Why do we need our existence to be "meaningful"?
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12-06-2013, 06:12 AM
Why do we need our existence to be "meaningful"?
This is my first post in this forum!

Ok, so my brother is a Christian and try as I might I can not stop trying to make him see reason and become an atheist. We have had numerous conversations about why he is a Christian and why I am an atheist and they never seem to go anywhere.

He asked me a question the other day that I could not answer effectively and I was wondering if anyone had some advice for how I could better answer it to make my argument more persuasive.

The question he asked was: "If there is no god, no afterlife, and our lives are meaningless, then why do humans naturally search for meaning in our lives?"

Basically my brother is saying that because we have the capacity to question the meaning of our existence, there must be a reason for it, or as he would like to think - someone must have put it there.

I tried to answer by saying that people create their own meaning to their lives depending on what makes them feel fulfilled and that we don't need to imagine that a grand designer put our search for meaning there so that we would find god. I tried saying that we have simply evolved very complex minds because of evolution and naturally question our existence but this was not sufficient for my brother. He STILL believes that because we want our lives to be meaningful there must be a god who gave us this desire so that we would "find him".

I understand some people would think that I am doing the wrong thing by trying to push my atheism on my brother but could we please not discuss that at the moment.

What I would like to know is if anyone knows a better way they could explain the presence of this need for a meaningful existence without god because I don't seem to be doing a very good job.
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12-06-2013, 07:53 AM
RE: Why do we need our existence to be "meaningful"?
(12-06-2013 06:12 AM)Opheliac Wrote:  I understand some people would think that I am doing the wrong thing by trying to push my atheism on my brother but could we please not discuss that at the moment.

Of course not. Let us discuss the nature of your evangelical atheism... Consider

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12-06-2013, 09:23 AM
RE: Why do we need our existence to be "meaningful"?
Not all questions are valid questions, simply put.

The question of why is the universe here rather than not...why is there something rather than nothing, in other words, is actually asking one of two different questions, depending on what you think “why” means.

Why as “how” is perfectly reasonable.

Why as “for what purpose” has no meaning...unless there is a conscious being how has a reason for having caused an action.

With the big, seemingly meaningful questions it becomes difficult to separate the two parts of the question, so I'll use an easier example...a pencil falling off the desk onto the floor. If someone asked why did the pencil fall to the floor, the answer of how is simple. You could go into all kinds of depths of the physics involved, and that answers that why question. But if you are asking why as in, for what purpose...then you're not really asking a valid question. There is no purpose for the pencil to fall. You could describe the events that lead up to and caused it, but to ascribe a meaning to it would make no sense. Unless of course, you decided, as a conscious being to cause it to fall of the desk to illustrate a point, then the purpose was to illustrate a point, but only if a conscious being decided to cause the action for a reason. But that’s the crux of the matter, isn’t it?

Just because we think or feel that there is meaning to an event, even one as grand as life and the universe it's self, doesn't mean it's valid to ask the purpose of it.

You’re not going to be able to convince him there is no meaning to these things unless you either, convince him there is no God, there for nothing to create the purpose for said event, or prove that the “pencil” fell on its own regardless of whether or not there someone “sitting at the desk”. That’s probably the easier tact to take. Show the evidence of how life can evolve it’s self, without the need for guidance, other than nature, or how the universe can order it’s self due to laws of gravity and physics and does not need intervention to find its self looking exactly as it does.

None of that proves God doesn’t exist, but it does show he is not necessary to answer the questions of why.
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12-06-2013, 09:30 AM
RE: Why do we need our existence to be "meaningful"?
The French mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace, working off of Newton's theories, worked out a more acurate mathematical explanation of the exact movements of the planets than Newton was able to account for (except for Mercury, Einstein did that). Napoleon read his work and commented that he did not see where Laplace mentioned God in the movements of the celestial bodies of the heavens. Laplace responded, "I have no need for that particular hypothesis".

Heaven does not require God to function.
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12-06-2013, 09:38 AM
RE: Why do we need our existence to be "meaningful"?
As I and others have explained before, the true purpose of all life on earth is eat, survive, reproduce. The human mind was freed up to think about more abstract subjects when the first two were taken care of. So "Am I going to be eaten by something today?" was replaced by "What does this all mean?" Our large and powerful brains are the main drivers of this phenomenon.

Tell your brother that atheists can find meaning in their lives just like anyone else, it just doesn't involve supplicating oneself to a deity. I usually tell people my purpose is to get a good education, pass on what I've learned to the younger generations, love my friends and family, make them laugh, pursue hobbies, etc.

You could always just have him watch this clip:



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12-06-2013, 10:37 AM
RE: Why do we need our existence to be "meaningful"?
(12-06-2013 06:12 AM)Opheliac Wrote:  He asked me a question the other day that I could not answer effectively and I was wondering if anyone had some advice for how I could better answer it to make my argument more persuasive.

There's another sub-forum of "Atheism and Theism" that deals with real-life arguments with theists, but that's the lazy way of going about it. What you probably want is to *always* have a response. So study, read, discuss, and argue.

The best way to learn about why atheism is a more rational position than theism is to read the arguments put forth in sources like The God Delusion, Letter to a Christian Nation, and God is Not Great. Why re-invent the wheel? Whatever arguments your brother is making are probably not new and are handled within the pages of these books.

Also, practicing debating will make you better at debating (naturally). You'll make a lot of dumb arguments at first, but once you get past the learning curve you may impress yourself, peers, and possibly (although not likely) your opponents. Learn to accept that your opponent may be right, and his or her corrections aren't necessarily wrong just because you don't agree with him or her. You can't improve from your mistakes unless you recognize that you make them.

I'd also suggest the books Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) and The Believing Brain, which aren't necessarily about atheism/theism but rather about mistakes in thinking. These will guide you to make less mistakes as well as be able to pick up on the mistakes of others.

Or, you can take the quick and easy road of putting your argument online and let others do your fighting for you (through you as a proxy), but that's a temporary solution at best -- why not learn how to do it yourself?

My girlfriend is mad at me. Perhaps I shouldn't have tried cooking a stick in her non-stick pan.
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12-06-2013, 01:50 PM
RE: Why do we need our existence to be "meaningful"?
(12-06-2013 06:12 AM)Opheliac Wrote:  This is my first post in this forum!

Ok, so my brother is a Christian and try as I might I can not stop trying to make him see reason and become an atheist. We have had numerous conversations about why he is a Christian and why I am an atheist and they never seem to go anywhere.

He asked me a question the other day that I could not answer effectively and I was wondering if anyone had some advice for how I could better answer it to make my argument more persuasive.

The question he asked was: "If there is no god, no afterlife, and our lives are meaningless, then why do humans naturally search for meaning in our lives?"

Basically my brother is saying that because we have the capacity to question the meaning of our existence, there must be a reason for it, or as he would like to think - someone must have put it there.

I tried to answer by saying that people create their own meaning to their lives depending on what makes them feel fulfilled and that we don't need to imagine that a grand designer put our search for meaning there so that we would find god. I tried saying that we have simply evolved very complex minds because of evolution and naturally question our existence but this was not sufficient for my brother. He STILL believes that because we want our lives to be meaningful there must be a god who gave us this desire so that we would "find him".

I understand some people would think that I am doing the wrong thing by trying to push my atheism on my brother but could we please not discuss that at the moment.

What I would like to know is if anyone knows a better way they could explain the presence of this need for a meaningful existence without god because I don't seem to be doing a very good job.

So a God placed some children on this planet so they could starve to death? He placed others so they could be violently raped or killed? He placed even more so to never be born at all with miscarriages(and somehow has a problem with abortions) and yet we have a reason?

Humans don't naturally search for a meaning in their lives. They desperately want a meaning in their lives. The first caveman didn't wonder if his life meant anything rather instead she/he most likely just tried to survive because of fear of death and trying to successfully breed. Humans wish for an afterlife because we fear nonexistence, humans want a God because they want to feel important. It wasn't natural but we created these things because of what we wanted. Heaven sounds like a humans paradise(Although it itself has numerous flaws) Why of course does that easily fit into something we wish for? Why did we create heavens before the Christian deity? Because we always feared death and wanted it before. That is how we molded religion into what we wanted and still do. It was how people used the bible to justify hating women, different races and now homosexuals because they made it to fit their purpose not the other way around.

We are lucky to be born in the time we are now. Your brother must wonder what a starving person or tortured one would think of his meaning of existence.

[Image: vulture-child.jpg]

I see nothing but God in this picture. You should ask your brother if the entirety of this childs reason for living was to die in this horrible way and if this person thought that their life was so meaningful and great. Some have privilege in this world to think that way. Others simply do not.

"Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind." -John F Kennedy

The way to see by Faith is to shut the eye of Reason.” -Benjamin Franklin

It has been a long time. How have you been?
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12-06-2013, 05:00 PM
RE: Why do we need our existence to be "meaningful"?
Welcome Opheliac! A lot of good suggested reading already here, but I don't know how you'd answer your brother's question about meaning. I might tell him that's believing something unprovable like god is an argument from utility, meaning that since it is useful to believe, that you should even if it isn't true or there's no evidence. I've heard the same thing from Christians. You will find on general that in order to debate theists, you have to study more of their (alleged) history and scriptures. It's a pisser. Anyhow, hope you find this forum helpful. We are a lively bunch here!

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12-06-2013, 05:08 PM
RE: Why do we need our existence to be "meaningful"?
Welcome to TTA. I really don't think life is meaningless and I hate it when people presume it would be without god.

That we'd be raping and plundering without an almighty sky daddy keeping us in line, especially since all those happened in the name of god.


God is a concept by which we measure our pain -- John Lennon

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12-06-2013, 05:53 PM
RE: Why do we need our existence to be "meaningful"?
To bring in some philosophy...

Your brother says

(12-06-2013 06:12 AM)Opheliac Wrote:  because we have the capacity to question the meaning of our existence, there must be a reason for it, or as he would like to think - someone must have put it there.

His logical progression is as follows

God gave us the capacity to question meaning >> We question meaning >> There must be a meaning for life

My logical progression is:

Evolutionary processes gave us a predisposition to assign purpose to everything (trees are there for firewood, the sun is for sight, etc.) which we all experience as a child >> We apply this to our existence >> This logic does not imply a grand meaning (alone it doesn't rule it out either).

Obviously mine is superior because we can easily prove evolution and proofs of god seem... to put it lightly... shady...

However, he could come back with this:

God designed evolution >> Evolutionary processes gave us a subjective predisposition to assign purpose to everything (trees are there for firewood, the sun is for sight, etc.) which we all experience as a child >> We apply this to our existence >> There is grand meaning

To this, I would say two things. The first is that his God is unfalsifiable, as it can be bent into whatever shape he wants. The second, and more important, is that the principle of Ockham's razor gets rid of the God premise until there is evidence provided to justify it. Therefore, the best thing to do is not discuss meaning, but discuss why would one postulate a God that designed evolution.
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