Notes on Apologetics study from On Guard by William Lane Craig, Chapter Two, Part Two
In my previous post on this subject, I shared Craig's thought process in brief regarding the absurdity of life...many philosophers agree that without the existence of God, life is completely absurd. The difference comes, then, when some will say that God must therefore exist; others will counter with the belief that life is really absurd or pointless.
This is atheism. To say that God does not exist is to say that life has no meaning, value, or purpose. What implications follow that line of thinking? Is it possible to live consistently within that framework?
Over the next few posts, we will look at all three notions -- meaning, value, and purpose -- since these are the criteria that define the absurd.
Craig describes these in the following:
Meaning has to do with significance, why something matters.
Value has to do with good and evil, right and wrong.
Purpose has to do with a goal, a reason for something.
Keep these definitions in mind as we go through each.
Craig's claim is that "if there is no God, then meaning, value, and purpose are ultimately human illusions. They're just in our heads. I'm not saying that atheists experience life as dull and meaningless, that they have no personal values or lead immoral lives, that they have no goals or purpose for living. But my point is that, given atheism, these beliefs are subjective illusions [based on personal opinion]: the mere appearance of meaning, value, and purpose, even though, objectively speaking, there really isn't any." (pg. 30)
If we truly ponder life without God's existence, we have to picture a universe and all of life within it as doomed to an end of non-existence. Science tells us that the universe and everything in it is coming to an end...everything with energy (life) is winding down. We see this in the expansion of the universe, in the consumption of energy, and in the decay of all biological life on earth.
Take, for example, the Second Law of Thermodynamics [a.k.a. the Law of Increased Entropy] which says that all usable energy is ultimately converted into unusable energy in the way of productivity, growth, and repair. Thus, all usable energy is irretrievably lost to unusable energy.
That sounds like I'm-an-expert-scientific and all, when I'm not, but it's still pretty easy to see in real life. Think of a glass of water sitting on your kitchen counter. The ice is cold, and the air around the glass is, relative to the glass, warm. It is impossible that the ice should get colder; experience tells us that the ice will melt, and the cold water will eventually warm to room temperature.
Conversely, a cup of hot coffee sitting on the counter is surrounded by cooler air. The Law of Increased Entropy explains why that cup of coffee will never get hotter unless something else with more heat energy intervenes. Left to itself, it will cool to room temperature. The heat energy will be used up and will increase in entropy [heat death] until an equilibrium is reached.
So, what does this have to with the death of the universe? Based on this one scientific law, we should expect the death of the universe and all life contained within it at some point. It has to be, unless something, or Someone, intervenes. There is no escape.
The consequence of inevitable death and non-existence is that ultimately, life is absurd. Even if we think life is "better" because we ascribe meaning, value, and purpose to it, it's only an illusion...because if everything is doomed to come to an end, then nothing we do really matters.
No Ultimate Meaning
"If everything is doomed to destruction, then what does it matter that you influenced anything? Mankind is no more significant than a swarm of mosquitoes or a barnyard of pigs, for their end is all the same. The same blind cosmic process that coughed them up in the first place will eventually swallow them all again." (pg. 32)
In addition, Craig points out that even if there were no God and we did live forever, life would still be pointless. He tells a story about an astronaut who was stranded on a chunk of rock somewhere in outer space. He had two vials with him: one containing poison and the other a potion that would make him live forever. After realizing he was doomed to this rock and had no escape, he quickly drank the poison. Only afterward did he realize to his horror that he had swallowed the wrong vial. This meant he was cursed to exist forever in a meaningless and unending life.
So without the existence of One who gives meaning to life, our lives are just like that astronaut. They could go on and on, but still be entirely without significance. One might argue, "If we live to help others and we live forever, doesn't that provide significance?" To which I would say, "Partially, but significant to whom?" Without God, there is no broader framework within which one person's life can be seen to matter. Eventually, apart from an eternal Godhead, everything done is ultimately forgotten, lost, or otherwise deemed useless.
Think about it, after billions and billions of years, will it really matter that you helped an elderly woman cross the street or fed a hungry child? It may make a difference in the here and now, but ultimately, it will die away in significance.
This may seem elementary, but to one who has had faith enough to embrace life without God, this is a huge stumbling block. If one can get past the absurdity of life, one can begin to see why the existence of God, and particularly the God of the Bible, is a question that must be dealt with.
Discussion Question: What are the benefits of knowing that your life has meaning? How does it affect your attitude toward other people?
It creates in me a desire to do what's right, even if it means denying myself for the greater good. In doing so, I receive the joy of knowing that I am completing the purpose God had for me in that situation. Knowing that my life has meaning should also create in me an attitude of kindness and grace toward others -- if my life has meaning, then so also do their lives.
Next time: Value of Life