Ravi Zacharias, a prominent Christian apologist has said “There are four fundamental questions in life; origin, meaning, morality and destiny.” He then goes on to suggest that only God is big enough to give a satisfactory answer to these questions. Watch Video
I’d like to address the status of these fundamental questions.
- ORIGINOf the four proposed questions, this is the only legitimate question. We do have an origin that can be scientifically and philosophically explored. However, the natural theology arguments that Ravi invokes to address this question do not advance the notion of a god past the idea that an intelligent and powerful entity launched the universe into existence. Ravi then inappropriately implies a false dichotomy; either you’re an atheist or a theist. There are a multitude of assumptions that enter unexamined when we step from such arguments all the way to a notion of a god that is personal, loving, and just. However, this is exactly what is encouraged.This is not to say that the natural theology arguments hold true. These arguments seem to be poised conveniently on the frontier of the god-of-the-gaps. The fact that our human minds do not easily grasp counter-intuitive concepts such as M-theory, quantum theory or a natural endpoint to causation does not mean that we blindly default to more “intuitive” theistic solutions that also conform to our emotional expectations.It is here at this point of conceptual complexity, meager evidence, counter-intuition, and emotional uncertainty that a good hard look at our human disposition to pass premature judgment in favor of the most simplistic, most intuitive and warmest solutions needs to be dragged out into the open and assessed. To fail to do so will most certainly end in ontological constructions that naturally emerge from the inappropriately assumption of a central role of humans in the universe.
- MEANINGTo simply ask “What is the meaning of life” is to ignore the prior question “Is there an objective meaning to life?”And an emotional longing for objective meaning is not enough to conclude that such an objective meaning exists. Objective meaning must be established without any consideration of the emotional human disposition towards the notion.It would be of great comfort to the turkeys on a turkey farm a week before thanksgiving to have some fiction that runs contrary to their reality and, instead, tells them that they are each significant and have a special place in the heart of some turkey god who needs them to fulfill some role in his avian universe.
- MORALITYTo simply ask “What is the objective source of morality” is to ignore the prior question “Is there an objective source of morality?” Humans have several emotions working against objectivity on this point. We feel guilty and assume the guilt has a referent. We feel the need for justice and are certain that objective justice must then exist. Our righteous indignation is dignified by a codified system of morality or ethics, and exposes the emotional causation behind any such code.Instead of applying pragmatics in formulating social contracts to restrict behavior, we tend to instead invoke some omnipotent moral law-giver so as to give us comfort in the concept that wrong-doing has also eternal consequences.
- DESTINYTo simply ask “What is my eternal destiny?” is to ignore the prior question “Are humans eternal beings?” Emotions, once again, are the only source of validation , and inappropriately so. For many humans,iIt is emotionally unbearable to consider themselves to be as impermanent as are “mere” animals, and therefore irrationally default to the notion of an eternal soul. Our emotional inclination to make ourselves worthy of more than a short material life is what blinds us to the inappropriate unquestioning leap over the assumption of our eternal nature.To appeal to emotional intuition is to approach this matter consciously or unconsciously dishonestly. To assume that our desires should carry any weight at all in the assessment of our reality is both dishonest and misguided. Any human agenda, either private or social, has no place on the table if we are to, in all intellectual integrity, systematically examine each contingent assumption. Warm and fuzzy shortcuts to meaning, morality and destiny are not appropriate.
To be human is to be emotional. This is the beautiful plain on which life is lived. It is not, however, the plain on which the truths of life are to be assessed. To assess the truth of our existence, all subjective notions must give way to as pure of an objectivity as is humanly possible. This objectivity will often be complex, counter-intuitive and emotionally unsatisfying. But there are no warm and fuzzy shortcuts to truth; only the subsequent satisfaction that we have maintained intellectual integrity throughout the process of inquiry.
Here are a few questions that should be answered prior to any honest exploration of objective truth.
- Am I willing to say “I don’t know” if the evidence is not conclusive?
- Can I emotionally accept the possibility that there is not objective meaning?
- Can I emotionally accept the possibility that there is no objective morality?
- Can I emotionally accept the possibility that I have no eternal destiny?
If you cannot answer “yes” to any of these questions, you are not ready for the journey.