I noticed the following quote on a plaque in the lobby of the hospital where my son underwent surgery last week.
People can achieve meaning in their lives only if they have made commitments beyond the self—religious commitments, commitments to loved ones,to one’s fellow humans, to excellence, to some conception of an ethical order. You give life meaning through your commitments. –John Gardner
I got to thinking—you have a lot of time to think when you’re awaiting the outcome of a surgery—about the statement in light of worldviews, specifically Christianity and naturalism. It seems that a brand of atheistic naturalism has been selling books lately, and I’d like to understand the worldview better. One question that comes to mind is, which is more livable, naturalism or Christianity? (For help on this question I’m planning to read Kenneth Samples’ new book, A World of Difference.)
Gardner’s inspirational statement obviously resonates with Christianity but my guess is that the naturalist would also affirm the dictum as consistent with the evolutionary development of morality. If I understand correctly, even religious commitments—as long as they produce better people—arise in a naturalistic worldview. Yet their basis is not found in a transcendent creator, but in the human need to imagine a creator.
So, why be moral? Why help our fellow human beings? I think the naturalist would say that evolution has taught that such comportment leads to human flourishing and, after all, that’s the goal—to not only keep the species alive but also to flourish.
But if it all ends some day (as scientists tell us the universe will) and we have nothing and nobody left to remember, why would commitments to others and self-sacrifice make any difference? Why not live for the self only?
To digress for a moment, here I think some naturalists posit a multiverse scenario, wherein the answers lie in another universe. Now, I can’t begin to explain the multiverse hypothesis, but fortunately I work with astrophysicists who can. RTB’s Jeff Zweerink has been exploring the multiverse in a series of articles (see here for an introduction). Jeff says that a multiverse scenario isn’t necessarily inconsistent with the notion of a transcendent creator, but the naturalist might not want to go to Vegas—or the grave, for that matter—on the idea.
So, let’s imagine naturalist A and naturalist B. Naturalist A lives his or her life in a manner consistent with the Gardner statement above. Naturalist B lives his life committed to self only. That is, naturalist B figures that if all is forgotten forever, then who cares? Life is short, so it will be lived for the self only. Others may be harmed, perhaps even badly, but again, nothing matters in the end. There will be no record and nobody to remember.
On what basis, then, does naturalist A criticize naturalist B’s philosophy of life?