What A Piece of Work is a Man

davincemanYou and I are merely products of a cosmological game of chance.  This is what many in the scientific community tell us.  “The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be.” This famous quote from Carl Sagan represents a naturalistic worldview that, at least in the West, is now so pervasive that it can easily be perceived from the lecture halls to the shopping malls and throughout popular culture.  Just about everywhere you look you see elements of this worldview conveying the message that we are nothing more than the result of matter and energy being governed by the unguided and blind forces of nature, which are bereft of meaning or purpose.  What you and I see when we look into a mirror is simply a peculiar arrangement of atoms, atoms that are left over from long dead stars that have been recycled into us and that the universe will some day recycle for some other thing.  There is nothing more.  That is all.

Worldviews have consequences though, and naturalism leads to some that are rather remarkable.  Take humans for example.  Given naturalism and through science’s most celebrated idea, evolution, all the vast diversity of life, including us, is descended from single-celled organisms.  Through this long process tiny random genetic mutation has brought us evergreens and Einstein, moss and Mozart.  The universe just happens to be this way, and it is only by chance that it didn’t turn out some other way. But Steve Turner points out in his delightfully cheeky satire on post-modernism, Modern Thinkers Creed, where this kind of thinking leads.  He closes with these profound words, “If chance be the father of all flesh, disaster is his rainbow in the sky, and when you hear ‘State of Emergency! Sniper Kills Ten! Troops on Rampage! Whites go Looting! Bomb Blasts School!’  It is but the sound of man worshiping his maker.”

But if humankind, with all the sophistication and incredible achievement humanity has to offer, is nothing more than DNA brought together haphazardly through the “blind pitiless indifference” of the universe, then Richard Dawkins is correct. “DNA neither cares nor knows.  DNA just is, and we dance to its music.”  The search for meaning and purpose that seems so fundamental to the human experience is a vain chasing after wind, wind that, perhaps, doesn’t even blow.  Should we not, then, conclude, as Albert Camus does in his opening line of The Myth of Sisyphus, that, “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide?”  “To be or not to be?”  That really is the question, and life, it seems, does turn out to be “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”  If this is so, then we should all drink the hemlock gleefully.

Yet here we are, perhaps, left with a dismal and depressing meaningless existence.  And so what?  It is what it is.  Just because the implications of naturalism are unappealing and maybe even repulsive isn’t a reason to think its false.  Quite so!  But here’s the real problem.  The implications of naturalism lead to a place where there is no rational answer to the question of why one shouldn’t kill themselves.  So anyone who holds naturalism to be true, and is still living, is either ignorant of its implications or ignoring them.  Friedrich Nietzsche was perhaps the philosopher who was the most honest about the implications of naturalism for humanity, and it is important to point out that he spent the last decade or so of his life insane.  I suppose that is a third option for a naturalist.  In the end, naturalism simple is not coherent.

It is only in the personal-infinite God of Christianity that we can find a raison d’être.  There is no other source of ultimate meaning or purpose upon which we can truly base a rationale for our lives.  It isn’t by accident that we are told in the Gospel of John that “in the beginning was the Word. (John 1:1)”  Through this word the universe was created, and it is in this Word that there is life and light (John 1:3-4).  This Word is the Greek word logos, which is where we get the word logic.  Isn’t it interesting that in Genesis 1 we find God speaking the universe into existence?  This personal-infinite God intentionally created the universe, and He created human beings in His image (Genesis 1:27).  We are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139.14) and created a little lower than the heavenly being (Psalm 8:5).  This Word that gives meaning and purpose to our existence was made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ (John 1:14), who gave himself up for us so that what was broken might be mended, our relationship with the Father might be restored and we might really live and live abundantly (John 10:10).

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Posted in Apologetics, Epistemology, Logic, Philosophy, Theology
2 comments on “What A Piece of Work is a Man
  1. Thank you for your post! A few comments, if I might be so bold.

    1. Your comment about the Sagan quote is actually a fairly common misconception. Sagan was not saying that the the physical world is all that exists. He was simply defining what he meant by the word “cosmos,” which is fairly crucial when introducing an entire series on the subject. Sagan was saying that “cosmos” refers to “all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.” If gods or angels or souls or other supernatural entities exist, they are included in Sagan’s definition of “cosmos.”

    2. It is a straw-man argument to claim that naturalism supposes life is devoid of purpose and meaning. A very small minority of naturalist philosophers have argued for that position, but a great many others have argued quite the opposite.

    3. It is certainly not only in the Christian God that one can posit the existence of a reason for existence. Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Krishnas, Rastafari, Scientologists, Wiccans, Norse heathens, New Agers, and countless others claim ultimate purpose for their lives with just as much faith as Christians. Even atheists and naturalists find meaning in life, whether or not they regard “ultimate” meaning as actually extant.

    • Thank you for your comments! Thanks for taking the time to read and respond to my post. One of the primary reasons for doing this blog is to cultivate and facilitate conversation. Your comments are pointed and courteous, and I appreciate that. I did want to briefly address the things that you brought up.
      First, as far as the quote from Sagan is concerned, while I do not consider myself to be a scholar of Sagan beyond reading a few things and the Cosmos series and cannot claim to know what his intended meaning of “cosmos” was or what it could include, I do think that it is a bit of a metaphysical stretch to include supernatural entities within an understanding of the cosmos. This is particularly true of the personal-infinite God of the Biblical worldview. While Sagan might have considered it possible to include supernatural entities as part of the cosmos, the point that I am making here is that, generally speaking, Naturalist hold that the cosmos contains only the physical/material, and nothing beyond the physical material exists within the cosmos or outside of it.
      Second, Obviously I don’t think this is a straw man argument. I always pursue intellectual honesty whether speaking or writing. With comments that the likes of Richard Dawkins has made, the universe being only “blind pitiless indifference” do not suppose that life is devoid of purpose or meaning, but, rather, this is the conclusion of naturalism. A universe that exists through blind, pitiless and indifferent processes and chance cannot have an answer for the question “what is the meaning of this or what is its purpose.” Whatever is simply is for no “reason.” Asking such questions within naturalist framework is absurd because they are no reasons. This goes to the very question of why the universe is here instead of not being here. Science has little to say here because it can only deal with the things that happened after we got the universe. It provides mechanism, but not agency. If in naturalism there is no agency and only mechanism the universe is elaborate and intricate, but for all of that there is no ultimate purpose or meaning to it.
      Finally, the point here is well taken. I did not develop this point. I merely stated it. The reason is, as you are no doubt aware, blog posts cannot go on forever and are not usually academic in the strict sense since the objective is to reach as wide a readership as possible. This point does need to be developed in its own right, and that will be in a future post. I hope this doesn’t seem a “cop-out ,“ and maybe I took on too much in a single post.

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