douglas adams, a british humorist and author, made his bones with a bbc radio show turned book, “hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy” (and an awesome video game)1. for those of you unfamiliar with h2g2 (that is what we geeks call the hitchikers guide to the galaxy), it is a wonderful obtuse, hilarious spoof of pulp science fiction and some of the assumptions made in utopian literature. it is a wonderfully complex commentary on the genres it spoofs and is as poignant as it is entertaining.
it is the fundamental question that lies underneath the galaxy hopping adventures that is most interesting: what is the answer to the ultimate question of “life, the universe, everything.”
so here is the back story: a group of pan-dimensional beings, who later pose as mice, created a humongous computer called deep thought whose sole purpose was to get an answer to the ultimate question of “life, the universe, everything” – and after a million years of computing, they return to deep thought to get the answer – which ends up being…42. they then realized that although they have the answer, they never figured out what the question is.
the story in h2g2 begins with a second computer (earth) that was designed to figure out what the ultimate question is that the answer to is 42.
the story is as much a commentary on literature as it was on the growing self-reflective movement in western culture. starting with the explosion of scientific understanding in the 1800’s, the existentialist movement, and growing through the self-awareness and new age eras of the 1960’s and 1970’s, there arose a preoccupation with trying to find the ultimate answer – trying to answer the ultimate question? you know the answer to “life, the universe, everything.”
the irony of it is this: as western culture began to move itself away from the christian church as its defining world view, a gap was left in the understanding of humanity’s place in the universe. the wake of this growing schism sparked a wave of interest in the extraterrestrial, the exceptional, and the occult –or anything that may give an answer to the ultimate question.
unfortunately, as far as the world is concerned there is no way to know the answer to the ultimate question, so the answer might as well be as arbitrary as the number 42. however, when it is all said and done, and the conversation has been had, there exists a need for humanity to have a reason “why”.
much of modern science and materialistic philosophy2 seeks to explain away purpose as the inevitable byproduct of the natural evolution of the universe, and to say that humanity and life as we know it is nothing more than the result of a random set of circumstances across an infinite universe that, through atomic, molecular and biological evolution, has resulted in this conversation amongst other random things).
despite the cornucopia of philosophical implications of this (which are a worthwhile conversation in and of themselves), the simplified idea is that we are only the result of the natural expansion of the universe and are inconsequential in comparison with the origin and final destination of matter – nothingness.
the problem with this view is that it runs contrary to what it is like to be human. in fact, those who ascribe to that naturalistic world view, say that religion and philosophical thought exists to itch the scratch humanity has to be relevant, to matter, and to have a purpose. but at the end of the day, there really is no purpose (in that view). But we, humanity, need to have purpose and God (or any other cosmological entity) is a function of the human condition and is the result of sociological evolution.
so really, by the naturalist view of the world, the purpose of life is essentially a function of life itself and really no purpose at all; so why not call the answer to the ultimate question of “life, the universe, everything” 42? since our lives are inconsequential in juxtaposition to the expansion of matter throughout the universe anyways, 42 is as good of answer as any.
but there is a serious flaw in this, and i can only speak for myself when i say this (although i would guess you may agree with me), i do not feel purposeless. in fact, the vast majority of the human experience is centered around trying to figure out what that purpose is in the first place. you know, answer the ultimate question of “life, the universe, everything.”
the problem with the naturalist viewpoint is that it can’t explain away the feeling of having a purpose. and as far as I am concerned, there is an answer, a very clear and very simple answer – and that answer is not 42. even though the answer to ultimate question of “life, the universe, everything” is a simple answer – it is not an easy answer.
if it were easy or if we had any clue what we were doing, i would not have written this because adam and eve would have listened to God. now i do not have all the answers, but i do have the bible so let’s start there.
i am not going to discuss purpose, but rather the beginning of living out our purpose. you see – one of the most fundamental human struggles throughout recorded history is not only figuring out purpose, but living that purpose.
the ancient world was no different. the earliest thinkers and philosophers were obsessed with finding the answer. aristotle called this the search for the unmoved mover – the initial cause. from the epic of gilgamesh to the bhagavad vita – the ancient world had always searched for a reason for it all.
it is in the context of a world bent on discovering this answer through any means necessary – from scientific thought through philosophical discourse – that God showed us the answer. and it is really simple.
in the midst of this search; in this middle point of recorded human history, that we turn to seek the answer to this question and set in motion the idea necessary for living out and fulfilling our purpose as humans. yet, the answer is simple, but it is not easy:
“The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.” Ecclesiastes 12:13 (NASB)
1: for those of you who do not know me; i am a geek, talking about geeky stuff is what i do.
2: for a great overview on this topic read “matter and consciousness” by paul m. churchland.