If the human race passed through the world as a ship through the sea or the wind through the desert, a thoughtless and fruitless whim, if an eternal oblivion always lurked angrily for its prey and there were no power strong enough to wrest it from its clutches — how empty and devoid of comfort would life be!
The Value of Life
Although Kierkegaard died four years before the publication of Origin of Species, his reflection on the emptiness of temporal life may very well be applied to evolution by natural selection. During the long history of the Earth, countless species have come into existence and then become extinct; during the history of mankind, countless peoples and generations have lived and died out. It would be an enormous waste of life, if all should be gone and forgotten as if they had not lived at all. Many evolutionists have argued against Creation on this ground.
A limerick that explains George Berkeley’s idealism, viz. to be is to be perceived, addresses this issue from a different angle:
There was a young man who said “God
Must find it exceedingly odd
To think that the tree
Should continue to be
When there’s no one about in the Quad”.
Your astonishment’s odd;
I am always about in the Quad;
And that’s why the tree
Will continue to be,
Since observed by
Everything in the long history of the universe has intrinsic value, which is given by its Creator. “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these; If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you” (Luke 12:27-28). The adornment of a wild lily is greater than the pomp of a king, because of the greatness of the One who adorns and values it. Even if the lily lives for only a moment in time, its value is not thereby diminished. A human life lasting less than a hundred years is absolutely nothing compared to the universe in length of time, but it is great in value, for his Creator has “crowned him with glory and honor”.
The Pursuit of Immortality
The life of the dead is set in the memory of the living.
It seems to me the most common and noble pursuit among mankind is not the pursuit of happiness, but the pursuit of immortality, in various forms and disguises.
There is in the heart of every man a sense of something that transcends the temporal and material, something worth striving and even dying for. Heroes have sought immortality in noble and glorious deeds, as the Greek historian Thucydides observes, “each of them individually received that renown which never grows old, and for a sepulchre, not so much that in which their bones have been deposited, but that noblest of shrines wherein their glory is laid up to be eternally remembered…For heroes have the whole earth for their tomb”; artists seek immortal fame in their art, as Ovid proclaims at the end of Metamorphoses, “let that day come which has no power save over this mortal frame, and end the span of my uncertain years. Still in my better part I shall be borne immortal far beyond the lofty stars and I shall have an undying name”; scientists also seek immortality in their work, as Einstein is quoted to have said, “Politics is for the moment, but an equation is for eternity.”
We catch a glimpse of eternity when we understand truth and appreciate beauty; we derive a sense of immortality when we cherish the memory of our departed loved ones. Cicero put it best, “The life of the dead is set in the memory of the living.”
The pursuit of immortality is twofold, on the one hand, it seeks to know eternal Truth — the Platonic ideal, on the other hand, it seeks to be known in eternity — the heroic ideal. Immortality as such has its limitation, however. For it only lasts as long as knowledge and remembrance lasts, or as long as there is someone to know and remember. If the human race doesn’t last, all shall be lost.
It is written in the Scripture, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts”. Only in God is the twofold condition of the immortality of man fulfilled. For in knowing the living God, man knows the Eternal Truth, and being known and remembered by God, man is known in eternity.
When asked about the resurrection of the dead, Jesus said, “Have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” The patriarchs, though dead to man in the temporal world, are alive and known to God in eternity. As St. Paul writes of the Perfection to come, “Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known”.
- Cicero, Marcus Tullius. Cicero: Philippics. Trans. Walter C. A. Ker. London: William Heinemann, 1926.
- Thucydides. The History of the Peloponnesian War. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. Oxford: Clarendon, 1881. Perseus Project. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0105
- Hawking, Stephen. The Universe in a Nutshell. New York: Bantam Books, 2001.