Sun | Dec 4, 2016

The purpose of life

Published:Wednesday | August 6, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Ethon Lowe, GUEST COLUMNIST

Kindly allow me to respond to two recent Gleaner articles on the theme 'the purpose of human life'. What we are really saying is: Why do human beings exist? Or: What is our place in the universe? Or: Why are we here?

As man developed an awareness of himself and his place in the world, he has struggled with the quest to find purpose in his life to help him cope with the adversities of life. He invented supernatural beings - gods. It made him feel loved and protected. In return, the gods demanded absolute belief and obedience. It provided believers with a unique identity, commanded fidelity and gave meaning to the cycle of life and death.

Believe in god or die - a Darwinian device for survival. Christians believe that man is God's special creation, created in His own image, no less, and that this sinful and wicked earthly life is a brief interlude to a glorious and blissful eternal life in Heaven when he dies. Yet Christians seem reluctant to leave this world in a hurry.

Consider a Christian who is told by her doctor that she only has months to live. Why doesn't she beam with excited anticipation, "I can't wait." Why don't her friends and relatives at her bedside shower her with "Congratulations, I wish I was coming" or, "Say hello to grandpa." The fact that unjustified beliefs - beliefs in the absence of evidence - can have a consoling influence on the human mind does not make it true. Because the Bible says so does not make it so. So much for religion.

randomness

Human existence is a result of nothing but randomness and survival of the fittest. There is no meaning, no purpose. We are simply the merging of one egg and one sperm from several hundred million sperms. We are just lucky that aerobic bacteria arose just in time to rescue life on earth from poisoning itself on oxygen. And, if that asteroid had missed the earth 65 million years ago instead of colliding and wiping out the dinosaurs, the dinosaurs would have remained dominant and prevented the ascendancy of mammals, and we probably wouldn't be here today to discuss why we exist.

Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist and atheist, is fond of saying, "The universe is entirely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference."

We are apes that evolved from non-human precursors. We have traces of our physical, psychological, moral and sexual characteristics of lower animals (yes, even homosexuality. Fifteen hundred species of animals are known to practise homosexuality so far).

We differ from lower animals in that we evolved rational thought processes - thinking of the future, reflecting on the past, making choices. My cat Stinky, so named because of the olfactory assault on my nose when he was rescued as a stray kitten, is a loving affectionate feline and he chases rats. He cannot resist the temptation. He has no choice. I, unlike him, can choose to go to the beach rather than go to work.

John Stuart Mill, the English philosopher, had a point, "It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied." Wise words which few would dispute except, perhaps, pigs. But in death, the Great Equaliser, we and Stinky will share the same fate. Death is final.

Perhaps we should ask instead: "What is the purpose of MY life?" What gives MY life meaning? You might want a meaningful life achieving self-established goals, accomplishing what you believe to be important. We can benefit from using our minds to enhance our happiness and our experience of life and take responsibility for the way we look at the world.

The universe does not care one iota if we perceive our lives as miserable or wonderful. The choice resides solely in us as individuals.

Ethon Lowe is a medical doctor. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and ethonlowe@gmail.com.