Tuesday, July 23, 2013

On Existence

"He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together." – Colossians 1:17

There is nothing more fundamental or more perplexing than the question of existence. Pondering it can be so overwhelming that many have never given it serious thought. Even in the current information age, with more knowledge available than ever before, many people simply refuse to look for an answer to the origin of their own consciousness and instead bury themselves in endless diversion.

If one does search for an answer to why he is here, he will discover that the possibilities are very basic. What follows is unoriginal. It is actually a terse summary of all the contributions that every culture in the history of mankind has offered to this most fundamental question. Study every philosopher, poet, and priest in the whole of recorded history and you will discover that there are only three possible answers to the mystery of existence: something came from nothing, the universe has always existed, or a deity created everything.

Now, beyond mere words the notion that something came from nothing is inconceivable to the human mind. We can think as hard and as long as we like about nothing but grasping the concept is simply not possible. Scientists talk about anti-matter and black holes but that is about as far as they can go. When we remove everything that we can, as has been tried with vacuum experiments for thousands of years, something always remains. Using the big bang theory, some cosmologists now believe that the universe was at one time composed of merely the laws of physics. But they are at a loss to explain the origin of the laws of physics.

Even if nothingness could be imagined, we would be left with an equally vexing problem: explaining the process in reverse. Nothingness has no sentience or agency. It is not a state. It is less than dead. As such, it is nonsensical to think that it could ever produce any form of energy or a single particle. Such a belief defies all understanding of reality. While the current consensus is that the universe had a beginning, and many scientists who hold this view deny the existence of anything outside of the material world, they do not assert that the universe came from actual nothingness. Their only answer is to place their hope in future research. If this seems contradictory, it at least gets us to the next assertion on existence.

The belief that the universe has always existed is a form of pantheism, the ancient religion that deifies the material world itself. It is the basis for certain Eastern and indigenous philosophies and is defined by the mindless and eternal cycles of nature. In this view, everything that exists is interconnected. There is no right or wrong, just being. The universe is an abstract force in which one can find harmony if he is able to empty his mind. But one can never understand the universe because it has no sentience, it does not say anything. Rather than trying to comprehend why things happen, the optimal state is a tranquility that is achieved by shutting off rational inquiry. There are no universal explanations for reality. This worldview best describes the modern secularist, who has stopped trying to make sense of the world.

While the notion of an eternal universe is at odds with current scientific understanding, many scientists now hold a view that is practically indistinguishable from pantheism. Both believe that life came from nothing more than a random and undirected physical process. Cosmologists and evolutionary biologists have cleverly devised theories to explain the emergence of complexity from nothing more than time plus matter plus chance. They are not dissuaded by the astounding intricacies of life.

We now know, for example, that there is more activity in a single human cell at any given moment than in a city the size of New York, and that the human body is believed to contain about 100 trillion cells, all working in elaborate coordination. And this is only what we now know. Researchers acknowledge that there is no known limit to what can be discovered at the molecular level. The smaller they go, the more they find. The same is true at the other end of the spectrum. It is not feasible to grasp the enormity of the universe although researchers do believe it has an end. But the possibility of other universes, or even an infinite number of universes, has not been dismissed. Of course, such speculation is mere imagination at this point in time. But what scientists do know, and will readily acknowledge, is that the chance for life to develop this way defies mathematical probability. And interwoven throughout this improbable existence is the unmistakable element of exquisite and unsearchable design.

But materialists, those who believe there is nothing more than a physical universe, have an even bigger problem than improbability: their belief defies their own nature. Anthropologists know that man has always possessed a self-awareness that alienates him from all else in the material world. He desperately seeks meaning beyond his finite existence. This yearning manifests itself in art and religion, the faintest trace of which has never developed in the most advanced primates. Man is qualitatively different, uniquely endowed with an understanding of truth, justice, and beauty that transcends, and is often at odds, with his biological desires. Man seeks answers, to which the materialist responds that there are none. Man is in constant conflict to do what is right, to which the materialist responds that there is no right. They maintain that personal man, who is driven and plagued by conscience, is the product of an impersonal universe that has no conscience. Rather than try to understand his defining characteristic, they reduce him to a chemical process. Love, they insist, is an illusion.

Nobody, of course, can maintain this worldview. Those that claim to hold it intellectually violate it in every aspect of their personal lives. And the reality is that it cannot even be held intellectually because if man is just a random chemical process than none of his theories have any validity. Analysis of the process cannot itself be the process. Materialism is a closed system that leaves no place for reason. But this realization at least gets us to the third assertion on existence: that a deity created everything.

Belief in various deities defines the human experience. No culture has existed without embracing some aspect of it. This, of course, is a statement that encompasses a wide range of beliefs, most of which have come and gone because they were unsatisfactory for one reason or another. Deities proved too weak or abstract to explain existence. There were good and terrible deities that reflected different aspects of human nature but they were too simple. Man desperately tried to appease his innate desire to venerate his creator through all sorts of ritual and sacrifice, some of which was unspeakably wicked and violent.

In stark contrast to this futility and heartache is Judaic revelation, which understands God as the eternal creator who is sovereign, being both omniscient and omnipotent. God is righteous and his attributes never change. He despises wickedness but shows abundant mercy and grace to His fallen creation. He does not demonstrate love but is love, a triune God who made man in His own image. This understanding provides man with a coherent answer to his own existence. It explains his personal character, including his ability to reason, and gives him intrinsic worth. This conception of God brought great spiritual and temporal advances. Simply put, it is the foundation of the West and science and democracy could not exist without it.

But how can one prove that Jewish monotheism is not mere human invention? To outside observers it may appear as subjective as the claims made by other religions. The existence of an all-powerful and loving God may seem fanciful in a world of pervasive suffering and death, which Jewish law teaches is the result of man’s willful separation from God. These objections were answered by Jesus Christ, who was God incarnate and whose unspeakable sacrifice and resurrection rectified man’s separation. The historical record of Christ removed the subjective nature of revelation.

These are the three possibilities for existence: something came from nothing, the universe has always existed, or a deity created everything. Only the third option proves intellectually coherent and only the Judeo-Christian version is rooted in historical reality. Secularists need to understand this. There is no other alternative. No one even pretends to have one. By rejecting Christ, they are embracing a worldview that, by definition, is devoid of meaning. They can still love their neighbor but must realize that their love has no basis. Without Christianity, there is no charity. Without Christianity, there is no epistemological foundation for knowing anything. Without Christianity, there is no hope.