Back in my "Ten Reasons to Believe in God: or Why I am an Athiest" post I gave a list of what I thought were the ten best non-strawmen arguments for believing in God. Some of these reasons I've tackled in various posts over the years, but today I'm going to take a stab at one of the more interesting ones: The Master Plan.
The Master Plan argument takes two forms. First, there is the grand scale argument that overlaps with the Argument by Design. Our world exists through such an unlikely combination of chance events, it's difficult to look at it and not suspect that there must have been some sort of plan behind it all. For instance, consider the amazing oddity of solar eclipses. The sun and the moon are very different sizes and very different distances. The odds that they should have the exact same diameter in our sky are, if you'll pardon the expression, astronomical. Yet, against all odds, the sun and the moon exist at the same apparent size in our sky, to the degree that the moon can perfectly block out the sun save for a tiny, perfect circle of fire.
And here's further food for thought about eclipses: They weren't the same in pre-human history. The moon is slowly moving away from earth. When dinosaurs roamed the world, the moon was larger in they sky than the sun. In a few million years, the moon will be far enough away that it will no longer be able to produce a total eclipse. So, it's not only an amazing coincidence that the sun and the moon are the same size--they just happen to be the same size at the moment that a species on earth is capable of witnessing them and understanding them.
The unliklihood of the solar eclipse seems too amazing for it not to mean something. I feels almost like God signing his work. Yet: If God wished to sign his work, and was willing to put in the effort of building a sun and moon and earth of exactly the right sizes and positions to make this possible... couldn't he have been a little less obscure? Why leave a calling card that, while unlikely, isn't impossible to produce by pure chance? It's unlikely that you or I will ever win a lottery, yet, it's inevitible that some people win. It's unlikely that any given planet around a star will have a moon and a sun with the same apparent size, yet, since there are likely trillions of planets, it's inevitable that this alignment will happen somewhere in the universe. Our number came up.
For the possible to occur, even against long odds, requires no leaps of faith. So, I find the grand scale version of the Master Plan ultimately unpersuasive; until someone shows me something that truly could not have happened by pure chance, even if that chance was a billion to one, chance still remains a more plausible explanation than God.
The small scale argument is, I think, a more difficult one to refute. Not on a logical level, perhaps. But, on a gut level, almost everyone finds that there are events that occur in their lives that feel as if a guiding power brought them to a significant moment. I've mentioned before that I got served my divorce papers on Valentine's Day, and the official court date for the end of the marriage was April Fool's Day. It just feels so literary and appropriate that it must have some meaning; one could argue that God appreciates irony, if nothing else.
Once, while rock-climbing, the climber above dislodged a stone almost exactly the size of my head. It fell about fifty feet toward me, hit the rock in front of me, richocheted, and passed over my left shoulder, close enough to snag stray hairs sticking out from under my helmet. A few inches to the right, and it might have killed me. I almost certainly would have needed significant dental work. I know dozens of other people who share similar close calls; probably more people have these close calls than don't. It's unsatisfying to think: I was a coin flip away from being dead. You don't want to think that life can end due to such random, pointless events. It makes the world seem scary that you can die for no reason at all.
On the other hand, a close call like this can impart meaning on a life. I know people who feel that their close calls were actually wake up calls. God shakes you up a little now and then, gives you a little slap to get your attention, then steers you back onto the right path.
This is a tough argument to refute because, on some levels, I don't want to refute it. I know people who have used close calls as a reason to turn their lives around. In college I had a friend who was an alcoholic; finally, he got scared enough that he turned to God instead of a bottle. What kind of cad would I be to tell him that's the wrong path? I know another friend who told me point blank that, without his knowing that there was a loving God watching out for him, he wouldn't be able to handle all the tragedies in his life. I think of God as a product of imagination... but if this product of imagination is sufficient to give some people the strength to get out of bed in the morning, why should I make it my duty to go around kicking away people's crutches?
I don't believe that any higher power is communicating with us when we have these close calls, or the weird literary twists like a Valentine's Day divorce. Chance events happen. We may not be happy at the thought that our lives are in the hands of purely random events, yet, time and again, it's been proven that they are. It doesn't mean you can't draw lessons from them. From some of my own close calls, I don't need a higher power to draw a message: Life is short and precious. Keep moving foward while you can.
As to why I might be tempted to kick away the crutch that is God... I think that there's a certain inherent value in learning that you can stand on your own two feet. There's a famous schmaltzy fable about footprints on a beach. There are two sets of foot prints, but when the going gets rough, there's only one. The sinner knows the second set of foot prints belongs to God and says, "God, when times are tough, I see you abandoned me." God says, "No, when times were tough, that is when I carried you."
Is it such a crime to think that healthy adults don't need to be carried through their difficulties? That there's a dignity to walking the whole way through sheer will and toughness? Discovering that you are strong enough to achieve things without the support of imaginary friends is, I think, an important step toward living a fulfilling life. And if you need a master plan to give your life meaning, do what I did: Write your own.