Experiential Association - Man vs. Wild
"And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth." Gen 1:26. "He (Allah) it is Who made you vicegerents on earth." Surah 35:39.
Religious understanding, especially those stemming from Abrahamaic traditions, places a great deal of importance on man's separation from nature and man's dominion over it. It is worth noting that the entirety of what is commonly considered 'nature' all falls within the same associational level as humankind. Cats, dogs, flowers, trees, lions, tigers, wheat, corn, bears, elephants, grass, weeds, grasshoppers, fleas, ants, all of these organisms exist on the same associational level as an individual human. All of them are capable of meaningful interactions with us. They can feed us, their smells can entice or repel us, they can bite us, eat us, amuse us. We can associate with the plants and animals of this world in countless ways.
"Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" Matt 6:26. "Seest thou not that it is Allah Whose praises are celebrated by all beings in the heavens and on earth, and by the birds with extended wings? Each one knows its prayer and psalm, And Allah is aware of what they do." Qur'an 24:41. According to Abrahamaic traditions, God not only cares about humans, but all of the creatures of the Earth. Presumably, this would indicate that God would also care about the communities of bacteria that thrive and crawl and 'creepeth' across the Earth. Simply because ancient peoples were unaware of the existence of the microscopic world would certainly not hinder God's awareness. One would also have to assume that if God cares about all of the life on Earth, he would similarly care about ALL life spread out throughout the Great All.
It is at this point that one must begin to ask whether such a belief is reasonable. To be sure, as many theists have pointed out, we cannot know the mind of God. Assuming such a being exists, this is manifestly true. Indeed, one cannot state that God cannot or does not care about each and every spark of life in the Universe. Clearly, any being capable of causing the Universe to burst into being has capacities that dwarf any human conception. Clearly, such a being COULD care about every living thing in the Universe. Such a being obviously COULD intervene in their existences, COULD love each one individually. The fact that such a being COULD, however, does not make it likely, or reasonable or even plausible. Indeed, when one looks not only at the size and scope of the Universe, but at the incredible violence inherent in the Universe, the idea that such a being actually cares begins to look incredibly fanciful.
Our own small planet has been pulverized by asteroid impacts and decimated by volcanism numerous times in the past. Indeed, catastrophic geological and extraterrestrial events have wiped out virtually all life on this planet at least twice in the past 500,000,000 years.
The impact event that almost certainly wiped out the Dinosaurs left behind a crater 110 miles across, spread a rare element, irridium, across the entire planet and caused fires so massive that the fossil record immediately afterwards contains tens of thousands of times the normal levels of soot and ash. The conflagration was so massive that nearly all complex life on planet Earth was incinerated. Recovery from the impact took tens of millions of years.
135,000,000 years before Cretaceous-Tertiary asteroid described above wiped out the Dinosaurs, a supervolcano covering approximately 2,000,000 square kilometers with lava helped to bring about the largest mass extinction on record. Approximately 96% of all marine life was killed and over 70% of life on land. The damage was so severe that it took 30,000,000 years for the Earth to recover.
And these are simply two of the five mass extinctions we can track over the last 500,000,000 years. It is highly likely that many more such extinction events have taken place in the Earth's 4,500,000,000 year history. Indeed, in addition to the five recognized mass extinctions in the past half million years, over twenty smaller extinction spikes have taken place.
And Earth is merely one planet.
Nearly every single species that has ever existed on Earth is extinct. The individuals are not merely dead, the entire species is gone. If God truly loves and cares for the beasts of the field and the birds of the air, one has to assume that God cared about such beings long before the advent of humans. So why would God allow them to die? Not merely as individuals, but allow the entire biosphere wiped out. Why would god allow his beloved planet and the creatures he cares so much about to be annihilated not once, not twice, not three times, but countless times throughout history. Surely it cannot be because the birds of the air and the beasts of the filed 'sinned.' Surely it cannot be because God looked upon his creation and was displeased.
Those with Religious Understanding often say that we have no right to question God, no right to ask why. The Atheist has no such restriction and the Atheist is free to ask why such a being would allow its Creation to be destroyed. What purpose does it serve? What reason does God have to allow his precious creatures, whose prayers and psalms He hears, to be incinerated? To allow new forms to life to take over? To allow evolution to progress? To facilitate the rise of his bestest favoritest species of all, humans?
Obviously, if God has the capacity to create life out of nothing, God could easily have simply created humankind out of whole cloth without the need to repeatedly destroy his Creation. Obviously, an omniscient and omnipotent deity would not have made mistakes.
So why does God's beloved planet bear the scars of such cosmic abuse? Why were the vast majority of God's beloved creatures annihilated? Why does God's beloved Universe bear the marks of such profound devastation?
Even beyond our parochial Earthly concerns, God's beloved Creation has always taken and continues to endure incredible, mindblowing violence on a routine basis. In our own galaxy, a star explodes into a supernova about once every fifty years. These explosions routinely flood hundreds of star systems with intense radiation even when the shockwave doesn't destroy the planets outright. If the tenacity and proliferation of life on Earth is any guide, countless star systems are likely filled with life. And if life on Earth is any guide, this life has almost certainly endured annihilation similar to those on Earth. To be sure, much of that life is likely simple, just as it is here on Earth, but would a lack of intelligence render it any less precious to God? Indeed, for virtually its entire existence, Earth possessed no intelligent life.
The Atheist is free to look at the voluminous evidence of Earth's devastating history and conclude that such events are part of the natural cycle of evolution, that while they are unfortunate, they merely demonstrate that life is tenacious and when presented with tragedy and adversity, it adapts, evolves, progresses. The Atheist can look at the violence in the Universe and see how even the most destructive events provide the raw materials necessary for the evolution of matter to continue, to allow planets to form and life to flourish. The Atheit is free to recognize the reality that evolution and progress are often preceded by destruction.
Religious understanding must contend with the fact that their God supposedly cares for the organisms he allows to be repeatedly destroyed. Religious understanding must contend with the fact that such destruction and devastation is almost certainly widespread throughout the Universe. That God allows life on other planets to be annihilated just as readily, if not more so than He allows here on Earth. And Religious understanding must contend with the fact that if life here on Earth really is unique, really is special, really is limited to our small blue world, then God has allowed his precious creation, his precious life to be decimated again and again and again.