[For five days now I have given religious thinkers a chance to make their case that the meaning of life derives from their god. This is the last one I will do.]
William Lane Craig (1949 – ) is an American Evangelical Christian apologist known primarily for his work in the philosophy of religion. He is a critic of: evolution, atheism, metaphysical naturalism, logical positivism, postmodernism, moral relativism, Catholicism, Mormonism, Islam, homosexuality, and non-fundamentalist Christian theology. (What does he like?) He is a fellow of the Discovery Institute, whose goal is to force public high schools in the United States to teach creationist ideas in their science classes alongside of accepted scientific theories. (Ok. He’s for make-believe stories! But why not teach other stories besides your preferred one? And who would give this guy a job in an intellectual institution?) He is currently a Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, an evangelical Christian university. (Oh, they would.)
Craig’s piece “The Absurdity of Life Without God”[i] argues that life is absurd without a god. The fundamental reason for this is that without a god both the individual and the entire universe will end without a proper resolution. In that case there would be no hope of escaping our fate and life would lack significance, value, or purpose.
Craig argues that there is no ultimate meaning without immortality because if everything dies it does not matter that previously the universe, the human race, or any individual had existed. Still, immortality is not enough for meaning, since an unending life could be meaningless. For full meaning we need a god, without which humans must accept the view of Beckett, Sartre, and Camus—that life is meaningless. In addition, without gods there is no objective morality and moral relativism reigns.
Craig claims that if we really think about the universe as rushing toward oblivion we should realize that there is no hope or purpose without a god. Without a god we are accidents of nature, and there is no reason or purpose for our existence. With a god there is hope; without a god there is only death and despair. The implications of atheism are strong indeed. The basic problem with an atheistic response is that one cannot live happily with such a view. Either the atheist is consistent and recognizes life is meaningless, or is inconsistent and assumes there can be meaning without gods.
All of this leads Craig to the conclusion that it is a practical impossibility to live as an atheist. Without a god life is objectively meaningless, so atheists pretend that life has meaning by saying it has subjective meaning. Without a god, there is no morality and everything is permissible, so atheists assume there is some other ground for an objective ethics. Without a god there is no immortality where justice will reign, where the wicked will be punished and the virtuous rewarded. Without a god there is no purpose in life, so atheists make up some purpose for it.
The despair of the atheistic view contrasts sharply with the Christian world view. In that view a god exists, we are eternal, and we can be with this god. Christianity thus provides the conditions for a meaningful, valuable, and purposeful life. We can thus live happily.
Rejoinder – Craig seems unaware that science and technology will probably give us the immortality he seeks—assuming his followers don’t take us back into the dark ages. They are trying their best though by making sure that children don’t learn modern biology. And if he’s troubled by evolutionary biology, just wait until he realizes what the computer scientists are up to. Eventually, when science defeats death, religion will end. For religion is based primarily on a fear of death. Craig would have been right at home in the Dark Ages. He is a true enemy of the Enlightenment, and of the future.
[i] William Lane Craig, “The Absurdity of Life without God,” in The Meaning of Life, ed. E.D Klemke (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).