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Digital Subscriptions > Skeptical Inquirer > Jan Feb 2016 > The Science of Meaning

The Science of Meaning

Scientific research counters mainstream perspectives on meaning and purpose as coming only from God and illustrates how we can develop a science-informed personal sense of life meaning and purpose.

According to the mainstream, traditional notions, science cannot answer life’s big questions, such as how one can find meaning in life; that is the domain of religion. Using science to address life’s meaning and purpose may seem surprising to many nonreligious people. However, there has been a wave of recent research in psychology, cognitive neuroscience, sociology, history, and other material as well as social science disciplines on life meaning and purpose. To be clear, the research does not provide a simple, clear, and straightforward answer to what life is all about. It does not answer the question “What is the meaning of life?” objectively. Instead, the research addresses how to gain a personal and rich sense of meaning and purpose in life and how to answer the question “What is the meaning of life for you?”

Thinkers on Meaning and Purpose

Faith-based, mainstream perspectives perceive the meaning and purpose of life to be found only in the divine. An example of a prominent recent religious thinker is Karl Barth, one of the most important Protestant thinkers of modern times. In his The Epistle to the Romans (Barth 1933), he calls modern people’s attention to God in Christ, where the true meaning and purpose of life must be found. Another example is The Purpose Driven Life, a popular book written by Rick Warren (2002), a Christian mega church leader. His book powerfully shaped the public dialogue on life meaning and purpose.

Nevertheless, some thinkers disagree with the notion that religion is the only way to find meaning and purpose in life. Jean-Paul Sartre, in his Existentialism and Human Emotions, advanced the notions of “existentialism,” the philosophical perspective that all meaning and purpose originates from the individual. The challenge for modern individuals, according to Sartre, is to face all the consequences of the discovery of the absence of God. He argues that people must learn to create for themselves meaning and purpose (Sartre 1957).

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The ‘Lie Detector’ Test Revisited: A Great Example of Junk Science Trends in Scientific Knowledge, Education, and Religion The Science of Meaning Mistaken Memories of Vampires: Pseudohistories and much more.
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