BLOG: Is the Universe Friendly?

We continue our excerpts of the Humanist talks delivered at First Unitarian Society, starting with the founding Humanist minister John Dietrich. This was re-published as a series compilation that started in the late 1920s.


Our whole system is but a speck of light in the infinite reaches of space.

… To be tumbled out of the unfolding arms of a kindly cosmic purpose into a world where evil and wrong must be faced as real and actual, where there is no fore-ordained triumph for man as the darling of the universe, where all of man’s values must take their chance in a complexity which gives them no final validity or eternal guarantee, is naturally disconcerting to an idealistic person.

… Humanism says: “Let man stand on his own feet and trust his own powers. The universe may not be friendly, but it is not unfriendly either. Rather, it is the natural scene of man’s birth and achievement. It is a place in which to work in a human way, bravely, creatively, gently, wisely.”

We are an inseparable part of the universe. We are not alien children in a strange and foreign land. We are a product, the natural development of its forces and conditions. We were with it when our universe was stardust swinging out in the open spaces… Out of the damp places of the sea, life began to crawl, up through the single-celled amoeba, it passed from form to form — and we were there. Monsters lived in the slime of swamp, fighting, breeding, dying, and then ceased — and we were there… We are a part of the great cosmic process from the very beginning, and we stand today as the sum total of the best it has produced, at least on this planet.

… We are links in the endless chain of life. If we keep it whole and clean and strong, and give it added refinement and power by our efforts, we are potent elements of human destiny.

To discover the way of life and to create and preserve those things which are of value to the enrichment of life in this indifferent universe — this should be our purpose. We should seek those associations which serve to arouse this spirit, stir this aspiration, and consecrate us to the great adventure. This is not a philosophy of despair… it is a philosophy of hope and inspiration. It means that we are making man today… Decade by decade, new and wonderful vistas are unfolding. We are part of a great triumphant procession through time, and the splendor of its distant goal already shines upon our lives and labors. Let us proceed strong in will to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Question:  How do you enrich your life in a sometimes indifferent universe in order to arouse your spirit, stir aspiration, consecrate to great adventure?

For deeper conversation, also consider reading this Salon Q&A with Sean Carroll.

“I’ve often thought of science as a special kind of story-telling in ‘assertion mode.’ And the story it tells — involving quivering atoms, swirling galaxies, and evolving organisms — is without a doubt the ‘greatest story ever told.’ But what’s missing from the story is a transcendent source of meaning for our lives. Without such a source — usually said to be God — how can our lives have true meaning? If the ultimate fate of the universe is a state of infinite entropy, then what makes life valuable and worth living? The trick here is ‘true’ meaning. My life has meaning without any supernatural guidance, no matter what anyone else might say about it. The meanings that we finite human beings attribute to our lives are the only kinds of true meanings, because those are the only kinds of meanings there are.”

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