Several years ago, I wrote the following words in the flyleaf of my Bible: “If there is no God, then nothing really matters. If there really is a God, nothing else matters.” I don’t recall where I heard it, but as far as I’m concerned this one statement sums up many important issues in very few words. But, notice that the statement is not, “If one believes in God…” but rather, “If there really is a God.” The important issue, as I see it, is whether God exists, regardless of anyone’s belief.
Nevertheless, there are many in our culture who would disagree. Many are convinced that whether God exists or not, it doesn’t matter. They make important decisions every day, they choose to perform generous and noble acts, they even give their life a meaning or a purpose, all without settling the question of God’s existence. So what does it matter?
This seemingly esoteric question does matter, because if God does not actually exist, then all of our decisions, actions, and even our self-defined purpose ultimately make no difference. As it turns out, our universe is heading toward extinction. Astronomers have known for a long time now that our universe is running out of usable energy. Our sun will eventually burn out, along with every star in every galaxy, and the entire universe will run out of usable energy and go completely cold. All chemical energy that makes any conceivable form of life possible will cease. Astronomers call this “heat death.”
So, if there is no God beyond this universe, (which is heading for extinction) then everything will end in heat death. It doesn’t matter if you live like Stalin or Mother Theresa. It doesn’t matter if you live like Homer Simpson or Albert Einstein. It doesn’t matter if you live as an ignorant, selfish, bigoted fool or a wise, compassionate, generous scholar. It all turns out the same anyway. It makes no ultimate difference.
Now, if we put all our hope in some remote, theoretically possible way of escaping the heat death, I’m afraid it wouldn’t help. It would only extend the same meaningless existence. We could try to live moral lives, but if there is no God, then there is no authority over all humans. That would mean there is no standard of right and wrong that would apply to everyone (no transcendent moral obligations). Right and wrong would simply be a matter of each individual’s opinion. It would come down to individual preferences. You may prefer to live like Mother Theresa, but others may prefer to live like Stalin, and there would be no ultimate standard to say which preference was right and which preference was wrong. Like philosopher, Dr. Michael Ruse has said, “…morality is a collective illusion put in place by our genes to make us social animals.”
And despite our attempts to give purpose to our own lives, our lives would still be purposeless. We would still be the product of random chemical reactions. Like atheist philosopher, Dr. Peter Singer has said, “Life as a whole has no meaning. Life began, as the best available theories tell us, in a chance combination of gasses; it then evolved through random mutation and natural selection. All this just happened; it did not happen to any overall purpose.” Famed atheist, Dr. Richard Dawkins put it this way, “there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” And it turns out that, if we were not created for a purpose, then any purpose we give our lives is arbitrary. If I say that the purpose of my life is to help others, that is my human opinion. But, if someone else says that the purpose of my life is to serve as slave labor, that’s another human opinion. Who is to say that one opinion is true and the other if false? If there is no God, nothing matters because there is no ultimate meaning beyond human opinion.
However, if there really is a God, then there can be an ultimate standard of right and wrong and perhaps we were made for a purpose. Though if this is the case I must warn you, there may be obligations. We probably ought to try to understand what is right and what is wrong because there may be consequences to breaking the moral law. And we should try to discover our purpose because there may be consequences to violating that purpose. There may even be an afterlife in which those consequences are realized on an eternal scale. So, if God exists, we have important existential issues to consider. Suddenly, the things that we thought mattered the most in life, like family, friends, education, finances, careers, even marriage – though still important – don’t matter nearly as much as understanding right, wrong, who made us, and why. If there is a God, nothing else matters nearly as much.
I encourage you take a little time to investigate the evidence for God. It might just be the most important thing you ever do.
Put your new knowledge into action...
For a succinct description of “heat death,” please see Zwart, P. J. About Time (Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1976) p. 136. For a more recent description of the issue, please see Chas A. Egan, Charles H. Lineweaver. “A Larger Estimate of the Entropy of the Universe.” Astrophysical Journal #710 (Feb 2010) p.1825-1834. For a thorough defense of the finitude of the universe, please see Craig, William Lane. “The End Of The World,” Reasonable Faith website, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-end-of-the-world#ixzz3BZJB4k8P
Ruse, Michael. “Darwinism and the Moral Argument for God.” The Huffington Post blog (07.30.2010) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-ruse/darwinism-and-the-moral-a_b_657119.html
Singer, Peter. Practical Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979) p.331
Dawkins, Richard. River Out of Eden (UK: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1995) p. 131–132