What the Atheist Claim of the Meaninglessness of Life Would Mean (If It Were True)

It's just too hard to swallow.

By William M Briggs Published on January 6, 2018

There is a scene early on in the killer-shark movie Jaws which has marine biologist Matt Hooper explaining to Amity’s Mayor Larry Vaughn the nature of sharks. “Mr Vaughn,” says Hooper, “what we are dealing with here is a perfect engine — an eating machine. It’s really a miracle of evolution. All this machine does is swim, and eat and make little sharks. And that’s all.”

Is this explanation true? If so, then why doesn’t it also apply to ocelots? What else besides running, eating and making little ocelots does this carnivorous beastie do?

And if it works for sharks and ocelots, why not also for dandelions, cockroaches and ratbirds (pigeons)? And if for them, why not for all life? Why not for you, dear reader? After all, what else do people do except scurry about, eat and make more people?

A Bag of Bones

If life can be reduced to biology, to nothing but chemical and physical interactions — as many atheists claim — then the explanation that all life, including our own, is meaningless futile repetition must be true.

Don’t pass too quickly by “meaningless.” This is the main point. If our lives are solely biology, then our lives have no meaning. This is a stronger conclusion than you might think. For it follows that any meaning anybody ascribes to any event in life is itself meaningless. Any and all moral judgments are mere prejudice, the result of particular arrangements of chemicals operating under unbreakable physical laws.

If all moral judgments are prejudice, then everything anybody ever thinks or says is opinion. And it’s forced opinion, at that. All opinions are the result of chemicals pushing this way and that, forming unwilled patterns in brains, under the control of nobody.

Who Asked For Your Opinion?

You say rape is wrong? That’s just your opinion. Worse, it’s an opinion you have no choice but to believe, since the opinion is formed in a brain operating under fixed laws. You think murder is immoral? Well, there is no such thing as immorality, and cannot be, since for acts to be moral or immoral, acts cannot be meaningless. Meaning defines morality.

So what? you might think. Individual people might be nothing more than their biology, because what really matters is the human race itself.

But this must be false, since it does not matter whether sharks or ocelots or humans exist. Why? Because nothing, in the end, matters. That you believe people, or cockroaches, or even “the earth” deserves its rightful place, is again nothing more than your opinion. And your opinion does not matter. Not on these matters, nor on any matter.

We cannot say, as some do say, that in this all-is-biology scheme that the “universe is indifferent” to us, or to any life. The universe cannot be “indifferent.” The universe can’t care. It too is just a bag of meaningless physical reactions. And in none of those reactions can there be caring or indifference.

Science is Not the Answer

Science cannot rescue us from this bleak conclusion.

Celebrity scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson is fond of pointing out the meaningless of life. He recently tweeted, “Not that anybody’s asked, but New Years Day on the Gregorian Calendar is a cosmically arbitrary event, carrying no Astronomical significance at all.”

This is not only true, if scientists like himself are correct that we are nothing but biology, but it doesn’t go far enough. For there is no such thing as “astronomical significance.” There is no such thing as significance of any kind! This is because significance implies meaningful, and if all life is biology, then nothing is meaningful.

Yes, we can define significance with reference to some equations that describe, say, certain planetary motions, but why would we want to? That activity is meaningless. Any and all scientific results are meaningless. Science gave us rocket travel and pharmaceuticals? It doesn’t matter.

The Problem of Evil

What we have been discussing is the Problem of Evil. If atheism is true, if life really is nothing more than biology, then there is no such thing as evil. There is no such thing as good, either.

It is often asked why evil exists. Evil, some say, is not compatible with an all-loving God. This, they say, is the real “problem” of evil. But we can now see this judgment is backwards. If God doesn’t exist, then there is no evil. Anything goes! And nothing matters. Even more, that “nothing” encompasses everything.

But if God does exist, the classical answer about evil suddenly makes sense. Evil is the absence of the Good, and the ultimate Good is God.

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