Can You Have Purpose Without God?

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By Luke Nix

Introduction
One of the more convincing reasons to¬†believe that atheism is false comes from man’s desire for life to have purpose. If there is no designer behind the universe, life in general, and our individual lives in particular, have no ultimate purpose, no goal to guide our decisions, no finish line to motivate us to keep running when things get tough. The way that pastor Rick Warren put it in his book “The Purpose-Driven Life” makes it quite clear:

“Without a purpose, life is motion without meaning, activity without direction, and events without reason. Without a purpose, life is trivial, petty, and pointless.”

Purpose God

If life is truly pointless, then why should anyone want to endure the suffering and pain that life brings? If life is pointless, as atheism necessarily implies, then there is no reason to want to continue to live. This is, quite literally, an unlivable philosophy for life, and if atheism necessarily implies this philosophy, then atheism is not just unlivable, but completely incompatible with living. And if a worldview is incompatible with living, it cannot be true. However, people do continue to live because they believe that their lives do have a purpose, so it follows that atheism is false. The power of this argument against their worldview is recognized by many atheists (they would agree with Warren in his assessment of the need for purpose), and they believe that they have found a way to undermine the soundness of the defeater of their worldview.

Atheistic Purposes?

In order to undermine the defeater, the atheist recognizes that there must be some way to give people’s lives purpose. Since they do not have a Creator to provide such a purpose, they must look elsewhere. The common appeal for the atheist is to look to the individual for their¬†purpose for living. Whatever the individual wants or desires becomes¬†their purpose for living. From what I can tell, there are at least three problems with this approach.

Humanist vs. Narcissist

First, unless the person is a complete narcissist, they will attempt to take others’ lives and feelings into account (a humanist position) as they attempt to create the purposes for their lives. In order to keep from becoming overwhelmed with the shear number of people to consider, the individual must limit the scope of who all they will consider. This can only be done by considering the other people’s value. In an atheistic worldview, humans do not have intrinsic or equal value (grounded in the¬†Image of God¬†in Christianity), so their value must be determined by their purpose. But if that individual must determine their own purpose, then that must be taken into account when the humanist is attempting to create their purpose. This, of course, becomes extremely difficult if the purposes of the others are not necessarily known and even more difficult if the other people considered decided to change their purposes at any given time. And let us also not overlook the infinite regress of interdependencies of purposes upon one another, which may actually render such a pursuit of purpose for the humanist practically (if not necessarily) impossible.

Challenged by Others

Second, let us assume that the atheist is able to face and overcome the obstacles described above (or is a narcissist) and chooses their own purposes. Others, no doubt, will question the individual’s chosen purpose. The humanist will question the narcissist, and the narcissist will question the humanist (let’s also not forget that existentialists, hedonists, and numerous others who also will give their input). This results in the individual doubting their choice of purpose, which will throw them right back into the struggle described in the first issue. Unless the atheist is or becomes a narcissist, these two issues will never result¬†in satisfaction with the purpose set by the individual. If satisfaction does not exist, the process continues¬†ad infitum.

It Keeps Going and Going and Going and Going…

Third, if the atheist gets to the point of settling upon a purpose (through accepting narcissism or whatever), once the goal is achieved, new purposes must be created quickly; otherwise, hopelessness will set in when living becomes painful. Even the narcissist will become tired of repeating the same process over and over with no ultimate satisfaction that an ultimate goal has been achieved. The only way to avoid despair for the atheist is to borrow from theism and believe (incorrectly and blindly) that their repeated struggle does have ultimate purpose.

Tiny Little Purposes

The atheistic life is ultimately unlivable without believing the “useful fiction” of ultimate purpose (theism). Without an ultimate purpose to deal with the struggle, pain, and suffering involved in trying to create our own individual purposes numerous times throughout our lives, doing this time and time again becomes tedious, and when we realize that we become more willing to question such a delusion. As we personally experience the futility of trying to create our own purposes, something about this never-ending process becomes painfully apparent. In his talk “Has Christianity Failed You?” philosopher¬†Ravi Zacharias¬†stated it succinctly:

“If you don’t have¬†ultimate purpose, all these tiny little purposes are nothing else but ways to tranquilize your boredom.”

Tranquilizing our boredom becomes the atheist’s ultimate purpose, but who or what established that that is, in fact, their ultimate purpose? The atheist tries to undermine God’s existence (which necessarily implies ultimate purpose; again, who or what assigned that as the ultimate purpose?) by demonstrating subjective purposes can exist. However, this side-steps the issue; it does not actually address the issue. The atheist believes that since they have offered subjective purposes that ultimate purpose is no longer necessary. But subjective purposes and ultimate purpose are not mutually exclusive. Just because subjective purposes exist does not mean that ultimate¬†purpose does not, as has been demonstrated in the three issues with trying to substitute subjective purposes for ultimate purpose. Again,¬†Ravi Zacharias:

“God’s made you for a purpose. All the tiny little purposes become purposeful because your life itself has purpose.”

Conclusion
While the atheist believes that they can overcome the challenge of a lack of ultimate purpose in their lives, we have been hardwired to need ultimate purpose in order to continue to want to live. Atheism is logically incompatible with such an idea. Atheism has no choice but to borrow from Christianity to make itself a livable worldview. To the atheist, ultimate purpose is nothing more than a “useful fiction” and since such a belief in a purpose-giver is necessary to live out atheism, why would the atheist establish his purpose as to undermine the existence of the Purpose-Giver? How can a worldview be true if it promotes the belief of¬†a¬†useful fiction¬†in order to make it livable? Simply put, it can’t. Atheism is not true, and our need for purpose demonstrates it. Atheism tips its hat to Christianity in its reliance upon an ultimate purpose. That is no coincidence, it must be so because Christianity is true.

If you have been struggling intellectually and emotionally with your purpose in life, I invite you to not only consider the argument presented in this post, but also those on the many other posts on this blog. You will continue to struggle with your purpose until you accept that Jesus is your Creator and Savior, and He is the Purposer of your life. Investigate the evidence, then come to Christ on His terms and see that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

 


Notes

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