Wednesday, August 18, 2010

No Afterlife, So no meaning? Hardly!

As usual, the clueless evangelical and fundie brigade assumes that because we believe in no god or gods, we must be desperately derelict folks, without any rhyme or reason to live. According to them, we could as well jump off the nearest bridge as look at it, since without "transcendent purpose" what use is life? Well - plenty! If you have even half a brain, that is! The reason is, as I noted in blog a few months ago, is that we choose to have life driven purpose rather than an ultimate purpose driven life, which to us is way too costly.

To quote the words of philosopher Marilyn French:

It is a loss of dignity to define humanity as a race defined to please a higher Being, rather than as a race whose only end is to please itself. The ‘gift’ of purpose to the human race is thus very expensive: one can fulfill one’s God-given purpose only by sacrificing felicity while one is alive.”

What French is saying, is that when one sacrifices his or her life purpose to some imaginary authoritarian (allegedly superior) being for which we don't even have evidence for existence (not even as much as UFOs) bad things happen. Those include that one gives up one's own felicity and independent existence to tilt at ghosts and invisible windmills manufactured by the deformed brain. Thus, when one is compelled to please some imaginal being, instead of oneself, one is no longer true to onself and becomes a hollow person, a cutout or simulacrum. Otherwise known as a "Zombie".

Well, we know the country is populated by millions of zombies right now, just looking at the spectacle of this "mosque" building controversy in NYC. So, rather than adhere to principles of property and religious liberty enshrined in our Constitution, millions choose to become zombies of the piolitical class or pundits - led by whackos like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, not to mention the screed mongers at FAUX News. But, that's another blog. Right now I want to revisit a certain "pastor" who has pronounced that atheists could as well be dead, or rats or insects, if they forego any ultimate purpose governing their lives. He doesn't compute, nor will he ever- I reckon, that we choose to allow reason to drive our lives and thereby attain the happiness and satisfaction first defined by Aristotle: the maximization of one's talents or abilities to the fullest.

He demands we ought to be slaves to his authoritarian, genocidal god (based on an antiquated, mistranslated book) instead of answerable - like adults ought to be - only to ourselves.

In his wonderful book, Eupraxophy: Living Without Religion, author Paul Kurtz cites the elements of the fulfilled life peculiar to all non-believers. As he notes(p. 39):

"The starting point for discussion is a response to the question: 'What is the meaning of life?' The theist is mired in the salvation myth which he believes gives meaning to his mortal existence, and he cannot comprehend how human beings can find life meaningful or behave responsibly without it."

This belief is certainly evident in the latest remarks of the incessantly blogging "pastor" who never seems to re-read his screeds to see their innate inanity. We behold for instance:

If there were no God , there would be no possibility of life beyond the grave and certainly no possibility of immortality . Life would end in the finality of death . There would be no transcendent purpose to give meaning to our lives “

He commits a basic error of logic in the first sentence, which is understandable - and again discloses a person committed to a rigid, authoritarian book, as opposed to thinking for himself. The error is that of assuming an afterlife must be necessarily attendant on a deity. However, as Sir A. J. Ayer said (folliowing a near death experience he reported in The Lond Sunday Times, in 1987): "Just as one can have a godless life, one can have a godless afterlife".

How can this be? Well, because as I noted in an earlier blog, quantum physics allows for a POSSIBLE residual consciousness after the material body expires, wherein the de Broglie waves originally associated with the body's electrons and protons now become detached as pure waves. Following David Bohm's reasoning in his Wholeness and Implicate Order, p. 209 that a "higher dimensional reality" enfolds the physical aspects with consciousness.

Not that I necessarily believe this! I would need as much evidence as I would require for a divinity! (That evidence was to have been demonstrated in the Gozzini-Rapisarda experiment proposed by Bohm and others, but its results were indeterminate - so the issue remains open)

My point is merely to assert that it's incorrect to dogmatically insist that an afterlife hinges on the existence of a deity. No, it does not, no more than electricity as a physical phenomenon hinges on the existence of electrical devices to use it. This is irrespective of whether fundies are mentally capable of processing that or not. (Although as Bohm and I also noted, the form of consciousness taken would be very dilute, nonlocal and amorphous - no personality or individuality - so to my way of thinking, nothingness might still be preferable!) Again, it isn't necessarily so that "life ends in the finality of death".

It might or might not, in any case it matters not a whit to me, or to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, "it neither picks my pockets nor breaks my bones" as to whether I survive beyond the grave or I don't.

Going on, the fundie's claim "there would be no transcendent purpose in our lives" is correct, but as Kurtz observes (ibid.) :

"The quest for transcendent meaning is a futile endeavor, however, for there is no evidence that nature has some mysterious divine reality locked away- which once revealed - will relieve us of the need to make our own choices or direct our own destinies.

Life has no hidden, singular meaning per se."

He goes on to accurately point out that the "promises of priests and religious leaders" are merely "a deception perpetrated on gullible souls who lack the courage to summon their own resources and live fully."

In other words, they become like children or dependents. Either dependent on an outdated book to live, or on one or other fulminating "pastor" or preacher or reverend who supposedly knows no more than they do- to show them what to do. The atheist, meanwhile, assumes the responsibility of a grown person and lives and defines his life according to his specific moral compass based on moral provisionalism. Defining for any given event or act the greatest relative good attainable, since an absolute is impossible to achieve in an imperfect world.

Anyway, our eager beaver pastor rumbles on:

"Our lives would have no more significance than any animal or insect straining for survival until the moment it dies . All the achievements , the sacrifices , the good and wonderful things men and women do would ultimately be futile efforts in a universe awaiting its own dark dismal end ".

Of course, this is utter balderdash. For one thing, as humans are endowed with REASON, they have much more than other animals in terms of assuring their survival - as well as using the faculty of reason to define their own destiny without "Daddy God" to hold onto. Kurtz, in his book, defines several key elements which are attendant on the full use of reason and hence the measure of Greek happiness- to maximize one's use of it. He lists them (p. 26) as:

1. Skepticism: a vital methodological principle of inquiry. It demands that "if a claim is not justified by objective validation or verification, we ought to be cautious in holding fast to it." Under this rubric, of course, invoking ancient texts or scriptures doesn't qualify since they lack objective validation.

2. Probabilism: "All beliefs should be taken as hypotheses. They are tentative or hypothetical depending on the degree of evidence or the validity of the arguments used to support them". Again, arguing using bible quotes (especially taken literally) doesn't qualify - since these are not subject to the process of textual analysis and criticism and moreover lead to the logical fallacy of "appeal to authority".

3. Fallibilism: This is the principle that "even if a claim is well supported, we should be prepared to modify" our acceptance of it, if new controverting evidence arises in the future and is confirmed as valid.

In each of these, reason is enabled to function to its fullest, and thereby - with our inquiry into the meaning of life and assessment of all its aspects, we can better come to make our own specific choices. These efforts, contrary to resulting in "futile efforts" - result in the most efficient possible, without being under the "gun" of some purposive supernatural force. Further if no god exists, as Kurtz notes, and the so-called "sacred texts" are not divinely inspired (as I showed using examples from Genesis in the blog before last) then appeals to "transcendent ethics" can hardly serve as guides for conduct.

As for "awaiting a possible dark end" - so what? For those of us who are atheists, it motivates us even more since we know the time is limited and this life is all there is! Thus, we research and write books (or blogs) with even greater intensity or ferocity, we don't cower under some rock! In addition, we are much more enthused in our destiny by the prospect of nothingness, than to be faced with the sordid, horrific afterlife on offer from the fundies. In other words, we gain NOTHING by accepting their afterlife horse shit, other than extortion to live our lives THEIR way! Give us nothingness any day, and besides - since there is no evidence whatever personal consciousness survives death (no one wakes after deep anaesthesis knowing what went on) we believe the evidence is on OUR side for nothingness.

At least the "pastor" accurately quotes the late Carl Sagan:

"The late astronomer and author Carl Sagan didn't believe in God . After the death of his wife of 20 years , he believed he would NEVER see her again . As his OWN death approached , he expressed a common human longing mixed with the futility inherent in atheism : "I would love to believe that when I die I will live again , that some thinking , feeling , remembering part of me will continue . But , much as I want to believe that , and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife , I know of nothing to suggest than it is more than wishful thinking" ( "In the Valley of the Shadow," Parade , March 10 , 1996 ) .

And here, Dr. Sagan merits kudos, because his maximization of efficient reason is on display though he faces the "grim reaper". We see in evidence all three of the earmarks noted by Kurtz: Skepticsm (that any afterlife exists), Probabilism (concession to the probability it doesn't since "he knows of nothing to suggest it's more than wishful thinking" and Fallibilism, that incorporates a desire to be proven wrong - if only he could be.

Here Sagan sets an example for all unbelievers, to face their end without collapsing and grabbing the first afterlife insurance policy that some religious snake oil salesman or pitchman offers - or justifies via a veiled threat (by using the clumsy and already invalidated "Pascal's Wager"). Sagan then is the embodiment of the courageous rationalist, as opposed to the cowering, craven fundies who'd sacrifice their integrity to try and gain a pseudo-ticket or free pass to their putative (but impossible) "hereafter".

Finally, the blogging bloviator writes:

"When you remove the prospect and hope of an afterlife , your life is without value and without purpose . What difference would it ultimately make whether we lived an unblemished life or one like Adolf Hitler ? EVERYONE'S fate would be the SAME ! The good contributions ( or bad evil ones ) , would make NO difference to their fate or the fate of the universe ."

Which again, incorporates the misguided child's view (although at other times his authoritarian Parent is in control). What this character forgets or opts to omit, is that we engender life driven purpose from our reason, to craft our own meaning. We aren't dependent on it from above or wherever. Thus, we can volunteer (as I do for 10-15 hrs. per week) or pursue our research interests with a view to publishing books, or articles, knowing in each case the work has value for its duration...and affects many. This is the basis for an adult's state of mind, which is gratified by limited but practical attainments, as opposed to a mental child who "wants it all". For the fundie dependent children, it's either all or nothing. They must be assured of their hereafter, or their whole life is a shambles and good for nothing. Tragic!

It reminds me of the aftermath of a lecture I gave in Barbados some years ago, after I disabused a questioner who complained on my exclusion of "God" during my talk on galaxy clusters. After I explained that science focuses on principles, concepts and hypotheses that are at least quantifiable - if not fully measurable- and this stems from a judicious selectivity (which leaves "God' out as a supernatural entity) she replied:

"If I really believed there was no such things as God or an afterlife I'd go kill myself right now"

But WHY? Why not make the most of life as it is, living each moment as if it's one's last, as opposed to terminating one's life and destiny because there's no fantasy immortality that awaits?

As for the pastor's claims that "everyone's fate would be the same", well, sure! But so what! Again, the rationalist adult can live with that. It neither "picks my pocket" nor "breaks my legs" that some may "get away" with something or other. The point is we all end up in the same mass-energy spectrum anyway - either cremated, or 6' under. Big deal! Why whine about what you can't change?

As for his petulant complaint that: "The good contributions ( or bad evil ones ) , would make NO difference to their fate or the fate of the universe"

I beg to differ. The good contributions of those ten medical workers recently slain in Nuristan, Afghanistan will be remembered by the people they served - as well as their loved ones - as long as they live. It may even serve to inspire those left behind to serve others in some capacity. To write off all the efforts of those slain, and all their service as "futile" or "useless" merely because life likely terminates at death is to take a bratty child's outlook. It is to flush all down the toilet in an all or nothing hissy fit, if the ego's inner desires aren't met. It is also the sign of an emotional weakling.

Meanwhile, an emotionally mature, courageous and resilient person - given the end (or facing the proverbial "hangman's noose") would redouble his efforts to help others in response. Not make up stupid, childish excuses not to do anything because it all ends once we shuffle this mortal coil...BOO HOO HOO!

The sad fact that fantasists and immortality adherents need to face, is that one day - who knows when - all humans and their planet will be terminated. It will either happen far in the future - when the Sun balloons to Red Giant status (as all its hydrogen is converted to helium) or it may happen much sooner. Perhaps in a mass climatic catastrophe fueled by global warming, or maybe even a nuclear war - say if the Israelis strike one of Iran's nuclear reactors (as has been predicted by some, see e.g. 'The Point of No Return' in The Atlantic, Sept., p. 86) and the Russsians retaliate since the attack kills dozens of their technicians.

In the end it will all be over, no Earth or human race- not even a trace.

Which is all the more reason, as Carl Sagan would recommend, to make the most of the planet and lives we do have while they're still around!

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