development of both the universe and life. I see a lot of question-begging in the current explanations in the form of: “Given an assumption of no supernatural involvement, what’s the best explanation we can come up with?”

      That’s a useful method of inquiry, but it does not necessarily lead us to truth.

      The common justification is along the lines of: “Oh, but if we start to allow the supernatural to be an explanation for anything we might as well just throw our hands up and stop all science.”

      My problem with this reasoning is that it does not deal with the existence of the supernatural: it merely ignores it. Closing our eyes to the supernatural may limit our ability to discover the whole truth.

      I suggest that the “naturalistic” explanations that I have given for the state of the garden are all entirely possible, too. Indeed, if we a priori exclude the existence of a gardener, they may be the best explanations that we can come up with. But it does not inevitably follow that they are the truth.

      • ‘“Given an assumption of no supernatural involvement, what’s the best explanation we can come up with?” ‘

        Given no assumption. Given the evidence, what’s the best explanation we can come up with? As there’s no evidence for the supernatural explanations, only assertions, those just don’t cut it.

        We don’t a priori do anything. We look for evidence. If something exists and isn’t leaving any evidence, then it’s that things fault for us not thinking it’s there.

      • morsec0de :
        If something exists and isn’t leaving any evidence, then it’s that things fault for us not thinking it’s there.

        This, of course, merely lands us back at the problem of what evidence would be accepted. I do not think that any reasonable evidence would counter a firm unwillingness to believe (without compromising freedom of choice).

        Incidentally, science generally does use exactly such an assumption of no supernatural.

    • My personal experience of God is compelling evidence for me. But I can hardly expect it to be convincing to anyone else.

      You claim that “there’s no evidence”; I have to wonder what evidence (if any) you would accept.

      • A sudden rearranging of the stars in a message in multiple languages stating that it’s god doing it?

        Jesus giving a press conference and doing a bunch of miracles under test conditions?

        A few examples of reversed gravity on the entire planet with Jesus (or the deity of your choice) showing he/she/it controls it?

        Stuff like that. Wouldn’t be hard at all for an omnipotent deity.

    • Oh, if only we could arbitrarily order around the omnipotent Creator of the universe… It’s just not fair! (*cue indignant foot-stamp*)

      🙂

      • You asked what would be good evidence. It’s rather convenient that any good evidence is somehow beneath your god. And any other god I’ve heard people talk about. Or other supernatural creatures, for that matter.

        If your god exists and truly wants everyone in the world to believe it exists, it would do something like I suggested. If it doesn’t, what am I left to conclude? That it doesn’t exist, or doesn’t care what people believe, or wants to mess with people.

      • I seriously don’t see any qualitative difference between the specific miracles that you demand and the sort of miracles that Jesus performed.

        I can’t help thinking that if reversal of gravity, etc had been specifically performed instead, you would still be demanding different evidence.

  5. “I seriously don’t see any qualitative difference between the specific miracles that you demand and the sort of miracles that Jesus performed.”

    There isn’t.

    Except for the fact that they were supposedly performed in a tiny section of the Middle East during the Bronze Age before mostly illiterate and generally primitive people.

    With mass communication, scientific investigation and recording devices, if those same miracles were performed now they would actually have weight. As it is, they serve as no more impressive as evidence than the claims of alien abductees.

    “I can’t help thinking that if reversal of gravity, etc had been specifically performed instead, you would still be demanding different evidence.”

    You can think that all you want.

    You’d be wrong.

    Saying that is also a blatant way of excusing the fact that no good evidence is around. “I can fly. But even if I flew right in front of you, you wouldn’t believe me. So I won’t even show you. Or anyone.”

    • Ah, you still think God should rock up in person in every town in every generation throughout human history for a repeat showing. If only he would bow to our every whim.

      But then He wouldn’t be God, of course.

      I see it as:

      “I’ve flown in front of you. You refuse to see me flying. You claim it’s a trick of light and that there is some mechanical device which is holding me up. I’m flapping my wings, hovering in front of your face, but you insist that there must be a mundane explanation – maybe some hidden pulleys and ropes or something. You have can’t prove any other explanation, but you have an a priori belief that my flying is impossible, so you refuse to accept the evidence.

      “Other people see me flying, recognise what they see, and try to tell you about it but you claim they are deluded. You say they clearly don’t understand the ‘real’ world as well as you do, or they would also know that flying is impossible. You deny the evidence. You deny the testimony of those who recognise it.”

      It’s tragic: if only everyone else could think as clearly and cut through this silly nonsense as easily as you.

  6. Not every town. Once when mass communication and recording devices existed would be a start.

    It’s not about bowing to my whim. It’s about being consistant. If he did it before there’s no good reason he can’t do it again. Unless he never did it in the first place.

    Your analogy fails. You’ve said that you refuse to fly before me because then you’ll be following my whim. But you convinced some people a long time ago that you could fly and that’s supposed to be good enough? Sorry, no. Fly and I’ll be convinced. Pointing to people who believe ancient stories about you flying isn’t good enough.

    • If you reread my post, you’ll see that my point was that the speaker is flying in front of you, but you refuse to recognise it. And then claim that others are delusional or illogical who do recognise it.

      In terms of God assuming human form and living amonst us, there are incredibly important reasons why He won’t do it again. But that’s a very different issue which has nothing to do with proof of existence.

      God says He has provided you with plenty of evidence. You choose to deny all of it and claim that He’s doing a lousy job of proving Himself to your satisfaction.

      It’s a bold stance, but I fear for how it may end for you.

      • I understand your point. The problem is, your point does not coincide with what is actually happening.

        There is no one flying in front of me. For the analogy to be accurate, there are people in front of me who say they have a book that says thousands of years ago some guy flew in front of some people, and now they believe the book.

        “God says He has provided you with plenty of evidence.”

        And your book is wrong.

        It’s a very nice way of trying to excuse the lack of evidence. If I ever make my own religion I’ll definitely include a bit that says “people won’t believe this is true, and that’s why it is!”

        “You choose to deny all of it”

        There’s nothing to deny. You have stories. Unimpressive stories. I again ask, how are they any more impressive than the stories of people who claim to be abducted by aliens?

        “It’s a bold stance, but I fear for how it may end for you.”

        I appreciate that you ended with what amounts to a veiled threat.

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  8. >Maybe all the apparent design is just an illusion.
    But would this be reasonable?

    By your own lights, is it reasonable to postulate a supernatural being having the traits described in the Bible? It may be hard to see how a garden could come to be, but it is even harder to see how a god could come to be.

    Gardens have designers. Gardeners. The plants don’t. They evolved. If we didn’t know about evolution, proposing a supernatural designer makes the problem immeasurably worse. Now, instead of having to just explain a garden, you have to explain the gods, too.

    • Not true. If an infinite regression of causality was required, we’d never explain anything.

      An archaeologist discovering the ruins of a building can meaningfully say, “this is the result of a human civilisation” without having to explain where those people came from, what language they spoke, or whether they originally evolved from simian ancestors.

  9. >“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

    How does Lewis zero in on Christianity? Christianity doesn’t follow from marveling at creation. Any number of beliefs offer accounts of who things came to be.

    “I believe in Islam as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

    “I believe in Hinduism as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

    “I believe in Paganism as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

    “I believe in Santeria Voodoo as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

    • Lewis does not simply go from marvelling at creation directly to Christianity. The magnificence of creation is more deeply illuminated by acknowledgment of its Creator, but our life is not restricted to marvelling at creation. Christianity also illuminates and makes more sense of everything else in human experience.

      The reasons that I believe Christianity makes better sense of the world than does Islam, Hinduism, etc are not really connected to this post, so I haven’t bothered to go into them. The relevance of the Lewis quote in this context is that knowledge of the Creator makes sense of creation.

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  11. This is almost embarrassing.

    First Century Palestine was Bronze age? Puh-lease.

    We see well the chronocentric bigotry that characterises modern atheistic thought. People were not illiterate, Jesus is recorded as reading and writing, Jewish boys learned Torah. Among his disciples Jesus counted Matthew Levi, a tax collector who would have known both Greek and Hebrew, could read and write, and keep track of the tax mathematics of the day.

    Glenn Miller takes the time to show that contrary to atheist opinion the ancients were not particularly gullible. What is the appeal to “primitive” supposed to mean? That they didn’t know that dead men don’t get up and serve fish by the lake?

    Rome had established the Pax Romana, and the peoples of the Empire spoke Koine Greek. Transmitting information required far less effort in translation than is necessary today.

    As atheists go, I prefer Tim O’Neill, at least he knows what he’s talking about.

    • Great points, Jason.

      Chesterton made some observations which are relevant here:

      “Somehow or other an extraordinary idea has arisen that the disbelievers in miracles consider them coldly and fairly, while believers in miracles accept them only in connection with some dogma. The fact is quite the other way. The believers in miracles accept them (rightly or wrongly) because they have evidence for them. The disbelievers in miracles deny them (rightly or wrongly) because they have a doctrine against them. The open, obvious, democratic thing is to believe an old apple-woman when she bears testimony to a miracle, just as you believe an old apple-woman when she bears testimony to a murder… All argument against these plain facts is always argument in a circle. If I say, “Mediaeval documents attest certain miracles as much as they attest certain battles,” they answer, “But mediaevals were superstitious”; if I want to know in what they were superstitious, the only ultimate answer is that they believed in the miracles.”

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