Everyone seems to know what life’s persistent questions are. Almost all of us have been interested in answering them at one time or another, starting back sometime in our childhood when the lights were turned out and we found ourselves staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep. As time goes on, thinking about sex increasingly pushes these thoughts out of adolescent minds. This is fortunate. Otherwise there would be an even greater oversupply of philosophy and divinity students than there is of English majors. But the questions keep coming back, all too often right after sex.
The Persistent Questions
These are the questions that always bothered me as I stared at the ceiling after the lights were turned off. Maybe they’re the same ones you’ve entertained in periods of insomnia. Besides Is there a God? (everyone’s favorite), there are lots of other persistent questions about the nature of reality, the purpose of the universe, the meaning of life, the nature of the self, what happens when we die, whether there is free will, or any will at all, and if so, does it have to go through probate? (That last one may keep you up nights but doesn’t really count as persistent unless an apartment in Manhattan is at stake.)
Some people are troubled by immorality almost as much as they are by immortality. (Did you have to read that sentence twice?) Not as many are troubled by it as we might like. But almost everyone wants to know the nature of right and wrong, good and evil, why we should be moral, and whether abortion, euthanasia, cloning, or having fun is forbidden, permissible, or sometimes obligatory.
This book aims to provide the correct answers to most of the persistent questions. I hope to explain enough about reality so that, as the old textbooks used to say, answers to any remaining questions “can be left as an exercise to the reader.”
Here is a list of some of the questions and their short answers. The rest of this book explains the answers in more detail. Given what we know from the sciences, the answers are all pretty obvious. The interesting thing is to recognize how totally unavoidable they are, provided you place your confidence in science to provide the answers.
Is there a God? No. What is the nature of reality? What physics says it is. What is the purpose of the universe? There is none. What is the meaning of life? Ditto. Why am I here? Just dumb luck. Does prayer work? Of course not.
Is there a soul? Is it immortal? Are you kidding? Is there free will? Not a chance! What happens when we die? Everything pretty much goes on as before, except us. What is the difference between right and wrong, good and bad? There is no moral difference between them. Why should I be moral? Because it makes you feel better than being immoral.
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