The Universe and Human Existence

Northern Lights - Mendenhall #1

The northern lights are undeniably one of our planet’s most glorious and awe inspiring natural phenomena. Acts of terror that result in the murder of innocent children are as vile and horrific as the northern lights are beautiful. Tonight, following the bombing near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, I’m pondering both occurrences and a possible comparison. One thing that I can assure you I’m not doing is taking either event lightly, which ties to the primary point I would like to make.

Last night, I spent over an hour watching a video of a debate from 2011 between Professor Richard Dawkins and Professor John Lennox. During the debate, Dawkins stated multiple times that, to him, the idea of a God who was responsible for the origin of the laws of science and the entire universe also being a God who cared about the moral choices made by human beings was completely nonsensical. I believe that the word he used to describe morality was “trite”. Now, I’m fairly certain that “triteness” is relative in his eyes, as it would be for you or me. In other words, I don’t believe Professor Dawkins was insinuating that the way we treat other people is as insignificant as the color of the car we drive. After all, he was as polite as could be hoped while engaged in debate with someone attempting to undermine and discredit his worldview. No, I think what Professor Dawkins was really trying to say is that morality and speculation about how we “ought” to treat others is of far less significance than the pursuit of truth, or the pursuit of knowledge of the truth.

I think that assertion is much easier to make during a debate at Oxford University than in the aftermath of a tragic event. Some people can’t help it, and some people can’t manage it, but tonight I chose to allow myself to feel a little bit of the hurt associated with the marathon bombing, especially the hurt of the parents whose 8 year old son was killed. The human condition doesn’t feel “trite” at the moment. The choices of the bomber(s) were evil, and it matters. The behavior of those responding in the immediate aftermath of the attack was honorable and compassionate, and it matters. I think it matters even more in the light of stars in the night sky.

The stars above the northern lights in the above photograph provide the human mind with a visual representation of the already enormous and constantly expanding universe. Usually the scale of the universe makes us feel utterly miniscule as an individual, which is reasonable and even important, but we can take another lesson as well. The fact the that world doesn’t stop 50,000 ft overhead could provide a reason to give more, and not less, consideration to each choice we make. If we are as “alone” in the expanse of countless galaxies as we appear to be, and if our choices really are as they appear to be (not random chemical responses to random stimuli), then we might be making the only choices in the universe. I see that as a thought worth pondering.

In the end, I hope that the exquisite spectacle of the aurora, and all the natural world, and tragedy, and all of morality can be seen as signs pointing us toward truth that is beyond the scope even of the universe.