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Does life have a purpose? That’s the central question of existence, right?
During our exploration of the Intelligence Squared debate on the proposition that science refutes God, we’ve taken a long look at Lawrence Krauss’ summation of Team Atheist’s position which he wrapped up this way:
… human beings are also inevitably programmed to ask, “Why?” as we’ve heard it. But the “Why?” question is ill-posed, because it presumes purpose … And science tells us there’s no evidence of purpose.
Krauss’ purposeless existence, like many human constructs, only works if one does not think about it too deeply or ask the sort of questions that humans tend to ask, but cows—in their infinite wisdom—never do. Ultimately, he proffers the idea that we create meaning with the full knowledge that it is imaginary.
In what way is an imaginary purpose or meaning better than none at all? Krauss does not answer this question, nor does he explain what it means to say that, through a random and purposeless evolution (that somehow exists within a deterministic universe), this one life form—humanity—is programmed to do anything, much less recognize its own programming.
These are areas into which Krauss doesn’t extend his questions, nor does he consider the ramifications of possible answers. Some of these are areas of critical importance to daily existence. It’s fine to debate purpose versus determinism where it relates to the substrate of physical laws, but that’s just mental doodling if it has no beneficial impact on human existence.
The logical extension of Krauss’ debate points is that worrying about a beneficial impact on human existence creates false purpose in a fabricated reality.
This reminds me of an odd form of environmentalism that views humankind as a pernicious interloper superimposed on Nature from the outside. Krauss, though, does not argue that man is unnatural as much as that he is irrelevant. His science is a standalone reality that conforms to its own definition of physical laws, yet has the power to answer all questions humans might ask. Of course, why any part of a deterministic universe should ask any questions at all is puzzling, and atheists usually ignore that question.
Most crucially, his atheist answers fail to yield practical consequences for my life, or any other. If we all believe life to be without purpose, and human beings to be marginally smarter animals, in what way does that make our lives more livable, valued, happier, fulfilling or productive?
I would ask Krauss for two things:
- Evidence to support his various contentions about the universe, including that science refutes God and says definitively that there is no evidence of (or need for) purpose.
- An illustration of how his philosophy of reality informs, benefits, or transforms lives, individually or in the aggregate.
In response to Krauss’ philosophy, physicist Ian Hutchinson—arguing against the motion that science refutes God—offered a perspective I wish he’d enlarged upon:
Claiming more for science than is warranted by its competence does not promote science; it damages it. Talking as if science is all the real knowledge there is, that—as this scientistic motion does—alienates from science people who know better than to accept such an unjustified metaphysical extrapolation. It alienates intellectuals, particularly from other nonscientific disciplines, and so gives rise to the culture wars that have roiled the academy for the last few decades. And it alienates nonintellectuals whose opinions are more intuitive and practical but who know that their life is more than some reductionistic description in terms of atoms and molecules.
I agree. I think scientism—as a dogmatic, reductionist outgrowth of science—is as damaging to real science as religious dogmatism is to real religion. What do I mean by “real religion?” Abdu’l-Baha offers this definition in a talk he gave at the Temple Emmanu-El in San Francisco in 1912:
… when we speak of religion, we mean the essential foundation or reality of religion, not the dogmas and blind imitations which have gradually encrusted it and which are the cause of the decline and effacement of a nation. These are inevitably destructive and a menace and hindrance to a nation’s life … – The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 363.