Dennis Prager’s Point #2:
Without God, there is no objective meaning to life. We are all merely random creations of natural selection whose existence has no more intrinsic purpose or meaning than that of a pebble equally randomly produced. (Note 1.)
I have no doubt that Mr. Prager and I are diametrically opposed with his overall intention here, but if his words are taken literally, I am surprised to find that with some reservations, I have no strong objections to his formulations.
First, let us note that because I reject the premise of God as arbitrary, any sentence in the form, “If there is no God, X is true,” reduces to simply, “X is true.” Thus, although it obviously reverses Prager’s intentions, the “without God” condition may be plucked from his statement without changing its meaning.
Next, what does Mr. Prager mean by a “meaning to life?” If he equates “meaning” with “purpose” (as he seems to do in the second sentence above) or with “value” (as he suggests in point #9 of his essay), then I vehemently disagree with his statement. It is not God but the facts of reality that give rise to the objective value of my life and to the purpose of pursuing my own long-term happiness.
However, I do not consider the meaning of my life to be the same thing as its purpose. Whereas a purpose reflects an individual’s own goals, a meaning suggests the existence of a larger, external plan. (I admit that the term “meaning of life” is so vague, I could be wrong on this point, so I welcome comments.) To me, the phrase “meaning of life” connotes some sort of transcendent, sacrificial purpose - the sort of “meaning” that holds individuals as means to an end that is “greater than oneself,” such as God, humanity, etc. This concept is aptly illustrated by George Bailey of It’s a Wonderful Life, who finds that his life has “meaning” only insofar as he had an effect on others.(Note 2.) If that is the “meaning to life” that Prager is referring to - an altruistic meaning - then I agree with his literal statement that there are no objective grounds whatsoever to assert its existence. (I am aware that he was trying to establish exactly the opposite point.)
Similarly, I have no serious disagreement with his second sentence, taken literally, either. We are in fact “random creatures of natural selection.” (I would not have emphasized “merely random” as Prager did since our natural ancestry in no way reduces the value of what we are now, nor would I have used the word “creations” because it implies a creator.) Furthermore, Prager asserts that we have “no more intrinsic purpose or meaning than that of a pebble.” This sudden shift from “objective” to “intrinsic” is significant. Strictly speaking, the purpose of an individual’s life is properly termed objective, not intrinsic - that is, it is based upon each man’s relationship to the universe and a code of values that he has chosen on a rational basis, as opposed to being a fixed, context-less abstraction divorced from a valuer. This is a technicality, of course, but again, however accidental it may be, I don’t disagree with Prager’s formulation even though he was trying to make precisely the opposite point.
(Note: The next installment in the series is here.)
1. Dennis Prager, “If There Is No God,” http://townhall.com/columnists/DennisPrager/2008/08/19/if_there_is_no_god.
2. Edward Cline recently wrote a good article about this alleged hero of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. See “George Bailey’s Wasted Life,” http://ruleofreason.blogspot.com/2008/12/george-baileys-wasted-life.htm.