Tag Archives: Purpose of Life

What does the end of the universe tell us about the meaning of life?

Details of a recent scientific discovery from the Canberra Times.

Excerpt:

The universe is running out of usable energy and the end is nearer than expected, according to Australian National University astronomers.

[…]PhD student Chas Egan and his supervisor Charley Lineweaver from the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics calculated how run-down the universe was and found it was 30 times more dilapidated than previously thought.

In doing so they measured the universe’s entropy a gauge of how ”disorderly” the cosmos is and how close it is to its cold, lifeless end.

[…]Mr Egan said all the processes that occurred in the universe increased its entropy.

”When you leave any isolated system it gets more and more disorderly,” he said.

[…]Scientists believe that end will take the form of a ”heat death”.

”All the matter currently in stars and planets will be spread out homogenously through space and it will be cold and dark and nothing will be able to live and no processes will go on.

More details of the discovery from the Australian newspaper The Age.

Excerpt:

The findings, to be published in the Astrophysical Journal, have implications not just for Earthlings but for any extraterrestrial life as well.

”We’re not just talking about our solar system or our galaxy, we’re talking about our universe,” he said.

”These constraints apply to all life forms that might be in the universe.”

What implications does this discovery have on the question of meaning and purpose in life? If nothing that we do now will survive the end of the universe, then what reason do we have to do anything?

Atheist and Christian responses to the end of the universe

We can get BOTH SIDES of the question from this clip of a formal debate featuring Christian scholar William Lane Craig and atheist writer Christopher Hitchens.

The question being debated is: “Is there objective meaning and purpose in life without God?”. Hitchens and Craig agree that without God, the universe will cool down and all life will die. And they both agree that if there is no God, then there is no objective meaning and purpose in life.

Hitchens says that he can arbitrarily choose a purpose for his life that makes him happy and fulfilled. But notice that this purpose is an arbitrary personal preference. Someone who chooses mass murder or slavery, and has the power to carry it out with impunity, has as much right to choose that purpose as Hitchens does to choose his.

What can we conclude from the atheist view of purpose and meaning?

What does it say about atheism that there is no way to distinguish between William Wilberforce and Josef Stalin? They were both just doing what made them happy, and there is no way either of them ought to have acted, and no objective moral standard by which to praise or condemn them. Some people admire Wilberforce. Some people admire Stalin. No one is right or wrong, because the choice of life purpose is arbitrary, on atheism. So long as you are happy, and the majority of people in your time and place applaud you, anything is permissible.

What would you think of a person whose every action is designed to maximize their pleasurable feelings in this life? What would you make of a person who believed that other people were just bags of atoms, with no human rights and no free will? What would you make of a person who thought that other people were just objects to be used (or dispersed) in whatever way made them feel happiest? What does a selfish attitude do to enterprises like marriage and parenting?

Is it any surprise that we have killed 50 million unborn babies as a result of our own irresponsible search for pleasure? Sex is fun, but taking responsibility for the decision to have sex is not fun. So we kill innocent people who are weaker than us in order to maximize our pleasure in this life. And why not? On atheism, there is no objective meaning in life, no objective purpose to life, and no objective moral standard of right and wrong.

How did universities reject the concepts of theological and moral knowledge?

I spent all day Saturday listening to fun lectures and an audio book, (“The Divine Conspiracy“), from Dr. Dallas Willard, a professor of philosophy at USC. (This is why I’m not responding to any of your e-mail or writing any long posts about courting and apologetics).

Here are a couple lectures he did in 2002 at Ohio State University about what it means to be human.

You may have to download them twice, I notice that the first time I try to download lectures that it gives me some short little 250Kb file which isn’t the whole lecture. The second time it works fine.

Anyway, he talks a lot about the work of a Harvard professor named Julie Reuben, who wrote a book called “The Making of the Modern University”. I hunted around and found a three-part book review that I have summarized for you below. The book review is by Mark Hansard at Christian Leadership Ministries, which is the faculty ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.

Here’s part 1 of 3.

Excerpt:

The first chapter, entitled “The Unity of Truth,” explains the educational philosophy of the early 19th century, and how it fell apart near the end of that century. What caught my eye was the robust view of knowledge that professors and university presidents believed at that time. According to Reuben, they believed not only that all knowledge in different fields could form a coherent whole, but also that its pursuit would lead to a good and more virtuous life. All knowledge led to better action. In fact, she says, university leaders at that time believed that the “the good, the true, and the beautiful were interconnected, and that successful education promoted all three together” (12). All knowledge inevitably lead to worship of God and an understanding of his wisdom.

Part of this 19th century construct was natural theology, which in this case was not merely the admission that design was detectable in nature, thus pointing to a Creator. It consisted of stronger claims such as: the harmony of nature reflected God’s wisdom, that the more we understand of nature the more we can understand God’s character, and that, as one professor put it, “the knowledge of God, derived from the study of nature, is adapted to add greatly to the impulsive power of conscience” (20). In other words, a study of nature would strengthen virtue in the student.

This is why the first scientists (and some today) are Christians. They were trying to find out something about God’s existence and character by looking at nature. They wanted to see what God was communicating to us through the natural world.

And one more:

But even more serious is the loss of belief that moral knowledge is possible. There is no wisdom (in the ancient sense which Plato and Aristotle discussed) in the universities today, because there is no way to know what the good life is, how life ought to be lived. Such things, since they no longer constitute part of the curriculum, have simply been lost. Is it any wonder there is so much moral confusion among us?

This is really what Willard is concerned about in the lectures. If there is no God to create and design the universe, then there is no objective way we ought to be. And when the university stopped doing theology (or insulated it from critical inquiry), they stopped having a foundation for robust morality. Morality is hard. It’s not the kind of thing you can do if you have to take it on faith. Sometimes, moral rules go against our selfish desires, and it’s those times where you really need to know if these things are true.

Here’s part 2 of 3.

Excerpt:

According to Reuben, Darwinism brought with it a new, revolutionary view of science that viewed scientific knowledge as imperfect but progressive, always seeking to correct itself through further research and experiment. The new science relied on hypotheses, theories, even imagination as it attempted to explain the world, and a good scientific theory would have practical, measurable results.

[…]Eventually scientists came to view theology as a meddlesome interloper who made a priori pronouncements about truth that simply got in the way of free inquiry and scientific advancement. Theology would have to be abandoned if the new, modern university founded upon the progressive philosophy of science would be allowed to pursue scientific research unfettered. But how could this be done, while maintaining the importance of Christianity? According to Reuben, the solution of scholars and administrators “was to distinguish theology, defined as a mode of inquiry and a set of doctrines, from religion, which was left largely undefined as sentiment, experiences, ritual, and ethical values” (57).

Theology is a knowledge tradition, which purportedly carries authority because it consists of truth claims that carry weight in describing the real world. However, in teaching religion, the knowledge conveyed was not about doctrines of God, man and salvation, but instead a set of propositions about what religious people believed, how they worshipped. In short the study of religion conveyed knowledge about how religious people acted apart from asking the question of whether their beliefs were true. Theological knowledge, and with it moral knowledge, was permanently lost. Instead of strengthening Christianity with science, the new religious studies departments actually weakened Christianity by taking away its authority, an authority that is based upon knowledge. Not surprisingly, administrators could not get students to be interested in their new religion classes.

If Christianity is just a set of beliefs and rituals designed to make people feel good, act morally to please parents, and to have a sense of community, then it is worthless. As the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:14, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

Either Christianity is a knowledge tradition, or we are wasting our time with yesterday’s fashions. If Christianity is about our feelings, then it will die, because we can always to make us feel better. What will happen is that you will have people jumping around in church singing songs on Sunday morning, then having abortions and divorces on Monday morning.

Here’s part 3 of 3, but I didn’t find anything earth-shattering in it. It sounds like Christians were too authoritarian and dogmatic in responding to science’s desire for increased autonomy. You cant make an argument from dogma – it just makes people dislike your dogma. What we ought to have done is what we’re doing today: doing good science and good history without any pre-suppositions and seeing if what we find in cosmology, biochemistry, ancient history, etc. confirm or deny Christianity. The lesson to be learned here is that when you insulate your faith from rational inquiry, you reduce it to personal preference and you lose your authority – authority that comes from knowledge.

It’s interesting to think about how different things used to be just a few decades ago when people were not so different to throw off the constraints of knowledge and the obligations of morality in a desperate pursuit of pleasure in this life.

What are some popular philosophical objections to Christian theism?

Since we’ve been looking at history and science so much recently, I decided to list some philosophical objections to Christian theism.

Here are a few of the most common objections:

Let me just comment on the first two briefly.

First, the problem of evil. You should definitely start by making the atheist define what evil is, ontologically. This is, of course, impossible on an atheistic worldview, since there is no such thing as an objective moral standard or objective moral duties, on atheism. On atheism, there are only two possible sources of moral values and moral duties: 1) individual personal preferences and 2) arbitrary cultural conventions. Neither of these is adequate to ground a robust notion of evil.

Second, for the problem of suffering. People today are pretty sure that God, if he exists at all, would want humans to make themselves happy in any way that they want. This is, of course, a pretty self-serving concept of God. The purpose of life on Christian theism is to know God, and suffering may be necessary to help us do that. Even Jesus suffered. My own view is that suffering is necessary to cause people to desire God more than they desire earthly happiness and comforts.

Third, the hiddenness of God. Check if your objector is already familiar with the standard scientific arguments for the existence of a Creator and Designer, as well as the minimal facts case for the resurrection. There is a lot of evidence available, but it takes a little digging to find it. God is not interested in coercing people’s will by dazzling displays of his power. He is interested in having a relationship with people who are interested in him, and that means people must seek him.

You can find some less common or less interesting objections in my list of arguments for and against Christian theism.

Can atheists make sense of good and evil?

Here is a post by Michael Egnor at Evolution News. He is responding to complaints by an atheistic evolutionary biologist named Jerry Coyne about the problems of evil and suffering.

Excerpt:

There are, of course, countless attempts to understand how an infinitely good God can allow evil. I believe that it is because he gives us freedom, and freedom entails the possibility of evil. My dilemma is with natural evil. Why did God not stop the Indian Ocean tsunami? Why does he allow innocent kids to die from accidents or disease? There are theories to account for natural evil. I still don’t know.

But there’s an issue with Coyne’s question. This is it: I believe in God, and as such the question, “Why is there evil?” is a natural question for me.

But what warrant has Coyne to ask that question? Coyne is an atheist, and therefore he believes that there is no transcendent purpose in the world. And Coyne is a Darwinist, so he believes that there is no purpose in the origin of man. And Coyne is a materialist, so he believes that the human mind is, in some way, merely the brain — evolved meat.

Does it make sense for an atheist to ask, “why is there evil?”

This might might be a fun question to ask your co-workers, family and friends who are atheists. What do they mean by good and evil? Is there a way humans ought to be that is independent of personal preferences and arbitrary cultural conventions? Is there a way that the universe ought to be? If there is no way the universe ought to be, then what are we to make about atheist complaints about evil and suffering?

Leave a comment with your story, but try not to get fired. Just ask questions, don’t fight. Unless you know what you are doing!

I’ll leave some hints in the tags for the post about what I would say to answer the problem of natural evil. Here is my full response to the problem of evil. Here is my full response to the problem of divine hiddenness. And my full response to the problem of those who have never heard of Jesus. And my full response to the problem of religious pluralism. These are all from the index of Christian arguments and rebuttals.

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