In this story, Maimonides is using what is known as a teleological argument (an argument based on the perception of design, order, or purpose) for the existence of God. You’ve probably heard similar arguments before. Similar observations are made about a pocket watch found on a beach, a tornado in a junkyard assembling a 747, or monkeys typing the complete works of Shakespeare. The complexity of the human body, the wonder and beauty of nature, and even the very ability to comprehend and appreciate that beauty, causes us to marvel at the seemingly purposeful design behind creation.
The Need to Look Deeper
It’s possible, however, to misapply such analogies in such a way as to miss out on some very profound truths about the nature of God and His creation.
First, the analogies only illustrate the existence of design; they fail to address just how deeply-seated that design may be. Second, all of these examples (a watch, a 747, or a landscape painting) imply something that is somehow “manufactured” in its final form from a predetermined design plan. While this interpretation may resonate with our western industrialized mindset, it seems to me that scripture, and evidence of creation itself, are more in tune with a creation that was “birthed”, rather than “manufactured”.
- Some paintings are incredibly complex depictions of landscapes with mountains, trees, waterfalls and hillsides full of flowers. Others are much simpler – maybe just grass, sky and a few clouds.
- Many of the paintings are so similar to one another that they appear to not only be painted by the same artist, but are probably slightly modified copies of one another
- Not everyone likes the same style of painting. There are, however, many paintings that no one seems to like. These paintings are discarded, while the paintings that people like most are run through a duplicator.
- Archeological excavations reveal that this process of duplicating paintings has been going on for quite some time. It is also observed that the oldest discovered paintings seem to be the simplest, while the more complex depictions appeared much more recently.
- Paintings can be compared to determine which older painting was modified in order to create a later version. In some cases, there are large portions of the painting left unmodified, but some new elements are added. In other cases, there are some elements that have been partially painted over. Only grass exists where a tree once was; however, a careful examination shows that a portion of the original tree trunk remains. It looks more like a rock now than a portion of a tree, but the specific arrangement of paint can be used to identify the particular version of tree that once existed underneath the top layers of paint.
- Collisions with paint cans do, in fact, seem to happen quite frequently, and they often result in spots of paint landing on previously reproduced paintings. In most cases, this ruins the painting, and the spotted version is discarded. In a few cases, the spots don’t add or detract from the original painting, and are left in place to be duplicated. In a very few cases, the spots actually combine with some previous spots to create what looks like an interesting new addition to the scene, and these versions are reproduced prolifically.
- Occasionally, a complex structure, such as a new tree in the background, appears. Comparison with older generations of similar paintings seems to indicate that the tree didn’t appear all at once. At some point there was apparently a splotch of brown paint that apparently didn’t detract from the painting, because this version seemed to have been widely reproduced. Maybe it looked like a rock, or just a shadow. Some time later, after perhaps millions of discarded versions, another splotch of brown paint landed in a way that seemed to convert the rock into a tall stick. Maybe it looked like an irrelevant fence post. But in any event, this version of the scene seemed to have been widely duplicated as well. Finally, after perhaps millions more discarded versions, a splotch of green paint in just the right place seemed to transform the fence post into a tree. Although the rock and fence post didn’t improve the scene much, the tree must have seemed like a marvelous addition, because this version ended up being reproduced in high volumes.
Paint on the Genetic Canvas