Ask a stupid question countdown... six

TodayChristian.net posted a list of Ten Questions for Every Atheist. Since I count myself as one of the "every" and I'm far too snarky to leave rhetorical questions alone, I thought they would be interested in my responses. I'll tackle one a day, counting down from ten to one. I'll also be unpacking the questions so not only do I address them directly but also some of the hidden assumptions and fallacies behind them.

Before reading the answer, keep in mind that they have the rather absurd lead-in:

Some Questions Atheist Cannot Truly and Honestly REALLY Answer! Which leads to some interesting conclusions…

Someone out there imagines that no one ever thought to answer these, and I'm guessing from the general tone, they think they are unanswerable. So with my apologies for busting your bubble, here are honest answers:

6. If there is no god, how does your life have any meaning?

This is another one of those questions which is "not even wrong" (see part seven). It has three separate levels of hidden assumptions built into it which need to be unpacked.

It begins by completely skipping the question which must logically precede it:

Do we have good reason to believe our lives actually have an external meaning?

The reflexive response probably sounds something like:

Of course our lives have purpose; don't ask stupid questions... Think of how awful it would be to have a life that had no purpose.

It's the sort of thing we've been trained to say all our lives without really thinking about it. Notice the wishful thinking hiding just under the surface. We ought to believe our lives have meaning because not having meaning would make us feel bad. Deciding on the answers to factual based on how they make us feel, in stead of what's actually true is the hallmark of the religious mindset. How foolish would it be to ignore a message saying a friend was ill or that someone had stolen your car because believing it would make you feel bad. Part of being a grownup means being prepared to accept facts that you don't want to be true.

There is also the presumption that if there is a god, then our lives do have a purpose. This is far from clear. If you read the holy books of the world's major monotheisms, the alleged purpose is that we are created to serve and worship a god that is so powerful and beyond us that she requires neither service nor worship. So a god creating us (or more accurately setting up a universe in which we would develop after several billion years following the application of certain laws of physics) seems to be about as logical as hiring someone to sort your M&Ms by colour for you before you eat them... and then randomly tossing all the blue ones into a lake of eternal fire. Theres a piece of the logic missing

So under Christianity we really don't have a purpose, at least one that makes sense, and without Christianity we don't seem to have a purpose - at least not one that comes from outside of us.

However, it's not so bleak as it seems. We are conscious creatures and we can endow things with purpose. The petroleum underground didn't "have a purpose" until we repurposed it for fuel. Precious metals don't "have a purpose" until we decide to use them as symbols of love and status. Pluto doesn't seem to serve much of a purpose, and it seems to continue along on its orbit just fine. So is it that much of a stretch, if we can give things purpose and even change the purpose of things, to believe that we can give ourselves and each other purpose? I don't think so.

If I were to take a rough stab at assigning myself a purpose, it might be something like "doing as many of the things that I enjoy for as long as possible." I could probably do better simply by being more specific. But I think the most important part of answering these questions is to show how silly they were to start with. It is sufficient to show the stifled imagination of the questioner, after which it's quite easy to at least start to answer them on your own.

You might interrupt to ask what happens if the things I enjoy are harmful to myself or others. That question is a valid one, but it will have to wait for the next couple of questions with have to do with morality.

Stay tuned for question five...