Monday, January 31, 2011

Existence of God

In January 2009, Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger successfully guided a U.S. Air passenger plane to a safe landing in the Hudson River after bird strikes crippled its engines.  His skill saved the lives of the 150 passengers and crew.  This was the first time a major airline crash landed in a river with no fatalities.  

A nationally published editorial cartoon that commemorated the miraculous effort showed hands from heaven safely guiding the plane into a river.  Presumably, God was involved in rescuing participants in the crash.  The caption read: “Any questions?”

Just one.  Where were those hands when, one month later, a Continental Airlines flight crashed in Buffalo, killing 50 people.  While Capt. Sullenberger’s actions were heroic, it’s absurd to assume divine involvement.  Otherwise, we’d be forced to believe God chose to act in one situation and declined in another.  If that’s true, now the questions really start: was there someone or something special about U.S. Air flight 1549 that warranted divine intervention?  Was someone aboard God was protecting?  Are fliers leaving a downstate New York airport more valuable than ones that use an upstate facility? And so on.

Such questions point out the futility of understanding why anything happens.  After all, these were two of more than 5,300 documented plane crashes internationally in 2009. How many times did hands from heaven reached down and save passengers and crews?  


We can say that God works in mysterious ways.  In truth, however, Capt. Sullenberger had the experience and opportunity to save his passengers.  That’s all.  In the thousands of crashes, odds are that one such situation would occur.

The issue, however, extends far beyond a single plane crash.  The real question is: how much is God involved with human life at all?

If we answer yes, then we should see evidence.  

At a 2009 debate on the existence of God I participated in, one of the speakers insisted the proof of God lies all around us.  For example, he pointed out that the Earth lies in the exact zone at a distance from the Sun that allows life to flourish.  That the Moon is of the right size to support the existence of life.  Even in small ways, he said, God’s hand is evident.  For example, a giraffe is designed in a special way to give birth without killing its offspring because of the heights involved. 

Of course, he was quite correct that such situations exist – and many more.

He’s simply wrong about the order.  We are here because of our location and the Moon.  We would not be here otherwise.  That’s why scientists are now locating other planets with proper temperature ranges and expect to find life.  There will be life wherever the conditions warrant.  That’s abundantly true on Earth where strange creatures thrive in hostile conditions humans could not tolerate, such as recently discovered bacteria that reportedly requires deadly arsenic to endure.  

The same is true for the giraffe.  Giraffes, like all creatures, evolved.  Smaller versions have died out.  If larger ones had not evolved a mechanism for giving birth properly, they would have become extinct, too.

That evidence is all around us.  Right now, humans are evolving larger heads.  This, in turn, is creating problems for women because their birth canals are too small to accommodate bigger-headed babies.  That’s one reason Caesarian sections are more commonplace.  In time, they may become a necessity.  However, at least one female will be born with a larger birth canal that can accommodate the bigger-headed babies.  In time, her descendants will predominate. 

Then, someone can say God created women with big birth canals.  

Natural processes are continually making changes.  Sometimes, there are mutations – changes caused by damage to chromosomes or for other physical reasons.  Some of the mutations are benign.  A baby born with six fully functioning fingers will be the same as a baby with the usual five, for example, but with an extra digit.  
Nevertheless, some mutations are inherently life-threatening: children born with no mouth or other major deformity.  In nature, these children die; their genes die with them.   Humans, however, treasure life.  We help these children to survive through surgery or other means.  That’s why hemophiliacs endure.  An estimated 400 babies a year are born with the condition in the U.S. alone.  In the wild, there are no hemophiliacs.

Some changes are caused through evolution.  Evidence of that is everywhere, too.  Whales still have legs under their skin, proof their ancestors lived on land.  Snakes have hidden legs, too, reflecting a time millions of years ago when they walked.  Our DNA contains coding for tails, fur and other ancient aspects.  Sometimes, those genes are accidentally expressed, and babies are born covered with fur or a tail.  

In the womb, human babies progress from reptile to amphibian to human as if replaying the evolutionary process.  

This is a natural progression.  No divine involvement is required.

In fact, whether or not there is a God is actually immaterial.  Normal natural forces will maintain evolutionary processes.  Life will continue, constantly changing.  Those that survive will be those best adapted to the conditions, what Darwin labeled “natural selection.”  The rest will die out.

It’s all random, which is true for all living creatures and for airplane crashes.

Bill Lazarus is been a long-time writer, educator and religious historian.  He started teaching when he was 13 year old and has been rarely out of a classroom since.  He holds an M.A. in communication from Kent State University and is a full-time instructor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.  His latest book, Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols, was published in December 2010 and is available via or on his website

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