“Always be ready,” Scripture tells us, “to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). Here is my defense for my hope in Christ, and it comes down to this: either we exist for a larger purpose or we don’t. There are no probabilities to assign or calculate, no other options to consider. Either we have an objective telos, a final cause for our existence that is not of our making, or we don’t.
The Clever Monkeys
Take God out of the picture. There is no Creator or at least no intelligent Being who created and sustains the cosmos for any particular reason. The cosmos — including superstrings, if such beings of reason truly exist — is when it is where it is just because; there is no “why it is.” We clever monkeys are merely a belch produced by an undirected, idiot process called evolution, alive only to eat, eliminate, copulate, and die. Whatever else we do in the meantime either serves those purposes or is irrelevant.
And we eat, eliminate, copulate, and die only until we kill ourselves off, get killed off by some random yet natural event, or produce our own replacements (Man 2.0). We may fit into some ecological niche — very badly, considering what we’re doing to the ecosphere — but even that niche has no raison d’être because the ecosphere itself serves no final cause. Life itself has no reason to be; it’s just some strange counter-entropic force that, given enough time, will peter out just as all other energy peters out.
When we die, whether by our own foolishness or by our eventual obsolescence or by the Sweet Meteor of Death, we’ll leave some artifacts behind to testify to our existence. But even those will eventually decay; the final collapse of the universe will destroy the very last remnants in the process. And there’ll be nothing and no one to care when it does — no weeping of angels or cheering of demons, no demigods to shake their heads in pity for our passing.
It Doesn’t Really Matter 1
If atheism is true, then we don’t matter. In fact, eventually, we won’t even be matter. (Sorry, Men In Black reference.) We seek purpose, we’re told, because it facilitates our survival and gives us an evolutionary advantage. But why the hell would we need an advantage when there’s no real need to survive let alone evolve? All attempts to assign some purpose to our individual existences are merely rationalizing our surrender to the survival impulse. Why bother with all the little lies when the Great Big Lie is exposed?
Shut up; get on with the business of eating, eliminating, copulating, and dying. Or just get busy dying. Either way, there’s nothing out there to give a tinker’s dam what you do.
Morality doesn’t matter; culture doesn’t matter. Whether we take care of the Earth or wreck it completely doesn’t matter. Whether we get off this planet to colonize other planets or get wiped out by some astronomical catastrophe — it doesn’t matter. Kill all the babies or let them all live — it doesn’t matter because we don’t matter. Love everyone or hate everyone — whatever. There’s no Just Judge to punish the wicked and avenge the victim, no merciful Father to heal the broken and exalt the humble, no final rectification to compensate us for the injustices we inflict on ourselves and each other.
Philosophy is a waste of time; science is a waste of time. There’s no point in trying to make sense of, or learn anything more about, this existential carousel that keeps spinning to no end. We’re just looking for some excuse to keep on keeping on when we might as well just nuke ourselves into oblivion for all the difference it will make.
It Doesn’t Really Matter 2
It’s not just that we don’t matter. Nothing matters. We come from nothing; we’ll go into nothing. There’s nothing out there to care about anything. We’re not even the least important species in the cosmos because there’s nothing out there to which anything can be meaningful or valuable. The universe may be buzzing and hopping with intelligent life, but none of those other lives can have a telos; they don’t matter, either, so why should we matter to them? Or they to us?
And, according to string theory, ours is just one of 10500 possible universes. Of course, it doesn’t matter how high we pile up the numbers because it’s all dividing zero. A fraction of nothing is still nothing.
You matter to your family and friends, and they matter to you, but they’re as ephemeral as you are. They, too, are blips on the screen, here now and gone in a blink, a memory that will fade long before the sun grows dark and the universe folds in on itself. They, too, exist just to eat, eliminate, copulate, and die, and the fact that they’re keeping you company in this senseless cavalcade doesn’t add any value to it. Whatever purpose they can give you is as illusory and fleeting as any you can give yourself. Nothing really matters.
But What If …?
You say I’m taking atheism to an absurd extreme? I disagree; any atheist who doesn’t eventually reach these conclusions is still trying to rationalize the survival impulse. Only Friedrich Nietzsche went so far, and he went mad with the knowledge of it. Either embrace all the implications of an absent telos or consider the possibility that you seek the purpose of it all because it all does, in fact, have a purpose … even if it’s a purpose you don’t fully comprehend, even if the knowledge of it is just beyond your mind’s reach.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).
We are not the center of the universe. We are not the sine qua non of creation, its ultimate expression, or its reason for existing. We are not even the most important creatures on our own planet. Far from being the center of God’s attention, we may very well be the least of His concerns. And yet His concern was so magnanimous that He sent His Son into our history, to live as the poorest among us, to work and sweat for his bread as a carpenter, to eat and drink and sleep and walk alongside us for a while. Flinch at it if you must, but He sent his Son to take our sins upon his shoulders by his death.
There may be millions of intelligent species in the universe. There may be 10500 universes of differing kinds and laws. Pile on the numbers again; this time, God’s loving generosity to the human race becomes more stunning and wonderful. The less significant you make Man to the universe, the more you magnify God’s love.
All These Things are Given Back
Paradoxically, the very mystery of God becomes itself more comprehensible. The problem of evil can remain unresolved; because God transcends human understanding, it makes sense that I don’t know why He does and permits all the things He does. The purpose of my suffering is as much beyond my grasp as is the purpose of my life; but if God has given the one a good purpose, it stands to reason that the other has a good purpose as well. Because the Son of God “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness” (Philippians 2:7), I can seek to understand, yet rest content without completely understanding.
Now philosophy and science have their uses. Our minds have been given reason and a thirst for knowledge to an end that’s something more than mere genetic survival. As children of God made in His image (Genesis 1:27), we are infinitely precious, which makes it imperative that we treat each other with justice, mercy, and love, that we reflect the great generosity of our common Father. At the same time, we can still know that the evil done in our midst will find redress; the sins that “cry out to Heaven” do not go unheard. I have reason to fear God’s justice, and yet I have reason to trust in His mercy.
Because our lives have an objective telos, the purposes my loved ones give my life and I give theirs are not some farcical equivocations; love itself is not boiled down to some survival strategy produced by a blind natural process. Peace matters; the biosphere matters; even evil matters, if only as something to be avoided. Grant just a little, and so much is given back: “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
Blessed Even in Insignificance
Sneer at the Virgin Birth as an “antique absurdity” if it offends your elite sense of fitness. Call Christ’s sacrifice “barbaric” if it outrages your superior morals. Think me an intellectual cripple if it reassures you of your higher intelligence. I know of no other religious system save Judaism in which Man is anything more than a slave, or a sideshow for the gods, or a rope in the tug-of-war between good and evil, or a hapless victim of animistic forces beyond his control. I know of no other system in which Man is blessed even in his wretched insignificance.
And I find my “Babylonian puppet show” gives an objective telos to my survival instinct that I can find nowhere else — certainly not as a belch of probability in a universe that just is. No matter that I see it only indistinctly, as if in a mirror (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12); it can’t be any more illusory than one I create for myself in the absence of God. My ignorance in the midst of a universe full of meaning is more satisfactory than would be total comprehension of a universe without a telos.