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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Why Are We Here?

The university where I work is excited about a new theoretical physicist and cosmologist coming to teach. His stated aim is to employ physics and cosmology and other sciences (interdisciplinary programs are a big thrust at this school) to address fundamental questions of life, of origins – Where did we come from? Why are we here? – among other things. (They're planning an Origins Symposium here next year that will include the likes of Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Craig Venter, and at least five Nobel laureates in different areas, including Frank Wilczek. They're really excited about this guy.)

The fundamental approach, of course, is an atheistic one. I don't mean that he is an atheist -- I don't know. Nor do I mean that it is explicitly atheistic. No one has stated in the curriculum, "We will be studying this with a denial of the existence of God." That's not what I mean. But because of the nature of science in general and the scientific study of origins in particular, it is not possible to include God in the measurements, so, obviously, He'll be excluded.

The problem with this is in the questions being asked: "Where did we come from? Why are we here?" Is it possible to exclude God and ask those questions if God is where we came from and the reason we are here? And if we exclude God and discover the answers to those questions, how adequate can they be? Here's what I mean. Let's do this in simple form. "Why are we here?" Well, we are here because we like to live here and there was a good job and maybe there was family present. "No, why are we here?" Oh, well, we're here because a several centuries ago some people decided to come to America and start this great nation of ours. "No, why are we here?" You see, how far-reaching can we get with this examination? We can discover with science various causes and effects. We can determine, as a simple example, that a house burned down because of an electric short. But why was there a short? Was there a purpose in the fire? Was there a higher purpose that science can't measure? People everywhere like to think, "All things happen for a reason." Can science measure that?

Examinations of origins seem to be a human thing. Basic questions like "Where did we come from? Why are we here?" seem to be innate. But if we decide through careful experimentation and scientific examination that humans evolved from lower species of creatures who evolved from lower species of creatures who evolved from very simplistic species of creatures who came from single-celled creatures who somehow formed when lightning struck the proper chemical mix ... have we actually determined where we came from? (I'm not, in the least, attempting to demean the science of evolution. If you read it as such, I'm sorry.) And having determined that we came by way of a cosmic accident, so to speak, can we answer why we are here? I mean, if we determine that random chance brought about our existence, does that offer us any sense of purpose for our being? Can we really answer "Why are we here?" from science alone?

I am not diminishing any of the folks I've mentioned. I'm not trying to slight science. I'm not recommending that science should not study origins. I'm not even questioning Evolution. It's just that I think the concept of finding out why we are here while excluding the very real possibility that God is the reason stretches science from the physical to the metaphysical. Isn't that somewhat outside the realm of the measurable, testable realm of science?

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