What a difference a few days make! When "Choice" and I first went head to head, it was a tad adversarial. But since then, we have come to a place of mutual respect. I am engaging her here again, and this time it's amicable. :)
Choice's words are in red italics. My thoughts are in blue.
I told Choice that an atheist would have to believe that, in the end, life is absolutely meaningless.
Meaningless in your sense of the word, perhaps. But I think you’re deriving your meaning from your religious view of the world, no? [I'm thinking of objective meaning as opposed to subjective meaning.] Central to your belief system is the faith that there is something bigger than what tangibly exists in this world and that after this life, we go on to that bigger place. [I'd say that it's as much about our origin as our destination.] And that’s fine. But just because my viewpoint lacks that particular outcome doesn’t mean it’s meaningless. It just means it doesn’t fit into your idea of meaningfulness.
[She then quoted me]: “So to me, it's as if the atheist is living life based only on feelings. There is nothing else, nothing lasting or objectively true.”
This kind of puzzles me. First, you say the atheist is living life based on feelings. Actually, the atheist is living life based on what is seen, felt, heard, demonstrated empirically, and known to be true. It is the religious who are living based on faith, based on that which cannot be seen, heard, or empirically proven. I’m not saying one approach is objectively better or worse than the other, but it just kind of startled me that you said the atheist is living life based on feelings.
I can see why you would think that, but I want to challenge you on that a little further down in the post….
Secondly…why does there have to be something ”else”? Why isn’t the earth and the beauty of nature and the intricate interconnectedness of life systems and the AMAZING displays of science enough?
But enough for whom?
You are a First World, educated woman with good food to eat and nice clothes to wear, decent health care, and freedom of speech and movement. As an educated American, you are of the world's privileged class. You have the leisure time and resources to study all the beauty and intricate interconnectedness around us, because you are not busy trying simply to survive. You will no doubt enjoy a relatively comfortable, terror-free, famine-free, war-free existence before you go "poof" and cease to exist.
But what of the suffering child in Africa? What meaning does her life have if she cannot extract all the goodness and beauty of life and the universe? If she cannot see and enjoy its interconnectedness because she can barely see or think past her starvation and disease? Who is she? Is she anyone? And if so, how? Why? Those questions are not rhetorical. I really want to know. And I don't mean "What is her potential?" nor do I want a list of what we can do (or aren't doing) to help her. I want to know what her meaning and worth is right now in her abject suffering.
And it’s incredibly lasting, because it continues on long after I’m gone, and supports many more generations of life.
With all due respect, so what? How is length of time (or whatever "lasting" means) significant here? If we all go poof in the end, so what if things last for a while after you are gone? Why are “generations of life” ultimately important or purposeful in your worldview? It all means nothing in the end, when everything is gone. And no one cares. And you were no one. And neither was anyone else. You and I and everyone were accidents of a mindless cosmic burp, and nothing of any of us will be left behind to show for it.
And it’s objectively true, because I can see it and if I so choose, I can study it and prove its postulates.
Last summer, I posed a couple of questions to atheists. One of them relates to what you just said:
Atheists believe that "gathering knowledge" and "intellectual curiosity" are important (and I agree wholeheartedly). My question: If your brain is the product of randomness and chance, then why do you trust your brain to give you true information?Maybe that is a silly question to you, but I would love an understandable answer.
Back to feelings. You said that you don't live your life based on feelings. But when I asked you why we all need to get along if there is no God and no ultimate meaning, you said this:
And why do we all need to get along if there is no God? Because it’s a lot more pleasant for everyone involved. Because I think 90% of people would say it’s more enjoyable and more fulfilling to live in a kind manner and to live in harmony with other people rather than screw everyone else over for selfish reasons. Because wanting to live in a loving community of people isn’t just a Catholic wish. And because moral behavior doesn’t have to be defined by the Bible, it can also be defined by the happiness and fulfillment and contentment that we feel when we exist peacefully as members of a community.
All the emphases are mine, but I hope you see my point. Your morality is based on how things make people feel, isn't it?
And similarly, when you talked about the "beauty of nature and the intricate interconnectedness of life systems and the AMAZING displays of science", you are again talking about the way those things make you feel, aren't you? You “feel” awe, you “feel” compelled to know more.
But beyond how the observance and study of these things make you feel, they really have no ultimate purpose, do they? Okay, so things can be demonstrated empirically and shown to be true… but for what end? Why does truth matter? How can truth ultimately mean anything at all, when existence itself is a random accident?
In the comment thread, you said:
I don't feel that my life is purposeless or meaningless because I don't have an omnipotent, omniscient being designing it or guiding it or rewarding me for the good things I do or reprimanding me for the bad things I do. That's not the definition of "purpose" or "meaning" for me.
From what I understand of your position, your life's meaning is derived from … you. You have decided that your life is meaningful, based on the joy and happiness you feel, and the satisfaction you get from your relationships and choices.
Correct me if I am wrong.
But if I am right about your position, then what of the abandoned baby girl in China, left to suffer and die from exposure? In your opinion, what is the purpose and meaning of her life? What of the nasty old man who has no friends, and whom no one will miss when he dies? What is the purpose and meaning of his life? How about the serial killer? The unwanted unborn child? The brain injured woman who cannot speak or walk? The suicidal teen?
What is the purpose and meaning of their lives, in the atheist's worldview? Do they have inherent value? If so, what is its source?
I’m not a philosopher. I'm not even sure that these are the right questions to ask. But they're the ones that I can’t reconcile when I ponder the implications of atheism.
So please, help me see. Tell me why your life or anyone's life has any objective purpose, meaning or value. And if you can't say that it does, then what are we left with but feelings and subjectivism?