Category Big Questions of Life

A fulfilling life without ultimate purpose

Life without purpose is difficult to imagine. But a fulfilling life without ultimate purpose is an impossibility. Of course, there are many people with purpose(s) in life. For instance, an athlete has a purpose. It is to win. To get a medal. To break a record. Also, a student has a purpose. It is to successfully complete her studies. To find a good job. To impact the world. Now, these purposes in life help us find direction and fulfillment at some real level. However, if we don’t succeed then these purposes can lead us to a life of resentment, a sense of failure, and total lack of fulfilment. Some times even to despair.

Therefore, university students in Utrecht asked me in 2018 to speak on the topic, “is a fulfilling life possible without ultimate purpose?” What follows is a summary of my talk. Worldviews present a comprehensive and total way of life and reality. Let us compare two of them as we try to answer this question of purpose and fulfillment.

A fulfilling life without “ultimate” purpose

From 1989 onwards many people from Eastern European countries were turning to God. A Chrisitan philosopher asked Andrei Grib, a known cosmologist, “How are we to explain this?” Andrei’s answer was short and to the point, “prove by the opposite.” He explained that “you can prove something is wrong by showing its opposite is false. Atheism didn’t work after being tried for 70 years. So everybody figured the opposite is true.” This was also my experience when I went to work in Albania in 1991. Many people were turning to God, a considerable number were young people. Albania was officially an atheistic country since 1967. But God would not go away!

Moreover, Nietzsche in “the madman” story makes the point that atheism would bring an age of nihilism. There would not be any meaning to life anymore, neither would there be value. This was insightful but also a sad conclusion. But he at least was consistent with his view of reality.

Furthermore, Richard Dawkins, known as an atheist but who stated in a debate that he was more of an agnostic than an atheist, said that “the universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but a blind pitiless indifference.” It is good that Dawkins admits that his “atheism” leads to a life without purpose. He also, like Nietzsche, is consistent in his view of reality. But what about existentially and empirically? Is his view of reality livable? Viability is one way to test a worldview. If a worldview is not livable then something important is missing.

Christian philosopher William Lane Craig pointed to the practical impossibility of atheism, individually and socially. He said that it is impossible to live consistently and happily in the atheistic worldview, “if you live consistently, you will not be happy. If you live happily, you are not consistent.”

A fulfilling life with “ultimate” purpose

Christianity consistently has pointed to the reality of the ultimate purpose of life. Jesus talking to a huge crowd once said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Another time, Jesus talking to a woman who was exploited and seen as an outcast in her society, said, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Many people have said to this woman “go!” But Jesus says to this woman and to all of us “come to me and drink!”

Augustine, a Christian writer, talking to God said, “You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.” Others have pointed to the idea of a “God-shaped gap” in the human heart. Pascal once said, “this infinite abyss can only be filled with something that is infinite and unchanging — in other words, by God himself. God alone is our true good.” Someone said that “Life with God illuminates human nature, it interprets the widespread human experience of longing and helplessness.” Life with God, therefore, makes sense of the experience of life itself. Furthermore, it allows this human experience to be transformed. A fulfilling life is possible with God!

Finally, the well-known author of the Chronicles of Narnia, C.S.Lewis, used the “argument from desire” as a pointer for God’s existence. Every natural desire has its corresponding object. We have a natural desire for transcendent fulfillment. Nothing in the present world can help us experience this transcendent fulfillment. It can be satisfied only with something beyond the present world.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Leave a message and I will be happy to reply.

 

Notes

– On Guard, William Lane Craig

– Mere Apologetics, Alister McGrath

– NIV translation of the Bible

 

Tags

Faith is just a fantasy and a crutch for the weak

The main issue is not faith itself

Some say that faith in God is just a fantasy. This means then that a few billions of people are led astray. Moreover, faith is something we all use to make sense out of life. Human rights, for instance, is a value based on faith. I cannot prove human rights to be objectively true. The issue then is not so much, is faith part of my life, but, rather, is my faith “justified belief?” Can I support my faith with reason and evidence? More importantly, will I follow the evidence wherever it leads? That’s the main issue.

Things that keep people from faith

What keeps people from believing in God? Many times it is not a rational but more a psychological barrier. Will your academic environment reject you? Your colleagues may think that faith is irrational. Will my colleagues write me off because I believe in God? Besides, I may need to change my lifestyle if faith in God is real. This may not be convenient at all. I may not want to change my lifestyle. It is not easy to give up some pleasures and commit our lives to God. Therefore, atheism or agnosticism may be a good policy. I can live my life without external restrains. I can keep my autonomy and do what I want.

Faith is a crutch for the weak

Sigmund Freud said that religious beliefs are just “illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest, and most urgent wishes of mankind.” People feel helpless and therefore are looking for a father figure to protect them. There is nothing more to faith in God than this. But are people right in saying this? Let us have a closer look.

Faith is not a crutch for the weak

First, not many used the father figure for God before the coming of Jesus. In this sense, Jesus was the first to make this concept a central part of his teaching.

Moreover, you can turn the argument around. People don’t want to lose their autonomy. Therefore, they might project the idea that faith in God is just a fantasy, a crutch for the weak.

Furthermore, this confuses the “origin of a belief with its epistemological warrant.” This is the genetic fallacy, “faulting the belief because of its origin.” For instance, 2×2=4, but my teacher is an evil person. Therefore, I am not so certain that 2×2=4.

Someone rightly said that the God of the Bible would not be a good candidate for a father figure that provides protection. This is a holy and just God. He calls people to follow his ways. Also, many Christians have to suffer more because of their faith instead of less. In many places, there is hostility against Christians. Why should someone follow a God that will make life more difficult?

Finally, some people really wish that there is no God. Thomas Nagel once said, “I want atheism to be true … I hope that there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”

An honest way forward

One of the most famous atheists of the 20th century was Antony Flew. For Flew, “to follow where the evidence leads” was very important! Admittedly, he never became a Christian. But he came to the conclusion that there was enough evidence that there is a theistic God. He said, “the most impressive arguments for God’s existence are those that are supported by recent scientific discoveries.” He was impressed with the intelligent design argument. An honest person would follow Flew’s advice and “follow where the evidence leads.”

Evidence for the existence of God

It is worthwhile to look at some pointers for the existence of God. Let me name a few. The fine-tuning of the universe is appealing to many people. The universe is fine-tuned so that life is made possible on planet earth. Here is a short clip that explains in more detail the amazing precision with which this universe is functioning. Here is a link with more pointers for the existence of God.

There is also good historical evidence that God exists and that the Christian faith makes good sense.  Jesus was a real historical person. He claimed to be the son of God and predicted his resurrection from the dead. This practically means that God showed up in history in the person of Jesus. Moreover, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a well established historical fact. It is based on the New Testament documents. These documents are some of the most reliable ancient documents we have.

Finally, faith in God explains better many things we observe around us and within us. The power of the Christian faith to explain the universe, in particular, makes it very attractive to me personally.

Leave a comment or ask a question. I will be happy to respond and share my thoughts with you.

 

Notes

– A place for truth. ed. Dallas Willard

– Scaling the secular city. J.P. Moreland

– Reasonable Faith animated videos

– Is Christianity a psychological crutch? Daniel Rodger

– Christian Apologetics. Douglas Groothuis

 

Tags

Ask God One Question

An opportunity to ask God ONE question

This was the question we asked students at a university mission in The Netherlands a few months ago:

“If you would have the opportunity to ask God one question what would it be?”

In this mission event, students had the opportunity to listen to talks about the meaning of life and God during lunch. Lunch was provided by the SEARCH committee. The students appreciated this opportunity and came with good and challenging questions to the meetings. These were rather small meetings of about 20-40 students at each meeting.

The topics of the lunch talks

Students selected the topics for these lunch talks. These topics give us a glimpse of the type of questions students are asking. Here are some of them. Is faith just a fantasy? or, Is a fulfilling life possible without ultimate purpose? and, what kind of relationships do I need to be truly happy? These are important questions that demand a reasonable answer.

More questions students asked

Here are 13 questions students would ask God. I walked around the university and collected these questions before giving my talks. It was interesting to see the first reaction of the students when they heard the question I mentioned above. It was fun to do. But I also sensed the pain, confusion, and frustration in some of these questions. My heart went out to these students.

  1. How can I be rich, healthy and happy? (this was amusing)
  2. Why does war exist?
  3. Why does life suck for some people and not for others?
  4. What will happen after I die? (more students asked this question)
  5. Why?
  6. Why things go wrong?
  7. Is the Bible true?
  8. What is the story all about when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son? (which of course he never did, but is a good question)
  9. Why did God create the world/universe?
  10. Why is there so much inequality?
  11. How long will it take for Jesus to come back?
  12. Did God intend the world to be as it is now?
  13. What is the purpose of life?

Looking for honest, authentic answers

But where can someone find answers to these type of questions? Here are some links that could help. A wise man, Jesus, once said, “seek and you will find.”

Links

A short but useful book. The gospel of Mark

Short answers 

Longer answers

 

Is faith real or just made up?

Is faith real or just made up?

That’s a good question for the following simple reasons. It will either stop you from trying to find an answer or encourage you to look at this question in an open and honest way. It will also help you realize that you already have a faith-based few of reality, human dignity is one example. Here then is the question you have to answer, will you follow what others tell you or follow the evidence wherever it will lead you? Honest philosophers, historians, scientists would do exactly that.

That’s a  fair question. Fair, because there are so many other faiths around. People of all kind of backgrounds and countries have their own faith. Culture, country, ethnicity, religious background influence the faith you have. We all have faith. Even an atheist has faith, she cannot prove her atheism scientifically, does she? Since we all have a certain level of faith in what we hold as true it is not strange by itself to have faith. The question then is not if faith is real but which faith explains reality in a better way. Because that’s what faith is supposed to do, help us understand reality and make sense out of it.

But why do people reject faith?

Some people reject faith because they have intellectual objections to the idea of a personal God. They may say that faith and reason are incompatible. Faith, in their thinking, is unreasonable. Others may reject faith because they had negative experiences with religion. Sometimes our own culture may discourage us to consider the question of faith in God. We are living in a scientific and technological advancing age, faith is something for the less informed and uneducated. Science will finally explain everything some people would say. There are also reasons that go deeper, reasons that are related to making a commitment to a certain faith. People may reject faith because they do not want to change their lifestyle. This is a more personal and subjective reason to reject faith, but it is certainly a real one.

Why do you reject faith?

You may reject faith because of the above-mentioned reasons. Or you may have other reasons that are holding you back.  You may simply not have enough time. Or you may not see the need for faith in God at this stage in your life. Or you may not know from where to start searching for an answer to these questions. Here are some thoughts that might help you in your faith journey.

First, find out why you reject faith in God. You could write these objections down. Be honest with yourself and try to find out how people have responded to the objections you mentioned. Here are two links that could help you find reasonable answers, every student and bethinking. Second, leave a comment and I will be happy to respond.

Notes

– There are different reasons why people reject faith. Four of them mentioned in this post are taken from a talk given by Alister McGrath. Reasons of the mind, of memory, of the culture, of the heart.

 

 

 

Can Science Explain Everything?

Reflections on the conversation

Some of my thoughts about this conversation, impressions I would say. Two opposing worldviews. “Can Science explain everything? Can we answer all questions using the scientific method?” This was a very interesting conversation between John Lennox and Peter Atkins.

Is faith in God reasonable?

Both speakers appreciate the scientific method. Both hold to a different worldview. John Lennox is a Christian theist and Peter Atkins believes in atheism. During the conversation, Peter Atkins mentioned a few times that to believe in God is not rational, it is immature. In fact, he went further than this. John Lennox thinks that to believe in God is rational and explained why.

The historicity of the person of Jesus questioned

Peter Atkins at some point even questioned the historicity of the person of Jesus. After John’s response, Peter admitted that he would support the historicity of Jesus at the level of about 80%. That was an interesting moment. Something that is well established historically was seriously questioned.

The origins of the universe and the best explanation

John thought that one strength of the Christian faith is its explanatory capacity and power. Peter thought that science if we would give enough time, would finally be able to explain things that we currently don’t understand very well. The debate focused at that moment on the question of the origins of the universe. Why is there something rather than nothing? There was agreement that the universe had a beginning. John thought that the scientific discoveries in the 1960s were confirming what the Bible was saying already for thousands of years.

Purpose and hope for this life and the life beyond the grave

Both speakers had opposing views about the ultimate purpose of life and life after the grave. Peter said that there is no afterlife, there is no evidence for it. He did say though that for some people faith in God and the hope for life after death may have a therapeutic purpose, it might help some people cope with difficulties.

John thought that there are good reasons to believe in God and the afterlife. He pointed to the historical evidence of the resurrection of Jesus. Peter thought that the explanation is that people were hallucinating. John responded that this was not possible, Jesus appeared many times to the disciples after his bodily resurrection. One time he even appeared at once to 500 people! We also see that people’s lives have changed because of an encounter they had with Jesus. This is enough evidence that points to the reality of God, purpose in life now, and real hope for the afterlife.

Justice for evil done

Furthermore, without the afterlife, justice will not be done for so much evil in the world. For Peter, there is no ultimate purpose. His purpose in life is to study, know and discover the beauty and glory of the universe now. This is it. There is nothing beyond this.

More was said and all can be watched at YouTube, see the link below. It was a meaningful, deep and challenging conversation. Very instructive.

Who is John Lennox and Peter Atkins?

Here some information from the website event: “John Lennox is an Emeritus Fellow of Philosophy of Science & Pure Mathematics at Green Templeton College, and Emeritus Professor of Pure Mathematics at the University of Oxford. John holds that the universe itself and the human rational capacity to study it are two of the great gifts of an intelligent Creator.

Peter Atkins is a Fellow at Lincoln College, and was a Professor of Physical Chemistry, at the University of Oxford until his retirement. Peter believes science is the only route to full understanding of the origin and workings of the universe, arguing against contamination of that understanding by the superstitions of religion.”

This event was live streamed on 31st January 2019

This event was live streamed on YouTube, here is the link

Tags,