Logo

Thinking of the world as a giant puzzle

The more you think and learn about the world, the more you realize that it couldn’t have been a product of accident and that there are many bits that the evolutionary theory doesn’t really explain.

My view would fall within what has been called the Design argument in philosophy. Forwarded as a proof for the existence of God, the idea is that the order in the world suggests that there must be a designer behind it.

Critics say the argument only presents supportive evidence while conveniently ignoring all that is contrary. Some cite examples such as diseases and other natural phenomena that kill innocent people in utmost pain. Is cancer an indicator of an orderly system?

Maybe it is a kind of order that we do not understand. I think the philosophical problem posed by the above examples is that of explaining the goodness of God - especially the compatibility of the reality of human suffering and the goodness of an omnipotent God that watches on. Perhaps it’s only by faith that one can find an answer to that, not by reason.

That said, my aim here is not to speak to that debate, but to the idea that, even if it might be a discomforting one in some regards, there is order in the universe. I look at it as a puzzle that human beings were left to solve.

Other animals and plants were prewired with ways of survival in self-defence, looking for food and medicine, and making shelters for themselves. Except if restricted, a sick dog will find medicine for itself. It instinctively knows which grass (herb) to eat. And humans sometimes have to follow these animals to see what they eat when suffering from particular ailments in order to learn what treats what.

When it comes to humans, I think we are the living creature that depends on others longest. At birth, we can’t talk, can’t walk, can’t find food on our own, and can’t defend ourselves from external enemies. A cow, goat or chicken soon walks and finds food, while a human only cries for attention.

But then, the human being is given a brain, with a capacity to receive, process, produce, and store a lot of knowledge. With the privilege of a brain, a lot is left for him/her to solve on their own in the giant puzzle into which they are born. All the answers to his/her questions are hidden somewhere, he/she has to find them - or else he/she perishes. That is why it is rather awkward and lazy for someone, to whom God gave a head with special qualities, to always run back to Him for direct answers.

Generations before us have each made a contribution towards fixing this jigsaw - discovering things through rigorous study of nature, sometimes by sheer luck and accident. A disease kills millions, only to discover later that the cure is actually a plant people have been treating as useless.

When you learn about the number of illnesses that can be treated by plants around us, it becomes self-evident that everything exists for a purpose. What seems useless could only be a reminder to us that we have not discovered what it’s meant for. Whichever generation will find the cure for diseases like cancer, Aids, diabetes, may look back and wonder why it took us that long - maybe it’s in that tree we are burning into extinction for charcoal.

Then the nutritionist comes in and tells you the different proteins, fats, and vitamins you need for a healthy life. They are in plants and animals around us. But you still need to deeply study them for what amounts you need. Whereas too little of them might kill you, too much might have the same outcome.

Maybe diseases like diabetes, hypertension, stroke and cancer are that ugly sound that rings in a puzzle to signal to the player that they got it wrong. For some wrong moves we make in the puzzle, we are severely punished. Sometimes the ‘dwiiing’ (warning) sound is telling you to try again with a different move. Could climate change be a global ‘dwiiing’? How about famine and floods?

When you ignore or don’t hear the ‘dwiiing’ warning, the next thing you see is ‘GAME OVER’. No chance to restart. Sometimes you hear the ‘dwiiiing’ early enough, you move back to strategise again. When you make the right moves at the next attempt, your life scores increase. And then you wonder to yourself: ‘so, it is only what I was eating and not exercising that was going to kill me!’ For you only started going to the gym and changed your diet and never went to the doctor again!

Sometimes, we might hear the warning that our direction is not where the treasure is hidden (that there is a lion instead) when it’s already late. You quit sugar, fast foods, etc; but the system shows that all routes backwards are blocked – GAME OVER!

Sometimes it is a group/team game - whereby the fate of each depends on how others on their side are playing. You might have good strikers (say scientists) who have no one to make good passes for them. So, they end up being useless, and might defect to other serious teams (brain drain?).

In this puzzle though, there is also competition on who solves what. So, some might see another getting closer to the solution, and they sabotage everything. They want to take the prizes that come with the discovery (patents, profit, prestige, etc). The answers of one side might be dismissed, only to be packaged differently and presented by another in victorious celebration.

Some solve fewer elements of the puzzle because they are preoccupied with fighting each other and proving personal might. Some put their brain to rest - waiting to cheer for solutions from elsewhere. God must be having fun!

jsssentongo@gmail.com

The author is a teacher of philosophy.

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd