Something that’s surprised me about blogging on Beliefnet is how many atheists seem drawn to a website devoted specifically to spiritual expression. One commenter told me to “Go away!” A little bit ironic, don’t you think? Anyway, I have a challenge for atheists and secondarily for agnostics. From where do you derive meaning in life?
It seems to me that meaning by definition needs to come from outside a given system. For example, consider language. When I use a word in English like “hat” or “cat,” it only signifies something because there is a reality outside the linguistic system of our language to which the language refers. A real, live cat is not part of the English language. But an English word refers or points to this creature.
In the same way, meaning or value in life needs to refer to something outside our lives, which are physical-, material-based experiences. If there’s nothing outside nature or physicality, as atheism presupposes or as agnosticism leans toward supposing, then where does meaning in life — values, ideals, morals — come from?
If your intellect or your philosophy tells you that a certain action is right or wrong, what makes that moral judgment authoritative? What compels you to obey it? Your conscience? But why obey that, when it’s merely part of the same physical system that gave rise to you and your body (which of course are the same thing)?
I’m not posing the question as a mere provocation. I really am curious how thoughtful people who feel differently than I do about such things actually think about them.