Is Everything Meaningless?

Smokes to much Says:

A set of ideas occurred to me a few years ago, but I’m not sure what to make of them. I would be interested in reading some comments on them.
First idea: The physical universe is all that exists.
The matter and energy that our universe consists of is all that there is. No gods, no devils, no afterlife or any state of being, other than the one we now experience.
Second idea: The universe has an end. At some point, the universe comes to an end via heat death, absolute entropy, universal recompression to a single point or whatever. I’ve heard many opposing theories on the subject, but they all seem to agree that it will end somehow. I suppose it’s not unreasonable to think this. Everything in the universe has a birth and then a death, so perhaps the universe itself will also die.
When I combined these two ideas it occurred to me that if both ideas are true, one might conclude existence is meaningless.
If the universe is all there is, and if it comes to an end (whenever or however), then everything that has ever happened, or will happen, will be completely and utterly wiped out. No history, no memories, no artifacts to examine, no ruins to dig up. Like it never happened.
And, if that is true, nothing anyone has every done (or will do) matters in the slightest.
Become the biggest mass-murderer in history or find the cure for cancer. In the end it won’t make any difference because in a sense, none of it ever happened.
I don’t know if any of this makes sense or is nonsense. I would appreciate some feedback.

22 Responses to Is Everything Meaningless?

  1. The Atheist says:

    Hi, Smokes. I wrote a post a short while back called
    Cats, Boris Badenough, and the Meaning of Life which I invite you to consider. I suggested in that post that events don’t have to be eternal to be meaningful. I would be very interested in your thoughts on it.

    I also believe that life ends and that the universe ends. But I don’t think we can automatically conclude that the finality of death wipes out any meaning we find while we live.

    Here’s what I mean. Let’s assume for the moment that we somehow magically live on after the body dies – that the essence which is “us” never dies. In this scenario, let’s say you do something that is meaningful to you – maybe you learned to play bebop on the trumpet, or you found a bird that was injured and you nursed it back to health. How meaningful do you expect those things will be 100 years from now (remember, you don’t die)? A million years? 10exp[one million years]? Wouldn’t the countless recent meaningful events obscure the meaningful events that happened eons ago? From your perspective, many of those ancient events that were meaningful at the time seem as if they never happened.

    As a child you no doubt had countless experiences that were meaningful at the time, most of which you probably no longer recall. That time you got in a fight with a bully and your older brother or sister stood up for you, or when your parents bought you the toy you really wanted. But it was no less meaningful to that little child that you once were, just because the event seems trivial now or because you can’t even recall it.

    If we agree that even those things which we can no longer recall were nevertheless meaningful at the time, then the meaning must be in the moment, in the present, and perhaps even in future “present moments” when we happen to recall them. Things that you find meaningful now are no less meaningful now, simply because you might not recall them in the future, or because the event may seem less meaningful to you in the future, or because some day there will be no “you” to recall them.

    One final thought about meaning – if something is meaningful to you but not to me, is it still meaningful? The way I think of meaning, my answer is “yes.” A person living in a tribe in the Amazon jungle wouldn’t care less if he knew that after several years of struggling, I finally got the knack of playing bebop solos on the trumpet – but it is no less meaningful to me. So not only does meaning not depend on the event having some eternal persistence, it doesn’t even depend on some standard of meaning that it must measure up to.

    You can savor the meaning in the experiences you have throughout your life, without imposing arbitrary limitations that something is only truly meaningful if it lasts forever or if it meets some arbitrary standard of meaningfulness.

  2. Smokes to much says:

    Thank you for for replying so soon and so fully. None of my friends or relatives have ever shown much interest in discussing these kinds of ideas, so I appreciate the chance to do so (please bear this in mind when reading what I write, ’cause I’m not used to this).
    I just read the Badenough article and your reponse to my thread (sorry to hear about your cat).
    You bring up some interesting ideas about defining what is meaningful. I’ll probably have to re-read it all because I have a bad habit of missing the point first time ’round. I read the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy three times before I got the joke about drunkeness and the glass of water.
    It did seem to me however, that the examples in your reply were more about personal meaning. At the time I wrote my thread I was thinking in more general terms.
    Like the idea that anything which alters the natural course of events has meaning. I’ll try to expand on that a little.
    If the matter and energy of the universe follow a set of laws intrinsic to their nature, then what happens when Particle A hits Particle B, or two chemicals mix, or even when bear meets cheetah is completely inevitable. In theory, if someone knew and understood all these laws, and had enough information, they could predict the outcome in any given situation. Even the whole story of the universe, from start to finish, could be predicted by examining the state of singularity before the Big Bang. Everything that happened from that point on would be inevitable.
    If all this is true then it could be argued that the universe is moot; pointless. Like conducting an experiment when you already know the outcome or asking a question you already know the answer to.
    If however, the thoughts and decisions of people do not necessarily follow these laws, then perphaps that’s where meaning could be found.
    If what goes on in our heads in not simply the inevitable result of the laws of physics , chemistry or whatever, then maybe that’s the only thing which keeps the universe from being a pointless exercise.
    Unfortunately this still leads me back to the end of the universe. When that happens, is everything erased? Is the sum total of existence going to end the same way no matters what happens or doesn’t?
    Again, I’m not talking about personal meaning but more about whether there’s any point to existance in general. If the universe is exactly the same at the end as when it started, then wasn’t it all for nothing?
    I’ve probably babbled on enough for now. I’m going to sober-up and re-read what you wrote earlier.

    Looking forward to more comments from you or other writers.

  3. The Atheist says:

    That’s an excellent line from Hitchiker’s! :D For readers unfamiliar with the reference:

    Ford handed the book to Arthur.

    “What is it?” asked Arthur.

    “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s a sort of electronic book. It tells you everything you need to know about anything. That’s its job.”

    Arthur turned it over nervously in his hands.

    “I like the cover,” he said. “‘Don’t Panic.’ It’s the first helpful or intelligible thing anybody’s said to me all day.”

    “You’d better be prepared for the jump into hyperspace. It’s unpleasantly like being drunk.”

    “What’s so unpleasant about being drunk?”

    “You ask a glass of water.”

    Classic!!

    I did understand that you were thinking about meaning as an attribute of the physical universe, and that once the universe was gone without a trace, then by extension, so is all meaning. Hence the question: if the universe vanishes, it takes with it any meaning, and if meaning ultimately vanishes, then how can there be meaning?

    My earlier response was about what we really mean when we say “meaning”. I suggest that there is no “meaning” outside of our minds, and that meaning is subjective rather than absolute. I don’t say this to trivialize meaning in any way; meaning is part and parcel of every perception we have of the universe.

    By analogy, meaning doesn’t exist in the universe any more than the color “red” exists in the universe. There are light waves with wavelengths between 400 and 700 nanometers, but wavelength is not color. Red exists only in our mind. Red, like meaning, is a product of perception. Material in the universe collides, but the meaning of the material and the collision is a product of perception: you interpret some of the colliding material to mean the little toe on your left foot, and the other material to mean the chair leg. “Stubbing your toe” is the meaning you ascribe to the event. The collision would no doubt mean something quite different to a theoretical sub-atomic being witnessing the same event.

    Let’s look a bit closer at the concluding question: “if meaning ultimately vanishes, then how can there be meaning?” Note that in the first part of this question, we are talking about a reified “meaning”, something that is an attribute of the universe. But when we subsequently ask “how can there be meaning,” we change our definition from a reified “meaning” to what this absence of something in the universe “means” to us!

    If thoughts and decisions are a process of mind, and mind is a process of brain function, and the brain is physical and its functions are therefore bound by physical laws, then thoughts and decisions must also be bound by physical laws. Therefore thoughts and decisions must also be predictable in theory inasmuch as any physical event is predictable. But even if this is all true, saying that the universe is therefore pointless is in the end an act of imposing personal meaning.

    If all meaning is personal, then we might ask a similar question: if personal meaning dies with the person, was there ever really any meaning? That’s the question that the Badenough post attempts to address.

  4. Smokes too much says:

    I was reading the Badenough post again, and Schoedinger’s cat came to mind. After reading the article on wiki about it, and confusing myself even further, I looked up reification. So at least I learned a new word.
    At this point I not even sure if matters whether meaning is an abstract or an absolute.
    If it’s an abstraction, existing only as a thought, then it needs a brain in which to exist.
    If in some way it’s an absolute, then it needs the universe to exist.
    Either way I keep running into the same wall.
    I still keeping coming back to the idea that meaning comes from making a difference. If the universe starts as nothing an ends as nothing, what has changed?
    It seems to me, as I read your reply, that you are saying existance IS meaningless.
    Or maybe I’m just missing the point again. I do that a lot.
    I’ve been thinking about Dr. Badenough’s experiment.
    The idea of something that matters now not mattering later is interesting but I’m not sure if it’s possible.
    Even if the Doc wiped out your entire memory of the experiment (including his proposal so he didn’t have to pay you), just that fact that it occurred will have some effect somehow.
    The experiment means something to the doctor. He couldn’t erase his own memory of it, or what’s the point?
    Even if he goofed and blanked his own memory as well, time has still passed. Time that could have been spent doing something else. Like putting a trigger guard on his brain wipe gun.
    However the scenario plays out, something in the future will be different because of your decision, even if you don’t remember it or notice the result.
    If you have no qualms about losing the 8 hours, I guess another question could be – do the possible consequences to others bother you? The future victims of torture perhaps?
    Leaving moral issuses aside, I do believe there is no such thing as an isolated incident. Even if in some cases the effect is minute, I believe there is an effect farther down the road.
    As for you poor cat, obviously it’s suffering and how it ends up dying would have an effect on you. And in someway, an effect on others who are effected by you, directly or indirectly.

  5. The Atheist says:

    I think you’ve made an important distinction in your last post. The wall you are running into seems to be a premise that, unless an event causes some permanent effect, the event cannot be meaningful. That seems to be the basis for concluding that something can’t matter now unless it matters forever.

    If we accept this premise, then we should also conclude that everything is meaningless even in a permanent universe. Eons from now, the only evidence of today’s meaningful event would be a collection of particles which are displaced due to the event. These particles are no longer organized as the people or things that participated in the event. The particles may become separated by light years, and some particles may drop into a black hole or go out of existence altogether (particles can be annihilated). Even if some of the matter that once comprised the participants in the event still exists, the participants themselves no longer exist. The participants are defined by the particular organization of matter/energy, not simply the matter/energy per se. Further, the new location of the particles is not in itself meaningful – the location of any given particle we encounter today does not represent the meaning of any long forgotten event that put it there. Yet the displacement of the particle is all that remains of a once meaningful event. To summarize, I’m claiming that evidence of an event, if remote enough, does not preserve the meaning of the event.

    This leads me to an observation: if we accept the premise that an event is only meaningful if its meaning is preserved, and if meaning is eventually lost in both an eternal universe and in a temporal universe, then meaningfulness does not depend on whether the universe is eternal or temporal.

    You mentioned that meaning only comes from making a difference. But we also find meaning in things that don’t make a difference, other than the fact that we ourselves are perhaps changed (for example, our mental state may change) by the fact that we perceived meaning. For example, we may find meaning in a piece of art – meaning that the artist never saw. Or we may find meaning by gazing up at the stars, or by contemplating what it means to be conscious. But we also are changed by events that do not hold meaning – for example a hair blows out of place as the result of a breeze. So making a difference and perceiving meaning to not seem dependent. That said, I agree that we also find meaning in making a difference. However I don’t see any reason to impose a constraint that the difference must be permanent for it to have meaning.

    I agree that existence is meaningless, as you say, but I only thinks it’s true in the sense that the universe per se does not supply any meaning – unless you consider that the universe produces creatures with minds that perceives meaning. The universe does not have meaning any more than it has the color red. However the salient fact, at least to us, is not that the universe exists – it’s that we exist. A universe without consciousness to perceive it doesn’t exist in the way that we mean that the color red exists or that meaning exists. By existence, we mean our interaction with something external to ourselves (even if a delineation between internal and external may be arbitrary); it’s the interaction with the external that we perceive as existence. Consciousness, the perception of existence, is meaning at the most basic level, any other meaning is a qualifier to this foundation.

  6. Demodocus says:

    I think you are right to point out how we use the word “meaningful.” I looked up the word “mean” in the dictionary and it has over 20 different meanings. Ultimately, what gives something its meaning is its context.

    While there are a few things in life that are “meaningful” only to me, most things that are meaningful are so because there is a broader community that recognizes and shares in that meaning. A color might be meaningful to me, but the fact that I call it “red” assumes that I’m contextualizing my understanding of “red” within a larger community who refers to that same color by the same name. The meaning is furthered by the ways in which my particular community uses that color. I can choose to distance myself from that community, but I would also be distancing myself from meaningful interaction.

    How do we find meaning in a poem? Or express meaning through a poem? We are using a language that is not ours; metaphors that others have used; a medium that we did not create; all to express a particular meaning (which cannot be predictable or mathematically quantifiable). Furthermore, how is the meaning of a poem verified? How are bad poems judged and distinguished from good ones. This is but one place among many in every day life where science plays no significant role and yet we manage to talk about “meaning” and “truth” in an acceptable way. And the meaning is not contingent upon laws or theories, but on particular communities who judge based on acceptable and diverse criteria.

    What is ultimately meaningful to me (I’ll admit here that I’m a Christian – but not the kind on tv) is not only what contextualizes all of my words and actions, but my entire life. I may or may not remember all of my particular actions per se, but I remember the story of my life and what gave it its context. Like a game I enjoy playing, the rules are not arbitrary but actually enable me to not only enjoy the game, but also act and to interact with others in a meaningful way. I also believe that meaning is not absolute or abstract, but I also believe that it is not individually constructed. I also think it is valid to associate meaningfulness with the eternal. For most Christians at least, it is not about contributing, making a difference, creating memories, etc. as much as it is the mere participation in such a “game” that has been given as a gift. And it is within that particular “game” that such questions are legitimate.

    I actually agree wholeheartedly with Smokes Too Much. The “meaning” that Smokes is looking for can only be contextualize in a “game” or “community” other than science. Science is a particular (and much needed) game, but there are certain things it cannot contextualize and make sense of. One particular example would be the notion of love. The “meaning” of love is contingent upon some other narrative and community. And so to make sense of love, people borrow from the narrative of family, or religion, or pop culture, or a little bit of everything. I connect it and contextualize it in a much broader narrative/family/religion, which ultimately gives it a denser and more nuanced meaning (regardless if people think it is false). And love is just one of countless things people point to with regards to “meaningfulness” that the narrative of modern science cannot contextualize, give meaning to, justify, prove, or predict.

    I wrote way more than I needed to, so feel free to acknowledge certain points of disagreement without feeling compelled to address them all. And thanks again for this sort of space to dialogue!

  7. The Atheist says:

    Hi, Demo – good to see you back!

    Good points about community defining a context for meaning. I would add that biology also defines an even more fundamental context – fundamental in that it may underlie the contexts defined by community. For example, interpreting actions as acts of love or aggression seem present even in non-social animals. The interpretation is no doubt at an unconscious level for these animals, and far less nuanced than meaning that we humans find since we also have the context of community (as you pointed out) and the context of conscious, reflective thought. It seems plausible thought that much of the meaning we find may be through unconscious processing, in the same way that most or our brain activity is unconscious.

    I would argue that science does play a significant role in the discussion of meaning. This role does not detract from the meaning itself – investigating the meaning-making process is not a substitute for the actual meaning. A passage of music is just as beautiful, perhaps even more beautiful, with the additional insights we might gain from music theory; how the brain reacts to timbre, tempo, rhythm, harmony, melody contours, etc. We still enjoy the music as we did before, but now we are more aware that certain aspects of it which we might not have noticed before effect how we feel about it. For example we may learn that the particular timbre of the lead instrument makes us feel the way we do so we become even more aware of the timbre and the feeling it gives us.

    Studies of meaning making in primates and other animals may be the same as studies in music theory in that it doesn’t take the magic out of the meaning we find, rather it adds new dimensions to it. I agree with you that meaning doesn’t depend on science. It’s the other way around: the science of meaning-making depends on meaning. Science studies meaning making because meaning making can be observed and described. Though meaning can be found in science just as meaning can be found in most any human activity, meaning in general (meaning of life, etc.) is not found in science per se. But science has an important contribution to make when we wonder about the meaning of our universe since science helps us understand what the universe is. For example we find very different meaning in a universe consisting of flat land where Ra rides his chariot across the sky, then we would find in a universe that began as a singularity and is expanding in every direction and is filled with countless, enormous celestial bodies, most of which are millions of times larger than the Earth.

    I agree that sometimes we remember events in our lives, and sometimes only second-hand stories about the events, and often only a more general outline of certain aspects of our lives. And all of those types of memories give us context for meaning in the present. But it’s also the case that some of the memories simply fade. The faded memories may still effect our present context in that our brain’s “present state” may be different because of the forgotten memory. But in that case, the meaning associated with the memory is still lost – the concept of a subtle difference in “our brain’s present state” does not have the same meaning as the meaning originally associated with the memory. Meaning was still lost. My point is that the lost memory was once meaningful, even if that meaning is now lost. In other words, I don’t think meaning has to be eternal to qualify as meaning.

    Btw – your comments weren’t at all “too much”. As always, I thought they were very focused and right on topic!

    Also btw – I got a good laugh out “I’ll admit here that I’m a Christian – but not the kind on tv” I’m astounded by how prevalent TV preachers (and their ilk) are, and how main-stream that sort of Christianity is, at least in the US – so much so that conscientious Christians have to clarify that they are not “one of them” in the same breath that they say that they are Christians!

  8. Don Severs says:

    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.

    — Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (1995), quoted from Victor J Stenger, Has Science Found God? (2001)

    A friend of Dawkins’ said to him, “Richard, you’re one of the most purposeful people I know. Where do you get your drive in the light of a meaningless universe?”

    Dawkins replied, “The universe has no purpose, but I do.”

  9. Larry says:

    If there is no creator, why does anything in objective manifestation exist. Why do atoms, sub atomic particles light or darkness exist. IT seems without something to create, nothing should exist. Even if the objective manifestation is an illusion, including, body-minds something is perceiving this reality or illusion. That perceiver should not exist as everything should not exist. Yet we can’t deny that something exists. Do athiests say nothing exists? And if something, anyhing exists how did it come into existence if there was nothing to create it? Did it just appear from nothing.IF there is no creator there should be nothing.

    • Durzal says:

      If by creator you mean a first cause, then I dont have any problem with the idea of a creator.

      If by creator you mean a personal loving God whom sends those who don’t believe in him to a place of eternal torment then I think thats an absurd notion that lacks logical sense.

      Which one did you mean my friend.

    • The Atheist says:

      If I may unpack your question a bit, the question really implies this assertion: the only acceptable reason that something exists is that it was created, and things can’t exist without a reason. Here are two problems I see:

      1) The assertion implies that God must be created, otherwise God has no reason to exist. Therefore, God can no more exist without a creator than an atom can.

      2) Even if we accept your presumption as true, that God created all things, it still doesn’t answer your original question of “why” things exist since it doesn’t explain why God exists or why God created.

      Regarding your second question, how (vs. why) does anything exist, there are compelling scientific theories – at least more compelling than any creation theories I’m familiar with. The scientific theories have a stronger basis in logic (by that I mean testable mathematical models) and a stronger basis in observation (for observation to count in science, it must be repeatable).

      We frequently observe matter spontaneously coming into existence. Particle and antiparticle pairs appear spontaneously all the time, and then collide, annihilating both particles. So it isn’t true that nothing comes into existence spontaneously. Superstring theory has spawned several cosmological theories. Each of these seeks to describe the cause of the Big Bang and the conditions that led up to it. The theories are in their early stages and are mutually exclusive (at most one can be correct). We have only recently developed tools with high enough energy to begin testing components of the various theories and weeding out the ones that do not correlate with experimental evidence.

      We already have a pretty good knowledge of why atoms, sub atomic particles and light exists. The transition from a singularity (it may have been the size of Planck’s Constant and not a true singularity) which rapidly expanded, then slowly cooled and coagulated into particles, is pretty well understood in considerable detail by physical science.

  10. Larry says:

    I don’t attrbute personal qualities to what creates. Well maybe a few. Awareness, consciousness, beingness and dont get upset . . . ‘unconditional’ love. I see this as a loving universe, but also impersonal.

    • Durzal says:

      What evidence, logic or reasoning are you acting on when you attribute personal qualities such as Awareness, consciousness, beingness or unconditional love to a creator/first cause.

    • The Atheist says:

      If you have enough evidence of God to know that he has attribute like awareness, consciousness, beingness, and unconditional love, then you don’t need to argue for his existence by theorizing that a universe needs a creator; you only need to present the evidence you already have for God. On the other hand, if your observation of the universe is the only evidence you have to support a claim that God exists, then I think a more thorough observation will convince you that if the universe has a creator, he is not all-loving, at least not toward us humans.

      If we look at the vastness of just the part of the universe we can see (we see some 80 billion galaxies in a space of some 180 billion light-years in diameter), we find that most of the universe is a vacuum that is only a few degrees above absolute zero. The 80 billion galaxies are made up of some 30 to 70 sextillion stars (a typical galaxy has about 400 billion stars). One of those 30 to 70 sextillion stars, our Sun, has only one inhabitable planet – Earth. Most stars we see don’t have any inhabitable planets. Only a small portion of the Earth is friendly to humans and it’s only been human-friendly during a fraction of its lifespan (the early Earth was hot, engulfed in noxious gasses, and pelted by large asteroids, the future earth will be a cinder that is engulfed by the Sun as it becomes a red giant). Only an infinitesimal part of the universe is friendly to humans, and then only during a tiny percent of the time it’s been in existence. The observed universe is no evidence that an all-loving God exists.

      • Phil says:

        I would argue the opposite. It should be seen that because earth is hospitable for human life and life in general that that in itself implies a Designer. The teleological argument states:
        1. All Design Implies a Designer.
        2. There is Great Design in the Universe.
        3. The Universe has a Designer.
        There are also evidences that our Universe is fine-tuned for life. The oxygen levels could not be raised or lowered and life still be possible. Our carbon dioxide as well is exactly right. Even the planet Jupiter is in the right place so that earth is not hit with asteroids.

        for many more evidences that earth and our universe is fine tuned for life see Hugh Ross’s @ reasons.org/fine-tuning-life-universe

        • Durzal says:

          Yes, I would agree that as earth is hospitable for human life it would imply that we are designed for the planet earth,.. the designer according to 150 years of scientific research and understanding is a long and complex evolutionary process.

          The oxygen and carbon dioxide levels on earth are ideal/fine tuned for us as the human race evolved on this planet.

          If you believe that a designer put Jupiter there so that earth would not be hit with asteroids I’m sure you’ll agree he did a piss poor job as the earth is regularly hit by small asteroids thankfully most of these explode or burn up in the atmosphere. Here is a big one that your designer missed
          http://www.universetoday.com/36697/the-asteroid-that-killed-the-dinosaurs/

          If your many more evidences are anything like this last lot, I’ll give it a miss.

          • Phil says:

            First of all thank you for your quick response.

            I researched an article on the internet that “Jupiter’s long standing reputation as a shield that protects Earth from comet and asteroid impacts has been cast into doubt, new research says.” “..It turns out if Jupiter didn’t exist, some of those cometary invaders wouldn’t approach Earth in the first place.” Jupiter’s placement in our universe that acted almost like a big-brother blocking the comets and asteroids from bombarding the earth was a favorite of mine but in light of the evidence I feel that there are some other evidences out there that can carry more weight. However, it also showed me that relying on “scientific” evidence can and many times does change in light of on-going research. I imploy you to look at Hugh Ross’s evidences that I listed above because his credetials is in physics and astronomy. He believes as I do, that faith and science are not enemies. I could list all the evidences here for the fine tuning of the universe but there’s 93! I don’t think that Jupiter’s placement is on the list. Happy trails!

            • Durzal says:

              Phil

              “scientific” evidences whole credibility is built on the fact that it changes or is abolished when proved incorrect by ongoing research, it means that the longer a theory holds up to scrutiny, research and experimentation the more it can trusted.

              I too believe that faith and science are not enemies nor mutually exclusive and I also have never stated that there is no God.
              I did look at Hugh Ross’s list and I recognised a few that if they mean what I think they mean are
              actually very persuasive arguments… at first glance,
              but when you research it you discover that it also has very persuasive counter arguments or explanations.
              Pick one from the list and explain how you feel it provides evidence for a supernatural designer and we can explore the possibilities.

        • The Atheist says:

          When you say that you find evidence for a Designer as you observe that the “earth is hospitable for human life”, you imply that you also find a lack of evidence for a Designer as you observe that almost all of the Universe (and even most of the Earth) is hostile to human life. Unless we have a reason to require that either all of the Universe was designed, or none of it was designed (that is, unless we reject out of hand that only some of the Universes was designed), then at most you can say that only a tiny fraction of the Universe, some parts of the Earth, the Sun, and the planet Jupiter in your example, seem to be designed by virtue of their benefit to humanity. As Durzal already pointed out, the design of Jupiter, Earth, and the asteroids seems flawed since Jupiter often fails to protect the Earth from asteroid bombardment.

          My more general question is: why should we judge whether the Universe was designed based on whether it is beneficial to humans? That assumes that if the Universe was designed, then it was designed for humans. Why should we make this assumption?

          When you conclude that our Universe is fine-tuned for life, how do you determine cause and effect? For example, how can you tell that the Universe is fine tuned for life, and not the other way around? In other words, why would you not say instead that life is fine tuned for the Universe? We don’t have any evidence that the Universe is the way it is so that it can support life, but we do have evidence that life is the way it is so that it can live in the Universe (life adapts through evolution to thrive in its environment).

          I agree with your argument that all Design requires a Designer. If by “Design”, we mean an intentional ordering of things (rather than an accidental ordering of things), then we only need to find evidence that Universe’s ordering was intentional to conclude that it has a Designer. What evidence of “Design”, the intentional ordering of things, can we observe?

          On the other hand, if by “Design” you include the accidental ordering of things, then you would have to agree that the “designer” could be natural cause (vs. a supernatural or spiritual cause).

          • Phil says:

            C.S. Lewis when thinking back to the time when he was an atheist, remembered the response or objection that he would offer someone who asked him, “Why do you not believe in God?” C.S. Lewis looked at the universe we live in and saw that it was empty, dark and cold. Lewis saw that life was only to be most likely found on earth, other than anywhere else in the universe, and that the life that is here is filled with pain that are caused amongst ourselves and the species that live here. “The creatures cause pain by being born, and live by inflicting pain, and in pain they mostly die.” “Lewis stated that, “If you ask me to believe that this is the work of a benevolent and omnipotent spirit, I reply that all the evidence points in the opposite direction.” However, Lewis never dreamed of raising the question that “If the universe is so bad, or even half so bad, how on earth did human beings ever come to attribute it to the activity of a wise and good Creator?”

          • The Atheist says:

            I think the question Lewis asked was an important one. While he might have asked it only rhetorically, I think it’s a question that deserves an answer. “If the universe is so bad, or even half so bad, how on earth did human beings ever come to attribute it to the activity of a wise and good Creator?”

            We should first recognize that the ancients who developed their various religions didn’t look up at the sky and notice how uninhabitable the universe was. To them, the stars were bright dots (or even gods!) in a canopy overhead. The land that they inhabited, plus a bit more beyond their borders, constituted all of the known universe. They, like we, lived in a tiny, inhabitable bubble in a vast uninhabitable universe. Only they didn’t have the wherewithal that we have today to understand that. Their “universe” was mostly good in that it supported human life, but the universe was vexed by human strife and by random day-to-day misfortunes.

            Most ancient religions had many gods, some of which were mostly good (or helpful) and others mostly evil (or vexing). But none of these gods, not even the creator gods, were omnipotent. Adherents to these religions could easily conceive of these gods without having to wrestle with the Problem of Evil that Lewis alludes to in his question. The Canaanite and Hittite pantheons are good examples of this type of system.

            Other religions had only a few “principal” gods – a god of good (the creator) and a god of evil (the destroyer), along with a few lesser gods that were subservient to either the good god or the evil god. The good god has the upper hand and will eventually defeat the evil god. But until then, the struggle between the two gods ensues, and we live during this epic struggle. The struggle is the source of evil in our “universe”. The Persian/Babylonian religion, Zoroastrianism, is a good example of this type of system.

            Judaism developed in the context of these more ancient Canaanite, Hittite, Akkadian, Persian, and Babylonian religions which were present in the region. The Canaanite religion described a large pantheon including El (also called El Elyon), Yahweh (son of El) and Baal (also son of El). Zoroastrianism had the concept of two prime forces: good and evil (Ahura Mazda is the all-good but non-omnipotent creator, Angra Mainyu is the embodiment of all evil). El became the God of Judah (one of the regions of Canaan), Yahweh became the God of Israel (another region of Canaan). Only after the return of the Babylonian exiles and the formation of Yehud, which occupied both the Northern and Southerns Kingdoms (formerly Israel and Judah respectively), did El and Yahweh came to be known as the same God with 2 names. Formulating El and Yahweh as the same God was essential for uniting the population of the 2 Kingdoms – neither Kingdom would accept the God of the other Kingdom as the “better” God. It is out of this emerging monotheism what we begin to see The Problem of Evil. It is only a problem when we posit an omniscient, omnipotent, and omni-benevolent God, and then we perceive evil (or pain as Lewis describes it here) in the world.

            This, I believe, his HOW (to answer Lewis’ question) human beings came to attribute such a universe to the activity of a wise and good Creator.

  11. bobsleder says:

    “Life is empty and meaningless” a quote from the Landmark Forum. Offensive at first to the ego, but probably true. We are nothing but transformers of energy, part of the circle of life and death. In the span of 14 billion years our universe has been around our lives are nothing but a fart in time. Every June we have these bugs called June bugs that fill the air like dust in the wind. When I drive down by the lake thousands of them splat against my windshield. They live for a few days, mate and die. What’s the point? our lives are no different. It’s only our massive ego’s that try to convince us that we are something more, something important, have some purpose.

    The only thing that I can think of that makes any sense is to enjoy it while it lasts, try to leave every place you go a little better, every person you meet a little happier, enjoy love, pleasure, pain, any sensations that we can have. Forget about resentments and stupid hurts and the follies of others and just enjoy and try to bring a little sunshine into other peoples lives too. Thats the point of this exercise as far as I’m concerned. It is only man with the monkey chatter constantly going on in our heads that invents all the drama around life. My cat just does his thing, eats, lounges around in the sun, sleeps, screws, and craps. No drama, that’s how we all should live, just like cats. There would be no need for prozac or drugs or car crash movies. Just live. Thats the point of this exercise, plain and simple.

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