How Do We Explain Meaning?

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Man is simply a being in search of meaning.
– Plato

Deeply ensconced in the marrow of our bones is the aspiration for significance.
– R. C. Sproul

We’re a species that needs and wants to understand who we are and what life means. Sheep lice don’t share this, which is why they write so little.
– Anne Lamott

Clinics are crowded with people suffering from a new kind of neurosis, a sense of total and ultimate meaninglessness of life.
– Viktor Frankl

Unless you assume a God, the question of life’s purpose is meaningless.
– Bertrand Russell

No finite point has meaning without an infinite point of reference.
– Jean-Paul Satre

If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.
– C. S. Lewis

Even when we believe with all our minds that life is meaningless, we simply can’t live that way. We know better. We know God is there.
– Tim Keller

The issues of life are before me, I must vote for or against a view of life which has worth, purpose, goal. If I vote that the universe has no meaning, then I vote that my own life has none. But if my life has no meaning and hence no purpose, it will go to pieces, for psychology tells us that without a strong controlling purpose, which co-ordinates life, the personality disintegrates through its own inner clashes no purpose, no personality. But that purpose must be high enough to lift me out of myself. If my purposes end with myself, again I disintegrate. They must include God, who gives basis and lasting meaning to my purpose. If I lose God, I lose myself, my universe, everything. I see that Voltaire was right when he said, “If there is no God, we will have to invent one to keep sane.”
– E. Stanley Jones

How Do We Explain Morality?

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If there is no God, then there can be no objective standards of right and wrong. All we are confronted with is, in Jean-Paul Sartre’s words, the bare, valueless fact of existence. Moral values are either just expressions of personal taste or the by-products of socio-biological evolution and conditioning. In a world without God, who is to say which values are right and which are wrong? Who is to judge that the values of Adolf Hitler are inferior to those of a saint? The concept of morality loses all meaning in a universe without God.

As one contemporary atheistic ethicist points out, “to say that something is wrong because . . . it is forbidden by God, is . . . perfectly understandable to anyone who believes in a law-giving God. But to say that something is wrong . . . even though no God exists to forbid it, is not understandable. . . .” “The concept of moral obligation [is] unintelligible apart from the idea of God. The words remain but their meaning is gone.” (Richard Taylor)

In a world without God, there can be no objective right and wrong, only our culturally and personally relative, subjective judgments. This means that it is impossible to condemn war, oppression, or crime as evil. Nor can one praise brotherhood, equality, and love as good. For in a universe without God, good and evil do not exist—there is only the bare valueless fact of existence, and there is no one to say you are right and I am wrong.

–William Lane Craig,
The Absurdity of Life without God

How Do We Explain Existence?

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The dilemma of modern man is simple: he does not know why man has any meaning. He is lost. Man remains a zero. This is the damnation of our generation, the heart of modern man’s problem. But if we begin with a personal beginning and this is the origin of all else, then the personal does have meaning, and man and his aspirations are not meaningless. Man’s aspirations of the reality of personality are in line with what was originally there and what has always intrinsically been.

It is the Christian who has the answer at this point—a titanic answer! So why have we gone on saying the great truths in all the ways that nobody understands? Why do we keep talking to ourselves, if men are lost and we say we love them? Man’s damnation today is that he can find no meaning for man, but if we begin with the personal beginning we have an absolutely opposite situation. We have the reality of the fact that personality does have meaning because it is not alienated from what has always been, and what is, and what always will be. This is our answer, and with this we have a solution not only to the problem of existence—of bare being and its complexity—but also for man’s being different, with a personality which distinguishes him from non-man.

–Francis Schaeffer,
He Is There and He Is Not Silent

Science, Faith, and Human Worth

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Sigmund Freud famously argued that scientific advance has led to a radical reevaluation of the place and significance of humanity in the universe, deflating human pretensions to grandeur and uniqueness. Before Copernicus, we thought we stood at the center of all things. Before Darwin, we thought we were utterly distinct form every other living species. Before Freud, we though that we were masters of our own limited realm; now we have to come to terms with being the prisoner of hidden unconscious forces, subtly influencing our thinking and behaviour. And as our knowledge of our universe expands, we realize how many galaxies lie beyond our own. The human lifespan is insignificant in comparison with the immense age of the universe. We can easily be overwhelmed by a sense of our insignificance when we see ourselves against this vast cosmic backdrop…

The Christian narrative allows us to frame these questions in a very different way than that offered by a bleak secular humanism. By allowing their personal narratives to be embraced and enfolded by the greater narrative of God, Christians see things in a new way—including their own status and identity. We are no longer mere assemblies of molecules, neutrons, or genes; we are individuals who can relate to God, and whose status is transformed by God’s love and attentiveness toward us…

Through inhabiting the Christian narrative, we come to see ourselves, as medieval writer Julian of Norwich famously put it, as being enfolded in the love of Christ, which brings us a new security, identity, and value. Our self-worth is grounded in being loved by God.

–Alister E. McGrath,
Narrative Apologetics

Free From Fairy Tales

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A: “Atheism freed me from fairy tales!”

B: “So your life has no meaning?”

A: “My life has meaning! It is just that I give it to myself.”

B: “So you tell yourself a story about your own life, which gives it meaning? I don’t think you understand what “free from fairy tales” means.”

—Eve Keneinan

Why Is The World So Fair?

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If it be all for naught, for nothingness
At last, why does God make the world so fair?
Why spill this golden splendor out across
The western hills, and light the silver lamp
Of eve? Why give me eyes to see, and soul
To love so strong and deep? Then, with a pang
This brightness stabs me through, and wakes within
Rebellious voice to cry against all death?
Why set this hunger for eternity
To gnaw my heartstrings through, if death ends all?
If death ends all, then evil must be good,
Wrong must be right, and beauty ugliness.
God is a Judas who betrays His Son,
And with a kiss, damns all the world to hell,–
If Christ rose not again.

–Anonymous soldier killed in World War I,
from: Masterpieces of Religious Verse

The Modern Dilemma

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Remember Jean-Paul Sartre’s statement that the basic philosophical question is that everything that exists has come out of absolutely nothing. In other words, you begin with nothing. Now, to hold this view, it must be absolutely nothing. It must be what I call nothing-something or nothing-nothing. If one is going to accept this answer, it must be nothing-nothing, which means there must be no energy, no mass, no motion, and no personality.

. . . You must not let anybody say he is giving an answer beginning with nothing and then really begin with something: energy, mass, motion, or personality. That would be something, and something is not nothing.

The truth is, I have never heard this argument sustained, for it is unthinkable that all that now is has come out of utter nothing.

zerl 1. . . The dilemma of modern man is simple: he does not know why man has any meaning. He is lost. Man remains a zero. This is the damnation of our generation, the heart of modern man’s problem. But if we begin with a personal beginning and this is the origin of all else, then the personal does have meaning, and man and his aspirations are not meaningless . . .

It is the Christian who has the answer at this point—a titanic answer! . . . Man’s damnation today is that he can find no meaning for man, but if we begin with the personal beginning we have an absolutely opposite situation. We have the reality of the fact that personality does have meaning because it is not alienated from what has always been, and what is, and what always will be. This is our answer, and with this we have a solution to the problem of existence—of bare being and its complexity—but also for man’s being different, with a personality which distinguishes him from non man.

60325008-lake-malvaglia-on-blenio-valley-on-swiss-alpsWe man use an illustration of two valleys. Often in the Swiss Alps, there is a valley filled with water and an adjacent valley without water. Surprisingly enough, sometimes the mountain springs leaks, and suddenly the second valley begins to fill up with water. As long as the level of water in the second valley does not rise higher than the level of water in the first valley, everyone concludes that there is a real possibility that the second lake came from the first. However, if the water in the second valley goes thirty feet higher than the water in the first valley, nobody gives that answer. If we begin with a personal beginning to all things, then we can understand that man’s aspiration for personality has a possible answer.

If we begin with less than personality, we must finally reduce personality to the impersonal. The modern scientific world does this in its reductionism, in which the word “personality” is only the impersonal plus complexity. In the naturalistic scientific world, whether social, psychological, or natural science, a man is reduced to the impersonal plus complexity. There is not real, intrinsic difference.

–Francis Schaeffer,
He Is There and He Is Not Silent