Mills states the obvious:

The fact is that Nature displays some degree of beauty and organization. But all too often, Nature also mindlessly slaughters scores of innocent men, women, and children through natural disasters: hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, … Nature is obviously a mixture of order and disorder, the appealing and the loathsome, the purposeful and the arbitrary. …

For every person “miraculously” healed against the odds, there is another who, against the odds, died a premature and meaningless death.

For every magnificent sunset to behold, there is another child stricken with leukemia.

For every breathtaking night sky filled with radiant stars, an unexpected heart attack turns a happy wife into a grieving widow.

These observations are undeniably accurate. But Mills’ conclusion is surprising:

The universe in which we live is located equidistant between absolute order and absolute chaos — a neutral position which we should expect from a universe impervious to our wishes. (162-3)

I beg to differ. The universe’ position relative to us is indeed a mixture of order and chaos, but far from being neutral, it is remarkably good. For the mixture is rather of “yang” and “yin,” of the forces of “masculine” life and “feminine” death, that, in uniting with each other, produce fruit of creative advance in the human power over nature:

Under moderate scarcity, the forces of life, sustaining and nurturing man, and the forces of death, adversarial to him, challenging him to fight and improve his conditions, are in a rough balance that is most conducive to economic development.

Insofar as the world contains plenty of moderately scarce environments, it is wisely designed.

Mills might object that this is merely apparent or illusory design, since human beings are adapted to their environment well but not perfectly, exactly as the theory of evolution seems to predict.

This argument, however, turns out to be an unseemly reduction of the distinctly human civilization to a struggle for survival and reproduction common to all life.

For it is not the case that men adapt to their environment as described by evolutionary theory; rather, they adapt the environment itself to their own needs and to their pursuit of happiness.

The facts that man’s glory shines so clearly in his achievements (including of mastering natural sciences) and that these achievements are even possible are in my view very close to being “miraculous” and improbable given atheism. Why expect nature to yield to man? The yin-chaos has two aspects: 1) evil in being destructive and 2) potency complementary to yang in being receptive. It is thus a receptivity of nature to being subdued, to human efforts aimed at conquering it. The union of the potency of matter (plus all lower nature) and the forming influence of man is not neutral but sublimely wondrous.

In being “equidistant between absolute order and absolute chaos,” human life is not neutral, as in boring or meaningless, but precisely most poignant and interesting. Both aspects of yin then deserve respect. As much of nature is beyond our control, there is a sense in which we passively receive random blessings (as from a sunset) and blows (as from leukemia) from nature. But in addition, nature is putty in our own hands.

In short, the universe is not “impervious to our wishes”; though it hides and mocks and resists, it also gives in when handled with prudence and skill.


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