Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ultimate Meaning Is Not the End of the Story

[Dad and Hannah visiting Mom and newly-born Emily in the hospital. It doesn't matter, according to Pastor Rick Warren.]

This series emerged from my curiosity about the argument that materialism implies there is no ultimate meaning.

At first, I wanted to understand the connection between materialism and ultimate meaning. That is, I wanted to know what about materialism made ultimate meaning impossible.

The connection between the two concepts, as I discovered, hinges on two different yet related explanations for human life generally. The first explanation is that materialism makes it impossible for humans to have been created by God (that is, God as typically conceived in Western societies claiming a Judeo-Christian heritage). The second explanation is that materialism demands that humans are exclusively products of natural operations—including environmental and ecological events, as well as small-scale chemical and physical interactions—and social forces.

However, the explanations above leave out the critical matter of ultimate meaning, and my curiosity had come to focus on knowing what ultimate meaning was. The analysis I eventually struck upon defined ultimate meaning as being God’s intentions for humans and humanity generally. Thus, God intends that an individual do or become something specific. A person, every person, has a destiny in human history and a place in the universe. Not only a place, but a place that is important to the one supreme being in all the vast universe. Best of all, a person can discover this destiny through the Bible, its authorized teachers and leaders, and its prescribed (or, not prohibited) rituals and observances.

To return to--and complete--the syllogisms I started in earlier installments:
  • If materialism is true, then God did not create us and we are natural-social products.
  • If God did not create us and we are natural-social products, then humans and human beings have no intentional cause and no personal means of discovering the transcendent intentions behind one’s life.
  • If materialism is true, then human life is a brute fact and human learning is catch-as-catch-can.

Many people find it undesirable that human life would be unintended. These people, in my experience, translate their revulsion of the idea into several other arguments, such as those we saw briefly from Pastor Rick Warren. These people suggest that if materialism is true, then human lives don’t matter.

It may indeed be true that our lives don’t matter in the workings of an unimaginably great universe. The life, wealth, goodness, and beauty of a single human being in the 12th century may not seem important from two or six or six-hundred galaxies away.

But is this the end of the story? If you volunteer time at a soup kitchen, or if you decide to work late rather than helping your child with homework, or if you share a laugh with someone who had before been sad—is the final word that these actions and decisions are not very important from six hundred galaxies away?

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:51 AM

    Yeah, it doesn't matter 600 galaxies away. It is not how human intention affects distance. I don't act hoping to permeate every inch of the universe. Physical reality is the substrate consciousness and intentions runs on. Consciousness matters to consciousness. Your blog doesn't matter to my computer, but it matters to me.


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