Creation stories and the search for meaning

Creation stories and the search for meaning

We want to know where we came from. Children like to hear stories of their birth. Adopted children often seek out their biological parents.

Religions and cultures offer members different creation stories that explain the beginning of humans. Most people know the Christian story: God created the heavens and the earth in six days and made humans in his image.

Other stories tell of multiple gods kicking things off for humans.

Some religions point to magical ravens or an insect-like god. Still others have turtles and toads playing crucial roles. A story of the Fon of West Africa is that a sun/moon being created humanity. Aboriginal dreaming stories describe spirits as creating the earth and humanity. Other cultures include giants in getting our world going. Some stories feature a cosmic egg splitting open. In these stories, the gods often create our existence in steps, with humans coming at the end.

Scientists have their own creation story, with very slow steps: the universe burst into existence 13.8 billion years ago, space expanded faster than the speed of light, and humans evolved on earth from less sophisticated creatures about a million years ago.

Some philosophers and Elon Musk, recently crowned the richest person in the world, have a different creation story: we exist only in a simulation run by vastly more sophisticated creatures using powerful computers. We are better than pawns on a chessboard because we make our own decisions and do things, but we do not physically exist.

None of the creation stories gives a convincing explanation of how our creator(s) came into existence. What led to the Big Bang? Or to the existence of the gods? Who the heck is running the simulation?

As a psychologist, I wonder what leads us to seek our roots. I suspect a search for meaning is involved. To understand what matters in life, we must understand our origins. The creation story we favour might give us information about what to do and what to avoid.

Douglas Adams wrote that the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything is the number 42. When I read that, I felt entertained, but my curiosity was not satisfied.

Some people firmly believe a single creation story. Others are open to persuasion. Put me in the open category.

How about you? Do you have the beginning figured out?

John Malouff is an Associate Professor at the School of Psychology, University of New England.

This story Creation stories and the search for meaning first appeared on The Canberra Times.