In more ways than one, the universe has become a cold, dark place.
One way has been through ever more precise observations: the universe is cold and dark. Stunning pictures of merging galaxies notwithstanding, there is vastly more space out there than heat and light generating matter can ever fill up.
Another way is through ever more restrictive theorizing: the universe is just there, and that’s the end of it. The question of why it is there, and for what or whom, scientific method no longer permits us even to ask.
It was not always like this. For civilizations’ greatest minds, there was, in and between all things, an underlying orderliness and predictability, and an overarching purposiveness.
Plato and Aristotle thought of purpose as a drive in everything toward a perfection of being which only something conscious of the process can appreciate. Faith thinks of the drive as something which a Supremely Perfect Being wants to guide.
At its most far-reaching, in contrast with its most technologically-fixated, science gets closer to this way looking at the universe than many scientists themselves seem willing to admit. As a Nobel Laureate physicist once said to me, “only those lacking in self-reflection fail to make room for final causation.”
He knew better than most of us can that the method of inquiry upon which science depends determines in advance what we will and will not see in and about the universe.
The world of the scientist is a world of matter in motion “out there,” observed disinterestedly — that is to say, “objectively” — by people carefully trained to deform the deepest promptings of the soul into the narrowest of contingent hypotheses. It is a world which dismisses passion for the observing, and awe in the presence of the Observed, as irrelevant to, rather than inspiring of, the pursuit of truth.
But it is just this sense of passion and awe that needs accounting for. How is it, and why is it, that it exists at all?
How and why is there in us an unconquerable inner sense that it matters, and matters greatly, to seek an understanding of things? That there is a purpose for doing so which far transcends merely mastering environments, terrestrial and celestial, for our own ends?
Maybe it is because this is what in us most resembles the Purposer himself.