Ed. Note: This article is excerpted and slightly modified from our series, “Does God Exist?”
Dr. John Ankerberg: You say that if God does not exist then life has no ultimate purpose. What do you mean?
Dr. William Lane Craig: By purpose I mean a goal, a reason, for which something exists. And if God does not exist, there is no purpose for human life or for the universe. We are just accidental byproducts of nature which have been brought into existence for no reason at all, and we are ultimately doomed to perish in the heat-death of the universe. So on atheism, there is no reason, no purpose for which you exist or for which the universe exists.
I remember as a boy reading the novel by H.G. Wells called The Time Machine which illustrated this so well. In the novel, Wells’ time traveler journeys far into the future to discover the ultimate destiny of man. And what he discovers is a dead earth orbiting a gigantic red sun. There is no life, no human existence, no civilization. Everything is gone.
And as I read the novel, I thought, “No, no, it can’t end that way!” But this is reality in a universe without God. There is no purpose; it will end that way, like it or not. And so in the story, Wells’ time traveler returns; but to what? Just an earlier point on the same purposeless rush toward oblivion. So truly, if God does not exist, human beings find themselves in a horrible predicament. Life is ultimately without significance, meaning, value or purpose.
Ankerberg: Some atheists claim that it’s still possible for man to live a meaningful and happy life without God. And you say it’s impossible for atheists to live consistently and happily with their view.
Craig: Right. I think that it’s impossible to live both consistently and happily if you believe that life is ultimately without meaning, value or purpose. The only way that atheists manage to live happily is by living inconsistently with their worldview. But if they really lived consistently as though their lives were without meaning, without value, without purpose, they would be in deep despair. And so I think this is the fundamental human predicament: How do you find a worldview that allows you to live both consistently and happily? Atheism does not furnish such a view.
Ankerberg: Now, you’ve cited several examples of some of the famous atheists today and in the past that have done this; they’re living inconsistently.
Craig: Yes. Take, for example, the area of meaning in life. Even though atheists recognize that without God life ultimately has no meaning, they still continue to live as though their lives were meaningful. For example, Jean-Paul Sartre said that one may create meaning for his life by choosing a certain course of action. And Sartre himself chose Marxism. Well, that’s totally inconsistent. The universe doesn’t really acquire a meaning just because I happen to give it one. And I think that’s easy to see. Suppose you give the universe one meaning and I give it another one. Who’s right? Well, the answer is obviously neither one. The universe remains meaningless in and of itself, regardless of how we happen to regard it. So I think what Sartre is really saying is, “Let’s pretend that our lives have meaning.” And that’s just fooling yourself.
Ankerberg: Why is it when we turn to the problem of values, that this is where the most blatant mistakes are made?
Craig: Yes. The area of values is where the most blatant inconsistencies occur, because it is impossible for an atheist to live as though there was no objective moral values and duties. For example, Friedrich Nietzsche, the great 19th century atheist, broke with his mentor, Richard Wagner, precisely over the German composer’s anti-Semitism and strident German nationalism. Similarly, Jean-Paul Sartre, writing in the aftermath of the Second World War, declared that a doctrine that leads to the mass extermination of Jews and other peoples is not just a matter of an arbitrary choice, but is really morally reprehensible and unacceptable. Bertrand Russell admitted that he could not live consistently with his own views. He was an outspoken social critic, denouncing war and restrictions on sexual freedom. Even a person like Richard Dawkins is an unabashed moralist. Even though Dawkins says that if there is no God there is no good, there’s no evil, there’s nothing but pitiless indifference, nevertheless, his books are filled with indignant moral condemnations of practices like harassment of homosexuals, religious indoctrination of children, practice of human sacrifice. All of this is inconsistent. It shows that one cannot live happily as though objective moral values and duties do not exist.