“An Ultimate Binary Equation… or Two.”

“If there is no God, there is no us. If there is no soul, then we are just our bodies.”

According to everything we are told that science knows at present, there exists a pretty general consensus amongst the scientific community that our Earth is about 4.5 billion years old. Our universe is about 13 to 15 billion years old. Human beings and our “evolutionary ancestors” have been here for perhaps 3 to 6 million years. Modern homo sapiens sapiens (us), have been around for maybe 100,000 years. What most would define as “civilizations” have been around for no more than about 10,000 years.

Therefore, given the above, if the entire history of the universe were scaled-down and crammed into a 5 year timeline, an average human life would be measured in a mathematical fraction of a single second that only the world’s most technologically advanced clocks could even measure. And the above example merely considers “time.” What about that other dimension – “space?”

Astronomers and physicists now believe that our sun, and therefore our solar system, are merely just one of 100 billion such stars and solar systems in our “Milky Way Galaxy.” And, our galaxy is just 1 of perhaps 100 billion galaxies in the universe.

Distance is a yet another nearly unfathomable dimension to our universe. To give an idea of this, let us consider light-years (i.e. the distance light can travel in one earth year, approximately 186,000 miles per second). At that speed, light can travel around the equator of the earth 7 times in one second! Our space shuttle, which can travel at 18,000 mph, or about 5 miles a second, would need, believe it or not, 37,200 earth years to travel just one light year!

Our “Milky Way Galaxy” is about 100,000 light years across. Our nearest neighboring galaxy, Andromeda, is about 2.2 million light years away. To bring these dimensions down to a more familiar size, let’s stay in our own neighborhood. For example, if you could drive a car at 60 mile per hour straight to the sun from the earth without stopping at all, it would take you 180 earth years to get there. Better bring a solar-powered car or at least a hybrid! Light covers that distance in 8 minutes. By the way, the distance between the sun and the earth is about 93 million miles. Also, in terms of size, the sun is more than 1 million times larger than our earth in mass and takes up over 98% of the mass of our solar system even though it is, as stars go, very average and middling in size. The nine planets (if you count Pluto) make up less than 2% of the mass in our tiny solar system. Statistically speaking, there are literally and truly more stars by far in the universe than there are grains of sand on all the beaches of the entire Earth {x = 100 Billion Squared}!

If these celestial dimensions are true, and just about all current scientific evidence is that they are, then our universe is larger and older than anything we can fit into our imaginations. In this context, it would seem, as Hendrik Van Loon once wrote, that our earth is but a third-rate little planet off in some insignificant corner of a galaxy that is, itself, only a smallish galaxy off in no particularly important part of the universe. I find these facts very exciting and liberating. It saddens me when people, upon hearing such astronomical figures, either reject them, become depressed, or even become angered by them. However, I can understand being overwhelmed or confused by them.

I would like to make something very clear at this point. Something as abundantly clear to you as the clearest and brightest star-filled night sky you can ever remember seeing – I am a faithful Christian who believes in and embraces science. To be clear, however, I think of science in one of the ways that Carl Sagan described the term. Sagan, in his popular science classic, Broca’s Brain, stated that science is not so much a body of knowledge, but a way of thinking! (Italics my own.)

Many, but not all, who believe quite fully in science, do not believe as fully in God or religion, and they quite often express strong disbelief and skepticism toward things one might call supernatural or the like. Instead, they prefer what is often generally called a “secular” or “rationalist” worldview. On the other hand, many, but not all, who believe in God and religion do not believe as much in what they think of as science and often reject it to one degree or another or even outright wholly deny it. I am most certainly and absolutely NOT going to try to argue, or win, or lose, or for that matter even have that “debate” with any one. I believe that those things are for people to figure out for themselves and for each to individually come to whatever understanding he or she will about them. In fairness, there are also many who believe in the “truth” of both science and religion to varying degrees. Such people tend to perceive a certain connection or relationship between the two seemingly opposing worldviews.

Nonetheless and regardless, those essentially humanly inconceivable dimensions of our universe, mentioned above,  in just the basic categories of its size, time-scales, distances, and  origins, could easily and fairly make anyone draw the conclusion that there likely could be no “God” in the conventional Judeo-Christian sense we most often think of One. Also, such thinking could fairly make any sane person conclude that we humans truly do not have any real significance in the universe as well. If so, then what of our “meaning,” if there is one?

It is here that I would propose what is, perhaps, the ultimate binary equation. A binary equation, for those who are not already familiar with the term, is basically an equation that ends up being either “1” or “0”. It is the most absolute “yes” or “no” conclusion possible. Every single piece of information in your computer and of all of the collective functions of the entire internet and of all of the computers in the world together, are based upon nothing more than trillions and trillions of these tiny “binary equations,” one leading into the next. In other words, all things come down to a binary equation at their most basic level. In all biologically living creatures, the most basic binary choices made are called “tropisms” and they go right down to and past the cellular level in each of us and all living things.

On the macrocosmic scale, however, an “Ultimate Binary Equation” is this: “IF THERE IS NO GOD, THERE IS NO US. IF THERE IS NO SOUL, THEN WE ARE JUST OUR BODIES.”

Allow me to explain and clarify a little further. If the sheer immensity and scale of time, of space, of this galaxy, and of the universe are what we believe them to be, and if there is also no God, then, as the contemporary Chinese writer Deng-Ming-Dao has stated, we human beings cannot possibly have any true meaning and significance in the history of the universe. In that scenario, we would be but the latest (though seemingly highly complex) life form to appear or evolve on this one particular tiny planet in our galaxy that has happened to be, by the most remote chances and favorable circumstances,  conducive to the accident or development of “life.”

You and I would be little more than what the seventeenth-century French philosopher and mathematician, Rene Descartes, called “automatons.” In other words, we would simply be something like “biological machines” that are born, live, sometimes procreate, and then inevitably die. All of our life functions, actions, and thoughts would be instinct-driven illusions that we think we only think we are the author and master of. If this perspective appeals to you, read the philosopher Schopenhauer for more of an articulation of it.

To re-emphasize, however, in this “Godless” scenario, all of our emotions, beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and ideas about ourselves are merely illusions. They are what some psychologists refer to as “subjective projections” of self. They are not real. They are the equivalent of lies and tricks that our brains, the masters of these “biological machines,” play upon the rest of its organism to keep it procuring food, resources, mates, and in short, all of the things that the “survival instinct” of the “creature” must do to carry on living.  Put simply, your entire “personality” or whom/what you think you are beyond those biological imperatives, is only real in your finite brain – there is NO true you!

Many rationalist psychologists, philosophers, and other intellectuals who articulate such views will rightfully assert that these self-constructed illusions of “self” and “personality” are augmented and intensified by our social interactions with other “people” too. We each, reciprocally, validate and re-enforce our individual and collective illusions and delusions of personal and social meaning. All of these mental constructs of meaning that we project back and forth between each other eventually produce what many anthropologists will most often refer to as a people’s “culture.”

Put another way, we would be comparable, each of us, to “movie projectors” that both project a film and watch it. When the “projector” breaks or permanently shuts down, one would witness that the movie disappears, and in fact, never really was anything more than a long series of projected images on a screen that merely seemed to be real and to have a coherent unfolding meaning. The now defunct machine is discarded. But, perhaps, its temporary illusion served it well. Darwin would say that it served its purpose and had meaning if it produced more “projectors” in its lifetime. That would be it for the “projectors” ultimate meaning or individual significance.

Therefore, again, on this “Godless” side of the binary equation, there can ultimately be no true non-arbitrary meaning to our individual or collective selves beyond the myriad of “manufactured” meanings that are created physiologically and chemically in our brains. All of our  beliefs, ideologies, doctrines, dogmas, and basically our entire mental lives are, in this “Godless” scenario, are nothing more than self-generated illusions and  mythologies that we, once again, “validate” by mutual and collective affirmation.

What I am expressing here is actually nothing new or out of the ordinary. It is, in fact, representative of the most popular and dominant modes of common thought and worldviews in our societies since the Enlightenment. By name, I am referring to the growing  pervasiveness of “cultural” and “moral relativism” in almost all aspects of our mental conditioning, particularly in the western world, over these last three centuries.  In the twentieth-century, this trajectory of thought, rooted in (whether it is realized or not) the assumption of the “Godless” side of the binary equation, have borne forth philosophical progeny  such as nihilism, fascism, and existentialism. Additionally, the very palpable sense of cynicism and skepticism that seems to permeate so much of our modern civilization is also rooted very much (again knowingly or not) in the assumption of the “Godless” side of the binary equation. Interestingly, Darwinism, though it does not actually exclude the existence of God truly, has more often than not been associated with a type of thinking compatible with the “Godless” side of the binary equation.

Obviously, not everyone sees such beliefs as bad things. The truth is that such ideas and thinking have contributed greatly to our human knowledge and society in many ways. That is not the point here.

These worldly, non-theistic philosophies are often considered part of the “humanist” tradition which has largely been perceived as the center-point of our culture’s intellectual history over these last several centuries. Ironically, the assumption of the “Godless” side of the equation, with its corresponding ideological assumptions such as humanism, secularism, existentialism, scientism, etc., all of which  make the thoughts and perceptions of humankind the measures of all things, proves just as anthropocentric, if not more so, than the theistic Judeo-Christian religious tradition which is most often wholly rejected and criticized by secularists, humanists, and atheists for being too anthropocentric. Put simply, which side is actually deifying “God” and which is actually deifying “man?”

Such worldly philosophies as the ones mentioned above, rooted in relativism as they are, almost certainly and consistently deny the existence of any absolute or divine truths and do not acknowledge the existence of an immortal human soul. In contrast, the Judeo-Christian tradition, and other traditions, which fall on the theistic, or “God-believing” side of the binary equation, do believe in and recognize a reality that includes absolute truths, divine truths, and the existence of an immortal human soul.

THEN, HOWEVER, IF GOD DOES EXIST, the idea of an actual human soul, God-given and potentially immortal, represents the only non-arbitrary, non-man made, truly absolute source of an actual and valid human meaning we can possibly have since it would be a meaning that fully comes from outside of ourselves and also from a Source in the universe much greater than anything we can presently conceive of, and also a Source that is likely connected to and in control over all things in the universe!

In a universe in which God exists, all arbitrary and relativistic human constructs of meaning fade away nearly instantly. It must also be remembered that, in spite of popular misconceptions, the existence of God does not necessarily conflict with or negate science.  “Science…,” as the famous writer and novelist Dean Koontz (a devout Roman Catholic) once said, “…is just another way to find God.” Additionally, Immanuel Kant, one of the greatest and most complex thinkers of the German philosophical tradition, who himself wrote volumes on meta-physics, maintained that the existence of God could not be proven or disproven by any of the rules of logic or philosophy ultimately.

But, scientifically or not, make no mistake about it. Only human arrogance allows us to entertain the thought that we can prove or disprove God. Each of us and all of us will only find God if “He” (to use the preferred Hebrew pronoun) wants to be found and to the extent that God chooses. No amount of speculation, research, technology, or philosophical discourses will EVER encapsulate God or “prove” God to be in any way “He” does not wish to reveal Himself or to be “found.”

Thus, God’s existence can only be known by what most call “faith.” Faith in God is a gift that not every person has but any person can have if they choose to truly seek. “For all who seek truth, seek God whether it is clear to them or not,” wrote Edith Stein in 1938. The German-born Edith Stein (1891-1942), who would later be canonized as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, was born to a Jewish family in a town called Breslau (which is now part of Poland) and spent her teen and early adult years as a self-professed atheist having rejected the Judaism of her upbringing and the entire idea of God.

She became a highly regarded and well-published academic philosopher and, even as a woman in early twentieth-century Germany, gained the respect and recognition of academic and philosophical peers such as Husserl and Heidegger. In 1922, after having read the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila in one night, she is said to have exclaimed the next morning that “…all my life I have been seeking truth, and this is truth.”  She soon converted to Catholicism and, some years following, became a Carmelite nun. Later, on August 9th, 1942, she would die for her beliefs and convictions in a gas chamber of the Auschwitz/Birkenau Death Camp. On the subject of faith, St. Edith Stein wrote:

“The way of faith, however, is not the way of philosophic knowledge. It is rather the answer of another world to a question which philosophy poses.”

And, she further wrote:

“God wishes to let himself be found by those who seek him. Hence he wishes first to be sought….Faith is a gift that must be accepted. In faith divine and human freedom meet. But it is a gift that bids us ask for more.”

In the final assessment, if any man or woman wishes to truly know themselves and to seek answers to the big questions about their existence, such as the true meaning of their lives and whom or what they truly are, then they must step as fully as possible outside of themselves. Yes, Socrates (and more accurately his student Plato who wrote everything we really know about Socrates), famously exclaimed the motto, “Know thyself,” and the iconic Athenian further proclaimed that, “…the unexamined life is not worth living.”

However, given the immense stature and reputation unduly afforded to Socrates by history,  he might well be the single most over-rated and over-estimated philosopher of all time. He has been quoted to, and read by, centuries of westerners and, for many, has become the greatest name associated with the Classical Tradition of the West. The great flaw with the Socratic tradition of seeking knowledge is that it too often leads people into a highly sophomoric sort of “universal deconstructivism.” In other words, it is good at teaching generations of college students and others how to become proud and self-smitten pseudo-geniuses by seemingly enabling them to “tear things down” with the crude and blunt rhetorical cudgel of “relativism” but it offers precious little or nothing in how to actually move people closer toward the existing Universal Truth.

Universal Truth is only “felt,” “perceived,” or “known” by a Grace  mysteriously given to us by the inscrutable Will of “Something” much greater than us that we have, at some point, been given “faith” in – perhaps “God.” For any person who has not yet come to that point, or for those who never will for whatever reason, they are free to swim in and drink freely from every well and stream of human contrived understanding and meaning they can find until they discover, tragically, that all of those wells and streams will invariably ALL run dry and prove self-centered and truly anthropocentric mirages.

A final word in summation from St. Edith Stein:

“One who seeks truth lives principally at the heart of an active intellect. If he is really concerned about the truth (not merely collecting single bits of knowledge) then he is perhaps nearer to God who is Truth, and therefore to his own inmost region than he himself knows.”

May God Bless you (if you believe in that kind of thing),


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1 Response to “An Ultimate Binary Equation… or Two.”

  1. Jen says:

    Interesting thoughts from a man who was once a non-believer at times. I know your reading of many books and your experiences have lead you here. God bless you philospher. I do agree that many of the problems that we see in the world (just think of Sandy Hook, rape, murder, & other crimes…) stem from a self-involved, human centered, selfish, and self serving believe system in which the other and God are ignored.

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