XFiles Friday: The Purpose of PurposeAugust 31, 2007 — Deacon Duncan
Now at last we get to some real apologetics (in Geisler and Turek’s book,). Having moved the discussion from the world of verifiable realities into the realm of subjective philosophical speculations, and having identified 5 questions about Origin, Identity, Meaning, Morality and Destiny as being “the five most consequential questions in life,” Geisler and Turek begin their attempt to show that Christianity is the religion with the best answers to these five carefully-chosen questions.
The answers to each of these questions depend on the existence of God. If God exists, then there’s ultimate meaning and purpose to your life. If there’s a real purpose to your life, then there’s a real right and wrong way to live it. Choices you make now not only affect you here but will affect you in eternity. On the other hand, if there is no God, then your life ultimately means nothing. Since there is no enduring purpose to life, there’s no right or wrong way to live it. And it doesn’t matter how you live or what you believe–your destiny is dust.
This is a fairly common and even popular apologetic, so I’m pleased to be able to address it. Without God, they say, there is no purpose to life, no meaning and no morality. The only things that really matter are the things that are going to affect eternity, and everything else is ultimately pointless and meaningless. Talk about nihilistic!
Let’s notice, first of all, that this argument is based on the assumption that Christianity is true, i.e. that we truly are immortal souls and that our ultimate meaning and purpose are determined with reference to eternity in general and to ending up in Heaven or Hell in particular. Geisler and Turek want to prove that Christianity is true and that God really does exist, so they begin by assuming that Christianity is true, and then use this as an argument in support of the idea that Christianity is true. In other words, a simple logical fallacy known as begging the question.
Secondly, let’s notice the arbitrary and unreasonable value judgments made by Geisler and Turek. If “there is no enduring purpose to life, [then] there’s no right or wrong way to live it.” Nonsense. Is there an enduring purpose to eating? If you eat your dinner, will it fill you and satisfy you forever? If you get hungry again, does that mean there is no right way and no wrong way to prepare a meal, no such thing as “good” cooking and “bad” cooking?
Geisler and Turek are trying to force an arbitrary and artificial value system on something that is already filled with inherent meaning and purpose. You brush you teeth, not because doing so will prevent them from ever getting food on them again, but because there is an immediate purpose and benefit to good dental hygiene. You speak, not because your words will be audible forever, or because having spoken means you will never need to speak again, but simply because you have something to say.
It is Geisler and Turek’s value system that ultimately reduces everything to meaninglessness. If you spend five minutes doing something, or five days, or five years, or an entire lifetime, what is that in proportion to infinite duration of eternity? It is nothing. We speak of human existence as being a mere blip on the geological time scale, and the geological time scale is less than a blip on the scale of eternity. Of what possible significance can any earthly activity be, with respect to eternity? Put down a decimal point, and then keep writing zeroes after it forever, and you’ll have some idea of what one mortal lifetime amounts to on the scale of eternity.
Geisler and Turek, of course, will argue that our earthly actions are of great significance, since they determine where we will spend eternity, i.e. in Heaven or in Hell. But here’s where the arbitrary value system comes into play. Why should any finite and relatively infinitesimal activity determine anyone’s eternal status? How can it possibly be just to impose infinite punishment on someone who has only committed a finite amount of offense? Especially considering how insignificant that offense would be in proportion to the infinite vastness of eternity?
So Geisler and Turek have at least two problems here: number one, putting human behavior in the context of eternity makes it all proportionately insignificant, and number two, it makes God a real jerk to claim that He imposes infinite punishments on people for actions that are infinitesimally small and insignificant in proportion to eternity. But that doesn’t really matter to Christians, because this argument isn’t really intended to lead to a coherent value system.
The true purpose of the “No God, No Purpose” argument is not so much a logical appeal as it is an appeal to the emotions, particularly pride and selfishness. God’s purpose for believers, according to Christians, is to make sure that everything works out the way they like it. Yes, God is going to reward you for being right about whatever seems right in your own eyes, and He’s also going to see to it that Hell swallows up everyone who offends you by disagreeing with whatever seems right to you. That is both the “meaning” and the “purpose” your life acquires when you become a believer. The most powerful and important Being in the universe devotes Himself to your happiness and satisfaction, under the guise of revealing His perfect will (which coincidentally happens to coincide with whatever seems right in your own eyes).
Isn’t that great? Doesn’t it make you feel important to know that the true meaning of life is that Almighty God is doing everything in His power to make sure that you ultimately end up happy for all eternity, and that everyone who opposes you ends up unhappy? Can atheists claim to have that kind of significant relationship with that kind of significant Other? You rule, Christian dude.
So we’re off to a good start. Geisler and Turek are out to prove that God exists, and they begin by assuming that Christianity is true, and using this as evidence that Christianity is true. What’s more, they do it in such a way as to flatter the (prospective) believer with the idea that the most powerful Being in the cosmos wants to make his or her life and happiness the central focus of His divine plan and purpose. This self-flattering and self-satisfying “meaning and purpose” are indeed a big part of what makes Christianity appealing to believers, and Geisler and Turek are very clever to start off with it. It may not differ from the approach any other con man would take in softening up the pigeon, but it is clever.