What if our ignorant ancestors were right...
As far back as people have wondered about things, the answer to unanswerable questions was "It is the will of God (or the Gods). That answer took on such authority that some people took offense when someone suggested a rational answer to a previously unanswerable question; as though the wise guy was challenging God's authority, which of course meant that it was a challenge to the authority of Gods self appointed representatives. This phenomena was clearly demonstrated in the case of Galileo Galilei vs the Roman Catholic Church. Ultimately the church conceded that Galileo was right and it became acceptable to seek answers to unanswerable questions. That activity has been responsible for tremendous progress both beneficial and harmful to humanity over the past 400 years or so but in the balance I think that the benefits far outweigh the harm.
In the recent past if a person suggested that something was the will of God there was likely to receive gentle ridicule from the scientific community. I used to think that this was a reaction to the raw deal that Galileo got from the church but that seems sort of a thin reason after four centuries. Perhaps science became so successful that it became its own version of "the authority" and ridicule is the secular equivalent of excommunication. In any event, all the success of science in the last four centuries has still left us with some unanswered questions. All that has been accomplished is to push "will of God" boundary back a ways. Now I would certainly not suggest that there is no more progress to be made in pushing that boundary. But I am inclined to allow that there may be a point along each line of inquiry where science, as we now know it, runs out of answers. The possibility that science itself may expand to encompass some notion of a creator is not beyond my imagination.
In the last few decades there has been increased willingness among serious scientists to consider the will of God answer to unanswerable questions. There is a well prepared summary of the arguments for and against what is called "Intelligent Design" (apparently a more acceptable term for the will of God) by Kenneth Himma of Seattle Pacific University, published in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The preponderance of the arguments in this document come out in opposition to intelligent design. The principle issue seems to be that even though there is physical and biological evidence in the universe that implies intelligent design, we ought not infer from that the existence of an intelligent designer. I find that argument to be a bit strange. If I were to visit a distant planet having no knowledge of its lifeforms, intelligent or not, and found a great library filled with books, it seems reasonable to infer the existence of an intelligent lifeform sometime in the history of that planet, even though it is not impossible that the library and its contents could have been just the chance arrangement of certain atoms. Take a look at the IEP article and see what you think.
Let's look at some preliminary indications of the action of a creator. If you are uncomfortable calling that creator God, choose whatever name you like. There is considerable evidence that the universe had a definite beginning about 13.7 thousand million years ago. If that is true there was definitely a creation. The question, "What happened before the creation?", may not have any meaning since there is no evidence that time itself existed before the creation. If a precursor to the creation is a creator, which seems reasonable, it may be an entity existing outside of the spacetime framework in which the action in this universe takes place. That leaves open the possibility that God exists in all places at all times for us. Another fact that may indicate there is a creator is the very special nature of this universe. It seems to be specially constructed to bring forth life capable of contemplating the universe. It seems to me that some folks go to extremes to avoid the simplest explanation, being that a well planned universe has indeed have been planned well. The conjectures of an infinite number of different universes or intelligent life of an entirely different kind than ourselves have no more experimental evidence than does the existence of God.
Even if we accept that God created the universe around 13 thousand million years before the rise of life on Earth does that mean that God also planted life here? Perhaps an entity capable of creating this special universe could also intervene in its operation from time to time so I would not rule it out. It might be that part of the specialness of this universe includes a life attractor as contemplated in the prior essay. There is no evidence that I know of that rules out the existence of a creator or that creator's acting to promote intelligent life here on Earth.
I think that part of the resistance to allow for an intelligent designer, creator or God is the issue of, "Whose God is it anyway?". I think that there is a God the creator, who at least monitors the progress of her creation or perhaps tweaks it once in a while. That creation includes animals with free will, perhaps to relieve God of having to make all the universe's decisions. It must be a source of some aggravation to God that the benefit of free will comes with the freedom to hold mistaken beliefs and the will to insist that everyone share them. As Laslo Pnause prayed, "O Lord, defend us from the powerless and those who know your will". I have been raised in the Protestant Christian faith but I certainly do not believe that all my Roman Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu ... etc. friends are condemned to eternal damnation. And I certainly would not try to convince anyone that I have the only true belief by beating them senseless. As far as I can see, accepting the notion of a God whose nature and intent are still largely hidden from us does not do any harm to the progress of science. After all we have been created curious have we not?
In this series of essays I have poked around among some possible explanations for the presence of sentient life on Earth. What I have not considered is the background in which all of these possibilities exist. The planet Earth was taken as a given. In fact it has been calculated by professor Roger Penrose that the chance of the existence of a universe which produces Earthlike planets is about 1 in 1010123. That is an absurdly small probability that the universe turned out the way it is by chance alone. In a future series I may try to summarize Professor Penrose's explanation in support of that number but it would take us into some really strange territory.