Life is a mystery that each of us is confronted with at birth. The quality and meaningfulness of your existence will be directly proportional to the extent to which you unravel the mystery of life. Choosing not to even attempt to unravel the mystery cedes all control of your fate. Choosing to put a half-hearted effort into unraveling the mystery will result in a life half lived. Choosing to devote your life to understanding life will result in a life well understood…or at least, a life as well understood as possible, and that will result in a life lived as well as possible.
If you want to understand anything, the best place to start is usually the beginning. Applying that simple rule to understanding life will take you all the way back to the beginning of time where you’ll find a pivotal question: What created the universe?
Everything we’ve observed about the cosmos so far tells us that the universe began with the Big Bang (though you can call it whatever you’d like), but what catalyst set the Big Bang in motion? Was it simply the nature of the universe or was it caused by the action of a sentient entity? This question makes all the difference, because the implications build up exponentially to the point that the question is as important as life and death.
So let’s take an objective look at the issue. On one hand, the universe exists, and its structure and function are both marvels of perfect mathematical elegance. It’s been argued that if you find a watch in the desert you can assume that there must have been a watchmaker who designed it. A valid point except for the fact that we’ve explored all the deserts on earth and peered across the boundaries of our galaxy, but we haven’t found any watches that weren’t made by humans. At this point it’s reasonable to assume that there might not be a non-human watchmaker anywhere to be found.
However, you could take the watchmaker analogy a step further and say that we’ve found intelligent beings (ourselves) and that the existence of an intelligent being necessitates that an intelligent creator predated the intelligent creation. That’s possible, but it raises the question, if we needed an intelligent creator to create us then wouldn’t the original creator require an intelligent creator itself?
Eventually both sides of the argument cancel each other out. The only way a creator could exist is if it existed forever or it created itself, but if you can believe that then it would take an equal amount of faith to believe that the universe either existed forever or created itself.
You could continue making logical arguments for and against the existence of God all day long, but the fact remains that we don’t know what happened before the Big Bang. So ultimately we don’t know how or why the universe was created. So we can’t say for certain that God does or doesn’t exist. To declare either side true or false would be an act of speculative faith.
So where does that leave us? Well, the fact of the matter is that we’re still alive, and the quality and meaningfulness of our lives still depend on understanding life as well as possible. Just throwing our hands up in the air and quitting will still only result in ceding control of our fate. So the only real option is to proceed cautiously and objectively with what little information we have. In other words, the best thing we can do at this point is to make both assumptions: that there is a God and that there isn’t.
The intelligent nature of evolution suggests that the universe may have been created by a sentient being, but if it was, that being has chosen not to show itself to us or communicate with us. So we have no idea what that being’s nature or intentions are.
To assume the existence of a being we know nothing about would be pointless. So if we’re going to assume the existence of a creator we need to take the next step and make some kind of assumption about its nature and intentions.
There are 3 ways we can proceed with making these assumptions:
1. Trust other people’s statements about God.
2. Trust our own intuition.
3. Draw conclusions from physical evidence.
There are a few points to take into consideration before trusting other people’s statements about God. First and foremost, we need to ask ourselves what makes anyone an authority to speak about God? Before you answer that question though, it’s of the utmost importance that you don’t ask it with only one religion in mind. This question applies to all religions and prophets.
This is a vital and fundamental issue that believers of any one religion tend to dismiss with a shamefully irresponsible lack of due diligence. If you don’t apply the question, “How do we determine which prophet (and thus, which religion) truly speaks for God?” objectively to every religion then you end up turning a blind eye to certain religions and give them a benefit of the doubt they don’t deserve. Ultimately that means you give certain religions power over you that they don’t deserve. You owe it to yourself to think about this question seriously.
Anyone can claim to be an authority on God, but what gives their claim authenticity? A personal claim is satisfactory if you’re taking advice on which vacuum cleaner to buy, but when it comes to speaking for the creator of the universe and decreeing how we should live our only life we need more evidence than that, especially since every prophet’s claim has to compete against every other prophet’s claim.
Exercising Godlike power would be pretty convincing, but nobody can do that. There are stories about this happening in the past, but none of those stories come from sources that pass even the minimum reputability test of a mere professional scientific journal. At any rate, there are stories from competing religions in which competing prophets claim to have used the power of God. How do we reconcile these competing claims? We could assume that they’re all true. We could assume that they’re all false, or we could assume that none of them are reliable enough to take into consideration.
The fact that no miracles have been recorded since the invention of modern recording devices points directly to the conclusion that no miracles have ever happened.
If we can’t determine which prophet speaks the truth by their supposed actions we can at least measure which ones speak falsely by their words. It’s reasonable to assume that any prophet who speaks with the authority of the creator of the universe wouldn’t make any faulty statements about the nature of the universe. Unfortunately, every religion makes shamefully amateur inaccurate statements about the scientific nature of the universe.
Another fact that should raise suspicion about the authenticity of a prophet is if his/her moral codes can be directly tied to the moral standards of the society that produced the prophet. Again, this is something every prophet in history is guilty of.
Another major warning sign that prophets aren’t reliable spokesmen for the creator of the universe is if a prophet’s teachings result in him/her fulfilling base, human desires for things such as money, power and/or prestige. Again, every prophet in history has reaped these convenient rewards from their ministry. Sure, some of them died penniless, but to a megalomaniac that’s a small price to pay to be worshiped for centuries.
Here’s what it boils down to. In the universe we live in, the simplest answer is usually the correct one. The simplest, most elegant, most reliable explanation of every religion men have written books about is that…they were written by men…just men…relating their limited understanding of the universe and their personal and cultural biases while hiding their ignorance and their selfish motives behind terroristic threats and unaccountable promises.
Having said that, if trusting other people’s statements about God is unreliable we can still rely on our intuition. However, there are several problems with feeling “led” to the one true religion.
The most obvious problem with this approach is that people have felt led to believe in every opposing religion. So how can you be sure that everyone else was led by a deceiving force and you were led by a reliable force? You can’t.
The simplest, most elegant, most reliable explanation for why God abandoned everyone but you is that your emotions were the force that led you to your beliefs, not God. If you look at yourself introspectively and honestly enough you’ll find familiarity, anger, fear, anxiety, hope and a selfish desire for security led you to your decision to pick one religion over the others. Familiarity, anger, fear, anxiety, and hope aren’t good reasons to pick a vacuum cleaner much less a scientific explanation of the physical universe and a moral code that will control your entire life.
Still though, you might stand firm in the belief that you felt something so real and powerful that it couldn’t be anything other than the power of God at work in your life. To that I would reply that Friedrich Nietzsche put it best when he said, “A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.” You can also compare feeling led to your religion to the single-minded irrationality of the first time you were in love. The first time you had a junior high crush didn’t you believe with all your heart that you felt something so strong it had to be the most real thing in the world? Our minds are designed to latch onto ideas that make us feel good in the moment despite the reality of the situation. For all these reasons, intuition doesn’t qualify as valid evidence for anything other than our ability to delude ourselves.
The only logical way to make any assumptions about the nature or intentions of God is to draw conclusions from the physical evidence, which is to say, the physical universe.
Here are a few things we know about the universe (aka the watch): There’s no physical evidence of divine intervention in the form of rewards, punishment, protection or favors. There’s no physical evidence of magic or other nonphysical powers. There’s no physical evidence of angels or demons (by any other name). There’s no physical evidence of God speaking through prophets, and if there is a God, it doesn’t reveal itself in any way that’s recognizable, which we assume it could do if it chose to.
Here are a few more things we know: The universe operates according to cause and effect. The universe is designed mathematically. Human beings possess the capacity for logic. The circle of life is that all living things are born, grow and die.
All of these facts point to the conclusion that God has left us to stand or fall on our own. From one point of view this makes God seem callous and uncaring, but from another point of view it makes sense.
Before I explain why that is, I need to start with this observation: An all-powerful being doesn’t need humans for anything. We can’t do anything for it that it couldn’t itself…except be ungrateful. So it’s unlikely that God created us for its own benefit. So who would benefit from our existence? To answer this question, ask yourself what would change in the universe if all life disappeared all of a sudden? Nothing. The universe would go on spinning without noticing a difference. Our disappearance would have no effect on the final fate of the universe. So if we don’t serve any purpose outside of ourselves in the physical universe then why do we exist? If the only thing our existence benefits is us then we must have been created for our own sake.
God (might have) created us for our sake. Great. If God cared about us to go through all the trouble of creating us then why didn’t God create us in a universe with no pain or sadness? You could also word that sentence this way: “Why is God such a dick?”
God gets a lot of criticism from people who want their asses wiped for them, but what happens when human adults coddle their children? Their children grow up weak and can’t survive on their own much less grow up to fulfill their full potential. The freedom to make your own choices gives meaning to your success, but it also carries the burden of suffering the consequences of your choices.
Let me make this absolutely clear: Bad things happen to good people because shit happens and nobody is going to wipe your ass for you. This doesn’t necessarily mean God is spiteful or indifferent. If God exists and is sentient it probably loves us. After all, it went through the trouble of creating and sustaining us. God just loves us enough to let us grow up on our own. If we view life from this perspective there’s no need for God to reward or punish us for our choices. Our success in life is its own reward, and our failure is its own punishment.
This raises the question, what are we supposed to do now that we’re here? What constitutes success and failure in life? Well, let’s look back at the watch and see if we can use it to reverse engineer an answer to the question, “What use is this piece of junk?”
What does any life form do? All life is born, grows and dies. We don’t have any control over when we’re born. There are limits on how much control we have over when we die. Between those two points, the question of life is, “To grow or not to grow.” The only difference between plants and humans is that humans have the added burden/blessing of growing their minds as well as their bodies.
Think about it, don’t human parents love their children and want them to grow up and live a successful life? Yes. Would a good parent kill their child for doing poorly at life? No. Would a good parent torture their child or allow their child to be tortured for doing poorly at life if the parent could prevent it? No. Life is about growing up. It’s not about being judged and punished.
Now, you’re never going to be able to grow to your potential as an individual unless you accurately understand reality. That means figuring out truth…for yourself. Look at the universe. It was designed by a stoic mathematician who gave you a mind capable of critical thinking. If you want to walk the path of God then do what you were designed to do and think for yourself.
Here’s something else to think about. If God is truth then wouldn’t anyone who speaks objective truth arrived at through logical thought be speaking with the authority of God? If so then that would also mean that anyone who opposes critical thinking and thus opposes truth opposes God. It could be so, but don’t get carried away with this and assume I’m saying that anyone who took Intro to Logic should walk around congratulating themselves as a saint and a prophet. From a scientific point of view, we can’t know when we’re speaking truth. Einstein put it best when he said, “No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right. A single experiment can prove me wrong.” We can never be sure we know the truth about anything, but we can be sure we’re wrong when sufficient evidence is presented. So even if we speak the truth we would be fools to claim to speak with the authority of God.
But that doesn’t mean we should just give up and shit in our hands. You can do something. You can learn something. You can figure something out. That means you should try, because trying to arrive at truth translates into trying to live. The more truth you understand the more you’ll grow. The more you grow the more truth you can understand.
So if there is a God then you should seek to understand the universe. You should seek to understand yourself. You should seek to understand what you can become and then seek to become that. Do those things and not only will you live a quality and meaningful life but you’ll fulfill the purpose for which the universe (might have) gave birth to you. Aside from that, help others to do the same, and don’t hinder anyone from fulfilling their potential. Aside from that, exercise your free will to choose how you want to enjoy life without worrying about the haphazard moral standards of any archaic, brutal, tribal, warring theocracies that heaped untold wealth, power and prestige on their scientifically ignorant leaders.
However you felt about this post, you may feel the same way about these:
- Why: An Agnostic Perspective on the Meaning of Life (Free Ebook)
- An Old Man From Jersey Explains Life (Free Ebook)
- It’s okay to be lost
- The value of life
- Reality is amazing
- The cosmic perspective
- The relationship between sanity, reality, truth, religion and science
- Enlightenment Through Logic
- The Map of Everything
- The prime prerogative
- The value of knowledge
- Life is an existential dilemma: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4
- The danger in telling people life has no meaning
- Reading for truth
- 11 ways mainstream academic philosophy has come to resemble religion
- Deep thoughts by the wise janitor
- A biker looks at social conformity
- A biker looks at bad weather
- A biker looks at the road
- A biker explains why we ride
- A biker wonders again why he rides
- A biker looks at crying
- Ethics without religion -you’re already doing it
- My secular theory on ethics
- Another attempt at explaining my secular theory on ethics
- Reasons to be kind outside of religion
- Karma ghosts
- The non-believers’ 7 deadly sins
- My theory on sexual morality
- Demonizing pleasure is a failed experiment
- Cost/benefit analysis of hedonism
- Should you let friends borrow money?
- Why and when you should have a problem with authority
- Why it’s bad to be conceited
- Self-subjugation is not a virtue
- No action is an island
- The Tao of Booze
- The drug talk
- Why you should be sober
- 6 accurate and 6 inaccurate ways to judge people
- 8 steps to becoming a genius
- My approach to thinking/problem solving
- The science of thought
- Your ability to think obligates you to
- How to think critically
- How to solve a problem using a team
Atheism and Agnosticism
- Agnostic nihilism
- Agnostic atheism
- Do agnostics fear death?
- An agnostic theory on why God is so cruel
- An agnostic take on Pascal’s Wager
- An agnostic take on intelligent design
- So you don’t believe in God. What do you do now?
- Should reason be considered a legal religion?
- Reason vs faith: part 1, part 2
- Predictions on the New Atheist movement
- Meta Atheists V.S. Pop Atheists