The Meaning Of Life

Dr. Braxton Hunter | Professor of Apologetics
Trinity Theological Seminary, Newburgh, IN

**This article was previously posted by Dr. Braxton Hunter on his website www.braxtonhunter.com and is used by permission.

Dr. Hunter is: former president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists (COSBE), professor of apologetics at Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary in Newburgh, Indiana

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Christian parents should stop telling their kids that they can be whatever they want when they grow up. This article will explain why. NOTE: You have to stick with it to the end. 

One agnostic voice that is suddenly getting a lot of attention is that of Neil deGrasse Tyson. He has now joined the ranks of Stephen Hawking and Bill Nye in bringing awareness of science (sprinkled with atheistic ideas) to the mass populace. Middle to upper-middleclass wanna-be elites can watch his programming and attend his live lectures and masquerade for an evening as progressive and academically minded lay-philosophers. Thus, it is not surprising that a video of one of Tyson’s lectures is currently trending on youtube.com. Nor, is it surprising that it betrays his agnostic worldview. What is surprising is that it took a six-year-old boy to put his finger on the dilemma.

THEN IT HAPPENED
When Young Jack asked Tyson the question, “What is the meaning of life,” the audience oohed and awed. However, what most of the crowd was surely painfully unaware of was that this is one question thoughtful atheists and agnostics have a hard time with. After uttering all the essential condescending remarks on the cuteness of his questioner, Tyson answered,

I think people ask that question on the assumption that meaning is something you can look for and then, “Oh I found it. This is where it is. I’ve been looking for it.” Okay? And it doesn’t consider the possibility that maybe meaning in life is something that you . . . create – you manufacture for yourself and for others. And so when I think of meaning in life I ask, “Have I learned something today that I didn’t know yesterday, bringing me a little closer to knowing all that can be known in the universe. Just a little closer. However far away all the knowledge sits I’m a little closer. If I live a day and I don’t know a little more than I did the day before, I think I wasted that day. So the people at the end of the school year who say, “The summer – I don’t have to think anymore,” I’m thinking, “what?” To learn is to become closer to nature. And to learn how things work gives you power to influence events – gives you power to help people who may need it – power to help yourselves – to shape a trajectory. So when I think of the meaning of life, to me that’s not an eternal unanswerable question. To me, that is within arms reach of me everyday.

Now this answer is the one most consistent with an agnostic/atheistic worldview. Though Tyson never explicitly says this (it would not sit well with his audience and would ruin the lovable moment), for the atheist there IS NO MEANING to life. There IS NO PURPOSE. One day all of humanity will be lost in some catastrophe or other and all of human achievement will disintegrate in the ashes of a pointless universe. It is for this reason that the cute little kid is asking the very question that I would also inevitably ask. The only difference is that I would press the issue further.

IF THERE IS NO GOD TRUE MEANING AND PURPOSE DOES NOT EXIST
For the reason I mentioned above, if there is no God or everlasting life then you can’t assign meaning because, the term (in this context) loses all relevance. You can ask what the “meaning” of a phrase is, but ultimate meaning or purpose just doesn’t and can’t exist without God. In the absence of objective morality, value, solidarity, redemption or a future everything becomes as much a pointless waste of time as watching daytime television. In fact it’s even less important than that. Tyson speaks of knowledge giving the individual a trajectory. . . Toward what? He says knowledge leads us to help others. Without God, why is that an objectively good thing? I’d merely be helping them get along a little more adequately until they are annihilated.

In the rest of the video he describes what people “should” therefore do. Says who? Without God, who’s to say what I should or should not do? Without objective value and purpose, on what basis can he argue that one state of affairs is “better” or “worse?”

IF THERE IS NO GOD YOU CAN’T ASSIGN MEANING OR PURPOSE TO YOURSELF
Another problem with Tyson’s recommendation is that even if there were purpose and meaning in the cosmos without God, you could never assign meaningful purpose to yourself. In order to have intrinsic meaning or purpose that is REAL a thing needs a designer. A hammer, for example, does not decide to be a hammer. Rather an inventor crafted neutral objects together and then declared the purpose of the new creation. It is a hammer. It is meant to put nail into boards. I am a preacher. In order for that purpose to be real I need an inventor. I needed someone to take some flesh and bone and determine that I would be used for the preaching of the gospel and the defense of the Christian faith. I have purpose for the same reason the hammer does. Namely, an inventor had a purpose in mind.

IF THERE IS A GOD HE ASSIGNS MAN’S PURPOSE
My daughter’s favorite television show is My Little Pony. On one occasion a couple of years ago, she said, “Daddy, I know what I want to be when I grow up.” With delight I waited to hear what my godly young offspring would aspire to do. She finished, “I want to be a pink pony.” Now what should I say at that? Should I follow the societal drivel and affirm her with, “you can be anything you want to be and if you just believe hard enough, you can be that pink pony”? Of course not. The ontology is all wrong. She CAN’T be a pink pony. Moreover, there are a number of things that she technically COULD be, that MY daughter CAN’T be. For example she will also not work anywhere called The Pink Pony. 

Yet, the reason I will not tell my daughter that she can be whatever she wants when she grows up is the same reason I will not tell her she can become an actual pink pony. That isn’t what she was created to be. The inventor did not intend that purpose for her. Any purpose the inventor did not intend is not meaningful. To live out a self designated, made up purpose is to deny reality. It is meaningless. So what do I tell my girls instead? Try to walk with God and determine what he wants you to become. Look for his purpose and meaning for your lives. After all, God is the inventor.