Does Life Have Meaning?
I hear the same question from nearly everyone, deists and atheists alike. That is, what gives my life meaning? Everyone wants to know, since without that understanding living often seems futile. So, let me take a whack at it.
Animals, like say a zebra, have no purpose in life, other than possibly to sustain the feeding cycle for other animals. Neither are they even aware of the universe around them. Man alone, who is uniquely endowed with consciousness, ponders the question. After all, it takes consciousness to even ask the question.
Some people think that if they dedicate themselves to some cause, like making the world a better place, that this will give their life meaning. Props to you if you are one of those people but mere existence is ultimately meaningless, even if it leads to a better species. That is, towards what end does a species exist? To merely survive, even to thrive and to feel good about being alive? So having a purpose in life is one thing, but to have a life with meaning is altogether another thing.
That brings us back to the original question that people keep asking, even those of you who are “making a difference.” What is there about this question that is so elusive? Why do people from all walks of life keep searching for the answer?
To seek an answer to that question, let’s first start with Darwin. Evolutionary theory states that we are the by-product of natural selection of the fittest. So, according to evolutionary theory, then, we must be without plan or purpose, produced by random errors which are referred to as mutations. Darwin’s answer to the question why are we here is this: We are here simply because we evolved. Richard Dawkins further amplified Darwin’s theory. He stated that, “Humans have always wondered about the meaning of life…life has no higher purpose than to perpetuate the survival of DNA…life has no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”
Aside: Of course, Dawkins never stated where DNA came from and exactly who designed it. We’re talking about trillions of cells in our body each encoded with instructions on how to operate and grow our bodies. The neural circuitry in our brains, alone, uses algorithms undreamt of in modern science, way beyond the capabilities of the most sophisticated supercomputer.
Scientific theory states that all the matter in the universe and all the laws of nature came into existence in a split second – out of nothing. As Michael Turner, a cosmologist at the University of Chicago, put it, “If inflation is the dynamite behind the Big Bang, we’re still looking for the match.” Ah, the match that sparked the universe. So, since our universe had a beginning, it had to have had a cause (the match), and in that case a match lighter.
We are made up of atoms and since those atoms dissolve into the nothingness of the quantum world (according to the likes of Albert Einstein), what gives them any meaning? We can intellectualize all we want that we are real and that, being real, life must have meaning but the truth is that it’s the source of atoms that gives substance to our reality. Therefore, any meaning attached to our reality is predicated on that very same source.
I’ve compiled some thoughts on this matter from diverse fields of endeavor. Of course, I got to select them so I won’t apologize if they may seem slanted.
From the field of psychology:
“The decisive question is: Are we related to the infinite or not? The quest for the cosmic connection is a fundamental requirement of the self, thus the development of myths and religion”. – Carl Jung
From the field of science:
“Life is the most mysterious of all the wonders of creation because atoms have been assembled in such a way so that they can ponder their own existence.” – Astrophysicist Martin Rees
“Our brains mathematically construct objective reality by interpreting frequencies that are ultimately projections from another dimension, a deeper order of existence that is beyond both space and time….” – Michael Talbot, The Holographic Universe
From the field of religion:
“If there is no God, then all abstractions are chemical epiphenomena, like swamp gas over fetid water. This means that we have no reason for assigning truth and falsity to the chemical fizz we call reasoning or right and wrong to the irrational reaction we call morality….”
– Douglas Wilson
From the field of philosophy:
“To believe in God means to see that life has a meaning.”
– Ludwig Wittgenstein
The source in question that I referred to above is beyond space and time, as obviously there was nothing in the instant before the Big Bang. Therefore, no one can say with any degree of certainty what “the source” actually is. Deists can’t prove that it is God and atheists can’t prove that it isn’t. One thing that we do know, though, is that there is such a source – something or someone so powerful that it created the universe out of nothing. Something caused the universe to come into being and that something, being incredibly intelligent as it would have had to have been, had awareness (unless it was a form of AI) and therefore a reason for its actions. That reason, whatever it is, is the meaning that our lives have.
I said at the beginning that I would take a stab at this issue. It was only just a stab. However, I only left out one detail. I’ll let you fill in the blank.
“The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.”