The meaning of life, according to an atheist

This is a follow up post to “The meaning of life according, to a couple of Christians”.  Unlike the Christians who presumed to speak on behalf of everybody, I’m not so arrogant as to make such a claim.  I am speaking on behalf of myself and nobody else.  It will be made clear why at the end.

What is the meaning of life?  What a big question!? Huge even!  People study in very specific fields their entire lives to try to answer this question, and I’m going to give it a go.  Little old me with no training in any field one would normally attribute to being necessary to even attempt such a question as this…wish me luck.  (Theologians aren’t qualified either, but nobody gives them a hard time.)

I ranted about the stupidity of a couple of Christians, trying to answer this question with their god goggles on (The meaning of life, according to a couple of Christians).  I believe it’s important, not just to criticise bad ideas, but to try and provide some ideas of my own.  Hopefully, if they’re any good someone will appreciate them, and if they’re just as dumb someone will criticise them (I don’t mind…really).  So here it is: The meaning of Life, according to the Belfast Atheist.

Fucked if I know, is the most honest answer I can give.

Ok, I can do better than that.  First off, let us look at whether or not the question is relevant.  Does there have to be a meaning to life?  It would be very easy for me to dismiss the whole idea of there being a meaning to life.  By wording the question as “WHAT is the meaning of life?” there is the assumption in the question that there is a ‘what’.  What if there wasn’t a meaning to life?  The question itself negates the entire possibility that there is no reason, or ultimate purpose, for life what so ever.  And it is a possibility, maybe not a pleasant idea, but it’s on the table.  I don’t trust ideas that sound to good to be true.  By posing the question in this why, the asker is making an unsupported assumption that there is a meaning to life.  Logically, anyone put in the position of answering it, is justified in stating, “Until you can demonstrate that there is a meaning to life, I’m under no obligation to answer the question of what is the meaning of life.”

It’s like those believers who ask, “Who created the universe?”  (Very annoying question!  Even when you point out the flaw in the question they still repeat it like a mindless parrot.)  Until you can demonstrate that the universe had a creator, your question has no answer.  It’s the wrong question.  It’s a false question.  First we have to ask, “Did the universe have a beginning?”  If you answer yes, the second question would be, “How did that happen?”  Third (which may, or may not be relevant) would be, “Why was it created?” or “Why does it exist?”  The question of “Who created it?” only becomes relevant when you have successful demonstrated that it was created by a ‘who’.

The Darwinian meaning of life, like the Darwinian theory of evolution, says nothing about the origin of life.  Now that life does exist, its primary focus is on the survival of genes (See The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins who does a good job of explaining altruism and self sacrifice).

As true as the Darwinian answer is, it’s not very satisfying.  Surely our lives have more importance than that.  And if our lives do carry more importance, where does that importance come from?  You will have no doubt noticed that I have replaced the term ‘meaning’ with ‘importance’.    This is because, whatever meaning our lives have, importance is our best measure of meaning.  How meaningful our lives are, is directly correlated with how important our life is to other people, and also how important it is to ourselves.  (Note for believers:  If you can’t demonstrate that your god even exists, you can’t complain that I’m ignoring him.  The meaning of our lives is not measured by their importance to a non-existent sky daddy!)

The alternative: The idea of having a meaning, which was decided by someone/thing else, a very common idea in religion.  Besides not having any reason to think its true, I can think of reasons why I don’t find it desirable.  Having the meaning of life decided makes it arbitrary.  God could have chosen anything to be the meaning of life, and he could easily change his mind.  What if the meaning for life has came and went, and nobody told us.  Our lives today would just be something that occurred afterwards.  For instance, when Jesus made the claim that he would return within the lives of people around him (Mark 13:30, Matthew 10:23, 16:28, 24:34, Luke 21:32, 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).  Maybe the second coming has happened, just not as anyone expected, and all life is now is the remnants.

Is it not more empowering to be in control of our own meaning?  I’m arguing for the desirability of a self-proclaimed meaning.  By choosing for ourselves how we want to live our lives, by choosing our own path, our meaning becomes more powerful and meaningful to ourselves.

Is it true that we can choose our own meaning?  I have chosen to work towards dispelling superstitious thinking and to promote scepticism and rational thought (I can’t imagine any of the proposed gods supporting that.)  I made that choice, and I feel that I’m contributing to creating a healthier, more sustainable society.  I’m only a small voice, but this is how I have chosen to add value.  This is how I wish to make myself more important to others, and feel more important to myself.

Only you can decide how you wish to add value, to others, and also to yourself.  Nobody else can tell you that.  They can make recommendations, such as I am here, but ultimately it’s up to you.

To prove that the meaning to life question involves anything supernatural, such as a god, requires proving the supernatural to be true.  This has never been done!


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