One of the greatest puzzles facing each of us is whether the events in our lives form a pattern, and if so, what does the pattern mean. We’ve all heard the phrase, “Everything happens for a reason.” Some people say it in passing, others take it more seriously. But officially, if we accept the basic scientific principle that the physical world operates essentially through random chance, it’s not credible to believe that we live in a universe that has purpose and meaning. We can ask when the big bang occurred but not why. We can investigate how sodium and chlorine combine to form salt, but it makes no sense, scientifically, to ask the purpose of salt. Salt and the big bang just are.
Since the question of meaning and purpose are deeply embedded in religion, let’s set those claims aside. If God or the gods control human life, this is a matter of faith, not science. Humans have constructed faith-based systems for many centuries, of course. Placing an invisible higher power at the center of reality, a power who judges right from wrong, who punishes and rewards according to divine morality, is simply outside the rules developed by science and secular society. There are enough glitches in those rules without hauling God into the argument.
Those glitches center around a simple observation. Human life has meaning and purpose. The physical world, absent humans, doesn’t. When we are motivated by love or fear, when we make moral choices or create a vision of a better life, there is no doubt that human beings not only value meaning and purpose, we have evolved, along with the higher brain, to support meaning and purpose. Since Darwinian evolution allows for only genetic mutations, how did DNA, which is built from completely ordinary atoms and molecules, acquire any more meaning than salt? Or if DNA isn’t linked to the meaning of life, how can there be meaning and purpose outside our genes? Continue reading