January 26, 2020 | David F. Coppedge

Can Atheists Answer the Meaning of Life?

An atheist serves up a way to get meaning out of the dark oblivion of materialism. This should be interesting.

One obvious advantage of religion is an answer to the meaning of life. Many religions make one up that is unworthy of trust, but at least they can offer one. What’s an atheist to do? Psychologist Steve Taylor of Leeds University is painfully aware of the vanity in Darwinism. He opens his article on The Conversation with this line:

The search for meaning in life is a familiar challenge to many of us. Some materialist scientists and philosophers consider it a futile search. Prominent atheist Richard Dawkins, for example, claims that human beings are just “throwaway survival machines” whose only purpose is to survive and replicate genes.

Otherwise, the theory goes, there is very little point to our lives. We may attempt to create other kinds of meaning, through religion or attempts at altruism for example, but all we’re really doing is following our genetic and neurological programming. Even our consciousness, the feeling of having experience inside our own heads, may not really exist, or may exist only as a kind of shadow of our brain activity.

Credit: J. Beverly Greene

Having set the stage, Taylor offers “The meaning of life – a psychologist’s view.” Taylor discounts the futile views of Dawkins and other materialists, telling readers that he takes “the rather unfashionable view that there is meaning to life.” OK, but where does he get it?

We are not just ghostly entities living inside machine-like bodies in an indifferent world. Human life is not a meaningless space between birth and death, spent trying to enjoy ourselves and forget about our predicament.

I believe that human life and the world mean much more than that. And this is not because I am religious – I am not.

This author of Spiritual Science continues by saying his position on the meaning of life is “informed by my scientific research over the past ten years with people who have undergone what I call ‘suffering-induced transformational experiences’. ”

[Reader alert: Watch for the self-refuting fallacy in Taylor’s view, to be discussed in the Commentary below.]

They spoke of a sense of the preciousness of life, their own bodies, the other people in their lives and the beauty and wonder of nature. They felt a new sense of connection with other people, the natural world and the universe.

They became less materialistic and more altruistic. Possessions and career advancement became trivial, while love, creativity and altruism became much more important. They felt intensely alive.

Taylor is not religious, remember. He goes on relating anecdotes of people who have told him stories like this. They experienced something, but it gave them meaning.

At such times there is a sense of “rightness” about things. We can look above us at the sky and sense something benevolent in it, a harmonious atmosphere. We can feel a kind of radiance filling the landscape around us, emanating from the trees and fields. We can sense it flowing between us and other people – as a radiant connection, a sense of warmth and love. We feel glad to be alive and feel a wide-ranging sense of appreciation and gratitude.

In other words, we find the meaning of life when we “wake up” and experience life and the world more fully. In these terms, the sense that life is meaningless is a distorted and limited view that comes when we are slightly “asleep”.

He had said his view was informed by scientific research for ten years, but there is nothing but people’s experiences in this article at least. Then comes his punch line:

In our highest and clearest states of being, we perceive a meaning that we sense is always there and that somehow we previously missed. When our awareness intensifies and our senses open up there’s a sense of returning home – to meaning. So what is the meaning of life? Put simply, the meaning of life is life itself.

It’s amazing the dreams that material neurons can conjure up, when their only purpose is to survive and replicate.

Taylor’s conclusion is not unlike the vacuous tautology expressed by some liberal religious leaders: ‘The meaning of life is to live a life of meaning.’ A similar one is ‘The question is the answer.’ Surely a despairing materialist will be satisfied by this ‘psychologist’s view’ of meaning. Aren’t you glad we have psychologists to put whitewash on our tottering fences and make them look stronger? What would we do without Taylor to paint bright colors on Dawkins’ meaningless fence put up for no reason. Taylor needs to read Ecclesiastes and wake up to the futility of existence without God.

Did you find the self-refuting part of Taylor’s answer? Think some more. The experiences that his patients described fit perfectly with the Image of God (Imago Dei) which, according to the Bible, God gave to the human race. It is unique to humans; animals don’t have it. The Bible would be the perfect ‘scientific’ theory to explain these experiences.

But if Taylor is right, those experiences are floating on nothing. And if they are floating on nothing, so is Taylor’s own experience of listening to the experiences of other material bodies vocalizing their feelings through their material mouths, so that air waves can impinge on his material eardrums and make material neurons vibrate in a material brain. He’s dreaming about other people dreaming. His advice collapses in a fogma of futility. We can justifiably ignore his advice, because it is grounded in nothing but subjective experience – not ‘spiritual science.’ C.S. Lewis said that all reasoning depends on the validity of thought. Thoughts are in the realm of logical concepts. Taylor has nothing but subjective experiences on which to ground his own subjective experiences, and he cannot even be sure that they are experiences! No wonder Solomon and Jude described false teachers as “clouds without rain.”

The Christian answer is so rich. Our purpose is to glorify God and do the will of God so as to please God. God is not being selfish or egotistical here, as some atheists mock. To glorify God is to glorify good, because God is good. To glorify God is to glorify perfection, because God is perfect. To glorify God is to glorify justice, because God is just. Continue thinking along these lines with all of His attributes. When you glorify God, you are upholding the beauty and awe of all of His attributes, which are encompassed in the “Name that is above every name.” And even more, we can say that since God is a Person, to glorify Him is to honor and worship the ultimate in Personhood. How incredibly awesome that He loved us enough to offer us, while we were sinners (Romans 5:8) an eternal relationship with Him in a glorified existence in glorified bodies, so that we can serve our purpose (as created beings) forever. Creation is the ground of our purpose in life.

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:11).

Creation defines who we are, and what we were created to be. Our very existence and sensation of self stems from our Creator who, because He is good, has provided the ultimate way for us to experience all the awe, wonder, and ‘rightness’ that Taylor’s patients yearned for. We call it joy.


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