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“Why Life?”: A Question Atheist Scientists Never Ask

Stephen J. Iacoboni
Photo: Mount St. Helens, 1982, by Lyn Topinka, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

One cannot understand organisms — that is, life itself — without incorporating the concept of purpose within biology, the science of organisms. Such purpose is observable and measurable, and therefore well within the bounds of scientific inquiry.

The facts are clear. All life is purpose-driven, from the biomolecule up to the ecosystem itself, and everything in between. Angiosperms cannot reproduce without insects, and pollinating insects cannot live without nectar. Chipmunks cannot live without acorns, and oak trees cannot propagate without chipmunks. Even something as catastrophic as the eruption of Mount St. Helens was, in the end, a life-giving event. In the subsystem of biology known as succession, fire and even lava are sometimes necessary to bring forth new life.

A Struggle for Existence

More strikingly, the purpose-driven nature of life precedes Darwinian natural selection as the fundamental agency of evolution. Simply put, the well described Darwinian struggle for existence can occur if and only if living creatures “make the effort.” The word “struggle” is apropos. Surviving in the wild is not easy. It requires constant vigilance, exertion, and determination. That’s true even for the king of beasts. There was never a lioness who took down a wildebeest or water buffalo without risking a fatal blow from hooves or horns. The great white shark must roll its eyes back behind its jaws to survive its own attack upon its prey.

No Mystery Here?

To an atheist scientist, none of this seems mysterious. 

The shark, the lion, and every other predator is simply driven to the hunt by hunger. And that is just a chemical reaction, when the gut sends a message to the brain that there is a need for nutrition. It is the same with reproduction, they would say. The urge to mate is purely physiological. Despite the great risk, bulls and boars and bucks will fight it out for the right to breed.

As for those creatures that are preyed upon, they watch out carefully for danger, and flee from the hunter. Understanding the biochemistry of not wanting to have your flesh torn open is not hard to understand.

Of course, that is all true. The issue is not whether we can understand the behavior of animals surviving in the wild. Or surviving indoors, where conditions are safer. I recall vividly as a child in school watching the clock tick up to noon, anxious to be able to open my lunch pail and satisfy my hunger. There was nothing profound about that.

But in order to understand life, it is not sufficient to simply observe what is happening. The real question is why things are the way they are.

However, did we not just decide that animals eat because they are hungry and avoid danger to eschew harm? Yes, these are clearly purpose-driven activities, and they all have a biochemical or physiologic basis.

True enough. But the deeper question is, why are these physiologic stimuli there in the first place? Answer: to allow for life. But then… why life?

“Why life?” is the ultimate question. 

If, as the atheist scientists endlessly insist, we exist merely as an accidental collocation of molecules strewn together on some small planet in the backwater of an insignificant galaxy, then again, “Why life?”

Time, Energy, and Matter

The answer, finally, comes all the way back to where we started: purpose. Time, energy, and inanimate matter carry on ceaselessly with no apparent purpose. But arising out of the inorganic are living creatures, utterly purpose-driven. There is absolutely no reason for purpose-driven life to exist within this milieu, unless purpose itself exists at the fundamental core of reality itself.

Every religion has taught this, always. It is not a new revelation, however forgotten in modern times. 

Let us return to the wisdom of our elders.