If God does not exist, then we have no ultimate meaning, value or purpose
Who am I? Why am I here? Am I here for a reason? Does life end at the grave? If so what does that mean? Am I intentionally created? Do I have any meaning? Do I have any purpose? Do I really have any value? Can I live happily and consistent with my views?
These are complex and difficult questions intruding into all of our lives. Myself as a boy wondered about such questions and I’m sure you did to. Such questions occupied and still continue to occupy the minds of the thinkers throughout our history.
In the name of progress, modern humanity tried to answer these questions without reference to God and see what we ended up with. But the conclusions are dismal. Humanity was left without any ultimate meaning, value or purpose, our justifications for existence were mere illusory and the only way the game works is if we’re all on the same page. People thought that in killing God we would be more free, but killing God has lead to the death of self. Because, and this is something we’ll go into briefly here, if there is no God, then life is absurd.
This point is worth underscoring, since it’s so frequently misunderstood. 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. On the contrary, life would be unbearable and unlivable without such beliefs. But my point is that, given atheism, these beliefs are all subjective illusions: the mere appearance of meaning, value, and purpose, even though, objectively speaking, there really isn’t any. If God does not exist, our lives are ultimately meaningless, valueless, and purposeless despite how desperately we cling to the illusion to the contrary.
Many philosophers, like Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, have argued that if God does not exist, then life is absurd. Admittedly, Sartre and Camus didn’t take this to be a proof of the opposite, namely, that God exists. Rather they concluded that life really is absurd. Nevertheless, their analysis of human existence shows us clearly the grim implications of atheism.
Ways the world will die
I admit, not the most attractive subtitle but it is potent for what I’ll describe. The outlook of our world without God really is dire and the science backs this up. If this world is all there is, there are some catastrophic apocalypses on their way. (FYI no coronavirus here!)
Heat death of the universe
Scientists tell us that the universe is expanding (See the article on the Kalam Cosmological argument) and as it does this, the universe grows colder and colder as all the energy is used up. Eventually, all the stars will burn out and all matter will collapse into dead stars and black holes. There will be no light, no heat and certainly no life. Just dead stars, dead galaxies expanding into an endless darkness in the cold recesses of outer space.
Anywhere between 1-7.5 billion years time the sun will engulf our planet. This home star of ours bathes in light and supplies energy for almost all of life on earth. The sun is gradually getting warmer and eventually it will be so hot all the oceans on our planet will evaporate and the runaway greenhouse effect will send us terrifying temperatures. All but the most resistant microorganisms will die.
Anywhere between now (yes, now) and 100 million years a volcanic destruction so great could wipe out advanced life on this planet. The last one seen as 250 million years ago wiped out 85% of all landlife and 95% of sealife. Today we observe with caution the destructive power of supervolcanoes like Yellowstone.
No one knows when the next one will go off at such a scale, but one will surely happen eventually, and when it does the key question will be where it goes off. It may not kill off all life, compared to the eruptions of 250 million years ago, but could have significant impacts in other ways (certainly greenhouse gasses).
Possibly within the next 450 million years a massive asteroid could come along and inject some of those anti-dinosaur moves that it sprang out millions of years ago on us.
The Manicouagan crater in Canada — one of the largest impact craters on the planet – was created in a destructive impact about 215 million years ago. But the fossil record shows it didn’t trigger a dinosaur-scale extinction. That might be because the crater formed in relatively inert crystalline rock. Craters that form in volatile-rich sedimentary rocks, in contrast, might send clouds of climate-changing gases into the atmosphere, triggering global mass extinctions.
The good news is that impacts on the scale of the dinosaur killer are rare. Such big rocks may only strike Earth once every 500 million years. But we would likely survive this, a rogue planet however, might not be so generous.
When the core freezes over
This is something to happen in 3-4 billion years predicted and threatens who wipe out all life by destabilising our world and turning us into a modern Mars (we don’t know for sure that happened to Mars, but it’s a possibility.
This sounds cool and terrifying. There’s a nearby binary star called WR 104 that might produce one within 500,000 years, but even if it does it might well miss us.
Many regions of space may have been rendered inhospitable to life because of these also. They can last a fraction of a second, or several minutes. In theory a long Gamma-ray burst (GRB) could obliterate Earth’s ozone layer, leaving the life on the surface exposed to deadly ultraviolet radiation from the Sun.
“Life is present due to the fact that Earth is relatively safe from a true damaging long GRB, those which will cause total extinction,” says Jimenez. “If Earth was closer by a factor of two to the centre of the galaxy, life would be gone.”
There are some wandering stars in line to come into our solar system. They could indeed mess with the course of our planet as it orbits the sun. But the ones coming soon don’t seem so threatening, but much larger planets millions of years away, might not be so generous.
This is one we are all too familiar with. Our planet may well have some tricks up its sleeves but if the frozen methane layers on our planet defrost, our atmosphere will be ravaged and even with all our technologies, we will die.
Insect populations are in rapid decline thanks to agriculture and many other factors and when you undermine core components of the food chain, it collapses. Once the pollinators and their food sources are affected, human civilisation will collapse along with it.
We also know a distant galaxy is on a collision course with us. As to what effect it will have on us there are only estimates, but even if it doesn’t destroy our solar system, it will destroy us.
So what does all this imply? If God does not exist, then all your achievements, everything you’ve done, everything you’ve earned will be turned to ash someday, regardless of how that happens. Whatever benefits for society come as a result of your engineering have all been ultimately for nothing. Life is like a flickering flame—flickering, doomed to go out one day.
Looking for an answer
By what basis can we explore the alternatives? There are three clear distinct categories for evaluating human existence—meaning, value, and purpose—though closely related, are distinct. 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. From the atheistic perspective, what has man to the conclusion of with regards to these three categories?
No ultimate meaning
Does it really matter in the end whether he ever existed at all? Sure, your life may be important relative to certain other events, but what’s the ultimate significance of any of those events? If everything is doomed to destruction, then what does it matter that you influenced anything? Ultimately it makes no difference.
Mankind itself has no more significance than a swarm of mosquitoes or a band of sewer rats. The same blind cosmic process that coughed them up in the first place will eventually swallow them all again and our world will be destroyed.
No Ultimate Value
If life ends at the grave, then it makes no ultimate difference whether you live as a Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot or as a Mother Teresa, Greta Thurnberg and Martin Luther.
Since your destiny is ultimately unrelated to your behavior, you may as well just live as you please. The Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky put it so poiniently: “If there is no immortality … then all things are permitted.”
The state torturers in Soviet prisons understood this all too well. Richard Wurmbrand, a pastor who was tortured for his faith, reports, “The cruelty of atheism is hard to believe when man has no faith in the reward of good or the punishment of evil. There is no reason to be human. There is no restraint from the depths of evil which is in man”. The Communist torturers often said, “There is no God, no hereafter, no punishment for evil. We can do what we wish.” I have heard one torturer even say, “I thank God, in whom I don’t believe, that I have lived to this hour when I can express all the evil in my heart.” He expressed it in unbelievable brutality and torture inflicted on prisoners.
if there is no God, then there is no objective standard of right and wrong. All we’re confronted with is, in Sartre’s words, “the bare, valueless fact of existence.” Moral values are either just expressions of personal taste or the by-products of biological evolution and social conditioning. After all, on the atheistic view, there’s nothing special about human beings. We’re just accidents of nature that have evolved relatively recently on an infinitesimal speck of dust called the planet Earth, lost somewhere in a hostile and mindless universe, and which are doomed to perish individually and collectively in a relatively short time. Richard Dawkins’ assessment of human worth may be depressing, but why, given atheism, is he mistaken when he says, “There is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pointless indifference…”
In a world without God, who’s to say whose values are right and whose are wrong? (Find out more on this in the moral argument for God’s existence) There can be no objective right and wrong, only our culturally and personally relative, subjective judgments. Think of what that this means as a result! It becomes impossible to condemn war, oppression, or crime as evil. As well as this you cannot praise generosity, self-sacrifice, and love as good. To kill someone or to love someone is morally equivalent. 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.
No Ultimate Purpose
If death is our end, then what was the point? What’s the goal for our lives? Was it all a waste of time? Was the universe pointless also? If its destiny is a cold grave in the recesses of outer space, the answer must be, yes—it is pointless. There is no goal, no purpose for the universe. The litter of a dead universe will just go on expanding and expanding—forever. And what of man? Is there no purpose at all for the human race? Or will it simply peter out someday, lost in the oblivion of an indifferent universe?
There is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. All go to the same place. All come from the dust and all return to the dust.Eccl. 3:19–20
If life ends at the grave, then we have no ultimate purpose for living.
The solution? What solution?!
Bertrand Russell believed that we have no choice but to build our lives upon “the firm foundation of unyielding despair.”
The fundamental problem with this solution, however, is that it’s impossible to live consistently and happily within the framework of such a worldview. If you live consistently, you will not be happy; if you live happily, it is only because you are not consistent.
Two story universe
Modern man, says Schaeffer, resides in a two-story universe. In the lower story is the finite world without God; here life is absurd, as we have seen. In the upper story are meaning, value, and purpose. Now modern man lives in the lower story because he believes there is no God. But he cannot live happily in such an absurd world; therefore, he continually makes leaps of faith into the upper story to affirm meaning, value, and purpose, even though he has no right to, since he does not believe in God.
The existentialist Albert Camus has been rightly criticized for inconsistently holding both to the absurdity of life and the ethics of human love and brotherhood. The view that there are no values is logically incompatible with affirming the values of love and brotherhood. Bertrand Russell, too, was inconsistent. For though he was an atheist, he was an outspoken social critic, denouncing war and restrictions on sexual freedom. Russell admitted that he could not live as though ethical values were simply a matter of personal taste, and that he therefore found his own views “incredible.” “I do not know the solution,” he confessed. We are reminded by the truth of Dostoyevsky from earlier.
The so-called New Atheist Richard Dawkins despite saying that there is no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference, he is an unabashed moralist. He vigorously condemns such actions as the harassment and abuse of homosexuals, religious indoctrination of children, the Incan practice of human sacrifice, and prizing cultural diversity over the interests of Amish children. He even goes so far as to offer his own amended Ten Commandments for guiding moral behavior, all the while marvelously oblivious to the contradiction with his ethical subjectivism.
A Horror story
There was a BBC documentary called “The Gathering”. It concerned the reunion of survivors of the Holocaust in Jerusalem, where they rediscovered lost friendships and shared their experiences. One former prisoner, a nurse, told of how she was made the gynecologist at Auschwitz. She observed that pregnant women were grouped together by the soldiers under the direction of Dr. Josef Mengele and housed in the same barracks. Some time passed, and she noted that she no longer saw any of these women. She made inquiries. “Where are the pregnant women who were housed in that barracks?” “Haven’t you heard?” came the reply. “Dr. Mengele used them for vivisection.” Another woman told of how Mengele had bound up her breasts so that she could not suckle her infant. The doctor wanted to learn how long an infant could survive without nourishment. Desperately this poor woman tried to keep her baby alive by giving it pieces of bread soaked in coffee, but to no avail. Each day the baby lost weight, a fact that was eagerly monitored by Dr. Mengele. A nurse then came secretly to this woman and told her, “I have arranged a way for you to get out of here, but you cannot take your baby with you. I have brought a morphine injection that you can give to your child to end its life.” When the woman protested, the nurse was insistent: “Look, your baby is going to die anyway. At least save yourself.” And so this mother felt compelled to take the life of her own baby. Dr. Mengele was furious when he learned of it because he had lost his experimental specimen, and he searched among the dead to find the baby’s discarded corpse so that he could have one last weighing.
One rabbi who survived the camp summed it up well when he said that at Auschwitz it was as though there existed a world in which all the Ten Commandments
were reversed. Mankind had never seen such a hell. And yet, if God does not exist, then in a sense, our world is Auschwitz: There is no right and wrong; all things are permitted.
An honest dishonest solution
Dr. L. D. Rue, confronted with the predicament of modern man and he boldly advocated that we should deceive ourselves by means of some “Noble Lie” into thinking that we and the universe still have value. A sort of greater good lie for society.
“The lesson of the past two centuries is that intellectual and moral relativism is profoundly the case.” He says that the consequence of this realization is that the quest for self-fulfillment and the quest for social coherence fall apart. This is because on the view of relativism the search for self-fulfillment becomes radically privatized: Each person chooses his own set of values and meaning. So what are we to do? Rue says there is on the one hand “the madhouse option”: We just pursue self-fulfillment regardless of social coherence, a free for all. On the other hand, there is “the totalitarian option”: The state imposes social coherence at the expense of people’s personal fulfillment. If we’re to avoid these two options, he says, then we have no choice but to embrace some Noble Lie that will inspire us to live beyond selfish interests and so voluntarily achieve social coherence. A Noble Lie “is one that deceives us, tricks us, compels us beyond self-interest, beyond ego, beyond family, nation, [and] race.” It is a lie because it tells us that the universe is infused with value (which is a great fiction), because it makes a claim to universal truth (when there is none), and because it tells me not to live for self-interest (which is evidently false). “But without such lies, we cannot live.”
- A free for all, no laws, no rules, do what you want regardless of the outcomes
- A dictatorship state where you follow the one system and fall in line regardless of your own will
- Live the lie, pretend we have it all without the need for God and just let it be.
This is the outcome for modern man—to survive you must deceive yourself. A dreadful diagnosis.
The success of Biblical Christianity
Biblical Christianity challenges the worldview of modern man. For according to the Christian worldview, if God does exist, and life does not end at the grave. Biblical Christianity therefore provides the two conditions necessary for a meaningful, valuable, and purposeful life: God and immortality. Because of this, we can live consistently and happily within the framework of our worldview. Thus, biblical Christianity succeeds precisely where atheism breaks down. If God does not exist, then life is futile. If God does exist, then life is meaningful. Only the second of these two alternatives enables us to live happily and consistently.
Of course by Christianity ticking all the boxes where atheism fails doesn’t prove that it’s true, but puts it on the table at least as a live option. There are stunning arguments for the evidence for the God of Christianity. We have Cosmological arguments, moral arguments, arguments for the soul and importantly, for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth—the crux of the matter.
For the Christian
So you’re a Christian, great! How confident do you feel about defending the existence of God? Or the resurrection? Do you only use the inerrant Bible to prove the Bible? Would you like to be able to defend the Christian worldview more historically, philosophically and scientifically? Then please do learn about the arguments for God’s existence here on this site. I have found that even the possibility of these arguments being true increase my confidence in the existence of God.
For the undecided
Whatever your current outlook, I would ask (more demand if I be so bold) you to explore the claims for Christianity, to explore the arguments for God’s existence. For when it comes to God, I’ve written but a mere introductory case for each of the popular arguments (there are over 100 arguments for God’s existence but that’s a bit overkill and some are stronger than others and more well known to me personally). I have more written on the resurrection and the reliability of the New Testament generally (plus other topics as and when they appear on clearer forms on the website!).
One other thing I would note, honestly is what do you have to loose? Think about it, if you’re coming from a position with no allegiance to any particular religion, then exploring it is of no harm to yourself? If Christianity is true, and you believe then it’s a happy outcome (or say another religion but through exploration all the others appear patently false). However, if you believe in nothingness there are two possible outcomes.
- You are right and that’s it, everything in your life will be forgotten, even your current thoughts you are remembering now
- You are wrong and there is some eternity you spend your life in—eternity with God, or voluntary separation from him (I speak on behalf of the christian view)
Where do you want to place your bets? If Christianity turns out not to be true, then some moral decisions were sequestered which otherwise you would’ve enjoyed before the infinite darkness of nothingness. But if it’s true it’s eternity. A modern form of the Pascallian wager I talk about elsewhere speaks that if there’s a 50% chance Christianity is true, you should believe it, the 50% chance not to is dire either way you look at it, at least with it being 50% true, you have a chance of something more than nothing.
Place your bets.