Dawkins, Christianity, and the Meaning of Life

Dawkins, Christianity, and the Meaning of Life.*  Many readers will be familiar with Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene, among other works promoting atheism.  Darwinism, argues Dawkins, offers a better explanation of what we observe in the world than does the assumption of a creator God. 

The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference. (1995, p 133)

The world is exactly as it appears to be if there were no God and no higher purpose to human life. 

The trouble is, the world is also exactly as it appears if there were a creator God and a higher purpose.  One doesn’t look at the world as a blind set of facts, and conclude there is no God.  Instead, one begins with a general outlook on life, and then chooses the facts that support this view.  Unlike so much in life, our religious views are not primarily expressions of early childhood experiences.  People seem to choose, and change, their worldviews later in life, often in the late teens or twenties. 

Consider the basic questions of life: why are we here, what’s the meaning of our lives, where are we going, what may I hope, what should I do?  One does not find these answers in the facts; the facts are interpreted in terms of these questions. 

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The meaning of life, part 2. A list.

The meaning of life, part 2.  A list.

This is the second of a two-part post on a meaningful life.  The first post addresses the role of God in a meaningful life.  This post is more eclectic, considering a range of activities that may make life meaningful given the limits we face and the needs we have.  I write in this way because people so often talk about a meaningful life, and so seldom specify what that means.

I assume that we find meaning in activity, though there is no reason this must be the case.  A contemplative or meditative life may be deeply meaningful, but whether it is an activity I’m not sure.  In any case, it’s not included.  I also assume that meaningful activities are difficult, just as chess is more meaningful than checkers, and checkers more meaningful than tic-tac-toe (noughts and crosses).  Meaningful activities need not be impossibly difficult, however, and some difficulties, like the work required in establishing and maintaining a good sex life with one’s partner, can be fun.

One of the activities listed below would not be enough to sustain a meaningful life over the years, and some activities change so much over the years they are hardly the same thing.  Raising a child is different from the task of maintaining a loving relationship with the thirty-year-old child.  Everything I’ve said needs qualification.  Common-sense is required.  Being an excellent chess player, for example, can spoil a meaningful life if one sacrifices too much for it.

I think that a serious relationship with God is an important part of a meaningful life, but it is not required.  Atheists and agnostics may live meaningful lives, and the religious fail, particularly if religion becomes just ritual.

Good lives fail not only because we fail to pursue them properly, diligently, and within limits.  They may fail because of events beyond our control.  Aristotle thought that a good man could be made less fulfilled (eudaimon) by events beyond one’s control, but that a good man will never be completely miserable (N. Ethics 1100a34-1101a20).  I’m not sure if that’s true.  Certainly, it’s wrong in the short run.

Depression, or PTSD, make a meaningful life more difficult, but not always impossible.  Many famous writers suffered from depression (just google “writers and depression”).  But writing is not identical with a meaningful life.

Some activities that make life meaningful, not necessarily in this order.  

Continue reading The meaning of life, part 2. A list.