Not only do we only know God through Jesus Christ, but we only know ourselves through Jesus Christ; we only know life and death through Jesus Christ. Apart from Jesus Christ we cannot know the meaning of our life or our death, of God or of ourselves. Thus without Scripture, whose only object is Christ, we know nothing and can see nothing but obscurity and confusion in the nature of God and in nature itself (Pensees, 417).
If we’re convinced that we are just matter in motion, one physical compilation of meat trapped in a bag thickly coated in various skin types, arisen from miraculous spontaneity of happenstance—what meaning can there be outside of utter nihilism?
Under self reflection, there is this ineffable sense of meaning, purpose and reason why we are here. Is this sense a byproduct of delusion? Are all things in vain? “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Or can there really be meaning when God is not in the equation? This is a very difficult and disquieting question if it’s taken seriously.
The question at hand is not something to take lightly, nor are the conclusions inconsequential. One must take an honest look at their own worldview and take it to its logical conclusion. Does a naturalistic worldview provide meaning? Some argue that God is not required for meaning. However, can they provide a satisfactory answer, or are they deceiving themselves? William Vallicella articulates the road to self-deception and nihilism as follows:
If death is the utter annihilation of the individual person, then life is ultimately senseless and ultimately hopeless. This cannot be evaded by saying that one's life can acquire meaning if it is placed in the service of the lives of others. For their lives too (and the lives of their progeny and their progeny's progeny ad indefinitum) are, on the annihilationist assumption, ultimately senseless and hopeless. Human life is in every case the life of an individual; so even if human beings existed at all times, that would do nothing to insure ultimate meaningfulness.
Of course, there are proximate meanings, hopes, and purposes even if ultimately it is "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." One can lose oneself in them. But to do so involves self-deception: one has to mistake the proximate for the ultimate. One has to burden fleeting concerns with a meaning they cannot bear. One has to fool oneself.
For example, one has to fool oneself that writing a book, starting a company, founding a family are all ultimately meaningful when the only way they could have any ultimate meaning is if they were part of a life that had a direction that wasn't about to be cut short in a few years.
To put it bluntly, we have no future if naturalism is true. But we cannot live without meaning. An existential trilemma looms. Either we cultivate self-deception by ascribing to fleeting concerns ultimate meaning, or we recognize their transiency and ultimate meaninglessness when considered in and of themselves and put our faith and hope in a transcendent meaning, or, avoiding both self-deception and the life of faith, we embrace nihilism.
Or consider the white flag swayed by Quentin Smith at the end of his article Moral Realism and Infinite Spacetime Imply Moral Nihilism:
I do not believe my theory differs very much from that of many or most people. There is a sense that my life, actions and consequences of actions amount to nothing when I am considering the value of an infinite universe. Our emotional responses to acts or states of affairs we believe have positive or negative value occur when we are narrowly focused on “the here and now”, on the people we interact with or know about, ourselves, and the animals, plants and material things that surround us in our daily lives. In our daily lives, we believe actions are good or bad and that individuals have rights. These beliefs are false, but we know this only on the occasions when we engage in second order beliefs about our everyday beliefs and view our everyday beliefs from the perspective of infinity. Most of the time, we live in an illusion of meaningfulness and only sometimes, when we are philosophically reflective, are we aware of reality and the meaninglessness of our lives. It seems obvious that this has a genetic basis, due to Darwinian laws of evolution. In order to survive and reproduce, it must seem to us most of the time that our actions are not futile, that people have rights. The rare occasions in which we know the truth about life are genetically prevented from overriding living our daily lives with the illusion that they are meaningful. As I progress through this paper, I have the illusion that my efforts are not utterly futile, but right now, as I stop and reflect, I realize that any further effort put into this paper is a futile expenditure of my energy.
Even Bertrand Russell could not avoid his own brutal conclusion:
Such, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world which Science presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals henceforward must find a home. That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins -- all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built.
All this is rather depressing, but a gloomy and dismal existence doesn’t falsify naturalism. The naturalist, however, is forced to take a short view of meaning in order to escape the imprisonment of these dreaded implications. Finding meaning becomes the here and now; it’s the plate in front of me; and the burial of ultimate hope. Even if the naturalist is right, what does it matter? What does it matter to me if the species survives? What does it matter to me that others starve? What does it matter to me that he or she is raped? What does it matter to me if the sky falls? What does it matter to that bodies burn? What does it matter to me that possessions are stolen? What does it matter to me that laws are broken? What does it matter to me that I am right and you are wrong?
Why should I not just “get mine?” And why do I care about anyone else who gets trampled along the way? Is there anything outside of subjectivity or nihilism that I can appeal to? Can blind processes fool me into thinking that it matters?
It seems to me then, that there is no satisfaction to be found in annihilation and a naturalistic worldview leads to meaninglessness and despair. We desperately cling to this rock we call earth as it swiftly rotates around our insignificant sun that is barely a speck of dust in the universe. We hold on as if something is awaiting, but we will fade away and the universe shall never notice. We can sink our fingers into society and make it a better place before we turn to dust, but as our carcasses disintegrate, society will perish as well. When the cycle of nature destroys all, it won’t matter if you cared for people or ate them; the universe could care less.
Finding meaning in a framework of blind causes is self delusion. And those who blindly clench their eyes closed and hold on to purpose are disconnected to the reality of their beliefs. William Lane Craig frames the inconsistency as follows:
First, the area of meaning. We saw that without God, life has no meaning. Yet philosophers continue to live as though life does have meaning. For example, Sartre argued that one may create meaning for his life by freely choosing to follow a certain course of action. Sartre himself chose Marxism.
Now this is utterly inconsistent. It is inconsistent to say life is objectively absurd and then to say one may create meaning for his life. If life is really absurd, then man is trapped in the lower story. To try to create meaning in life represents a leap to the upper story. But Sartre has no basis for this leap. Without God, there can be no objective meaning in life. Sartre’s program is actually an exercise in self-delusion. For the universe does not really acquire meaning just because I give it one. This is easy to see: for suppose I give the universe one meaning, and you give it another. Who is right? The answer, of course, is neither one. For the universe without God remains objectively meaningless, no matter how we regard it. Sartre is really saying, “Let’s pretend the universe has meaning.” And this is just fooling ourselves.
The point is this: if God does not exist, then life is objectively meaningless; but man cannot live consistently and happily knowing that life is meaningless; so in order to be happy he pretends life has meaning. But this is, of course, entirely inconsistent–for without God, man and the universe are without any real significance.
I often wonder why some affirm the dogmatism of materialism, and then act as if there is some ultimate justice, as if they themselves had a right to freedom and the pursuit of happiness. The universe does not offer this. There is no contract, there is no guidance; only material on a path to destruction.
However, even though the universe does not know you; God does. What we do in our lives today has an eternal effect. There is such a thing as meaning in life; that ineffable sense of meaning, purpose and reason why we are here, was written on your heart by God (Rom. 2: 15). For if there were nothing lasting longer than you; then meaning would not follow you.
It comes down to a choice in true Pascallian fashion: one can embrace the inevitable outcome of their worldview—despair, or we can follow that innate desire within ourselves that only God can satisfy.
"If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world." — C.S. Lewis
Labels: Atheism, Meaning, Morality, Nihilism, Self-Deception Philosophy