“The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.”
~ attributed to Albert Einstein*
After, “What’s for breakfast?” the most important decision we make might be deciding on the temperament of the universe.
“Is the universe friendly? How would your life be different if you thought the universe was friendly? Or hostile? What is meant by a “Friendly Universe.”
For thousands of years, people have wondered about the essential nature of reality. Humans personified aspects of nature as friendly or hostile. Friendly gods and hostile gods.
Whether we view the universe as friendly or unfriendly determines our outlook. Our outlook, in turn, determines our happiness. Seeing the universe as hostile predisposes people to the fight or flight mode. Chronic stress contributes to chronic disease, anxiety, and depression. Seeing the universe as friendly puts people in the rest, digest and blessed mode. Feeling relaxed and happy, people become more creative.
God Saw That It Was Good
Authors of the Hebrew Bible claimed that the Creator of the Universe is friendly (loving, even.) Five times, God said that Creation was good.
The Judeo Christian Islamic culture spread far and wide. This was in large part due to the core belief, repeated five times on page 1. “God saw that it was good.” The implication was simple: the Universe is friendly, especially when you followed God’s rules.
This core idea spread and became the foundation of Western Civilization. People believed that the universe was friendly because the Bible told them so. This foundational belief in a Friendly Universe eventually gave rise to science and classical liberal ideas that with faith in Friendly Universe (ie God) and with human knowledge, society would progress.
Over time, the utility of scientific ideas eventually crowded out Biblical ideas. Eventually, Evolution replaced Genesis as the Creation Story
Like many people, I saw the story in Genesis as a metaphor, not scientific fact. Genesis was written well over 2000 years ago, long before science was invented. As a science geek, I found evidence of evolution more persuasive.
Red in Tooth and Claw?
Today, evolution is the predominant worldview of thought-leaders, scientists, teachers, businessmen, and most religions.
The science of evolution has convinced many that the universe is indifferent or unfriendly. Nature is “red in tooth and claw.” Natural selection is about the struggle for survival. Errors and damage to DNA create mutants that compete for too few resources. War, death, and disease drive natural selection. Furthermore, the second law of thermodynamics convinces some people that the universe is unfriendly. The cosmos continues its inevitable disintegration toward ever-greater entropy.
The Universe is friendly.
What is meant by a friendly universe? If you define “friendly” as “supportive of life, sentience, and love” then the answer becomes: Yes, the Universe is friendly.
Thanks to the science and technology that gives us a clearer picture of the universe, we now see that the universe is friendly in billions and billions of ways. In fact, the universe is so much friendlier than we can possibly comprehend!
Aren’t You Being Callous?
What about volcanos, asteroids, supernova explosions, pathogens, cancer, war, fire, climate change, disease, mental illness, and all the other “non-supportive” events that wipe out life and humanity? “My daughter has cancer. Doesn’t cancer show that the universe is unfriendly?” Challenges to life exist and cause death, terrible pain and suffering. In suggesting that the universe is friendly, I am not saying that there are no problems, no pain, and no suffering. I am the first to acknowledge the challenges of life. I also acknowledge that it is vitally important to focus attention on these problems so that we can find solutions. What I am suggesting is this: more events support us than destroy us, and it is essential for our mental health and our creativity and ability to solve problems to focus on the Friendly aspects of the universe as well as on the challenges.
Furthermore, by suggesting that the universe is friendly, I’m not suggesting that the universe is always benign. More importantly, I don’t in any way mean to be callous to the suffering that all people experience during their lives.
The goal of the Epic of Evolution is to relieve unnecessary suffering. and to promote a flourishing future. It is for this reason that I want to help people focus on the friendliness of this universe. So much unnecessary suffering happens when people assume they are living in a hostile or unfriendly universe.
The Great Paradox
Thanks to science and the evolutionary worldview it creates, most people enjoy better material prosperity than ever before. More people live longer, more children survive past the age of five, and humanity is better off by most metrics (Roser, ourworldindata.org 2019). Despite the material benefits, an epidemic of fears is growing, especially in the US, the “thought leader of the world”. This epidemic of fear manifests as increasing depression, anxiety, addiction, consumption of unneeded stuff, incivility, drug overdose, and suicide. Part of this epidemic of fear is due to belief in an unfriendly universe.
When people see that the universe is becoming ever more friendly, optimism replaces fear.
When we focus on the benefits of our universe, our stress is reduced and we can think more effectively. Clearer thinking enables greater problem solving and creatively to eliminate the real problems facing us. Furthermore, by seeing the friendliness of the universe, we become open to ever greater possibilities for our future.
The universe has a direction toward greater complexity, cooperation, consciousness, and compassion. In short, the universe is becoming ever more friendly.
When you awaken to the friendliness of the universe, you awaken to profound gratitude. You awaken to an immense appreciation for the billions of blessings of life. And from this appreciation, you have a sense of overflow that inspires you to “pay it forward” and to contribute to the ongoing flourishing of life.
To say that the universe is friendly is an extraordinary claim. Such an extraordinary claim requires extraordinary evidence. Please, do not “believe” me. Check out the evidence for yourself. Below, is a partial list of the facts. Once you see the evidence, you might be like me, and you may wonder how you ever saw the universe any other way.
Some people decide to “believe” in a friendly universe, even without evidence. Author, philanthropist and news anchor Jeff Bell says “we cannot know if the universe is friendly.” Jeff’s mission is to help people transform the fear of uncertainty into service for the greater good. To support his mission, he writes a blog called Beyond the Doubt. In his post, entitled “Is the Universe Friendly? You Decide”, Jeff writes that even if you don’t actually know if the universe is friendly, if you simply choose to see the universe as friendly, it will “all but guarantee you the best year you’ve ever had.”
From Believing to Knowing
Jeff Bell chose to believe in a friendly universe, despite having actual evidence that the universe is friendly.
I agree. Choosing to see the universe as friendly has radically improved my life. It’s why I run this site. Unlike Bell who doesn’t know if the universe is friendly, I see overwhelming evidence that the universe actually is friendly. I don’t have to pretend to see the universe as friendly. The evidence shows me that it is. My hope is that once you see the evidence, you will go beyond “believing” to “knowing” that the universe is friendly.
Data as Therapy
“Factfulness: The stress-reducing habit of only carrying opinions
for which you have strong supporting facts.”
~ Ola Rosling
Most people assume that the universe is indifferent, just as they assume that humanity is in never-ending cycles of suffering, and even decline.
These perceptions are beginning to change. For example, several recent books and websites have shown overwhelming evidence of human progress. Steven Pinker, Hans Rosling and Max Roser are all researchers who offer abundant, irrefutable evidence that shows how the world is getting better for most people.
Why Things are Better Than You Think
Humanity is progressing! Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund describe humanity’s progress in their 2018 book, Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World–and Why Things Are Better Than You Think. They present data showing progress in health, education, wealth and human rights. In this book, they show how humans tend to focus on negativity and overlook the positive. Their mission is to help people see the world as it truly is, not how our minds fear it is. In presenting statistics, they are giving people hope and clarity.
According to Rosling, people notice the bad more than the good for three main reasons: “the misremembering of the past; selective reporting by journalists and activists; and the feeling that as long as things are bad it’s heartless to say they are getting better.”
In a similar way, people don’t recognize the friendliness of the universe. Human psychology evolved for us to survive, not to see the world as it is. We evolved to excel in detecting potential problems while discounting the many things and events that help us. Furthermore, as we become ever better informed, we know of disasters from around the world.
“The story of human progress is truly heroic. It is glorious. It is uplifting. It is even, I daresay, spiritual.”
~ Steven Pinker in Enlightenment Now
Steven Pinker’s book, Enlightenment Now, presents 70 graphs showing human progress over the past 200 years. The evidence that he presents in his book truly is uplifting, spiritual and inspiring.
Our World in Data
We need to understand why living conditions improved so that we can seek more of what works.
~ Max Roser, Our World in Data
Our World in Data is a website curated by geologist and economist Max Roser. This web site presents data showing trends in health, food provision, the growth and distribution of incomes, violence, rights, wars, culture, energy use, education, and environmental changes. For most people, life is improving around the world.
Universe Bends toward Friendliness
Beyond human progress are the billions of years of physical, chemical, and biological progress required to make humans in the first place!
The following are facts about our universe. These are facts about how the universe supports us, ie, is friendly. This is not wishful thinking. This is data as therapy.
Billions of Blessings
Supportive events I call “blessings”. The non-supportive events I call “curses.” And in this universe, blessings far outweigh the curses. Hint: if non-supportive events outweighed the supportive events, you would not be reading this. Below is a small list of some of these billions of blessings:
• 13.8 billion years of cosmic creativity bless you with existence.
• Countless billions of joules of flowing energy bless you with light and power.
• Billions of ancestors that survived long enough to pass on their genes bless you with the gift of life.
• Ten billion miles of DNA, in the billions of cells in your body, bless you with the code that uniquely expresses you.
• 50 thousand billion cells cooperate in your body to bless you with the gifts of dancing, singing, loving and rejoicing.
• 100 billion neurons bless you with ability to think.
• 1000 billion glial cells support your neurons to bless you with a functional brain.
• 100 thousand billion synapses bless you with the connections that allow you to feel, to think, to dream.
• Millions of color-sensitive cone cells in your eyes bless you with the ability to see rainbows.
• Thousands of hair cells in your ears bless you with the gift of hearing.
• A billion billion billion molecules of oxygen bless you with energy from each breath.
• Thousands of billions of symbiotic bacteria in your belly bless you with vitamins and balanced health.
• Billions of chloroplasts bless you with each bite of salad.
• Billions of plants bless you with sunlight transformed into the sweetness of life.
• Millions of businesses bless you with goods and services.
• The sun blesses you each morning with the brilliance of a new day.
• Millions of receptors on your tongue bless you with the taste of chocolate and beer.
• Millions of receptors in your nose bless you with fragrances of flowers.
• Your limbic brain blesses you with emotions that move you toward an ever more wonderful life and away from that which harms you.
• Buddha, Moses, Joseph, Mary, Jesus, Mohammed, priests, roshis, imams, senseis, rabbis, teachers, your parents, grandparents, friends and millions of other seekers bless you with wisdom to experience more love.
• Billions of neurons bless you with insights that bring more light and love into your mind and warn you of threats that might destroy you.
• Your voice blesses you with the capacity to speak up for ever greater love and kindness and to warn others of potential threats.
• Children bless you with the possibility of billions of descendants.
• Billions of your decisions bless you with the ability to pursue your highest values.
• Millions of your words bless those you love.
This is just a partial list of the many billions of events that bless us. How many more billions of blessings can you think of?
One View Gives You Hope, the Other Gives You Fear
It seems to me that a culture’s answer to this question changes the culture because it changes the people.
Is the universe friendly? I am curious to know what you think.
* Did Einstein say or write this quotation? Several sources indicate that this quote is falsely attributed to Einstein. It’s easy to let quibbles distract us from important ideas.
NOTE: This post also appears on ArtofGrace.org/Awaken
Revised: February 14, 2020; First Version: June 25, 2018