Finding Purpose

Published 16 years, 3 weeks past

In my never-ceasing struggle to stay up to date on stuff, I occasionally manage to listen to a podcast while doing something else.  I don’t have any regular favorites; instead, I just grab whatever’s on tap and try to give it a slice of my attention while answering e-mail or writing markup.  It’s not the same as sitting very still and listening with all my attention, but as Jack Bauer would shout, there’s no time!

So a couple of days ago, up came show #5 of Andy Rutledge’s Design View Show.  It kicked off with some observations of two fine young chaps, Andy Budd and Derek Featherstone.  From there it segued into some good observations on finding purpose and acting in a purposeful way and keeping focus in the face of distractions, topics of recurring interest to me.  Things were rolling very nicely, with me nodding in agreement at various points—until, like Jeremy, I came to a jaw-dropped stop right here:

I suggest that if you cannot recognize and acknowledge that purpose in life can only be derived from God, by whatever name you call him, then I’m afraid you do not grasp what “purpose” is. And to you I’d offer my deepest sympathies.

Well, Andy, I’d suggest that you’re wrong, but to do so would be dishonest.  There’s no suggestion about it: you’re wrong.  It is absolutely possible to grasp the meaning of “purpose” as in “purpose in life” (the sense you used it both there and throughout the show) without relating it to a deity, as I do every day of my life.  Unless of course your personal definition of the word “purpose” absolutely requires a deity, in which case, we can write this off as a case of subjective semantic incompatibility and walk away no worse for the wear.

Having opened this door, I feel I should be very clear about my theological placement: I’m agnostic.  This is very different than atheism, no matter what some claim.  I only bring this up because the vast majority of people reading previous paragraph would reflexively assume I’m an atheist.

Understand that I do not criticize, dismiss, or otherwise demean those who derive their feeling of purpose from a deity, by whatever name it’s called.  I think that finding purpose is one of the most important and essential things any of us can do, and it’s not my place to dismiss the paths others take toward that goal… any more than it is theirs to dismiss mine.  I’ve stumbled on that point in the past, even doing so once or twice here on meyerweb, and for that I’m ashamed of myself and I apologize.

For all this, I think Andy put together a great podcast with some very sharp, meaningful insights on finding and keeping purpose.  I’d recommend it to anyone, especially anyone struggling to find their place or direction in life, with the caveat that there are a couple of bits—like the one quoted above—that should be taken with a shaker of salt.  It is not a universal truth that one needs a deity, or even faith in some external power, to find purpose or direction in life.  I, and several people I know both in the field and outside it, stand as living proof.

I debated myself long and hard about posting this.  In the end, my impulse to challenge ignorance (in this case, the belief that belief in a deity and sense of life purpose are inseparable) won out over my instinct to keep quiet and let sleeping gods lie.

Comments (74)

  1. And the fact that comments are open is not an invitation to demean, insult, or otherwise cast aspersions on religion, or even any particular religion. I will enforce this policy, and if I have to do too much enforcing, I’ll just close the comments. That said, sincere questions in the service of better understanding are not insulting or demeaning (and anyone who feels otherwise can go away now).

  2. Although this post will no doubt open the floodgates to a whole plethora of opinions on the subject, I personally applaud you for writing this, Eric. Regardless of anyone’s religious beliefs, it’s ridiculous that Andy should say such a thing in the context of a discussion about design, and in such a self-righteous way, too.

  3. I had a similar experience with this one, except I managed to put myself through the whole thing. Unfortunately, I’ll likely never listen to another of his podcasts again. As Elliot mentions, “regardless of anyone”s religious beliefs, it”s ridiculous that Andy should say such a thing in the context of a discussion about design, and in such a self-righteous way, too.”

    Thanks for saying what I couldn’t.

  4. Pingback ::

    Ryan Irelan » Finding Purpose

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  5. His insightfulness comes from having natural red hair. *wink*

  6. Eric, very well put. I would agree with Elliot Jay Stocks in that it seemed out of context to say something like that. I was waiting for this post when I read your twitter yesterday about wanting to say something, yet holding your tongue.

    I won’t even get into the religious aspect – but just second the fact that I think it was distasteful to push this in his discussion about design.

  7. Regardless of my difference in opinion, I too applaud you for writing this. I’d rather live in a society where we can openly express our religious point of view than one where we’re guilted into keeping it a secret. Thanks as well for the insightful comment on my post on the subject.

  8. Well, I’m awake now. I was wondering what you were on about in Twitter.

    Something slightly similar came up on Tim Gaden’s site. Religion, for a moment, popped up in an otherwise normal blog about email apps. The difference between these two incidents is that Tim was just quoting something innocuous that touched on religion.

    Being told that I’m clueless because I don’t see my purpose lies with some deity, however, is a whole other kettle of fish.

  9. Thank you so much for pointing this out. As a fellow agnostic, I was more than a little insulted by the tone of the podcast. It tarnished an otherwise excellent idea.

  10. Meyer–

    I am glad that you opened comments on this thread. I think you may find that your web log is much like your own home and that your readership both acknowledges and respects that it is.

    It will be interesting to see how both the posts and the thread evolve.

  11. When I saw that on Adactio I was floored.

    I could probably ramble on forever but I’ll just agree with Keith in saying “Thanks for saying what I couldn”t.”

  12. A religious person feeling that purpose derives from God? Preposterous!!! Oh, wait…

    The more I think about this, the more it seems like being outraged to discover that the Pope is Catholic. “What? You mean the highest authority in a religious has the gall to believe that said religious is, in fact, the most correct of all religions?! How dare he!”

    A religious person, that is to say a person for whom every facet of life is informed by a belief in one or more deities, will of course have a “personal definition of the word “purpose” [which] absolutely requires a deity”. It is, as you more or less say, a difference in perspective.

    That said, he has stated his belief, you have stated your belief that he is ignorant, and that’s how it should go: people honestly stating their beliefs rather than worrying about offending.

  13. I debated myself long and hard about posting this. In the end, my impulse to challenge ignorance won out over my instinct to keep quiet and let sleeping gods lie.

    What I’d like to see then, Eric, is where your purpose does lie. It’s ever so cool to pull out the “ignorance” word to describe those with an actual belief system, but 9.9 times out of 10 these shoot-and-run posts offer no alternative that has real meaning. Is it pure reason? Family? World peace? In light of your agnosticism, all such temporal pursuits are trumped when you find out that there actually is a divine Sovereign.

  14. I agree that you do not need a deity to find purpose. Disagree that criticism of religion needs to be treaded on like walking on eggs for fear of upsetting people (definitely inappropriate during a discussion on design, though). That’s all I’ll say. I hope that expressing that sentiment doesn’t get my comment nixed. Thought it had to be said, though.

  15. Eric, your thoughts made me recall one of my favorite Christian doctrines, the one about “common grace.” The gist: It’s impossible to do good without God’s grace–but people who don’t believe in God can do good.

    It seems safe to say that things like “sense of purpose” work in a similar way. Those of us who believe in the existence of God (or many gods, the flying spaghetti monster, or whatever) absolutely need to acknowledge the likelihood that people can feel like their lives have meaning no matter their own beliefs. It’s incumbent upon Christians, at least, not to judge the sincerity of another’s convictions, which includes determining the validity of one’s sense of purpose. Matthew 7.1-5 comes pretty close to expressing this sentiment.

    That said, I sympathize with Andy (aside, Eric: Budd or Rutledge? I haven’t listened to the podcast yet and don’t have time right now), in that it’s hard for someone who is a “believer” to imagine having a sense of purpose without that belief. But that’s not because “belief” is necessary but because belief is inextricably bound to that person’s own sense of purpose.

    Thanks for deciding to post this. Even though topics like religious expression and belief can be painfully contentious, it’s important to discuss them; and it’s especially healthy to discuss them in a form whose instigator & moderator begins not from a position of antagonism but from one of loving concern.

  16. Elliot, I agree with you about the context of the situation. It’s rather odd considering that Andy wrote a huge article on his website galling Designer Observer for advocating a political viewpoint in a design arena, so it’s strange that he’d bring up religion in a design conversation.

  17. Well, to build off of what Dan Guy says above, his definition of purpose likely does require a deity. If you believe that God created each person for a specific purpose, then his comments may be less about finding “a” purpose in life, which can be done with or without a deity, then from a perspective of finding “the” purpose for your life, which would naturally be dependent upon the intent of your Creator. His comments would be reasonable from that perspective.

  18. “There”s no suggestion about it: you”re wrong. It is absolutely possible to grasp the meaning of “purpose” as in “purpose in life” (the sense you used it both there and throughout the show) without relating it to a deity, as I do every day of my life.”

    Assuming this sentence is more than a semantic nitpick (grasping the meaning of “purpose in life” is obviously possible without a deity, it’s the concrete purpose itself that’s the issue) – what is your purpose in life, then? :)

  19. Nathan:

    It”s ever so cool to pull out the “ignorance” word to describe those with an actual belief system…

    The ignorance I mention does not refer to Andy’s faith or religion, but to his mistaken assertion that one or both of those is necessary to having a sense of purpose in life. I’ve just now clarified that in the post.

    For the rest, based on your comment, I don’t think you and I are ever going to agree on what constitutes real meaning. So let’s just back slowly away from the incipient flame war, if we could. I offer my apologies for any contribution I made to the kindling through my lack of clarity in the post.

  20. I’m still not sure I quite get why that particular comment is being analyzed as much as I’ve been seeing. Surely people are used to coming across random out-of-context tidbits of religion/politics/(insert polarizing topic of choice here) by now.

    If you’re atheist or agnostic, smile at his naivety, feel superior, and move on.

    If you’re religious, cheer at his bravery, feel superior, and move on.

    Hardly seems like an issue over which to give a guy the bad days he must have been having over the past few. He’s not running for office. Surely there are bigger issues people can be worrying about?

  21. Actually, on the subject of semantic incompatibility, the distinction between atheist and agnostic can be a tricky one, and different people may reasonably draw them differently.

    I suspect the distinction you are drawing is that agnostic = takes no final position on the existence of god; atheist = has a positive belief in the non-existence of god.

    Another one is that agnosticism is an ontological position and atheism is a life-stance. That is, an agnostic is saying that on a purely theoretical level, the existence of god is unknowable — and in fact, there are religious people who fit this definition of agnostic. An atheist is someone who lives his life on the assumption that god does not exist.

  22. This seems to be a case of agreeing to disagree. Those with a theistic viewpoint will likely side with Andy’s view to some degree, and those with a non-theistic will argue against. Its similar to debating the creation of the universe. One side will have a hard time pursuading the other, and the debate/discussion can easily get heated. I think we all truly won’t know the answer until our life as we know it ends.

  23. Tactfully and intelligently done. Personally, when it comes to the God thing, I neither believe nor disbelieve. Call it a cop-out, if the spirt doesn’t move you, why fake it?

    Still, like you, am comfortable with anyone’s beliefs; in the words of John Lennon: Whatever gets you through the night, it’s all right.

  24. I was surprised as well.

    I am a very religious person. I have deeply held beliefs. I believe that life has a purpose, and that purpose has to do with my religious beliefs.

    But, finding a “purpose” in life has nothing to do with religion. Religion is one of many ways people use to feel their life has purpose.

    CSS is another way.

    The word “Purpose” denotes some kind of activity or action. “Why are you here? What will be your legacy when you expire?” Some feel God is the answer. Some feel it’s “what you do that defines you.” (Batman)

    In all seriousness, though, I’m one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    We’re probably known as some of the most “in-your-face” types of people when it comes to religion.

    Even I, though, know better than to bring religion into my work. It’s just not professional, unless it’s what you do for a living. (Priest or Minister.)

    Thanks for this post, Eric. It was logical and hopefully people will take the point home.

    (Although, using the term “ignorance” probably wasn’t the best word to use when talking about people’s personal beliefs. Just saying.)

  25. Because Andy delivers the message with a prefix of “I suggest that…”, it comes off even worse, with an Ipsedixitism.

    At times i have delivered tainted messages without meaning to, and I hope that the act of massaging people into ‘believing a diety (or to not)” is nearly always a domineering attack on one’s internal belief system.
    Having (yes, i know) served time in Argentina coping with belief systems and faith, I’ve concluded personally that faith and belief-in-diety discussions should only break open upon request, and with disclosures.

    To quote a famous person:

    “Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense.
    “…It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”

    It is sad from my point of view that he brings deity into the discussion, but that’s his freedom, and I don’t aim to take it away from him.

    To close, i’m not ‘snubbed,’ as Andy mentions, merely turning away from his podcast. No sympathy needed, Andy.

  26. Well said, Eric. After reading Jeremy’s article on Andy Rutledge’s comment, I went to Design View to read the transcript myself. At best his statement was ill conceived and inflammatory.

    My stance has always been to refrain from discussing my personal beliefs with others. Because they are exactly that. Personal.

    Even if I did feel it necessary to bring up the subject with someone, I would never go so far as to suggest they do not understand the meaning of “purpose” because they do not share my beliefs.

  27. Dave, I think it’s the same thing that would happen if someone were to say that it’s not possible to find true purpose in life if you DO believe in a deity. That would be just as preposterous to me, and just as worthy of objection.

    I’ll also acknowledge that I was coincidentally sensitized to this issue by some things I’ve recently come across and by recent conversations with my daughter.

    Adam, you’re essentially correct about the definitions I use. I’ve argued about the meanings of agnosticism and atheism in the past, and really don’t want to do so again, but thank you for detailing those differing definitions.

    Sean, I hope my clarification helps, but in the end you may be right. I tried to be as neutral as possible, but it’s tough to do without killing the whole post.

  28. Eric,

    Just saw your response re: the word “ignorance”.

    I would have to agree now with your usage.

    Thanks for the clarification.

  29. @Dan Guy – I guess I agree when you say, “that”s how it should go: people honestly stating their beliefs rather than worrying about offending.”

    Having said that, what I got from Andy was, “If you’re not getting it from God via Faith, you don’t have purpose.” Maybe I misunderstood (if that wasn’t what he was saying, he should make that clear) and maybe I shouldn’t have let it bother me, but it did. Honestly, I don’t think this normally would have bothered me, but there was something in the tone…I don’t know, it was less what he was saying, but how he said it. I certainly don’t begrudge him his beliefs and his rights to share them. As well, I felt a bit duped. The context for those statements was all wrong, IMHO, I was expecting design-related talk, was rolling along and then it kind did a sharp turn into something else.

    I think it’s the combination of those things that got people’s attention more than the simple act of sharing beliefs.

  30. I appreciate your balanced post. I find that too often we give into our urge to fight people who don’t agree with us instead of finding things we can agree on. In my opinion, matters of faith should be discussed one on one with plenty of time to explore the subject and both parties’ points of view rather than on teh internets which is a magnet for hot tempers and flame wars.

    In the end, I believe his statement was out of place (in a design podcast) and insensitive/condescending, and for the record I believe in God.

  31. I disagree with the comments that the mention of God is irrelevant within the context of a design discussion. From the viewpoint of Christianity, God is the ultimate designer and all attempts to design and improve lives are attempts, in fact, to mimic the great creator. Faith that God created all men with a soul is the foundation for, “All men are created equal,” which in turn is the foundation for the desire to design fully and accessibly.

    Don’t make the mistake of pigeonholing God. To those with faith, He is the center of all philosophy, design or otherwise.


  32. I’d agree that you don’t need a deity to provide purpose in life. But you do need a “worldview” in order to develop what you believe or what you even mean by words like “purpose”, “right” and “wrong”. Why are you in the career you are in? Why do you do certain things and not other things? How should you treat other people? peers? those less fortunate than you, or different than you?

    I’d also argue that this “worldview” is a huge part of design and the creative side of people. What you think and believe about the world, our place in it, beauty, relationships, purpose, etc. directly impacts how you design and build things (and even what you chose to design and build).

    So whether you believe that there is a God that created the universe and is capable of relationships with its inhabitants, or that we are joined with all of nature as one interdependent organism, or that we are a part of a big cosmic mathematical equation of physical laws that is proceeding forward as time passes – all of these would impact your “purpose” and what you believe about “design”, creativity, and the purpose of work.

  33. I disagree with the comments that say it was inappropriate that Andy brought up his beliefs in a discussion about design. Andy made a statement about his beliefs on his site. The fact that his beliefs are different from one’s own does not make what he said inappropriate. If his vehicle were client work instead, I could understand it being inappropriate.

    I’d argue that all designers bring their personal beliefs into their work. One’s belief system or sense of purpose affects all aspects of one’s life, even if we’d like to nicely compartmentalize our professional lives and our personal lives. What drives us as human beings also drives us as designers and the design decisions we make.

    Like Andy, Eric just made a bold statement about his beliefs, on his site. We now know a little bit more about both them as designers, and are richer for it.

    On preview: what R.A. Ray and Bruce just said.

  34. The quote that Eric (and others) took issue with wasn’t that Andy professed his spirituality in public, on his blog. It’s that it was done in a very condescending way. I’m (and I don’t think Eric is either) not arguing that it’s wrong to say that God is your ultimate design inspiration. Go for it, rock on. But don’t damn me in the process. That I’ll take issue with.

    Last night I went to the local Ruby Meetup Group. The guys (one of whom is John Long, who created the popular Radiant CMS) behind Broadsword gave a talk about their experience starting a company and building a web application. They were very frank in the beginning of the talk and professed that their motivation and purpose in leaving their jobs was partly one rooted in their faith in God. While this probably rubbed some people the wrong way — myself included, at the time — it was in retrospect a very honest way to explain why they were doing what they’re doing. I would do the same, except my inspiration and motivation would not be sourced in religion or faith in God.

    What they didn’t do is preach or be judgmental about their inspiration vs. mine.

  35. This person is obviously talking about his own PERSONAL SENSE of purpose, and obviously is unable or unwilling to see how truly personal that is.

    Despite all the other interesting posts, the main PURPOSE when I come here is to read & learn about CSS. Despite his success and skill, I would sincerely hope that CSS is not Eric’s main purpose in life!

    Of course, as a monotheist, I assume that the Deity has a purpose in mind for all. But that doesn’t mean that if you aren’t “with the program”, I believe you wander around without purpose. In my faith, the Deity created sentient beings, who could make decisions for themselves, and determine their own Purpose. The Deity would prefer you follow Their purpose, but you are fully able to have a purpose of your own, apart from that Deity.

    In any case, my faith would take a dim view on insulting or belittling others just because they had a difference of opinion – doesn’t quite fit with “… love mercy, and walk humbly with the Lord your God” (note the “your” in there as well).

    Thanks for letting me state my belief on this – and I greatly appreciate the temperance shown in your posts and moderated comments.

  36. Interesting thread.

    In going through the podcast, post, and comments, I have to say that Andy’s comment comes off as a thinly-veiled jab at agnostics and therefore inappropriate.

    In a broad sense agnostics don”t believe in any one definition of “God” or “religion”, but also do not believe in the complete absence of a higher-power – in effect the details of the supernatural are unknowable and therefore no concrete opinion can be made one way or the other.

    Andy”s comments would lead one to say that if you can”t “name your God” then your “purpose in life” can only be as certain as that which you put your faith in. So if you believe in Yahweh, Buddha, Muhammad, Mother Earth, Xenu, Flying Spaghetti Monster, Carl Sagan, etc. then your “purpose” is clear and at least rational. But if you are agnostic and “undecided” related to your beliefs then you are somehow “purposeless” in life.

    This seems to be a rather simplistic view and does come off as arrogance instead of wisdom.

  37. I agree with him that without God (specifically Christ) life is meaningless… me may as well party, for tomorrow we die. I don’t agree that this applies to any diety, as only one has risen from the dead in history.

    However… I do believe that people can be happy and content without Christ to an extent. People do it all the time…and are often more content than Christians. Being aware of the Law of God can make some Christians even more miserable if they don’t understand the gospel well.

    To preach that being a Christian will get you contentment is not the gospel – the gospel is that Christ died to save sinners from the wrath of God and that he rose from the dead in time and space.

    Thanks for all your great work Erik – I’m a big fan.

    Go Bucks!

  38. I’ve never met Andy, he’s never met me, and yet he’s just told me that I don’t know what purpose is.

    Hey thanks! I’ll send a card around the holidays.

    Andy’s never met William Drenttel, and i’m sure the reverse is true, and yet he’s said (of William), “he doesn”t understand the distinction between personal values and personal political views.”

    Does Intelligent (web) Design entail speaking on behalf of others?

    I am by no means a religous person (i’d align myself with the agnostic crowd, they seem nice enough) but I have yet to single people out for what they do and do not know on a public pulpit.

    I save that for my personal damnations conducted squarely in front of my Linda Ronstadt shrine.

  39. I’d like to clarify that while I may not appreciate the tone or the message of the podcast, I tend to appreciate anyone strong enough in their own convictions to speak publicly about them.

    There’s a danger in opening one’s mouth, in that you can easily wipe out 25% of your potential or current clients/listeners with any political or relgious endorsements. So you have to believe that those convictions are strong enough to weather that.

  40. Thanks for taking the time to write this Eric.

  41. I think there is too much about very little in the overall reaction to Budd Rutledge‘s statement. What his intent was, no one here knows … and he has not clarified his intention behind his statement. I read passion into it and passion, most generally, is not a bad thing. The presumption is that his passion, as expressed, works for Budd Rutledge.

    I have read passion in Meyer’s reaction and understand his thought. It is something that obviously works for Meyer.

    What is at issue? Nothing.

    [Edited to correct the surname. -E.]

  42. I suggest that violins are the most beautiful sounding instrument, ever. Even though I have not personally heard every instrument ever played; I am certain that violins would beat them, hands down. There can be no more beautiful sound. If you do not believe that violins are, indeed, the most beautiful sounding instrument ever; either you have never heard one, or you have never heard one correctly. Perhaps it was the violinist, perhaps it was your ears. Sure, you may think that oboes are fantastic, but you obviously have not heard violins (or at least heard them correctly).

    I’m an atheist. I’m also the single parent of a special needs child. No deity compels me to love or to care for my child. Doing so gives me purpose. It’s the greatest thing that has ever happened in my life. I would never put forth that all the people who think it would be hard or painful to take care of a special needs child alone are missing out on the wonderful experience it should be. I would never tell them that the love they have for their “normal” kid is nothing compared to what I feel for my daughter. I would never suggest that they can not possibly know what “purpose” is because they don’t get their purpose from the same or similar place that I do.

    Andy’s insistence that one can not grasp what purpose is without that purpose coming from a “deity” is plainly, and simply wrong. The fact that so man people derive so much purpose from so many things without ever getting a deity involved in any way is proof that it is wrong. If he makes this statement because he believes that everyone else would feel the same as him if they would just believe in a deity, than that is, indeed, ignorance.

  43. Anyone can construct a base on which to build their own sense of purpose in life and whatever they do in life, or they can borrow an existing base and build on that. It will work for the person in question if one wants it to.

    The same can be reversed, as one can deconstruct any base and be left with next to none, and still have a sense of purpose in life and whatever. It will work.

    What tend to not work so well, is to debate sense of purpose on any ground. Analytic and empathic abilities tend to come in too short supply – in addition to that time itself is short, for such debates to result in anything but individual stances.

    I’m an agnostic theist, and prefer not to debate what I don’t have time to analyze and debate in full. I can empathize with both Andy’s and others’ stances, as they have been made known to me, but I simply do not know enough (about their stances) to take that any further either.

    Many, if not most, things in life has a purpose, but nothing much would change if it didn’t. How much of, or in, life that is planned, important, incidental or purely accidental, will be up for debate as long as man is here to debate it. Purpose served, I guess.

  44. A belief in God, Vishnu, Cthulhu, or a Box of Blue M&M’s for that matter, doesn’t (in of itself) bestow any kind of “purpose” – rather it gives a framework and structure to live by, and may even dictate a particular direction. Yet any supposed discoveries of purpose through a deity will more correctly be as a by-product of and affected by that faith.

    Purpose, really, is simply the definition of what we believe we’re put on earth to do. It’s entirely arbitrary and egotistical in nature and is obviously going to be impacted by any stimuli, including when it changes. It can be affected just as much by health, location or environment as it can be by any belief structure.

  45. Unless the design agendas in question are based in a context of religion (for example the design of a Cathedral) then religion ought to stay out of the design process. I agree that it was an unfortunate mistake for Andy to bring that aspect into his article.

    You can internalise ‘purpose’ as a belief in the power of self, or externalise it in the form of the will of a deity. Better, you can understand that life has no purpose at all, and what you do with it is a choice steered by your understanding of yourself and those around you. Purpose in the sense of ‘a life purpose’ relies upon a concept of a pre-ordained ‘correct’ path or outcome. Without a belief in a God there can be no such thing as a pre-ordained outcome for life in this sense. You can dedicate your life to a goal, and you may achieve that goal – but your life wasn’t ‘meant for’ that goal, it’s simply one that you chose to aim for, if you chose to aim at all, whether through your own understanding of yourself, other people, and your morality, or through the morality impressed upon you from an external belief system.

    Being driven passionately toward a thing is entirely different from pre-ordained Purpose. I think that’s where Andy is confused.

  46. Hmm. I’m not totally sure, but I think that the problem really hinges on the understanding of “purpose.” From a traditional theistic point of view, the words purpose and meaning cannot properly apply unless there actually is a deity.

    Consequently, I don’t think that it is correct to dismiss Andy’s comments as “ignorant.” Rather, I’d suggest recognizing that the word “purpose” is being used in different ways. Andy, of course, feels that his definition (including a higher Meaning) is the correct one, and Eric feels that his definition (without a higher Meaning) is correct.

    I don’t know about tone, but I do plan to listen to the podcast to find out.

  47. Meyer– Thank you for the edit. Both reference’s to Budd should have read Rutledge. My apology extended for any confusion and my error.

  48. In the end it doesn’t matter what any of us think regarding the content and appropriateness of Andy Rutledge’s comment. If Design View Show is his show, it’s his bully pulpit. It’s his prerogative to say what he wants, it’s our prerogative to turn the show off. Or simply use the “whatever” filter.

  49. @andy – “No deity compels me to love or to care for my child.”

    Well, it’s just how you’re made, isn’t it :)

  50. Hi Eric,

    I certainly respect you for sharing your views in an honest and forthright manner, and I respect you even more for allowing others to do the same in your blog. There is one thing that disturbs me about your post though, and the comments others have written here, as well as an observation made by Jeremy Keith.

    Andy has not only been deemed ignorant and naive, but also just plain wrong. For holding to a personal belief about purpose in life, he has been vilified as a rather simple-minded individual because he makes a claim inclusive of a deity. To any agnostic or atheist, this is totally inexcusable and at the least offensive. Yet, you and others go on to make the same error, in assuming that your personal belief about purpose is more relevant being exclusive of God. To even call Andy wrong demonstrates the exact same fault. How do you know he is wrong? You base this assumption totally upon personal observation. Demeaning the man by tossing around words like ignorant and naive will do nothing to further your opinion — it just shows me you have strong convictions, as does Andy. You, and others, can certainly express yourself without having to “push him beneath you” — and as much as you may not believe you are doing so, when you say he is ignorant, naive, and wrong, that is exactly what you do.

    “But then I usually dismiss the idea because personal belief strikes me as being very shaky ground on which to form any professional organisation.” – Jeremy Keith

    That final quote from Jeremy is even worse. If I were to form any professional organization upon personal (religious) beliefs, it would mean loving my fellow worker, respecting their right to worship (or not worship) as they please, and respecting man for his accomplishments regardless of how he might derive his purpose. Does that sound shaky to you?

  51. Eric, I thought you handled this very well. As a couple others have said, I believe in a deity, and consider myself to be both spiritual and religious in nature. But my ‘Purpose’ in life doesn’t derive from either of those things, and I disagree with Andy’s assertion.

    Like many things in life, they can intertwine, or they can be separate. It’s up to each individual to make that determination, not have it forced on them.

    And has been asked, what has that got to do with design? Nothing like a non sequitur to wake people up and make sure they’re paying attention.

  52. Just wondering whether, for Andy Budd’s sake, it might be possible for you to make it completely unambiguous in your post that it was Rutledge and not Budd who made these comments? I read the post with some confusion – I have never met either of them personally but am vaguely familiar with Andy Budd’s work, and I was finding it hard to reconcile the idea of someone who chooses to live and work in Brighton, one of the South of England’s most liberal and gay-friendly towns, with the views expressed here. Even after re-reading it’s still only from the comments that it’s 100% clear which Andy you are referring to!

  53. as pompous as it may sound, i derive purpose from my desire to contribute to the advancement of knowledge and humankind as a whole. i don’t need any belief in a higher being (which may or may not reward me for having purpose, or punish me for not having one).

  54. I think you will find that Andy Rutledge wrote that “purpose in life can only be derived from Good”

    The grammar-checker automatically changed it before publishing, and now all the value in his writings has been over-shadowed by the controversy of what name appeared in the text.

  55. Pingback ::

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    […] some other people did the same. Normally I don’t like to add to the noise, but I did want to give […]

  56. Brian, thanks for your views. Part of your reaction to what I wrote seems to be a reaction to my use of the word “ignorance”, which is taken as an insult by many, but I used it in a neutral sense: ignorance as the absence of knowledge, which is not a personal failing. We’re all ignorant about a whole lot of things. I probably should have found a less loaded term, but it’s what came out as I wrote. I don’t always find the right word.

    At no point did I call Andy R. simple-minded or naïve. Furthermore, at no point did I say that my sense of purpose is “more relevant” or in some way superior for being exclusive of a deity. It is not. (Neither is it less relevant nor inferior.)

    What I said was that Andy was wrong in his assertion that inclusion of a deity is essential to having or understanding a sense of purpose in life. And I know he’s wrong because I have a very deep sense of purpose that does not include a deity. I know he’s wrong the same way I would know that someone was wrong if they said that tallish people with blue eyes and red hair can’t have a sense of purpose.

  57. To those who have asked about my sense of purpose, I may write about that some day—but not here. My instincts tell me it wouldn’t be the right place, and having just read “Blink”, I’m all about listening to my thin slicing.

  58. Well, I am sure tall-ish people with blue eyes can have a sense of purpose – but red hair… not so sure there.

    I am disinclined to profess faith in my workplace or anyone else’s. My faith isn’t based on a word – Christian, Muslim, Taoist, what-have-you. Purpose is not derived of faith and to claim it is to belay oneself.

    Purpose is your decision – your drive to achieve. Certainly faith and belief play into this but for any to claim this is the sole motivator is to deceive themselves.

  59. Pingback ::

    ThePickards » Blog Archive » (God and) The Devil In The Details

    […] Next, you’ve got those religious people with their “I know best” attitude — or maybe that should be “Holier than thou”? I suggest that if you cannot recognize and acknowledge that purpose in life can only be derived from God, by whatever name you call him, then I”m afraid you do not grasp what “purpose” is. And to you I”d offer my deepest sympathies.A web designer, as quoted by Eric Meyer […]

  60. I know you don’t want to discuss the atheist/agnostic divide, but I wanted to submit these other explanations of the difference.

    It could very well be the way I’m reading into what you wrote, but you seemed somewhat defensive and determined to clarify your stance as not being atheist. I’m not claiming you were doing so, but it’s hard to constantly be treated as if your belief system is irrational, dogmatic, and close-minded, the way that atheists are regularly treated by the “mainstream” theist society. Pushing for or defining agnosticism as a “third way” only helps to worsen this mentality, by providing a “more rational” choice.

    Essays such as the one I linked to are what made me realize that I am an agnostic atheist, and helped me to understand that agnosticism is not a “theological placement” as it has nothing to do with belief. Rather agnosticism is an epistemological placement, referring to knowledge, and is therefore equally applicable to both theists and atheists alike.

  61. Eric, I think you’ve done a good job with this post. You disagreed with something someone said, you explained why, and you let other people share their opinions. I wish more people could/would deal with things this way. There’s nothing wrong with agreeing to disagree and having respect for someone else’s viewpoint when it doesn’t agree with our own.

    3 things:
    1. ‘then I”m afraid you do not grasp what “purpose” is’ – obviously, he is working from a definition of purpose that includes belief in a deity. He has the right to his definition, just like everyone else. It’s OK to disagree.

    2. We all hold beliefs that we think are right. When other people have beliefs that differ from ours, by definition we think they are wrong. That doesn’t mean that one or the other of us is stupid. Misguided? Ignorant (using Eric’s definition)? Maybe. Which one is ignorant? Which one is misguided? I’d say you are. You’d say I am. We probably aren’t going to agree. Can we agree to disagree and still be friends?

    Example: I’m a Christian. In fact, I’m an ordained Southern Baptist minister. By definition, I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God. I believe that the only way to have a relationship with God is through Jesus. I believe that if your purpose in life does not come from Jesus then you are missing out on all that God has for you. (Note – I’m not saying you don’t have purpose!)

    A lot of you would disagree with me on these things, and you know what? That’s OK. I believe I’m right. You believe you’re right. It’s OK to disagree. I know a lot of people that I believe are just plain wrong. They aren’t bad people, they’re just wrong (based on my stated beliefs above). They think I’m wrong. We’re still friends. Go figure . . .

    3. I’m a public school teacher and a youth minister. I speak in front of people a lot. Some of you do, too. Have you ever said something and either had it come out differently than you meant it, or maybe had it taken differently than you meant it? While I think the discussion on this topic has been great, I think this thing has been blown way out of proportion. And for the record, that’s not because I agree with Andy. I personally take issue with the whole ‘God, by whatever name you call him’ comment, because I think it’s only through faith in Jesus. But then, you probably knew that from my statement of beliefs above :-)

    I’ll cut my ramblings short now. Great discussion, very well handled. Let’s all try to get along even when we don’t agree.

    Wow, I think (I hope) I made it through all of that without calling names or

  62. “It’s impossible to do good without God’s grace”

    Not all Christians believe that. I am one (by first given name and chosen religion) who does not believe it.

  63. To say that Andy is just plain wrong, it a bit unfair. Do you ‘know’ this as fact, or is it you opinion.. just pushed a little hard?

    Consider this as an example for the word ‘purpose’. A watchmaker crafts his timepiece to display the correct time, this is the given purpose of the watch. Where does this watch derive its purpose?

    Though I didn’t hear this particular podcast yet, to me, I think design and purpose go hand in hand, I love the idea. Most designs are initiated with an intended purpose. Websites are a great example of this… you wouldn’t think of building a website without a specific purpose in mind. Now, could life be the grand example of ‘design and purpose’? Giving an emphatic ‘plain wrong’ is a little strong for an opinionated topic. After all if God did create and purpose our lives, then our purpose is found only in God, it’s as simple as that. If not, then we have no purpose ‘given’ to us, but we attempt to create ‘goals’ for ourselves… in essence, we would be cosmic accidents, in a free-for-all to do what we please, with no ‘given’ purpose. I’m not sure how one can be offended of another’s opinion, since each of us do have opinions, but I am a little disappointed in Eric’s comment of ‘plain wrong’.

  64. Great discussion, and to everyone: relatively well handled. That’s impressive considering how divisive religion often becomes.

    Just a really quick observation: As I’m reading through this post and the following comments I recognize that a point where there may be misunderstanding is in the meaning of “purpose”.

    As I understand Andy’s original comments, I think what he was implying is that one couldn’t have a good/right/true/etc. purpose without the inclusion of deity. (And that would be an opinion or personal conviction that would, obviously, be up for debate.)

    That being said, it would by all means—and I think this is abundantly obvious—be possible to have a purpose without the inclusion of deity. Eric, what you and a lot of what people are saying in this discussion proves it.

    It may be true according to Andy’s beliefs that one couldn’t have a legitimate purpose without an awareness of deity, but that is not to say one couldn’t have a purpose at all.

  65. Eric – I think your point seems perfectly reasonable. I think that Andy is entitled to any opinion he likes relating to himself, but should consider other people’s absense or difference of spiritual belief before making statements that assume that everyone shares his particular perspective.
    I actually think it’s a shame that we all have to be *so* careful about discussions on religion. We can talk about the nature of time and space as casually as a cup of coffee, but start chatting about a bloke with a beard in the sky and everyone gets their guns out!

  66. I find it interesting how some people find it not right / fair for Eric to say that Andy is wrong. I think Andy’s remark is pretty much out of line. He’s basically saying that anyone who doesn’t have his whole life centered around a religion is pitiful. I find that quite an offensive statement to be honest. My life isn’t centered around one and yet I find plenty of meaning in other things. And so do millions of others.

    Saying “I find purpose in my religion” is something I’ll respect in anyone with any religion. Saying that anyone who does’t is pitiful is flat out offensive in my book. I’d defend anyone’s right to believe in whatever they want… until they state that those who don’t believe are wrong / evil / purposeless / whatever other negative term. Islamic extremists are great at this and so are a lot of dogmatic Christians. It’s very intolerant if you think of it.

    Whoever states that everything revolves around God has just as much proof for that statement as those who are atheist or agnostic: absolutely none. So I’d suggest it’s a lot better to refrain from such ‘absolute statements’ and simply respect eachother, believers and non-believers alike.

  67. I try to read Eric’s blog whenever I have the time as it’s been greatly helpful to me in my web design. I rarely write in but on this one I may be able to shed some light. When I read Andy R. being quoted I felt that I understood what he was saying as I’ve done some studying in the area of theology. I can also understand what others who take an opposite view from him are saying.

    While I may be wrong, I think that what he is saying is very deep. In Christian theology at least there is the concept that every person is created in God’s image (from Genesis 1-2). Pascal said that everyone has a God-shaped void inside them. We try to fill it with all kinds of other things to give us meaning but God is what fits best. From this Christian theology has derived the thought that the purpose of man is to glorify God in whatever he does (work, play, etc). In fact the Westminster Catechism says that the “chief end of man is to glorify God” (ie. read “man’s purpose” or why God has created us). If you understand Andy’s comment in light of this information it makes more sense because those who don’t acknowledge that there is a God have missed out on their chief purpose in life – ie. to glorify God and be satisfied in Him.

    Anyway, I think I’ve said enough but maybe that’ll be helpful to someone.

  68. Reading this post and all of the comments, it appears that even after many clarifications, Mr Mayer’s still being misinterpreted – which may be a direct result of the discussion being on a point of religion.

    Quoting points of dogma and passages of scripture cannot have any bearing on this, as it’s down to the individual to subscribe to these and/or interpret them as required. There’s the oft-quoted example of the unholiness of shellfish, for example. Or the fact that religion is an integral part of government in nearly every Christian country, despite the passage about rendering unto Caesar and rendering unto God.

    Taking the two comments (Rutledge’s and Meyer’s) out of the context of preconceived notions of agnosticism, atheism and theism; one makes an unverified claim to be a universal truth and disparages those who would disagree, while the other refutes the original statement on empirical evidence without personally disparaging the author. I know which is the most palatable to me.

  69. Eric,

    Thanks again for allowing others to share their views on purpose and God on your blog. I think this post and the comments was a great exercise in open, friendly discussion among professionals. Have a great holiday season!


  70. … makes an unverified claim to be a universal truth and disparages those who would disagree, while the other refutes the original statement on empirical evidence without personally disparaging the author. I know which is the most palatable to me.
    Chris Cox

    Succinctly put and my thoughts exactly. Well done Eric for raising this and for keeping control of it so admirably.

  71. I recently read an excellent book related to this topic: Julian Baggini’s What’s It All About?: Philosophy and the Meaning of Life. Baggini is a contemporary philosopher and atheist; one of the things he examines in this book is how one can have purpose in life without belief in God.

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    […] Eric’s Archived Thoughts: Finding Purpose Comment asplosion over Andy Rutledge’s “no purpose without God” comment. (tags: blog design religion) […]

  73. I realize that this is an old thread and apologize for reviving it, but as I read through the comments I was struck by two things:

    1. The commenters’ civility. I don’t know if this is a function of Eric’s enlightened readership or enthusiastic editing, but remarkable nonetheless.

    2. The discussion seemed to miss the mark: most commenters spoke about their own beliefs, tolerance of others’ beliefs, the meaning of “purpose”, etc.

    As for #2, that didn’t strike me as the issue at all. The issue, to me, is what Lea brought up: that here you have an admittedly skilled designer engaging in distasteful hypocrisy. On his own site, he decries DesignObserver for “drinking the kool-aid” of introducing unrelated, inappropriate topics to discussions of design and goes on to insult people foolish enough to be convinced of the overwhelming evidence of human-influenced climate change.

    To go on to do the same thing by means of a design podcast is what sticks in my craw.

  74. On a personal level, I’ve tried living a good life with my own purpose. Something really changed in me, when I felt and knew that there really is a God. I can’t describe how I felt. To really know that there is a God, that he loves and he cares about you and me just the same, and that we have a chance to extend his love – really brought purpose to me. When you see a mother that cares for her children through and through – that is pure love. When you see someone spend their whole life to win a competitive event – and then at the last minute step aside and hand the honor to someone else – that is pure love. When a community comes together to help someone in real need – that is real love. We have all witnessed moments of pure love. Something really happens to us when we continue to really care about others. We begin to find God – and the joy is incredible.

    I do think we can have purpose without knowing for sure if God exists. But when we really know – it makes all the difference.

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