The Personalist Project

Accessed on February 19, 2020 - 6:57:35

A Personalist Universe

Devra Torres, Sep 18, 2012

The other day, my husband and I were taking a walk.  We looked up and saw this:

Here are some questions we didn’t ask:

No, we ruled coincidence out.  In fact, there were three separate things the letters told us.

(Now, if you go to The Cloud Appreciation Society’s website--a delightful place to go in any case--there’s a whole category called Clouds That Look Like Things.  Some are striking, like this horse:

But none point unmistakably to the deliberate action of a designer.)

Now, everybody knows that skywriting is created on purpose, conveys a message, and is designed with an observer in mind.  The same is true of the physical universe.

I'm not setting out here to prove the existence of a personal God or to demonstrate which method He did or didn't use to produce the universe.  

I'll resist the temptation to analyze just how well old-time Darwinism and its offshoots hold up once the sediment of ideology and wishful thinking  is sifted away.

(If the subject nterests you, though, you might like Darwin’s Black Box, by Michael Behe and Darwin on Trial, by Phillip E. Johnson.)  

What I want to address is what a difference it makes whether you believe the universe is designed by a Person, with persons in mind--in other words, that this is a personalist universe.

If you believe it’s not, you might be inclined to feel, like the late Carl Sagan, that

“we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe.”

You might also be inclined to proclaim bravely:

Leaving aside whether Sagan's religion-delusion equivalency is convincing, he and others like him succeeded wildly at something else: insinuating the assumption that if a belief is satisfying and reassuring, then it's likely to be a delusion.

If you really think that the ultimate reality is pointless randomness,

you’re operating with a very different mental background than if you believe in a Creation designed by a Person who takes an interest in you—that man is "the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake," as the Catechism puts it.

But as David Mills points out in this month’s issue of First Things: Wait a minute.  When Sagan calls our planet insignificant—insignificant to whom? 

And "forgotten"?   Forgotten by whom? 

Who is this subject who bestows “significance” on the larger, more impressive planets but is prone to “forgetfulness” about the smaller, less centrally located ones?

Even to say that our star is “lost” in its backwater galaxy hints either that Somebody misplaced it or else that the star itself is feeling deserted or neglected. 

How did all that personhood sneak back in there?

People who disbelieve in a personal Creator have a strange tendency to slip into just this kind of talk.  They tend to speak of “Nature” so anthropomorphically that you start to see her as a very clever, resourceful character who has her reasons for arranging things as she does.

I noticed the same tendency in a National Geographic video about pollination and ecosystems I used  for my kids' science class once, and in lots of popular "green" writing for both children and adults.  Perhaps it's for propaganda's sake—the advantages of instilling a facsimile of religious fervor are clear—but it seems to slip in even when no one's intending it.

It’s powerfully reminiscent of the way absolutism sneaks into attempted defenses of relativism.  ("It's absolutely true that everything's relative!  Oh--wait a minute...")  Something about the universe seems to hearken back to personhood.

You could dismiss it as a persistent quirk of the human mind. Or you could show logically that something higher (a person) doesn't come from something lower (an impersonal process).  But maybe it's simpler.  Like the message in the skies over the U of M stadium the other day, maybe this one would be obvious, too, if we had eyes to see it.