The Good Atheist: Living a Purpose-Filled Life Without God
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The answer, according to the atheist perspective, is that there is no real difference. Any difference is just an illusion—there is no ultimate value. If everything is based on matter and prior physical causes and processes, then nothing has real value. Unless, of course, one argues that what matters is matter itself.
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Even if that were true, how could we appreciate the difference between one arrangement of matter and another? Could one argue that the more complex something is, the more value it has? But why would that be of any value? Remember, according to atheism nothing has been purposefully designed or created. It is all based on cold, random and non-conscious physical processes and causes. The good news is that the atheists who adopt this perspective do not follow through with the rational implications of their beliefs.
If they did, it would be depressing. The reason that they attribute ultimate value to our existence is because their innate dispositions, which have been created by God, have an affinity to recognise God and the truth of our existence. From an Islamic point of view God has placed an innate disposition within us to acknowledge our worth, and to recognise fundamental moral and ethical truths.
This disposition is called the fitrah in Islamic thought. Our claim of ultimate value is justified because God created us with a profound purpose, and preferred us to most of His creation. We have value because the One who created us has given us value. You have not created all this without purpose. Islam values the good and those who accept the truth. They are not equal. Since naturalism rejects the hereafter and any form of Divine justice, it rewards the criminal and the peacemaker with the same end: death.
We all meet the same fate. If their ends are the same, then what real value does atheism give us? Not much at all. However, in Islam, the ultimate end of those who worship God and are compassionate, honest, just, kind and forgiving is contrasted with the end of those who persist with their evil.
The abode of the good is eternal bliss and the abode of the evil is Divine alienation. Clearly, Islam gives us ultimate value. However, under atheism, value cannot be rationally justified except as an illusion in our heads. Despite the force of this argument, some atheists still object. One of their objections involves the following question: Why does God give us ultimate value? The answer is simple. God created and transcends the universe, and He has unlimited knowledge and wisdom.
His names include The-Knowing and The-Wise. Therefore, what He values is universal and objective. Another way of looking at it is by understanding that God is the maximally perfect Being, which means He is free from any deficiency and flaw.
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Therefore, it follows that what He values will be objective and ultimate, because this objectivity is a feature of His perfection. Another objection argues that even if we were to accept that God gives us ultimate value, it would still be subjective, as it would be subject to His perspective. This contention is premised on a misunderstanding of what subjectivity means. He knows everything; we do not. The classical scholar Ibn Kathir states that God has the totality of wisdom and knowledge; we have its particulars.
In other words: God has the picture, we merely have a pixel. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University, provides an apt summary of the concept of human rights and dignity—which ultimately refer to value—in the absence of God:. But strangely enough, often those same champions of humanity believe that human beings are nothing more than evolved apes, who in turn evolved from lower life forms and ultimately from various compounds of molecules.
Is not human dignity nothing more than a conveniently contrived notion without basis in reality? These basic questions know no geographic boundaries and are asked by thinking people everywhere. If I were to put you in a room with all your favourite games, gadgets, friends, loved ones, food and drink, but you knew that in five minutes you, the world and everything in it would be destroyed, what value would your possessions have?
However, what is five minutes or , hours equivalent to 75 years? It is mere time. Just because we may live for 75 years does not make a difference. In the atheist worldview it will all be destroyed and forgotten. This is also true for Islam. Everything will be annihilated. So in reality the world intrinsically has no value; it is ephemeral, transient and short-lived. Nonetheless, from an Islamic perspective the world has value because it is an abode for getting close to God, good deeds and worship, which lead to eternal paradise. So it is not all doom and gloom.
Happiness and Purpose Without God
We are not on a sinking ship. These are the words of influential philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Like many philosophers, he did not have an answer to the question: What is the purpose of life? But he did indicate that life is not just a game. Other people, however, have argued that the question is false. There may be nothing we should be bothered about. We should carry on living and not worry about why we are here. Camus was basically saying that the important thing is to live a life that works for you, regardless of any truth behind your existence.
In light of these differing views, we must ask : is it reasonable to believe we have a purpose? To help answer this question, let us take the following illustration into consideration:. You are probably reading this book sitting on a chair, and you are wearing some clothes. So I would like to ask you a question: For what purpose?
Why are you wearing the clothes, and what purpose does the chair have? The answers to these questions are obvious. Our clothes and the chair are lifeless objects with no emotional or mental abilities, and we attribute purpose to these. Yet some of us do not believe we have a purpose for our own existence. Naturally, this seems absurd and counter-intuitive. Having an ultimate purpose for our lives implies that there is a reason for our existence—in other words, some kind of intention and objective.
Without an ultimate purpose we have no reason to exist, and we lack a profound meaning for our lives.
This is the perspective of naturalism. It dictates that we merely spring from prior physical processes. These are blind, random and non-rational. The logical conclusion of this indifferent view on our existence is that we are riding on a sinking ship. Human life will be destroyed prior to this heat death as the Sun will eventually obliterate the Earth. Nevertheless, various disputes emerge from this discussion. First, an atheist can argue that the absence of any reason for our existence gives us more freedom to create purpose for ourselves. To further explain, some of the existentialists have argued that our lives are based on nothing, and from this nothingness we can create a new realm of possibilities for our lives.
This rests on the idea that everything is intrinsically meaningless, and therefore we have the freedom to create meaning for ourselves in order to live fulfilling lives. The flaw with this approach is that we cannot really escape meaning. Denying purpose for the basis of our existence while attributing some made-up purpose to our lives is, by definition, self-delusion.
LIVING A PURPOSE-FILLED LIFE WITHOUT GOD
However, we must all grow up and face the truth that life is not just a game. Another disagreement consists of the Darwinian claim that our purpose is to propagate our DNA; as the famous atheist Richard Dawkins proposes in his book, The Selfish Gene , our bodies have developed to do just that. This renders the human nothing more than a by-product, an incidental being that emerged via the random collision of particles and the random rearrangement of molecules.
It elevates our existence from products of matter and time to conscious beings who choose to have a relationship with the One who created us. Atheism and naturalism provide no ultimate purpose for our existence. The pursuit of happiness is an essential part of our human nature. It is the final destination, not necessarily the journey.
Bartlett's Quotations for Atheists
We all want to be happy, and there is no reason why we want to be happy other than happiness itself. This is why we endlessly seek ways to help us achieve that final happy state. The journey that people seek varies from one person to the next. Some dedicate years to adding qualifications and career credentials to their names. Others work tirelessly in gyms to achieve a perfect figure. Those who desire the love of family often end up sacrificing their lives to the care of their spouse and children, while some party their weekends away with friends, seeking a release from the relentless cycle of work.
The list is endless.
It begs the question: What is true, meaningful happiness? To help answer this question, imagine the following scenario: While reading this, you are sedated against your will. Suddenly you wake up and find yourself on a plane. The food is heavenly. The seat is a flatbed, designed for a luxurious, comfortable experience. The entertainment is limitless. The service is out of this world. You start to use all of the excellent facilities. Time starts to pass. Now think for a moment, and ask yourself the question: Would I be happy?
How could you be? You would need some questions answered first. Who sedated you? How did you get on the plane? What is the purpose of the journey? Where are you heading? If these questions remained unanswered, how could you be happy? Even if you started to enjoy all of the luxuries at your disposal, you would never achieve true, meaningful happiness. Would a frothy Belgian chocolate mousse on your dessert tray be enough to drown out the questions? It would be a delusion, a temporary, fake type of happiness, only achieved by deliberately ignoring these critical questions. Now apply this to your life and ask yourself, am I happy?
Our coming into existence is no different from being sedated and thrown on a plane. We never chose our birth, our parents or where we come from. Yet some of us do not ask the questions or search for the answers that will help us achieve our ultimate goal of happiness. Where does true, meaningful happiness lie? Inevitably, if we reflect on the previous example, happiness really lies in answering key questions about our existence.
These include: What is the purpose of life? Where am I heading after my death? In this light, our happiness lies in our inwardness, in knowing who we are, and finding the answers to these critical questions. If we claim to be happy but have not asked these questions or found any answers, then our happy state is not very meaningful.
The Good Atheist: Living a Purpose-Filled Life Without God-Dan Barker (Grand Rapids) | CFI Michigan
Unlike animals, we cannot be content by reacting to our instincts. Obeying our hormones and mere physical needs will not answer these questions and bring happiness. To understand why, reflect on another example: Imagine you were one of 50 human beings locked in a small room with no exit. There are only 10 loaves of bread, and there is no more food for another days. What do you all do? If you follow your animalistic instincts, there will be blood.
But if you try to answer the question, how can we all survive? Extend this example to your life. View Map. Learn about Parking, Accessibility and more. A former composer of Christian songs and musicals for which he still receives royalties , Dan is now a jazz pianist and writer of freethought music, contributing editor of Freethought Today and author of numerous books. He regularly travels the country and the world giving lectures, performing concerts, and participating in debates with theists, many at college and university campuses.