Are You Just Molecules or More?

The extent to which you thrive or wither as a person ultimately comes down to who you are inside and what you make of the world around you. Courage, honesty, love, stamina, patience, diplomacy and leadership are all parts of the equation. Nobody talks much about these virtues any more (virtues in general seem to be shunned), but some of us still think about them, at least from time to time. I figure this is a good thing. Life can be hard for everyone, but there’s a way around the difficulties. Perhaps you’re finding more inner turmoil in your life now than ever before. This is precisely why your inner foundation and your big picture worldview is so vital. 

Whenever I bring up the subject of the inner life, I always begin with a few related questions: “Do you believe you’re just molecules or something more, something beyond what can be observed in a lab?” Is the universe and everything in it (including you) the product of an unguided series of happenstance events, or is there some eternal significance to you, your life, your loved ones and how you live?  Are you just molecules or more? Your answer determines everything about you, including whether or not you’ll smile or frown as you read this. It might even determine if you live well or die leaving behind an ocean of misery. I was reminded of this on  Thursday, July 2, 2020.

Back in June 2020, a very promising, extremely smart 28 year-old man that I knew and cared about made a choice that will continue to ripple out into massive pain for many people – probably forever. This young man was extremely logical (he had just earned a computer science degree with honors, and he could recite Pi to several hundred decimal places by memory). Despite being part of a large and loving family, he had also been in emotional pain for a number of years and had come to the conclusion that we’re all just molecules in a random, meaningless universe. There is no ultimate meaning, no ultimate purpose, he thought. Logic of this sort, coupled with pain, convinced this young man to take his own life.

After the funeral service on Thursday, as the urn of ashes was being carried out and his parents followed, they could barely make it out of the building. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a deeper and more debilitating moment of multiplied agony than when those two parents crawled down the aisle, following the urn, yelling, moaning, tears flowing, wailing in agony of the kind that may never go away this side of eternity. This scene, deep and painful, did not need to happen. It solved nothing and magnified pain both in quantity and duration. It’s also proof that ideas matter a great deal. This is also why truth matters so much. What follows are ideas that I would have taken the time to explain to this much beloved young man, if I’d taken the chance. The difference is that now, after seeing what I’ve seen, I won’t wait for chances to appear easily. I will make chances happen whenever I can. This is what I’m doing here for you.

Honestly Weighing the Evidence

Although I didn’t start out this way, science eventually convinced me that blind chance could never have led to the complexity of life and the fine-tuning of the universe that we see all around us. I simply no longer have enough faith in Lady Luck to believe it all just happened to happen randomly. Starting from the microscopic level, even the simplest single-cell organisms have astonishingly complex digital information encoded into their DNA, information that’s necessary to guide all processes for life. There’s no such thing as any living creature that’s simple (no matter how small), and it’s not just mechanical complexity I’m talking about, either. Information also has to precede life processes just like software is necessary for a computer to run. Complex information is what you find encoded in the DNA of, say, a single-celled amoeba, not to mention you and me. If life needs complex information before it can even begin to exist and function, how could life processes begin from nothing more than the random presence of simple, non-living atoms and molecules? When was the last time you saw complex information arrange itself out of nothing? This is one of several reasons I’ve become convinced that the universe is more than just molecules. It’s more than just a random accident.

On a larger scale, there are other facts that argue you and the universe is more than just a random collection of elements. Many forces in the universe, for instance, must be present in just the right proportions for time, space and matter to exist. The strength of gravity, for instance, the strength of electromagnetic forces, the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force, and others. Physicists say that all these must exist exactly as they do now for the universe to exist at all. Change just the force of gravity, even the tiniest bit stronger or weaker, for instance, and planets and stars never would have formed. And gravity is just one force of dozens of these key parameters, all balancing on a knife-edge of precision. The odds of all the forces of the universe lining up as they do by chance has been calculated to be much more unlikely than the chance of picking one specific grain of beach sand out of all the grains of sand on earth with one random draw.  How likely is that?

Why does This Matter?

Why is this worth thinking about? Besides the fact that observable reality bears the fingerprints of more than just chance, a meaningless universe offers nothing upon which to cultivate the worldview that make for a strong inner person. Why exert yourself to embody any virtues, if nothing (even the notion of virtue itself) has no permanent meaning nor significance? And with no permanent significance to anything, there’s not much left other than the pursuit of pleasure and the prospect of eternal oblivion.

At this stage I need to warn you about something. Left to its own devices, many times the human heart and mind wants the universe to be meaningless because this removes personal responsibility and replaces it with something much easier to live with – personal preference. The question at hand “Is the universe random and meaningless, or planned and created?” is not something many people seem to approach in a fair way. Do you feel anger at my suggestion that you and I and the universe are more than just happenstance arrangements of molecules? Some people do have this reaction, and that’s your heart fighting for the easy way out. The thing is, what we want bears no connection whatsoever to what really is. Aligning yourself with reality , based on observations, is the first and necessary step to fully thriving as a  human being. 

I’ve never met an unbiased person who looked at all the latest evidence from physics, biology and chemistry and still managed to clung to the idea of a meaningless, pointless, random universe of irrelevant creatures. I’ve never even met a person, no matter how smart, who could convincingly explain away the level of order and fine tuning in the universe, either.

There’s a lot more involved in this than I have room for here. But if you’re an honest seeker, and feel the burdens that my young friend did, send me a note and tell me about it. The world and your life could probably be a lot brighter for you than it is now. And let me assure you, there is more at stake here than you might realize.