Teleology – what is the meaning of life

Religions, Cults & Worldviews: Valuable Answers for Valid Questions.

Teleology - What is the meaning of life and why are we here?

Teleology comes from two Greek words: telos which is ‘end’ and logos which is ‘meaning’. In short, your teleological world view is your belief of what your ‘end meaning’ is individually and perhaps the ‘end meaning’ of all humanity. That is to say, it answers the question of what is the meaning of life.

When discussing the teleological aspect of a world view, philosophers would look at a being/object and consider its end purpose or meaning. For example, when examining a glass lens, a conclusion can be drawn that its end purpose is to allow the passage of light for a camera. In like fashion, any smaller part has an end purpose to serve the whole.

This led 18th century philosopher and Chrisian apologist, William Paley, to posit that the intricate machine-like efficiency of biology can only point to an intelligent Maker. i.e. A design must have a designer in the same way that a painting must have a painter.

quo vadis is a latin phrase meaning where are you going which is another way of asking what is the meaning of life - how we answer this question will indicate the teleological portion of our world view.
quo vadis is a latin phrase meaning where are you going which is another way of asking what is the meaning of life - how we answer this question will indicate the teleological portion of our world view.

He was made famous by his formation of the teleological argument for the existence of God by using the example of finding a watch in the wilderness and by virtue of the design and efficiency of the contraption, one can safely surmise that the watch did not just happen by falling together but that the watch had a watchmaker.

teleology, what is the meaning of life, meaning of life
William Paley, Philosopher

In the same way when someone sees the voluminous data which codifies the biological life of a human in their DNA record or when they view the vastness of space and the beauty of the cosmos, they must conclude that there is a designer behind these incredible designs.

"The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language Where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their words to the end of the world." (NKJV)

How various world views try to answer the question, "what is the meaning of life"

Many philosophers attempt to answer the famous question ‘what is the meaning of life’. The answers they provide are primarily based on their underlying religious world view e.g. theism, atheism, pantheism, etc. We’ve included a few of these teleological world views with a comparison to the Biblical teleology in the following accordion.

Atheism

There are different forms of Atheism, a couple of which we’ve highlighted here:

  1. Existentialism – The teleology of the existentialist, is that life itself  has no meaning or purpose except to live the best life we can & then die into nothingness. There are many atheists who embrace this existentialist teleology without considering themselves to be existentialists
  2. Secular Humanism: Another popular form of atheism is secular humanism who, like the existentialist, believe the meaning of life  is to live well but the secular humanist believes that a person’s purpose is to be productive toward the advancement of all humanity to the absolute exclusion of any deity and then ultimately to die into nothingness.

Secular scientists reach into the cosmos by sending intelligent messages in hopes of a returned message which communicates “other” intelligent life. Ironically, these same scientists receive messages from microscopic DNA strands and telescopic cosmos which both communicate intelligence by virtue of their outstanding design, but these scientists choose to reject those messages of intelligence simply because they do not like the One who is the source of these messages.

Both existentialist and secular humanist teleological views attempt to answer the question of the meaning of life by making an assumption that all life ends at death without any empirical evidence whatsoever that this is the chief end of humanity. The Bible tells us in Hebrews 9:27 – “As it is appointed once for man to die and after this is the judgement”.

Non-theism

The term “non-theist” might confuse it with atheism. Non-theists are those who do not recognize any particular deity whatsoever but wouldn’t consider themselves to be atheistic in their world view. As with the atheist, there are a number of groups that might fall under this category and we highlight a couple of these here:

  1. Non-Theist: Hedonism – This teleology posits that the meaning of life is the fulfillment of pleasure and gratification simply because life is short and this life is all that there is. The hedonist lives by the credo “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die!” which is a fulfillment of a parable told by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke: And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” ’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ (NKJV)
  2. Non Theist: Buddhism – Where there are some sects of Buddhism which attach attributes of deity to the Buddha (Sidhartha Guatama) There are still a numbr of Buddhists who, in keeping with the traditional Chinese religions, adhere to a form of Buddhism which follows moral codes and precepts while seeking the same “Nirvana” that Buddha taught c.f. Taosim, Confucianism. The meaning of life to this type of Buddhist is to escape the cycle of pain which they bring on themselves and which existence in the world brings upon them. This is done by escaping all forms of pleasure while pursuing the cessation of pain. The chief end of this pursuit is for the Buddhist to  achieve perfect bliss (Nirvana)

Pantheism

Pantheist: Hinduism – The pantheist believes that the meaning of life is to work off all of the wrongdoings of their past life in order to be reincarnated as a higher being in their next life. If they fail in this purpose they will regress into lesser life forms and begin their progression to human life again. The ultimate purpose and and meaning is to escape the cycle of reincarnation and achieve perfect oneness with the universe. (Moksha)

This is a hopeless cycle which perpetuates eveil and wrongdoing because the entire system is dependent upon wrongdoing to work off one’s own wrongdoing from a previous life. It perpetuates evil and doesn’t solve it. The Hindu never knows what they will return as in the next life. Another reminder of what the God of the Bible tells us regarding life after death: “As it is appointed once for man to die, thereafter is the judgement” – He says there is only one death and immediate judgement thereafter.

Theism: Islam and Mormonism

Theism: Islam and/or Mormonism:

Oddly enough, both Mormonism (a polytheistic restorationist cult which began in 1831) and Islam (a monotheistic  world religion which broke away from Arabian polytheism in the early 7th century) share a nearly identical teleology and answer the question what is the meaning of life differently for both men and women.

For men: The meaning of life is to achieve heaven and perfect eternal sexual gratification for one’s self by fulfilling the stringent requirements given by a prophet in his holy book i.e. the purpose of life is achieved through one’s own works and self-effort and not by the works and effort of the God of the bible.

For women: the meaning of life is to serve the man so that you can die and be his sexual slave for all eternity – both Mormonism and Islam. For the Muslim it is to be part of the man’s “heavenly harem” for the Mormon it is to eternally give birth to baby gods for the man.

Theistic Deism

Theistic Deism:

Although deism isn’t in the formal discussions of theologians today and doesn’t appear to be much of a going concern, I mention it here because so many possess a deist teleology without even being aware of it. That is to say, they believe in a “Man upstairs” who set everything in motion but that “god” (used in the generic sense) doesn’t really have much involvement in current events anymore – no miracles, no intervention, no interaction with the created world. It is up to mankind to maintain and preserve his god-given country. (God helps those who help themselves). It is from this view that we might see “hero worship” of the military arise.

This new form of deism can typically be summed up as secular humanism mixed with theistic language.

For the deistic-minded person, the meaning of life or purpose to life is liberty and the unhindered pursuit of happiness. Consider the following quote from one of the most prominent deists in history, Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. – Thomas Jefferson, Deist, Primary Author of the Declaration of Independence for the United States

This position is most prevalent among political conservatives with a primary bent toward nationalism and patriotism.

Biblical teleology

Theism: Biblical Christianity

James 1:17 “All good things come down to us from the Father of lights.”

Although there are many “theist” world views, some of which we have covered already, there is only one theistic worldview which possesses a perfect internal consistency within itself and an external consistency with the world in which it operates and that is the historical Biblical Christian faith.

To the biblical Christian, there is a full and complete purpose and meaning to the lives we live which was given to us at the point of turning from our sins and turning to the Lord Jesus Christ in faith for the forgiveness of those sins.

Our eyes are opened to the fact that God created man and woman, Adam and Eve, to be perfect in existence and in perfect fellowship with Himself in order to bring glory to the only One who is truly worthy of all glory. The One from whom all good things come to us: food, drink, friendship, laughter, satisfaction, fulfillment, family, etc.

However, due to the fall of mankind through the sin of Adam, we lost that purpose and meaning through our own sinful thoughts, words and deeds. Our hearts were darkened and our spirits dead to God without hope. But by the grace of God, the good news of the Messiah, Jesus Christ was preached to us. We realized that if we turned from our sin and subsequently turned to Jesus the Son of God, we could have full forgiveness of our sins and be restored to fellowship with God; walking our daily life with Him and hearing from Him in His word, the Bible.

It is here that we discover that the chief purpose and meaning of life is to glorify God the Creator and enjoy Him forever.

This purpose and fulfillment is available to all of mankind, male, female, young and old. The Bible says in Romans 10:12-13 ” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

This “calling upon” means a cry of mercy for our sins and forgiveness for our eternal trespasses.

The Biblical Worldview

Various philosophical worldviews will always lead the inquisitor to the same questions:

    1. How did we get here?
    2. Why am I here?
    3. What is my future, in life and after death?

It is for these questions that we have created this site that visitors may learn of the Biblical worldview which is the most correct and fully answers the three questions above.

Select the graphic below to be taken to a page to learn what the Biblical worldview is:

Take a look at the other systems of belief that comprise a person’s overall world view:

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