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Vail Daily letter: Higher source

It was both amusing and sad to read Richard Carnes’ commentary “Giving Thanks to whatever.”

It was amusing because he touched on things we all can relate to –unhealthy holiday food, possibly ambivalent family members and relatives, recurring local government issues, the latest Sarah Palin factoids, etc.

And it was sad because far too many of us can relate to his main point: To whom or to what can we ultimately give thanks for the things in life for which we are grateful?



As Richard has stated in previous columns, he, and most atheists in general, view the belief in God as nothing more than simple-minded superstition and an antiquated remnant from the days when we did not have the pure lens of science through which to view and understand the natural world.

Atheists believe we are alone in the universe. The universe is what it is, and Humanity is what it is by sheer luck, blind chance and natural selection. Therefore there is no ultimate being or source to thank for whatever goodness comes our way. (Addressing the atheist’s concept of “goodness” is another discussion altogether.)



But there is a slight problem with this view, and that problem is revealed by our human nature. d Evolutionary theory says that our genetic code, which is the sole source our human nature, is the product of countless chance mutations which have been selected out for survival by our environment. Our existence has essentially been hanging upon the cumulative results of a multi-billion year chain of accidental and incremental tweaks to the genetic code of a primordial single-celled organism.

Somehow though, we have evolved to the point that we now have the complex experiences of love, joy, delight, rapture, compassion, mourning, transcendence, adoration — and yes — thankfulness. We design, build, communicate and create. We (some of us) have premonitions of future events, or mystical experiences wherein time pauses and space becomes irrelevant.

The problem is that (speaking of mirrors) few if any of these attributes we possess in such abundance are mirrored in the material universe within which we supposedly evolved. We do see endearing glimpses within the animal world — the playfulness of porpoises, the exuberance of starlings, the sadness of a pet who has lost its owner, a simian who has learned sign-language. But none of the attributes of our essential humanity can be explained by what we find in the non-living physical realm.



We are the grand anomaly of anomalies. It would be the mother of all understatements to say that we humans are existentially top-heavy.

There is something I read about that occasionally happens in Europe with mountain lakes. Sometimes the rock strata will shift, opening a new underground channel. If this occurs near a lake, the water can slowly drain, and as it happens, a new lake may form in a different valley, at a lower elevation. Observant mountain dwellers can deduce the source of the new lake by noting the drop in the first lake and the elevation difference. But if a new lake forms at a level higher than any existing lake, the observer can bet that the new lake must have a different source.

So it is, I think, with our human nature as it relates to its supposed source — our dead, entropic universe. How could the personal have arisen by chance from the impersonal? All of the attributes that make us alive and human, including gratefulness and thankfulness, are far “above” the level of this dead, unfeeling cosmos. We have found nothing within the cosmic box that truly explains or ratifies what we find within ourselves.

And that is a piece of the evidence that has placed me in the camp of the believers, and causes me to be truly thankful, not to some cosmic thingamajig, but to a creator who fashioned the cosmos and who thought up my uniqueness and formed our humanity, and is a sufficient explanation for all that we are.

Walt Halstead

Avon


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