Have you not heard of the madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the marketplace and cried incessantly, "I’m looking for God, I’m looking for God!"
As many of those who did not believe in God were standing together there, he excited considerable laughter. "Why, did he get lost?" said one. "Did he lose his way like a child?" said another. "Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? Or emigrated?" Thus they yelled and laughed.
The madman sprang into their midst and pierced them with his eyes..
"Whither is God?" he cried. "I shall tell you. We have killed him---you and I. All of us are his murderers.... But what did we do when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all sides? Are we not plunging continually backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there an up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night and more night coming on all the time?"
If it seems we've been creeping and crawling along in our development of ideas and arguments, we have been, and it's on purpose. Why? Because I want to present ideas and arguments you can assimilate and use, that can become part of your mental furniture, a part of how you think. For most this means building slowly and carefully, line upon line, idea upon idea. If creeping and crawling can bring us to convictions so clear we can almost see them, I'm all for creeping and crawling.
So where have we come? So far we've argued the value of Christian apologetics. If this is unclear to you, go back and read lesson one, A Defense of Christian Defenses.
Then creep and crawl (I'm good with either) over to lesson two, In His Image and Likeness. Here we reminded ourselves that when we talk to someone about God's existence, we're talking to someone who was created with God's nature and character etched into his or her very soul, someone who really cannot escape knowing and desiring relationship with God.
The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Para 27).
It's putting your finger on the tension that exists between who your friend is---a free spirit in God's likeness---and who or what he would be if his naturalist worldview were true---essentially a modified and upgraded monkey with bells and whistles added by random mutation and natural selection.
For instance, let's take the issue of ultimate meaning and purpose.
Is there meaning to life? Is there a purpose to any of this?
Atheist philosopher Albert Camus believed this to be the most important philosophical question of all. In his book The Myth of Sisyphus, he wrote:
There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.... I have never seen anyone die for the ontological argument.... Whether the earth or the sun revolve around the other is a matter of profound indifference.... On the other hand, I see many people die because they judge that life is not worth living.... I therefore conclude that the meaning of life is the most urgent of questions.
Well, it depends on what is true about this universe in which we live. If the worldview of Scripture is true, then the answer is yes, everything has meaning. If God exists created everything for a purpose, then yes, everything has meaning. If God made us to share forever the happiness of heaven, then yes, of course life has meaning. And in this case, not merely a meaning we "create for ourselves" as we creep and crawl through an ultimately meaningless universe on our way to nothingness.
If the worldview of Scripture is true, life is objectively meaningful from top to bottom.
OK, and what of the naturalist worldview, where there is no God and no human souls? What if naturalism is true? If naturalism is true, the answer to the question of objective meaning and purpose follows inescapably and quite "naturally": There is none.
If naturalism is true, our universe is an accident of matter and energy. We've come from nowhere and we're going nowhere. We're dust in the wind. That's all we are.
Facing the Implication
Now, when you talk about this with your atheist friend, it's going to bother him, to put it mildly.
He's not going to feel 'entirely comfortable' with this implication of having "killed God" and banished him from the universe. The depressing images painted by Nietzsche in his Parable of the Madman, are not going to be exactly easy for your friend to fully embrace:
Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night and more night coming on all the time?
You could say he feels and lives as though the Christian worldview were true. And he essentially does. It's just that as an atheist he's forced to say that there is no ultimate meaning to life, that the whole shooting match is the result of a mindless explosion of matter and that it has no purpose whatsoever.
And so your friend may resist the conclusion, in which case you can point out that consistent, reasonable atheists have always admitted this and admitted it freely. For instance, in answer to the question Why are we here? atheist paleontologist Stephen J. Gould, responded,
We are here because one odd group of fishes had a particular fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures; because the earth never froze entirely during the Ice Age; because a small and tenuous species, arising in Africa a quarter of a million years ago, has managed, so far, to survive by hook and by crook. We may yearn for a higher answer—but none exists."
Here's what Bertrand Russell, the most famous atheist philosopher of the early twentieth century, had to say about this issue of meaning and purpose in life:
Man is the product of causes which had no provision for the end they were achieving; his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collisions of atoms; no fire, no intensity of thought and feeling can preserve the individual life beyond the grave; all the labor of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system.
Here's something from a biology textbook used in many American high schools:
Some shrink from the conclusion that the human species was not designed, has no purpose, and is the product of mere mechanical mechanisms – but this seems to be the message of [an atheistic] evolution.
One of his most famous books was appropriately titled “No Exit.”
Let's be real: If we are nothing but the accidental product of a universe that is itself a massive cosmic accident, then there is no "meaning" or "purpose" to human existence.
The Optimistic Humanist Response
Now, while some throw themselves from bridges, most naturalists resolve the tension within them by thinking along these lines: "OK, objective meaning and purpose may not exist. The kind of transcendent meaning offered, for instance, by the Christian worldview may not exist. But surely life includes some good things in which we can find meaning and satisfaction---in the goals we pursue, in the people we love, in the experiences we can have, even if only for a short time."
This is the optimistic humanist response. The more shallow and cynical version is "eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die". The less shallow version is "Live for today. Find happiness where you can and do your best to block out from your mind the unpleasant truth that you're going nowhere."
Like focusing real hard as you rearrange chairs of the deck of the Titanic.
Albert Camus wished with all his heart to avoid the nihilism (everything is meaningless!) of men like Nietzsche, and he fought against it all his life. But he couldn't escape the nagging thought that the optimistic humanist position required a constant evasion of reality. By saying that life is ultimately meaningless but that we can "create meaning" for ourselves in the time we have, he argued that we commit philosophical suicide in order to provide psychological comfort in the present.
Camus's conclusion was that life is simply absurd. If we kill ourselves to solve the problem, we get nowhere because death is as absurd as life. In the end, all we can do, he said, is pursue the things that seem to make life meaningful while knowing it's all meaningless in the end.
What does this prove? Does this demonstrate God's existence or the truth of Christianity?
Allow me to leap (rather than creep or crawl) to the answer: No.
This isn't a proof and I'm not saying we should present it as a proof. Apart from further arguments to come, the fact that naturalism implies a universe without ultimate meaning does not prove God's existence or the truth of the Christian worldview. But it is a truth that follows inescapably from the naturalist worldview. And when you put your finger on this, you put your finger on an existential tension in the soul of your agnostic or atheist friend, a sore spot.
Because what is "natural" for him as a person who bears the image of God is to feel that life has meaning---as it does. It's for him to believe that there is purpose---as there is.
As you talk about life and the meaning of life, your hope is that this brutal implication of the naturalist worldview will bother him enough to open him to consider more carefully the arguments for a worldview that fulfills every desire he has ever had that life have meaning.