Friday, 4 February 2011

More than matter?

I'm not afraid of evolution, I just don't want to be there when it happens.

I'm not sure how 'fit' I am for survival, I'm not sure how fit many of us are. That's the trouble with being at the top of the food chain in affluent, comfortable-class Britain, we've got flabby. I can't run very fast (except around a squash court once a week and even then I'm close to exhaustion), I have no idea how to skin an animal and I am largely a walking DIY disaster. I'm hardly ruthless (unless I'm playing monopoly) and would be useless at using my malice to manoeuvre myself into survival if ever I needed to. No it's true, the process of de-volution has begun and I'm the evidence of it. The only question is - who will replace us as the dominant species... the jellyfish?

There are a couple of things however that I've been considering recently when it comes to the whole area of evolution. You see for many people evolution is the Grand Theory of Everything it explains, well, everything. Everything about who we are, why we're here, how the planet works etc. and it answers all of our big questions like 'what's the meaning of life?' (Survival and procreation) and 'is there a God?' (highly unlikely).

The thing that bothers me about all this is this:

- Why are we concerned even with asking the question 'is there a God?' and more specifically 'Does my life have some greater meaning than this?'

Why ask it? Why does it matter? Richard Dawkins and co. would possibly say that religious belief helped our ancestors survive and so is the reason why we feel drawn to it, survival. Is religious belief genetic? Surely it isn't belief that helped our ancestors but the practices that those beliefs inspired. Surely its our hardwired systems of survival that made room for our conquering of the planet and not our quaint and rather naive belief in a god or gods. My question is, since we are now top of the world and since we live in a country with central heating and indoor plumbing why do we still cling to notions of purpose and meaning? Why do ideas like 'destiny' excite us? Why are people even interested in the question 'is there a God?'. Just survive, recreate and be done with it.

Watching Glee last week (I know, and I sorry) I was surprised to see Sue Sylvester upset by her lack of faith in God. She was adamant that there isn't a God and yet she was sad that she felt like this, her own atheism was a cause of distress for her. My own perception is that when people say things like this it is often accompanied by a degree of sadness or apology as though they were somehow a bad person for thinking what they do.

But why? Why care? What's the big deal? You have money, a car, friends and family, career prospects, a good life expectancy - why do you even ask questions like 'is there more to life than this?' Where does your sense of some higher and more noble purpose to life come from? We live in a secular country, taught secular creeds and instructed that 'God' and 'purpose' are so often refined to the narrow and rather strange Glee club that is 'Religious People'. We don't have any need for it.

But we do. We ask and we wonder. We often sense that our life is meant for more than what we're doing with it. We value compassion and acts of compassion. We think it's worthwhile to speak out for those in need, to stand up against acts of injustice, but why? Surely the bias of our genetics is survival and thinking of no. 1? We feel a sense of connection to people from another nation, another tribe and another country living half the world away. We feel a sense of duty beyond our genetic make-up, we adhere to some moral law, a sense of honour and design, we believe in the dignity of every human life not just the strong ones. Why? Why this desire for transcendence? Why this sense of purpose? Why do we insist on life having meaning and ourselves having a purpose beyond that of furthering the advancement of our family/nation?

I'm sure that for those who ascribe to evolution as the Grand Theory of Everything, there are perfectly reasonable genetic answers to these questions, and I know I've overstated my case to make a point. For me looking on at the world, at the way we live and the things we fill our lives with I can't help but think that maybe, just maybe we were made with meaning in mind.

Maybe we are more than matter after all.

1 comment:

Andy said...

Thanks Jez, I found this very useful...especially the de-volution bit. What you say relates to this quote "We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about." by Charles Kingsley, which for me fits very closely with Ephesians 2:10