Is subjectively induced purpose meaningful, because it sure seems like it?

(Gavin Doughty) #1

I’ve recently held a conversation with a friend at school on what each of our feelings are concerning purpose in life and whether or not a sense of purpose means a sense of entitlement. She argues that from an evolutionary perspective (from a scientific perspective, as a whole), the contingency of life and the human species gives no room for any serious consideration as to what the purpose of the whole cosmic process is. Personally, I have a hard time fighting the potential truth in what she’s saying: as science becomes more and more powerful as a tool for material explanations, why should there be purpose, and is there any evidence for purpose?

One issue, however, that I did take with her words were her feelings of obligation to be kind to people, to make others’ lives easier. But how could she so blindly attach intrinsic worth to a product of time plus matter plus chance? Also, do our feelings of the sensibleness of morality justify the universality of it? In other words, can she seriously make the statement that people deserve respect from the ideology of a non-theistic universe?

Lastly, if it can be shown logically that certain moral behaviors are more conducive to human progress than others, then what ultimately is the need for absolute moral truth, and by extension where lies the necessity of a Moral Law-Giver?

(Mervin Bitikofer) #2


…are more conducive to human progress…

And what, according to science, and science alone is the direction of “human progress”?

Despite the untiring protestations of some who consider themselves unreligious, science will never answer your question without first importing guidance from outside, such as “longer survival or less suffering = progress” or “increased happiness (whatever ‘happiness’ means) for more people = progress”. Such things may or may not be absolutely worthy and right goals, but they are not of scientific origin in the slightest, despite the attempts to import them and then pretend that they are. Only after consultation with and acceptance of these metaphysically-sourced convictions can the notion of “progress” be usefully employed, and science enlisted to help it along.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #3



It seems to me that this is a version of, Is something good because God says it is, or is it good because it is good?

It is my understanding that both are true. Non-believers seem to think that God is an add-on to Reality trying to get people to worship Him. Christians know that God is the Source of Life and Reality trying to bring all into God’s Kingdom of love, peace, and joy.

If loving one’s neighbor is good, it is good because God made us to love each other. If loving God is good, it is good because God created us in God’s own Image and we find our fulfilment in loving and serving God and God’s people.

People can take the Golden Rule out of its Christian context, but it becomes a Legalistic system which has the strengths and weaknesses of Legalism. Also there is no objective aspect to goodness, because goodness is what we think is right or not think is right. take your pick.

It seems to me that non-believers want to take over the basic Christian ethic of Love, but when they take God out of it, it loses its rationale. On the other hand they cannot claim that it is truly secular, because it isn’t. It is based on faith in the goodness of God and the brotherhood of humanity, contrary to the view of Darwinism that claims to be scientific.

If there is such a thing as goodness, it must be part of the structure of the universe. If it does exist as part of the structure of the universe (and it does) it must have been placed there by a rational, good Creator God.

(Christy Hemphill) #4

Well, either Jesus is Lord, or he isn’t. If he isn’t, I have all my eggs in the wrong basket. If he is, it’s really irrelevant whether a Moral Law-Giver is “necessary” for humanity or not. We have one. People can choose to accept or reject his authority.

You can’t reason or deduce or observe your way to “Jesus is Lord.” Christianity’s most fundamental truth claims are things you just accept a priori.

As you have observed with your friend, people of all faiths and non-faiths have a priori beliefs that are unscientific and a-rational too.

(sy_garte) #5

It might be wise to stop and consider some of the claims made by “science”. Often these claims are actually not being made by scientists, or by people who have real evidence. For example it has become a standard theme that human morality evolved due to its adaptive advantage. There is actually very little real evidence for this, other than it sounds right. We hear that kin selection, which is part of the extended phenotype, became hard wired into our genes, and (to paraphrase Dawkins) because the early hominin populations were so small, everyone a person would be likely to meet, was probably some sort of kin, so altruism became a general habit between all human beings. Sounds good. Scientifically valid? There is simply no data. It isnt even a theory, its a guess, like a great deal of evolutionary psychology.

So, before you are convinced that science is becoming “more and more powerful” it might be a good idea to check and see if all this power is actually coming from real science, or from wishful thinking.

(Gavin Doughty) #6

Mainly replying to @Relates: Indeed, I most emphatically agree with you that any concept of love or absolute kindness finds no rational bearing in a purely materialist framework. But to be the advocate of my friend, she might say that even though her love and kindness aren’t really absolute, she still practices a great deal of love toward others. She might wonder what a belief in God does to substantiate her virtue when she’s already capable of practicing virtue (and I’ve observed it). If her ethics line up with my ethics as a Christian, what is she missing really?

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #7


The question is one of truth. If she thinks she can be good without God, that is her choice.

The truth is that Christian ethics in whatever form are dependent on God.

(Christy Hemphill) #8


Nothing, if you think the goal of Christianity is human self-actualization or the moral progress of humanity. Is that what you think the goal of Christianity is?

(Gavin Doughty) #9


Perhaps I’m missing something. I guess what the “goal of Christianity” has usually seemed to me is, foremost, “self-actualization” concerning my inability to remedy my own sinfulness; secondly, it makes redemption real through Christ. But beyond that, how is our awareness of this redemption contributory to our practical lives? Is a “truth” like sin powerful, or petty?

(Christy Hemphill) #10

Why do you think God wants to remedy your sinfulness? What is the point of reconciling people to himself? What does God get out of it? What is his goal for the world? Is it more than just we all learn to play nice and feel joyful? In a lot of countries in the world right now, Christianity is not the path to warm fuzzy self-actualization, it’s the path to social marginalization and persecution.

(By the way, since I don’t know you and you don’t know me, I thought I’d clarify that I enjoy these BioLogos discussions because I like hearing what other people think and believe and I think the process of asking questions and sharing ideas helps everyone clarify their own viewpoints and explore new ways of looking at things. Personally, I’m really not all that interested in winning arguments or debates or changing people’s minds. So don’t take anything I say as meant in an adversarial way. A lot of times when I ask a question I’m not insisting someone defend their position or prove their point, I just want to know what they’ll say. It’s not exactly the same deal with other posters here.)

(Gavin Doughty) #11


Hmm… I’ve heard many people answer the questions you’ve posed in a variety of ways. Since the answers are generally, respectively, 1) because he simply loves, 2) because he simply loves, 3) nothing, 4) love and justice, and 5) probably yes; I myself have no adequate answers. I don’t really know, to be honest. The Condescension of God is, in essence, an entirely unnecessary action on God’s part, but ironically necessary for our own good.

So I’ll just say that when people who suffer great evils turn to Christianity, they do it for reasons that I have yet to appreciate as a spoiled world citizen. How can I appreciate those reasons when what these sufferers find in Christ I find in the fine material of my life? That’s why I spoke of the idea of sin as being potentially petty (though I may have spoken naïvely).

(GJDS) #12

“What is the goal of Christianity?” is a pertinent question that can be easily answered by quoting scripture, but very difficult to answer within our usual understanding of pursuing goals. The general goal for all humans is the pursuit of happiness, and physical comfort and social acceptance and respect, are a big part of this, especially in todays Western culture. To anyone who has achieved to a significant degree, happiness, physical well being, and material comforts, it may seem odd to discuss other goals.

What I find even more interesting is the role of Christianity within a communal and global context. Would our world be any different without Christianity? Academic works tend to deal mostly with the impact of Christianity on the West, through creation of various institutions, such as Universities. On a personal footing however, I think the answer can only be given by each Christian in a personal (and perhaps private) manner.

The ideas, doctrines and theological discussions are mean to serve Christians in their endeavour to live a life of faith; attributes of God and matters dealing with our own actions (be they sinful or godly) are given to us for that purpose - how we live and the type of persons we become each day.

My view is the Christian faith makes it very clear it offers a difficult road, and in some cases, material wealth can be seen as a hindrance. Consequently a Christian would talk of a calling, a compelling experience, or a considered and conscious choice. The result of such a choice may or may not lead to material comforts, but these are peripheral to a Christian calling and way of life. Further discussions would be lengthy and add little to the current discussion.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #13


While the goal question may seem easily answered by quoting scripture, I do not think that it is for the reasons GDS mentioned. Our goals are not really God’s goals, so we might think that we are doing what we should be doing but we are not.

I would be slow to judge those who claim to be Christians, but whose ethical views do not indicate to me that they follow Jesus, but I would be quick to voice my theological disagreement with them. At the same time I would be slow to judge those who do not claim to be Christians, but whose ethics seem to align with Jesus, but this should not prevent me from stating my position that real Love comes from God, not from some ideology.

The Goal of Christianity is the Kingdom of God, which means right relationship to God and right relationship to others. This does mean some warm and fuzzy relationships, but also some confrontational relationships with others even those whom you love. Jesus Christ is the Standard for what we believe and who we are and what we do.

(Gavin Doughty) #14


Are all three of those situations—“a calling, a compelling experience, or a considered and conscious choice”—valid reasons to follow Jesus. To me, only the latter seems acceptable; anything else seems largely unreasonable and a weak excuse to believe. People all over the world have “compelling experiences,” or purported “callings,” and they don’t always lead people to Christ. But I feel that a carefully thought-out choice can actually be argued for.

I personally can’t say that I’ve felt an immense calling to follow Christ; that’s not how I’ve ever pursued truth, by how it felt at an isolated moment in my life. Are there logical reasons for the pursuit of the Kingdom of God?

(GJDS) #15

My response was directed to your question of a goal that we as human beings may pursue. The way anyone expresses their beliefs and situations is personal and unless we know the person well, we would not be in a position decide if they are valid reasons or not valid.

Biblically, we understand that non-one can come to Christ unless God were to draw him to Christ. Consequently, any logical reasons for a person’s decision to follow Christ are truly understood by that person and Christ.

(Gavin Doughty) #16


If our reasons validating our callings are unique to each person, then what common goal unites the Christian community? Christianity has become largely divisive, disunified over millenia. How does Christ unify his church under a universal goal, and what really does it look like? I say this because @Christy asked me concerning the goal of Christianity. If we can express this goal, how does it benefit humanity over any other system?

(GJDS) #17

The ideal is stated in Acts - they had (have) all things in common, and the Church as the body of Christ on earth is unified by the Holy Spirit. These are all biblically based teachings and each person is admonished by scripture to adhere to them.

I think your statements may be directed more to organisations and how these may be unified (or not). I do not subscribe to an organisation as the Church, but I do subscribe to Christians setting up a hierarchy so as the serve the people of the Church. As a system, I have come to the view that Christianity is perhaps the most difficult faith to convert into a system, because the head is Christ, guidance is inevitably ascribed to the Holy Spirit, and it is the Kingdom of God. These are not aspects of institutions and systems that we humans can set up.

I understand you may find these comments unsatisfactory in terms of unifying different traditions and denominations, but as I said before, the faith promises a difficult path.

(Christy Hemphill) #18

You can view the story of God’s work on earth and among humans as anthropocentric or theocentric. In the anthropocentric view, earth is created for humans, the pinnacle of creation, and pretty much everything God does is because he loves humans and wants them to live well and be happy. You can distort this view to a pretty shallow, self-serving ideology, just watch some cable tv preachers.

In the theocentric view, God is motivated by the glory of his name. All of creation, humanity’s part in it, and Jesus’ role in redemption are all part of a cosmic plan to bring God glory and establish his rightful dominion over his creation. You can also distort this view to be about an egomaniacal diety who needs worship to feed his sense of entitlement.

I lean more toward the theocentric view. We are characters in God’s story, he is not a character in our story. So for me, the choice to acknowledge God’s rule and reign and pursue the coming of his Kingdom is not a matter of logic or self-actualization at all. It’s a matter of submitting to the reality that Jesus is Lord. Everyone is going to submit to this reality someday, so there is a pragmatic motivation in that if Jesus is the one true King and will judge the earth someday, I’d like to not be found a traitor. But more than that, there is hope and honor and meaning and mission in serving a truly righteous and rightful king who is bringing his justice to the world in subversive and subtle ways, through love and humble service where the last and least are first and greatest.

I think we have a hard time as Westerners from individualistic, democratic cultures grasping a message that is at its heart communal (We are the Body of Christ on earth) and is governed by an absolute monarchy.

The gospel doesn’t make logical sense. It doesn’t promise anyone a happy life. If you tried to convince people to pursue the Kingdom of God because it makes sense or because it will make them feel good, I think you would be misrepresenting what that Kingdom is all about.

(Gavin Doughty) #19


I appreciate your insight. Assuming God is the means and end of the universe, then it may not even be practical to speak of humans as possessing our own innate purpose. Plus, if you think about it, if humans were the culmination of the universe, then it is a rather underwhelming culmination; there are aspects of the cosmos that we’re destined never to grasp with our senses. Though evolution has made man the cosmos’ mirror, he is merely a shard.

So if our purpose is necessarily woven into the fulfillment of God’s pleasure, how can one begin to view his or her life through the lens of such Transcendence? Does this “theocentrism” mar the seeming autonomy and personal goals of any person? How is this reconciled with the force with which life pursues the satisfaction of selfish interests, which are perfectly natural?

(Mervin Bitikofer) #20

Well-captured thought! May I use that? Reminds me of how Chesterton or Lewis would turn a phrase.