Welcome everyone to the first installment of Theology Tuesday!
The first topic I want to discuss is arguably at the heart of life itself. During the often tumultuous journey of life, the question of “What’s it all for?” I believe comes up in everyone’s mind sooner or later. To ask this question is not to be a cold stoic philosopher or pious academic. It is the most important question someone can ask, and it is certainly worth the time spent hunting down an answer. Regardless of your beliefs on this current day, we all find ourselves on equal ground when we ask, in the words of the popular band Creed, “What’s this Life For?” In order to progress any further in our pursuit of an answer, I believe there is one primary question we must ask–does God exist? We as human beings travel down the same well-worn and dusty highway in our pursuit of the meaning of our existence until we come to this ancient fork in the road we travel together. How we answer this question, determines everything about how we view the universe around us and our own existence in this world. Therefore, this is the primary question we will focus on for the next several weeks. Does God exist? If so, what does that mean for our lives in this world and the next?
I will be using a book by Dr. William Lane Craig called On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Precision and Reason as a basic guide to help us unpack and talk through many of the issues lying under the surface of this cosmic question. To supplement your reading of these blog posts or to just dig deeper into this very important question, I highly recommend this book for people of all belief systems.
Before we begin looking at potential evidences for the existence of God, there is a very basic question that will help get us started. From the atheist to the Christian and everyone in between, everyone should ask the following question–does it matter if God exists? In other words, is our pursuit of an answer to the question of God’s existence really worth our time? Does God’s existence really change anything? I will argue that it changes everything, on a cosmic scale and “we cannot afford to be indifferent about it” (William Lane Craig, On Guard, 50).
I first want us to look at the negative side of the argument, namely the presupposition that God does not exist and what that would mean for our lives. Here, I will use a formal argument known as reductio ad absurdum (or reduction to absurdity) to show that if God does not exist, then all life will eventually cease to exist and is therefore reduced to absurdity. Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus both argued that if God did not exist then life itself was inherently absurd. However, this consequence did not leave them to concede their belief in the existence of God. Instead, they both concluded that life was indeed absurd (Craig, 30). What I mean by life’s being absurd is that life does not make logical sense and is “ridiculously unreasonable,” as the Merriam-Webster Dictionary specifies as an appropriate use of the word. I do understand this is a harsh assertion. However, I believe you will see why I make it. If God does not exist, the result is that life is without “meaning, value, or purpose” (Craig, 30). More specifically, life has no objective or necessary meaning, value, or purpose. This would be that all beliefs or feelings of meaning, value, or purpose are merely “human illusions” (Craig, 30). I have a very good friend of mine who is a stout atheist. I certainly do not think all people who don’t belief in God live meaningless, unhappy, depressing lives. However, I will argue that for an atheist to live a fulfilled and happy life, he or she cannot firmly hold to the definition of a life without meaning, value, or purpose. Instead, he or she must give some assent to the appearance meaning, even though objectively it does not exist. I’ll now take each of the resulting qualities of life without the existence of God I mentioned before and elaborate on them a little further for the rest of this post. That will conclude our first part of addressing whether or not it matters if God exists so that this post doesn’t become unbelievably long.
First, we’ll look at life’s having no meaning. I just got off the phone with my mom a little while ago talking with her about a very good friend of her’s who died recently. It was very unexpected and sudden. I’ve faced a large number of deaths on my mom’s side of the family over the past several years. Every time I am faced with one, I am always brought back to the reality that we are all mortal, and we will all eventually come to an end–we will die. We all daily live with the threat of what one theologian called “non-being” (Craig, 31). The threat of our non-being is just as real to us as our knowledge that we currently exist. Not only that, but scientists now teach that the universe has a clock on it that is counting down. Multiple theories (please note I will not ever reference Wikipedia unless the bibliography is thoroughly filled so that you can research its assertions further) have been proposed, most of which deal with a violent heat or cold death. Thus, we as human beings as well as the universe itself are all on existing upon limited time. This now leads us to a point to beg this question. If every single one of us will eventually cease to exist then what “ultimate meaning can be given to [our] lives?” (Craig, 30). In other words, what difference did it make that any one of us ever existed at all? I think most would answer this question by defining the meaning of our existence relative to certain events we influenced. However, what gives those events any objective or necessary meaning? Even further, if we will soon pass out of existence, what does it matter if we ever influenced anything? In the end, there’s no difference. Death puts us all on the same level with every “swarm of mosquitoes or barnyard of pigs” (Craig, 32). Why? because “the same blind cosmic process that coughed them [and us] up will eventually swallow them [and us] again” (Craig, 32). I honestly think this is a reality most people demonize others for saying because it is merely too horrible to consider as the truth. Thus, immortality is ultimately necessary for objective meaning for our lives, but that’s not all that’s necessary.
God’s existence is also necessary for true meaning for life. There’s a story Dr. Craig recounts in his book about an astronaut who is marooned on the moon all by himself. When he embarked on his space journey he took two vials with him–one contained poison and the other contained liquid that if drunk would make him live forever. He realized that he was all alone and would be for the rest of his life. Therefore, he opted to drink the poison, not wanting to face his inevitable lonely future. To his surprise, he had actually drunk the wrong vial. He had drunk from the vial that would cause him to live forever. He had now been sentenced to a “meaningless, unending life” (Craig, 33). This is the parallel situation of our lives if God does not exist. We would be sentenced to an everlasting life of meaninglessness. Thus, man requires both immortality and God’s existence for objective meaning to be given to his life.
Secondly, we’ll look at the precept of life’s having no value if God does not exist. Have you ever asked yourself where we get our sense of morality from? Why are some people much more moral than others? Why are we not all Adolf Hitlers or Joseph Stalin? Without God, we have no objective standard upon which we can base and compare our moral character to. Therefore, no one’s form of morality falls short or is “wrong.” Whether you live like Hitler or Stalin makes no difference because your end will be the same as their’s. Fyodor Dostoyevsky is popularly quoted as saying, “If there is no immortality…then all things are permitted” (Craig, 34). This is a scary thing. If God does not exist, all things are permitted. If there is no God, then we are faced with what Sartre called “the bare, valueless fact of existence.” Moral values are simply based on your moral taste or “byproducts of biological evolution and social conditioning” (Craig, 35). This line of thinking leads an incredibly base view of human beings in an atheistic worldview. As famous atheist biologist Richard Dawkins stated in his book The God Delusion, “There is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pointless indifference…We are machines for propagating DNA…It is every living object’s sole reason for being.” In a world devoid of God and objective moral values or standards, Dawkins is not to blame for having such a base view of humanity. The result of this view, however, is that with no objective moral standard, “it is impossible to condemn horrible things such as war, oppression, or crime as evil. Nor can you praise generosity, self-sacrifice, and love as good” (Craig, 35). Loving and killing would be objectively equivalent from a moral standpoint.
The third and final quality of human life that would result from God not existing is that life would have no ultimate purpose. This is the most haunting of possibilities for many of us. This question has often scared people into religion, regardless of whether or not they truly believed its precepts or not. Everyone wants their life to have purpose. Remember, we will all eventually cease to exist–whether thirty years from now or tomorrow. If physical death is our ultimate end, and intense heat or cold death is the ultimate end of the universe, what will your life matter a ten millennia from now when everything we’ve ever know has gone? Is the ultimate purpose of humanity to be born simply to die? Do we not see how Sartre and Camus felt it necessary to dub life an absurdity? In H.G. Wells’ novel, The Time Machine, Wells tells the story of a man who travels way into the future in order to discover what ultimately happens to humanity. When he arrives, he finds nothing but a desolate wasteland of an earth. The narrator describes what he saw like this, “Beyond these lifeless sounds the world was silent. Silent? It would be hard to convey the stillness of it. All the sounds of man, the bleating of sheep, the cries of birds, the hum of insects, the stir that makes the background of our lives–all that was over.” Though we have not arrived at this point yet, science tells us that this is where we are headed, and our lives are “not qualitatively different from that of an animal” because we all simply meet the same end (Craig, 36). The writer of Ecclesiastes put it like this, “The fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust” (Eccl. 3:19-20 NASB).
Aren’t you excited that I end you here on such a high and happy note? :-) I don’t want to give us too much to chew on at one time because it can all be a bit heavy. If anything else, I want to impress upon everyone reading this that the question of God’s existence is not a waste of your time. It has tremendous implications for each of our lives individually one way or the other. If I have done nothing for you at this point but get you to consider the question more seriously then I am happy.
Please leave comments and I’ll get back to you!
Grace and peace,