|Series Theme: Apologetics|
Title: 6. Questions about the Meaning of Life
(Narrowing it down)
A series that helps consider the foundations for faith
Contents for Overview:
• The claims of science need checking.
1. What are the Options for the Beginning of Life?
• Defining its limits
2. What are the Options for Law in Society?
• Observing that science isn't as sure as is sometimes proclaimed.
3. What are the Alternatives to God decreeing Law?
• Observing man's attempts in history.
On this page we look at fundamental thinking about existence. There is nothing complex about it; in fact it is remarkably simple.
However we must insist on one thing, that we and you are utterly logical and honest and don't try to do magic! You'll see what we mean in a moment.
In our thinking we will consider:
As we said, this is a very simple approach but it may be a path that many of us have never trod and may therefore appear strange at first sight.
Remember, what are the logical outworkings here?
1. What are the Options for the Beginning of Life?
The options for the origins of existence, as Dr. Francis Schaeffer used to say, are strictly limited. Here they are:
1. Everything that exists has come from absolutely nothing
To clarify this Schaeffer used to refer to absolutely nothing as nothing nothing.
i.e. no energy, no mass, no motion, no personality.
Schaeffer used to explain this by saying, imagine a new blackboard. Draw a circle on it in chalk – this represents everything that was, but there was nothing in the circle. Now completely remove the circle – that is nothing nothing!
However, you CANNOT argue for this as a start, because with our human mind it is impossible to conceive either nothing nothing, or something coming from this.
Theoretically this is a possibility but one beyond our comprehension.
Thus it is NOT possible to uphold this meaningfully.
2. Everything that now exists had an impersonal beginning
a) What this means
This 'impersonality' may be energy, mass, or motion, but they are impersonal.
Energy is just as impersonal as mass or motion; there is no difference.
Whatever follows, it means that anything that we now know of as existence, any particulars that make up this existence – gas, water, solids, whatever – are impersonal.
Now we need to be clear about this:
If we say something is non-personal it means "without a person, without a being, without a personality."
Now the difficulty in thinking here is that we all believe we understand this concept because we are a person with personality, we believe, and we interact with other people who have personalities.
b) The problem with this - in us
We think we understand the concept of personality.
But personality has to do with ‘being' that is more than just a bunch of chemicals with electrical charges responding to each other in a certain way. A tree is not a person and does not have personality, though it clearly grows and changes.
We human beings live as beings with the sure belief that we are more than merely electrically charged molecules .
Psychologists tell us that a key requirement for a human being to carry on living, is to have a sense of meaning and purpose in life.
So we human beings talk about concepts such as ‘meaning', 'purpose', ‘beauty' and ‘love'
BUT for a mass of electrically charged molecules these are meaningless words, unless they be used in a magical way to uphold our needs by pretence.
c) The problem with this - in life
Now to come back to the impersonal beginning :
If the beginning lacks any 'personality' involvement, then everything that follows, all of existence, also lacks 'personality'.
Remember, even the starting 'energy' is impersonal, so NOTHING that follows can be personal and nothing has any 'meaning'. Everything HAS to be random chance.
If you believe in this start, then life appears very bleak.
There can be no ‘purpose' in life, for it is merely pure chance plus time.
d) Ducking the Issue
Richard Dawkins in the preface of his book, Unweaving the Rainbow , quotes the writing of a friend of his:
“My colleague Peter Atkins begins his book The Second Law (1984) in this vein:
We are children of chaos, and the deep structure of change is decay. At root, there is only corruption, and the unstemmable tide of chaos. Gone is purpose; all that is left is direction. This is the bleakness we have to accept as we peer deeply and dispassionately into the heart of the Universe.”
But now look at how Dawkins follows that:
“But such very proper purging of saccharine false purpose, such laudable tough-mindedness in the debunking of cosmic sentimentality must not be confused with the loss of personal hope.”
In other words both he and his colleague are aware of the consequences of starting from this impersonal beginning, they are aware of the nihilistic pessimism that is the logical outcome of this beginning .
But following that we find Dawkins appealing, and indeed writing the book to counter that awful pessimism, to the feelings of wonder that he has when he looks at the world that science reveals.
What he is incapable of seeing, is that even those feelings of wonder that he has, actually have no 'meaning' and are part of the meaningless pessimism that this thinking leads to.
He makes a massive leap out of the pit of despair up onto the sure ground of thankfulness and wonder, yet refusing to see that there is One to thank for the wonder.
It would appear that his earlier life experiences (for what else is there?) have blinded him to the possibilities that are infinitely more real than the boggy ground of pessimism from which he wishes to escape.
Later in that same book he says:
“It is the central tenet of this book that science, at its best, should leave room for poetry.”
Do you see what he's done? He's made a leap of blind faith because poetry, for a bunch of molecules, has no meaning or feeling beyond that which the electrical impulses give it.
You can't deny sentimentality one moment and then turn round and use it – it's meaningless in your world, accept it!
3. Everything that exists began with a personal beginning
Again there can be no mistakes here!
This means that behind everything was a Being with Personality – it is your only other alternative!
This means that everything that is, reflects that personality.
A personality has order (or they are insane!), and this world has order.
A personality communicates, and this world is all about communication.
A personality conveys personality, and human beings have personality as they reflect the image of the original – this is the only reason that personality in us is real and more than just electrical impulses (for considerations about that see the previous page)
2. What are the Options for Law in Society?
Human beings struggle to form coherent, stable societies (civilisation). Part of the struggle is to decide who is to make the laws and on what basis. Laws are the way any civilisation seeks to order rational society, so in any discussion about beginnings, it's useful to assess the options by the way, in reality, we try to order our lives.
The things considered under the first question are reflected here. Laws are about how we decide our society should work, and that follows from our initial ideas about the origins of the world.
Here we'll consider Law or rules for society in the light of the two main options we considered above:
1. A Non-Personal World
We have agreed that if this is how the world started then the only logical response is to conclude that we are merely a mass of electrically charged chemicals, to put it in a very amateurish but clear way.
If this is really all we are – and this start logically denies any other conclusion – then there is in fact no reason why we should do anything whatsoever that goes beyond self-interest.
There have been those philosophers who have argued that all actions come out of self-interest, but such arguing goes against the experience of lives sacrificed on behalf of others – there can be no self-benefit from dying!
If self-interest is at the heart of life, then as long as I feel stronger than others, I can feel secure and need have no concerns for others.
However much we may say that this is logically so, everything within us screams against this view, as Richard Dawkins shows in his quotes above.
However, as this view has been perpetuated increasingly in the West in the last part of the twentieth century, life has been cheapened and personal property abused more and more.
Arnold Lunn & Garth Lean – in Christian Counter Attack – quoting T.M. Huxley, eminent scientist and strict moralist:
“I see no limit to the extent to which intelligence and will… may modify the conditions of existence….. The intelligence which has converted the brother of the wolf into the faithful guardian of the flock, ought to be able to do something towards curbing the instincts of savagery in civilised man.”
That was the optimism of 1893. They continued:
“Renan, the French philosopher… thought otherwise. ‘It is possible,' he wrote, ‘that the collapse of supernatural belief will be followed by the collapse of moral convictions and that moment when humanity sees the reality of things will mark a real moral decline. We are living on the perfume of an empty vase.' Few objective observers today will doubt that Renan's prediction was more accurate than Huxley's.”
They then went on to document the decline. That was in 1969 and that decline has continued.
It is important that we understand that this moral decline was because of the removal of the one possible anchor for moral standards, the Supreme Being.
2. A Personal World
Once we accept the possibility of a Supreme Being as the originator of all existence we need to ask a couple of other questions:
Different philosophies or different world beliefs will give different answers.
The Christian answer includes the following data from the Bible:
The implications of that are:
The design criteria of a benign and all-wise God would surely be the best criteria for deciding what is best for humanity.
On this page we have observed:
a) On the Origins of Existence:
The options are strictly limited to:
b) On the Implications of that:
If the origin of existence was non-personal then there are no valid grounds beyond self-survival for establishing law and order.
Yet something within us rails against this.
If the origin of existence was a Personal Being of the order described by the Bible, then He must, surely, be the authority for knowing what is the best way to live, the arbiter for all rules of living, i.e. Laws.
The history of mankind has not shown human wisdom in a good light. Surely the Creator is the best arbiter.
Our overall conclusion, if we are able to follow this thinking through logically, must be that everything within us screams against a world without personality and all that follows from that - and if that is so, there must be a Personality behind all that is - and that is just what we find in the Bible.
The purpose of these questions is to help you go back over the material and take it in. We suggest you highlight, copy and paste these questions and put them into your own word processing package and then alternate between them and the text and put your answers in your word processed page under each question.
1. The Only Options
1.1 What are the ONLY two meaningful options about how the world began?
1.2 What are the problems in us and life in respect of the first of these?
1.3 How does the second option resolve those problems?
1.4 How do scientific atheists try to ignore the problems of the first option,
2. Options for Law
2.1 Why do we consider the making of Laws on this page?
2.2 If it is a non-personal world with no basis for ‘meaning', what is really
the only basis for how we decide to live?
2.3 What did T.M Huxley believe would be the means of curbing savagery?
2.4 How did Renan, the French Philosopher, differ in his thinking?
2.5 What were Lunn & Lean's conclusions?
2.6 What key question arises here if we believe in a ‘personal beginning?
2.7 Choose 2 of God's characteristics that are given, that seem particularly
significant to you and say why.
3. Alternatives to God for deciding Law
3.1 Summarise in your own words why the primary alternatives don't give a
lot of hope?
3.2 What is the suggestion about God that is made here?