Not long ago, when humans were guided by belief rather than knowledge, the anthropocentric principle held that everything in the universe was centered around MAN and was put out there by a “creator” for the sole benefit and edification of man. The modern view of science is of course that humans are quite inconsequential in the cosmological scheme of things. (Our home, the Earth, a barely discernible “Pale Blue Dot” as seen from the edge of our own solar system, is just one among hundreds of billions of stars in the Milky Way—which is itself but one of the hundreds of billions of galaxies in the visible universe.) Carl Sagan likened our anthropocentric boast to the chutzpah of a grain of sand proclaiming itself the epicenter and raison d’etre of the whole beach of sand stretching as far as the eye can see in all directions!

But if man is not the center of things, many ask, what is the whole purpose of life? It is innate in us sentient beings to wonder about such questions: everything should have a purpose, we think. Well, the modern field of genetics provides an amazing answer (in so far as there is any meaning in the question: “What is the purpose of an individual’s life?”). We said earlier that evolution is by far the most successful theory conceived by humans; its implications still coruscate down the chronicles of life. Richard Dawkins, the foremost popularizer of evolution now living, says the sole function of any organism is to serve as a mere vehicle for delivering “the selfish gene” to the next generation. Thus, collectively, we are all of us mere repositories of the gene pool of our species whether we are an individual virus plant, or animal.

Sadly, that means each of us is disposable. This is a notion that deflates our human vanity — and especially the Christian doctrine of heaven as the goal of life. It is powerfully dramatized by those organisms in which a parent dies immediately upon emancipating the next generation: the male right after mating, or the female immediately upon spawning its brood.

You don’t have to read esoteric books to appreciate that fact. Look at yourself or your siblings, and at your offspring or theirs. Somewhere among you all is a person who is atavistic of one of your forebears. When I look at some of my nieces or cousins I see replicas of my mother so exact I get goose bumps.

Thus, the “primitive” cosmology of my people—which holds that dead ancestors do come back as new babies—is much, much closer to the truth than the “sophisticated” Christian view that denies reincarnation. One can’t help wondering, though, how the ancients reconciled reincarnation with the paradox that sometimes a child looks like a facsimile of more than one of its relatives all at once. Only the reshuffling of genes during reproductive conception can explain it.

We seem totally captivated by hysterical belief in nonsensical “miracles” (water turned into wine, an ass arguing with its owner, a man walking on water, a mountain moved from here to there—weird happenings which, even if they were true, would be of absolutely no lasting benefit to anyone). Yet we fail to notice the greatest miracle of life as it unfolds daily before our eyes: nature’s manifest and constant recreation, in us and in our offspring, of the very essence of our ancestors long gone. Or the fact that nature gives tremendous diversity to life—to the tune of nine million species on earth—by the simplest and cleverest of devices: reconfiguring the sequence of the DNA molecule in us.

We can only agree with Dawkins and Co. that life is just a continual reincarnation of the gene.