3. You live your life with some sense of purpose. But Richard Dawkins assures us that that purpose is illusory and the universe shows us just blind pitiless indifference, Professor William Provine, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, confidently asserts that “Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent”, while Francis Crick talks of his astonishing hypothesis: “You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” So what is the logic that allows you and many others to ignore these conclusions of some of the finest biology minds we have?
I don’t feel like these issues have been ignored by most atheists, nor do I think I’ve ignored them. In The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality, philosopher Andre Comte-Sponville makes the point that it can be depressing to think that humanity doesn’t matter in the great scheme of things. Then he simply acknowledges that “the truth just may be sad.” It might be preferable to believe that there’s a higher purpose to our existence, but that doesn’t mean there is. So the lack of purpose argument might be interesting, but it doesn’t count as evidence against atheism, in my view.
Also, isn’t it a bit arrogant to assume that we are such magnificent creatures that we must have a higher purpose? Do you suppose giraffes believe in a giraffe-god because without one their species would have no higher purpose? And it seems strange that this argument would be put forth by the same group of people who believe humans are naturally depraved individuals. Which is it? Are we worth nothing or does the universe revolve around us?
All that said, I don’t see what’s so bad about making our own purpose. The people that matter most to me are the ones who know me intimately. If I make a good impact in their lives, that’s enough for me. If people 200 years from now have no idea who I was, so what? I won’t be around to lament that fact, and I won’t even know who those people are — why should I care if they know me?
And what’s the benefit in having a cosmic purpose anyway? If my purpose is to serve God (as Ecclesiastes teaches), doesn’t that pale in comparison to making my own purpose? Think of it this way: if I’d only had my children for what they could do for me, doesn’t that make me petty? Wouldn’t it be better to help them find their own purpose than to make myself the center of it?
Finally, if we need a purpose higher than ourselves in order to have value, what is God’s value? By definition, there would be no purpose higher than himself, so wouldn’t that make his existence rather sad and pointless by this standard?
In the end, I think it’s up to each of us to make our own purpose. And in a way, I find this exciting. I don’t believe the end of the human story is set in stone — there is really no limit to what we might accomplish as a species if given enough time. Will we eventually visit other planets, other stars? What advances will we make in medicine and technology? Can we achieve some semblance of world peace? I think our ability to make our own purpose is more hopeful than depressing.