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During the Enlightenment, philosophers and thinkers started to anticipate that scientific advances would one day inform our moral philosophy – and give humanity a better sense of moral purpose.
Then, in 1975, the renowned biologist Edward O. Wilson concluded in his book Sociobiology, The New Synthesis that a significant portion of the study of human life has been influenced by developments in evolutionary biology – and should now include morality and therefore the purpose of life: “… the time has come for ethics to be removed temporarily from the hands of the philosophers and biologicized.” – p. 562. Wilson has also claimed that religion is “dragging us down” and “must be eliminated for the sake of human progress.”
Some scientists agree, but many do not. Materialistic scientists view humans as having no more purpose in the grand scheme of things than a hawk or a holly tree. They see no ladder of creation with humans on the top rung – and therefore can imagine no purpose in life. They surmise that the human race exists because of a lucky evolutionary accident, and that God does not comprise any part of that accident.
But today the world still has not realized the wishes of Enlightenment philosophers like Diderot and Voltaire, or the goals of contemporary scientists like Wilson – that science rather than faith should define and advance human morals and purpose. In fact, many people recognize that while science has helped humanity evolve in some ways, it has also helped create the destructive forces in our global environment, as the Baha’i teachings point out:
No matter how far the material world advances, it cannot establish the happiness of mankind. Only when material and spiritual civilization are linked and coordinated will happiness be assured. Then material civilization will not contribute its energies to the forces of evil in destroying the oneness of humanity, for in material civilization good and evil advance together and maintain the same pace. For example, consider the material progress of man in the last decade. Schools and colleges, hospitals, philanthropic institutions, scientific academies and temples of philosophy have been founded, but hand in hand with these evidences of development, the invention and production of means and weapons for human destruction have correspondingly increased. In early days the weapon of war was the sword; now it is the magazine rifle. Among the ancients, men fought with javelins and daggers; now they employ shells and bombs. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 109.
So most of us still turn, not to science, but to philosophy and religion for absolute truth and our moral purpose in life:
Science does not ask “Why?” Because it can only answer “What?” and “How?”
Science is very, very good at answering “What?” questions, such as “What are the colors of the sky?” And science is pretty good at answering the “How?” questions, such as, “How did these colors get here?” but science is unable to answer “Why is there a sky? Why do we have color?” We can describe gravity and thermodynamics and how the atmosphere formed, but we cannot say why it all exists. …
Science only moves forward by discovering things that are not true — by falsification.
Industry, business, and most other professions do not concern themselves with what is true or false. They concern themselves with what works.
All of this means that the eternal question “What is my purpose?” can only find its answer in the realm of your soul.
Consider it: when you decide what subject you care about most in school, which major to select in college, or which trade or profession or partner to devote your life to, you choose at a much deeper level than a solely rational or scientific one. Instead, you search your soul:
When you wish to reflect upon or consider a matter, you consult something within you. You say, shall I do it, or shall I not do it? Is it better to make this journey or abandon it? Whom do you consult? Who is within you deciding this question? Surely there is a distinct power, an intelligent ego. Were it not distinct from your ego, you would not be consulting it. It is greater than the faculty of thought. It is your spirit which teaches you, which advises and decides upon matters. Who is it that interrogates? Who is it that answers? There is no doubt that it is the spirit and that there is no change or transformation in it, for it is not a composition of elements, and anything that is not composed of elements is eternal. Change and transformation are peculiarities of composition. There is no change and transformation in the spirit. … The spirit is ever the same; no change or transformation can you perceive, and because there is no change or transformation, it is everlasting and permanent. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 243.
Only you can possibly discover your purpose and act on it. Only you can make meaning and purpose in your life. That deep inner purpose resides in your soul, and only by recognizing and then consulting your soul can you find it:
… the purpose of the Manifestation of God and the dawning of the limitless lights of the Invisible is to educate the souls of men, and refine the character of every living man – so that blessed individuals, who have freed themselves from the murk of the animal world, shall rise up with those qualities which are the adornings of the reality of man. The purpose is that earthlings should turn into the people of Heaven, and those who walk in darkness should come into the light, and those who are excluded should join the inner circle of the Kingdom, and those who are as nothing should become intimates of the everlasting Glory. It is that the portionless should gain their share of the boundless sea, and the ignorant drink their fill from the living fount of knowledge; that those who thirst for blood should forsake their savagery, and those who are barbed of claw should turn gentle and forbearing, and those who love war should seek instead for true conciliation; it is that the brutal, their talons razor-sharp, should enjoy the benefits of lasting peace; that the foul should learn that there is a realm of purity, and the tainted find their way to the rivers of holiness. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 10-11.