A Naturalistic Worldview Can’t Make You Happy

A Naturalistic Worldview Can’t Make You Happy

A Naturalistic Worldview Universe Can’t Make You Happy

“That in which a man (or woman) rests as in his last end, is master of his affections, since he takes therefrom his entire rule of life.”[1] What we hold up as the goal of our lives, the thing we’re living for, affects everything we do. Since the goal of our lives is so important, it is imperative that we hold up the right thing as the object worthy of pursuit. The way that we view the world—our worldview that is—will decide for us what we hold up as worthy of pursuit and as the goal of our lives.

There are, broadly conceived, two competing worldviews: a purely natural worldview and a supernatural worldview.[2] The purely natural worldview knows nothing of spiritual realities such as God, souls, or free-will; this worldview is common in modern universities and almost always includes a commitment to evolutionary biology. To understand this worldview, imagine the universe as a closed box; there is nothing outside of the box to interfere in the box. Instead, the box contains all of reality and is governed by purely natural forces.

The supernatural worldview accepts the existence of spiritual realities such as God, the human soul, and free-will. This worldview has been the dominant way of seeing the world since the dawn of civilization.[3] For this perspective, imagine that the universe is an open box; lots of things can be inside of the box, but nothing precludes something, or Someone, on the outside of the box from reaching into the box. In other words, the natural universe operates according to natural laws while God exists outside of the universe; however, God is free to reach into the box to, say, raise Jesus from the dead, part the Red Sea, lead people to salvation, etc.

Here’s an important point: You are living like one of these systems is true. You cannot not choose. You have swallowed one of these worldviews whole and chosen, perhaps unknowingly, to pursue what it calls the life worth living.

Every worldview holds up something as the reason to live. The Greeks had a term for this: the telos. The telos is the overarching reason for living. It’s the goal that your life is aimed at achieving. Aristotle said that knowing the identity of the telos is to our lives what knowing the identity of the target is to an archer.[4] Whether it acknowledges this or not, each worldview has a method for achieving the telos; not all methods, however, are equally effective.

We don’t get to pick what the telos is; instead, we, like everything else in nature, are assigned a telos. The nature of your eye-ball is to see; it won’t operate correctly in any other scenario. The telos of an oak-tree is to grow from an acorn to an oak; anything else is against nature. Similarly, you and I, by virtue of being human beings, share a telos. Each worldview holds up a method for achieving the telos and enjoins its followers to buy into the method. If we choose the wrong system, we’ll be chasing after the telos with the wrong tools; we’ll be like an eye-ball trying to smell or an oak-tree trying to walk.

The telos of human life is happiness. Before you call me a hedonist, happiness, at least how I am using that word, does not equal pleasure. By happiness, I mean the satisfaction of all objectively good desires. Not all desires are created equal: some are evil, some are good, while others are great. Desiring to kill someone doesn’t give you the right to do it; instead, if you have that desire, you should seek professional help. A desire to mow your yard is a good desire; however, it is not as great as desiring to spend time with your spouse. The telos of human life is the satisfaction of the desires on the top shelf. These would include the desire to be loved, the desire to be respected, the desire to be valued, the desire to have basic needs met, etc. These are the things that we desire for themselves, for, by definition, the telos does not derive its value from any sources exterior to itself.

The goal of life in the typical supernatural system—and thus the method for achieving the telos—is knowledge of God. That’s it! That’s the reason driving all religious groups. We believe that God is the only avenue to true happiness, to the telos. We tell others about God because we believe that everyone else, regardless of race, creed, or political affiliation, has the same telos, and that this telos can only be fulfilled by God.

When the natural worldview is at its best, its goal—and implicitly the method for achieving the telos—is the survival of the human race. Richard Dawkins, an Oxford biologist and author of the New York Times bestselling book, The God Delusion, once said about human beings: “We are machines built by DNA whose purpose is to make more copies of the same DNA…This is exactly what we are for. We are machines for propagating DNA.”[5] If you accept the natural worldview, then you believe that the way to achieving your telos is by ensuring the successful transmission of your DNA. This happens through possessions, employment, sex, etc.

Now that we know what each system looks to for fulfillment, we can ask the crucial question: Which of these goals, if achieved, will lead to human happiness, to the telos? Remember, happiness, as I’m using it, means the fulfillment of all pure, objectively good desires. Therefore, once we achieve the correct last end and thus gain access to the telos, we will not look to or desire anything further, for all our objectively good needs will have been met. Upon accessing the telos, we will finally be complete.

Put in this light, it’s pretty clear that the natural system cannot lead to your telos. Here’s why: It’s possible that you could achieve the natural system’s goal and still not achieve the telos. Having children is great, working at a wonderful job is desirable, and having a massive house would probably be at least somewhat fulfilling; these things, however, won’t fulfill your desires.

Think about it: A 10,000 sq. ft. house will only magnify your loneliness if all your relationships have failed. Having dozens of children will be small comfort if you are ostracized from them. Therefore, the goal which the natural system enjoins its followers to achieve cannot be the ultimate goal of life, for it does not lead to the telos. Therefore—and this is a really important point—the natural system cannot be the system you were designed to live in.

If the telos of your life is what I’ve defined it as,[6] then the best way, perhaps the only way, to achieve the telos is through God. God alone can provide the relationship you crave, the love you long for, and the intrinsic value you need for a meaningful existence. We ought to agree with Augustine who said: “You (God) have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”[7]

Here’s why all of this matters: If what I’ve said is true, why would you live your life for any reason less than God?

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Notes & Sources

[1] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province, (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1981), I-II, I, 5.

[2] Obviously, there are numerous subdivisions within each of these two broad categories. For example, both Hindus and Christians have supernatural worldviews; however, no reasonable person would think that a Hindu worldview is the same as a Christian worldview.

[3] John Calvin once stated: “There never has been, from the very first, any quarter of the globe, any city, any household even, without religion.” John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), 1.3.1.

[4] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Robert C. Bartlett and Susan D. Collins, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2011), 1.2.20-25.

[5] Richard Dawkins, “Christmas Lecture 1991,” Ri Channel, accessed September 25, 2017, http://www.richannel.org/christmas-lectures-1991-richard-dawkins–the-ultraviolet-garden.

[6] My definition of the telos comes primarily from Aristotle and Aquinas. Though that doesn’t make it true, it’s quite a stand to disagree with those two men!

[7] Augustine, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick, (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1991), 1.1.1.