If there is no purpose to the universe, what purpose can there be to human life? If nature is pointless, then so is human nature. And if human beings themselves are the mere result of a series of aimless, if lucky, accidents, why should we treat them as if human life were somehow sacred? How could human life be sacred, if the universe is governed, not by a wise and loving God, but by blind chance?
The belief that we do in fact live in a meaningless, pointless universe, and that therefore human life itself is a tale told by an idiot, played out in the theater of the absurd, is called Nihilism. Interestingly enough—in light of To The Source’s continuing focus on Secularism—Nihilism is the historical stepchild of the Secular Revolution.
Secularists began by casting off God, and announcing that nature was self-governing. At first they argued that nature was benevolent, and that she ruled only by rational laws. But soon enough, the untamed, aimless, pitiless, wild, and ruthless side of nature—nature red in tooth and claw—pressed upon the minds of Secularists. The laws of nature consequently seemed more blind and hostile than comforting, and human life was left without an intellectual or moral compass.
The problem with Nihilism, is that it would seem to be sanctioned by science. Witness the famous words, which we’ve quoted before, of Nobel prize-winning physicist Stephen Weinberg, uttered at the very end of his book The First Three Minutes:
It is almost irresistible for humans to believe that we have some special relation to the universe, that human life is not just a more-or-less farcical outcome of a chain of accidents reaching back to the first three minutes [after the Big Bang], but that we were somehow built in from the beginning. As I write this I happen to be in an airplane at 30,000 feet, flying over Wyoming en route home from San Francisco to Boston. Below, the earth looks very soft and comfortable—fluffy clouds here and there, snow turning pink as the sun sets, roads stretching straight across the country from one town to another. It is very hard to realize that this all is just a tiny part of an overwhelmingly hostile universe. It is even harder to realize that this present universe has evolved from an unspeakably unfamiliar condition, and faces a future extinction of endless cold or intolerable heat. The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.
Note Dr. Weinberg’s logic: The more we understand the universe scientifically, the more we see, as a matter of scientific fact, that the universe is pointless, or meaningless, a purposeless whirl of matter and energy. And because “human life is … just a more-or-less farcical outcome of a chain of accidents reaching back to the first three minutes” of the Big Bang, therefore all our busy human activity is pointless or meaningless as well.
But what if Dr. Weinberg is wrong, scientifically wrong. What if the latest science from a variety of fields (including physics), actually points in the other direction, toward a meaningful world? Or to be more bold, what if science is telling us that the universe is a masterpiece made by an incomparable genius?
That’s the argument of A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature.
To offer just a sampling, let’s go to Dr. Weinberg’s own area, physics. In the paragraph after the one quoted above, he sows the seeds of his own argument’s destruction. Although the universe is “pointless,” for the scientist
…there is at least some consolation in the research itself. Men and women are not content to comfort themselves with tales of gods and giants, or to confine their thoughts to the daily affairs of life; they also build telescopes and satellites and accelerators, and sit at their desks for endless hours working out the meaning of the data they gather [emphasis added]. The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little above the level of farce, and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.
Now, Dr. Weinberg is clearly right about what he does, but because he is right about what he does, then he is clearly wrong about what he says. It is precisely because the universe is meaning-full, that he as a scientist finds meaning in the data. The strange thing about the universe is that it is in fact comprehensible.
Think about this illuminating, if obvious, truth. If the universe were really the random result of blind forces, then not only human life, but science itself would be neither comic nor tragic, but merely a farce. There wouldn’t be any meaning in the “data.” But such is not the case. Instead, we find that the universe is deeply intelligible. Knowable, not just a little on the surface, but all the way down to subatomic particles, all the way up to the galaxies, and everywhere in between. This deep intelligibility allows layers upon layers of meaning to be gleaned from the “data” by scientists. If the intelligibility weren’t that deep, then scientists wouldn’t have the pleasure of continually digging for it.
And so, scientists like Weinberg may talk as if the universe were an indiscriminate inkblot, but they act as if the universe were a Shakespearean drama, the masterpiece of a genius, filled to overflowing with meaning, layers of complexity, beauty, and profundity interwoven in a harmonious whole. We learn this from the words of other eminent scientists, from the history of science itself, and from the way scientists use mathematics.
And that’s not all. The latest science, from astronomy and physics, to chemistry and biology reveal that human life was not an accident, and so it is not a farce; rather, it was built in from the beginning. And by this, we do not mean built in as crudely “determined” in the way a brick is built into a wall, but built in the way that the character of “Hamlet” is built into Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, as the center and culmination of the drama written by someone of outstanding genius.
We cannot do justice to the abundance of evidence or the necessary arguments in a short email. But tothesource readers—at least the first 250—are invited to fill out an order for a free copy of A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature.
Monkeys, Shakespeare, and the Universe
Remember the old saw? Set a million monkeys down at a million typewriters for a million years and they’ll eventually bang out all the works of Shakespeare.
Well, the old saw’s been around for over a century, but until the year 2002 that enterprising researchers finally set about to test the performance levels of typing monkeys at Plymouth University in England. The researchers left a computer in a cage with six Sulawesi crested macaques at Paignton Zoo in southwest England for a month. The literary results were breathtaking for their originality. In fact, they are so dazzling, that we dare only quote a few lines for fear that readers might be overcome with aesthetic emotion:
ffvvvvvvvpppsssgggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggg gggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggg gggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggg gggggggggsssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss
ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss
And so on. And on. And on to about five pages, most of which (and here readers already dizzy with beholding such genius should grip their chairs to steady themselves) consists of more s’s.
Lotssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss and lotssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss of them.
Apparently, the old saw doesn’t have much teeth when real rather than imaginary monkeys are used. They didn’t create a play of Shakespeare. They didn’t even happen upon a paragraph of Hemingway. Nope, they couldn’t even squeeze out a line of Gertrude Stein.
That’s a discovery of no small importance because of what this old saw was meant to cut. It was a cut aimed at those who believed in God by those who were convinced that the universe was driven by godless chance. After all, if a million monkeys banging away could accidentally duplicate a work of genius, then surely the universe twirling and swirling atoms in bursts of energy could accidentally create stars, planets like Earth, water, sand, trees, fish, cats, dogs, and human beings—even human beings of Shakespeare’s acknowledged divine-like genius.
This old saw is wrong not just in regard to the literary capacities of monkeys, but even more, about what chance can or cannot do, no matter how much time is allotted. It isn’t just a matter of complexity. The error results from the confusion of thinking that Shakespeare’s plays are only strings of letters and that everything in the universe consists merely of strings of chemical elements.
“To be or not to be” is short and sweet, six letters made into six words. But it is a densely-packed phrase into which and out of which pours all the profundity of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. This famous phrase, short and simple as it is, is a stroke of genius.
In nature we find the same thing. What could be simpler than water? H2O? But the more scientists have studied it over the last two centuries, the more dazzled they are at its amazing properties—so amazing, that water can rightly be considered a work of genius. Or, more accurately, the work of a Genius.
Curious? Have doubts? Go to the following website where its amazing properties are listed and explained: http://www.lsbu.ac.uk/water/anmlies.html. Or, read chapter 7 of A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature.
Dr. Benjamin Wiker