For many theologians, their biggest complaint against atheism is that it would mean there is no grand purpose to our existence. I can understand why they would find that depressing, though of course, that doesn’t have any bearing on whether or not such a purpose really exists. The truth just might be sad. Nevertheless, let’s explore that line of reasoning for just a moment. Should we consider that God exists because the alternative is too depressing?
I recently watched a debate that took place at the University of Kentucky on October 12 of last year. The subject was “Science and Religion: Are they Compatible?” Biology professor Jerry Coyne took the “no” position, and theologian John Haught took the “yes” position. Haught’s main argument for thinking that God exists was based on purpose. Around the six and a half minute mark, he noted that our lives can have purpose and meaning if they contribute to something of lasting value: peace, justice, love, truth, etc. But is there anything comparable in the Universe? Is there a larger point to our collective existence?
This question stuck with me for a while. I think his overall point is that while our lives might have some immediate meaning to ourselves and those around us, if there’s no big purpose for life and humanity as a whole, then it’s all just pointless. But if that’s so, then how is God any different? I know that might sound confusing at first, but bear with me. If the value we create for ourselves is ultimately pointless without a higher purpose, doesn’t that same rationale apply to the concept of God? Theologians maintain that if we were the ultimate intellect in the Universe, then life would be meaningless. Therefore, if God is the ultimate intellect in the Universe, then his life would also be meaningless. His only purpose would be the one he creates for himself, because there’s no higher purpose for him to fulfill. If needing a higher purpose is the only thing that gives us true value, then God has no value either, because no purpose is higher than him.
Of course, in the end, I don’t view things that way. I think the fact that we can give our lives meaning is reason enough to appreciate life. 400 years from now, it’s likely that no one will know or care that I was here. But why should I be overly concerned with people 400 years away? It should be enough to me that my friends and family care that I’m here. I can make a difference in their lives, and I think that’s good enough. Would it be nice to live forever in a place of utter bliss? Sure — who wouldn’t want that? But I don’t have to pretend that such a place exists just to find enjoyment in life. In fact, not worrying so much about what might come after death allows me to focus more on making this life meaningful.