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Because I am an atheist: Kate Donovan

Today’s contribution comes from Kate Donovan, who blogs at The Heresy Club, where this post first appeared.

Because I am an atheist…

I have but this one short life. Though it would be nice to plan to live to a ripe and grouchy old age, it could end tomorrow. Or next Tuesday. Life has this terrible habit of behaving unpredictably, you know.

Though I am extraordinarily clumsy, I will likely, as do the vast majority of people, fade out of existence quietly. Five, ten, fifty years from then, I will have become nothing but curled pictures and retold retellings of stories.

These are facts, and they are cold. We atheists hear a lot about the chill of disbelief, about what we miss without a sense of the supernatural, the oceans of unseen, unmeasured universe we just have to have faith in. We are asked if it isn’t just a little bit lonely, to have nothing but ourselves and the neurons between our ears? With so little meaning to our lives, what motivation can we have?

Quite a bit, really…

Go read the rest at The Heresy Club

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Comments

  1. Riptide says

    Because I am an atheist, I get to reserve my love for real creatures–people and animals who can experience my love and, if they so desire, love me in return. I do not have the luxury of pretending that “loving god(s)” is anything other than a narcissistic waste of time, and I know that in all probability, I will lose everyone and everything that I love forever. Eventually I and everyone I know will cease to exist, one by one or all at once…and after enough time has passed, there will be no physical evidence that any of us were ever “here” to begin with.

    Because I’m an atheist, I do not have the luxury of certainty. I do not have the comfort of meaning. I do not have the leisure of the security which belief often obtains. If I wish to be certain, I must do the hard work of convincing myself; if I wish to have or to take part in some kind of “meaning”, I must make or share the effort of making it, knowing all the time that it is provisional and transient; if I wish to feel safe, either on the scale of nations or on my own street, I must pay close attention to events and take my own measures to affect my safety, and I must make the conscious trade-off between liberty and security without ever knowing if I’m “right”. I do not get to pretend that I’m the beneficiary of a tailor-made scheme.

    So, because I am an atheist, I know that I am not a puppet made to dance for the amusement of a cosmic dictator. I can view every minute I share with my loved ones as a fortuitous coincidence at which I can marvel, rather than a “blessing” for which I must grovel; I do not have to always reserve a portion of my love for the “giver” of my gifts, nor do I have to worry that my dance will displease that “giver” and cause it to take my loved ones away. If I see injustice, I know that it will not be redressed unless I (or people like me) do the work of correcting it.

    Here I stand, philosophically speaking. I cannot do otherwise.

  2. Celticlight says

    Good philosophy.

    I do not think that there is a cosmic dictator in the universe, or that we are some type of puppet. However, I do think there is a spiritual “force” in the universe that we are in some way connected to. Perhaps we should view our connections with our loved ones (in fact everyone we come in contact with) as not just a coincidence, but as an opportunity for spiritual growth ?? I do not think we need to “worship” this force, but we should try to get in tune with it through our relationships with others. I like the “Celestine Prophecy”. Life is a journey, where it will lead me I do not know. Just saying – that is how I get through each day.

  3. says

    I do think there is a spiritual “force” in the universe that we are in some way connected to

    Why do you think this? Is it based on some kind of experience you’ve had or an effect you’ve seen? As far as I understand the universe, there is not one whit of evidence to suggest that there is anything remotely “spiritual” (by the way, that word doesn’t mean anything) about the way the universe works.

    How would your life be different if someone were able to conclusively prove to you that there is no “force”? You say it gets you through each day, but I am having a hard time understanding why this belief in a supernatural “force” is necessary at all to having a relationship with other human beings.

  4. Celticlight says

    “How would your life be different if someone were able to conclusively prove to you that there is no “force”? You say it gets you through each day, but I am having a hard time understanding why this belief in a supernatural “force” is necessary at all to having a relationship with other human beings.”

    Thinking that there may be a “force”, supernatural or natural, is probably not necessary to having a relationship with other human beings. However I think it could add significance to those relationships if there were something more at play than a random, puposeless existence. I have no scientific “proof”, just a lifetime of personal intuition and the intuition of humankind throughout it’s existence. I am not trying to gain followers, just observing life. I have no answers, only questions. For as much as we know about the universe, there is probably an infinite amount we don’t know, however there are three things that currently intrique me – light, life and love.

  5. says

    I have no scientific “proof”, just a lifetime of personal intuition and the intuition of humankind throughout it’s existence.

    Can you think of any other circumstances where personal intuition might lead us to make erroneous conclusions? Racism, for example, is a personal intuition that is seen in mankind throughout its existence. If I offered “a lifetime of personal intuition” as the reason why I believed Hungarians were the scum of the Earth, would you accept that as a reasonable explanation?

    I am not trying to gain followers, just observing life

    You’re commenting on a blog about someone ELSE’S experience by describing your own, and then getting Chopra-petulant when someone points out how utterly unburdened by facts or reasonable support it is. Nobody ASKED you what you thought, you decided to share it for reasons that are entirely unclear to me. I call bullshit.

    there are three things that currently intrique me – light, life and love.

    Heard of Wikipedia?

  6. Celticlight says

    Riptide said “I know that in all probability, I will lose everyone and everything that I love forever. Eventually I and everyone I know will cease to exist, one by one or all at once…and after enough time has passed, there will be no physical evidence that any of us were ever “here” to begin with.”

    I was feeling empathy for Riptide. I have felt that way many times myself. I was also being supportive of his philosophy with regard to making the most of interactions with others and addressing injustice when I said “good philosophy”. I was just adding that perhaps there is more to life than meets the physical eye. We do not have any certainty one way or the other.

  7. says

    We do not have any certainty one way or the other.

    Nonsense. If there are two things, one that has a 99.9999999999% chance of happening (the Earth continuing to rotate around the sun) and one that has 0.00000000001% of happening (the Earth spontaneously turning into cotton candy and being devoured by a galactic space baby), it takes an extreme act of ignorance to stand up and proclaim that we don’t have certainty “one way or the other”. Not even you believe that, although you pretend to.

    Words cannot describe how irritating I find pseudo-mystics. Not even you live as though you believe your own bullshit.

  8. 'Tis Himself says

    If you have the slightest evidence for your “force” then trot it out. Wishful thinking and fear of death is not evidence.

  9. Celticlight says

    I will go read Wikipedia for all the answers to life. Maybe they can tell me with certainty how long the earth will continue to revolve around the sun.

    I know that wishful thinking and fear of death may not provide any evidence, but it certainly helps fuel the search for another answer.

  10. says

    I will go read Wikipedia for all the answers to life

    You’ll get a lot farther than just making up the answers.

    it certainly helps fuel the search for another answer

    No, it really doesn’t. The search for answers starts when our knowledge ends. It starts when we see something we can’t explain and we put in the time and effort into collecting the relevant evidence and seeking truth honestly. It absolutely does not help to simply believe fairy tale explanations into existence – all that does is teach us to be satisfied with bad explanations.

  11. mythbri says

    There’s no “force” that binds the universe together (unfortunately, because that would be awesome – no more getting up to reach the TV remote).

    But we are connected, in the words of Neil DeGrasse Tyson, to each other biologically, to the Earth, chemically, to the rest of the universe atomically.

    That’s plenty for me, and it’s verifiable. And awesome.

  12. Celticlight says

    Mythbri – I agree that it is awesome that we are “connected to each other biologically, to the Earth, chemically, to the rest of the universe atomically”, and that it is also verifiable.

    Where I differ – that it is not enough for me. It really is not fear of death (it is not like we have a choice), or hope for an afterlife (as I have no idea what that would be like anyway). I guess it does go more to wishful thinking. Life in your view seems to me like such a waste. All the accomplishments of mankind – art, science, evolution, morality, our relationships with others, etc. Here today and gone tomorrow with no purpose, no other meaning. Just a tiny blip – a nit on the nut of a gnat in the vastness of the universe. I ask – What is so great about consciousness ? It seems more like a curse. When we are gone, it really won’t matter if we had a great experience in life or whether we had a terrible experience. You view of life is truly “awesome”, but not in the way most interpret the word. I respect your view, but will continue to look for something more.

  13. 'Tis Himself says

    I guess it does go more to wishful thinking.

    Wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which one fills up first. Just because you feel the need for some undefined “force” doesn’t mean one exists.

    Here today and gone tomorrow with no purpose, no other meaning. Just a tiny blip – a nit on the nut of a gnat in the vastness of the universe.

    I’m sorry your life has no meaning. Fortunately, most of the rest of us do find meaning and purpose in life. I have a wife who gives me purpose in pleasing. I have a daughter who I love and loves me, giving our lives meaning. I have other family and friends. I have an interesting job. I have hobbies which I enjoy. In short, I find life to be meaningful. Too bad you don’t so you have to make up fictitious “forces” to give your life meaning.

    What is so great about consciousness ? It seems more like a curse.

    I enjoy consciousness.

    In all seriousness, you might talk to a mental health professional about depression. You could be suffering from it.

  14. Celticlight says

    “It starts when we see something we can’t explain and we put in the time and effort into collecting the relevant evidence and seeking truth honestly. It absolutely does not help to simply believe fairy tale explanations into existence”.

    I am seeking truth honestly. I see things happen in my life, that I can not explain, and I am seeking answers. That is why I said, I have more questions than answers. I am not interested in “fairy tale” explanations. Coincidence can explain some things but not others. The “spiritual” force I mention could be some other type of energy connection between humans, I don’t know. I think science will provide an answer eventually, perhaps in our life time. As to meaning and purpose in the universe, we probably do not know enough about the universe or multi-verses to answer that question in our life times.

  15. says

    The “spiritual” force I mention could be some other type of energy connection between humans, I don’t know.

    When you say ‘energy’, what are you talking about? Electromagnetism? Nuclear forces? Bioelectric concentration gradients? The word “energy” is not a “get out of nonsense free” card. You still haven’t explained what the heck you’re talking about, other than to say that it has to exist because your worldview doesn’t allow it not to exist. What exactly is it you think you’ve observed that you are calling “spiritual” energy?

  16. Celticlight says

    Tis Himself – Thank You for the advice about seeing a mental health professional. It is good advice. I have been involved in the development and marketing of neuroscience drugs including those for depression, anxiety, bipolar, Alzheimer’s etc. There is much depression present in our society for a variety of reasons. I was somewhat depressed recently after the death of several family members, and could recognize what it was based on my experience. I am back to “normal”. I am just trying to make sure I live my life to the fullest right now. My wife and I are currently into “landscape design” (gardening on a larger scale) – I have found something I enjoy and have a talent for.

    Note – I am “retired” now. It was more of an emotional shock than I was prepared for (part of it is that the timing was not totally my choice), but the other part was harder to explain. The subconscious mind is an interesting entity. I am going through a lot of self review including the meaning/purpose of my life. It is good to hear you are well adjusted and enjoying your life.

  17. Riptide says

    Celticlight, you say: “Life in [Mythbri's, and probably Riptide's] view seems to me like such a waste. All the accomplishments of mankind – art, science, evolution, morality, our relationships with others, etc. Here today and gone tomorrow with no purpose, no other meaning. Just a tiny blip – a nit on the nut of a gnat in the vastness of the universe.”

    The problem with this objection is that I can’t honestly tell how god(s) or “unseen undetectable spiritual forces” *help*. How exactly is being part of a divine plan *actually meaningful*? Do you have any real criteria for distinguishing meaning amongst divine actions or attributes?

    Think of it this way–you’ve been sold spiritualism as the solution to a problem that’s entirely of spiritualism’s making in the first place. There are two criticisms of your implicit assumption–that there’s an “ultimate purpose and meaning” permeating the Universe–which immediately obtain. The first and perhaps most powerful criticism is the question of what life actually means if there *is* an infinitude; if there is some kind of ultimate arbiter or even an unconscious “force”, how does that lend your own individual actions and accomplishments *more* meaning? In a paradigm where consciousness lasts forever, or at least where every event is part of a grand architecture, then the significance of individual actions (or even individual lives) quickly diminishes to nothing.

    The second, and more intellectually pleasing criticism (to me) of the “lasting meaning” promised by spiritualism, is the question of how one can be certain that that “lasting meaning” is itself meaningful. If we grant, for the sake of argument, that god(s) exist(s) (or an ethereal force following something like a divine plan), all of our work is still ahead of us to show just how that makes the plan *ultimately* meaningful. Indeed, the situations in which any divine plan is, in its own way, just as ephemeral as “my worldview” vastly outnumber the situations in which a divine plan actually has “lasting meaning,” which incidentally no one promoting any kind of spiritualism bothers to define, possibly for this very reason.

    For example, what if there is a creator god who designed the Universe (or even the Multiverse, if such a thing exists) as something akin to a computer program? So that this god used itself as the “software”–and hence everything within the Universe is this god, operating within the parameters of the design. Can you see a situation in which this entire paradigm ultimately has no meaning?

    Of course you can–it takes almost an embarrassing lack of effort. Such a scenario would obtain if the “creator god” was *itself* soulless and mortal, and indeed *had* designed an entire Universe to run inside a computer (or possibly its own brain). In this scheme, the entire Universe may be running simply to answer a single question, or to help the “god” learn some minor fact–which will then fade into nothingness once that god dies.

    Indeed, the *only* situation in which there can be an “ultimate” meaning is one which immediately renders individual actions and events effectively meaningless, as everything has either been preordained anyway (rendering all “conscious beings” nothing more than automatons) or where the sheer immensity of “eternity” makes any finite event mood.

    So, sorry, but I actually find a spiritualist/theist worldview *much* more hollow, and much less satisfying, than the atheist worldview. I am honestly sorry that you disagree.

  18. mythbri says

    @Celticlight

    Being fundamentally connected to the rest of the universe doesn’t lose its meaning to me just because it can be verified. My atomic essence is the same that could be found at the beginning of the universe – the seeds of my existence were sown billions and billions of years ago.

    What do you need to add to that idea to make it more spectacular than it already is?

    This is enough for me – more than enough – not because it falls within the limits of verifiability, and thus I must settle for it. It’s enough for me because what you call meaningless is the means by which we have discovered our kinship with everything else in existence (as far as we know, anyway). We, as a species, figured that out. That’s pretty damn awesome. And whether or not the memory of a small blue planet with lots of smart hairless apes crawling upon its surface will persist beyond its inevitable end – that doesn’t matter to me. It can’t, because I won’t be there to be bothered by it.

    I make my own meaning. I don’t need it to be given to me.

  19. Celticlight says

    To Mythbri and Riptide –

    You both raise some very good points about “purpose and meaning” in the universe. I am not going to pretend I have anything to add at this point. Thank You for the food for thought.

  20. Ysanne says

    I ask – What is so great about consciousness ? It seems more like a curse. When we are gone, it really won’t matter if we had a great experience in life or whether we had a terrible experience. You view of life is truly “awesome”, but not in the way most interpret the word. I respect your view, but will continue to look for something more.

    I figured out these questions for myself after spinning my car into the highway-side vegetation at 100mph. (Yeah, Germany.)
    During the crash (particularly during the slo-mo moments with trees and cars whizzing past) I was very sure I’d die, and had an interesting moment of having some “last” thoughts and observing them from a meta-level. Besides “this is what must never ever happen”, “this can’t have been it, I must be dreaming… shit… no… no waking up from here” and “this is going to hurt”, the main thing was “I just wish I could have beein with them once more”, where “them” was my family. After the crash (which btw was completely painless thanks to my Mitsubishi winning flat out against the young tree it hit), I started wonder what difference it would have made if I hadn’t made it: I wouldn’t be around to care about being dead, after all. But the fact that there would be people who would mind a lot, and that these are people I love and don’t ever want to hurt makes all the difference.
    Of course I wouldn’t commit suicide if there weren’t people like that — after all, life is fun in itself. Still, it’s nice to know that it’s not death itself that I want to avoid so very much, but actually the effect it has on what’s most important to me: The people I love.

    So, yeah. I think the meaning of (your) existence is inextricably connected to yourself and those parts of your world that you value. It’s not some separate, objective thing that would make any sense in your absence.

  21. Ysanne says

    My grandpa did some things in his life that he couldn’t explain how, including correctly predicting the outcome of two consecutive roulette spins in Monte Carlo. (Out of the exactly two attempts he ever made, winning a nice amount of money.)
    (And yes, I find this very weird and hard to believe. So did my grandpa and everybody else who was there when it happened.)

    Probably these things were freak coincidences, maybe there were some yet-to-be-discovered mechanisms involved; it would be interesting to investigate (though I have no idea where to begin with such elusive one-off events). If it’s more than simple coincidence, it would be really great to know how it works.
    In contrast, postulating some kind of “energy connections” without even bothering to define what the term is supposed to mean clarifies nothing, and helps no one except maybe with warm fuzzy feelings.

  22. Celticlight says

    To Ysanne – Thank You for sharing your story. A good plug for the value of Mitsubishi !!! I had a similar experience (though less scary experience) when I was “thrown” from a four wheeler on a mountain trail in Utah. I was fortunate not to go over the cliff and landed on the trail. I walked away with 30 stitches and some big lumps, but the same thoughts crossed my mind in the few seconds I had to think about it. I agree with you – that there is very significant meaning and purpose in our relationships with others, and in the things we have come to value, and that is where we should invest our time and energy. While I have learned to do that, it does not stop me from speculating about … other possibilities.

  23. Celticlight says

    To Crommunist –

    I was referring to the possible presence of an aura or human energy field. I do not say it “has to exist”. I just think it is an interesting concept for scientists to investigate. My worldview is rooted in science, but you can not stop the human mind from wandering.

  24. says

    I was referring to the possible presence of an aura or human energy field

    I know you THINK you’ve explained what you mean, but you haven’t. “Energy” isn’t a word that means whatever you want it to mean. The presence of an energy field around people would be EASILY detectable. Auras HAVE been scientifically investigated, repeatedly, and they don’t exist.

    My worldview is rooted in science

    I’m sure you believe this. You’ve shown no evidence of that whatsoever.

  25. Celticlight says

    Perhaps the answer to auras is “synesthesia” or perhaps not ?

    I still think it is an interesting concept that warrants continued exploration.

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