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What Hope Remains if God Does Not Exist?

37

January 4, 2013 by mattfradd


What if all we face is death?

What if all we face is death?

I would like to thank Dr. William Lane Craig for his permission to post

the following excerpt from his book, Reasonable Faith:

If each individual person passes out of existence when he dies, then what ultimate meaning can be given to his life?

Does it really matter whether he ever existed at all?

It might be said that his life was important because it influenced others or affected the course of history. But this only shows a relative significance to his life, not an ultimate significance.

His life may be important relative to certain other events, but what is the ultimate significance of any of those events? If all the events are meaningless, then what can be the ultimate meaning of influencing any of them? Ultimately it makes no difference.

Billions of Years Ago

Look at it from another perspective: Scientists say that the universe originated in an explosion called the ‘Big Bang’ about 15 billion years ago.

Suppose the Big Bang had never occurred. Suppose the universe had never existed. What ultimate difference would it make? The universe is doomed to die anyway. In the end it makes no difference whether the universe ever existed or not. Therefore, it is without ultimate significance.

The same is true of the human race. Mankind is a doomed race in a dying universe. Because the human race will eventually cease to exist, it makes no ultimate difference whether it ever did exist.

All We Face Is Death

Mankind is thus no more significant than a swarm of mosquitos 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.

And the same is true of each individual person. The contributions of the scientist to the advance of human knowledge, the researches of the doctor to alleviate pain and suffering, the efforts of the diplomat to secure peace in the world, the sacrifices of good men everywhere to better the lot of the human race—all these come to nothing.

In the end they don’t make one bit of difference, not one bit. Each person’s life is therefore without ultimate significance. And because our lives are ultimately meaningless, the activities we fill our lives with are also meaningless. The long hours spent in study at the university, our jobs, our interests, our friendships—all these are, in the final analysis, utterly meaningless. This is the horror of modern man: because he ends in nothing, he is nothing.

No Ultimate Significance

But it is important to see that it is not just immortality that man needs if life is to be meaningful. Mere duration of existence does not make that existence meaningful. If man and the universe could exist forever, but if there were no God, their existence would still have no ultimate significance.

To illustrate: I once read a science-fiction story in which an astronaut was marooned on a barren chunk of rock lost in outer space. He had with him two vials: one containing poison and the other a potion that would make him live forever. Realizing his predicament, he gulped down the poison. But then to his horror, he discovered he had swallowed the wrong vial—he had drunk the potion for immortality. And that meant that he was cursed to exist forever—a meaningless, unending life.

Now if God does not exist, our lives are just like that. They could go on and on and still be utterly without meaning. We could still ask of life, ‘So what?’ So it is not just immortality man needs if life is to be ultimately significant; he needs God and immortality. And if God does not exist, then he has neither.

Futility of Life

Twentieth-century man came to understand this. Read Waiting for Godotby Samuel Beckett. During this entire play two men carry on trivial conversation while waiting for a third man to arrive, who never does. Our lives are like that, Beckett is saying; we just kill time waiting—for what, we don’t know. In a tragic portrayal of man, Beckett wrote another play in which the curtain opens revealing a stage littered with junk. For thirty long seconds, the audience sits and stares in silence at that junk. Then the curtain closes. That’s all.

One of the most devastating novels I’ve ever read was Steppenwolf, by Hermann Hesse. At the novel’s end, Harry Haller stands looking at himself in a mirror. During the course of his life he had experienced all the world offers. And now he stands looking at himself, and he mutters, ‘Ah, the bitter taste of life!’ He spits at himself in the looking-glass, and then he kicks it to pieces. His life has been futile and meaningless.

Let’s Get On With It

French existentialists Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus understood this, too. Sartre portrayed life in his play No Exit as hell—the final line of the play are the words of resignation, ‘Well, let’s get on with it.’ Hence, Sartre writes elsewhere of the ‘nausea’ of existence. Camus, too, saw life as absurd. At the end of his brief novel The Stranger, Camus’s hero discovers in a flash of insight that the universe has no meaning and there is no God to give it one. The French biochemist Jacques Monod seemed to echo those sentiments when he wrote in his work Chance and Necessity, ‘Man finally knows he is alone in the indifferent immensity of the universe.’

Thus, if there is no God, then life itself becomes meaningless. Man and the universe are without ultimate significance.

To learn more about Dr. Craig, visit his site: www.reasonablefaith.org

The subheadings are my own.

37 thoughts on “What Hope Remains if God Does Not Exist?

  1. “Does it really matter whether he ever existed at all?”

    To whom?

    It matters to my family and friends. To the people I’ve interacted with while I’ve lived and anyone who is impacted by what I have written or created or made in years to come.

    Beyond that…why should it worry me? It is true that people born in the year 2113 probably won’t care about me or even know I existed. So? Those people who don’t exist yet don’t matter to me, so why should I care what they think?

    Is this meant (by you or Craig) to be an argument for a god existing? Or is it meant to be an argument to believe in a god because it will make you feel better?

    • Steve says:

      “Is this meant (by you or Craig) to be an argument for a god existing? Or is it meant to be an argument to believe in a god because it will make you feel better?”

      Is your comment meant to be an argument that God doesn’t exist, or because if you believe that God doesn’t exist it will make you feel better?

      • Neither. But I’m curious, because all this seems to say is “I wouldn’t like it if a God and an afterlife didn’t exist.”

        Which is fine. You can say that and believe that. But there’s no natural progression from “I wouldn’t like this” to “it therefore must be this other way”. Which is what one would expect to hear from someone who calls himself an apologist.

      • mattfradd says:

        Dear Steve and NotAScientist,

        The above except from Craig, and wich I agree with, is obviously not meant to be an argument for the existence of God. Rather, it attempts to stare atheism in the face without blinking; something many “new” atheists seem unwilling to do.

        NotAScientist, you argue that one’s life can have significance because it was held to be significant by friends and family. Craig preemptively responds to this objection when he writes:

        “His life may be important relative to certain other events, but what is the ultimate significance of any of those events? If all the events are meaningless, then what can be the ultimate meaning of influencing any of them? Ultimately it makes no difference.”

        Obviously one can live one’s life, pretending that it has objective meaning, value and purpose, but without God, I can’t see how this is more than a subjective illusion.

        Looking forward to your reply, and thank you for taking the time to comment!

    • ajb says:

      “Thus, if there is no God, then life itself becomes meaningless. Man and the universe are without ultimate significance.”

      I second NotAScientist’s comments. Why does meaning require eternal meaning? There is lots of meaning to be found in life without presupposing that it fits into an eternal, grand scheme of things … but it’s true that thinking so sometimes adds a kind of meaning.

    • MikeBoyle says:

      “It matters to my family and friends. To the people I’ve interacted with while I’ve lived and anyone who is impacted by what I have written or created or made in years to come.”

      “Matters” in what way? Later, you mention “care.” Why would friends or family “care”? Are you a source of DNA – having fathered children? Do you put food on the table? “Matters,” maybe. “Cares” – if your claim is at all viable – no way. “Created”? Puh-lease.

      If all we’re here to do is donate sperm, produce another generation and kick the can down the road…we should head off to the fertilizer factory at 35 or 40 – when we’ve outlived our usefulness.

      • “Why would friends or family “care”? ”

        Because they’re not Vulcans. Nothing I said in any way suggests that emotions don’t matter to me.

        “If all we’re here to do ”

        According to whom?

        I get to choose what I’m here to do.

        “we should head off to the fertilizer factory at 35 or 40 – when we’ve outlived our usefulness”

        You can, if you want to. I won’t. Because I see value in life that is put their by myself and others around me.

      • MikeBoyle says:

        But, but, but…emotions are illogical!

        Animals have instincts…not “emotions.”

        Emotions are a “god-thing” – not a family, genus, species thing. You know…”God is love” and all that nonsense.

      • “emotions are illogical!”

        So what? That doesn’t mean they aren’t good.

        “Emotions are a “god-thing””

        No. They’re a human thing. And you don’t get to claim them just because you believe in other illogical, irrational things.

        And I don’t claim to get truth from emotion. Not empirical truth.

      • MikeBoyle says:

        LOL…OK…keep tellin’ yerself that.

        Diggin’ the contortions.

      • Yes. So many contortions. Continue believing in magic.

      • MikeBoyle says:

        “…No explanation is possible.”

        It’s like trying to explain the sunrise to a blind man.

      • So you can see magic then? Do you have a wand?

      • MikeBoyle says:

        LOL…what’s that they say about “the first one who makes it personal”?

        Have a wonderful day, NAS.

      • mattfradd says:

        I’m on NotAScientist’s side here (at least up until the magic wand stuff). Mike, I’m not sure if you’re being “smart” because you don’t know how to respond or because you don’t have the time; either way, I think NotAScientist is making some valid points and you’ve (so far) failed to address them.

  2. MikeBoyle says:

    LOL…I’ve yet to receive an article that I felt no compunction to read.

    Seriously: what hope remains if *I* do not exist?

    Just sayin’…

    • mattfradd says:

      Well, I’m pleased at least to see that it at generated enough interest for you to open and comment. I’m not really sure of your position Mike; I’m sensing a lot of sarcasm in your comments, it’s hard to know what you’re trying to say.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

      • MikeBoyle says:

        I use some sarcasm now and again, Matt.

        As per your blog post: whether I open my eyes or not…I see God – in everything. So your “…if God does not exist” is, to me, redundant. It’s like saying, “…if there was no planet earth” or “…if green is not on the color spectrum.” But I “get ya” and appreciate your thoughts.

      • mattfradd says:

        Thank you for speaking (writing) clearly. Text is tone deaf.

  3. Steve says:

    It’s a very interesting debate but wouldn’t the same argument work against God himself ?

    In the above article William Lane Craig stated, “But it is important to see that it is not just immortality that man needs if life is to be meaningful. Mere duration of existence does not make that existence meaningful. If man and the universe could exist forever, but if there were no God, their existence would still have no ultimate significance.”

    What if an athiest asked, “So if God has no God ? how does God find his existance meaningful ?”

    • MikeBoyle says:

      What is the famous saying for faith?

      “For those who need no explanation, none is necessary. For those who do; none is possible.”

      Something like that. Basically, faith is an experience. It “happens.” To the one in possession of it, it’s as real as all the other senses.

      It’s why I’ve generally sworn off discussing the issue with those of the atheist religion.

      • mattfradd says:

        Thanks for your great question, Steve!

        The dilemma you seem to be proposing, and correct me if I’m wrong, would look like this:

        Either God’s life is meaningless or he relies on another “god” to give him meaning.

        I’ll address the latter first. Christians, as I’m sure you know, do not believe that God created everything; they believe he created everything other than himself. God is a metaphysically necessary being whose non-existence is impossible. To ask, who created God? or, “Could God derive meaning from another “god” is a nonsensical question, it’s akin to asking “Who created the uncreated being?” or, “Could the uncreated being derive meaning from a being who created him? Both questions are meaningless

        I would argue, and I’d should probably reflect more upon this, but here goes, that God’s meaning and significance is contained within him self. God, Christians believe, is an eternal exchange of life-giving love – he is a Trinity of persons.

        I know that’s a short, and perhaps insufficient answer, but that’s what comes to me right off the bat.

        Thoughts?

      • mattfradd says:

        Mike, if you are arguing that faith in God cannot be rationally held or demonstrated through nature, then, I’m afraid you are in direct conflict with Vatican I.

        I’m sorry to hear that you’ve “sworn off” talking with atheists about “religion,” which I take to include, Jesus Christ, especially since (if you are a Christian) you have been commanded to do as much (Matt 28:18-20).

      • MikeBoyle says:

        Well…as Jesus said: shake the dust off your sandals.

        I’m not sure what you’re reading, Matt.

      • Steve says:

        Hi Matt,

        Thanks for your reply. Here are my thoughts.

        I think if we replied with what you suggested as a possible answer, “God’s meaning and significance is contained within him self” an atheist could also debate that it was in himself.

        I.E. “Man’s meaning and significance is contained within him self.”

        Another possible concern of this type of argument, while valid and well made, is that it may cause more damage than good. Take for instance an atheist that is struggling with mental health issues. It is possible he may accept the premise of the argument, i.e. his life is meaningless and has no significance because he doesn’t believe there is a God. This could lead to depression and or suicide.

      • Steve says:

        Hi Mike,

        There was a time in my life when I was an Atheist / Agnostic where I didn’t understand Christianity. I pretty much hated the concept of Jesus for reasons unknown.

        It was thanks to a few Christians that did take the time to debate with me, even though I was very unresponsive at the time to their efforts, for me to go on and read the bible and find truth in Christianity.

        Don’t give up on them, I’m thankful for the ones that shared their time with me, and always will be.

        There is an old saying.

        “For evil to triumph all it takes is for a few good men to do nothing.”

        Today with the resources of the internet we can learn a lot from Apologists like Matt and use the information they share with our atheist and agnostic friends and hopefully allow them to see the beauty of Christianity.

      • MikeBoyle says:

        Thanks, Steve.

        I have “pretty much” sworn off arguing with those of the atheist “religion.” It’s a matter of degrees. Fanatical atheists occupy a lot of space online. In the real life in the real world, I don’t shun atheists. I try to live a life reflecting my beliefs. It’s required “form” for evangelizing.

        I don’t spend a lot of time with those who a prone to “make it personal.” I can’t argue with someone who believes all the order in the universe, the size, the mass, the void, and the detail all just “came together.” I use the example of a chainsaw (I used to work in the woods and used a chainsaw extensively) to demonstrate my point. A couple hundred parts maybe. I’d ask ‘what are the chances this chainsaw could “come together” by throwing all 200 parts in the clothes-dryer and turning it on?’ The respondent would answer “zero.” Correct! In science, something is considered “impossible” if the chances of it spontaneously happening over time are more than 1:50. Imagine something more than 100 quadrillion parts, moving at a high rate of speed, in an infinitely large clothes-dryer, over billions of years. For such a universe to “come together” – without a designer – would itself, by scientific principle, qualify as “magic.”

        LOL…it’s hard enough when a person refuses to use logic and reason (usually his own logic and reason) and then the “sky daddy” stuff comes out – and when it does, it’s conversation over.

      • mattfradd says:

        Thanks for your comment Mike; good points.

      • MikeBoyle says:

        My pleasure, Matt.

        It’s been awhile since I’ve been so theologically engaged. I am reminded that the name YHWH literally means “causes to become” (as I remember it anyway). In Gen 3, after the creation and during (what I refer to as) the “devolution of man,” God is clearly speaking to another. So he’s not “lonely.” In fact, Gen 3 describes exactly why we find ourselves in the compromising position we find ourselves in today. God, as we know, is a descriptive term – not a name. Quite simply, man (now knowing good and bad) has made himself his own “god.” As is the case with any organism, self-survival is the prime directive. Of course, such a “god” will argue or deny the existence of any and all other “gods.” Complete denial describes atheism…toleration of other “gods” describes agnoticism. Imagine the confusion with 6 billion “gods” all determining their own way! ANYWAY, I’m always curious as to HOW someone can so deny reality…and Gen 3 offers a pretty good explanation.

    • mattfradd says:

      Thanks for your input Steve. I’ll think about what you’ve raised so I can offer a more substantive response. In the meantime, let me see if I can tackle it from another angle.

      Do you disagree that if God does not exist life becomes absurd? Why, Why not?

      Thanks

      • Steve says:

        Hi Matt,

        Taking it away from personal experience, one’s life, and looking at the totality of life without God, it is absurd.

        You could look at God as the final multiplier in any maths equation. If God = 0 then the result is always 0.

        For example 2 * 4 / 2 + 294 * 59 * 929 …….. = (result) * 0 (No God) the result is zero, regardless of everything that happens. So yes everything that happens without God is insignificant as the end result is nothing.

        If you look at it though for a person’s life it may not be absurd to them without God because they are just part of the equation at that point in time and that does in turn change the result for the next part of the equation. That person’s life has significance and meaning based on where they draw it from for their lifetime. The article does cover that though to some degree.

        One of the issues you have is that people choose to live in the “Now” hence a popular book “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle. You’re going to have a difficult time getting people to think outside of their lifespan and at the finality of life. They are only seeing the part of the equation they make up and not the end result.

        I guess a simpler question might be to ask,

        What would the ultimate significance and meaning of life be after all life ceased to exist without God?

      • mattfradd says:

        I really appreciate your comments Steve; some great points!

        Having reflected on the question, “What gives God’s life meaning then?” If we want to say that mere duration does not eradicate absurdity.

        God is perfect, he is complete, he is good. God has no desires, he lacks nothing; he is complete. God, as you know, doesn’t sit around waiting for the next thing to happen; he exists in the perfect now.

        I’m now offering this response as a definitive response to your question, but as thought. I’d love your feedback.

      • Steve says:

        Hi Matt,

        You said “God has no desires, he lacks nothing; he is complete.”

        I would think the creation of mankind indicated a desire of some sort.

        Whether God required to create “Mankind” to find meaning for his own existance is another question. I strongly doubt God did, I don’t think God needs us, it is us that needs God.

        There is a good book called “How God Changes the Brain” by an Agnostic and Athiest both neuroscientists. Andrew Newberg writes an interesting thing about trying to understand God would be like a dog trying to understand us.

        He simplifies it to “God is to man as man is to dog.”

        extract

        “God, for me, is a very personal concept, one that has preoccupied my thoughts since childhood, and I often just sit back and watch where my mind wants to go. One day, I was thinking about God, and I had the startling revelation that the relationship was strangely analogous to my relationship with my dog. I do not mean this in a literal sense, but more as a metaphor. It occurred to me that when it comes to communication, God is to man as man is to dog. I played with this idea for a while, contemplating the enormous differences between species. Our lives are thousands of times more complex than that of a dog. We have so many more relationships, so many different ways of behaving and responding to others, and so many different thoughts and feelings when compared to the life of a pet. We understand our pets, or at least we think we do, but I am certain that dogs have little understanding of us. They cannot comprehend what we do at work, how we drive the car, or how we know when and what to feed them. Dogs clearly have emotions and thoughts, but these are extremely limited when compared to the average human being. Even if dogs could begin to understand what we were thinking, it would be impossible to explain it to them since they have only a minimal understanding of our language. For the most part, all they usually understand are their name and a limited number of commands such as “Sit,” “Stay,” and “Fetch.” We may like to think they understand us, but what they probably hear is “Blah blah blah, Rover, blah blah food.” There is no way to explain to them why work is difficult, why you feel frustrated with one of your friends, or why you’re excited to be going away over the weekend with just your wife. Fortunately, they do understand basic behaviors. They can tell if you like them, or whether they have done something wrong. But this is usually the limit of their understanding of us. Everything else we do is essentially a mystery to them. My thoughts then turned to our relationship with God. For many people, God is generally regarded as an infinite, all-powerful, and all-knowing being. In contrast, we are finite and fairly weak and limited, even though we think we know more than we actually do. How can we ever hope to comprehend the infinitude that is God? It is probably a million times more difficult than a dog’s ability to understand us, but the analogy seems to fit. We cannot understand what God does at work, whether God has any “friends,” what God looks like, or what God’s personality actually is. These are human characteristics, and they are unlikely to be applicable to God.”

        from – Newberg M.D., Andrew; Mark Robert Waldman (2009-03-20). How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist (Kindle Locations 4142-4150). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

  4. […] Matt Fradd quotes from William Craig here: […]

  5. “If all the events are meaningless, then what can be the ultimate meaning of influencing any of them? Ultimately it makes no difference.” ”

    I would say, to both Craig and you, meaningless to whom?

    It’s meaningful to me. And it’s meaningful to the people who I care about and who care about me.

    Why should I care if it isn’t meaningful to anyone else?

  6. Joyce says:

    Well, the earth and universe is rushing headlong in to oblivion. The “time” will come when all ceases to exist. If life existed once on another planet, say Mars, do we care now about those that lived there once? Do we care about their once feelings? Do we care about their once relationships?I think not. The same with Earth and it’s inhabitants in the “future”. When all life is dead in the Universe, who cares? It’s all meaningless.

    As Jean-Paul Satre admits: “Every existing thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness, and dies by chance….. Life begins on the other side of despair.”

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