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The Source of Meaning in Life

The Source of Meaning in Life

Those of you who have followed my blogs for any length of time know that I don’t have a high regard for most of the social sciences. The reason for that is that the things the social sciences try to measure and analyze are not subject to scientific analysis.

So called “Hard Sciences consist of any of the natural or physical sciences – fields such as chemistry, biology, physics, and astronomy. Hard science at least has actual material stuff that scientists are able to investigate by means of observation and experimentation.

The social sciences, on the other hand (often called “Soft Sciences”), include such fields as psychology, sociology, and anthropology. These deal with matters that can’t be physically observed and experimented upon. In the hard sciences, it is possible to take measurements and manipulate various elements of nature. The best you can do when researching using the soft sciences, however, is to take polls and compute means and averages.

The big problem you run into with the soft sciences is that you must have a set of predetermined beliefs about the object of study BEFORE you actually do the study. On top of that, you are studying topics that don’t have objective material to begin with. I came across an article recently that gives a perfect example of this.

It seems that a group of social scientists wanted to find out what gives people meaning in life. To get at this, they polled hundreds of random people and asked them questions that would supposedly give clues as to where meaning in life comes from for individuals. After doing the polling, they compiled their findings into a study that they called: More Than a Momentary Blip in the Universe? Investigating the Link Between Religiousness and Perceived Meaning in Life.

They concluded that:

Both “social mattering” (meaning in people’s lives is the result of their interaction in communities) and “cosmic mattering” (meaning in people’s lives is the result of their having a sense of mattering in the grand scheme of the universe) are both important in making people feel a sense of meaning in their lives. However, cosmic mattering is most important.

Now right up front, there are two massive problems with this research (though there are other problems, as well).

  • The first problem is that the researchers decided ahead of time the possible categories that are able to produce meaning in life for individuals. They didn’t do research to try to discover whether or not their categories were based on reality (which could not be done anyway). Rather, they determined the categories ahead of time and developed their conclusions based on their own personal reasoning.
  • The second problem is that they began with naturalistic worldview assumptions. They did the research assuming, from the get-go, that there was some kind of material/natural cause for the human sense of meaning. This assumption comes from the belief that human beings are purely natural animals, and that the cause of meaning for humans ultimately has some kind of physiological basis that can be empirically discovered – which is not true.

Not even considered was the possibility that there is an actual spiritual (transcendent) source for the human sense of meaning. Nor did they consider the possibility that human beings are not purely animal creatures, but rather have a spiritual (non-material) element to their being. If humans really are purely naturally evolved animal creatures, then ultimately it would be possible (once science advances far enough) to discover the physiological causes of the human sense of meaning for life. But there is no evidence whatsoever that Naturalism’s assumptions about that are true. Naturalists must believe it by faith.

So here we are back at my pet peeve – the notion that social scientists are able to discover things like the actual source of meaning in life by empirical research. They can’t ... and they will never be able to.




Freddy Davis is the president of MarketFaith Ministries. He is the author of numerous books and has a background as an international missionary, pastor, radio host, worldview trainer, and entrepreneur. Freddy is a graduate of Florida State University with a BS in Communication, and holds MDiv and DMin degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a popular speaker, particularly on the topic of worldview and its practical implications for the Christian life. He lives in Tallahassee, FL, with his wife Deborah.

You may also contact Freddy at Leadership Speakers Bureau to schedule him for speaking or leadership engagements.

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