Friday, August 11, 2017

More on Purpose

A couple of days ago I did a post on materialism in which I argued that a materialist worldview empties the world and life of any genuine meaning despite the efforts of some materialists to salvage some measure of purpose in the fleeting ephemerata of human existence.

A friend wrote to respond to the post and add some thoughts of his own which I'd like to share. Here's the core of his response:
As is evident in the article you cite, the problem of materialists is that, no matter how hard they try, they can never fully jettison their human essence. Like C.S. Lewis says in Miracles, "While denying humanity, they all the while remain human."

Materialism is the immediate (and pitifully jejune) result of positivism. The materialist basically says, "I refuse to speculate about realities that can't be empirically verified. Prudence demands that I only give credence to what is posited to my senses--to what I know with certainty is actually there. Therefore, I reject any notion of inherent purpose and meaning.

But there are few things which are more empirically obvious than the existential reality of human beings for whom purpose and meaning are more necessary than food. As you likely know, this is the premise of Viktor Frankl's book, Man's Search for Meaning. Man's incessant search for meaning is an empirically verifiable, existential reality.

To fail to see this one would have to be as obtuse as the willfully blind fundamentalist Christian who refuses to consider any evidence that the earth more than 6,000 years old.

The materialist explanation that purpose is only for evolutionary "benefit" also exposes the reality they are trying to deny. Benefit necessarily implies purpose or telos--benefit means an advantage that contributes toward an end cause. But then having an end cause, like increasing evolutionary sophistication and functionality, requires an intent (aka "purpose") and the concept of intent is nonsensical apart from a will and a mind which does the intending.

It's hard for a materialist to write two sentences without asserting some kind of value attribution. But, as you have so keenly pointed out, like purpose and meaning, according to them, there can be no inherent value in anything.

All is an illusion, but then that can't even be said without a value assertion; either an illusion is "bad" because it keeps us from what is real and true, both of which have inherent value, or illusion is "good" because it enables us to gratify ourselves in some way, but then apart from sheer, visceral itch-scratching, "gratifying" one's self smuggles in notions of individual happiness and fulfillment, which are inherently valuable and thus constitute an important purpose.

To paraphrase Chesterton in The Everlasting Man, "Nothing makes a man look less like an animal than assuming he is one."
Quite so. The materialist, in my opinion, is living in a state of metaphysical tension. He realizes that human life requires meaning, significance and purpose and realizes at the same time that any genuine meaning, significance and purpose are extremely difficult to reconcile with the tenets of his materialism which reduces everything to the chaotic swirl of leptons and baryons.

Yet he soldiers on, clinging to his materialism, his desire to embrace a metaphysics which allows him to avoid a confrontation with God evidently outweighing his desire for a meaningful life. One might well wonder why.