As humans, we have all won the lottery.
The Cosmic Lottery, that is.
Of all the solar systems in all of the galaxies, in all of the local groups, so far as we know, there is no planet other than our own with just the right balances to harbor life. Aptly enough, scientists call the zone in which earth is located “the Goldilocks Zone,” since it is the one zone that is not too cold, not too hot, but “Juuuuusssst right!” due to its distance from the sun. Light and dark, heat and cold, the all-too-often unconscious exchange of oxygen for carbon dioxide (and vice versa): each of these elements—each with its own unique balance—has allowed carbon-based life to emerge and thrive on a planet we humans have, in the past thousand years or so, dubbed “Earth.”
“Well,” you might say, “someone had to make this happen! It couldn’t have happened by chance!”
Don’t get me wrong: that’s possible (though some may add, “albeit, not probable”). But considering the size of the universe and the countless stars and planets, we see that there were, in the beginning, “billions and billions” of level-one contestants in this vast cosmic lottery. Any one of them might have won.
But we won! And so far as we know, we are the biggest winners: Earth is the only known planet where life emerged.
So, congratulations!—you’ve achieved life! Now, on to Round 2: What kind of a life will you become? Billions and billions of Round 1 contestants will go on to become amoebas and earthworms, or—if they’re lucky—aardvarks and hummingbirds.
But if you’re really lucky—and I mean incredibly, majestically lucky: if you win that one-in-a-million golden ticket—you will be lucky enough to be not only a complex multi-cellular organism, but also a proud citizen of class Mammalia: that enchanted, majestic realm of the animal kingdom where the most advanced levels of intelligence dwell.
And if you’re even luckier—and I mean, “one-in-a-googolplex lucky”—you’ll become the most intelligent life form within class Mammalia: homo sapiens sapiens. Humans—so far as we know, the most innovative and self-aware species within class Mammalia. We are beings of three—a holy trinity, neurologically: a reptile brain, a mammal brain, and a unique, never-before-seen human brain! Like the reptiles, we have the primal tools for survival, and like the mammals, we care for our young and can use body language to communicate.
But as humans, we can perform feats that no other denizen of the animal, or plant, or fungi kingdoms can: We can read. We can write. We can consciously invent and utilize specific, pinpointed language. We can imagine the future and the hypothetical situations it may (or may not) hold. We can record the profundity of our words and the power of our dreams for countless future generations. (Read any Homer lately?—and I don’t mean Homer Simpson! Well, maybe him, too.) In fact, we can even write about writing, as I am doing here. Actually, I am writing about writing about writing, but I digress.
Here is what we have won, in this grand Cosmic Lottery:
So far as we know, we are the most intelligent and self-aware form of life within the entire known universe. Whether by fate or design—or by completely random luck—we have been blessed with empathy, communication, and consciousness. With these gifts, and others still, in our hands, we are slowly but surely making this world a better, more humane, more just place, and this human moral zeitgeist continues to march forward, however slowly it may be, when viewed through the lens of a people who are, in the grand scheme of things, short-lived. But as such, each day of our lives is inspirational, beautiful, and profound: worth living to the fullest.
So, whether you are giving thanks to Allah, praising Jesus, or bowing to the Buddha nature in everything (or any combination thereof), remember, alongside your atheist friends, that human life is the most beautiful and most special of privileges. Treat it as such.
After all, it’s not every millennium that a species wins the Cosmic Lottery.