Sean McDowell | November 5, 2019

Without God, My Wife's 42nd Birthday Is Meaningless

Without God, My Wife’s 42nd Birthday Is Meaningless

Today is my wife’s 42nd birthday. This reminds me that, if God does not exist, her life has no meaning and this day has no significance. You might think this sounds a little gloomy. I agree, but let me explain.

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and a few subsequent novels, Douglas Adams tells the story of the universe from the point of view of four hitchhikers who travel through time from the big bang to the destruction at the end of the universe. During their travels, they meet a race of super-smart mice who build a massive computer called Deep Thought, which is the size of a small city. Their goal is to answer the Ultimate Question of Life:

For seven and a half million years, Deep Thought computed and calculated, and in the end announced that the answer was in fact forty-two–and so another, even bigger, computer had to be built to find out what the actual question was.

And this computer, which was called Earth, was so large that it was frequently mistaken for a planet–especially by the strange apelike beings who roamed its surface, totally unaware that they were simply part of the gigantic computer program.

And this is very odd, because without the fairly simple and obvious piece of knowledge, nothing that ever happened on the Earth could possibly make the slightest bit of sense. Sadly, however, just before the critical moment of read-out, the Earth was unexpectedly demolished by the Vogons to make way–so they claimed–for a new hyperspace bypass, and so all hope of discovering a meaning for life was lost forever. Or so it would seem.[1]

By the end of the second novel, the travelers discover that the question for the ultimate meaning of life is, “What is six times nine?” Thus, not only is the question itself meaningless (in terms of human purpose), but the answer is not even correct.

By the third novel, Douglas explains why the question and answer fail to match up. The character Prak is supposed to be able to answer the ultimate questions of life. He says, “I’m afraid…that the Question and Answer are mutually exclusive. Knowledge of one logically precludes knowledge of the other. It is impossible that both can ever be known about the same Universe.”[2]

In other words, we can have Answers like 42, which don’t mean anything without the Question. Or we can have Questions alone, but not Answers. But we can’t have both. Regardless of how far we travel, or how long we take, we can never discover the ultimate purpose to the universe and thus given meaning to our lives. As amazing as they are, even science and math cannot help us answer the cry of the human heart for meaning.

Adams beautifully illustrates the reality of a godless universe. If there is no God, there is no ultimate meaning to the universe, and thus no meaning to our lives. There is no point in even trying to discover its purpose as it has been lost forever. And there is no point in celebrating a 42nd birthday, or in reality, any birthday.

James Sire is right: Nihilism is the natural child of naturalism.[3]

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[1] Douglas Adams, Restaurant at the End of the Universe (New York, NY: Pocket, 1982), 3.

[2] Douglas Adams, Life, the Universe and Everything (New York, NY: Pocket, 1983), 222.

[3] I owe this illustration and insight to my friend and former professor James W. Sire (1933-2018). He argues that that nihilism follows logically from naturalism, and I think he is right: The Universe Next Door, 5th edition (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 94-116.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author, popular speaker, and part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell, TikTok, Instagram, and his blog: