The Search for Meaning (i)

Does human life have a meaning? Paradoxically, perhaps, Richard Dawkins seems to suggest the only possible meaning of life is, it’s meaningless! Here’s a typical quote – “Nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent. This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous – indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.” He could, of course, be absolutely right, and we should be honest and courageous enough to face this. This universe, and the life it contains, may have no purposeful design underlying it, and may be blindly following its own deterministic course to its inevitable end. This isn’t a particularly pleasing or promising thought, but let’s take a look around us, to see why it might be so.

Let’s take the universe. It’s brim-full of cosmic radiation that’s been likened to atomic-scale cannonballs blasting their way through everything in their path, leaving a trail of damage behind. If our earth had no protective atmosphere and magnetic field, no life would’ve been possible on its sterile surface. In the night sky, there are massive stars that can suddenly blow themselves to bits in indescribably cataclysmic explosions, and god help anything within range of them. Round many a corner, there are gravitational black holes waiting to suck every star and planet wandering their way, into their insatiably voracious mouths. There are asteroids which crash into planets, like the one that wrecked earth’s climate and obliterated the dinosaurs that had reigned supreme for 250,000 years. This universe is not the place for anyone seeking a quiet and uneventful stroll.

Let’s take our earth. Earthquakes can devastate cities; landslides can bury people; volcanic eruptions can generate destructively widespread and deadly tsunamis. There are the increasingly inevitable hurricanes, tornadoes, lightning bolts, heat waves, forest fires, droughts, floods and famines. It’s a big mistake to ever imagine that we’re safe and secure in this world of ours.

Let’s take life. It can survive only by feeding on other life. Every minute of every day, there’s the encounter of predator and prey in the unremitting, and unpredictable, deadly dance of the survival of the fittest. Today I eat, tomorrow I’m eaten. Life is, at the same time, both wonderful and terrible. And let’s take human beings. We seem to be incapable of bringing to an end the ongoing suffering and misery of wars, refugee crises, persecutions, genocides, lynchings, witch hunts, holocausts, and so on, and on. Neither humans nor gods seem able or willing to call a halt to the horror. 

Perhaps, then, Dawkins is right! Perhaps there is, in the end, nothing other than the triumph of pitiless and purposeless indifference. That may just be the way things are, whether we like it or not. And yet, and yet! Every coin has two sides. For every argument there is a counter-argument. Next time, let’s see if there’s a credible alternative ….. 

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