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Why Are We Here? Ask a Cow

Maya Bohnhoff | Mar 14, 2017

PART 11 IN SERIES Would You Vote for Science or God?

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Maya Bohnhoff | Mar 14, 2017

PART 11 IN SERIES Would You Vote for Science or God?

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

Everyone who has ever lived has asked themselves this fundamental question: why are we here?

In arguing that science refutes God, physicist and atheist Lawrence Krauss suggests that there is no answer to the question of why we are here, and that even asking the question is wrong-headed. To recap his proposition:

… 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.… What if there is no purpose?

If there is no purpose, then human philosophers really are, as the Baha’i teachings suggest, not nearly as wise as cows, who have come to their contented lack of purpose without study, thought, or angst. Indeed, Abdu’l-Baha’s comments on this issue, made at a meeting of free thinkers in San Francisco in 1912, seem to answer Krauss’ question directly:

Science exists in the mind of man as an ideal reality. The mind itself, reason itself, is an ideal reality and not tangible.

Notwithstanding this, some of the sagacious men declare: We have attained to the superlative degree of knowledge; we have penetrated the laboratory of nature, studying sciences and arts; we have attained the highest station of knowledge in the human world; we have investigated the facts as they are and have arrived at the conclusion that nothing is rightly acceptable except the tangible, which alone is a reality worthy of credence; all that is not tangible is imagination and nonsense.

Strange, indeed, that after twenty years training in colleges and universities man should reach such a station wherein he will deny the existence of the ideal or that which is not perceptible to the senses. Have you ever stopped to think that the animal already has graduated from such a university? Have you ever realized that the cow is already a professor emeritus of that university? For the cow without hard labor and study is already a philosopher of the superlative degree in the school of nature. The cow denies everything that is not tangible, saying, “I can see! I can eat! Therefore, I believe only in that which is tangible!”

Then why should we go to the colleges? Let us go to the cow. – The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 451.

busy-peopleHuman beings without purpose are the most dangerous, destructive (and self-destructive) creatures on the planet. The evidence of this is incontrovertible. But I think the issue here isn’t that Krauss and company believe that there is no purpose in the universe or in human life (and therefore in their own lives), it’s that their disbelief is only skin deep. Their behavior indicates a belief in both purpose and human uniqueness that is so immersive, they fail to recognize it.

Biologists assert that we are programmed genetically to reproduce and continue the existence of our species—which is a purpose we share with all life. But it is a purpose. Every biologist I’ve read or spoken to acknowledges and recognizes that purpose. So when Krauss and other atheists speak of natural laws having no purpose, I have to ask how that applies to genetics and evolution. If purpose exists at so basic a level, how can it not exist at the level of human consciousness?

Indeed, where did that unique consciousness arise from, if it exists in a purposeless universe governed deterministically and solely by natural laws? And if natural laws are deterministic, whence the randomness Krauss would assert as a property of evolution? The very determinism of certain laws implies purpose and militates against randomness.

To test that assertion, let’s look at the idea of purposelessness in the realm of human consciousness—the place where all of us actually live.

If life has no purpose, why study science at all? Why build human communities? Why have families, schools, hospitals, medicine, governments? Why care about the environment, or cruelty to other humans—much less to animals, some of which we use for food? Ultimately, why create laws of human conduct if there is no purpose to them but to allow us to imagine ourselves in some way superior to other creatures?

For example, why should we educate our children or protect them from such things as sexual predators? Other animals don’t make a distinction between “healthy” sex and abusive sex, so why should we? Indeed, why invest so much in the care and feeding of children since it only serves to distract us from the purely animal pleasures that a purposeless existence would afford (and actually does afford) many?

Being human is exponentially more complicated than being a cow, and while I appreciate the impulse behind Krauss’ need to simplify and order human existence by assuming it is only a matter of a “rise in physical understanding” (Krauss’ words), it trivializes our human existence. We may now blame our genes and the laws of physics for our state, and need not concern ourselves with the sorts of nonsense that religious teaching asks us to embrace—such as a need to evolve spiritually as we have physically, so that we can put all our science and mathematics to good use. The Baha’i teachings have answers for those important questions:

All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. The Almighty beareth Me witness: To act like the beasts of the field is unworthy of man. Those virtues that befit his dignity are forbearance, mercy, compassion and loving-kindness towards all the peoples and kindreds of the earth. Say: O friends! Drink your fill from this crystal stream that floweth through the heavenly grace of Him Who is the Lord of Names. Let others partake of its waters in My name, that the leaders of men in every land may fully recognize the purpose for which the Eternal Truth hath been revealed, and the reason for which they themselves have been created. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 109.

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  • Phil Walker
    Mar 16, 2019
    Thanks for a well written article. I especially like the phrase "that is so immersive, they fail to recognize it", suggestive of of something so ever-present and all-encompassing that it is invisible. Somewhat like fish, who likely take water for granted.
  • Hooshang Afshar
    Mar 15, 2017
    Fantastic, Maya. I think this specific article should be read by Krauss and his elk. There is no excuse for people to ignore the Faith anymore. The Guardian warns clearly that this ignorance has drastic consequences.
  • Melanie Black
    Mar 14, 2017
    Amen! I was in error yesterday. I would vote for both science and God. Thank you.
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