Thursday, September 27, 2012

Apathy, Atheism, and the Absurdity of Life Without God


Here is a truth I wish everyone would take the time to earnestly and honestly contemplate:

If God does not exist and there is no life after death, then there is no ultimate meaning, value, or purpose in life.

The question of God’s existence is the most important question we can seek to answer. If God does not exist and we do not survive the death of our bodies, life is ultimately absurd. J.P. Moreland provides an illustration which helps bring this truth home:

Suppose I invited you over to my house to play a game of Monopoly. When you arrive I announce that the game is going to be a bit different. Before us is the Monopoly board, a set of jacks, a coin, the television remote, and a refrigerator in the corner of the room. I grant you the first turn, and puzzlingly, inform you that you may do anything you want: fill the board with hotels, throw the coin in the air, toss a few jacks, fix a sandwich, or turn on the television. You respond by putting hotels all over the board and smugly sit back as I take my turn. I respond by dumping the board upside down and tossing the coin in the air. Somewhat annoyed, you right the board and replenish it with hotels. I turn on the television and dump the board over again.

Now it wouldn’t take too many cycles of this nonsense to recognize that it didn’t really matter what you did with your turn, and here’s why. There is no goal, no purpose to the game we are playing. Our successive turns form a series of one meaningless event after another. Why? Because if the game as a whole has no purpose, the individual moves within the game are pointless. Conversely, only a game’s actual purpose according to its inventor can give the individual moves significance.[1]

As Moreland articulates, if the game of Monopoly as a whole has no purpose, the individual moves within the game have no meaning or value. The only way your moves within the game of Monopoly have significance is if you discover the purpose of the game and you align yourself with that purpose.

As it is with Monopoly, so it is with life. Like the game of Monopoly, the only way our individual lives have any ultimate meaning or value is if life has purpose behind it, and real purpose requires both God and life after death.

To help think about this, let us suppose that God does not exist. In an atheistic scenario, we as human beings are simply Johnny-come-lately biological accidents on an insignificant speck of dust we call Earth which is hurtling through empty space in a meaningless and random universe that will eventually die a cold heat death. In the big scheme of things, we are no more significant than a swarm of mosquitoes. In a universe where there is no God and no afterlife, our actions are meaningless and serve no final end because ultimately each one of us, along with everyone we know and influence, will die and enter oblivion. Mention of morality is an incoherent babbling; there is no difference between living the life of a saint or a sociopath, no difference between a Mother Theresa and an Adolf Hitler. William Lane Craig frequently refers to this as “the absurdity of life without God.”[2] He states,

Without God the universe is the result of a cosmic accident, a chance explosion. There is no reason for which it exists. As for man, he’s a freak of nature—a blind product of matter plus time plus chance. If God does not exist, then you are just a miscarriage of nature, thrust into a purposeless universe to live a purposeless life…the end of everything is death…In short, life is utterly without reason…Unfortunately, most people don’t realize this fact. They continue on as though nothing has changed.[3]

The Cure for Apathy?

It seems to me that any sensible person who honestly reflects on the absurdity of life without God cannot at the same time remain apathetic toward the question of God’s existence. God’s existence matters and has tremendous implications for our own existence. Life’s absurdity without God should bother us. It should keep us awake at night. It should jar us out of our apathetic attitude toward ultimate issues. Unfortunately this is often not the case, especially in our information age where it is far too easy to remain distracted and caught up in the daily busyness of life. I am often amazed how so many people can simply go on day to day without ever giving a second thought to the most important questions in life.

But if we want to be intellectually honest, and if we are at all concerned with real meaning, value, and purpose, the question of God’s existence demands our attention. We ignore this topic and remain apathetic to it only to our own peril. As Brian Auten has stated, “the wise man seeks God.”[4] For the reasonable person, reflection on the absurdity of life without God should be enough to extinguish any remaining apathy regarding the question of God’s existence.

Perhaps then, apathy (or apatheism) is not something that can be changed directly, i.e., it is not something that can simply be willed away through direct effort. Rather, like our other beliefs, apathy must be changed indirectly. If apatheism is the belief that “the existence of God is not meaningful or relevant to my life,” perhaps reflecting on the absurdity of life without God will be powerful enough to indirectly change apathetic beliefs and help communicate the importance of taking God and other ultimate issues seriously.

The Inconsistent Atheist

I have never met an atheist who lives consistently with the implications of his naturalistic worldview. Though he rejects both God and life after death, he continues to live his life as if his actions have real ultimate meaning, value, and purpose. As Craig stated above, “they continue on as though nothing has changed.” Atheists reject God but still desire meaning, value, and purpose in life, so they indubitably find something to give their devotion to, be it themselves, family, money, pleasure, education, work, social causes, or politics. But neither do any of these subjective pursuits have ultimate significance or objective value in a world without God. In the end, the atheist must borrow from the Christian worldview in order to infuse their own life and actions with meaning and purpose. This is because atheism and the naturalistic worldview offers no hope and provides no grounding for significance and value. Ken Samples states,

Naturalism as a worldview seems unable to offer the kind of meaning, purpose, and hope that humans require and yearn to experience. Instead, the ultimate fate of the individual, humanity, and even the universe will inevitably be the same regardless of what any person may do. Nothing that anyone thinks, says, or does will change the fact that each individual person, all of humankind collectively, and the universe itself (due to entropy) will someday be utterly extinct, lifeless, and cold. The outcome of naturalism is an inevitable hopelessness.[5]

In other words, naturalism fails the existential test. Honest atheists cannot live happily and consistently with their worldview. It has nothing to offer but depression, despair, and dejection. Christianity on the other hand succeeds exactly where atheism fails:

Biblical Christianity therefore provides the two conditions necessary for a meaningful, valuable, and purposeful life: God and immortality. Because of this, we can live consistently and happily within the framework of our worldview. Thus, biblical Christianity succeeds precisely where atheism breaks down…Therefore, it makes a huge difference whether God exists.[6]

Conclusion

Jesus said, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent…and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice” (John 17:3, 18:37).

Real meaning, value, and purpose comes from knowing God and making God known. But it isn’t enough to simply understand this purpose and assent to its truth. In order for our individual lives to have real significance we need to willfully align ourselves with this truth, and that means aligning ourselves with Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2).


[1] J.P. Moreland, The God Question: An Invitation to a Life of Meaning (Eugene: Harvest House, 2009), 34-35.
[2] See William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd ed. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), chapter 2, and On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2010), chapter 2.
[3] Craig, On Guard, 37.
[4] See his essay “The Wise Man Seeks God” available at http://www.apologetics315.com/2010/05/essay-wise-man-seeks-god-by-brian-auten.html.
[5] Kenneth Richard Samples, A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007), 217.
[6] Craig, On Guard, 49-50 (his italics).

11 comments:

Cassie said...

This is a poorly wrOte argument, for me there is nothing wrong with life being 'absurd' or 'meaningless', why does life have to have a meaning? With or without god the world will never be an insignificant spec of dust, it has an enormous beauty created my god or not, it makes me a little sad that you don't see this. I'm not a hater by the way I just couldnt help but voice my opinion

llamapacker said...

Cassie, I find your comment sweet, but meaningless. by what standard do you use "beauty"? According to strict naturalism, the clean cut of a head chopped off by an Islamic radical could be a "thing of beauty" and they would have just as much justification for that feeling as you. It would all be based on an individual's feelings.

Dan said...

Cassie- I think the argument is about ultimate meaning and purpose, not just subjective opinion. Monoploly may be fun to play but the whole point of playing is defeated when the proper way to play is taken away. Likewise, if you don't have a "way things are supposed to be" in life, there's ultimately no purpose, value, meaning, evil, goodness, or beauty except for what each person deems for themselves. It's perfectly fine to think things good, evil, or beautiful, but without God, they aren't really any of those things beyond each person's personal perspective. This especially becomes evident in moments of personal tragedy or abuse. When real evil presents itself you will find I hard to say "that's just your opinion." hurting people (or animals or the environment) are really evil because we're not just a cosmological/biological accident. it's not they way things are supposed to be. Rather we were created and designed for a purpose. The only thing that gives us objective value independant from anyone's opinion on the matter. Make sense? Without a creator or means to claim intrinsic value (people, animals, environment), can you tell us how we are to tell the way things are supposed to be?

Carl said...

The purpose of life is to live each day to the best of your ability. Life doesn't have to have a ultimate goal that is the same for everyone for it to have meaning.
Your monopoly analogy does not work for life precisely because the is no ultimate game designer. You are the designer, to set whatever end game you think is right for you.
But that doesn't mean that there are no rules, as long as your not intruding on the rights of others, you are free to chart your own course. Which I think is the ultimate freedom, which no religion can give you.

Anonymous said...

In response to Carl's post, October 2, 2012 4:44 AM.

Carl,

I think you’ve made a great point. To expound on this, whether there is a creator of the game or not really has no bearing on how individuals play the game and how much enjoyment they attain from playing the game. My observation is that people quite often change the rules of the game, sometimes out of tradition (they always did it this way), sometimes out of a need to change an aspect of the game (monopoly can take a long time; some rule changes can shorten it), or merely just because the players enjoy their own rules better.

And have you noticed that some games are more enjoyable just because of the people you play with? The technical rules (whether from the game maker or modified by the players) are secondary to the social “rules” of those interacting with one another.

I think this analogy is better applied to an atheistic worldview.

Thanks for sharing,
Zack

Anonymous said...

In response to the original post.

Aaron

As I pointed out in my response to Carl, the purpose and value found in a game of monopoly is not determined by some creator. The players determine this purpose. I think most atheists would agree that this is very descriptive of their perspective of life.

You wrote, “real purpose requires both God and life after death.” Why? Are you saying that those who do not believe in any god or life after death have no real purpose? What about those non-believers who choose love as their purpose? Is that not real?

I suppose you might say that the atheist borrowed the purpose of love “from the Christian worldview.” First of all, I wonder if you might want to clarify what you posted about borrowing from a Christian worldview. I don’t mean to be offensive, but I can’t help but think many from the other religions in the world (ie. Judaism, Islam, Jainism, etc.) and from the non-believers will find your comment arrogant. It comes across as if you are telling us that not only do you have the truth and we don’t, but Christians are the only ones with real purpose.

You make the observation that if there is no God given purpose, then it makes no difference how we live our lives. Perhaps to the universe it makes no difference, but it can make a huge difference in the lives of others. That’s what a purpose of love is all about--the empathy and resulting concern for others brings joy through service and honorable living.

Best wishes,
Zack

Anonymous said...

That is so true

Kalen Christensen said...

J.P. Moreland’s Monopoly example is certainly humorous, but only insofar as it is laughable.

Let’s say we have a game of Monopoly but neither of us have ever played the game before and we have no rules for it. If we are nevertheless determined to make the best of the pieces and the board that we have, would it be impossible for us to make sense of the game and play it anyway?

Of course we could. Maybe it wouldn’t look anything like how it was intended to be played, but it would still be played, it would still be fun, enjoyable, interesting and creative.

Aha, but you see, you’re not playing it how was meant to be played! The intention of the game implies a creator, and you are distorting their intent. That, my atheist friend, was the point!

Let’s dissect that, shall we?

What if it wasn’t Monopoly? What if, instead, it was a nameless game with multiple parts that appeared to be otherwise unrelated to one another? What if this game simply had no creator at all, no overarching intent or objective; it simply always “was” (let’s avoid the cosmological argument for now, as that’s a separate issue).

Would this game be impossible to play? Or could we, using our capacity for making meaning where none otherwise exists, and make our own sense of the game?

“The only way your moves within the game of Monopoly have significance is if you discover the purpose of the game and you align yourself with that purpose.”

The only way this statement makes any sense is if humans are unthinking automatons incapable of creatively finding new answers and working together within social contexts.

In a naturalistic system, what we should expect to observe is a group of people that begin to set up their own rules. We would also expect disagreement about these rules, and social divides would occur along these lines. Two games would have to be set up, occasionally resulting in arguments and violence between the separate groups.

As more people are added to the picture, you would see the groups get bigger, then split off, creating offshoots or entirely new, previously unthought of games.

And suddenly we’ve reconstructed a rather nice analogy for human social behaviour; an analogy that derives itself exclusively from naturalism.

This analogy *does not work* within a theistic system in which the objective of the game is ordained and immutable. You cannot assume there is only one way to play the game and naturally move from there to explain the incredible creativity and variation of the world religions.

“I have never met an atheist who lives consistently with the implications of his naturalistic worldview.“

I’ve heard this many times in my life, and I have to laugh every time. I’m sure you don’t look at it this way, but it always seems to me like the statement is saying, “I can’t understand where they get their purpose from without God, so how do they do it???” It’s as if you’re actually upset that atheists lead moral, fulfilled, purpose-driven lives.

Well, lo and behold, we do. We do live in a universe guided by chance, where our planet is little more than a vanishing pale-blue dot in the sky, as we slowly whisk our way to an eventual oblivion.

And yet, my actions affect this otherwise indifferent universe. Certainly, my actions affect the people around me, they affect you and people I don’t even know. I have a role in making people’s lives either better or worse, though I hope to make them better on the whole.

I will eventually die, but I hope to leave something of myself behind, something I will be positively remembered by.

I am an atheist, and I have an abundance of hope.

I do not derive my hope from Christianity, or religion, or God. I derive it from my humanity. I was born to be hopeful, to find meaning. It’s what us primates do best.

So you’re right, no atheist consistently lives by the implications of the naturalistic worldview you’ve presented. They don’t because the naturalistic worldview you’ve presented doesn’t exist.

Ed said...

Zack,

You are missing the point. What you consider valuable because of your subjective experience in a naturalistic worldview is just your opinion. Because there is no ultimate truth, truth is whatever you want it to be. Thus, your belief that life has meaning as a subjective belief isn't true..it is just how you perceive things. In the end, it ultimately doesn't change anything. You die, you decay, within 100 years everyone you know are dead and no one will remember us. Within 1 million years, man may be extinct. Given enough time, the sun goes supernova, then the universe expands to nothingness.

But there is good news. Jesus Christ wants you to spend eternity with him. He created you in his image. You are made with purpose. 'If you declare with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.' Romans 10_9.

Ed said...

Zack,

You are missing the point. What you consider valuable because of your subjective experience in a naturalistic worldview is just your opinion. Because there is no ultimate truth, truth is whatever you want it to be. Thus, your belief that life has meaning as a subjective belief isn't true..it is just how you perceive things. In the end, it ultimately doesn't change anything. You die, you decay, within 100 years everyone you know are dead and no one will remember us. Within 1 million years, man may be extinct. Given enough time, the sun goes supernova, then the universe expands to nothingness.

But there is good news. Jesus Christ wants you to spend eternity with him. He created you in his image. You are made with purpose. 'If you declare with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.' Romans 10_9.

God bless,

Ed

Anonymous said...

Most of these comments are not only illogical but absurd. Most ignore the second law of thermodynamics and the most basic scientific law--the law of causality. The majority of these comments propose moral relativism without considering the universal nature of morality. Let someone burn down your house because they do not like your mailbox, and then come back championing moral relativism. Universalism is just silly because it proposes that contradictory world views are both true. Islam claims that Jesus is not the Son of God while Christianity claims that He is, indeed, the Son of God. These statements are irreconcilable; therefore one of them must be false. A cannot be A and not-A in the same sense at the same time (law of noncontradiction). Ignorance may be bliss but it does not refute logic.