I recently came across this L.A. Times op-ed by the theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, out of Arizona State University. He examines some of the latest thinking about the origins of the universe, and suggests that, because everything seems to add up to nothing, there may be no purpose or design to the universe. The first part of that thought seems correct: scientifically, everything does seem to add up to nothing. That metaphysical insight is implied in many readily observable phenomena, such as the law of entropy and Newton’s Third Law of Physics, “To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
Does that mean there is no purpose or design to the universe? Krauss’s basic idea is that black and white, life and death, and opposites of all kinds exist in such a balanced duality that it all adds up to nothing, going no where, with no purpose. And yet, for Roman Catholics in this week of Easter, as for many other religions, the universe seems to consist of little besides reasons to be grateful.
On the spiritual life of homo sapiens sapiens (our own relatively newborn species) the great Harvard entomologist E.O Wilson wrote this:
The hypothalamic-limbic complex [of the brain] of a highly social species, such as man, ‘knows,’ or more precisely it has been programmed to perform as if it knows, that its underlying genes will be proliferated maximally only if it orchestrates behavioral responses that bring into play an efficient mixture of personal survival, reproduction, and altruism. Consequently, the centers of the complex tax the conscious mind with ambivalences whenever the organisms encounter stressful situations. Love joins hate; aggression, fear; expansiveness, withdrawal; and so on; in blends designed not to promote the happiness and survival of the individual, but to favor the maximum transmission of the controlling genes.
Notice that even if the controlling genes are successful in establishing a long-lived species, we’re pretty sure that the species will sooner or later become extinct (and sooner rather than later, in geological tme) because that is what happens to all species. On the other hand, we don’t know just where evolution is headed.
And then there is the fact that the universe exists at all. Forget “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Why, if the universe had to exist at all, did it have to be so wondrously beautiful?
In the second half of college, when I was focused on taking lots of science classes, I had the privilege to work in the botany molecular biology laboratory of Dr. Wayne M. Becker, then the lead author on the country’s best-selling cell biology textbook. He directed the University of Wisconsin’s phenomenal two-year core-curriculum in biology, a curriculum steeped in organic chemistry, calculus, and the boldest and latest ideas in evolutionary theory. And yet Dr. Becker, who taught me the principles of evolution in the most materialistic and physical terms known to science, is a profoundly devout Christian.
Dr. Becker sees evidence of a beneficent God in the very wonder of the universe–the endless wonder of the universe. If you look hard enough, you can see that everywhere. The beautiful Easter mass of the Roman Catholic Church, which is all about the wonder of rebirth and renewal, raises a cardinal question: What can explain the fact that all people everywhere elevate gratitude to a universal principle, and extend the deepest gratitude of all towards the heavens?
My favorite pianist, Glenn Gould, (check this out) once said that the purpose of art is “the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity.” But the universe itself brings about that state of wonder and serenity. And who’s work of art is that? Nobody’s? Are you sure?
As Hamlet said,”There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”