Sunday, December 6, 2015

Can Science Tell You the Purpose for Your Life? Responding to Sam Harris, Jewish Author of "The Moral Landscape"

"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...DNA neither knows nor cares.  DNA just is.  And we dance to its music," Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden:  A Darwinian View of Life
"No one expects science to tell us how we ought to think and behave...I will argue...that questions about values--about meaning, morality, and life's larger purpose--are really questions about the well-being of conscious creatures," Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape:  How Science Can Determine Human Values, pg. 1
"So Yeshua said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you.The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going.  While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.... I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness." John 12:35,36,46
"And Enoch [Chanokh] walked with God: and he was not; for God took him," Genesis 5:24

So the other evening, a Jewish neighbor came by who was feeling a little lost.  And, for the second time this week, I found myself in a discussion with a non-Believer about the purpose of life.

The first discussion was several days ago with my oldest friend who happens to be an agnostic.  We talked for half the night, starting off with some light-hearted conversation about the upcoming Star Wars movie (which looks very promising) but then, somehow, getting into a really deep conversation about the purpose of life.

He started talking about life's purpose being "the well-being of conscious creatures."  And the phrase clued me in to the fact that he had just been reading Sam Harris (one of the founders of the so-called "New Atheists").  In a nutshell, my friend asserted that you don't need G-d to tell you life's purpose, that science can actually give us objective moral values and tell us how we ought to live our lives.

My response:  science is about describing empirical reality; it cannot prescribe how we ought to act since "ought" is something that we cannot see--is not a scientific subject.  There's really only two options:  (1) purpose is a social construct and there is no meta-Law or meta-Law-giver and therefore objective moral value is impossible; (2) purpose comes from the Creator and there is a meta-Law and meta-Law-giver and therefore objective moral value has its foundation.  Sam Harris, in his book "The Moral Landscape" was claiming that science provides objective laws for how we ought to live (see note 1) but ultimately contradicted himself by saying that moral laws are a social construct (see note 2).  So I left my friend with the question, "What if there is a far grander purpose for you than the purpose you ascribe to yourself?"

And so back to our Jewish visitor.

My wife and I talked with her for a good while.  We talked about our background, the whole Messianic non-Jewish thing.  She talked about her background, being raised culturally Jewish but not involved in the religious aspects.  We all talked about things we've noticed that are wrong with American culture, how values have deteriorated, how this country keeps changing so quickly and not necessarily for the better.  And it was probably during that part of the conversation that I shared my belief that if there is a G-d then He has a purpose for us, a Way that He wants us to live--and that I believe that path is found in the Hebrew Scriptures.  And then my daughter brought in some musical instruments and we all spent the rest of the evening playing music.  It was a good time.  And we prayed for her that she'll find G-d's purpose for her life.

So now as I write this, we're getting ready for Hanukkah--a celebration which deals with purpose, specifically that G-d has a purpose for His People Israel and He shines His light upon (and through) Israel, giving His Torah as a Light for our path, showing us the way we ought to walk.  This is His love for us that He cares enough about us to tell us the way in which we ought to walk in order to have His idea of "well-being."  Sam Harris also spoke of well-being but he didn't know how to define it or how to get it:

"The concept of 'well-being,' like the concept of 'health,' is truly open for revision and discovery.  Just how fulfilled is it possible for us to be, personally and collectively?  What are the conditions--ranging from changes in the genome to changes in economic systems--that will produce such happiness?  We simply do not know," pg. 34 [emphasis added]

What if, on top of all those good things (e.g. money, health, loving relationships) G-d also wants us to have a relationship with Him and to learn about Him? 

We read about Enoch, whose name is related to Hanukkah:
"And Enoch [Chanokh] walked with God: and he was not; for God took him," Genesis 5:24
He showed His dedication to G-d by "walking" with G-d--i.e. Enoch lived a G-dly way of life.  And here's the amazing part:  G-d was so pleased with this that G-d simply had to take Enoch!

So tonight when my family celebrates Hanukkah, we're not going to just remember how G-d protects His People as He did in the days of the Maccabees, we're going to see the light of the chanukkiah and be reminded that in Yeshua, in the Torah of Moses, we see our purpose:  to love G-d, to walk in His Way, and to share this Light of Torah with others.

To my brothers and sisters out there, Happy Hanukkah and may you all find your purpose in Him!





NOTES:

Note 1:  "No one expects science to tell us how we ought to think and behave...I will argue...that questions about values--about meaning, morality, and life's larger purpose--are really questions about the well-being of conscious creatures," Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape:  How Science Can Determine Human Values, pg. 1

Note 2:  "The neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga writes:  'Neuroscience will never find the brain correlate of responsibility, because that is something we ascribe to humans--to people--not to brains.  It is a moral value we demand of our fellow, rule-following human beings'....While it is true that responsibility is a social construct attributed to people and not to brains, it is a social construct that can make more or less sense given certain facts about a person's brain," Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape:  How Science Can Determine Human Values, pg. 217

"I think there is little doubt that most of what matters to the average person--like fairness, justice, compassion, and a general  awareness of terrestrial reality--will be integral to our creating a thriving global civilization and, therefore, to the greater well-being of humanity," Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape:  How Science Can Determine Human Values, pg. 33




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