Friday, March 15, 2013

An Inquiry: Is Life Sacred?


I thought that I needed to finally write a blog about the claim that life is sacred. Hopefully, I can reasonably draw a conclusion that follows logically. My blog post range from a broad range of philosophical topics, but I wanted to use this opportunity to blog in the form of a traditional inquiry. Starting from the metaphorical clean slate of reasoning (or something hopefully close to it), I will attempt to logically conclude whether life is sacred. How liberating it is to see my own rational journey laid out in front of my eyes!

The term sacred must be defined before developing any logical steps. There are many definitions of the term. These are the definitions from Merrian-Webster:

1. Dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity
2. Worthy of religious veneration; holy
3. Of or relating to religion; not secular or profane
4. Archaic
5. highly valued and important

Of these five definitions, I do not wish to address 1, 3, or 4. The purpose for this inquiry is not to critique religion, although it is highly dubious and problematic. I do, however, want to address definitions 3 and 5. By saying that life is holy and that it is worthy of religious veneration seems to be an entirely different claim apart from merely criticizing religion; this is also the case in definition 5. 

When people say that life is sacred (when using definitions 3 and 5), they are making a claim that requires a certain kind of evidence about the world. People might say that because life is beautiful, it is holy or important in some kind of religious (or secular) sense. They might also claim, moreover, that life is highly valued due to its rare occurrence within the universe. Are these claims logically consistent? 

By saying that something is beautiful, one makes a valued judgment about a particular phenomenon within the universe. How, then, is life beautiful? Of course, there are many beautiful things about life that are beautiful, e.g. experiencing a moving spectacle of a morning sunrise or noticing the wondrous use of a technique within a piece of art. But do mere instances of beauty directly lead to the supposed truth that life is either holy or important? It does not seem to be the case. For just as someone could say that "X is beautiful," someone could say that "Y is not beautiful." So it does not make sense to say that life is sacred because it is beautiful. However, if all aspects of life could be proven as beautiful in the specific sense of the term (which is highly trivial), then it would make sense to say that life is beautiful and therefore sacred using definition 5.

Now, the other question is whether life is so rare in the universe as to render it holy and thus sacred. With our current knowledge of science, the universe is more vast than ever imagined. The vast nature of the universe makes it highly improbable that there are not any alien lifeforms somewhere within it. So this does not seem to hold any weight to the sacredness of life. However, if science progressed to the point that it discovers no alternate alien lifeforms, then the claim that the rarity of life is holy would be much more convincing. 

With this small inquiry, it is safe to say that there are many conflicts within the claim that life is sacred. It seems necessary to err on the side of skepticism than to make claims with a sense of certainty. Perhaps technological innovations will provide more answers in the future, but it makes no sense to say that "life is sacred." 

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