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A skeptic's guide to the universe: On the presence of good and evil, and the meaning of life

By Charlotte B. Cerminaro
web posted December 6, 2021

On a crisp autumn afternoon many years ago a brother and sister, aged 11 and 7, were walking home from school; their path meandered through a wooded area with a small pond at its center. Strolling through the woods that day, they were about to discover human nature at its worst--and best.

At the edge of the pond there were two older, bigger kids--perhaps mid-teens, and at first the young siblings couldn't understand what was taking place: The two teens were in the process of drowning a small kitten. The animal was howling frightfully. It was mostly submerged in mud and pond water and the teenaged boys were laughing. Taking in this chilling scene, brother and sister shuddered involuntarily. They both stood quietly, unnoticed for the moment, then glanced at each other. The shocked look on their faces suddenly morphed into determination. In that moment a tacit agreement was made and acted upon, without hesitation. Lunging out at a dead run, they shouted and charged; in all the confusion the boys dropped the kitten and ran. The children didn't want recognition or attention. The only reward they wanted was one little drenched and muddy kitten to love and keep as their housecat. They received their reward. And this is the way of people who are trying to do good--they do not report their deeds to the media or advertise, in any way, that which they view as an act of common decency and moral duty. On the other hand, those who carry out evil deeds generate an abundance of attention. The media's sole job, as they see it, is to report terrible acts of cruelty, the most unimaginable crimes against humanity and especially, the innocent. They stir up fear and hatred where there was amity, incite an eruption of panic where there was only mindful caution.

It seems that humans do have a penchant for violence, greed and general unkindness. Reality is a complex and multi-faceted, ever-evolving presence comprising the full spectrum of behavior. It encompasses that which is seen and unseen, events from the past that have no witness among those now walking the earth, and a series of perpetual assumptions that, in hindsight, are patently false. The pursuit of reality is never-ending. It's a monumental undertaking with certain requisites--a willingness to reassess, adjust, and sometimes overhaul long-held opinions when better information comes in. There is no room for the dogmatic; those who lack self-reflection, reasonable objectivity, are easily swayed by the masses, and those who refuse to challenge assumptions--such characteristics are insurmountable road blocks that make no allowance for reality, particularly that which contradicts personal dogma.

The Oxford English dictionary defines the word "skeptic" as: A person inclined to question the truth or soundness of accepted ideas. Looking through hundreds of social media posts it's plainly evident that many people self-identify as "skeptics". These same people usually make other dubious proclamations, such as "intellectual" and "honest" and then proceed to disprove their titles, with irrational statements and painful clichés that only prove they don't really think or question anything. In predictable fashion, the explanation of their rationale for a certain opinion is a non-sequitur of childish whining, self-soothing and ego-stroking. A prime example would be the self-described "atheist" who claims "There is no God, because there's too much suffering/cruelty/evil/insert-your-own-noun...". Interestingly, this stunning display of irrationality is accepted as "unassailable proof", despite the fact that it's a personal moral judgment--not an argument, not a reason--and says more about the person making this statement than it does about God.

People are entitled to their opinions and beliefs, but a public forum that invites comments, questions, even polite disagreement, instead becomes a battlefield. If someone asks for clarification or more evidence, they are subjected to a personal attack that can only be described as vitriolic, devoid of reason or decency. This does indeed provide a hint as to a person's general nature and moral character. Whether one believes in God or not, human cruelty bears no similarity to His universally known characteristics detailed in both old and new testaments; neither does it reflect the commandments that were ordained by God as the basis of human law. These commandments continue to be the benchmark for justice, law, behavior, even our understanding of right and wrong. For those who profess to follow Messiah Jesus, these precepts form the outward reflection of His spirit. Striving daily to emulate this decency, mercy, unselfish love, wisdom and courage, those who choose to do otherwise are not a reflection of God. They display the very characteristics that people call "evil", "cruel" and "selfish", and these traits are recognized by believers and non-believers alike.

If there are physical laws guiding every aspect of our known universe, from astrophysics to chemistry and everything in between, it stands to reason there are laws that guide humanity. Without guardrails, the physical universe would slide into chaos and every domain would be under existential threat. Creation itself was declared "Very good". The natural beauty and order represents God's allowance for all creatures, along with a trait that is unique to humanity: Free will. We can choose the path we will follow. Anyone who seeks the truth is ultimately seeking God, and He can be found wherever there is justice tempered with mercy, compassion guided by wisdom, and most of all, truth. I have arrived at these conclusions by means of analytical thought and reason, alone. With a faith born of this reasoning we have the starting point of a long journey, one in which we just might discover the meaning of life, its joys and sorrows, and our purpose within it. ESR

Charlotte B. Cerminaro is a Juilliard-trained classical musician who, in addition to being a studio and orchestral musician, enjoys writing and has a degree in Molecular Biology. © 2021

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