Is my life significant? Is my existence meaningful? Does the universe possess some greater purpose within which my life best finds its meaning–or do I have to construct my own meaning for my life? Whether consciously or subconsciously, these questions about our existential meaning (the meaning of our existence) are among the most fundamental questions we humans ask ourselves. – Christian J. Barrigar, Freedom All The Way Up: God and the Meaning of Life in a Scientific Age (Victoria, Canada: Friesen Press, 2017), vii.
Today’s post arose from a conversation with Christian J. Barrigar at this summer’s American Scientific Affiliation‘s (ASA) Annual Meetings. Christian serves as the pastor of an Anglican church in Montreal and the volunteer coordinator of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship – Canada’s Graduate and Faculty Ministry at McGill University. And yes, he follows the Emerging Scholars Network’s online ministry 🙂
At the ASA Annual Meetings, I asked him to share material from Freedom All The Way Up: God and the Meaning of Life in a Scientific Age with Emerging Scholars. Christian provided not only several quotes / summaries of material from Freedom All The Way Up, but also a quote from a recent article published in ASA’s Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. I pray that Emerging Scholars will find these “snapshots” provoking thought and discussion. Thank you Christian!
As the above quote indicates, Christian J. Barrigar begins by exploring The Problem of Existential Meaning. In Chapter 2: God and the Purpose of the Universe, Barrigar proposes agape-love as the response.
What is agape-love? It is the essence of the triune God, revealed to us through the life of Jesus of Nazareth. So agape-love is not merely love as ‘emotional attachment’ to, or ‘desire’ for, an object or other person. Rather, agape-love is self-sacrifice for the blessing of God and of others (particularly towards those who are vulnerable, oppressed, strangers, or enemies), through reconciliation, justice, and gifting. FATWU, 21
Agape-love requires sufficient free will for agape-capable beings to choose such actions and relationships. To bring about the emergence of such beings, God created the universe as a front-loaded system, whereby all the properties (physical, chemical, and mathematical/statistical) required to bring about the emergence of such beings was built into the system at its beginning (at the big bang). These conditions produced our “mottled world”—a phrase coined by philosopher of science Nancy Cartwright to describe the simultaneous existence of patterns of order, structure, randomness, determinism, regularities, probabilities, and emergent, self-organizing complexification that constitute our ever-developing universe. – Barrigar, “God’s Agape/Probability Design for the Universe,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, Sept., 2018: 162 and 174fn32.
Through these “mottled” conditions, finely tuned prior to the beginning of it all (whether at the Big Bang or, if there is a multiverse, prior to our Big Bang), God has created the universe(s) as a great “freedom system,” with sufficient order and freedom built into the system all the way up from the Big Bang to the present, to ensure the eventual emergence of beings with sufficient free will for purposes of agape-love. – Barrigar, FATWU, 49
This design (of the initial conditions of the universe(s)) provided God with a degree of predictive resolution such that God foreknew that many possible routes could come about in the universe(s) to provide agapic neural capabilities, and that one or more of these would come about (by way of high probability through massively-large numbers over sufficient time), without needing to predict (foreknow) which actual neural routes would come about. – Barrigar, FATWU, 48
God created the universe(s) to provide the space and conditions for the emergence of habitable bio-niches in which agape-capable beings would eventually emerge to live in agape-love relations with God and with others. Earth is one such emergent bio-niche, and Homo sapiens are an instance of such emergent agape-loving beings. In other words, the telos (purpose) of the universe is to be birthing-space, nursery, and home for agape-capable beings in relationships and actions of agape-love towards God and others. – Barrigar, FATWU, 21
Praying for discernment as each of us extends the Gospel this fall, engaging in conversation on faith, reason, vocation, Jesus’ incarnation / death / resurrection, loving God / neighbor (with head, heart, and hands) and more. I recommend Freedom All The Way Up: God and the Meaning of Life in a Scientific Age (and related videos) as a resource for personal questions, conversation, an interactive discussion group, and / or a presentation. If you use Barrigar’s book in a discussion group, please send me a note
To God be the glory!
Note: Desire snapshots on other books? Then don’t miss Taking the “Selfie Challenge” and Can a Scientist Believe in Miracles? And yes, stay tuned for more. I pray that the snapshots from the book will inspire you to explore these publications further.
About the author:
Tom enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa and their four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he teaches adult electives and co-leads a small group), among healthcare professionals as the Northeast Regional Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), and in higher ed as a volunteer with the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). For a number of years, the Christian Medical Society / CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine was the hub of his ministry with CMDA. Note: Tom served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship / USA for 20+ years, including 6+ years as the Associate Director of ESN. He has written for the ESN blog from its launch in August 2008. He has studied Biology (B.S.), Higher Education (M.A.), Spiritual Direction (Certificate), Spiritual Formation (M.A.R.), Ministry to Emerging Generations (D.Min.). To God be the glory!