Is it all Meaningless?

April 18, 2007

Not too long ago a nice chat was started up by a friend of mine about the meaninglessness of life. A few days ago and then again today this topic was touched on by more people, so it seems worthy of being typed about.

The Woman’s Meaningless Flowers:
One day an elderly woman came home from errands and noticed some flowers growing in a small garden next to her house which she thought had been abandoned. She had lived in the house for a couple years and had never seen flowers grow in the garden. Having no neighbors she wondered who did it and because none of her children lived in state, she knew they couldn’t have been planted by one of them. She finally concluded it must have been her husband. She sat and thought about how sweet it was of him to do and how it had shown true care that he took the time to plant such beautiful flowers. She also thought of how clever a surprise it was for him to plant the flowers, knowing she would have to think about it before she realized it was he who planted them. When her husband finally walked in she jumped up and gave him a hug. “Thanks for the flowers,” she exclaimed. Her husband assured her that it was not him. Suddenly all her excitement and thoughts of being appreciated and loved melted away. She realized that either the flowers must have just grown in from nature’s natural course, or if someone had planted them for her, it was beyond her knowledge. The initial meaning was imagined, in reality there was no real intent in the flowers, and therefore, no true meaning in them either.

A Sisyphean World

We have all heard of Sisyphus who was damned to an eternity of rolling a boulder up a hill only to have it roll back down right before getting to the top. Albert Camus used this myth in one of his well known writings where he tried to answer the question “If one comes to the realization that life has no meaning, is it then appropriate to commit suicide”1. At first this question may seem absurd to even ponder, but if you can break out of your comfort zone, anyone can recognize the necessity of this question in a meaningless world.

If one thinks of the world as purely naturalistic and humans as merely the result of natural selection, or as Richard Dawkins would say, a “blind-watchmaker,” then one must recognize that neither humans nor the universe were designed for a purpose, and without purpose there is no real meaning.

Is Meaninglessness a Bad Thing?

Surely Aldous Huxley has thought of meaninglessness as “liberating,” and says of the man who sees the world as meaningless that “there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do”2. In case one has not yet realized this, meaningless takes away morality, creating a truly relativistic world where each does as he/she pleases. Discussing the implications of this alone is too vast, and will have to be reserved for a later post.

Another implication of meaninglessness is the loss of value in humanity. In one of my recent conversations, this question was posed to my friend who claims to think the world is meaningless. “Imagine I came in with a gun and said either you die or your nephew dies, who would you choose?” My friend answered, “I would die and let my nephew live.” Then my friend was asked why this would be his choice, in which he responded, ” Seeing that I am older I would want him to have the chance to experience more life.” The problem with this answer is that it assumes a value to life basis for the moral system he uses to make this anti-instinctual judgment. This is contradictory to the meaninglessness he claims. It sounds vulgar, but if someone does not have feet then they probably do not have a lot of shoes around. The reason being that there is no purpose for the shoes to fulfill and therefore it is not necessary to have them. The same goes for life, if it has no purpose to fulfill then it is not necessary. Apparently it seems my friend may like to say he thinks of the world as meaningless, but as we have seen, he surely does not practice what he preaches. Surely David Hume was talking of this idea when he said “Is it because human life is of so great importance, that it is a presumption for human prudence to dispose of it? But the life of a man is of no greater importance to the universe than that of an oyster”3.

Can’t We Make-Up Our Own Meaning?

Now I see that I misunderstood the nature of my meaninglessness
and that I was using inappropriate methods for dealing with it
—looking for a definite purpose, a specific meaning for my life.
This effort to create my own meaning did not work,
even after several years of serious endeavor.
I eventually saw through all the goals and purposes of my contemporaries:
Possessions, accomplishments, adventures, love, marriage, family
all seemed hollow and empty, ephemeral and fleeting.
I knew these would not satisfy my quest for meaning.
And I took an arrogant attitude toward people who thought otherwise
—the near-sighted people who literally gave themselves to such trivia4.

In the above writing by James Park, it only seems logical that he would come to such conclusions. If all is meaningless, what foundation do you have in the first place to ever build meaning off of? If all people are equally meaningless, why choose one person over another as a spouse…surely love is an absurdity. If life is meaningless, why reproduce to bring more children into a meaningless realm…why even live at all? As Hume says, “What is the meaning then of that principle(preservation), that a man who, tired of life, and hunted by pain and misery, bravely overcomes all the natural terrors of death and makes his escape from this cruel scene”3. Perhaps it is true that life is nothing but a prison of evil, pain, sorrow, and emptiness, and only through death can we truly be free. So while one may contend that we can each muster up something for our own meaning, they must admit this, you have become no different than Sisyphus. Working to push the boulder up a hill knowing that in the end that all your work will come tumbling back down, but this is not creating meaning for yourself, it is living in denial. As Park has written, “Usually we keep our underlying condition locked away, under wraps. We keep ourselves busy and preoccupied
so that we never notice our fundamental meaninglessness. But sometimes—against our wills—something pierces our thick skin, cracks our protective shell, opens the cage of our imprisonment, and our guts spill tangled on the ground. Our central life-purpose has collapsed, leaving us empty and alone” 4. This must be why Huxley said “Most of one’s life . . . is one prolonged effort to prevent thinking.”

Do You Really Think Life is Meaningless?

This is an excerpt from a book by philosopher Dr. Ravi Zacharias.
” At one of my lectures on Man’s Search for Meaning, a student rose to his feet and shouted, “Ah, but everything in life is meaningless.” I insisted that he could not possibly believe that. With an equally intense retort he countered that he did…I asked him if he thought his statement was a meaningful one. There was an acute silence, and then he hesitantly answered, “Yes.” I only had to add that if his assertion was meaningful, then everything in life was not meaningless. If, on the other hand, everything was indeed meaningless, his assertion was meaningless too, and, therefore, in effect, he had said nothing”5.

1Albert Camus- The Myth of Sisyphus
2Aldous Huxley- Ends and Means
3David Hume- Of Suicide
4James Park-Our Existential Predicament: Loneliness, Depression, Anxiety, & Death
5Ravi Zacharias- The Real Face of Atheism


What Atheism Really Is

April 17, 2007

From a few recent conversations it became apparent to me that quite a few atheist are unaware of what atheism actually is. How ironic that these people have told me how much they hate blind faiths and yet they do not even know the meaning and implications of the philosophy they think of as true. It seems that it would be proper for me to define atheism and show what philosophers and atheist alike have defined atheism as.

Dictionary Definitions:

First, it is important to remember that atheism/atheist stems from Greek, atheos, from a- “without” + theos “a god” … translating to without-a god or no-god.

Belief that god does not exist. Unlike the agnostic, who merely criticizes traditional arguments for the existence of a deity, the atheist must offer evidence (such as the problem of evil) that there is no god or propose a strong principle for denying what is not known to be true. –Philosophy Pages Philosophic Dictionary1

Disbelief in or denial of the existence of God or gods. The doctrine that there is no God or gods. –American Heritage Dictionary2 (Disbelief has been defined as refusal or rejection of belief.)

Denial of the existence of God or gods and of any supernatural existence, to be distinguished from agnosticism, which holds that the existence cannot be proved… Agnosticism is a form of skepticism that holds that the existence of God cannot be logically proved or disproved.The Columbia Encyclopedia3

An atheist is a person who maintains that there is no God; this is that the sentence “God exist” expresses a false proposition. Encyclopedia of Philosophy4

Atheism is not simply lack of belief in god/s:

Many people keep trying to convince me that atheism is just a lack of belief in a god or gods. This definition is not correct. As we can see, this is not the definition in any of the dictionaries. Should someone really think that the writers/editors of four different dictionaries/encyclopedias all got the definition of atheism wrong? The atheist writer at the website has apparently dealt with this same problem and has said, “The lack of public acceptance for a lack of belief definition of atheism is reflected in the fact that no reputable dictionary has a lack of belief definition for either atheism or atheist”5.

To think that atheism is only a lack of belief causes a lot of problems. Agnostics lack belief in God/gods, but they are not atheist. If atheism was anyone who lacked belief in gods then the entire concept of agnosticism is redundant and useless. Atheism and agnosticism could be interchanged at any time, but as seen in the Columbia Encyclopedia above, this is not the case.

There is More than One Type of God:

It seems worth noting that atheism does not just mean that you believe there to be no-god as described in the three leading monotheistic faiths (Christianity, Islam, Judaism). Many atheist forget this and don’t realize that atheism is NO-gods, whether they be pantheistic, monotheistic, panentheistic, deistic, transtheistic, polytheistic, etc…

Why it Matters:

Based on the definitions and writings above, it follows that maintaining atheism is to claim that it is true that there is no-god/s. This is another place the “lack of belief” comes into play. Many atheist will try to back their way out of a debate by saying the just have a “lack of belief,” this is a poor attempt to try to win a debate by skepticism rather than by atheism. Anyone who knows even the first thing about philosophy knows that lack of proof is not a disproof. Clearly it is much easier to deny that someone else is right than to show your own view is right, but true atheist must be ready with reasons to show why atheism is rational, if you can not do this, you probably are not an atheist.

It seems obvious but I will also mention this; if you do not actually think atheism is true, why would you ever claim it?

2The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
3The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition
4 The Encyclopedia of Philosophy Vol. 1


What my blog is all about…

April 16, 2007

“Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that, unless we love the truth, we cannot know it,” claims religious philosopher Blaise Pascal. While Pascal’s comment was made during the 1600’s, it seems just as, if not more, accurate of today’s world. Although I have not been alive for even a quarter of a century, the detesting of truth and contempt for honesty have clearly been revealed to me, not only by my own generation, but by many of my elders as well.

In case one is curious as to the definition of truth, it seems that Dr. Ravi Zacharias has been correct in the statement that “truth is what is,” or as said by another, ” Truth is a description of reality.” Thomas Aquinas has also been accurate in his notion that reality of there being truth is self-evident. He writes, “For whosoever denies the existence of truth grants that truth does not exist: and, if truth does not exist, then the proposition Truth does not exist is true: and if there is anything true, there must be truth.” Dr. Zacharias has also pointed out another important feature of truth, it is exclusive by definition. The commonly used example of a married bachelor shows Dr. Zacharias idea of exclusivity in truth to be correct. One can not be both married and a bachelor, he is either married or a bachelor. If it is true that a man is married, the claim that he is a bachelor is not true, and thus exluded as an accurate description of this person. If someone says it is true that there is only one person in room A, it is not true that there are 10 people in room A or even 2. Again we see that Dr. Zacharias is correct, the statement that there is only one person in the room excludes every notion that room A has any more or less than one person in it. Truth does not contradict itself.

Coming back to the original topic, our world seems to loathe truth today. The great Winston Churchill stated that “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.” At times this seems to be the most common reaction to truth today, acting as if it was not there or that it bears no burden of effect on a person/people. Other times it seems as though people discover the truth and try to corrupt, alter, or bury it…but truth always seems to resurrect again. For now our world seems to be pushing pluralism and relativism, but as Reformation leader John Wycliffe once announced, “I believe that in the end the truth will conquer.”

I wish to discuss several different key events and ideas that have had to do with the discovery and effects of truth, as well as mentioning some of the events that have lead humanity away from the truth. My desire is that I will come to see the truth even more clearly, and perhaps another may get a glimpse of truth… or atleast a different view of reality to contemplate.

Sources Used:
Robinson, Timothy. God. City: Hackett Pub Co Inc, 2003
Zacharias, Ravi. Can Man Live Without God. Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2004.