Intrinsically Worthless

From a comment at an article “The Empty, Boring Atheism of Richard Dawkins” (from the Catholic World Report, naturally): “What is an “appetite for wonder” in an intrinsically meaningless universe but simply an appetite for diversion and entertainment?”

I love my spouse and children—
Well, I say I call it “love”,
But it doesn’t hold a candle
To what comes from God above.

I marvel at a symphony—
In this case, number seven—
But, of course, it sounds like screeching chalk
Compared to harps in heaven

A mountain, or an ocean,
Or a sunset or a birth—
But I know there is no meaning
In the things I see on earth

Intrinsically, we have no worth,
We really must admit.
Intrinsically, without a God,
Intrinsically, we’re shit.

The universe is meaningless
And all our lives, as well
Though I’ve never been to heaven
Clearly, life on earth is hell

I pretend to love my children
I pretend to love my wife
But I know that, once in heaven,
I’ll forget about my life

Cos it’s God that gives life meaning,
Not our family, not our friends—
Not our passions, not our pleasures,
All erased when this life ends

Life on earth is mere diversion—
Entertainment till we die—
Others strive to make life better;
I, myself, must wonder: why?

What’s the use of helping others?
What’s the use of pitching in?
When it’s God, not man, deciding
What is good, and what is sin

I can’t know what’s good or righteous;
I can’t know what’s bad or wrong
I can’t know that what I thought was right,
God hated all along!

I can’t trust my own perceptions
I can’t fathom what is true
All I know without a doubt is
I know better than do you.

You, who love your spouse and children,
Music, mountains, seas, and more
You, who love without a God to tell you
What your love is for

What a pity you’re so hollow
What a shame you have no God
What a horror that your world
Is just this “natural” façade

All your life amounts to nothing!
Can’t you get it through your head?
Can’t you see? The only meaning
We can have is once we’re dead!

But of course… I got it wrong (so did several others on the comment thread-and in truth, I wrote it after only his first comment, so I didn’t know). The commenter, identified as a moderator, on Catholic World Report, does not actually believe in a god. Go figure. His big deal is not the absence of a god, but rather the absence of intrinsic meaning. In an intrinsically meaningless universe, what we are left with is mere diversion, mere entertainment, nothing worthwhile.

And he is dead wrong.

I will, of course, grant the “no intrinsic meaning” bit, but there is no magic in the word “intrinsic” that makes meaning any more… meaningful. Money has no intrinsic value–it is paper and metal, or bits of information. The intrinsic value of a $100 bill and a $1 bill are the same. And when we ran on the gold standard, nothing was different–it was social agreement that made gold the standard rather than quartz, or chickens (I now have the image of a one-chicken bill, and making change for a goat bill).

And yes, what is meaningful in life–doing good, fighting for causes, creating art or music, advancing science–all are meaningful solely because we say so. Because that’s what meaning is. Specifying “intrinsically” before “meaningful” is a bit like specifying “invisible” before “pink”. We understand the words from other contexts, but they don’t belong together in this one. Noting that life (or anything) has no intrinsic meaning or worth is trivial, and suggesting that because life is somehow diminished–even worthless–because it does not have this characteristic which it never had to begin with. These fictional modifiers–“intrinsic” is one, “ultimate” is another–serve only to introduce an impossibility, our lack of which is somehow damning.

Just remember, that argument has no intrinsic worth.


  1. rikitiki says

    Pray Back

    I shout my prayer to heaven, whisper it
    Full deep within my heart. I do not know
    Angels or God or mystery, it goes
    Outward to find what’s there. And then, I sit
    Silent, in meditation; mindful, quiet,
    Serene. I’ve never heard a message back,
    No matter, dearth of a response, a lack
    Of miracle or visitation from it,
    Isn’t the point. The gratitude is all:
    Acknowledging my joy inspires a higher
    Aspiration – to serve myself and others;
    We have, I think, but this one life, this call.
    And so, I shout my prayer to heaven so
    I hear and heed it, whether no echo.

  2. justsomeguy says

    On the chicken standard, we will have bawks instead of bucks. And it would be a good thing for an investment to lay a big egg.

    I could get behind this most definitely.

  3. says

    Money has no intrinsic value–it is paper and metal, or bits of information.

    I’m totally borrowing (stealing?) this! Will give credit when I can, for sure.

  4. Chris J says

    You say my life is meaningless,
    If meaning comes from me.
    You claim I can’t be satisfied
    with just the things I see.
    You shout “Intrinsic Meaning” and
    Insist it comes from God,
    Declare my natural happiness
    Is nothing but a fraud.

    But offer me some phantom love
    And I can’t help but scoff.
    Give me a million homilies;
    I won’t feel better off.
    A meal with friends is worth more than
    Your whole philosophy.
    Alas, “Intrinsic Meaning” just
    Ain’t meaningful to me.

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