The following is my own transcription of one of the most powerful lectures that I have ever heard. I am delighted to see that it is now readily available in both video of the lecture and as a transcript in PDF format. Since I personally don’t care for PDF if a good HTML source is available – and since this is such a staggeringly powerful lecture – I thought I should make it available in a more usable transcript format.
Every religious believer, and every non-believer, should read this powerful presentation of the absurdity of life without God.
The Absurdity of Life Without God by William Lane Craig, a lecture given at Biola University on 5 March, 2002
(Painstakingly transcribed from tape)
This a topic that is most serious and somber: the absurdity of life without God.
Loren Eisley writes, “Man is the cosmic orphan. He’s the only creature in the universe who asks, ‘Why?’ Other animals have instincts to guide them, but man has learned to ask questions: ‘Who am I?’ ‘Why am I here?’ ‘Where am I going?'” Ever since the Enlightenment, when men threw off the “shackles” of religion, man has tried to answer those questions without reference to God. But the answers that came back were not exhilarating, but dark and terrible: you are the accidental by-product of nature – the result of matter, plus time, plus chance. There is no reason for your existence; all you face is death. Modern man thought that when he got rid of God he freed himself from everything that stifled and oppressed him; instead, he found that in killing God, he had only orphaned himself. For if there is no God, then man’s life becomes, ultimately, absurd. If God does not exist, then both man and the universe are inevitably doomed to death. Man, like all biological organisms, must die. With no hope of immortality man’s life leads only to the grave. Compared to the infinite stretch of time, man’s life is but a brief infinitesimal moment; and yet this is all the life that he will ever know. And therefore every one of us must come face to face with what theologian Paul Tillich has called, “the threat of non-being.” For even though I know that now I exist, that now I am alive, I also know that someday I will no longer exist, that I will die. I will no longer be. And this thought is staggering and frightening; to think that the person I call I, myself, will no longer exist, that I will be no more. It is an overwhelming thought that the majority of us encounter first as children. Most of us simply grow to accept the fact, as we all learn to live with the inevitable. But the child’s insight of horror remains true. As the French existentialist, Jean Paul Sarte, observed, “Several hours or several years make no difference, once you have lost eternity.”
And the universe, too, faces a death of its own, scientists tell us that the universe is expanding, and the galaxies are growing further and further apart. As it does so it grows colder and colder as its 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 at all. There will be no heat. There will be no life. Only the corpses of dead stars and galaxies, ever expanding into the endless darkness, and the cold recesses of outer space – a universe in ruins. The entire universe marches irretrievably toward its grave. So not only is the life of each individual person doomed, the entire human race is doomed. The universe is plunging toward inevitable extinction; death is written throughout its structure. There is no escape. There is no hope.
If there is no God, then, man and the universe are doomed like prisoners awaiting execution; we await our inevitable death. There is no God. There is no immortality. And what is the consequence of this? It means that life itself becomes ultimately absurd. It means that the life that we do have is without ultimate significance, value, or purpose. Let’s look at each one of these.
First, there is no ultimate meaning without immortality and God. 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 or not? It might be said that his life was important because it influenced others or affected the course of history. But that shows only 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 to any of those events? If all of the events are meaningless, then what can be the ultimate significance of influencing any of them? Ultimately it makes no difference. Or look at it from another perspective: scientists say that the universe originated in a great explosion called ‘the Big Bang’ about 15 billion years ago. Suppose the Big Bang had never occurred: what ultimate difference would it have made? The universe is doomed to die anyway; in the end it makes no difference whether it ever existed or not. And 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. mankind is thus no more significant than a swarm of mosquitoes or a barnyard of pigs, for their end is all the same: the same cosmic process that coughed them all up in the first place will eventually swallow them all up again. And the same is true of each individual person; the contribution of the scientists 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 efforts of good people everywhere to benefit 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 that we fill our lives with are also meaningless. The long hours spent in study at the university, our jobs, our interests, our friendships, all of these are, in the final analysis, ultimately meaningless. This is the horror of modern man. Because he ends in nothing, he ultimately is nothing.
But it’s important to see that its not just immortality that man needs if life is to be meaningful. Mere duration of existence does not suffice to make that existence meaningful. Man and the universe could exist forever, but if there were no God, that existence would still have no ultimate significance. To illustrate one science fiction short story told of a space traveler who was marooned on a barren chunk of rock lost in outer space. And he had with him two vials: one containing a potion that would give him immortality, and the other a poison to end his life. Realizing his hopeless predicament, he gulped down the vial of poison. And then, he had discovered to his horror, that he had drunk the wrong vial; he had swallowed the potion for immortality. And thus he was doomed to exist forever in a meaningless, unending life. Now if God does not exist, then our lives are just like that. They could go on, and on, and on, and still be utterly without meaning. We could still ask of life, ‘So what?’ So its not just immortality that man needs if life is to be ultimately significant. He needs God and immortality. And if God does not exist, then he has neither.
20th century man came to understand this fact. Read Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett; during this entire play two men carry on trivial, mind-numbing conversation, while waiting for a third man to arrive, who never does. And 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 – Breath – in which the curtain opens revealing a stage littered with junk. And for 30 long seconds the audience sits and stares in silence at that junk; and then the curtain closes. That’s all there is. The French existentialists Jean Paul Sarte and Albert Camus understood this as well. Sarte portrays 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.” And thus Sarte writes elsewhere of the “nausea” of existence. Camus also saw life as absurd. At the end of his brief novel The Stranger, Camus’ hero discovers in a flash of insight that life has no meaning, and that there is no God to give it one. The French biochemist Jacques Monot seemed to echo these sentiments when he wrote in his work Chance and Necessity, “Man finally knows that he is alone in the indifferent immensity of the universe.” Thus if there is no God, then life becomes ultimately meaningless. Man and the universe are without ultimate significance.
Secondly, there is no ultimate value without God and immortality. If life ends at the grave, then ultimately it makes no difference whether one has lived as a Stalin or as a saint since one’s destiny is ultimately unrelated to one’s behavior. You may as well just live as you please; as the Russian writer Dhostyevsky put it, “If there is no immortality, then all things are permitted.” On this basis a writer like Ayan Rand is absolutely correct to praise the virtues of selfishness. No one holds you accountable; you might as well simply live totally for self. Indeed, when you think about it, it would be foolish to do anything else since life is too short to jeopardize it by acting out of anything but pure self-interest. Sacrifice for another person would be stupid. Kai Nielson, an atheist philosopher, who attempts to justify the viability of ethics without God, in the end admits, “We have not been able to show that reason requires the moral point of view, or that all really rational persons, unhoodwinked by myth or ideology, need not be individual egoists or classical amoralists. Reason doesn’t decide here. The picture I have painted for you is not a pleasant one; reflection on it is depresses me. Pure practical reason, even with a good knowledge of the facts, will not take you to morality.”
But the problem becomes even worse. For regardless of immortality, if there is no God, then there can be no objective standard of right and wrong. All we are confronted with, in Jean Paul Sarte’s words, is “the bare, valueless fact of existence.” Moral values are either just expressions of personal taste, or else the by-products of socio-biological evolution and conditioning. In the word of one humanist philosopher, “The moral principles that govern our behavior are rooted in habit and custom, feeling and fashion.” In a world without God, who is to say whose values are right, and whose are wrong? Who is to judge that the values of an Adolf Hitler are inferior to those of a Mother Theresa? The concept 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.” In a world without God, there can be no objective right and wrong, only our culturally and personally relative subjective judgments. But that means that it is impossible to condemn war, oppression, or crime as evil. Nor can one praise love, brotherhood, or equality 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 that you are right, and I am wrong.
Thirdly, there is no ultimate purpose without immortality and God. If death stands with open arms at the end of life’s trail, then what is the goal of life? To what end has life been? Has it all been for nothing? Is there no purpose at all for life? And what of the universe? Is it utterly pointless? If its destiny is but a cold grave in the recesses of outer space, then the answer must be yes. It is pointless. There is no goal, no purpose, for which the universe exists. 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 existence of the human race? Or will it simply peter out someday, lost in the indifference of an oblivious universe? The English writer H.G. Wells foresaw such a prospect. In his novel, The Time Machine, Wells’ time traveler journeys far into the future to discover the destiny of man. And all he finds is a dead earth except for a few lichens and moss orbiting a gigantic red sun. The only sounds are the rush of the wind, and the gentle ripple of the sea. “Beyond these lifeless sounds,” writes Wells, “the world was silent. Silent? It would be hard to convey the stillness of it. All of the sounds of man, the bleating of sheep, the cries of birds, the hum of insects, the stir that makes the background of our lives, all that was over.” And so, Wells’ time traveler returned. But to what? To merely an earlier point on the same purposeless rush towards oblivion. One reading this might exclaim, “No, no! It can’t end that way!” But this is reality in a universe without God. There is no hope; there is no purpose. Reflect on T.S. Elliot’s haunting lines:
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
And what is true of mankind as a whole, is also true of each of us individually. We are here to no purpose. If there is no God, then your life is not qualitatively different from that of a dog. That may sound harsh, but it’s true. As the ancient writer of Ecclesiastes put it, “For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust. (Ecc 3:19-20). In this book that reads more like a piece of modern existentialist literature than a book from the Bible, the writer demonstrates the futility of pleasure, wealth, education, political fame, and honor, in a life doomed to end in death. His verdict? “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!” (Ecc 12:8). If life ends at the grave, then we have no ultimate purpose for living.
But more than that, even if life did not end in death, without God life would still be without purpose. For man and the universe would then be mere accidents of chance thrust into existence for no reason. Without God the universe is a result of a cosmic accident, a chance explosion. There is no reason for which it exists. And as for man, he’s nothing but a freak of nature, a blind product of matter, plus time, plus chance. There’s no more purpose in life for the human race than for a species of insect – for both are the result of the blind interaction of chance and necessity. As one philosopher has put it, “Human life is mounted upon a sub-human pedestal, and must shift for its self alone, in the heart of a silent and mindless universe.” And what is true of the universe and of the human race is also true of us as individuals. We are here to no purpose. We are the results of certain combinations of heredity and environment. We’re victims of a sort of environmental roulette. Psychologists following Sigmund Freud tell us that our actions are really the result of repressed sexual tendencies. Sociologists following B.F. Skinner argue that all of our choices are really determined by conditioning so that freedom is an illusion. Biologists like Francis Crick regard man as an electro-chemical machine which can be controlled by altering its genetic code. If God does not exist, then you are just a miscarriage of nature, thrust into a purposeless universe to live a purposeless life. So if God does not exist, that means that man and the universe exist to no purpose (since the end of everything is death), and that they came to be for no purpose (since they are only blind products of chance). In short, life is ultimately without reason.
Do you understand then the gravity of the alternatives before us? For if God exists, then there is hope for man. But if God does not exist, then all we are left with is despair. Do you understand why the existence of God is a question that is so vital to man? As one writer has aptly put it, “If God is dead, then man is dead too.” Unfortunately, the mass of people do not understand this fact. They continue on as though nothing had changed. Consider the story told by Frederick Nietzsche of The Madman, who in the early morning hours burst into the marketplace, lantern in hand, crying, “I seek God! I seek God!” Since many of those standing about did not believe in God, he provoked much laughter. ‘Did God get lost? They yelled. Or, is He hiding? Or, perhaps He’s gone on a voyage, or emigrated! And thus they yelled and laughed and taunted the madman. And then, Nietzsche writes, the madman turned in their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried. “I shall tell you! We have killed him! You and I! All of us are His murderers! But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe up the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually backward, sideward, forward in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night and more night coming on all the while? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? God is dead! And we have killed Him! How shall we, the murderers of all murderers, comfort ourselves?” The crowd stared at the madman in silence and astonishment. At last he dashed his lantern to the ground. “I have come too early!” He said. “This tremendous event is still on its way. It has not yet reached the ears of men.” People did not truly comprehend what they had done in killing God. And yet, Nietzsche predicted that some day, people would realize the implications of atheism, and this realization would usher in an age of nihilism that is the destruction of all meaning and value in life. “This most gruesome of guests”, he said, “is standing already at the door. Our whole European culture is moving for some time now with a tortured tension that is growing from decade to decade as toward a catastrophe, restlessly, violently, headlong, like a river that wants to reach the end, that no longer reflects, that is afraid to reflect.” Most people still do not reflect upon the consequences of atheism, and so, like the crowd in the marketplace, go unknowingly on their way. And yet, when we realize, as did Nietzsche, what atheism really implies, then his question presses hard upon us: “How shall we, the murderers of all murderers, comfort ourselves?”
About the only solution which the atheists can offer is that we just face the absurdity of life bravely and live valiantly. Bertrand Russell, for example, wrote that “we must build our lives upon the firm foundation of unyielding despair. Only by recognizing that the world really is a terrible place can we successfully come to terms with life.” Camus said that we should honestly recognize life’s absurdity and then live in love for one another.” But the fundamental problem with this solution is that it is simply impossible to live consistently and happily within the framework of such a world view. If one lives consistently, he will not be happy. If he lives happily, it is only because he is not consistent. Francis Schaeffer explained this point well, saying, “Modern man lives 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 that there is no God. But because he cannot live consistently and happily in such a world, he therefore makes leaps of faith into the upper story to affirm that life has meaning, value, and purpose, even though he has absolutely no right to since man and the lower story does not believe in God. Modern man is totally inconsistent to make this leap because these values cannot exist without God, and man and the lower story does not have God.”
Let us look again, then, at each of those three areas in which we saw that life was absurd without God, to show how modern man cannot live consistently and happily with his atheism.
First, the area of meaning. We saw that without God life has no ultimate meaning. And yet, philosophers continue to live as though life were meaningful. For example, Sarte argued that one may create meaning for his life by freely choosing to follow a certain course of action. Sarte, himself, chose Marxism. Now this is utterly inconsistent. It is inconsistent to say that life is objectively meaningless and then to say that one can create meaning for his life. If life really is absurd, then man is trapped in the lower story. To try to create meaning in life represents a leap to the upper story. But Sarte has no basis for this leap. Without God, there can be no objective meaning in life. Sarte’s program is thus actually an exercise in self-delusion – for the universe doesn’t really acquire a meaning just because I happen to give it one. This is obvious. For suppose you give the universe one meaning, and I give it another. Who is right? Well, the obvious answer is neither one. For the universe without God remains objectively meaningless no matter how we happen to regard it. Sarte is really saying, ‘Let’s pretend that life and the universe have meaning.’ And that is just fooling yourself. The point is this: if God does not exist, then life is objectively meaningless. But man cannot live consistently and happily as though life were meaningless. And so in order to be happy, he pretends that his life has meaning. But this is of course utterly inconsistent; for without God, man and the universe remain without any real significance.
Turn now to the problem of value. Here is where the most blatant inconsistencies occur. First of all, atheistic humanists are totally inconsistent in affirming the traditional values of love and human brotherhood. Camus has been rightly criticized for inconsistently holding both to the absurdity of life, on the one hand, and to ethics of human love and brotherhood on the other. The two are logically incompatible. Bertrand Russell, too, was inconsistent. For although he was an atheist, he was also 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, and I quote, “incredible.” “I do not know the solution,” he confessed. The point is that if there is no God, then objective right and wrong do not exist. As Dhostovesky said, “All things are permitted.” But Dhostovesky also showed that man cannot live this way. He cannot live as though as though it’s perfectly all right for soldiers to slaughter innocent children. He cannot live as though it’s perfectly acceptable for dictatorial regimes to follow systematic pograms of physical torture of political prisoners. He cannot live as though its all right for dictators like Stalin or Pol Pot to ruthlessly exterminate millions of their own countrymen. Everything in him cries out to say that these acts are wrong, really wrong. But if God does not exist, then he cannot. And so, he makes a leap of faith to affirm values anyway. And when he does, he reveals the inadequacy of a world without God.
The horror of a world devoid of value was brought home to me with new intensity several years ago as I viewed a BBC television documentary called “The Gathering.” It concerned the reunion of certain survivors of the Holocaust in Jerusalem where they shared experiences and rediscovered lost friendships. Now I had heard stories of the Holocaust before and even visited camps like Dachau and Buchenwald. And I thought I was beyond being shocked by further tales of horror. But I found that I was not. One woman prisoner, for example, a nurse, told how she was made the gynecologist at Auswitzch. She observed that certain pregnant women were grouped together by the soldiers under the direction of Dr. Mengele, and housed in the same barracks. Some time passed and she noticed that she no longer saw any of these women. She made inquirees: “Where are the pregnant women who were housed in that barracks?” she asked. “Oh, haven’t you heard,” came the reply, “Dr. Mengele used them for vivisection.” Another woman told how Mengele had had her breast bound up so she could no longer suckle her baby. The doctor wanted to learn how long an infant could survive without nourishment. And desperately this poor woman tried to keep her baby alive by giving it bits of bread soaked in coffee. But to no avail. Each day the baby lost weight – a fact which was eagerly monitored by Dr. Mengele. Finally a nurse then came secretly to this woman, and said to her, “I’ve arranged for a way for you to get out of here. But you cannot take your baby with you. I’ve brought a morphine injection which you can give to your child to take its life.” And when this woman protested the nurse said to her, “Look, your baby is going to die anyway. At least save yourself.” And so this poor woman took the life of her own child. Mengele was furious when he learned he had lost his experimental specimen, and he searched among the corpses of the discarded babies until he could find the body to have one last weighing.
My heart was torn by these stories. One rabbi who survived Auswitzch summed it up well when he said “It was as though a world existed in which all of the Ten Commandments had been reversed: Thou shalt kill, thou shalt lie, thou shalt steal, and so forth. Mankind has never seen such a hell.” And yet, if God does not exist, then our world IS Auswitzch. There is no absolute right and wrong. All things are permitted. But no atheist, no agnostic, can live consistently with such a view. Nietzsche himself, who proclaimed the necessity of living beyond good and evil, broke with his mentor, Richard Waugner, precisely over the issue of the composer’s strident German nationalism and anti-Semitism. Similarly, Sarte, writing in the aftermath of the second World War, condemned anti-Semitism. He declared that a doctrine that leads to extermination is not merely an opinion or a matter of personal taste of equal value with its opposite. In his important essay, “Existentialism is a Humanism,” Sarte struggled vainly to elude the contradiction between his denial of divinely pre-established values in his urgent desire to affirm the value of human persons. He could not live with the implications of his own denial of ethical absolutes.
A second problem is that if God does not exist and there is no immortality, then all the evil acts of men go unpunished. And all the sacrifices of good people go unrewarded. But who can live with such a view? Richard Wombrandt, who was tortured for his faith in communist prison, wrote, “The cruelty of atheism is hard to believe when man has no faith in the reward of 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. There is no hereafter. No punishment for evil. We can do what we wish!’ I have even heard one torturer say, ‘I thank God in whom I don’t believe that I have lived to this hour when I can express all of the evil in my heart.’ He expressed it in unbelievable brutality and torture inflicted on prisoners.”
The English theologian Cardinal Newman once said that, “If I believed that all of the evils and injustices of life throughout history were not to be made right by God in the afterlife, why, I think I should go mad.” Rightly so. And the same applies to acts of self-sacrifice. A number of years ago a terrible mid-winter air disaster occurred in Washington, D.C. A plane leaving Dulles Airport smashed into a bridge spanning the Potomac River, plunging its passengers into the icy waters. And as the rescue helicopters came attention was focused on one man, who again and again pushed the dangling rope ladder to other passengers rather than be pulled to safety himself. Six times he passed the ladder by, and then when the helicopters came again, he was gone. He had freely given his life so that others might live. The entire nation turned its eyes on this man with respect and admiration for the selfless and good act that he had performed. And yet if the atheist is right, that man was not noble; why he did the stupidest thing possible. He should have gone for the rope ladder first, pushed others out of the way if necessary in order to reach it. But to give his own life for other people for whom he had never even known, all the life he would ever have, what for? For the atheist there can be no reason. And yet the atheist, like the rest of us, instinctively reacts with praise for this man’s selfless action. Indeed I think one will never find an atheist who lives consistently with his system. For a universe without moral accountability and devoid of value is unimaginably terrible.
Finally let’s look at the problem of purpose in life. The only way that most people who deny purpose in life manage to live happily is either by making up some purpose for their lives, which amounts to self-delusion, as we saw with Sarte, or else by not carrying out their view to its logical conclusions. Take the problem of death, for example. According to psychologist Ernst Block, the only way that modern man lives in the face of death is by sub-consciously borrowing the belief in immortality which his forefathers held to. Even though he himself no longer has any basis for this belief, since he does not believe in God. Block states that the belief that life ends in nothing is hardly (in his words) sufficient to keep the head high and to work as if there were no end. The remnants of a belief in immortality, writes Block, modern man does not feel the chasm that unceasingly surrounds him, and will most certainly engulf him at last. Through these remnants he saves his sense of self-identity. Through them the impression arises that man is not perishing, but only that one day the world has the whim no longer to appear to him. Block concludes, “This quite shallow courage feasts on a borrowed credit card; it lives from earlier hopes and the support that they have once provided.” But modern man no longer has any right to that support, since he rejects God. But in order to live purposefully, he makes a leap of faith to affirm a reason for living.
We often find the same inconsistency among those who say that man and the universe came to exist for no reason or purpose but just by chance. Unable to live in an impersonal universe in which everything is the result of blind chance these people begin to ascribe personality and motives to the physical processes themselves. It’s a bizarre way of speaking – and it represents a leap from the lower to the upper story. For example, the brilliant Russian physicist, Zodovitzchen Novakoff, in contemplating the universe, asks, “Why did nature choose to create this universe rather than another?” ‘Nature’ here has obviously become a sort of ‘God substitute,’ filling the role and function of the Creator. Similarly, Francis Crick, halfway through his book “The Origin of the Genetic Code” begins to spell ‘nature’ with a capital ‘N’ – and speaks of natural selection as being “clever” and “thinking” of what it will do. similarly Fred Hoyle, the English astronomer, attributes to the universe itself the properties of God. For Carl Sagan, the cosmos, with which he always spelled with a capital letter, obviously fulfills the role of a God-substitute. Though all of these men profess not to believe in God, they smuggle in a God-substitute through the back door because they cannot bear to live in a universe in which everything is the result of impersonal forces.
And it’s interesting to see many thinkers betray their views when they are pushed to the logical conclusions. For example, feminists have raised a storm of protest over Freudian sexual psychology because, they say, its chauvinistic and degrading to women. And, some psychologists have nuckled under and revised their theories. Now this is totally inconsistent. If Freudian psychology is really true then it doesn’t matter if its degrading to women. You can’t change the truth because you don’t like what it leads to. But the problem is that people can’t live consistently and happily in a world where other persons are devalued. And yet, if God does not exist, then nobody has any value. The only way you can consistently support women’s rights is by belief in God. For if God does not exist, women have no more rights than a female goat or a chicken has rights. In nature, whatever is, is right. If God does not exist, then natural selection dictates that the male of the species is the dominant and aggressive one. In nature, whatever is, is right. But who can live with such a view? Apparently not even Freudian psychiatrists who betray their theories when pushed to their logical conclusions.
Or take the sociological behaviorism of a man like B.F. Skinner. This view leads to the sort of society envisioned by George Orwell in his novel “1984,” where the government controls and programs the thoughts of everybody. If Pavlov’s dog can be made to salivate when a bell rings, so can a human being. And if Skinner’s theories are right, there can be no objection to treating people like the rats in Skinner’s rat boxes – they run through their mazes coaxed on by food an electric shocks. According to Skinner all our actions are programmed anyway. And if God does not exist, then no moral objection can be raised against treating people like human guinea pigs – because man is not qualitatively different from a rat. For both are the result of matter, plus time, plus chance. But again who can live with such a dehumanizing view.
Or finally take the biological determinism of a man like Francis Crick. The logical conclusion is that man is like any other laboratory specimen. The world was horrified when it learned that in camps like Dachau and Auswitzch the Nazis had used prisoners for medical experiments on living human beings. But why not? If God does not exist there can be no moral objection to using people as human guinie pigs. A memorial at Dachau says, “Nie vida,” never again. But this sort of thing continued to go on. It was recently revealed, for example, that in the United States after the war certain minority group persons where injected unbeknownst to them with a sterilization drug by medical researchers. Must we not protest that this is wrong? That people are more than just electro-chemical machines? The end of this view is population control, in which the weak and the unwanted are killed off to make room for the strong. But the only way that we can protest this consistently is if God exists. Only if God exists can there be purpose in life.
The dilemma of modern man is thus truly terrible. And in so far as postmodern man (so called) denies the existence of God and the objectivity of value and purpose, this dilemma remains unrelieved for postmodern man as well. Indeed it is precisely the awareness that modernism issues inevitably in absurdity and despair that constitutes the anguish of postmodernism. In some respects postmodernism simply is the awareness of the bankruptcy of modernity. The atheistic world is insufficient to sustain a happy and consistent life. Man cannot live consistently and happily as though life were ultimately without meaning, value, and purpose. If we try to live consistently within the framework of the atheistic view, then we shall find ourselves profoundly unhappy. If we manage to live happily, it is only by giving lie to the worldview of atheism. Confronted with this dilemma, man flounders pathetically for some means of escape.
In a remarkable address to the American Academy for the Advancement of Science in 1991, Dr. LD. Rue, confronted with the predicament of modern man, boldly advocated that we deceive ourselves by means of some “noble lie” into thinking that we and the universe still have value. Claiming that the lesson of the last two centuries is that intellectual and moral relativism is profoundly the case, Dr. Rue muses that the consequences of such a realization is that one’s quest for personal wholeness or self fulfillment, and the quest for social coherence, become independent from one another. This is because on the view of relativism the search for self fulfillment becomes radically privatized. If each person chooses his own set of values and meaning, Rue says there is no final objective reading on the world for the self. There is no universal vocabulary for integrating cosmology and morality. If we are to avoid what he calls “the madhouse option,” where self fulfillment is pursued regardless of social coherence, and if we are to avoid what he calls “totalitarian option,” where social coherence is imposed at the expense of personal fulfillment, then, he says, we have no choice but to embrace some “noble lie” that will inspire us to live beyond our selfish interests and so achieve social coherence. A noble lie, he says, is one that deceives us, tricks us, compels us beyond self interests, 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, says Rue, without such lies, we cannot live.
This is the dreadful verdict pronounced over modern man. In order to live, he must live in self deception. But even the noble lie option is, in the end, unworkable. For how can one believe in these noble lies while at the same time believing in atheism and relativism? The more convinced you are of the necessity of a noble lie, the less you are able to believe in it. Like a placebo, the noble lie only works on those who believe it is the truth. Once we’ve seen through the deception, the lie has lost its power over us. And thus ironically, the noble lie cannot solve our human predicament for anyone who has come to see that predicament. The noble lie option only leads, therefore, at best, to a society in which an elitest group of Illuminati deceive the masses for their own good by perpetuating the noble lie. But then, why should those of us, who are enlightened, follow the masses in their deception? Why should we sacrifice self interests for a fiction? If the great lesson of the past two centuries is moral and intellectual relativism, then why, if we could, pretend that we do not know this truth and live a lie instead? If one answers, “Well for the sake of social coherence,” one may legitimately respond, “Why should I sacrifice my self interest for the sake of social coherence? The only answer the relativist can give to this question is that social coherence IS in my best interest. But the problem with this answer is that self interest and social coherence do not always coincide. My interest and the interest of the herd are not always the same. Beside, if out of self interest I do care about social coherence, the totalitarian option is always open to me. Forget the noble lie, and simply maintain social coherence, as well as my own self fulfillment, at the expense of the personal wholeness of the masses. Generations of Soviet leaders – who extolled proletarian virtues while they rode in limousines and dined on caviar on their country dachas – found this alternative quite workable.
Now, Dr. Rue would undoubtedly regard such an option as morally repugnant. But therein lies the rub; Rue’s dilemma is that he obviously values – deeply – both social coherence and personal wholeness for their own sakes. In other words, they are objective values – which according to his philosophy do not exist. He has already leaped to the upper story. The noble lie option thus affirms what it denies – and so refutes itself.
But if atheism fails in this regard, what about biblical Christianity? According to the Christian worldview, God does exist, and man’s life does not end at the grave. In the resurrection body man may enjoy eternal life and fellowship with God. And biblical Christianity therefore provides the two conditions necessary for a meaningful, valuable, and purposeful life: namely, God and immortality. Because of this, we can live consistently and happily. The Bible affirms that life is ultimately significant because we have eternal life which is the knowledge of God forever. This is the fulfillment of human existence, it is what we were made for. moreover, moral values are rooted in the nature of God Himself, and God’s moral commandments constitute for us our objective moral duties. Moreover the moral choices that we make in this life have an eternal significance because we will be held accountable for them by the holy God. The purpose of life, as the Westminster Catechism states, is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever. And thus biblical Christianity succeeds precisely where atheism breaks down.
Now, I want to be perfectly clear that none of this shows that biblical Christianity is true. But what it does show, I think, is to spell out clearly the alternatives. If God does not exist, then life is futile. If the God of the Bible does exist, then life is meaningful. Only the second of these two alternatives enables us to live consistently and happily.
And therefore it seems to me that even if these two options were absolutely equal, the rational person ought to choose biblical Christianity. That is to say, it seems to me positively irrational to prefer death, futility, and despair to hope, meaningfulness, and happiness. As Pascal said, “we have nothing to lose, and infinity to gain.” The cosmic orphan can come home.