Is there any more fundamental question? It is so fundamental to human experience that it must be hard-wired into us that we find a purpose for ourselves; and if we don’t, that we invent it.
Religion and Longing
One might suppose that religion is just such an invention. But if religion is an invention of man, we’re still left to try to explain why there was the longing in the first place–the longing to find purpose (or meaning) for our lives. We sometimes feel that the universe is vast, but we are small. It evokes a sense of wonder. The sense of wonder that causes us to look up at the stars with awe derives from that same spark of longing we have, for purposefulness.
If there is no real purpose and no real meaning, but there is this sense of mystery and awe and wonder, then the cosmos has played a cruel trick on us. It would mean that we’ve evolved or have otherwise somehow inherited this self-awareness as against the wonder of the cosmos, and yet the self-awareness is to no end other than to be intensely aware that we are only dust reacting to physical stimuli around us.
If nature is the only reality there is (as argued by Sagan, Dawkins, Harris, et al) then you and I are only collections of organic compounds responding in a deeply complex way to the push and pull of physical reality around us. That’s of necessity what the materialist or naturalist point of view means. It is a deterministic philosophy in which there is no meaning to anything, just action and reaction like billiard balls on a pool table, only more complex.
Reconcile, if you can, that sense of wonder and awe you have, with such meaninglessness. Perhaps too many people do appear to be going through life as only a brute beast: getting their food; fighting adversaries; avoiding danger; procreating if they can, and then dying. But the moment you look up, literally with stars in your eyes, don’t you reveal that there is some meaning and purpose to your life? The very scope of your awareness as a sentient being suggests purpose.
You sense meaning to your existence because there is in fact meaning to your existence. That’s why people question. That’s why they explore. That’s why they develop and respond to scientific curiosity. Precisely because there is more to man than just dust. Even if it is stardust, it is still just dust, according to the popular atheist writers who substitute science for God. How can they be both enthralled with the mysteries of science, yet insistent that we have no purpose? Their actions are at odds with what they say they believe.
Perhaps it’s because they have, on a level they don’t even recognize, a felt need to find purposefulness in human existence, and because they have declared that it doesn’t exist in God or in a god, they look for it somewhere else. They bootstrap it from science. There’s not a logical connection between the study of physical reality and the denial of God. Atheists use the study of physical reality (science) to supply meaning to an otherwise purposeless, dead collection of facts about physical things.
Science is a body of knowledge, or a set of principles for developing a body of knowledge. It’s not a thing. It doesn’t think. It doesn’t create. Think of your toaster. It creates toasted bread (when you apply an intelligent, actualizing agent–that is, you pushing down the thingie that drops the bread in). Science is not like a toaster. Science is the body of knowledge about spring mechanisms and thermostats and convection from electrical current. Science doesn’t create any reality. It is just the sum of our observations from nature, a process for refining our reasoning process, and only about physical things.
Science is not a causative agent like God. It can explain what a supernova is but it cannot explain your curiosity to learn about supernovas, or your awe once you do. It can say nothing about God because it is by definition about that which is not God. It can say much about creation. It can say nothing about the Creator.
Do you know the term “bootstrap?” Imagine you’re standing in your boots and you want to pick yourself up off the ground, so you bend over, grab your boot laces, and pull up. That will lift you off the ground, right? Well of course not. It’s one of those thought experiments you engage in as a child, knowing it doesn’t work but not being quite sure why. Pulling at your bootstraps won’t really lift you off the ground. So when we say someone “bootstraps” something, we say they are trying to accomplish something in a way that vaguely seems to have a logical basis, but doesn’t really.
Science might seem to provide a basis for human purpose, but it doesn’t really. It might seem to because it yields awesome results in the arena in which it does operate: we begin to get an idea of the enormity of the universe, and the smallness of ourselves in it. Compared to the mundane things and events of our day-to-day life, the discoveries of science seem so significant; so vast; so beautiful. And so we say there’s meaning there.
But the meaning isn’t in the cosmos by itself. We look up at the stars and down to quarks and leptons with awe, but the fact that physical reality is bigger and smaller and weirder than we thought does not mean man has purpose. It just means that our imagination was less expansive than physical reality. It doesn’t mean that we have a purpose for living.
Or to say it a little differently, we can’t just say that scientific discovery is our purpose, because the assertion just begs the question. Scientific inquiry is something we undertake, but why? To what end? To learn, to discover? Sure, but why? Well because we’re curious. But why are we curious? Because we want to know. Yes, but why? Do you see what’s happening? We go around and around, always coming back to science just because it yields such amazing truths about physical reality. We say man’s purpose is scientific inquiry. Then we say the purpose of scientific inquiry is to discover. Then we say the purpose of discovery is solving mysteries about nature. Then we say the purpose of solving mysteries about nature is to satisfy our curiosity. Then we say that the purpose of satisfying our curiosity is–what? It’s just a big circle.
Though we engage in discovery for the sake of discovery, it doesn’t answer what we really want to know: WHY? Where did this curiosity come from in the first place? Why do we build supercolliders that cost billions of dollars? This drive for satisfying curiosity is obviously pretty significant. It’s ok to be looking for something in nature even when we don’t know what we are looking for yet. But why isn’t it ok to ask the “why” of nature?
If we do ask the “why” of that physical existence, it might lead us outside of the box that atheist God-haters have carefully prescribed for us. You’d think that scientific minds devoted to open inquiry would be all about that big question “why,” but many insist that the thing they are devoted to studying–nature–must be all there is. Instead of acknowledging the boundaries of their undertaking, they insist that their subset of rational inquiry is the only path of all truth.
We’re to admire the beauty of the cosmos. Just take it all in, be awestruck. Physical reality is so awesome by itself, you don’t need to imagine a “God,” too. We’re all about wonder and curiosity and awesomeness, but not if it means that some of that mystery out there goes beyond the province of science.
Where’s the logic? What we find in the physical world and universe is so fantastic, so beyond our imagination. How does that argue against God? Doesn’t it argue all the more for God? There are black holes that are so dense light cannot escape. There are worm holes in which we theorize that time can bend back on itself. We are looking at the sun as it existed 8 minutes ago, and Pluto as it existed 4 hours ago. Our best theory for the origin of the cosmos is that it developed from dense space the size of a marble, erupting to run-away galaxies in a space of time less than a second. But there’s no God? No actualizing agent to all that first appearance of matter and energy? There are billions of stars in the universe. Heck, there are possibly many universes! And time can run in multiple directions, not just the one! And there aren’t just 3 dimensions of space, there are 4 or 5, or maybe 29! It is astounding! But don’t imagine there’s an Intelligence who created it all. For some reason that’s just silly.
Plus, Christians are hypocrites and warmongers. The good people are the ones who follow the opposite religious point of view. The materialists. You know, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao. Those guys.