Earlier today Fleegman asked,
It what way [are things] not turning out alright? If life has no objective meaning, that’s somehow a serious problem?
Several people have responded to this already, but I want to add some more to the discussion.
First, a quick and simple but not, I think, simpleminded, reaction: how sad. How sad that Fleegman would be content with something so small. So what if life means nothing? he asks. That’s a problem?
Of course it’s a problem! Who has not wondered about this, worried about it? What is all the literature of the ages about if not meaning? What is the meaning of giving up so easily on meaning?
Of course he will say I misquoted him; I left out “objective.” Fleegman, like most atheists with whom I’ve interacted on this, says he can impart his own meaning to life. It seems to me, though, that meaning must come from either from above or from below, from the transcendent and universal or from the local and particular. Humans may seem perhaps to occupy a kind of middle ground between the two, but that move toward meaning fails, as I’ll come back to in a moment.
If transcendent and universal meaning exists, then human meaning can objectively exist. If that higher meaning is truly meaningful, then it’s possible that human meaning derived from it can be truly meaningful. I am being intentionally vague with terms here to avoid forcing the atheist to think in theistic categories. I just want to set up a basic contrast between universal and transcendent meaning on the one hand, and local and particular meaning on the other.
If meaning is not to be found in the universal and transcendent, then what is left? There is a trend—one sees it in physics, in molecular genetics and biology, in neurophysiology, and more—toward placing the locus of reality in the local and particular. Every large event is the aggregate of physical reactions, all governed at the tiniest scale by chance and necessity, such that every great event is ruled by the small events, each of them very particular, each of them very local—the very antithesis of the transcendent and universal. None of these local or particular events carries any meaning with it. Each one is described fully (were it possible to describe each of them) in terms of inert matter acted upon by chance and necessity.
There is no meaning there. If that is where ultimate reality is located, there is no meaning.
But perhaps I have set up a false dichotomy. Maybe meaning can be derived at some intermediate level, at the level of human desires, relationships, interactions, flourishing. Maybe so, but it calls for the question, what is a human being? Are we aggregates of particulars? Or expressions of the transcendent? Is there realistically any other option besides these two? If there is, where did it come from? We all agree we came from the dust. What made this dust into a meaning-maker, “objective” or otherwise? What makes meaning mean anything?
If there is no answer to that question, then even human meaning means nothing. By nothing I mean there is no local meaning, no contingent meaning, no “I’ll derive my own meaning,” for that meaning means nothing in that case.
But again maybe Fleegman says, so what? So what if there is no meaning? What’s the problem? I would answer the same again as I did before: How small. How sad.