Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests

Richard Dawkins & Purpose-Driven Blather

In the new issue of The American ScholarNabokov biographer Brian Boyd tries to explain how a universe unguided by divine purpose can still have meaning. Most of the essay, “Purpose-Driven Life,” is pure blather, largely unreadable. But his simple point seems to be that purpose bubbles up from below through the otherwise “mindless process” of Darwinian evolution:

Does evolution by natural selection rob life of purpose, as so many have feared? The answer is no. On the contrary, Charles Darwin has made it possible to understand how purpose, like life, builds from small beginnings, from the ground up. In a very real sense, evolution creates purpose.


I’m not sure but I think Boyd means that the illusion of purpose is generated in this way.
Richard Dawkins also has meaning on his mind. He’s been on a lecture tour speaking about “The Purpose of Purpose.” The world’s chief celebrity atheist has invented a pair of neologisms, “archi-purpose” and “neo-purpose,” to designate respectively illusory purpose in nature and genuine mind-generated purpose.
Since in Dawkins’s understanding there’s no Divine mind outside nature, the only purpose-generating minds belong to people and maybe some higher mammals such as whales.
The question these two thinkers are nervously flirting with is simple and commonsensical: Does meaning in life depend on your believing in God? Or can life have real purpose, not pretend purpose, in a universe without a Deity standing outside nature and imparting purpose?


Certainly, the Bible sees meaning and purpose as being present right from the start of God’s creative activity. In some sense, barely comprehensible even in mystical terms, God spoke our world into existence. Before there was a world, His wisdom already existed, as Proverbs 8 tells us. The very first word in the book of Genesis, Bereishit or “In the beginning,” is rendered in an ancient and authoritative Aramaic translation as “With wisdom.” It is “with wisdom” that God created the heavens and the earth. That wisdom, enfolding His purpose and therefore the meaning of existence, underlies all creation.
Men like Boyd and Dawkins are registering an anxiety on the part of other secular folks, as well as that of the rest of us who daily breath in the atmosphere of secularism that pervades modern life. That anxiety arises from a reasonable unease that a world divested of God is also a world without meaning — that meaning necessarily comes from outside, and if there’s Nobody outside our world, then the only purpose in life is the purpose we imagine it to have. But an imagined purpose is no purpose at all.
I’ll give you a homely analogy.

When our two older kids were first learning to spell and write, they would compose strings of letters — total gibberish — and then come and ask my wife Nika or me what they had written and what did it mean. If Nika or I could pick out a few letters that made up a word, purely by chance — “cat” or “bug,” something like that — Ezra or Naomi would be thrilled.

By chance they had, seemingly, written a word. But had they really written the word or just the letters that, with intention and purpose, would have spelled the word? Without intention, you can’t honestly say that Ezra had written cat or that Naomi had written bug. They had written letters, but not a word. Prior intention is what was missing.
In a world without prior intention, the only “meaning” is ultimately chance-generated, and so, meaningless.
Yet most human beings would be depressed if not tortured by the thought of life without meaning. Ask an atheist if his life is meaningful, and he’ll probably tell you it is. He may say that he gives it meaning, bestows purpose as a choice, but yeah, sure it has meaning.
Our common-sense instinct that thinking like that is just bunk is what, I believe, underlies the choice of Boyd and Dawkins to talk so much about purpose. They seek to calm our anxiety by using a comforting word — “purpose” — but meanwhile giving it an eccentric definition distant from how most people think of it.
It’s like sprinkling an incense of meaning over a landscape of meaningless. While the incense is still in the air, it makes us feel better. When the lovely smell dissipates, we’re left alone, once again, in a lonely, random, meaningless world.
Comments read comments(6)
post a comment

posted April 7, 2009 at 10:41 pm

I’m sure throughout history, philosophers have debated this very question. It can be suggested that a believer’s purpose in life is to ultimately reach Heaven and once there, exist within pure bliss, essentially without purpose other than to revel in the infinite love of God. There are other purposes a believer may have for existing, among them being “Because God made me.” The point is, the believer is living for something outside themselves.
Even though I’m not an atheist, I can see how an atheist can find true, profound purpose in his life. Humanism offers the perfect venue, for example. But in the same way that someone would exist in Heaven and revel in all the joys to be found there, someone living right -now- could reach the understanding that life is good. In fact, not just life, but all of creation (just like God said in the Bible). The purpose, then, isn’t to reach a place where you will no longer get sick, fight with your enemies, and watch your friends die; instead, the purpose is to simply enjoy what God has given you. We might have our daily tasks, and our long term goals, but that true, profound purpose has never changed since our creation. Recognition of God’s existence and dominance is not required for one to have this purpose.

report abuse

Charles Cosimano

posted April 8, 2009 at 1:09 am

Given the choice between purpose and meaning and pizza, I’ll take the pizza.

report abuse

Barb Murvihill

posted April 8, 2009 at 10:42 am

I spent time as a practical atheist.
I discovered that when your god is yourself, you have nowhere to go-unless you start looking up.
It was that realization that brought me to Christianity-and is bringing me back to Judaism.
With all the miracles that G-d has done/is doing in my life-I don’t have enough “faith” to be an atheist anymore.

report abuse


posted April 8, 2009 at 2:55 pm

I would definitely disagree with you that being an atheist automatically makes you a self-worshipper or egoist. As I cited, humanists are a fair example of those who may not believe in God but live for something (and someone) other than themselves.

report abuse


posted April 8, 2009 at 4:22 pm

The christian belief is that Christ will return to set up his governing the world in peace and harmony. When he returns both mortals and immortals will live on earth for a millenium. That is a long time. Even with Christ on earth and the truth for all time realized the bible says many still will not want to follow his wisdom but will follow their own selfish nature for temporary gratification much like we see today. I resist that in many ways now but then as an immortal will not have the defective human natural selfish tendancies. No more bad habits to nag at me…I can’t wait.
We will not live in some fluffy fog somewhere. It will be real just like the reality today.For as far as the telescope can see there are other worlds. Other galaxies. The bible says God has created more angels than humans. Other types of creatures as well. Look at the diversity of life on earth and we realize there is so much more in the future He wants to share with us.
I live with purpose of preparing myself for that and being the salt that makes this life taste better and preserve things. Helping people like yourself to see we all want much of the same things.
All the things humanists, darwinists, christians, and everyday people seek like family, friends, food, clothing, shelter, peace, harmony, etc. will come to pass when God with us (Emmanuel) comes back not as a sacrifice but as a reigning king. I hope it is soon as it looks like we could use the help.
All religions and atheism say we do not really know God personally and can never know for sure. Christianity says you can. Christ claims you can know for sure now. His down payment for our faith was the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. A real promise with real evidence for all real believers who sought the truth. Once God lives in us it is no longer faith or feeling it is fact. I wish you and everyone else could seek God through Christ and find Him as I have done. Now I live the reality of the the truth everyday and realize others are blocked many times from seeing the truth because of dangerous misleading beliefs like false religions, Darwinism, etc. Good and evil exist. The meek shall inherit the earth. For now we are considered foolish.

report abuse


posted April 9, 2009 at 8:26 am

Hikerman: I hope you realize that while you may have a living faith in Christ, many other people also have a living faith through which they experience God each day. For every Christian like you who feels deeply that what the Bible says is fact, there is a Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, or someone else that feels just as strongly about what they believe and consider it to be fact, as well. They live their faith and are sometimes jolted intensely by their experiences with God. To say that you (or other Christians) are the only one who has ever experienced this truth would be a little bit naive.
That doesn’t mean what any of you are feeling is false. It just means that God has spoken in as many different languages as their are cultures, and the languages he has chosen to use are the different religions.
1 Cor 13:8-13 (KJV)
8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
What do you make of those verses? Do you really think existence post-mortem will be so easily comprehensible? My friends always talk about what they’re going to ask God when they’ll die, and though it’s a fun game, they’re serious about it. They want to see all those cool events in history and how they actually played out. But why will history matter in Heaven? For that matter, why would we have questions? What many Christians look for in their Heaven is preservation of the ego, and I just don’t believe that will happen. It might sound frightening to a Christian, but seriously, it -is- going to be -Heaven-. You can’t get rid of “all those nasty habits” without first shedding your ego.
Note: in some translations, the above verses include “love” instead of “charity.”

report abuse

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

Another Blog To Enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Kingdom of Priests. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here is another blog you may also enjoy: Kabballah Counseling Happy Reading! ...

posted 11:24:22am Aug. 16, 2012 | read full post »

Animal Wisdom: The Voice of the Serpent
Our family watched Jaws together the other evening -- which, in case you're wondering, I regard as responsible parenting since our kids are basically too young to be genuinely scared by the film. The whole rest of the next day, two-year-old Saul ...

posted 3:56:33pm Mar. 16, 2010 | read full post »

Reading Wesley Smith: Why the Darwin Debate Matters
If the intelligent-design side in the evolution debate doesn't receive the support you might expect from people who should be allies, that may be because they haven't grasped why the whole thing matters so urgently. I got an email recently from ...

posted 5:07:12pm Mar. 15, 2010 | read full post »

The Mission of the Jews
Don't miss my essay over at First Things on the mission of the Jews to the world. This, I think, the key idea that the Jewish community needs to absorb at this very unusual cultural moment, for the time is so, so right. Non-Jews are waiting for ...

posted 6:14:16pm Mar. 05, 2010 | read full post »

Darwin at the Mountains of Madness: Evolution & the Occult
Of all the regrettable cultural forces that Darwinism helped unleash, perhaps the most surprising and seemingly unlikely is its role in sparking the creation of modern occultism. Charles Darwin himself could not have been less interested in the ...

posted 2:04:11pm Mar. 04, 2010 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.