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18. It is not self-evident that the world, or the individuals in it, have a purpose.

18.1 Prima facie, due to the cyclical nature of certain physical processes (eg. the seasons, birth & death), the world would not seem to be purposeful, at least for the individual. This is recognised in the Book of Ecclesiastes.

18.1.1 The expectations of the ultimate fate of the universe, based on current scientific evidence & cosmological theory, would seem to consign even evolutionary progress to ultimate futility.

18.2 It is, however, important to note that the world is supremely capable of producing stable complexity which includes, on Earth, the development of multiform varieties of life.

18.2.1 This fact requires an explanation, but possibilities other than those of theistic design or divine purpose exist.

18.2.2 One such explanation is the Weak Anthropic Principle (WAP), ie :-

The observed values of all physical and cosmological quantities are not all equally probable, but take on values restricted by the requirement that there exist sites where carbon-based life can evolve and by the requirement that the universe is old enough for it to have already done so (Barrow & Tipler). In brief, we assert, using the WAP, that the world had to have the fruitfulness and complexity we observe, otherwise we would not be here to observe it. It may be diluting the meaning of the term "explanation" to treat the WAP as such, at least without running the risk of circularity. It is more of an explanation.

18.2.3 Attempts to strengthen the Anthropic Principle (to the "Strong" or "Final" forms - ie. by suggesting that the universe had to have the properties necessary to allow life to develop) are only dogmatic assertions & the Final Anthropic Principle is almost certainly false. According to Barrow & Tipler, the Strong Anthropic Principle (SAP) is as follows :-

The Universe must have those properties which allow life to develop within it at some stage within its history. Again, according to Barrow & Tipler, the Final Anthropic Principle (FAP) is as follows :-

Intelligent information-processing must come into existence in the Universe, and, once it comes into existence, it will never die out.

18.2.4 The postulation of a series of universes, most of which were (or are) sterile and therefore free from observers falls victim to Occam's Razor, since nothing can be known about these past or parallel universes.

18.3 Christian apologetic often treats the absence of purpose or ultimate explanation as a fatal flaw in any atheistic system. However, it is not necessarily a bad thing for purposelessness and ultimate futility to be the case. If it is to be treated as a bad thing, it must be demonstrated to be so. Even if it is demonstrated to be undesirable, this is not relevant to whether or not it is the case.

18.4 Similarly, arguments based on the supposed presence or absence of systems of morality in various competing models of the world are not relevant to deciding what is actually the case.

18.4.1 In any case, I consider it possible to construct a system of ethics that is not undergirded by divine imperatives. An attempt to do this follows in an Appendix.

18.5 Christian attempts (eg. by Francis Schaeffer) to explain human personhood by reference to the Divine Persons (and their supposed relationships within the Trinity) are fallacious on several counts.

18.5.1 Firstly, Trinitarian doctrines are not well developed in the Bible, which, on the assumptions of this paper, is our sole reliable guide on Christian doctrine.

18.5.2 Secondly, we have the application to this issue of the Apophatic tradition in theology. The Apophatic tradition states that it is easier to state what God is not than what he is. All attempts to define him, whether Scriptural or not, are based on analogies that ultimately fall short of their object. Consequently, personality is attributed to God by reference to human personality. hence, we may not (without circularity) deduce, establish or explain human personality by reference to personality within the Godhead.

18.5.3 Admittedly, the eternal relationship between the Divine Persons (at least between the Father & the Son) is given a measure of space in John's Gospel. However, this proceeds by analogy with human relationships.

18.5.4 Finally, there is the general elementary point that we should argue from the more to the less familiar. We are more familiar with human persons than divine ones. Therefore, human personality "explains" (or illustrates) divine personality, not vice versa.

18.6 We may have to give up the idea of ultimate purpose for the individual (in the sense of a purpose that is not thwarted by death). However, we are not thereby committed to a despondent attitude to a supposedly meaningless life.

18.6.1 The idea that the only alternative to a life undergirded by a divine purpose is a stoic "making do" with a bad, meaningless lot is overly pessimistic. Life is rarely one of unremitting despond, and most people treat it as a boon (as is demonstrated by their eagerness to prolong it). Those who enjoy a measure of freedom in life would do best to use it to maximum advantage while it is available rather than bemoan the fact that their life must one day come to an end.

18.6.2 Sadly, it does appear to be the case that many human beings do spend a good proportion of their lives in misery (though much of this misery may be exaggerated by an over-zealous empathy based on our own imagined feelings were we, psychologically unprepared & with our own expectations of life, to be suddenly transported to such an unhappy position). That this situation is an evil is obvious, but it is not resolved by any religious system (and, in fact, may be made more comfortable for affluent consciences to bear by the pious thought that the inscrutable divine ways will make all things turn out right in the end). Rather, it constitutes a classic problem for moral theism and for theodicy.

© Theo Todman 1992 - 2000.
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