What’s it all about? What is the meaning of life? What is the purpose of my existence? Why am I here? Does it even matter if I’m here? These are some of the questions that haunt us as we consider what we should do with our lives. We want to make our lives count. We want to be important, we want to be significant. Ultimately we want to live a life that matters. We want to know what life is really all about so that our lives will not be an insignificant waste of time. In order to answer the question, “What is life all about?”, we have to figure out what kind of person we are. What we believe about the universe we live in. So what kind of person are you?
In the summer of 2002 I saw M. Night Shyamalan’s film Signs. It was advertised as “the scariest movie you will ever see”. I am not someone who sees many scary movies, but I went to see this movie anyway because I enjoyed Mr. Shyamalan’s previous films immensely. After seeing the film I realized it wasn’t about all the things that were advertised. Yes, there were frightening and tense moments in the movie, but those were just a backdrop for the question that Mr. Shyamalan was asking the audience - “What kind of person are you?”
The story that allows this question to be raised involves aliens coming to earth. Sounds weird, I know, but its effective. In the film Mel Gibson plays Graham, a minister who has lost his faith as a result of a tragic accident where his wife was killed in a car crash. The critical point in the story is a conversation between Mel Gibson’s character and his ex-baseball player younger brother, Merrill, played by Juaquin Phoenix.
As they sit in the dark and stare at the TV and see alien ships hovering over different cities on TV they are gripped by curiosity and fear.
I encourage you to watch the rest of the movie, because it addresses this question further. We have to ask ourselves the same question. Which kind of person am I? Is everything we experience just a product of random chance. A product of a series of chemical reactions that cause certain people to do and say certain things that affect other people and ultimately us as well. Or is there more to life than just randomness. Is there a purpose? Is there a reason that we are here? What kind of universe do you believe in, a universe that exists by accident, or something that was designed?
This is a topic that is hotly debated in our culture today. The debate has taken on lots of names; “culture war” , “Creation v. Evolution” , “Science v. God”. The purpose of this blog is not to debate the scientific details in each of these arguments. You probably did not open this webpage in order to read about scientific theories. However, I do feel the need to take a few moments to cover the topic in a broad way.
Obviously this topic can and will be debated until the end of time. It is very difficult for one side to convince the other side that they are right, and impossible to prove. Usually the debate degenerates into a debate over the age of the earth, or how the universe was formed. While those are interesting topics, I don’t intend to spend much time on them here. There are many great resources available that cover this topic.
But before we move on, here are a few things to consider. Firstly, our universe is ordered. There is not much debate to the fact that our planets move in an orderly way, or that the entire universe is very predictable. We know when comets will pass by thousands of years before they do. We have laws of the physical world that we trust implicitly. Thousands of us board giant metal tubes and fly at fantastic speeds 20,000 feet above the ground with not much thought because we trust the laws of the universe to keep an airplane safely in the air. Human beings themselves are immensely complicated. The human brain is an amazing organ. We understand exponentially more about it now than we did just 20 years ago, but scientists still claim that we don’t understand much about the brain as a whole.
If we don’t understand our own bodies completely, perhaps we also have much to learn about the universe and how it functions and where it came from. We do know a few things about the universe whether we are scientifically minded or not. As I mentioned earlier we know that the universe is ordered, that it works, planets are not hurtling randomly through space smashing into other planets. The universe is not chaotic. If the universe is not chaotic, then it might even be designed.
Let me illustrate it this way: Say you had a watch, and you took this watch apart, all of the pieces, gears, springs and other things that make a watch tick were disassembled and put into a small box. Now shake that box up for 5 minutes. When you open the box, what would you find? A watch? Of course not, you would find a bunch of watch pieces all jumbled together in a box! What if you shook that box for an hour? When you opened it you would still find a box of parts, not a whole working watch. If you shook it for a year, or 10 years, or a million years, or for all eternity you would never open it up to find a functioning watch. Why not? Because a watch is complicated and it takes an intelligent mind to make those parts work together. It takes someone who understands the mechanics of how a watch works. It took someone who could craft the different parts of a watch to put them together and assign them tasks to tell time. Now if we agree that something like a watch could not put itself together, how much more true would that be about the human eye? Or the human brain? Or the universe itself?
We don’t expect computers, or cars, or nice meals, or any of our modern toys to make themselves. Everything in our experience leads us to believe that complicated functioning systems have intelligent designers behind them. Why not the universe? Well, the reason we doubt that there is a creator of the universe is because we can’t see him or her or it. At the same time we don’t see gravity, but we do see its effects, and therefore we believe in gravity. We can see that there is an ordered universe, that we can trust the laws of physics, motion and gravity. We trust that they exist even though we can only see evidence of their existence. Perhaps we need to trust that something greater than us (for the sake of language, I’ll refer to this something as God) exists and is responsible for our existence even though we can only see evidence of this entity’s (God’s) existence.
As we learn more and more about the beginning of our universe and how it came into being it helps us to understand our own existence even better, but it still can’t possibly answer the question as to where the original matter that formed the universe came from or why it exists at all. Was there ever just nothing? Was there a time when nothing existed? If so, did time exist? If time didn’t exist, then what did? My head just exploded. So maybe there is something (God) that caused the universe to come into being several billion years ago. So what?