Summary: “Is this life, with all its toils, struggles, and disappointments, the sum of all that we are, or could be? and if we’re lucky— ends in dust? Is this our fate?” Well, yes, if the following view of our origins is correct. But on the other hand . . .
What does the purpose of our lives really depend upon? On how we got here— what else? As the oak is in the acorn, so our end is in our beginning.
And what does that mean?
Two primary, overarching views of human origins exist. The first sees the universe and everything in it as a product of purely material things that arose by chance. Everything— from the Andromeda Galaxy to our deepest longings—has a materialist origin and existence and consists of atoms and nothing more. All that exists is what some ancient materialists called “atoms and the void.”
Modern materialists describe this position in the following way.
About 15 billion years ago a tremendous explosion brought forth matter, energy, time, and space— all at once, in an event called “the big bang.” Atoms created in this explosion formed gaseous clouds that coalesced into stars, and amid this interstellar panoply of light and heat molten globules cooled and hardened into the planets, including ours—third orb out. After billions of years, pools of water filled with increasingly complex chemicals. Simple life forms emerged from a mix of amino acids, and they evolved over eons into human beings.
The crucial point is that these processes had no purpose, no intention, no goal, beginning with the big bang itself. They just happened. “Our universe,” one scientist commented, “is simply one of those things which happen from time to time.”1
If this view is correct, then our end, and our middle, too, both of which come out of our origins, are as dismal as I’ve suggested. Our existence has no purpose. Because the original mix had no goals or intent, the final product contains none either. We’re just one of those things that occurs from time to time. As a jack-in-the-box pops out only because something put it in there to begin with, if whatever made us has no meaning, then none can come out of the metaphoric box with us.
In short, the prevailing scientific view of our origins leaves us with little to hope for beyond our flimsy and uncertain existence here. As the twentieth century’s leading atheist expressed it: “All the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius . . . the whole temple of man’s achievements must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins.”2
So, to return to our questions: “Is this life, with all its toils, struggles, and disappointments, the sum of all that we are, or could be? And then, to top it off, the often sad and miserable story of our lives—punctuated with a few lines, or paragraphs, or pages of happiness, if we’re lucky— ends in dust? Is this our fate?” Well, yes, if the above view of our origins is correct. But on the other hand . . .
The God hypothesis
On the other hand, what? On the other hand, we have another overarching view of our origins, one that encompasses a perspective grander and broader than the narrow confines of the scientific materialistic one. This other position argues that everything created came from a Creator—from a God who brought everything into existence. In this view, we’re here not by chance, but for a purpose. And we can understand something about that purpose through the creation, which itself testifies to the existence of God. After all, just as a painting implies a painter, doesn’t a creation imply a Creator?
In contrast, the idea of a Creator, particularly a loving one, opens up a whole new realm of hope, of something beyond the hopelessness of the modern scientific worldview, in which destruction ends a universe that lacked purpose to begin with. “Only God, it seems to me, can take from death the last word,” English author John Polkinghorne observed. “If the human intuition of hope—that all will be well, that the world makes ultimate sense—is not a vain delusion, then God must exist.”3
The atheistic materialistic view offers no possibility of any future other than that of cold dust drifting through a worn-out cosmos. Deity alone offers us the possibility of more. Again, God is no guarantee of a good end, only the possibility of one. In contrast, the scientific worldview guarantees us only a death much longer than whatever precedes it. “It’s not that life is so short,” a T-shirt declares, “it’s just that death is so long.”
Our most pressing and important question, then, deals with origins— for only in how we began can we find the answers about our life and, even more important, about our end. Just as the color of our eyes originates in our genes, our ends originates in our beginnings. “As our fate is totally dependent upon the matrix that produced and sustains us,” Huston Smith commented, “interest in its nature is the holiest interest that can visit us.”4