Is God necessary for meaning?

  (25 December 11)
  by Greg Spearritt

For Christian apologist Alister McGrath (in a recent post on ABC's The Drum website) science is about explaining the world, but religion is where meaning comes into the picture. He seems to follow the traditional demarcation of science tackling the ‘how’ and religion the ‘why’.

 

In his argument, McGrath makes the extraordinary claim that God is “someone who makes sense of the puzzles and enigmas of life”.

 

Now perhaps a God could be posited who does do that – but it wouldn’t be the Christian God.  Would an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God (and the God of Christian tradition must be all of these) create a world in which it is populations that matter, not individuals? From baby turtles to human sperm, it’s a numbers game, pure and simple: the species survives at the expense of huge numbers of individuals. The vast majority of creatures, to boot, die of starvation or of being eaten alive. Until very recently this included humans, and starvation still accounts for millions of human lives, especially young lives.

 

There’s much more. I recall a Larsen cartoon in which God as a kid tries to make a chicken in his room. 99% of all life forms which have ever existed on Earth are now extinct – were they the failed experiments of the (perfect) Christian God?  

 

God does no better in accounting for the vicissitudes of human life. Virtue, as Job discovered and Ecclesiastes laments, is no guide at all as to who does well in this life and who suffers horrible misfortune. Hence the need to posit a future life of reward/punishment. Who can we blame, for instance, for children born with two heads, or no brain, or other serious congenital disorders (an estimated 3% of those born in the US alone, meaning on current figures around 120,000 a year)?

 

The God of the Christians simply does not make sense of any of this. A capricious God, or at least an indifferent one – now that might do the job. Even there, however, Laplace had it right: we have no need even of that hypothesis.

 

McGrath cites Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s view that science takes things apart to see how they work, and religion puts them back together again to see what they mean. But when Christianity is faced with the problem of theodicy, it baulks every time for fear of coming up with a theologically unacceptable conclusion. The mystery of God and His Will is invoked time and time again – hardly a satisfactory way of ‘making sense of the puzzles and enigmas of life’.

 

McGrath is right to suggest that science is about explaining and understanding, not about meaning as such. Meaning is something humans bring to any situation: it’s a cultural product. And it’s not just about ‘why’. Indeed, plenty of humans have concluded that there is no reason behind particular pieces of good or ill fortune or behind the adventure of life as a whole, yet they haven’t given up in despair as if life’s not worth living. Meaning that sustains life can be just as much about family and friends, about projects and passions, as about cosmic superannuation or a grand narrative dictating our place in the scheme of things.

   

 

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5 comments

It is impossible for there not to be a creator.You don't have to look far to see all the miracles of life: All creatures each with individual lives, spirits,with thinking, breathing, loving, hating,sadness, happiness and every imaginable emotion. Every thing we have in this world was designed. There is no random chaos. If there is a creator, there must be a plan for each individual spirit. What is that plan?

Posted by Dwight Bitner

Well, is God necessary for meaning? God of the bible is the infinite, Almighty, omniscient, everlasting, ,omnipotent, omnipresent Creator! Anything is possible for Him and looking at everything He created makes me realise that us mere humans can not explain or understand Him. He is behind our wildest dreams. The Heavens declares His glory! Our intellect cannot be compared to the almighty Creator of all... All theories are still made up by mere humans and can never be fully proven. How can we ask if He is necessary, if we all exist through Him? He loves us with an everlasting love and sent His only Son, to show us how to live and as a sacrifice, so we can live forever if we believe in Jesus. My nan always said forever is a very long time, especially when we won't get a 2nd chance after death. Worth the risk of trying to get to know Him, I'd say...

Posted by Lauren Van Wyk

If God is ineffable then the claim by Judaeo/Christians to know His will is ludicrous. At best they can only muddle through scripture, realizing their limitations,and try and glean something constructive midst all the incogruities. One finite life does not provide us with adequate time to come to grips with any infinite moral powers, let alone powers that are omniscient, perfectly good,omnipotent and omnipresent.For goodness sake! The best we can hope to do can only relate to how we percieve of things within our arguably finite limitations, yet the clergy would have us prostrate ourselves before the unknowable. It is impossible to confirm or deny higher states of Being and these may well be in a state of perpetual flux. As to how, we as individuals may fare in this state of affairs, presently at least, is beyond comprehension and dogma of any persuasion will not change this.

Posted by Paul Murchison

Many people so need the comfort and consolation given to them by an imagined personal relationship with the divine, that they attempt to ignore the capriciousness and indifference of the very reality that their God is symbolizing. This is accomplished by utilizing the lesser divinities:- Guardian Angels, Saints, etc.

Posted by David Miller

I beg to differ with the comment made above "At best they can only muddle through scripture, realizing their limitations,and try and glean something constructive midst all the incogruities." What people need is another reformation. It is not enough to read the holy scriptures, whether Christian or any other. People need first hand mystical experience and that is attainable and indeed people's birth right. The path is through meditation –“make thy mind single”/onepointed. There are two basic ways that can be taken. One is the hard road and possibly one that yields nothing, the other is the royal road to success in Union or Grace or whatever we are to call the mystical experience. Consider we are aware, and we are aware that we are aware! The first part of "we are aware" is the personal mind, that which is turbulent like the sea. Stilling this is near impossible and very time consuming. The higher level of the "we" that is aware that we are aware" can be taken. From this perspective there is dispassion for the fever of the mind. It is as if you are at the top of a very tall skyscraper looking down and what you see looks like little dots moving around. Steady your concentration and sustain your meditation. The personal self disappears, subject and object vanish, only experience remains. Drink of the bliss of Existence /Being!

Posted by Ani Eade

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