The meaning of life
15 June 2021
TUMBY BAY - I was lucky in high school because I had a succession of very good English teachers.
Their presence made the experience bearable as I grappled with all the other banal subjects on offer.
I can’t remember the name of my first year English teacher. He was a younger man and I later ran into him outside Steamies in Port Moresby.
In second year there was the indomitable Mr Wood, who advised me to be cautious about my plans to one day become a kiap.
I ran into him in later life and had the pleasure of telling him that’s exactly what I had done.
In third year there was Mr Crouch, a very tall man with a good sense of humour.
He once chastised me for admitting I didn’t have the foggiest idea what a passage from one of Shakespeare’s plays meant.
He was very suspicious of my creative essays and for a while thought I was a plagiarist.
After he worked out that wasn’t the case he awarded me the school prize for literature in my final year.
During that matriculation year, my English teacher was a Mr Phillips. I remember him particularly well because he introduced us to the age-old literary quandary about the meaning of life.
Why are we here? Please discuss in 500 words or less.
Thanks to Mr Phillips, I’ve been discussing and wondering about that question ever since.
I can’t estimate how many millions of words I’ve dedicated to it, one way or another, over the years.
Now that I’m in my early dotage it still bothers me. I would really like to know what it’s all about before I slip into that final fug of senility.
I’ve explored the hundreds of -isms that claim to have an answer but none of them is satisfying.
Even unsatisfying are the non-secular explanations.
Spending three score and ten years on the planet simply to end up with some hoary old gentleman in a long white beard playing a harp on a fluffy white cloud for eternity doesn’t inspire me at all.
Scientists aren’t much help either. Being just another organism whose sole function is reproduction kind of misses the point. In their view being a sago grub has the same value as being a human being.
So too is the humanist view that we are here to care for each other and all of nature’s creatures, including sago grubs.
That’s well and good but it doesn’t answer the question about why?
As for the poets, their take on the matter ranges from sugar-coated silliness to the downright scary and everything in between.
For poets the question is their bread and butter and they’ve got no intention of letting go of such a golden goose by providing a definitive answer.
In all truth I’d be happy to accept that the answer to the question doesn’t exist because we are simply a product of happenstance and our presence on the planet is irrelevant and meaningless.
However, when I walk the dogs up in the hills or along the beach I cannot help but think our little planet is a wondrous place that really should have meaning.
And then I think about all the hideous damage humanity has done to it and why I fled to this little community on the west coast of South Australia to get away from it all.
If there is any meaning to the existence of human life it certainly hasn’t got anything to do with our greedy and destructive nature.
And it certainly hasn’t got anything to do with shopping malls stuffed full of junk as many people think and others would have us believe.
What I should have done way back in high school was to ask Mr Phillips what he thought was the meaning of life.
Unfortunately I was a pimply teenager and the idea didn’t occur to me at the time.
In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, the answer to ‘the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything’ is calculated over a period of 7.5 million years by an enormous supercomputer named Deep Thought.
The answer the computer came up with is 42.
Deep Thought pointed out that the answer seems meaningless because the beings who instructed it never knew what the question was.
I guess that’s as good as we’re going to get.
So right Phil. The 'Why' question has bugged humanity possibly from the first days of its life on this planet.
Why do we exist? Here are a few sites I have read over my digital era from 2000.
2010/09/13 “Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, WHY WE EXIST. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going.” Stephen Hawking in his book 'The Grand Design' 2010 www.icr.org
2020/04/10 Wikipedia had a list of 'Christians in Science and Technology' that was 27 pages long.
So many and a delight to read their Cvs Her is just one who I have never heard of:
Otto Brunfels (1488–1534): A theologian and botanist from Mainz, Germany. His Catalogi virorum illustriumis considered to be the first book on the history of evangelical sects that had broken away from the Catholic Church. In botany his Herbarum vivae icones helped earn him acclaim as one of the "fathers of botany".
2014/04/11 saw 'Nine Groundbreaking Scientists Who Happened to Be Christians' by Tyler Huckabee at www.relevantmagazine.com
2017/05/13 Dawkins gets publicity but are there credible scientists that believe in God
https://www.quora.com an extract
“…............To find a scientist who really is well known and world respected for his scientific work, why don't we start at the top. We'll look at the biggest multinational biology project in human history, The Human Genome project - quite possibly the single most important scientific research project of the modern age. Now the guy they put in charge of that one - a guy, after all, who was in charge of a whole bunch of leading scientists from around the world- would have to be credible by any reasonable measure, right?
Well, here he is:
Dr. Francis Collins. He's a Doctor in both senses, having both a PhD and an MD. He is currently director of the National Institute of Health. He's also a Christian. Anyone who says Dr Collins is not credible must be so lost in their idiot (sic) anti-religious propaganda there truly is no hope.
Scientists believe all sorts of things, and come from all sorts of positions. Questions of faith are not generally scientific questions, and when they are, most religious believers are happy to let science have the final say. Disappointing, I know, but all the world's collected brilliance does not, and never will, unanimously agree with the almighty and wonderful you.”
Phil I should have been named Thomas rather than Arthur despite being born of St Andrew's Day! I think my first wife despaired of my religious doubts almost as much as my leftist views. I'm sure my evangelical mates have secret doubts about me too. So I can easily align myself with your seeking the answer to perhaps the world's most ever asked question. The copious list I have mentioned above are a clear pointer to you and I that we should not be ashamed of having doubts or being 20th century mortals attracted to the apparent dichotomy of Religion v Science.
I can never forget how one quiet day in late 1970s managing The Kavieng Frisa I had a visit from a couple of Jehovah's witnesses; their hands bearing the latest edition of their 'Awake' magazine. Seeing my white face among a horde of black faces one asked me, “What did you do before you came to PNG?”
“Oh I was a teacher,” I replied.
Her next sentence surprised me, “Oh wont it be good to teach again when Jesus comes back!”
That was the first time I had heard such a take on The Second Coming. Now there's the rub it was just a very short moment in my life but as I have just recorded it has never left me. It has joined very many other such rubs in my Christian 'Walk' as modern 'Born Agains' now describe their experiences since their Damascene conversion moment. My store of doubts has increased so that my 'Walk' closely resembles the anticlines and synclines of the S Wales coal seams.
One more extract from a longer site that I have in my ever burgeoning 'Atheism' file here:
170204 My answers to atheist Ricky Gervais on Stephen Colbert - By David Robertson at www.premierchristianity.com
Atheist comedian Ricky Gervais debated the existence of God on prime-time TV recently. David Robertson publishes an open letter in response.
“Dear Ricky, I loved your appearance on the Stephen Colbert show – two of my favourite entertainers discussing the most important subject in the world – what’s not to like?!
The Question is not Why, but How?
You dismiss the question of why, I suspect because you have no answer. Forgive me saying this but only regarding as legitimate those questions to which you have an answer, is neither humble nor intelligent. I realise that you are following the standard atheist doctrine as espoused by Dawkins but I’m afraid it is very weak. For Christians both the Why and the How are vital. Today a friend of mine is being buried after a tragic death. I know How he died, but what is far more important to me is Why. We may not know the answers, but the question goes deep. Don’t be so dismissive of the very questions that make us human. Humans are the only animal who ask the why question. Please don’t dehumanise us.
Posted by: Arthur Williams | 16 June 2021 at 12:24 AM