Atheists & secularists, like anyone else, will sometimes speak of what gives their life meaning and purpose. It might be fighting against religious dogma, or helping people think rationally, or spending time with their family, or “making the world a little better place”, or… whatever. Note that these are self-imposed “purposes” or “meaning”, often involving leaving some sort of intellectual or philosophical legacy. But, is this really consistent with their worldview?
Have you ever heard of Lawrence M. Krauss or Glenn D. Starkman? Even if you don’t run in scientific circles, you may be familiar with Krauss, who is a well-known theoretical physicist (Chairman of the Dept. of Physics & Astronomy at Case Western Reserve University), author, and outspoken atheist. Krauss & Starkman collaborated on a paper that was published in the Astrophysical Journal (Mar. 1, 2000) titled, “Life, the Universe, and Nothing: Life and Death in an Ever-Expanding Universe.” Based on the latest scientific discoveries (which have since been confirmed many times over), they described in rigorous detail just how the ever-increasing cosmic expansion rate will result in the following:
1) Decreasing observability: All the “stuff” of the universe is confined to the 3-dimensional surface of the universe. As the universe expands faster & faster, it is only a matter of time before those things furthest apart move away from each other at speeds faster than light. Light from one object will never be able to reach the other, making it functionally invisible.
2) Cessation of star burning: Most of the cosmic gas & dust that form stars has been used up. What little remains is becoming more & more widely dispersed. Existing stars will eventually burn out and no new ones will be able to get started.
3) Decreasing knowledge: The accumulation & retrieval of knowledge requires work — i.e., the dissipation of heat through some sort of machine/organism. With the abovementioned burnout of the stars, the rate of such heat dissipation will drop catastrophically. Even if an advanced civilization is still around, not only will they no longer be able to accumulate new knowledge, they won’t be able to retrieve what they had. They will eventually know nothing at all.
4) Cessation of protein folding and metabolism: All basic life functions depend on precisely specified protein structures and complex metabolic reactions. Assembly of the protein structures requires a certain level of heat flow, because it is “work”. As indicated above, eventually that heat flow won’t be available. Thus, no more production of proteins or associated metabolic reactions. All physical life must come to an end.
5) End of consciousness: Given what I’ve already explained, this might seem obvious. After all, without physical beings alive to think, feel, contemplate, etc., how could there be consciousness? Good point. In fact, even if consciousness was reduced to mere quantum mechanical computational machines (i.e., which have the lowest possible energy demands), that kind of “thinking” would also, in time, end.
6) The end of meaning: Let me put it this way… If there will eventually be no one alive to appreciate the fruits of your labor, then ultimately there is no “legacy” to speak of, no lasting contribution to society or to humankind, and certainly no real meaning in life.
In sum, total heat death (aka “the Big Freeze”) is inevitable; it leads to the end of all life, knowledge, & purpose; and there’s not a blessed thing we can do about it.
This is all truly bad news for the naturalist, painting such a bleak picture as it does. After all, in their view, the physical universe is the sum total of reality. Yet, in the face of that, the doctrinal pronouncements of the Council for Secular Humanism include the following in its Statement of Principles:
- We affirm humanism as a realistic alternative to theologies of despair.
- We believe in optimism rather than pessimism, hope rather than despair, learning in the place of dogma, truth instead of ignorance.
Anyone else see a conflict, here? Maybe a denial of reality?
So, I find it all the more ironic that these same atheists/naturalists/secularists mock theists — Christians, in particular — for believing in a “Big Skydaddy” who loves us and wants to bless us. They make fun of us for believing in an afterlife and accuse us of self-delusional fantasy & wishful thinking. And, of course, one of their favorite pronouncements is that “Religion is a crutch.”
Well, laying aside why any particular individual believes what they believe or if they are somehow pre-disposed toward theism, at least believing in God, Heaven, Redemption, and the Afterlife are all coherent within the Biblical, Christian worldview. They fit together as pieces of the overall puzzle without conflict. It’s a theology of hope, not despair.
The Christian’s hope lies in the fact that our transcendent Creator has promised to *not* let it all come to a sad, pointless end. Once the purposes of this universe have been fulfilled (and long before the events described by Krauss & Starkman), God will “roll up” the cosmos “like a scroll” (Isa. 34:3). In its place, He will create a “new Heaven” and a “new Earth”, where there will be no more sickness or death, sorrow or mourning, evil or sin of any kind (Rev. 21 & 22). Those who chose to follow Jesus while on Earth will rule with Him in the “new creation” and fulfill their ultimate purpose — to worship, serve, and glorify Jesus Christ, the Son of God and King of Kings! (And that doesn’t mean sitting on clouds playing harps all day, either.)
[These issues and more are all discussed in the book that inspired this post: Why the Universe Is the Way It Is, by Dr. Hugh Ross.]
But, according to their own official principles, secular humanists are supposed to ignore what (they think) they know to be true about the fate of humanity and the universe, make up their own “purposes”, and go on like everything will be fine. Of course, if that’s all you have to work with, maybe self-delusion is OK?
Isn’t it ironic?
P.S. In case it wasn’t clear, I don’t doubt any of the science that Krauss & Starkman’s conclusions are based on. I only object to the physicalist assumptions, since I believe a) there are non-physical beings, b) human consciousness survives physical death, and c) God Himself will intervene long before the universe approaches heat death.
P.P.S. I wonder if Alanis Morissette would be interested in some ideas for a sequel to her hit song…?