The French expression has passed into the English language. Without thinking, we say everything has a raison d’être, a reason for existing. And, of course, it is not true. Many things do, because we give them one. But not all. My house exists to provide shelter from the elements, a comfortable dwelling in which to raise and live with my family, and a place to keep my books and liquor (for guests only) handy. My car exists, like the house, to provide income for bankers and other loan-sharks, and also to get me to work, the supermarket, my shrink and the beach. Schools, coffee-percolators, computers, shoes, jock-straps, brassieres, armies, editors and even politicians all have a raison d’être. But do planets, and do we ?
I have often wondered about why “God” would have bothered to create the planets and the galaxies. I have tried to ridicule the non-atheist’s answer from the Bible or Tennyson which suggests that the Divine Planetarium’s raison d’être is to provide us with a permanent spectacle reminding us of His transcendence and reflecting His glory (whatever that is), so as to get us to “ooh” and to “aah” and to praise Him for giving us full moons and starry, starry nights. Does this provide the raison d’être for galaxies, the rings of Saturn, exoplanets, black holes and supernovae – most of which we can’t even see ? I mean, why would He, if He existed, have “bothered” ?
One evening with friends at the local we were talking religion and cosmology. My question came up and a gung-ho Green Catechism Catholic thought he was scoring a point for the Cause (in every sense of the word including “First”) by rhetorically asking, why, on the other hand, the Big Bang’s protons and electrons would have “bothered”. His question was accompanied by a self-satisfied smirk as he looked around at his supporters in the audience, invited to wallow in his imagined victory. After all it’s obvious, isn’t it, that only an Intelligent Being could have made all this happen ?. He was quite sober and I was imbibing my habitual Perrier with a squeeze of lemon; some of the others had already found spiritual sustenance in a Chivas or three. But whatever about their capacity to drive safely home and survive an alcohol-test on the way, many felt he had established the absurdity of denying the initiative of a Divine Intelligent Designer in creating the Universe. But they overlooked the fact that the very existence of multiple invisible galaxies whirling pointlessly away from each other through the immensity of space, is hardly evidence of an intelligent divine plan. They missed the point that it is absurd to imagine that the planets and galaxies serve any worthwhile PURPOSE, beyond having a tiny percentage of hundreds of billions of stars, on cloudless nights, twinkle for us. An overinvestment on God’s part, to say the least.
Somehow most people just don’t get it. We will no doubt never know HOW it all happened. Surely it’s equally obvious that we will never know WHY either, because there is no answer to such a loaded question. There is clearly no purpose, no point, no plan in the cosmos; its complexity does not give it finality. It has no credible raison d’être. Nor – which is even harder to accept – do we. I can live with that. And I will continue to enjoy discovering the marvels of the Universe and making the most of the accidental existence I have had on this purposeless planet for the last eight decades.