Life, the Universe and Everything
The Search for Meaning in Life
Throughout history, people have sought the answers to age-old questions such as, Where did I come from? Why am I here? And most importantly, Where am I going? These days, many people have given up hope of ever finding these answers, or have decided that answers simply don't exist. Faith is no longer popular in a secular world. But the truth is that we all have some kind of faith, even if it is in nothing. It is impossible to be a thinking human and not have some kind of worldview.
Here, I will share with you the answers that I have found. It hasn't always been an easy road, and often I have found that getting an answer to one question generates additional questions that I had not previously considered. You may agree with me or you may not. All I can do is share my own experience.
“Cogito ergo sum.” “I think, therefore I am.” This phrase was a philosophical proposition made by the French naturalist/philosopher René Descartes. In its most basic essence, it means that because I can think—because I am self-aware—therefore I actually exist. I am not an imaginary being in the mind of another. This is a beginning.
Being aware of myself, I am also aware of what is around me. The world and all that it contains; trees, grass, cats and wiener dogs… other human beings. I see the sky above and feel the ground beneath. It has a consistent and solid reality. If I ever doubt the solidity, all I have to do is try to walk through a wall. The resulting bruised and swollen nose will correct my misconceptions very quickly.
So what is it all about? Where do I fit into the great scheme of things? Is there a meaning? Is it rational, or just a chaotic mess that changes every time I turn my back or stop thinking about it? Scientists can give us answers to some of these things. For instance, centuries of observation show us that there is order to the natural world. It obeys laws that can be discovered and defined. The human race has built up a technological civilization based on this order. We have extended our observations past the world we live in and found that the same laws function beyond Earth. The Universe appears to be rational.
But what lies beyond what we have discovered so far?
Past experience teaches us that we are foolish if we think that we have discovered all that there is to discover. Today we speak naturally of electrons and protons and other subatomic particles, which were unknown and largely inconceivable only two hundred years ago. Newton's laws of motion were revolutionary in their time and helped us make sense not only of the way things work here on Earth, but in the heavens as well. Yet hundreds of years later they were shown to be incomplete, and Einstein's laws of motion and relativity supplanted them. Quantum mechanics replaced older atomic theory. New biological species continue to be discovered—and even new parts of the human body. We are far from finished discovering all that there is.
So where did the Universe itself come from?
Basically, there are only two possibilities. Either the Universe is self-existent—i.e. it does not require an external cause in order to exist—or else it is not self-existent. In the latter case, it requires an external cause which is not a part of the Universe and thus not bound by the laws of the Universe.
So which is it?
As I have said before, we cannot assume that we have discovered all the possible laws and functions of the Universe. However, one law which has consistently held up, one even more basic than the laws of motion or gravity or electric charge or anything else, is the law of cause and effect. This law simply states that everything that happens requires something to have caused it, i.e. things do not happen for no reason at all. Research and discoveries may modify the outworkings of this law, but so far have never found a counter-example. Cause and effect can even be reversed time-wise, in certain situations described by relativity, but both must still be present.
So if this is the case—if everything that takes place in the Universe requires a cause, how can the Universe itself exist without an independent cause?
Things within the Universe exhibit varying degrees of order, ranging from simple forces such as gravity, all the way to incredibly complex structures such as living organisms. So the question becomes: How did this order come about? Again, there are really only two basic options. Either we live in a “bottoms-up” universe, which began without order, and all of the order came about through natural laws that are part of the Universe, or else we live in a “top-down” universe, where the order was imposed from above. Accordingly, there are two basic concepts for “that which simply exists” i.e. the being, entity, realm or whatever that is independent of the Universe, and from which the Universe came into being.
The first option assumes that the super-realm or whatever exists without cause does not possess order, but is merely a realm of infinite energy and possibility. This realm has been postulated in modern cosmology as a type of “super-space”, in which our Universe exists as an expanding bubble containing a small subset of the total possibilities and energy, sort of analogous to a bubble in boiling water. According to this model, universes are constantly “boiling out” of super-space. Most contain an incompatible combination of energy and physical laws and cease to exist, whereas our Universe is one that ended up with a compatible and stable combination of characteristics, and thus has not only continued to exist, but to develop as well.
The second option assumes the opposite, i.e. that that which simply exists without cause is infinitely ordered, and only consists of that which is self-consistent and non-destructive of that order. And since the random “boiling out” of universes is a chaotic process, it follows that without positive purpose, an infinitely ordered primal cause would not produce any universe at all. In this model, the structure and nature of the Universe is not random, but the result of intelligent purpose. We have a common name for a purposeful and intelligent entity which simply exists: God.
So how does one go about choosing which option to believe?
We cannot examine the Cause in a laboratory, in order to determine its nature. A super-space realm of infinite energy and possibility is not accessible by any technology that we have now. And how would one go about putting God under a microscope, if He chooses not to submit?
I came to the conclusion that I cannot believe in a bottoms-up universe for one very simple reason. There exists an observed law of nature called the Second Law of Thermodynamics. According to this law, entropy (which is a fancy term for what amounts to “disorder”) increases as natural processes take place. If this is the case, then how can order arise from original chaos to the point where we have complex living organisms? Yes, basic laws such as gravity and conservation of momentum will result in simple “order”, such as planetary orbits and rotation, differentiated bodies, stellar core fusion and the like. But there is very little information contained in these structures, so their natural existence under basic laws does not violate the Second Law.
Living organisms, on the other hand, contain an immense amount of information. By its very definition, information is a form of order; the more information something contains, the greater the order involved. Information is “anti-entropy” in its very essence. Therefore, the existence of life implies that either something operated in a manner completely contrary to the Second Law of Thermodynamics—or else that the order and information present in living organisms came from something even more ordered and with an even higher information content than life itself.
(Some people will point out that a random collection of atoms or molecules, for instance, actually contains more information than an ordered crystalline structure. In a sense they are correct; more information is required to describe its state, than is needed to describe a crystal. But this “information” is not ordered. It is chaotic and does not communicate information. A random collection of letters of the alphabet also requires a lot more information to describe it than the simple sequence A-Z. But again, this information merely describes chaos, whereas a collection of letters making up an English sentence also requires a lot of information to describe, but is not chaotic because it communicates information. It is this distinction that the Second Law of Thermodynamics deals with.)
Some suggest that life was created or its evolution guided by aliens; beings of higher order, yet still a part of the natural order of our Universe. But this just begs the question: where did they come from in turn? What was the source of the information necessary for their order and structure?
At some point you have to come to something which simply exists without cause, and already possesses innate order and information. And as I described above, we already have a name for that “something”: God.
Before going any further, it is necessary to clarify a few things about evidence and proof. It is necessary because in any discussion about these matters, someone will always demand proof. “Show me!” becomes a rallying cry. In today's society, when we think of “proof”, we usually visualize the scientist in his laboratory, performing experiments and measurements to confirm or deny some theory. However, that is a very incomplete picture.
The fact is that there are differing types of proof, each appropriate to the subject in question. Conversely, trying to use the wrong kind of proof for some particular issue in question results in a meaningless answer.
It is important when discussing issues to make sure that arguments for and/or against are made using the appropriate method. The key issue is whether the issue is an event—something that either happened or did not happen at some point or period in time—or a general principle, such as a natural law. An example of the former might be the Battle of Waterloo, whereas the value of physical constants, such as the electron mass, would fall into the latter category.
At the end of the first section above, I basically stated that the nature of the Universe that we live in—certain basic principles that have stood the test of time for centuries—compel me to believe in a superior Being, a Creator. God, if you will. But that is still only a beginning. New questions immediately arise: What is God like? Does He/She/It “meddle in the affairs of men?” Is it even possible for humans to learn about God? Is God “personal”, or just a cosmic “force”, like in Star Wars?
Looking at the history of the human race, it becomes obvious that seeking God—or at least, seeking to learn about God—has occupied a lot of our efforts and given rise to many diverse and contradictory belief systems. So what is a person to believe? Historically, the majority of people have adopted the beliefs of their fathers, and their fathers before them. Belief often becomes a tradition. Others have ended up questioning what they were taught. Some of them return to the faith of their parents, while some do not. There is not space here to go into all the combinations of what people do or how they end up believing what they believe.
So why do I believe what I believe?
I could probably give several reasons, most of which are really internal to my own life. You might even find them interesting. However, on this particular page, I choose to continue in the same vein as I began above. Is there anything different, anything that stands out about any particular belief system, that should make me stand up and take notice? It would have to be something that would fall in the legal-historical category, since as I pointed out above, I can make a scientific case for the existence of God, but I cannot make a scientific case to prefer one view of God—one religion, if you please—over another.
Several decades ago, a young pre-law student named Josh McDowell, who professed to be agnostic at the time, decided that he wanted to prove once and for all that Christianity was mere myth. Why he chose to attack Christianity instead of, say, Islam, or Buddhism, or Native American animistic beliefs, for example, he did not say. It was probably because he had been raised in a culture of Christianity, and it was the most visible form of “the enemy”. So he set out to prove that the resurrection of Jesus Christ never took place.
His mode of attack was really quite basic. Christianity revolves around the person of Jesus Christ. It is far more than just the teachings of a good man; Jesus claimed to be God in the flesh, and when he was put to death by the occupying Roman government, according to the Bible he rose from the dead three days later, thus validating everything that he had said during his life and ministry on Earth. If Josh McDowell could find enough legal-historical evidence that would prove in a court of law that the resurrection never took place, then the entire foundation of Christianity would collapse. He intended to publish a book detailing his findings.
What happened instead is one of the great ironies that convinces me that God does have a sense of humor.
After extensive research—involving many, many more sources than just the Bible itself—Josh became so convinced of just the opposite—that the resurrection of Jesus Christ really did occur and was a clearly documented historical fact—that he became a Christian instead.
Afterward, he did follow through on one of his promises. He did publish a book detailing his findings. The book was called Evidence that Demands a Verdict. In it, in exhaustive detail (it's not light reading; remember, he had been a pre-law student!), he lays out a convincing legal-historical case not only for the resurrection of Christ, but for the accuracy of the historical accounts associated with him. An updated version of this book, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict is available on Amazon.com and elsewhere. For more information about Josh McDowell, visit www.josh.org.
I have summarized some of these results—conclusions drawn by Josh McDowell and other researchers into the subject of the resurrection of Christ—in a topical page which I call Evidence.
One of the principles of the legal-historical method is establishing the credibility of a witness or a piece of evidence. This, in turn, determines the credibility of the testimony of the witness or evidence. In a trial, when a witness is presented as an expert in some given field where he or she is asked to testify, the attorney will present documentation demonstrating that the witness is indeed qualified. Once this is done, the jury can use this evidence to evaluate the testimony of the witness.
While he was on Earth, Jesus Christ said a lot of things. He made statements about the existing Jewish Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament today), as well as new teachings and claims about himself. However, if we look at what he said through the eyes of the legal-historical method of proof described in the previous paragraph, then everything he said is only as valid as his credibility as a witness. In other words, if he truly was who he claimed to be—and he actually did claim to be the Son of God—then it follows that his words should be taken very seriously. If not…
The resurrection is a vital link in this chain of evidence.
If Jesus were merely a man, then when he died he would have stayed dead. That had been the way of things throughout human history, and continues to be the way of things today. Sure, we can talk about the soul; does a person have something that survives death and goes somewhere afterward? But even if that is true, it does not offer any visible evidence to support any extraordinary claims. According to the Bible, there had been a few other people raised from the dead, both by Jesus and by Old Testament prophets, but there is nothing to indicate that these people did not merely continue with the rest of an ordinary life, and then simply die again, this time permanently.
The resurrection of Jesus was different. According to the account, no prophet or other character summoned him back from the dead. And afterward, he did not just continue to live a normal life, and then die again and stay dead. According to the account, after spending a short period of time on Earth after the resurrection, he was then taken up into the heavens.
These are the events that Josh McDowell investigated using the legal-historical method of proof—as a confirmed skeptic, intending to prove them to be mere myth—and came away so convinced that they actually took place that he became a believer instead.
And that is just the beginning of the chain of evidence. If Jesus rose from the dead, then that validates his claim to be the Son of God. If he was/is the Son of God, then that validates the words he spoke while on Earth. Since he plainly stated that the Jewish Scriptures—the Old Testament, if you will—was the true Word of God, then his validity as a witness lends credence to this concept.
As I mentioned above, I have other reasons for why I believe what I believe. They are basically personal, drawn from my own experiences and what I believe to be conviction laid on my heart by God Himself. (If you want more details, read the section on Finding God on the page About Billiard.) However, as I'm sure you will agree, these are all subjective. No human can read the thoughts of another and know what is in their heart. In spite of what we see and read in fiction, telepathy and telepathic empathy are not part of the human experience. Some may disagree, but to date, no clear evidence has ever been found to confirm these or any other extrasensory-type perceptions.
It is because of the subjectivity of these experiences that I have created this page, to try and provide an objective case for what I believe, using the methods of scientific and legal-historical proof in their respective capacities. To sum it up, this chain of reasoning convinces me that God really does exist, and that the words of Jesus Christ, validated by his resurrection from the dead, confirm that the Bible really is the revealed Word of God.
Having arrived at this verdict, it's up to me to decide what to do about it.
And if you reach the same verdict, you will likewise face the same decision.
First of all, I will not claim that I have all the answers. I doubt if any human being even comes close to having all the answers. Even after being a Christian for nearly 40 years, I continue to learn new things. There are parts of the Bible that I still do not understand. Sometimes I think it's like the old tale of the blind men and the elephant; each man felt a different part of the beast and came to a different conclusion, being unable to see the entire creature. The evidence above convinces me that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, but it was written in a different culture and language than I grew up in. In a way, it is a testimony to God's wisdom that much of the Bible is clearly understandable—without any special training—by people living thousands of years later in a very different world. Fortunately, there are many scholars who spend their life's work studying ancient cultures and helping to clarify the parts that are not clear.
In order to keep this page from getting much longer, and to help organize things, I have created a set of sub-pages where I try to address some related topics. I will admit up front that these are written from my perspective as a Christian. I only hope that what you have read above has given you the motivation to at least take a look. Here is a list of the sub-pages; you can also find links at the top of this page, and at the top of each of the sub-pages.
In the above-listed topical pages, I have tried to be general and stick to presenting basic principles, without going into detail about specific issues and how these principles apply to them. For that purpose, I have created a companion page, called The World According to Billiard. Just as the title of this page is taken from a book by Douglas Adams, the name of the companion page also has its origins in fiction, being a word-play on the title of a 1982 movie called The World According to Garp. Nevertheless, in spite of some tongue-in-cheek humor that you will find, I do try to offer my take on several of the issues facing our society today.
I don't know where you are in your journey through life. But I hope that you have found some of the things I have presented here at least thought-provoking. And from the Christian perspective, I hope and pray that you make what I believe to be the right decisions.
It's your life.
Copyright © 2005-2017 William R. Penning. All rights reserved.