I suppose many have thought about these topics in the past, but the following is the result of my personal musings.
Firstly, how did we come to exist? The normal solution to this question today is that some time in the past, for no reason at all, nothing exploded and became something (see diagram at left). Later on, over vast periods of time, this something gradually evolved into what we see today.
Personally, I find this solution rather unsatisfactory. One alternative solution, that it all started with something, and that something evolved into what we know of, and then eventually collapses and the whole saga starts again is equally unsatisfactory, basically being a form of perpetual motion.
Why don't I like the idea that what we have today evolved from some random gases?
Firstly, the idea of the very simple gradually becoming more complex by natural means is counter intuitive. What we see around us is things decaying, reductions in the number of species etc. In short, observations on how things work will tell you that the world tends towards decaying monopolies, not vigorous competition (and I don't mean only in the economic realm). This is true of corporations, countries, and species. The word for this is increasing entropy, or disorder. They have even enshrined this concept in one of the Laws of Thermodynamics (the second law if my memory serves me rightly)1,2.
An interesting example of this law as applied to the area of genetics and mutations can be found at Can genetic mutations produce positive changes in living creatures?
Now I know that someone will say that this law only applies to a closed system, where no input occurs from outside the system. That is exactly my point. When I look at the world, and the known history of the world, the only situations where this rule has been violated is where man uses his intelligence and interferes with the normal running of the world. For example a government might make laws preventing monopolies and encouraging competition, or someone might create a wildlife sanctuary, thus preventing the extinction of a company or a species respectively.
Someone might say to me, "But the earth is not a closed system, the sun gives us energy". But just putting raw energy into a system doesn't bring about more order, in fact instead it speeds up the dis-order (just try putting something in a blender and see what happens).
Now, don't get me wrong. I have no problem with concepts such as "survival of the fittest", "natural selection" and limited speciation, we can observe them happening all the time. I have no problem with the idea that a pekinese came from a wolf (I'll leave you to decide whether or not that was a backward step!). It's the level of changes required to go from say, a fish to a lizard that have never been observed, and no-one has come up with a credible mechanism for them. After all, no-one can even say how the first self reproducing cell came to exist (this is a necessity for evolution to occur) - all that is given is wild, unsatisfactory guesses.
If evolution can't help us, then what is the real answer to how we came to exist? The only answer that can solve the problem is to say that some external agent interfered, and with intelligent purpose, caused us to exist. That is what we observe in the world around us - no complex system comes in existence without an intelligent designer.
Some might term that external agent God.
When we look at what that agent produced in this world, our appreciation of beauty, music, art, capacity for love, creativity etc, one would have to conclude that this agent also has these capacities. However we also see things that are ugly, evil and destructive. This makes one wonder whether the agent got things wrong, or whether there might be some other explanation for this.
At this stage, the discussion is getting into the realm that is normally termed religion.
But which religion or religions (if any) are correct? Have any known religions anything reliable to say on this topic?
There are a multitude of religions around. Some don't even try to answer the questions that I am posing. Any religion that is going to be a reliable statement would have to claim that they have direct input from the agent that caused everything to exist. It is likely to be extremely ancient, but still thriving today.
Personally I think that the only real candidate is the Judeo/Christian/Islamic line. But who are right, the Jews, the Christians or the Moslems?
Further support for coming down on side of Christianity is provided by the evidence surrounding Jesus himself. The historical evidence for his resurrection is compelling, and the accounts of his life, his teachings and actions, also mark him out to be who he claimed to be.
Incidentally, of the writings that we have about Jesus, all were written within a few of decades of his death, and there are lot of them (some even by hostile witnesses). Compare this with evidence for Mohammed, the best we can do there is documents written hundreds of years after he lived.
So, if the Judeo/Christian line gives us answers, what are those answers?
Firstly it describes the agent as I described him previously. He is loving and creative. He desires to have a close relationship with his creatures. The Bible tells us that he originally made a perfect and good world, where there was no suffering and no death. However his creatures (mankind) rejected him, and consequently threw the creation into disarray, resulting in the entry of evil and destruction into the perfect world God had made. Only the Bible's account of history makes sense of all that we see around us.3
But getting back to the topic... the only way to solve this mess is the destruction of all that has rejected the creator (including us). However, the creator also came up with an alternative. The creator decided to intervene in his creation, becoming a part of it, and in that state, to accept the penalty for the rejection by his creatures being placed on himself. A bit like a father might pay the parking fine for his son. The creator, when he became part of his creation, took on the name Jesus (which means "Saviour", the title Christ (in Hebrew Messiah) was added later by his followers). If we continue to reject him and this solution, then we are still destined for the destruction that is due for us. In short, his solution is for us to admit that we aren't up to the grade, that we cannot do it without him, and, instead of relying on ourselves and our own feeble efforts, throw ourselves on his mercy. He promises that those who come to him in this way will be treated as if they had never rebelled against him. A real world example of someone doing this is the second criminal who was crucified with Jesus. You can read this in the Bible in Luke Chapter 23, verses 32 to 43. Especially take note of verses 40 to 43.
My next question at the beginning was: Is there a purpose in our lives? According to this Jesus, our purpose is to serve him. And how do we do that? By living our lives in the way that the creator originally intended. We do this by being people who exhibit the same characteristics that the creator exhibits. The characteristics of self-sacrificing love and other centredness. We want to do this because he has saved us, not so that he will save us.
If we exhibit these characteristics we will have two aims:
The other question, about what happens to us when we die, I have partially answered. For more information on this topic I would suggest looking at http://www.christianity.net.au/ or send me an email (andrew[at]awamos.com). A good overview of what the Christian message is all about can be found at: http://TwoWaysToLive.com.
The next questions I will let you ask of yourself: What is the purpose of your life? What will happen to you when you die? What are you doing about it?
Other musings I have on these and related topics are:
For Christians who are wondering why I make such an issue of the topic of creation, I can do no better than to refer you to Dr Martin Lloyd-Jones and a chapter he wrote titled "Creation, Not Evolution" in his book "What is an Evangelical".
A question lots of people ask is "Where did Cain get his wife?" You can have the long answer or the short answer!
Another popular question is "What about the two accounts of creation in Genesis 1 and 2?" My own quick take on this is that the account in Gen 2:4-25 is simply a more detailed account of what happened on Day 6 of creation (Gen 1:26-31), and not a new account at all. We are not helped by the various translators of the text being unsure of which past and present tenses to use where.
If you have more questions about origins, I suggest you look at http://www.creation.com/.
I would like to leave you with a quote that struck me when I first read it:
All your life an unattainable ecstasy has hovered just beyond the grasp of your consciousness. The day is coming when you will wake to find, beyond all hope, that you have attained it, or else, that it was within your reach and you have lost it forever. (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain)
I have further musings on my blog: Occasional Thoughts
Just for fun, and because I had no where else to place it, here is a link to the thesis I wrote for my Engineering Degree. It is titled An Introduction into the use of Walsh Functions in a Microprocessor Controlled Musical Synthesiser.
1. Second Law of Thermodynamics - Does this basic law of nature prevent Evolution?
2. The Second Law of Thermodynamics - Answers to Critics
3. This is the reason that Intelligent Design on it's own doesn't explain how we got here. It cannot explain the existence of evil and suffering. You need the Bible to ultimately figure things out!