Aunt Matilda’s Cake
In the book “God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?” by John Lennox he puts forward the example of Aunt Matilda’s cake to illustrate the limited nature of science.
The scenario has Aunt Matilda baking a cake and number of scientists are asked to describe it. A nutritionists might tell us about the carbohydrates, fats, sugars, proteins, vitamins, and minerals the cake contains. A chemist might be able to tell us about the chemical structures are reactions taking place as the cake is cooked. A physicist could tell us about the atomic bonds between the molecules of the cake. Yet to spite all their knowledge about the cake’s composition and structure, none of them are able to say why the cake was baked. To complete the scene Aunt Matilda only smiles when asked, never revealing her secret.
The analogy to the universe is clear. While we can investigate the reality of galaxies in which we find ourselves, only the creator is able to reveal why he created it in the first place. For all the wisdom of science there are some questions which simply cannot be answered. These reside in another realm – a non-overlapping magisteria.
There are a number of problems I see with this analogy:
1) The entire scenario simply assumes a creator.
A universe is a very different thing to a cake. A cake is composed of pre-existing matter arranged in a certain configuration which he label “cake”. As far as we can tell, a universe comes from nothing and nowhere. These are very different propositions and to equate one with the other is a category error.
In order to validly pose the question “why did the creator make us” a creator must first be demonstrated. We can easily confirm Aunt Matilda bakes cakes – just witness the act in motion. How can we confirm the creation of universes? Where is God’s universe factory?
2) We do not need to ask Aunt Matilda to deduce the reason she baked the cake.
While Aunt Matilda may be getting senile and difficult in her old age, we are not required to rely on her testimony to determine the purpose of the cake. A good scientist is also good detective. We know cake’s are usually baked for celebrations of some sort – birthdays, anniversaries, and other special events. We can interrogate the birth records of her friends and family and see if any are due shortly. We can read newspaper notices for announcements of births or marriages. We can check if anyone she knows has recently had some good news, or if she has been invited to a party. All of these are reasonable indicators which may give correct answers, but there is no way of being certain of your conclusion. This kind of uncertainty is perfectly normal in scientific circles.
Of course, there is another way we can determine the purpose of the cake – follow it. Stalk Aunt Matilda as she boxes the cake up, bundles it into the car, and delivers it to its destination. If she takes it to her grandson James’s 5th birthday party, we can safely deduce it was the purpose of the cake all along. This is completely within the scope of science and requires no revelation whatsoever.
3) Even if Aunt Matilda does tell us, we have no way of knowing if this was the true reason.
Lastly, Aunt Matilda might breakdown and tell us the why she baked the cake, but this is no guarantee either. She may have made it the cake for some purpose which has since dissipated – a congratulatory gift for someone’s new job which fell through for some reason. She may be a pathological liar and never tell us her true intentions. She might be misinforming us to obfuscate the truth; For example, the cake may be a surprise gift for us. So even if Aunt Matilda does tell us, we still have no way of knowing.
Ultimately, I do not think Aunt Matilda’s cake rises to the occasion.