Posted by Mike
You probably thought I’d never get around to it – Part Two, I mean. But maybe no one’s listening, or reading anyway. “Is there anyone out there?” Sort of like SETI. A lot of money was funneled into that project. Maybe they’re still listening. Fortunately we get by-products from a lot of scientific research, serendipitous findings that can turn out to be more important than the initial research goal. We individuals, groups, and cultures do some silly things – only later are we aware of how ridiculous they were. Silly of course means frivolous; I guess I’m not using an appropriate term for SETI.
Just to remind you, in Part One I was talking about the strong need people seem to have for the religious, and that people who have all the answers regarding life provided to them from their religion tend to feel much safer and secure in our uncertain world, as opposed to those who don’t have all of the answers and consequently must live with uncertainty and tentativeness.
I mentioned in my previous posting that I’ve been listening to the interviews by Robert Wright of pundits in the fields of science and religion [http://meaningoflife.tv/]. It’s an eclectic group and includes firm believers and skeptics. Wright prepped himself well for every interview and doesn’t waste time, but quickly focuses on the significant issues that the interviewees have elaborated upon in their writings. I also sense that Wright has his own agenda that he seems to push with every interview. What I see – and you might see it differently – is that Wright is looking for agreement with a basic thesis of his, and that is that man must have purpose and meaning in his life which can only come through belief that purpose and meaning is inherent in the universe by virtue of the participation of God or an equivalent “unseen other.” In other words, he sees the universe as not just existing without necessarily any purpose or meaning, that there needs to be some other something that makes sense of it all, and that enables us humans to make sense of our lives. It seems clear that he is talking about God, but it may be that he conceptualizes the maker of meaning to be not clearly identifiable. He’s a good interviewer; he pushes his guests toward the direction of his interests and goals, but tends to withhold a clear perspective of what his own beliefs are. To me, he clearly wants there to be God or something out there, or in here, or everywhere – to make sense of the universe and also to make sense and provide meaning to our own lives.
Whether or not I’ve clearly described Wright’s position, where I’m heading is this: A lot of people, and I think this is clearly true of a great many Americans, think/feel/believe that to have purpose and meaning in life we need to have that “unknown other” that we call God out there creating and managing things in some way or they see life as having no meaning or purpose. Wright pretty much puts it like that. And I guess I’m wondering if we can find and have meaning and purpose without God and without things like an afterlife. Consider the following scenario – what we can anticipate will happen to Earth long after you and I have gone: The earth has been formed and has been rotating around the sun for billions of years. The rotation and movement of the earth is slowing gradually and the sun will eventually use up all of the hydrogen that it contains. At some point billions of years from now perhaps, the sun will let out a final gasp, will send out massive heat that will singe the earth thoroughly and then will itself become a cold dwarf star incapable of providing the light and heat necessary for life as we know it. This is one of the possible scenarios. There are others, but none that are optimistic for life on Earth forever. Oh, there is one optimistic scenario: and that is that by the time of the final conflagration, humans will have found of way to travel to other solar systems that are younger and can then resettle in a new and suitable environment.
Having written the above paragraph, I’m thinking, “What am I doing?” I actually want people to be optimistic about life, to believe that there is purpose and meaning to our lives as individuals – and to think that there is purpose and meaning to Earth itself! And I’m only suggesting the likely end of Earth to make a point, which is that if there’s nothing left of Earth or of the solar system in a couple of billion years what will the purpose and meaning of it all have been?
Where am I heading with all of this? Basically it’s about the purpose and meaning of life; that we know people find purpose and meaning if they have a creator and active God, but can we also find purpose and meaning separate from God, with the scenario of an end to life on Earth? I hope you know the answer already. Clearly, it’s “Of course! There’s purpose and meaning all around us.” We just have to look; it’s right there in all of living things, animal and plant. I’m quite certain that if it’s good enough for them, it’s also quite good enough for us. And purpose that is only for a lifetime or for generations, that has a beginning and an end, is meaningful in itself.
to be continued in Part Three.
“One can get in the habit of not thinking as a defense, of not perceiving and not considering what are his perceptions and feelings about life, in order to avoid what is painful.”
“Where are we going and how do we get there is something we always are working on. I’ll never turn down help from anyone.”
“Life is really simple, but we don’t let ourselves have it.”
– Elvin Simrad