Accountability and Purpose

When Charles Darwin penned his final draft of On the Origin of Species in 1876 he gave the world a game-changing worldview. Up until that time it was generally held that the only explanation for the reality of things was the intentional activity of a higher power, usually understood as supernatural and divine. Darwin’s theory of evolutionary natural selection offered a way out. He declared that he could explain the reality of our world, and everything in it, without God.

The scientific establishment was exuberant in their acceptance of Darwinian evolution for the most part. He had freed them from any accountability to a creator. If there was no creator, there could be no accountability. Man could now do what he wanted, when he wanted, without fear of a future judgment day.

But, in a “be careful what you wish for” way, the unintended consequences of this new found libertarian freedom have come to haunt us. More and more we see life as ultimately meaningless. After all, if we are just the common consequence of an evolutionary process that has taken billions of years to get to us, then our lives are just momentary blips on the radar screen of history. We are just a link from one generation to another in a long line of evolutionary mutations that had no purposeful beginning and certainly no intelligent purpose or goal.

In a very real way, destroying accountability has also destroyed meaning and purpose in life. According to scientific naturalism (the new hip term for what Darwin birthed), everything you are, think, feel, and become is the result of materialistic processes. You and I are just an ongoing manipulation of electrons, neutrons, and protons that is random and without purpose. There was no reasonable purpose that began the process, and there cannot be a reasonable expectation that our lives are headed for some purposeful end. We just are, for a time, and then we are not.

You can see how this philosophical understanding of the meaning of life gives wings to two disparate conditions. First, the fact that we came from goo and are heading to goo means that nothing in life ultimately matters, so we ought to seek to do whatever gives us the most pleasure. We hope that most will find pleasure in decency, honesty, sacrificial service, and altruism, but there really is no basis to insist upon this way of living. In an evolutionary world, even truth will be in flux. Our only accountability is to ourselves, to go for the gusto.

Second, despite the freedom we have to pursue our greatest desires, ultimately we will come to see that life is unbearably sad. If you are born, live, and then you die, the lack of an ultimate meaning for living will bring about a very real heaviness to the soul. We try to overcome this with new things and new thrills but eventually everything becomes mundane, predictable, and unsatisfying when viewed against the backdrop of the very real purpose-less ethos of naturalism.

Richard Dawkins, a leading atheistic philosopher and author puts it this way: “In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”

Charles Darwin gave us a theory that has ultimately led some of our finest thinkers to tell us that life has no meaning because our universe is the result of purely random physical processes.

But the fabric of scientific naturalism is beginning to unravel. Many realize that the immaterial elements of life, like consciousness, love, satisfaction, and joy cannot be explained materially. A whole host of eminent scientists and philosophers including Francis Collins and Thomas Nagel are suggesting a new paradigm is warranted.

I am sure billions of dollars will be spent trying to concoct such a paradigm, but I can save you the trouble of waiting. God does exist, despite Darwin’s attempts to the contrary. And we exist, not as a result of a random, purpose-less process that pushes sub-atomic particles around until something good happens. Rather, God has created each one of us to be unique, valuable, and endowed with a spiritual component. We have been created as his image, with the great purpose of caring for his creation and honoring him in obedient worship.

Life has meaning. You and I matter. Our lives do have a purpose, but only as we recognize our relationship to our Creator. It is this very accountability that makes life valuable and living meaningful.