nihilism: Much ado about nothing!

No, this is not a comment on a play by William Shakespeare. It is about the increasing interest in what some philosophers term “nihilism”. That term comes from nihil which is a Latin word meaning “nothing”. The discussion goes back centuries, and the way the term is used has changed a bit. The current debate seems to focus on whether or not there is any value in seeking a meaning to life; does human existence actually have no point: nothing? Nihilists say there is no ultimate meaning to life, and for humans there is nothing beyond the grave. It is worth thinking about where that conclusion leads.

Certainly, the inquisitiveness of our species has always made us seek answers to questions about the origin, extent, composition and order of the universe. Looking in the other direction, the mysteries of microbiological research and nuclear physics has brought increasing knowledge of tiny things hidden from the human eye, or even the microscope. Did we emerge from nothing, only to eventually vanish again into nothingness? In this information complexity and overload context, some may think religion is too simplistic. They may think attributing origins, powers and rules to God is just an easy way to avoid the harsh realities of an otherwise apparently pointless existence. Yet the fine-tuning of the universe, the laws by which it operates at cosmic and microbiological levels, and the shear mathematical improbability of complex life emerging by chance, all provide substantial support for accepting these are the result of design by a Designer who is not confined to this physical universe, and for which the name “God” is the appropriate term. To bring something out of nothing is the prerogative of God (see Heb.11:3).

The expansion of available knowledge made possible by the development of super-computing has changed outlooks. For every unwanted effect, people may believe its unwelcome cause can be identified, if sufficient research is done. Then the problem can be avoided, and we can be happy again. Yet we all know that in reality remedies are not available for all problems, and we have to come to terms with suffering, and dying. Sometimes accidents happen. Sometimes violent people inflict harm and seem to get away with it. Present suffering is a big problem for people who are nihilists because they have no confidence in life beyond the grave. Therefore, they inevitably must conclude suffering is unfair. Christians on the contrary can take comfort from relying on a just God who has an eternity beyond the grave to make up for any “unfair” suffering in our present lives (see Rom.8:18).

Assuming there is no meaning to life may lead to at least two major problems. First, we may devalue our own lives, and even opt to end them prematurely when things are not going our way. Second, we may devalue the lives of others, and adopt an extremely selfish attitude. After all, if there is no ultimate meaning to our seemingly very temporary life, and no unavoidable lasting consequences for wrong choices, why not just live for the moment without a care about the effect on the lives of others? But if that idea offends our sense of moral expectation, then we must ask where does a sense of moral accountability come from? Why are people different from so many other animals in this respect? Yet, if our Designer had moral objectives to achieve when bringing humanity into being, and intentionally extended our DNA and related aspects governing what we are as humans to enable achievement of moral goals, resolution of our questions is in sight. As the Bible indicates, these added-values specific to humanity are not discernible merely by physical examination (see 1 Cor.2:14).

The increased interest in nihilism is occurring while interest in spiritual matters is also increasing (yes increasing!), as noted in 2017 Pew research results for the USA. Moreover, there is good reason to have faith in God, since data shows people’s degree of religious involvement and spirituality are associated with better health outcomes (see for instance the research report on “Religious Involvement, Spirituality, and Medicine: Implications for Clinical Practice” by the Mayo Clinic in 2001). To believe in nothing, is not really liberating, since one person’s liberty may act as an undue constraint on others’. And taking account of the needs of others may bring the happiness that eludes those who strive only to please themselves. A sense of responsibility for others, and personal accountability, can help satisfy spiritual needs we all have. But “spirituality” is a very broad expression, and once we appreciate its importance we need to find the meaning of life by reference to its Creator. Christians see in the Bible the written result of the Creator communicating with His creation, including us.

The wise writer of the Bible book Ecclesiastes was challenged by the realities discussed above. If God is left out of the equation, the result must be “life is pointless; just like chasing after the wind” (see Eccles.1). But that writer’s conclusion was that it is wisest to focus on our responsibility to our Creator, based on God’s right to hold us to account for the lives we are given to live (see Eccles.12:13,14). Interestingly, the Bible cautions us that if we operate selfishly, without love for others and for God, that is exactly what results in our being “nothing” (see 1 Cor.13).  As Christians we need to be ready to demonstrate the value of our faith, and be ready to provide answers when it is challenged (see 1 Pet.3:15). If we are not merely “nothing”, how are we to establish the value of a person to God? The Bible begins to provide an answer when it describes the sacrifice God was prepared to make to demonstrate love for us (see Rom.5:6-8).

He is returning!

Why are fewer people responding to “the Gospel”, the good news that Jesus, God’s Son, has been punished once-for-all by God for all our wrongdoing, so that God is now acting justly and in love when He offers to free us from the punishment we deserve – if we accept that Jesus has instead suffered for us. That is the start of the good news. And alongside the relief it brings is the assurance of God’s related promise that if we accept His offer of being saved from punishment, we shall also receive spiritual life that extends forever beyond the grave. So the good news continues. And all of the injustices we face here on earth, the eternal God will deal with when everyone appears for judgment. All that is good news (for those who are pardoned), but extremely scary for those who refuse God’s offer of freedom from punishment, and must therefore face the existing forever penalty they deserve from a righteous God whose love has been spurned. So why aren’t people believing the good news? The simple point we are making here is that they haven’t realized they need to. And perhaps that’s because people today have not been exposed to the Bible warning that Jesus is returning, soon!

You can read more about that here

If your preference is to watch a video then you can click on this link, and Karl Smith will provide an interesting thought or two about this matter on our Reality Check Facebook page.

So what are you?

“Who” we are is sometimes the challenging question today. We are living in a world where identity crisis has become a familiar complaint.

God has given us a real identity, each of us is a person able to think and act and relate to God.

How do we do those things? Are we just a bundle of cells? Well, that doesn’t seem to add up. No scientist can just bring chemicals together and make it alive; only living things can be used to make more living things. But where did that life come from in the first place, and what are the true necessary components for a human life?

There is no shortage of opinions! People who study the Bible carefully will know that at least three terms are used when describing people. They undeniably have bodies. Then there are invisible aspects that the Bible talks about that can’t be assessed under a microscope, but we know we have them from the Bible’s statements. Here, we just want to think about human beings having not only bodies, but spirits and souls as well. We might even be able to say the Bible in different places says we ARE: our bodies, our spirits, our souls, using just one of those descriptions whenever the emphasis needs to be placed on one particular aspect.

This is getting too complicated! So we’ve added a whole page in our website to provide a better introduction to the subject. You’ll find it by simply clicking HERE.

Starting again…

For those dedicated users of our Bible Reading Plan, you will now be coming to the end of the scheduled readings. That means you will have read the whole of the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice, since starting the planned readings. So what do you do now? Start again!

This weekend, we begin all over again in Genesis. The more we read the Bible, the more familiar we become with its sequencing and message. In this respect, the shorter reading each day in our Bible Reading Plan helps to connect the main reading with other parts of the Bible dealing with the same subject.

Remember the days when as a child you went to sleep with an open book on your head, just in case there was a sort of osmosis that might happen and the book’s content would miraculously transfer from the pages into your brain? It doesn’t work. There’s simply no substitute to paying attention to what you read. Many people also find it helpful to make their own notes about what they read, as they read. It will help memory recall. Repetition helps in that way too. So the best thing to do when you finish reading the whole Bible is to read it again…and again…and again!

Worth reading

Here is an anthology of poetry that will appeal to Bible-loving Christians. Check it out here:

Some of the content has appeared in previous publications, and like all good poetry its repetition will simply further imbed its value, impressing it on heart and mind. Reading for the first time is like opening a window. Scripture references are provided that show how divine inspiration of the Word of God almost inevitably bears spiritual fruit. Read the Foreword to confirm the value of poetry in reinforcing the truth of Scripture. Check out the last but one verse on page 104, and follow its guidance! You will find topics and specific challenges in these poems that will halt you in your tracks, and may bring you to your knees, or cause your mind to rise to higher things.

Choice or Chance?

Atheists may note that world religions do not even agree on how earth history is dated, and they will also say that any loving god would never permit the world conditions we see around us, typified by natural disasters, painful inequality and awful suffering, often resulting from disease. They deny human culpability, and reject God’s existence because their imagined god is one who would necessarily intervene to prevent all such harm and danger and, instead, miraculously provide a life of happiness for all (interestingly, it is atheistically inclined governments that have intentionally killed the most people!). Effectively, they instead bow willingly to another god: chance.

The God of the Bible is nevertheless proceeding through time (however we disagree about measuring it!) to provide eternal salvation at His expense for all people who willingly comply with His terms. Choice, rather than chance, completes the picture. A logical concept of this real God must conclude that, en route to His goal, we are actually living in the best possible universe to achieve it. If there were a better scenario, this truly all-knowing and all-powerful God would indeed have employed it. Fairness is provided by eternal blessings that outweigh the unwanted but necessary and time-limited adversities; He also displays He is a God of both justice and love; see 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.

(Extracted from article in NT Issue 3 2020)

Choice or Chance?

Life on Mars

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For what it is worth, here’s a personal opinion (Geoff’s) about the amazing developments in the space program achieved in the last week.

Several reasons may be proposed for spending a very large fortune on exploring Mars. These reasons range from the apparently selfish motive of gaining access to minerals and other resources, or practising necessary steps towards travel to further and better points in space, or giving expression to human creativity, ingenuity and plain-ordinary inquisitiveness. But we need not kid ourselves that these are the major reasons. The most fundamental purpose is to find out if life existed there (the primary reason cited by the European Space Agency: see link 1 below). We only really need to consider two possible answers to that question, because it either did, or it did not! However, even if no evidence of past life is found on Mars, then further vast fortunes will simply be deployed in trying to find it elsewhere. In the minds of some, the answer can only be “yes, life does exist elsewhere”. So, a quick answer based on the current expedition results is not likely to be a final one.

We can argue in both directions: either the fact that everything that has been tried to date has revealed no evidence at all of actual life elsewhere, and the more we find out about our own solar system the less hospitable other “nearby” places seem. Or, we can argue that in the billions of billions of other possible locations, an atmosphere at least as favourable as our own must surely exist somewhere else. Latest estimates are in the range of 6 billion potential candidates for Earth-like conditions, and that’s just in the 400 billion stars of our Milky Way Galaxy, and there are billions more galaxies! (Psalm 8:3,4) But an average human lifespan is far less than 40 million minutes, so we need a lot of super-speed computer assistance to do our research and narrow down our search. And, as the Bible predicted, knowledge is indeed increasing (Dan.12:4).

If we are pragmatic, we will admit that even if we knew of another location outside our own solar system that provided for our physical needs, currently it would not be particularly helpful knowledge. For instance, if we watched the Mars landing, we would know that just getting the pictures back from there to Earth took 11 minutes of our time. Getting a person there, rather than just a digital message, takes more than 6 months. But the nearest alternative environments to our lovely Earth are light years away. Proxima-B in the Centaurus constellation is the nearest candidate, and NASA (see link 2 below) tells us it is 4.2 light years away, or say 73 thousand years of travel for us at the current fastest rocket speed (i.e. Voyager). Not a candidate for emigration!

Let’s cut to the chase. What some scientific minds are thinking is that if we found life on Mars, it would make us “confront the myths” about how and why humanity exists here. By myth is meant a widely held but false belief. Peter’s words on that subject are germane (2 Pet.1:16); Christians are opposed to belief in myths and fables. As of now, the allegation of believing in myths could more reasonably be made against those who “believe” in a billions to one chance of life existing elsewhere. By contrast, what Christians believe in is well-attested in the most abundantly documented history available (the New Testament). Its acceptance of the supernatural is based on first hand witness accounts. Its belief in God is the most reasonable of explanations for why, against all odds, life as we know really does exist here (and it’s surely reasonable to use what we can see and feel and read as a starting point, rather than imagination – see Acts 17:27). After all, if the visible natural world were not governed by very precise known laws and orderliness, it would have been impossible for us to get a vehicle on Mars anyway. And if there is a design and a law, then Christianity’s belief in a Designer and Lawgiver are again reasonable conclusions (and perhaps supported by the law of entropy, which reveals a weakness in the idea that a long succession of mere chance events will produce orderliness). If you would like to see what those with PhDs in the relevant disciplines say on this aspect, please contact us for a suggested reading list.

Would Christianity be disproved if life existed other than on Earth? No! First, because Bible-based Christianity makes no such claim. Indisputably, new types of life are discovered on Earth (503 new species in 2020 alone!), so why make its physical location a deciding matter? Christians believe God has revealed what we need to know about His creative acts, primarily as they concern humanity, and that is enough. The message of Christianity is that, of all life forms, God has chosen that humanity should express God’s image, and be given the ability to believe or disbelieve in God (as well as many more attributes not given to other creatures: Col.3:10; 2 Pet.1:3,4). However, Christians also believe God has created beings unlike ourselves, with powers different and greater than ours (the angelic realm of beings, that are certainly not confined to Earth). We should not let the atheist’s false concept of an imaginary and limited mythical god cause us to be deflected from a study of who God really is, what God is like, and what this Creator who arranged for us to have communication and reasoning capabilities has communicated to us (Heb.1:1-4; 2:5-16). What would disprove Christianity would be if it could be shown, not that other created beings exist, but that God had become their Saviour, not ours. The way to avoid a futile search for life, is to first find the wisdom of God our Saviour (Prov.8:34,35; 1 Cor.3:20)

  1. http://www.esa.int/Science_Exploration/Human_and_Robotic_Exploration/Exploration/Why_go_to_Mars

2. https://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/features/cosmic/nearest_star_info.html

What Are You Thinking About?

If you would like to tell us if you have questions about any relevant Bible subject, we’ll be happy to respond.  We may be able to schedule in a talk on the subject at one of our church teaching sessions, and/or provide an audio recording covering the topic.  Certainly we can research a wide range of resource materials we have available, and provide a brief outline of main points for consideration.
We’ve received a suggestion that we add an FAQ page to our website, so please keep your questions coming and we’ll work on building a helpful page to meet the most frequent information needs.
Over to you!

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