Description: Beginning talks on order and design
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?
Order and Design in Our World
by Ernest O’Neill
What is the meaning of life? What do you think we’re here to do? How do you think we got here? Why do you
think you’re here? That’s the kind of question we’re talking about at this time here on this station each day.
What is the meaning of life?
I mean, when you look up at the sky, or when you look out of the window of the car and see the sun setting, or
you come out of your door this morning and you see the grass, you see the clouds, or you’re up in a plane and
you see the earth spread underneath you, or you’re on vacation and you see the rivers and the mountain
streams, or, you look up at the towering mass of a cliff, have you ever thought, “Where did all this come
I mean the skyscrapers, I can tell you who built them; the freeways, I can normally tell who made them. I can
tell who made my bedroom furniture. But, where did all this come from? Have you ever wondered about that? Of
course, I think that all of us have at some time, when we wondered about the meaning of life. Obviously we
think there has to be a clue in everything that we see around us.
Of course, we’ve been taught some responses that are supposed to satisfy us. You know how we go about it. We
answer one another, “Oh, well. Well, no. But I suppose it all started with this scum on this pond.” And then?
“What scum on what pond?” “Well, well, there was a pond and there was scum formed on it.” What pond? Where did
the pond come from? Where did the scum come from? “Oh, well, the scum came from the air contacting the pond.”
Well, where did the pond come from? “Well, I don’t know where the pond came from, but there was this pond and
there was this scum on it.
Then there was this single cell amoeba. He was somehow in existence in the scum of this pond.” What pond? How
did the pond come into existence? “I don’t know how the pond came into existence.” How did the scum? “I don’t
know how the single-cell amoeba came, but that’s kind of the way it happened.” Probably most of us have that
vague kind of notion in the back of our mind, that we kind of use to put our mind to sleep when we deal at all
with the question of where this whole thing came from.
We kind of start with some kind of dream that we create of a pond, and scum on it and single-cell amoeba. It
doesn’t make too much sense to us, but it seems to be what all the bright people are saying. So, we kind of go
along with it because the whole question is too big and cosmic for us to think about anyway. Our poor old
minds are worn out with thinking of how to catch the next bus home. So, we decide, “Ah, I don’t know how it
Yet, it is pretty important, isn’t it, when you think of it. I mean, it is pretty big, the earth. It is. I
mean it’s pretty big. I mean, you keep tripping over it, don’t you? You keep falling over it. You keep finding
grass under your feet and finding ground and soil under your feet. You keep seeing rocks, oceans and seas when
you go on holiday. It kind of keeps barking against your shins, this miserable old world of ours.
It’s rather persistent in the question that it brings to your mind. Where did it all come from? Of course,
some of us from our school days engage in those absolutely illogical drifts of fantasy. We say, “Well, you see
the atoms were all falling and they were kind of all falling in straight lines. Then something caused two to
collide and then you know it was a kind of snowball effect. All the other atoms then piled on top of that one.
Gradually by layer, and layer, and layer and then they built to the size of the earth now. No, I don’t know
why they keep on building. I don’t know why the mountains don’t keep on getting higher. But, I think that’s
the way it happened.”
Of course, somebody says to us, “Who made the atoms?” or “What made the atoms?”, or “How did the atoms come
into being?” “Well, I don’t know how they came into being. I’m just positing a possible hypothesis. There is
no real ground for it. There’s no substantiation for it, but it’s what bright people seem to say these days,
that you can’t explain how the thing came into existence.” We just suggest all kinds of vague possibilities.
Well, in a way, I suppose it’s reasonable to do it in the light of such a cosmic question. Yet, you have to
admit it’s unreasonable to do it when we don’t treat the rest of life that way. If you go outside your door
some morning, and you find there is a solid gold Cadillac sitting right at your front door, you don’t just
walk on and say, “Ah, probably atoms were falling one on top of the other and then two of them crashed
together. All the others built up and it snowballed into a solid gold Cadillac.” You just don’t say that kind
of thing. You don’t deal with ordinary, everyday life in that illogical way, in that fantasy kind of
hypothesis theory. You don’t. You just don’t deal with life that way. Of course, some of us say, “Well, I
mean, I don’t know. Maybe it all started from a decomposing substance. Maybe that’s it?”
Well, all right. But, where did the decomposing substance come from? What was it before it started to
decompose? How did it decompose into this kind of a form that we see around us now? The fact is you don’t find
that solid gold Cadillac outside your door and say, “Ah, it must have come from decomposing substances.” You
don’t. Anybody who hears you saying that suggests you go straight to a psych ward or to an asylum. They say,
“Look, that didn’t come from a decomposing substance.”
Some of us have been influenced by the latest theory of astronomists. We say glibly, “Well, I don’t know where
it came from. Maybe it came from an explosion. Maybe that’s it. Maybe it came from an explosion. The whole
earth came from an explosion.” Of course, if you go to Ireland, or you go to Israel, or you go to the Middle
East, or you go to Paris, everybody will tell there you in no uncertain terms that explosions do not create
things like our earth. They create destruction and chaos. They seem to destroy things. They don’t seem to
Of course, some of us say, “Yes, but this was a special kind of explosion. I mean this Big Bang Theory, you
know, that is obviously proved by the ever-expanding universe. This is how it all started. There was a big
bang somewhere.” The obvious question is, “What exploded?” What exploded? What caused the big bang, if there
was a big bang? What made the big bang? What created the thing that made the big bang?
Somehow or other a person has to deal in some sane, thoughtful way with the question, “Where did all this that
we see around us come from?” It’s here. There must be some cause for it. And, it’s no use saying, “Well, I
mean, maybe “D” caused it. Maybe “C” caused “D, “B” caused “C”, and “A” caused “B”. There’s no point in saying
there’s eternal regression of causes. What we’re saying is there has to be a first cause.
There has to be something that originally caused the beginning of things. Maybe you’d think a little more
about that. I’d like to try to go a little further with it, if you would, tomorrow. Thanks for listening.