Thursday, June 30, 2005

Absolute Significance

"I'm just wondering if you ever see any meaning or significance behind anything, or if you think that every thing throughout history is 100% attributable to random, natural causes."

There's a few issues I have with the question itself. One is that you equate randomness with natural causes. Many things are natural and are very far from being random. They mean different things. It's natural that gravity pulls things down. But that's not a random thing that can happen. It's not like stuff could just as easily go sideways or upwards.

I also note that you find that natural causes is incompatible with meaning or significance. Again, that too is not necessarily true. I find much of human and natural history to be significant.
What you are asking about is an objective super-meaning for why things happen. And you should focus on what that even means. Is something only meaningful if it is God's will? Can you rightly care about something that God may not? Do you think God cares how you do in school? Or if you're skillful in sports?

Think of those guys playing in the World Series. I'm sure they care a lot about who wins. And thousands (millions) of fans feel strongly about it too. After one side wins they will, of course, thank God for it. But does God really care about that? Do you think He puts an active interest in the Yankees?

Things are meaningful only in context. As a human I have interest and I find meaning in human history as I see how it effected and effects my own life and existence. As a Jew I find Jewish history even more meaningful. And so on. But God? The whole universe would be His creation. It might be entertaining for Him, but what reason has He for giving anything that happens within His creation special meaning?

Suppose you write a novel. It is your creation. Do you give any character or event special meaning, that has a real meaning outside the story? Nothing is "really" meaningful, it's just what value you give to it.

If God exists, I accept that it might be possible for Him to have special interests. Maybe He likes humankind and has tweaked the story of history here and again to get to a situation that He finds meaningful. But do I have to find the same things meaningful? They are just meaningful inasmuch as God gives value to it. Maybe God tweaked a bit of the Universe a billion light years away to create a cool black hole in an unusual arrangement. That black hole might be interesting, but it has no meaning to me.

The question of "meaning" is complex. If everything is meaningful - then nothing is meaningful. Because in our daily lives nobody gives equal note of everything that happens. Oh, you dropped your pen. Then you picked it up. Is that meaningful? I don’t think so. But the day your first child is born, I’m sure you will imbue that event with much significance. I don’t think one can speak of an absolute meaning for anything. Because even as I described above, even God’s interests are only meaningful for Him.

Your question is really about whether I view the universe as having an interested creator or operator who has shaped events in a intentional way. Sometimes I like to imagine it that way, but I do not see any evidence of this. The world appears to operate by simple natural laws and does not have either "built-in" events or miraculous intervening happenings.

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