What Is the Purpose of Life? Part 3

The third argument stated that the wealthy are happier, because of all the expensive things they can buy. Money can buy cars, houses, clothes, TV’s, and vacations. Do those things bring us ultimate happiness? It turns out that the wealthiest people, in actuality, are rarely the happiest.

In 1957, Americans’ per person income, expressed in today’s dollars, was $8,700.00. Today, it is north of $20,000, more than twice as high. Psychologist David Myers writes, “We have twice as many cars per person, . . . we eat out two and a half times more often, . . . and few Americans, in the 1950’s, had dishwashers, clothes dryers, or air conditioning.”

Myers also notes that

the percentage of Americans calling themselves ‘very happy’ reached its highest point in 1957. Since then, the number of Americans who say they are ‘very happy’ has declined from 35 to 32 percent. Meanwhile, the divorce rate has doubled, the teen suicide rate has nearly tripled, the violent crime rate has nearly quadrupled, and more people than ever (especially teens and young adults) are depressed. We are great at making a living but not so good at making a life.

What does the wisest man that ever lived have to say about wealth? King Solomon said, “I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. . . . I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me” (Ec 2:8-9). Did this bring him happiness? In verse 11 he gives the answer: “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun” (Ec 2:11).

Solomon also said this: “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless” (Ec 5:10).

Virtually every wealthy person that has ever lived will tell you that money did not bring them the happiness they sought, yet those who are not wealthy do not believe them!

Do you remember the humorous quote from earlier? “All I ask is the chance to prove that money can’t make me happy.” That’s what many people think. This experiment has been run billions of times, all with the same results, yet all of us want to run the experiment one more time to see if we can be the first to succeed. Why? I think we’re all insane.

Let me tell you the true story of a 55-year old man named Jack Whittaker. If money brings happiness, then he should be one of the happiest people on the planet. In Dec of 2002, Jack won the multi-state Powerball lottery and was able to take home $114 million after taxes. His life of happiness started almost immediately.

A month after he won, he was arrested for drunk driving. Eight months later, thieves broke into his car while he was at a strip club and stole $545,000 in cash. Two employees of the club were later arrested in a plot to drug him and then rob him.

In Jan 2004, he was arrested for assault after threatening a bar manager.

His business was inundated with multiple lawsuits, all after his winnings came to light.

Even more tragically, in Sept 2003, a 17-year old friend of his granddaughter died of a drug overdose. A little more than one year later, his own granddaughter died of a drug overdose. The friend’s parents sued him for their son’s death, alleging that the $2100-per-week allowance that Jack gave his granddaughter was what allowed them to buy the drugs.

Jack was also sued by Caesar’s Atlantic City casino for bouncing $1.5 million worth of checks to cover his gambling losses.

Jack’s wife divorced him.

Jack now claims he’s flat broke after thieves allegedly wiped him out.

When asked if he was glad he won the lottery, he claims it was the worst thing that ever happened to him and that he wished he never won. I guess wealthy people aren’t always happier.

What Is the Purpose of Life? Part 2

The 8th ranked answer to what brings happiness is wealth.  Aquinas argues that wealth, which is defined as money or material possessions, is at the same time the most common answer to what brings ultimate happiness and also the most foolish.

So why do people believe that the possession of wealth is the purpose of their lives? Here are a few possible answers to that question.

First, everybody wants wealth. If you ask any person, they will tell you that they want more money or more material possessions because money buys everything. It seems to be a universal desire. We often hear statements like:

(1) All things obey money.

(2) Money makes the world go round.

(3) Everything has a price tag.

If these things are true, then wealth must be what gives ultimate happiness.

A second argument might be this: Wealth is needed to buy necessities like food, clothing, and shelter. These things are necessary for human happiness. Therefore, the gaining of wealth must bring us human happiness.

Third, people who are wealthy seem to be the happiest people. Wealthy people get to enjoy better food, better houses, nicer clothing, and extravagant vacations. Those things all bring happiness and money can buy those things. Wealthy people just seem happier, so wealth must be the purpose of life.

Those seem like good arguments, so how do we respond to them?

The first argument stated that everyone wants more wealth because they believe money can buy everything. Aquinas responds in a humorous way and says the following: “All material things obey money, so far as the multitude of fools is concerned, who know no other than material goods.”

In other words, not everyone agrees that wealth can buy all things. Wise people do not agree, and shouldn’t we listen to the wise over the foolish? Here is a partial list of things money can’t buy: wisdom, character, friendship, love, and salvation. Proverbs 17:16 asks, “Of what use is money in the hand of a fool, since he has no desire to get wisdom?” Jesus asks in Matt. 16:26, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” Clearly money does not buy everything.

Argument two points out that money buys the essentials for life. This is true, and it is difficult for a person to be happy who is starving, who has no shelter to protect her from the weather, and who has no clothing. I think we can all agree that these things are ingredients for happiness, but notice that the money is only the means to get what we really want: the food, shelter, and clothing. It’s not the money that makes us happy, it’s the things money can buy.

Therefore, money cannot be our ultimate purpose in life, because it is only a means to an end. By the way, research has shown that subjective happiness does not rise with increasing money once a person has the essential things she needs to live in her particular society. Once you get the basics, money does not generally give you more happiness.

There is more to say about wealth, so we’ll continue in part 3.

What Is the Purpose of Life? Part 1

What is the meaning or purpose of life? Some say that the purpose of every single person’s life is to attain happiness. It’s hard to argue that point since I don’t know anyone who would say that they don’t want to be happy. You always hear parents say, “I just want little Suzie to be happy” or “I don’t care what Johnny does, as long as he is happy.” Even the person who says they want to be unhappy is really saying that to be unhappy would make them happy. It seems undeniable that everyone wants to be happy, but what do we mean by happiness?

Here are some quotes from people about what happiness is:

“Whoever said money can’t buy happiness didn’t know where to shop.”

“Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.”

“Happiness is good health and a bad memory.”

“It isn’t necessary to be rich and famous to be happy. It’s only necessary to be rich.”

“Money can’t buy happiness; it can, however, rent it.”

“All I ask is the chance to prove that money can’t make me happy.”

“In Hollywood, if you don’t have happiness you send out for it.”

“Happiness is a good bank account, a good cook, and a good digestion.”

“A man doesn’t know what happiness is until he’s married. By then it’s too late.”

“To be stupid, selfish, and have good health are three requirements for happiness, though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost.”

Joking aside, a common definition of happiness is “a sense of pleasurable satisfaction.” It’s a pleasant feeling that is largely dependent upon your circumstances. We feel happy when we watch a good movie, play a sport well, or receive a compliment. This kind of happiness is transitory. It doesn’t last; it comes and goes and is heavily dependent on your circumstances.

But this definition of happiness, “a sense of pleasurable satisfaction,” is recent and quite different from the meaning of happiness that dominated western civilization until about 100 years ago. When our ancestors spoke of happiness, they typically meant something like the following: “a life of virtue characterized by wisdom, love, and goodness.”

It is a state of reaching the perfect good of man. Happiness was the ultimate goal for every person because it was thought to be the perfect good for a person, and what person doesn’t want the perfect good? This contrasts sharply with the modern version of happiness.

In the history of the Christian church, one of the greatest philosophers and theologians was Thomas Aquinas, who lived in the 13th century. Using the traditional definition of happiness, “the state of the perfect good of man,” Aquinas tried to figure out what things make us ultimately happy. What are the good things that constitute the perfect good of man?

Aquinas considered 8 candidates for what makes us happy. He ranked the 8 candidates in a countdown from what he considered to be the most foolish to the most wise, so as we proceed, we will move from the worst candidates for happiness to the best candidates. In part 2 of this series, the countdown begins!

How Do Theology and Philosophy Interact?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

In my opinion, the greatest Christian thinker of all time, after the apostles died, was Thomas Aquinas. Etienne Gilson, in his work The Christian Philosophy Of St Thomas Aquinas, takes on the task of defining what distinguished theology from philosophy for Aquinas.

This issue comes up again and again when I hear cultists and even Christians claim that Christian teaching was hijacked by philosophy during the Middle Ages. We’re told that Plato and Aristotle took center stage and that biblical revelation was shoved aside.

Is it true that men like Aquinas did not take the Bible seriously, that they placed the philosophies of Plato and Arsitotle in judgment over revealed theological truths?

Gilson explains that in the case of Aquinas, nothing could be further from the truth. So how did Aquinas distinguish between theology and philosophy?

It has become customary to label “theological” any conclusion whose premises presuppose faith in a divinely revealed truth, and to label “philosophical” any conclusion whose premises are purely rational , that is, known by the light of natural reason alone. This is not the point of view stated by St. Thomas himself at the beginning of his Prologue to the Second Book of his commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard. According to him, the philosopher considers the nature of things as they are in themselves, whereas the theologian considers them in their relation to God conceived as being both their origin and their end.

From this point of view, every conclusion concerning God himself, or the relations of being to God, is theological in its own right. Some of these conclusions presuppose an act of faith in the divine revelation, but some of them do not. All of them are theological; those, among them, which are purely rational, belong to theology no less than the others. The only difference is that, since these do not presuppose faith , they can be extracted from their theological context and judged, from the point of view of natural reason, as purely philosophical conclusions.

To repeat, philosophy considers the “nature of things as they are in themselves” whereas theology considers the nature of things “in their relation to God conceived as being both their origin and their end.” Thus every conclusion about God or about the world in relation to God is theological first and foremost. Any theological conclusion which does not presuppose faith (is purely rational) is also a philosophical conclusion.

Gilson explains why this distinction is important:

This is an extremely important point in that it enables us to understand how strictly metaphysical knowledge can be included within a theological structure without losing its purely philosophical nature. Everything in the Summa [Theologiae, Aquinas’s most famous work,] is theological, yet, elements of genuinely philosophical nature are part and parcel of Thomistic theology precisely because, according to St. Thomas himself, the distinction between theology and philosophy does not adequately answer the distinction between faith and reason.

Now we come to Aquinas’s concerns with mixing philosophy and theology. Gilson writes that critics of Aquinas often misunderstand what Aquinas was trying to do.

According to some of his modern interpreters, St. Thomas thought of himself as a philosopher who was not anxious to compromise the purity of his philosophy by admitting into it the slightest mixture of theology. But as a matter of fact , the real St. Thomas was afraid of doing just the reverse. In the Summa Theologiae, his problem was not how to introduce philosophy into theology without corrupting the essence of philosophy; it was rather how to introduce philosophy into theology without corrupting the essence of theology (emphasis added).

Not only the hostility of the “Biblicists” of his time warned him of the problem , but he was himself quite as much aware of it as they were. And the more freely he made use of philosophy, the more was he aware of the problem. As he himself understands it, theology must be conceived as a science of Revelation. Its source is the word of God. Its basis is faith in the truth of this word. . . . For theologians who were not in the least worried about philosophy, no problem actually arose. Persuaded that they should add nothing human to the bare deposit of revelation, they could rest assured that they were respecting the integrity and the unity of the Sacred Science. They proceeded from faith to faith, by faith.

For St. Thomas Aquinas the problem was rather different. It was a question of how to integrate philosophy into sacred science, not only without allowing either the one or the other to suffer essentially thereby, but to the greater benefit of both. In order to achieve this result, he had to integrate a science of reason with a science of revelation without corrupting at the same time both the purity of reason and the purity of revelation.

Thus Aquinas was eminently aware of the dangers of mixing theology and philosophy. Rather than placing philosophy above theology, he did just the opposite.  One can argue about how successful he was, but there can be no argument that Aquinas allowed philosophical considerations to knowingly trump revealed biblical truth.

#10 Post of 2013 – How Do We Know the Universe Hasn’t Existed Eternally?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

For those of you who look to science to answer every question, cosmologists are pretty unanimous in agreeing that our universe is not eternal, and in fact begun about 14 billion years ago. You may not like this answer, and so go running toward alternative cosmologies to escape the standard big bang model of the universe. Unfortunately, there is no salvation there either.

As summarized nicely on the Wintery Knight blog, “The Borde-Guth-Vilenkin [theorem] shows that every universe that expands must have a space-time boundary in the past. That means that no expanding universe, no matter what the model, can be eternal into the past. Even speculative alternative cosmologies do not escape the need for a beginning.”

So it would appear that science is no help to those who want to desperately cling to an eternal universe. What about philosophy?

The dominant ancient metaphysical traditions have also demonstrated why the physical universe cannot be eternal. Here we quote from Edward Feser in an article he wrote for First Things:

In general, classical philosophical theology argues for the existence of a first cause of the world—a cause that does not merely happen not to have a cause of its own but that (unlike everything else that exists) in principle does not require one. Nothing else can provide an ultimate explanation of the world.

For Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, for example, things in the world can change only if there is something that changes or actualizes everything else without the need (or indeed even the possibility) of its being actualized itself, precisely because it is already “pure actuality.” Change requires an unchangeable changer or unmovable mover.

Feser goes on to consider other great thinkers of the past:

For Neoplatonists, everything made up of parts can be explained only by reference to something that combines the parts. Accordingly, the ultimate explanation of things must be utterly simple and therefore without the need or even the possibility of being assembled into being by something else. Plotinus called this “the One.” For Leibniz, the existence of anything that is in any way contingent can be explained only by its origin in an absolutely necessary being.

But why can’t the first cause, the necessary being, “the One,” be the universe itself instead of God? What is the difference between an eternal Creator and an eternal universe?

The difference, as the reader of Aristotle or Aquinas knows, is that the universe changes while the unmoved mover does not, or, as the Neoplatonist can tell you, that the universe is made up of parts while its source is absolutely one; or, as Leibniz could tell you, that the universe is contingent and God absolutely necessary. There is thus a principled reason for regarding God rather than the universe as the terminus of explanation.

So, positing the universe as an eternally existing thing that is the cause of everything else both collides with modern science and with classical metaphysics. I happen to think the metaphysical arguments are stronger, but maybe you prefer the science. Either way, it don’t look good for an eternal universe.