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David Hegg: When answers leave more questions

Posted: July 8, 2012 1:30 a.m.
Updated: July 8, 2012 1:30 a.m.

I recently took an afternoon and played hooky. At least that was what we used to call it.

A friend called and asked if I wanted to go see the movie “Prometheus,” and I just decided to step outside my schedule for the day and join him. I’m glad I did, although my satisfaction of the hours being well-spent had little to do with the movie itself.

As the story played out, it was clear that behind all the special effects and relational elements, the plot was as old as humanity itself. The search for meaning took center stage, and this search centered around the three most basic questions: Where did we come from? Who are we? And where are we going?

The history of philosophy really boils down to mankind’s ongoing search for answers to these same questions. In ancient times, the answers were found in what philosophers have labeled, “the axial view.”

In this understanding of human existence, life is seen as lived out in anticipation of a future greater reality.

This life begins a journey from darkness to light, from bondage to liberty, from struggle to eternal rest. This greater reality — in ancient times recognized as deity — is where we find our source, our meaning and our destiny.

With the Enlightenment and Immanuel Kant came the idea that faith and tradition, and the superstition each spawned, could not be trusted as sources capable of answering the vital questions.

Man’s reason was a better choice. The whole quest for answers moved from the consideration of guilt and forgiveness, which had dominated human society up to that time, to a deeper contemplation of meaning in this life irrespective of any other reality, if it even existed. Kant proposed that God probably existed, but as he was beyond our comprehension, couldn’t really be known, and thus could not be reckoned as a source for answers, let alone dependence.

Reliance on the spiritual was replaced quite ceremoniously with a hyperglorification of man’s reason.

In the 19th century, the fascination with man’s reason had begun to wear off as the reality of meaninglessness crept into the study of the basic questions. Doubts began to rise and even be appreciated as to the ability of reason to provide suitable answers.

But the 20th century brought new hope in the form of technology. Advancements in medicine and science promised easier, more fulfilled living. Increasingly individuals were given the power and ability to control more and more of their circumstances as invention after invention changed the face of every part of human life, from the home to the office to the freeway and the park.

The reliance on technology as essential to meaning in life is second nature to us now.

We can’t go 15 minutes without checking our email, texts, Facebook, voicemails or surfing the Web to find answers, or at least a little diversion from the circumstances of life. To understand just how much our technology defines our happiness think back to the last time your phone, or computer, or DVR, or some other technological component failed you. Like the rest of us, you probably wondered how you’d make it through the day.

As the movie ended, I found myself reflecting on the fact that with all the technological advances we have seen in the past 20 years, and despite all of the learned theories advanced by our greatest philosophers, our souls are still searching for the answers to the most basic questions.
Science hasn’t answered them, and neither has philosophy.

With all of our knowledge, we still wonder where we came from, who we are, and where we’re going. The movie played it out and ended with question marks. Despite our wisdom we are still without answers.

Looking back, Kant really didn’t do us any favors. With Darwin’s help, Kantian philosophy severed our need of

God as an explanation for reality. Apparently, our well-designed universe came into existence, and continues to be maintained, by chance.

But, after centuries of evolutionary theorizing, the Enlightenment view of human reason has not produced certainty, only more confusion. Perhaps it’s time to reevaluate human progress and realize that, while reason is an amazing gift, we would do well to use it in search of, and service to, the one who bestowed it upon us all.

David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident. “Ethically Speaking” runs every Sunday.


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