Saturday, October 22, 2016

Metaphysics and the Meaning of Life: How the Kingdom of God Changes Everything!

* Below are the notes from my presentation at Glendale Community College for the "God and Truth IV" panel discussion.

Metaphysics and the Meaning of Life:
How the Kingdom of God Changes Everything!
Richard Klaus
October 18, 2016
Glendale Community College’s “God and Truth IV: God and the Meaning of Life”


·      Thank you to Glendale Community College for sponsoring these events
·      Thank you to Professor Lupu for the invitation


·      April 20th—was the 17 year anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre

o   Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold

§  Killed 12 students and 1 teacher

§  Injured another 21 people

o   Eric Harris:  Journal

§  “I just love Hobbes and Nietzche (sic).”

§  “I say ‘KILL MANKIND’ no one should survive” and “theres no such thing as True Good or True Evil, its all relative to the observer.  its just all nature, chemistry, and math. deal with it.”

§  T-Shirt on day of shooting: “Natural Selection”

·      Or Consider… Jeffrey Dahmer:  arrested in 1991 for brutal sex crimes and cannibalism

o   Spoke of his belief that “the theory of evolution is truth, that we all just came from the slime, and when we died… that was it, there was nothing—so the whole theory cheapens life.”

o   “If a person doesn’t think there is a God to be accountable to, then what’s the point in trying to modify your behavior to keep it in acceptable ranges.”

·      We are shocked by the above behavior and find it morally repugnant
·      All these cases of ethically deviant behavior are linked with corresponding views about reality and the meaning of life.

·      In these cases a metaphysics of meaninglessness breaks forth in violence


o   Not all who engage in murderous violence are self-consciously motivated by philosophical naturalism

o   Not all who hold to philosophical naturalism engage in murderous acts of violence

o   There may be medical and psychological issues in those mentioned above

§  Eric Harris:  “clinical psychopath” by some

·      MAIN POINT: deep connection between metaphysics, the meaning of life and the ethics that flow forth from such views!

A.   The meaning of life: What are we talking about?

a.    At least three concepts:[1]

                                              i.     Purpose: Are our lives directed toward some goal or end?

                                            ii.     Significance: Do our lives count for anything as part of a greater whole?

                                          iii.     Value: Is my life worth anything overall?  Is it better lived than not? 

B.   Two basic approaches to meaning in life:  Discovered vs. Created

a.    Bestowed from outside:  in which case we Discover this meaning

b.    Meaning created from the inside:  self-ascribed and self-determined

C.    Meaning in life questions are bound together with larger philosophical concerns…

a.    What one thinks about ultimate reality (metaphysics) will affect how one is able to consistently answer the question about meaning

b.    This is illustrated by a number of contemporary philosophers and thinkers

“That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors 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, and that the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand.  Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”[2]  
--Bertrand Russell

“We’re just a bit of pollution.  If you got rid of us, and all the stars and all the galaxies and all the planets and all the aliens and everybody, then the universe would be largely the same.  We’re completely irrelevant.”[3]  --Lawrence Krauss (Arizona State University cosmologist)

“’You,’ your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.  As Lewis Carroll’s Alice might have phrased it: ‘You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.’”[4]   --Francis Crick

“Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly.  1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exist; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent.”[5]
 --William Provine (Cornell evolutionary biologist)

c.     Can’t be written off as the ramblings of some mentally deranged teenagers.

d.    Given Naturalistic evolution:  there is no meaning to be discovered

e.    Naturalistic evolutionary accounts of humanity and cosmos tend to degenerate—if consistent—into nihilism.

§  Tamler Sommers & Alex Rosenberg “Darwin’s Nihilistic Idea: Evolution and the Meaninglessness of Life”

“Darwinism thus puts the capstone on a process which since Newton’s time has driven teleology to the explanatory sidelines. In short it has made Darwinians into metaphysical Nihilists denying that there is any meaning or purpose to the universe its contents and its cosmic history. But in making Darwinians into metaphysical nihilists, the solvent algorithm [random variation acted on by natural selection] should have made them into ethical nihilists too. For intrinsic values and obligations make sense only against the background of purposes, goals, and ends which are not merely instrumental.”[6]                    
                                                            --Tamler Sommers & Alex Rosenberg

f.      But if not discovered perhaps meaning can be self-generated or created

g.    Problems:

                                              i.     Arbitrary

1.    Anything can be one’s purpose in life

a.    Engaging in medicine to help others

b.    Sitting around playing video games

c.     Harming others

§  Sailson Jose das Gracas: Brazilian serial killer (over 40 murders)

·      told reporters that murders filled a void in his life

·      “At 17, I killed the first woman and that gave me a buzz.  I kept on doing it and I enjoyed it.”[7]

                                            ii.     Bootstrapping problem: lifting oneself up by one’s bootstraps

1.    If life lacks objective meaning then how does one making a choice suddenly confer meaning on it?

Christian Theism

1.    What about Christian theism?  How does it answer the question of the meaning of life?

2.    First, meaning is objective and discovered

3.    God is both transcendent and personal

a.    Provides the grounding of objective meaning and value

b.    God can be known:  He Is There and He Is Not Silent

4.    Not bare theism or deism.  Not simply a nameless, faceless transcendent source of value

5.    Rather, it is a “blood, sweat, and tears” kind of theism

6.    The ultimate revelation of God is found in Jesus of Nazareth: Scandal and glory

a.    Both its scandal: the raw particularity of ultimate and final revelation in a single Person in history

b.    and its glory: God has come and dwelt among us for awhile

7.    In Jesus…

a.    the transcendent God draws near to humanity

b.    the Love of God is displayed in his self-sacrificing death

c.     the Power of God is manifest in his historical resurrection from the dead

d.    and all of this is part of God’s plan which demonstrates his unparalleled Wisdom

8.    Christian theism: Affirms objective Purpose, Significance, and Value

a.    There is PURPOSE:

                                              i.     Defined and revealed by our Creator à Discovered; not self-created

                                            ii.     One summary: “Man’s chief end [i.e., our highest purpose] is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”

b.    There is SIGNIFICANCE:

                                              i.     Our lives our part of God’s wise plan for his creation

                                            ii.     As followers of Jesus, his people play a part in the kingdom drama and agenda he is pursuing through the ages

c.     There is VALUE:

                                              i.     Created in God’s image: “crowned with glory and honor” (Ps 8)

                                            ii.     Re-created by the mercy of Jesus’ substitutionary death and the power of his resurrection

                                          iii.     Value of belonging to God and his people

9.    Christians don’t always live up to these majestic realities

a.    but this is the New Testament portrait of Christian theism;

b.    this is the life and meaning available to us!


10.                  Began: metaphysics and the meaning of life

                                              i.     Ideas have consequences… and some ideas have victims!

“If we present a man with a concept of man which is not true, we may well corrupt him.  When we present man as an automaton of reflexes, as a mind-machine, as a bundle of instincts, as a pawn of drives and reactions, as a mere product of instinct, heredity and environment, we feed the nihilism to which modern man is, in any case prone.  I became acquainted with the last stage of that corruption in my second concentration camp, Auschwitz.  The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment—or, as the Nazi liked to say, of ‘Blood and Soil.’  I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some Ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.”[8] 
                                                                                            --Viktor Frankl

11.                  But we are more than nihilistic meat machines or a bundle of neurons

12.                  There is a meaning in life available waiting to be discoveredrevealed
in the person of Jesus!

     [1] Drawn from James Anderson, “Can Life Have Meaning Without God?” Gospel Coalition (July 16, 2013).  Online:
     [2] Bertrand Russell, “A Free Man’s Worship” (1903) in Why I Am Not a Christian (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957), 107.
     [3] Quoted in Richard Weikart, The Death of Humanity and the Case for Life (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Faith, 2016), 44.  Lawrence Krauss,
     [4] Quoted in Casey Luskin, “Darwin’s Poisoned Tree: Atheistic Advocacy and the Constitutionality of Teaching Evolution in Public Schools” Trinity Law Review 21.1 (Fall, 2015), 162.  Luskin is quoting Crick’s The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul (1988).
     [5] Quoted in Casey Luskin, “Darwin’s Poisoned Tree: Atheistic Advocacy and the Constitutionality of Teaching Evolution in Public Schools” Trinity Law Review 21.1 (Fall, 2015), 166.
     [6] Tamler Sommers and Alex Rosenberg, “Darwin’s Nihilistic Idea: Evolution and the Meaninglessness of Life” Biology and Philosophy 18(5); November, 2003, 653.
     [7] Ryan Gorman, “’Killing Calmed Me Down’: Brazilian Man Admits Murdering More than Forty People for ‘Fun’” (December 12, 2014).  Online:
     [8] Quoted in Richard Weikart, The Death of Humanity and the Case for Life (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Faith, 2016), 11-12.  Weikart is quoting Viktor E. Frankl, The Doctor and the Soul: From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy (New York: Vintage Books, 1986), xxvii.