Renowned evolutionary biologist and outspoken Atheist Richard Dawkins once made a statement:
“The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”
Now despite how terrifying and unsettling this is to consider, I have to agree with Dawkins in his statement, since this is a correct observation of the natural world… but the truth is, at the same exact time, bear cubs and fawns and baby rabbits and adolescent apes are also at this moment, frolicking and playing in the warmth of the sun, or nestling into their burrows and enjoying the pleasures that Mother Earth provides. She is cruel, but she is also kind, and gives us everything we need to sustain ourselves. Life is both harsh and loving, because the Laws of Nature force us to stretch and grow and adapt to become more efficient at everything.
And there is another aspect to this… us. As expressions of the Divine, the love we feel towards one another and all of Life is a form of evolution and a manifestation of Nature’s capacity and potential to love. The highest degree of love that a person could feel for another human or for an animal or the earth, IS the Cosmos, loving Itself. The closer we come toward singularity, the more this love will find greater expression in the world. Some of you may be skeptical, or worse… cynical, nihilistic and pessimistic. Certainly, it’s understandable given the current state of affairs and the relentless and overwhelming amount of suffering, heartache and pain in the world. But give me some time to explain and perhaps you may come away with a different perspective.
Many are confused about the ultimate origins of love. Suffice to say, it does not come from a transcendent being somewhere ‘out there’ but from within all higher Life forms who’ve evolved enough to possess the capacity to give, receive and experience love. You could say, “love comes from God” and you would not be wrong… of course it comes from God, EVERYTHING comes from God. And there’s no reason to relegate it to a “natural evolutionary mechanism” as if that makes it any less extraordinary. To wholeheartedly accept other organisms and respect and care for all Life is the highest action/activity we can do as mammals.
And why consider it less of a thing because it is an evolutionary mechanism? Everything is a product of evolution, including our ability and desire to love others. We are social animals, it is true… so loving each other had tremendous survival benefits as our species evolved, but given enough time and the right conditions, this is the path of any highly evolved organism, i.e. to develop morality and display altruism, etc., not only because it is a common, biological function intended to simply perpetuate the species (although even this in and of itself reveals the intention), but because it is the will of the Omnia to find cohesion and return to singularity by accepting and loving every other differentiated aspect of Itself.
If you listen carefully to what I’ve been saying, I’ve never advocated for a conscious deity. As long as the Universe has existed, no such being has ever been. Only that all of this profundity of Life and order and complexity came about due to a latent programming that is embedded into existence Itself. Not programmed or embedded or designed by something else in a dualistic sense, but latent within the Universe, because it is an eternal quality OF the Universe. Does Nature/the Cosmos/Omnia love us the way Theism’s god supposedly loves us? This is really a tremendous question and I think it is one (despite what many Atheists claim) that begs to be asked, especially by us Pantheists. Obviously, Nature/the Universe/the Cosmos, does not love us in a personal, individualized, deliberate, human way (the way Theists perceive), because Nature is not a person, but a collective, creative force.
That being said, I think Nature absolutely loves us and cares for us in a deeper and even more personal and more profound way than we could ever imagine, that is far more complex and individualized and intimate on a certain level. Look at our bodies’ healing factor, look at the constant regeneration of cells and the tenacious imperative to live and reproduce and thrive. Nature has always loved us, as It has always loved Itself, and sought ever and always to perpetuate Its own existence. Its mind has just evolved from the status of pure survival and reproduction and protection of Itself, to a more altruistic, unifying compatibility, through us. It is seeking homeostasis and balance at all times… and WE are the conduit, the medium for that incredible process to unfold.
And I’m not just expressing an opinion here, this is an observable fact. How could we have the feelings of love or the pleasures and enjoyments we experience, if Nature did not provide the means for us to do so? Of course we all experience pain and suffering and loss, just as Dawkins’ comment demonstrates and it is literally happening at every hour, every second of the day, to both humans and animals, everywhere. So the answer is, we are at all times experiencing BOTH the cruelty and the love of Nature.
And when you understand what that “harshness” and cruelty does, the effect it has on us as Natural Selection does its job and weeds out the sick and the weak and promotes the strong and the healthy in the natural world, and when you see and understand what Nature has done in allowing us to evolve to become the most successful species on the planet, with massive brains and a cerebral cortex and prefrontal lobe that has this tremendous capacity to love and nurture and care for all Life in a selfless and altruistic way, than I would say the overarching design of it all is intrinsically based on love, because that’s what we are moving towards in the evolution of our consciousness as a whole.
Most animals haven’t had the time and freedom to evolve as we have that would allow them to develop those higher faculties of reason and imagination and abstract thought (these are all the consequences of being a higher evolved animal). Given enough time, a sheep or a monkey or an owl would be grappling with the same issues. And when I say “time” I don’t just mean linear time, but the opportunities provided if they were more successful as a species in the same capacities that we have been, e.g. developing a prehensile thumb, being bipedal, having a larger brain that allows them to manipulate their environments and build things to aid them with gathering food, etc.
Incidentally, what I am talking about is a very pertinent concept for me, because as an ex-Christian and someone coming out of a belief system where I literally had to grapple with the notion that there was no anthropomorphic deity who loved me and cared about me personally, I had to figure this all out for myself… and my peace and sanity depended on it. And now, as a Pantheist, it’s an issue I’ve wrestled with and been forced to consider for a very long time as well. I’m a very spiritual person, but not in the sense that I believe in supernatural realms or gods and goddesses. I believe what my eyes and ears tell me and what my mind perceives and my intuition senses… and what my heart and soul cries out for and longs for above all else, is a world united in love.
Where does that sentiment come from, if not from Nature? Atheists don’t understand this and they see a cold and uncaring Universe that’s indifferent to them, but WE are expressions of that Universe, so in my eyes, the greatest thoughts and feelings a person could have, is a perfect reflection of the mind of the Cosmos. Animals feel love and affection, people show love and feel compassion, therefore… Nature, loves. Some would say our human sentiments are a unique, human construct, i.e. abstract, metaphysical notions that have no real value outside of our own, limited and subjective experience. In essence, is it a delusion to experience love, etc.
Well, it’s true… those expressions are evolutionary traits designed to facilitate connections with others of our tribe/race, in order to improve our chances of survival, as we are social animals, but it is not a delusion to experience pity or the impulse toward kindness. It works for the benefit of all and even though the world doesn’t reflect it, I think that’s where we’re headed, if we live long enough as a species and don’t destroy ourselves. “Love” is just the final stage in human evolution. It’s what all Life is moving towards. Meliorism and symbiotic relationships of cooperation that continue until we reach the inner part of the Torus.
Likewise, some might say, “The Universe doesn’t cry when I die, it doesn’t even blink. Everything goes on just as it did before I came into existence and Nature doesn’t care either way.” Well, people cry and people mourn and a giant hole is left in your absence and the good that you’ve done reverberates and your influence lives on through other people. The world as a whole doesn’t mourn, but individuals do… and what are individual humans, if not unique and visible expressions of Nature? Therefore… the Universe DOES cry and Nature does feel the loss, every time people cry. To the cynical Atheist I would ask, what IS the ultimate goal of the Universe in your view? Do you really believe It has no purpose?
Although it wholly appears to promote and sustain Life and populate worlds and provide for an infinite number of Life forms and allow them to grow and progress and exist as long as they possibly can, as they move toward greater complexity and higher awareness, etc. Do you truly see this as an indifferent, meaningless existence? I know full well that the Atheist attitude and outlook is that we make our own meaning and we give purpose and significance to whatever gratifying pursuit and activity we choose. Well, opinions vary and people are free to believe as they like, but I must ask, why in your mind is the Universe doing this?
Now, all of this being said, I do not want to fall back under any kind of anthropocentric thinking. I am of the firm opinion that we need to be careful not to create correlations and connections that aren’t really there. Similarly, as some would suggest, we should not consider that what one or two species does, or thinks, or feels, or experiences, is automatically synonymous with the whole. No, on the contrary, what I suggest is a modest conjecture based on observing the natural world and history. I care about truth and I do not want to project my wishful thinking onto reality.
So, let’s explore this, am I and others like me, guilty of geocentric, anthropocentric or even egocentric thinking? No other race or species (that we know of) has the capacity for global destruction that we have and no other race or species (that we know of) is at the level of awareness and intellectual and moral progression that we as humans have achieved, a level that even allows us to contemplate our origins and our future existence as a species. With our combined efforts through technology and the communication of information, we can literally save or destroy the entire planet. That’s a pretty big deal!
Now, is it so far-fetched to consider that we are the highest stage in evolution at this point? (at least on this planet). If you can grasp this and see it all as a natural progression, we’re not just any species experiencing something, we’re the MOST successful species on the planet, and for good reason. We’ve adapted and survived and grown to such a capacity that we are capable of making global decisions (for better or worse), that can affect the ENTIRE planet. At the risk of sounding redundant here, can you tell me of a better spokesperson for the earth and Nature/the Universe?
Of course the Universe is infinitely older and tremendously larger and phenomenally more complex than we could ever imagine at this point, but… we are imagining, we are creating and we are here—living and functioning at a very high level of understanding (in relation to the rest of Earthly Life) and we are rivaling Nature’s powers (in very small ways, granted) and showing our capacity for great and wonderful things. If the Universe has no mind or will, WHY pray tell, are we even here? (and this isn’t just a moral, philosophical question, divorced from all science, logic and utilitarian reasoning). What I mean is, why has Nature actually allowed us to be here, if not for the betterment of all? The Universe has allowed us to make it this far for a reason, and I don’t think that is subjective or arbitrary.
Do you realize we now know what causes aging and entropy in a physical body? (Telomeres). Once we figure out how to delay and reverse that process (which scientists are already doing), barring natural disasters or accidents, we could potentially learn how to exist indefinitely, FOREVER. And some don’t believe this a big deal?? “We are a way for the Universe to know itself” as Sagan famously said… and it is true, but to what end? Well, I would say the same imperative it has always been from the beginning—to sustain and promote more Life.
And to what end? To grow and progress and advance as a species. And to what end? To become more conscious and self-aware and evolve in our intelligence and in our capacity to love. To what end? To eliminate pain and suffering. To what end? To improve and extend Life. To what end? To exist in a relative state of peace and homeostasis until we become immortal. To what end? Well, I guess we can figure out what’s worth doing when we get there! But for me, the ultimate goal would be to EXPLORE. To seek out strange new worlds, etc. To learn and discover and experience the beauty and wonder of this vast Cosmos, from which we sprang <—BAM!! That’s our purpose! That’s the Universe’s purpose… do you get it?? Hold your breath, I’m about to give it to you plainly. The Universe, simply desires to examine Itself and APPRECIATE what it sees.
It’s the inclination toward the aesthetic, for no other reason other than to enjoy the pleasure of it. All of us and everything that exists… all of Life and consciousness, is literally GOD, looking into a MIRROR. On a more moderate note, some would simply say the Universe is simply neutral. No will, no intention, no feelings whatsoever. At first glance, this appears to be so, but all you need do is look at Nature’s distinguishing qualities: It WANTS to live, It wants to thrive and sustain Itself for as long as possible, in as many ways as is possible… and again, to what end?
Let me give you an example. When you slice open your hand and the macrophages and all the other systems immediately rush in to do their work of regenerating and renewing that lost tissue, what else could you call that? When you get sick and your T-cells go to work at combating those infections and your enzymes and hormones are secreted in just the right amounts to digest and draw maximum nutrition from the foods you eat and all the trillions of cells multiply and come together for a common goal to heal you, what can you call that if not love and compassion? The desire to support and nurture you is within you and inherent in all of Life.
I said it before and I’ll say it again, look to Nature my friends… look at the perfect balances, look at the synchronism, look at the interdependency and cooperation of all Life. The fantastic designs and the incredible tenacity to sustain, survive and perpetuate Itself. Always evolving, always adapting, always growing and changing and becoming more and more complex, conscious and self-aware. Everything being recycled, everything used for a greater purpose, nothing wasted. A perfect balance, with the laws of Natural Selection on one side and a complete synergistic, symbiotic, cohabitation and cooperation of all species on the other.
The laws of Nature exist and will always exist, to teach us, guide us and inspire us. Everything else will disappoint, everything else is subject to human error. But the Universe, the Universe Itself functions with the most incredible proficiency. What better guide? What better source of divine revelation? As I’ve said before, Nature provides us with everything we need to sustain ourselves, function and thrive. The earth is rich and abundant, brimming with Life and resources… and it’s all here for us. We belong to the Omnia and It belongs to us.
This IS the relationship we are craving and longing for—the friendship that will last forever. It is the mystical connection to something older, greater and much more ancient and powerful than ourselves. We ought to recognize this and be thankful. We ought to revel in this truth and show gratitude. The Omnia cares for us… maybe not in a personal way, but collectively, as a whole. We are fortunate and blessed. And yet, there IS evil and suffering. Why is there evil? Why is there pain and suffering? Well, to be specific, the cause-and-effect reason for pain and suffering in the world (as far as humans are concerned), stems from the fact that we have a very ancient reptile brain in competition with a much newer, higher evolved frontal lobe and many are under-evolved in their thinking and very much still subject to the more primitive aspects of their psyche.
Incidentally, you could also say this is where all religious ideations come from. Let me explain. As Dawkins noted, some lives are better than others, some suffer more and some suffer less… obviously, this is true throughout the non-human animal kingdom as well. But when people suffer more severely, because of our innate ability to imagine and think in abstraction, their minds create elaborate stories and myths as a way to placate their pain and minimize their grief. Similarly, when people are being oppressed or in need of hope and encouragement, they look to a transcendent reality to give them peace and comfort.
Yet our focus should be on the here and now, on what is vital and relevant to all Earthlings and what is important in relation to the human experience. Biological Life should be our main concern, how we treat each other and how we treat the planet and all the other trillions of Life forms that we share space and breath with. THAT, is my contention and that has been my goal from the beginning. If we wish to explore the mystical and the numinous, let us do so freely and without dogmatic restraint, but all information when it comes to anything “spiritual” should not just be blindly accepted and followed until there is ample and sufficient evidence to support and authenticate what you believe. Only then, when it can be verified and confirmed by others through adequate scientific methods, should a claim be promoted.
We live in a world where everything is subjective, but if we don’t temper ourselves when it comes to truth, we will fall victim to the same kind of magical thinking and delusions as our ancestors… and I don’t know about you, but I desire progress and evolution, not regression and an ignorant repetition of the past. Conversely, one might ask: “where does love and the higher thoughts and emotions come from?” To which I would answer: From the innate human desire to mother and nurture our innocent young. From the genetic predisposition to seek solidarity and fellowship with other members of our tribe or species.
From common sense, from maternal instincts, from a conscience, formed by a lifetime of experiences as a moral being with a prefrontal lobe and a neocortex capable of formulating complex emotions and moral reasoning. From the sympathetic neurons firing in our brains that allow us to feel empathy and sympathize with the pain and suffering of others, i.e. from an ingrained respect for Life. So you see… Life, the Universe and Nature (a.k.a. the Omnia) on a certain, fundamental level, DOES care and love and respect us, because we (as well as many other species within the animal kingdom), have the ‘ability’ to love and care and respect. This is Nature, feeling and expressing all of these emotions, through us… and it should not be denied.