To begin with, life itself, the living things that fill our planet so abundantly, is wonderful. A recent video from the BBC brings several things together to show this: David Attenborough, some of the great footage from the BBC's nature documentaries, and a jazz classic.
And then, there is our species. We humans have survived many of the same trials that all life has had to face, and our intelligence and ingenuity have seen us through. Its likely we've suffered two major population bottlenecks, in which the population could have been reduced to about 50,000 people, or 15,000 people, or even as low as 2,000. What caused these catastrophes is not entirely known; it could have been a global warming event, or whatever happened to the environment after the eruption of a supervolcano. But we lived, we moved to warmer or cooler latitudes as needed, we left our ancient home on the African savannah and spread across the globe. People who were functionally identical to you and me survived an ice age; our species overcame numerous other competing species, such as the Neanderthals, to become the only surviving hominids. And look at the things we've managed to accomplish. From a genetic standpoint, we are little more than singing, dancing, mostly hairless apes. And yet, we've peered back to a moment in time a few million years after the Big Bang. We've discovered the basic particles and forces that make up everything we see, and figured out that most of the universe, about 99% of the universe, is made of stuff we can't see. We've gone from rubbing two sticks together to smashing protons into each other at close to the speed of light. We have flung ourselves and our machines into interplanetary space, sent our robot emissaries to dozens of worlds, and created two spacecraft that are on their way to the stars. Just this past week, we've found evidence of worlds that may be much like our own, although they're too hot for life, orbiting a star 950 light years away. The things we've accomplished are truly extraordinary, and they seem to just keep getting better.
Of course, the discoveries we've made about life on Earth tell us that we're newcomers on the scene, that we are merely one species of the 10 million or so on the planet, and that those 10 million are a mere 1% of the species that have ever lived. Our discoveries about the universe have shown us that not only is our species not the center of everything on Earth, but Earth isn't the center of the Solar System. Our sun is just another star among 400 billion in our galaxy, tucked away in the boondocks of one of the spiral arms, nowhere near the center of the galaxy. Our galaxy is one of 100 billion galaxies, and it isn't exceptional in its placement in the universe, or in size, or in shape, or anything. And all of those galaxies, everything in the universe that we can see, despite its immensity, constitutes about a 1% bit of "pollution" in a universe that is about 30% dark matter and 70% dark energy. Wipe out not just us, but everything we can see in the universe, and the universe would remain virtually unchanged. This is not a universe made for us; this is not a universe that cares about us. This is a universe that wouldn't even notice if our entire species were gone, much less any one member of it. With that in mind, is there no point to living? Are the critics of atheism right?
No. They are not.
During the holidays, we often feel somehow more connected to other people, more aware of the wants and needs of others, their joys and pains. We do touch each others' lives in very deep, meaningful ways. We are a species that cares not just about ourselves, and not just about our close relatives, but about the whole species. We're the first to recognize that we are a species. We also care about other species, and about our planet, and indeed about the universe. Very importantly, we are more than our biology; with our ability to change ourselves, to be conscious and aware and intelligent, we have built a society unlike anything else on our planet. Not only do we have a society, we're getting better at having a society; no matter what anyone might tell you, the truth is that violence has declined, and our empathy, our reason, the "better angels of our nature" are winning out. But it only works if we keep trying, if we continue to fight for a better world, a decent world, a world where all people can live in freedom and harmony. In Luke 17:21, it is said "behold, the kingdom of god is within you." We have the power to bring about great goodness for each other, for everyone; that potential is within us all. That is what I have to live for, that is why I care, that is why I don't simply give up and die or submit. And so, with the love of humanity in my thoughts today, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a joyous holiday season.