Perhaps one of the most profound reasons I believe in God is the general mystery of what it means to be human. Art, love, grief, longing for a better world, morality, heroism, hope and belief are but a few elements that refuse to “be modernized.” In other words, these elements fail to be quantified. Indeed, it’s peculiar that they lose value when quantification is attempted, for placing them under a microscope or scribbling them on a psychologist’s notepad only erodes their power; this is not because their value is in their mystery, but because human quantification methods fail to encompass their weight. Theists argue that their existence alludes to something greater than natural processes–transcendent, supernatural reality.

Let’s think about some of these elements…

Love and Grief

Some will say social evolution produces love and grief. What’s striking about this is the exaggerated need for relationships that go deeper than what’s necessary (look at all those love songs). Further, everyone knows embracing an intimate relationship is asking for pain; it would be easier to maintain superficial relationships and avoid getting to know each other at a significant depth (homeostasis, anyone?).

Yet humanity is driven to deep relationships because we believe working through the pain is worth it.

Who says?

Grief only reminds us how much pain comes from love, so once again, why love to the extent that humans do? Why haven’t we learned to avoid grief?

I wonder if there is an evolutionary purpose behind grief. Maybe it’s a mechanism that motivates us towards progressing the species. Maybe it’s meant to push us towards the hope that one day our race will acheive immortality.

Wait a minute–we must backtrack.

The Core of the Matter: Purpose 

In order to accept evolution, we must accept the reality of progress. The animal kingdom is working towards something. At its most basic level, its survival. The only way any of us exist at all is because we value survival. Values, though, imply purpose because something only has value when it serves a purpose. But if the material is all there is, then any “purpose” is only chemicals in the brain; it’s only subjective.

So survival is subjective, and the organisms alive today are alive because they happen to value it. Then what? The train of thought demands more. It expects an answer to “why survive?”

There can be no objective purpose if the material is all there is. An animal finds a “purpose” in killing and eating, but it only does this because it values life. It’s merely pragmatic–it behaves the way it does because “it works.”

So I ask again: why survive? Why is life so important?

Do we accept the notion that we’re surviving for nothing, or should we accept the reality that there’s a purpose that goes beyond survival?

Are humans striving towards immortality? If so, there’s still a purpose here. And is we attain it, we’re back to where we started, for we would then ask, “now that we’re immortal, what do we do?”

We can’t shake the need for purpose.

In the existential train of thought, any purpose I “create” for myself requires a suppression of the knowledge that life is objectively meaningless.

If we do admit that survival (and eventually immortality) is the objective purpose towards which we strive, then why not acknowledge the possibility that there are other objective purposes?

On the flip side, if it’s true that purpose is simply a figment in the brain, then we should acknowledge the objective nature of meaninglessness.

Why pretend? Why not embrace nihilism? It’s not logical to hold on to pretension if the universe (or multiverse, if you’re optimistic) will all die anyway. Survival is thus a chasing after the wind.

If the human machine has evolved to this point, where all we do is make life as bearable and safe as we can, make babies and “love” (whatever that means) them while we can, and then die. What purpose is there in this? Is the love of a parent for a child, the yearning for a better world or the enjoyment of nature all just decorative distractions?

To say that the wonders of human experience (purpose, meaning, value, love, hope, belief, etc) are nothing but a tonic for coping with our meaningless universe is to say that our species would’ve been better off going extinct millennia ago. If all intelligence brings to the human species is the knowledge that the universe is meaningless, then I see no reason (no pun intended) to sustain the species.

For materialists to claim Darwinian evolution as their ally is to accept the reality of purpose. To accept any objective purpose is to deny the reality that the material is all there is (for there must be at least some objective purpose). This, of course, welcomes the possibility of others.

The best materialists can do is maintain a “modified materialism” where the objective value of survival is the only true objective value. This is a hard claim to defend, for once this is accepted, how can one deny the possibility that there are other objective values besides survival? On what basis can we judge between them?

Belief and Art

The phenomenon of belief is what enables us to get out of bed and go to work. We believe life is worth living even when we’re not conscious of it. Humans all believe something. Scientists and pastors both believe something. Everyone is conscious of “a better world,” which is why we all work so hard at attaining it.

Further, we make art about life because there’s something about love, pain and the human machine that fascinates us. Are we to assume all art is simply a sketch of a window on the wall of a windowless prison?

Why do break-up songs market so well? Could it be that the itch for a deep love is more than a byproduct of social evolution?

Why do we spend millions on films about other worlds? Could it be that there truly is a better world?

Perhaps our need to make art points to the fact that we know, deep down, that life has gone awry, that love is real, but broken, and that there is hope for its redemption.

We believe in working for a better world, and the art we make tells us that the stirrings aren’t going away.

Conclusion: We Ain’t Nothin’ but Mammals

Of course, sometimes humans just want to be mammals. It’s just easier than being human, so we numb the itch with alcohol, hollow sex and superficial relationships. We don’t want to sacrifice; we want homeostasis. Although we know risk is the price for a better life, many are content accepting the lesser god of ease.

Whether humans follow the path of the animal or the one of angels, the results are always significant; maybe this is the most important fact we can all agree on.

Humanity always leaves a mark.

I understand that this survey is largely anecdotal, but why wouldn’t it be? What makes us human cannot be dissected or quantified. We may be animals biologically, but the majority of us believe there’s more to us than tissue and chemicals. Conscience, intelligence and longing are far too potent, complex and advanced to be evolved, and that’s why I’m inclined towards theism.

1 COMMENT

  1. SOME WILL SAY SOCIAL EVOLUTION PRODUCES LOVE AND GRIEF. WHAT’S STRIKING ABOUT THIS IS THE EXAGGERATED NEED FOR RELATIONSHIPS THAT GO DEEPER THAN WHAT’S NECESSARY (LOOK AT ALL THOSE LOVE SONGS).

    How do you determine what’s necessary? Social species have a survival advantage in that loyalty to the group helps to keep numbers of the group high. Evolution has no concept of necessary only that which lends an advantage, a disadvantage or (as is usually the case) neutral. Look up vestigial body structures if you think that unnecessary isn’t a part of evolutionary practice.

    FURTHER, EVERYONE KNOWS EMBRACING AN INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP IS ASKING FOR PAIN; IT WOULD BE EASIER TO MAINTAIN SUPERFICIAL RELATIONSHIPS AND AVOID GETTING TO KNOW EACH OTHER AT A SIGNIFICANT DEPTH (HOMEOSTASIS, ANYONE?).

    Childbirth is asking for pain. Animals don’t explicitly avoid pain at all costs. One might even argue that relationship pain was once a similar reproduction-related pain.

    YET HUMANITY IS DRIVEN TO DEEP RELATIONSHIPS BECAUSE WE BELIEVE WORKING THROUGH THE PAIN IS WORTH IT.

    i.e. offers a survival benefit

    WHY HAVEN’T WE LEARNED TO AVOID GRIEF?

    Or any negative emotion? Why are we still angry? Sad? Uncomfortable? This is outrageous! All negative emotions and feelings are bad and serve no learning purpose.

    IN ORDER TO ACCEPT EVOLUTION, WE MUST ACCEPT THE REALITY OF PROGRESS. THE ANIMAL KINGDOM IS WORKING TOWARDS SOMETHING. AT ITS MOST BASIC LEVEL, ITS SURVIVAL. THE ONLY WAY ANY OF US EXIST AT ALL IS BECAUSE WE VALUE SURVIVAL.

    I don’t know whether to scream or be pleased. Every student of evolution in the world will tell you that evolution, by very definition, has no goal. No endpoint. No next step. Evolution does not work toward anything. That you misrepresent this has me very concerned.

    But… at least you pull out one of the things that natural selection selects for… survival. And that’s really just adaptation to threats and opportunities the environment presents. Ultimately, reproduction is the stronger goal of most organisms… many will sacrifice themselves in this endeavor, with older generations expendable once the new show up.

    SO SURVIVAL IS SUBJECTIVE, AND THE ORGANISMS ALIVE TODAY ARE ALIVE BECAUSE THEY HAPPEN TO VALUE IT. THEN WHAT? THE TRAIN OF THOUGHT DEMANDS MORE. IT EXPECTS AN ANSWER TO “WHY SURVIVE?”

    The value of self-survival is obviously a trait that will be selected for. It would be the first one selected for. Any creature that isn’t going to fight to survive, won’t. That’s anything but a mystery.

    DO WE ACCEPT THE NOTION THAT WE’RE SURVIVING FOR NOTHING, OR SHOULD WE ACCEPT THE REALITY THAT THERE’S A PURPOSE THAT GOES BEYOND SURVIVAL?

    How would you demonstrate this reality? Thus far, you have merely asserted it.

    IN THE EXISTENTIAL TRAIN OF THOUGHT, ANY PURPOSE I “CREATE” FOR MYSELF REQUIRES A SUPPRESSION OF THE KNOWLEDGE THAT LIFE IS OBJECTIVELY MEANINGLESS.

    An individual life is objectively meaningless, but is about as meaningful as anything can be to the one living it. Life, as a concept, is biologically hard-wired to be important to us as a species, but it is absolutely objectively meaningless to the universe. The universe will not notice that we are gone.

    IF WE DO ADMIT THAT SURVIVAL (AND EVENTUALLY IMMORTALITY) IS THE OBJECTIVE PURPOSE TOWARDS WHICH WE STRIVE, THEN WHY NOT ACKNOWLEDGE THE POSSIBILITY THAT THERE ARE OTHER OBJECTIVE PURPOSES?

    The more finite the thing, the more precious it is. Life is special exactly because it doesn’t last. I’m not sure what the Christian obsession is with attempting to make life as unspecial as it can be by making it last forever. Outside of a handful of comic book villains, no one is working on immortality. Medical science has started to learn that our species values quality of life ahead of length of life. (Precisely why so many secular people advocate for rights to end life. Something they wouldn’t do if immortality was the goal.)

    ON THE FLIP SIDE, IF IT’S TRUE THAT PURPOSE IS SIMPLY A FIGMENT IN THE BRAIN, THEN WE SHOULD ACKNOWLEDGE THE OBJECTIVE NATURE OF MEANINGLESSNESS.

    We do. Done.

    IF THE HUMAN MACHINE HAS EVOLVED TO THIS POINT, WHERE ALL WE DO IS MAKE LIFE AS BEARABLE AND SAFE AS WE CAN, MAKE BABIES AND “LOVE” (WHATEVER THAT MEANS) THEM WHILE WE CAN, AND THEN DIE. WHAT PURPOSE IS THERE IN THIS?

    It is up to every individual to come up with their own purpose — or not. Among the most subjective things there is.

    I’m really sorry that you wish that this was different and that you really want someone to give your life more… but your earnest wishes or intuitions don’t make anything true or real.

    For those of us who accept reality based on evidence, we accept this reality and live this one life that we know we have… rather than treating this life like a doormat for the unsubstantiated hope that there’s a second one coming.

    TO SAY THAT THE WONDERS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (PURPOSE, MEANING, VALUE, LOVE, HOPE, BELIEF, ETC) ARE NOTHING BUT A TONIC FOR COPING WITH OUR MEANINGLESS UNIVERSE IS TO SAY THAT OUR SPECIES WOULD’VE BEEN BETTER OFF GOING EXTINCT MILLENNIA AGO.

    Why would we be better off going extinct? Horses and frogs and ants and eagles have none of these experiences to enjoy… should they commit species suicide?

    IF ALL INTELLIGENCE BRINGS TO THE HUMAN SPECIES IS THE KNOWLEDGE THAT THE UNIVERSE IS MEANINGLESS, THEN I SEE NO REASON (NO PUN INTENDED) TO SUSTAIN THE SPECIES.

    I think this says a lot more about you than it does about those who find insufficient evidence for supernatural claims.

    FOR MATERIALISTS TO CLAIM DARWINIAN EVOLUTION AS THEIR ALLY IS TO ACCEPT THE REALITY OF PURPOSE.

    Why? Because you have completely mischaracterized and misunderstood evolution? Evolution absolutely DOES NOT have any purpose or goal. Please research such claims before you assert someone else’s position.

    TO ACCEPT ANY OBJECTIVE PURPOSE IS TO DENY THE REALITY THAT THE MATERIAL IS ALL THERE IS (FOR THERE MUST BE AT LEAST SOME OBJECTIVE PURPOSE).

    I think we’ve covered this, but there is no objective purpose.

    THE BEST MATERIALISTS CAN DO IS MAINTAIN A “MODIFIED MATERIALISM” WHERE THE OBJECTIVE VALUE OF SURVIVAL IS THE ONLY TRUE OBJECTIVE VALUE.

    Even survival of the species is a subjective value. It is said that 99% of all species who lived on the earth went extinct. If they were all alive today, our planet would be in rough shape. If humans were to ever speciate to another species that is better able to adapt to whatever conditions they must live in, then more power to them.

    FURTHER, WE MAKE ART ABOUT LIFE BECAUSE THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT LOVE, PAIN AND THE HUMAN MACHINE THAT FASCINATES US.

    How is this evidence of anything beyond biology?

    WHY DO BREAK-UP SONGS MARKET SO WELL? COULD IT BE THAT THE ITCH FOR A DEEP LOVE IS MORE THAN A BYPRODUCT OF SOCIAL EVOLUTION?

    You know what sells better than break-up songs? Sex. Food. Medicine. All biological needs.

    WHY DO WE SPEND MILLIONS ON FILMS ABOUT OTHER WORLDS? COULD IT BE THAT THERE TRULY IS A BETTER WORLD?

    Or is it to escape the one that we are trapped in? Are you seriously suggesting that fiction is evidence of heaven? Oh right… the Bible. Never mind.

    WE MAY BE ANIMALS BIOLOGICALLY, BUT THE MAJORITY OF US BELIEVE THERE’S MORE TO US THAN TISSUE AND CHEMICALS.

    The number of people who believe a thing is unrelated to the truth of that thing.

    CONSCIENCE, INTELLIGENCE AND LONGING ARE FAR TOO POTENT, COMPLEX AND ADVANCED TO BE EVOLVED, AND THAT’S WHY I’M INCLINED TOWARDS THEISM.

    You don’t understand, therefore God? OK.

    PERHAPS ONE OF THE MOST PROFOUND REASONS I BELIEVE IN GOD IS THE GENERAL MYSTERY OF WHAT IT MEANS TO BE HUMAN.

    This is your opening statement. I waited the entire article for you to connect the dots for us. If one accepts every statement you make about the mysteries of humanity… how would that show the existence of any God, let alone the God of the Bible?

    • If you thought I could both understand and describe the enigma of humanity in 1000 words and convince hardened nihilists about the existence of God then you’re quite mistaken. “Connecting the dots” as you put it was not my intent; I want people to ponder why being human is so special (or not at all, as you clearly stated). My article was meant to encourage the consideration of one’s own worldview, not convince anyone with an argument (hence my statement about anecdotes at the end); I am fully aware of the limits of what I’m saying, which is why I clarified at the end. And for me to ask questions is not equivalent to me stating at position.

      For you to say I “do not understand, therefore God” is a misrepresentation of my view. I’m saying because of life being so valuable (survival) points to God because materialism cannot answer: “why survive?” Or “why is quality of life so important?” The only answer is “it’s just what animals do.” It still doesn’t answer the question.

      If evolution is not working towards something then why survive and reproduce? Working towards the propagation of the species is a goal. The need to sustain life and create offspring is a “purpose” is it not?

      You helped me by emphasizing the fact that atheism, ultimately, is nihilism. There is no objective “purpose” in any view that disregards supernaturalism. So it makes me wonder, why all this talk among scientists about human progress? If there is no progress then why use that word? Because it’s the best word to describe our subjective view of life? Why stop there when we’re intelligent enough (ie the mystery of being human) to think about things (like purpose) that horses frogs and ants can’t? Why not follow our intellect to give up on life (whatever that looks like depends on the individual) since it’s the only logical conclusion to “life is objectively meaningless”? To say “live life however we want” or “to survive and propagate the species” is still to believe there’s a purpose.

      • The fact that this is unsatisfactory to you is unsurprising and objectively unimportant. It is the height of hubris to reject evidence because it doesn’t make you feel special enough. It’s the kind of thing that leads frightened and superstitious goat herders in the middle east to invite stories to comfort them at night.

        I’m sorry that the ramifications make you uncomfortable. What one WANTS to be true has absolutely no bearing on what is actually true.