“Why are we here?”
“What is the meaning of life?”
“What’s the ultimate purpose of life?”
“Where are we headed as human beings?”
“Is there a God — a personal God as religion states?”
It is quite useless and senseless to ask these questions or hope for an definite answer since all of those who came before us for thousands of years were not able answer them. And also there are no “Real” answers to the value-laden questions that ever eludes our understanding and ever escapes our grasps.
But yet I do know one thing for sure about who we are:
– We are all like a strand of grass — the most fragile being in this Universe.
– It doesn’t take the whole universe to conspire against us to destroy us.
– Without a daily drop of water, without the daily ounces of sunshine,
– We are dead for sure.
Yet each strand of us is more valuable than the stars. Because we can reason, strive to understand and reflect upon our existence, and dream about our futures. While the stars and the universe — and the whole creation — is beautiful, it cannot reason, reflect, or dream.
We are a marginal freak of creation who can pose questions that even the angels cannot answer. Our reasoning, beliefs, faith, and “the will to power” can take us to places even the angels are afraid to tread.
The Copernicus Revolution was started by one man who defied and humbled an entire Holy Empire and its blind Faith. And sowed the ultimate seeds to the humble Christians everywhere to reexamine their beliefs and their surroundings. And these seeds eventually progressed into the modern era of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment that shaped the modern Western Civilization.
Thus we can say, Human reasoning is the foundation of the Modern Western Civilization. There the individual’s “inalienable rights [to freely reason]” are to be respected and protected, and a civilized society is built upon such mutual respect for each other ‘s individuality, and that respect means equality and independence from each other’s identities and differences.
My own identity has being long tested and tried, and has come of age as a reasoning scientist — the lowest form of skeptics amongst all of humanity.
My calling in life is not to blindly believe but examine evidences of pattern and supporting data.
But when I consider the short duration of my life, “swallowed up in the eternity that lies before and after it, when I consider the little space I fill and I see, engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I am ignorant, and which know me not,” I rest frightened, and astonished, and at which point I know I can easily be seduced into blindly believing an unquestioned faith and into the arms of religion and God.
But while religion can give me comfort in times of troubles and worries and despair, (It even has proven health benefits and longevity.) It cannot predict a single thing about the this fallen world and help us deal wisely with reality.
Also take the Old Testament for example, it is one of the most genocidal books ever written in the cannon of literature. And it’s a sacred text — inspired by God’s own hand — of the world’s three most influential religions: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. How can we accepted it as reasoning and moral individuals. Imagine that we use the Old Testament as the foundations of our Foreign Policies and International Relations?
Every president of United States are professed Christians. But I am glad that no one gets up in the morning and say to himself “What would Jesus do today.”
Science, however limited in its understanding and in its scope, provides us with at least some clues about “our real selves,” our human frailty and limitations (and to explain sins that we commit without even triggering ourselves consciously — built into our genes and our cognition: see a paper about volition here).
Science gives us insights to how this world actually works instead of how it should work based on our subjective desires and our religious beliefs.
Human Frailty, Limitations and Sins have proved itself to be a better predictor to the future than any religion text could for thousands of years.
Here is a dramatic example of a careful examination of our human nature (by natural selection instead of by Biblical text). Looking it carefully, in fact, Darwin could have proved that Communism would never have worked (before Hengel, Marx, Lenin, and Mao was even born — saving a lot of people of their immense grief, poverty, and suffering in the past).
One basic, unbridgeable divergence between religious doctrine and science is in the original sin of “Selfishness.” Religion states that human beings are essentially created to be good but corrupted through sin. But Science proves that we are born genetically programmed to be sinful: “gluttony, lust, and most of all selfish.”
According to Darwinism, the evil in nature lies at its very roots, instilled by its Creator, in the process natural selection. After all, “natural selection is chronic competition untrammeled by moral rules. Heedless selfishness and wanton predation are traits likely to have survived and endure. If these things are sins, then the roots of sin lie at an unconscious level, the origin in its Creator–not just of humankind but of life.”
Our distant evolutionary past was a time when desire was even rawer than now, and self-absorption less nuanced, before advanced technologies were invented and introduced to tame the unforgiving nature and make everyday life more idyllic. But no matter how we advance, we are still fundamentally selfish creatures, programmed and selected by millions of years of Evolution.
And moral sentiments and virtues of any kind are also selfishly based if examined carefully by social science. Such impulses as compassion, love, empathy, generosity, gratitude and remorse are also genetically based to help us to personally survive, under the law of the jungle. These impulses, with their checks on raw selfishness, helped our ancestors survive and pass their genes to future generations.
But contrary to the the famous Christians political idealists such as, David Hume (Universal Morality), Adam Smith (The Theory of Moral Sentiments), now revisited through empirical psychology and sociology, these unselfish impulses do not give this boost to the overall “welfare of society” (like Communism hoped for) — and certainly not by furthering the “welfare of the species.” As a result, humans don’t naturally deploy our “moral” impulses in the real world diffusely–showering love and compassion on any needy others in the vicinity under any circumstances.
We tend to reserve major doses of kindness either for close family and kins (the result of an evolutionary dynamic known as “kin selection”) or for non-kin who show signs of someday returning the favor (a result of the evolution of “reciprocal altruism” or mutual reciprocity). This finickiness gives our “moral” sentiments a genetically selfish undertone.
And if that’s sin like Jesus said in Matthews ‘ even evil doers knows how to give their children good things’, then Science tells us that it’s a sin that God has programmed us with to survive in this harsh world, a long, long time ago, at the beginning of His creation in fact.
One can trace this line of thinking to an unanswerable conjecture proposed by Christian Theologians centuries ago:
– “If God is good, then God is not God.
– If God is God, then God is not good.”
This sinful, selfish nature in humans is also at the root of something even as mysterious as love, attraction, and marriages. People don’t marry each others randomly. They marry so predictably that you can bet your money on division lines based on education level, wealth, and attractiveness, as proven by scientific data by a model called “equal reciprocity,” which I also call “self-love.” If a marriage is going to last, each spouse will generally have to take equal amount of possessions and contributions (give or take a little) into their marriage to begin with. If not, they generally have to make up that inequality in one way or another. For example, a spouse may trade his/her good looks and style or high social-status for that other spouse’s high salary. This is just reality.
But human reasoning can be very pessimistic about ourselves and our future, too grim sometimes. The dry and empty reality can be extremely hard to accept and cope with for a lot of people and cannot possibly compete with the Romantic Tales that Christianity offers us, which tells us that we are each very special and carefully crafted by the hands of God for a special, divine purpose in this world and eternally in the Heavens. And everything is going to go well for us because God has a plan for us. If He will not even forsake or forget a small sparrow on a tree, how much more are we worth to Him.
The scientific view of the universe and the awareness of its incomprehensible dimensions created astonishment and grief in philosophers such as Blaise Pascal (in the seventeenth century).
“What’s the meaning of life in a cosmos like the one described by science? Man is a nothing in such a grotesquely gigantic universe. Man isn’t in the center of Creation as religions described; traditional views of man and God lose sense.
The Universe conceived in the past – populated with souls, lights, life – was a universe where life had meaning, where the Earth was at the core of God’s purposes. The Universe as revealed by science is dramatically different.
The eternal silence of infinite spaces frightens me.
Why now rather than then? Who has put me here? By whose order and direction have this place and time have been ascribed to me?
We travel in a vast sphere, always drifting in the uncertain, pulled from one side to another. Whenever we find a fixed point to attach and to fasten ourselves, it shifts and leaves us; and if we follow it, it eludes our grasp, slips past us, and vanishes for ever.
Nothing stays for us. This is our natural condition (Buddhism), most contrary to our inclination; we burn with desires to find solid ground and an ultimate and solid foundation for building a tower reaching to the Infinite. But always these bases crack, and the earth obstinately opens up into abysses.
We are infinitely removed from comprehending the extremes, since the end of things and their beginning are hopelessly hidden from us in an encapsulated secret; we are equally incapable of seeing the Nothing from which we were made, and the Infinite in which we are swallowed up.”
Blaise Pascal,1623-1662, physic and mathematician, Thoughts
Some of the Modern Thoughts:
Our conscience and intelligence have detected a silent universe, profoundly uninhabitable to man, profoundly hostile, where life is impossible, where man is a stranger. What’s the meaning [and purpose] of life in such an absurd Universe, so different from our dreams, where we are a solitary and conscious voice?
Man knows finally that he is alone in the indifferent immensity of the Universe, from which he emerged by accident.
Jacques Monod, 1910-1976, French bio-chemist, Le Hasard et la Necessité
This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous – indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.
Richard Dawkins, English biologist, River out of Eden
The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world.
Albert Camus, 1913-1960, escritor e filósofo francês, The Myth of Sisyphus
We are sons of the cosmos, but our conscience, our soul, make us strangers in that same cosmos, from which we were produced, and which still remains secretly intimate to us.
Earth life is unique, or at least particularly rare in the cosmos, and our conscience is perhaps solitary in the living world.
Man is a marginal creation in the animal world, the development of which has increased his marginality. We are alone on the Earth, among the known living beings.
Our thought, our conscience, gives us knowledge of the physical world, but simultaneously drives it away from us.
E. Morin, French philosopher and sociologist, Method V
Because of people need to live a meaningful existence and know they are worth something in an indifferent and cold world, it’s understandable why even the most reasonable people will choose to believe in God out of faith. Because they need that crutch to cope with the intrinsic harshness, emptiness, meaninglessness, and loneliness of our forsaken state in this universe — just another small planet lost in the space — or to explain the unexplainable as God’s Will or under God’s control. This is why I think, I reason, but I also just believe — some of the times.