Some thoughts on living a meaningful life
For some theists, the ultimate consequence of an atheistic existence must be a sort of apathetic nihilism: there is no God to provide meaning to our lives, so therefore life must be meaningless.
However, this is true only if meaning has to come from an external source in order to be considered valid. Many atheists reject this.
For something to have meaning for an individual it simply has to “mean” something to them, the source of this meaning, be it internal or external, is irrelevant. For most of us, life has an inherent value and meaning simply because we’re living it – nothing more is necessary.
Insisting that meaning has to come from an external source is committing the “No True Scotsman” fallacy:
Theist: Life without God is meaningless.
Atheist: I find my life quite meaningful, actually.
Theist: Ahhh – but it’s not true meaning is it!
I knew I shouldn't have checked the blog today... I'm still feeling quite ill and have very little energy, but if I don't at least respond to one of these I fear I will get no further rest! Thanks bud.
I'm glad you made a post of this topic as it is one we continually circle around and I admit I have probably been less than clear with my responses. It also ties in nicely with a comment by the good Dr. Rev. here that I was also procrastinating on.
Let me start with a restatement of our positions:
Atheist: I believe there is no God, but my life still seems to have meaning, therefore we can have meaning in the absence of God.
Theist: A meaningless cause cannot beget a meaningful effect. Since the first cause is God, who is meaningful and purposeful, we as effects of His first cause can live a life of meaning and purpose.
The reason I take issue with the atheist position that the known universe can be self existent and godless, yet we can live a meaningful life, is that there is a fundamental disconnect between what we feel and what we know when we take that stance.
If you adhere to the belief that that we are the product of a yet to be explained singularity that occurred by a mindless process and is proceeding to an equally mindless, homogenous end, there is no opening for the word meaning. The whole show simply is.
If you then pick out an incredibly brief sliver of time and zoom in to our current state as organic creatures on a rock we call Earth orbiting a star we call the Sun, you would find Matt and Alex debating their existence. Is there any room for meaning yet? If so where did it come from? The answer given from the atheist bench thus far has been: "Us". Meaning is real because we feel it.
To which my standard response has been: Then to the degree that you believe in your meaning you believe in a lie. Your meaning is a product of your feelings, which is a product of your chemistry, which is a product of chance + matter, which comes from who knows where. Sure you can embrace it and exult it as worthy, but in the end it's only as worthy of exultation as a baking soda & vinegar volcano. If there is no God our meaning is meaningless. If the atheist can stare that in the face and still try and maintain that their *meaning* is still valid and worthy, they must be willing to accept a life based on a foundation of self deception.
I have yet to find an atheist who is comfortable with this conclusion. All attempts I have seen to work around this problem start with the basis of our feelings, empathy, etc... At which point I always point back to the question: what do those stem from? I really can't see anyway out of this problem for the atheist.
If it's a purely materialistic existence you want you'd better be ready to accept the meaninglessness that goes along with it.