Is there anything pointless in the world?

I know this sounds a bit like a stupid question but I am not completely sure it is. You can take the idea of pointlessness to great heights as in this atheist argument by Rowe:

William Rowe has argued that God’s existence is inconsistent with pointless or gratuitous evil. By “pointless evil,” Rowe means evil that does not and cannot serve a greater good. And Rowe believes that there is such pointless evil in the world.

(1) If God exists, there would be no pointless evil.
(2) There is pointless evil.
(3) Therefore, God does not exist.

The linked apologetic article is quite brainy, but feel free to indulge. If you want to go closer to the source go here – which is this:

(1) There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
(2) An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
(3) (Therefore) There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being. (Rowe 1979: 336)
This argument, as Rowe points out, is clearly valid, and so if there are rational grounds for accepting its premises, to that extent there are rational grounds for accepting the conclusion, that is to say, atheism.

It seems to me the original argument and the apologetic summary are a bit different. I do not want to get tangled in these. I want to ask an even more fundamental question: is there anything pointless in the world? Does anything pointless even exist? Ask it another way – is there anything in the world which is purposeless?

My point here is to tease out this idea of pointlessness, of a truly useless act, or even existence. Something which serves absolutely no purpose at all. Either in the past, e.g. fossils, or in the future, e.g. my child’s “time machine box” which we buried on our backyard.

A digression into art. Somewhere in the turn of the past century artists became infatuated with chance. There is a reason for this, reasons which belong to art history and criticism. But movements like Dadaism and Surrealism all came to want to upset the apple cart of a Victorian era which had congealed, or stagnated, into its own “perfection.”

Jump forward a little and you have the abstract work of  – who dripped paint into the canvas to make sure there was little of the muscle memory of the years of teaching he received. obviously, if you are trying to do away with the concrete, it makes sense to do away with the very mechanisms which makes it happen, your very brushstrokes.

Go a different direction and look at the long tradition in Japanese Zen calligraphy of drawing a circle (called Enso). Visually a circle is about simple as they get, perhaps even simplistic. the spirit behind it is very complex and the theology even more involved. In Zen, the Enso symbolizes a mind which is no-mind. This state allows the body and spirit to create the circle in one movement. Unlike other forms of art work, there is no possibility of modification. If you get it wrong you have to make a new one. But a new one will be so unlike the old one that comparison is impossible, thus making each moment unique and perfect as-is.

The brush stroke is guided by the spirit, not the wrist, and so it is action without effort. If you develop your spiritual faculties you will begin to see that your enso reveals your personality and even your spiritual level. Some say they can tell the speed and pressure the circle was made, and so your state of mind at that precise moment. It becomes some sort of ink-based Kirlian photography.

I am reminded of a particularly nasty form of torture perpetrated by totalitarian governments where prisoners are forced to dig holes for no purpose, day after day. This exercise in futility drives many to suicide. Is it because pointlessness is so unnatural? My guess is yes.

But the deeper question of purpose remains. To me, the universe itself has a point. Or maybe many points. Certainly everything that exists in the natural world in our planet serves a purpose from the mineral kingdom all the way up. Humanity has been able to create new meanings out of things, as when Michelangelo sculpted David. But the marble had its own meaning even as an uncarved block.

About spaceloom

An urban monk, and an experienced spiritual director with a Masters in Psychology. Married with two children. Want to know me better? Read my thoughts.
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One Response to Is there anything pointless in the world?

  1. Deborah Miller says:

    *omniscient being could have prevented being would prevent One* grows weary of arguments from folk who think that God uses the logic of man. One is tempted to call them pointless. That they struggle to understand their relationship to purpose says …

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