Does life have a purpose? That’s the central question of existence, right?

During our exploration of the Intelligence Squared debate on the proposition that science refutes God, we’ve taken a long look at Lawrence Krauss’ summation of Team Atheist’s position which he wrapped up this way:

… human beings are also inevitably programmed to ask, “Why?” as we’ve heard it.  But the “Why?” question is ill-posed, because it presumes purpose … And science tells us there’s no evidence of purpose.

Krauss’ purposeless existence, like many human constructs, only works if one does not think about it too deeply or ask the sort of questions that humans tend to ask, but cows—in their infinite wisdom—never do. Ultimately, he proffers the idea that we create meaning with the full knowledge that it is imaginary.

In what way is an imaginary purpose or meaning better than none at all? Krauss does not answer this question, nor does he explain what it means to say that, through a random and purposeless evolution (that somehow exists within a deterministic universe), this one life form—humanity—is programmed to do anything, much less recognize its own programming.

These are areas into which Krauss doesn’t extend his questions, nor does he consider the ramifications of possible answers. Some of these are areas of critical importance to daily existence. It’s fine to debate purpose versus determinism where it relates to the substrate of physical laws, but that’s just mental doodling if it has no beneficial impact on human existence.

The logical extension of Krauss’ debate points is that worrying about a beneficial impact on human existence creates false purpose in a fabricated reality.

This reminds me of an odd form of environmentalism that views humankind as a pernicious interloper superimposed on Nature from the outside. Krauss, though, does not argue that man is unnatural as much as that he is irrelevant. His science is a standalone reality that conforms to its own definition of physical laws, yet has the power to answer all questions humans might ask. Of course, why any part of a deterministic universe should ask any questions at all is puzzling, and atheists usually ignore that question.

Most crucially, his atheist answers fail to yield practical consequences for my life, or any other. If we all believe life to be without purpose, and human beings to be marginally smarter animals, in what way does that make our lives more livable, valued, happier, fulfilling or productive?

I would ask Krauss for two things:

  1. Evidence to support his various contentions about the universe, including that science refutes God and says definitively that there is no evidence of (or need for) purpose.
  2. An illustration of how his philosophy of reality informs, benefits, or transforms lives, individually or in the aggregate.

In response to Krauss’ philosophy, physicist Ian Hutchinson—arguing against the motion that science refutes God—offered a perspective I wish he’d enlarged upon:

Claiming more for science than is warranted by its competence does not promote science; it damages it. Talking as if science is all the real knowledge there is, that—as this scientistic motion does—alienates from science people who know better than to accept such an unjustified metaphysical extrapolation. It alienates intellectuals, particularly from other nonscientific disciplines, and so gives rise to the culture wars that have roiled the academy for the last few decades. And it alienates nonintellectuals whose opinions are more intuitive and practical but who know that their life is more than some reductionistic description in terms of atoms and molecules.

I agree. I think scientism—as a dogmatic, reductionist outgrowth of science—is as damaging to real science as religious dogmatism is to real religion. What do I mean by “real religion?” Abdu’l-Baha offers this definition in a talk he gave at the Temple Emmanu-El in San Francisco in 1912:

… when we speak of religion, we mean the essential foundation or reality of religion, not the dogmas and blind imitations which have gradually encrusted it and which are the cause of the decline and effacement of a nation. These are inevitably destructive and a menace and hindrance to a nation’s life … – The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 363.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

12 Comments

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  • Eric Breaux
    2 hours ago
    Something can't come from nothing because nothing is required for there to be nothing. Nothing can have a beginningless infinite past because it would take an infinite amount of time for anything to happen then, so nothing ever would because there never would be that much time. So for anything to exist there has to be something or someone to cause them. The only type of entity that could cause the first beginning would have to be independent of time and space. in quantum physics, particles are coming out of empty space which is still space which is still something. ...On top of that, this is only possible with the physical laws that govern this phenomenon in the first place and the physical plane is directly opposite of nothing.
    At the very heart of the idea, nothing wouldn't even be able to be observed or tested because by default nothing is the absence of anything to work with in the first place. The very idea of something from nothing is as self contradictory as there being no such thing as truth.
    There's plenty of well known ancient historians who wrote about Jesus, one of which being Luke who also wrote a gospel. There's about 42 documents saying something about Jesus, a lot of which are not positive of Christianity. Some historians also account for Jesus miracles recorded in the gospels or just that Jesus was famous for miracles that they dismiss as illusionist tricks, or otherwise sorcery. An example is a record from Thallus in the 50's A.D. mentioning the darkness that occurred during Jesus crucifixion and attempting to explain it as a solar eclipse. Africanus, who quoted this record about 2 centuries later, mentioned that an eclipse wouldn't be possible because it happened during the Jewish Passover, when the moon is full and diametrically opposite from the sun. Both of these historians records only survive as quotes in other historical writings, like in the records of Eusebius, from what was still left of their respective work during the time. Tacitus references in 115 A.D. in his Annals that Christians were killed for saying Jesus was resurrected. He recorded "Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular". Suetonius recorded "After the great fire at Rome . . . . Punishments were also inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief". The only way that many people would believe that Jesus was resurrected was if they actually saw him. Even his most devoted listeners doubted his resurrection until they saw him and some even after, or didn't immediately recognize him. The same culture that presented Jesus to be executed with the accusation of apostasy and sorcery is not going to suddenly change their minds about him and invent stories in agreement with his claims that they originally hated him for. And none of them could have hallucinated him because neurological research has shown that shared hallucinations don’t happen and in general can't happen anyway when you aren’t expecting to see the person or have no care to. Paul on his way to Damascus saw and heard Jesus, and Paul was with other people who too saw him and turned away because the light of Jesus was so bright that it blinded Paul. Again multiple people seeing the same thing that they didn't expect. The talmud records that Jesus was arrested for accusation of apostasy and sorcery and that no one defended him in his trials. Simply knowing the culture of his time is enough to deduce that the converts were reporting a real encounter. It's recorded that one of the disciples touched Jesus after he appeared to them and that he ate. Paul records having met about 500 witnesses. These new testament accounts are consistent with Josephus and the Roman historical records talking about the teaching of Jesus resurrection.
    The only known forgery recording Jesus is one of Josephus accounts, but that record is in every copy of his original compilation containing it, so historians know that Josephus wrote an original that Christians later altered. There is a copy of it in another language, older than most other copies, that has none of the Christian praise in the interpolation. Hardly any scholar, regardless of belief, doubts Jesus was a real historical figure, it's mostly the miracles that are controversial, but with no evidence inconsistent with them, just skepticism that miracles can even happen. The reason Roman emperors had miracles attributed to them was because of threats to anyone who did not record those stories, such as the scenario with Alexander, because they wanted to be glorified to bolster their reputation. Most of those records of the Emperors weren’t written until centuries later anyway. http://www.garyhabermas.com/books/historicaljesus/historicaljesus.htm#ch9 http://reasonsforjesus.com/the-gospels-are-biographies-not-myths/
    No one who ever wrote about Jesus was ever questioned by anyone about if he actually existed. People who knew anything about Jesus would be around to say how accurate these claims were that were being recorded. There were plenty of people who hated his teachings who would have loved to refute that he was real, if he was made up. The problem is he was seen by many people in person. There are over 5000 copies of the new testament in it's original language and over 24,000 total, all of which are mostly consistent with each other and modern translations. The earliest copy still around is dated to before the second century (I forget if it’s 120 or 150 A.D.). The only differences are the story of Jesus and the prostitute not being in the oldest copies and textual variants. The second best preserved document is Homers Iliad, with only over 600 total copies, and the earliest being 300 years after the original.
    We know the new testament was completed before the second century because Clement of Rome quotes it in the late first century. The gospels would be some of the earliest of the new testament compilation.
    According to atheists, you can't reason for something you have faith in. There goes the very basis for rationale, since you have to have faith that you're capable of reason, especially since, if materialism and atheism were true, our every thought and feeling would be the result of brain activity we can't control. No matter how much sense something makes to someone, any rationale could not be trusted, because anything out brain does we'd believe because of it anyway. So no one can justify faith being ignorance, willful or not, because one prefers to believe one thing more than another. It's our brains making us do it. But some things obviously have to be true, or else this very argument from reason couldn't be determined if true or false either, so the only way rationality cannot be an illusion of if beings are of immaterial essence. Atheism and materialism are contradictory to free thinking and rational deduction even being possible.
    Another, but similar thing that contradicts atheism and materialism, is that if there were no eternal continuation of consciousness then everything anyone could know and experience is then invalidated, and we might as well have never existed. They basically teach that the only thing logical to conclude is that all logic (consciousness) is worthless. But one needs logic in order to even be able to think that. It's literally impossible to even live and be consistent with atheism and materialism.
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  • Susan Jeffers
    Mar 19, 2017
    It's a waste of time refuting the existence of God. Worse case there isn't a God. It's not like you die and say, bummer, because that implies you have consciousness. Best case is you pursue your journey further towards the light, drawing closer to the divine. Baha'u'llah tells us "My love is my stronghold. He that enterith therein shall be safe and secure and he that turneth away shall surely stray and perish. " An atheist who purposefully indoctrinates philosophies opposing belief of God to his pupils may indeed make his perception realized...especially in light of this hidden word. ...Being trapped in a dimension, Knowing you had will to choose the Light, and didn't, leaving you unresponsive yet still aware, is not this the def of hell?
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  • Brian Asklund
    Mar 18, 2017
    Strawman Atheists Say Life Has No Purpose
    There. Fixed it for you.
    • Eric Breaux
      2 hours ago
      Only if they deny the conclusions of everything existing for no reason.
  • Melanie Black
    Mar 17, 2017
    I may be splitting hairs, but I had to chuckle at Dr. Strauss' illogical views on the meaning of "purpose". If he had no purpose to his life, he would never have chosen to study physics and get an advanced degree. In fact, he would stay in bed everyday. If there's no purpose to life, why bother getting up at all. Why bother eating, going to the doctor when you are ill? When one thinks about it, even the most inveterate atheist has some kind of purpose to life. Nearly every single human being does. Then there are those who ...commit suicide whether they are a believer or not. In their despair they lost their purpose. Thank you.
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  • Nasser Rohani
    Mar 17, 2017
    I believe it is fair to say that most of us are confused about the purpose of life. But that does not negate the fact there are ample evidence that there are a lot mysterious 'things' in the universe that point to a 'purpose' - what purpose? We don't know. Or we don't fully comprehend. There are reference as to those reasons in the Baha'i writings. We do not, and Baha'u'llah attests that we CANNOT, fully embrace them. Too stupendous to comprehend.
  • Matt Woodling
    Mar 17, 2017
    The author asks: "In what way is an imaginary purpose or meaning better than none at all?"
    Why not ask: "In what way is an apparently imaginary god's purpose or meaning better than purpose created by people?"
    • Matt Woodling
      Mar 17, 2017
      It doesn't matter that Baha'i's God gives purpose if people have to imagine and pray the god into existence. Just cut out the middleman.
  • Hooshang Afshar
    Mar 17, 2017
    What is the purpose of life? I don't think there is a definitive answer. Though the Baha'i writings state the purpose of the Creation is to know and adore God the Creator.
  • Mar 16, 2017
    It is true that science does not tell us that there is evidence of purpose, but "science tells us there’s no evidence of purpose" does not follow logically or scientifically, regardless of one's beliefs about anything else. I am surprised that scientists would accept this kind of reasoning.
  • Mar 16, 2017
    really! not all atheists say it. i didnt. even now, i really love the Bahai Teachings and as to theism, i am in between - not mixing it up with being confused!!
    • Nasser Rohani
      Mar 17, 2017
      I believe it is fair to say that most of us are confused about the purpose of life. But that does not negate the fact there are ample evidence that there are a lot mysterious 'things' in the universe that point to a 'purpose' - what purpose? We don't know. Or we don't fully comprehend. There are reference as to those reasons in the Baha'i writings. We do not, and Baha'u'llah attests that we CANNOT, fully embrace them. Too stupendous to comprehend.