A big hello to all the unbelievers :) I'm new to this site- so to start off, I'd like to share some thoughts and see whether there are any other people here who have had a similar experience to me- especially if they have any advice.

What I'm referring to is what my friend and confidant has helpfully termed for me, the 'side effects' of atheism. I've been a confirmed atheist for about 5 years now, after a period of about 3 years soul searching, prior to which I was a Christian. I'm happy to be at this stage in my journey and in many ways, as I'm sure many of you will agree, letting go of delusions has been the most liberating and positive experience of my life. I might also add here that, as well as being an atheist (i.e. not believing in a deity) I am scientifically minded in other aspects of the 'supernatural', and don't believe in either an afterlife or the soul. I accept evolution, and universal chaos, as the ultimate reality. And most of the time, that sits fine with me.

However, I've started to realise why people are so quick to delude themselves. But since my mind will not logically allow me to do that, I have to learn to overcome these feelings rationally.  For me, there have been a few things that I am finding hard to 'overcome' and make peace with. Here we go...

-First, there is the slow realisation that we are all fundamentally alone. Has anyone else experienced this loneliness? No matter who we are with, or how many friends we have or how deep our relationship- we are all single units... we experience our deepest emotions alone. We are alone inside our heads. It probably doesn't help that I'm part of an atheist minority in a world obsessed with god. Anyway, I can only describe this recent realisation as an 'emptiness', and I'm not surprised at all that most people try to fill this with the notion of an all knowing, all loving father figure.

-Not only are we alone, but we are also incidental. Our lives are a mere puff of wind that will be extinguished forever in the amount of time that, in relative, universal terms, is the mere blink of an eye. We don't matter- and nothing we do matters. And I'm sorry to sound depressing here- it's reality, nonetheless- that we will all die. Everyone we love will die. As we get older, we'll watch them go, one by one- and then it'll be our turn. I really do doubt whether most people have actually faced this reality up front. It certainly takes some time to come to terms with. I think it could probably be rightly described as 'existential anxiety'.

-Since there is no god, all we have is the world we're in and our fellow humans that inhabit it. And here's where the main problem lies: humans suck. They kill and massacre their own kind, they lie, they discriminate, they cause animals to suffer, they destroy the planet, they steal, they rape... yes, these are extreme behaviours but even the average human- who may not necessarily be bad- is fundamentally selfish. Evolution necessitates that- we have to survive. Each to their own and each looking out for themselves. I can understand why this reality would necessitate a doctrine which calls us to love each other, and why this important truth has been clung to for thousands of years. I can also understand why people would cling to the notion of a beautiful, peaceful afterlife... oh absolutely. Because the reality of this world is pretty hard to take sometimes.

Perhaps emotion is a weakness in evolutionary terms.... I can tell you for sure that when I look around and see the state of the world at the hands of cold hearted humans, I feel more alone than ever. And sometimes I think, well- maybe after 70 or so years on this world, I'll probably be more than happy to turn my back on it.

Any thoughts anyone? Has anyone else been through this period of coming to terms to reality? I'd love to hear about your feelings and experiences and how, if at all, you cope with them.

Tags: atheism, death, evolution, humans, reality

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I think you're in a fine place, @Sarah.  You have rejected the part of religion that everyone needs to reject at some point; the childish, rules-based part that was really written for children.

Now you're recognizing that each of us, and humans more generally, still need something.  Good communities to be a part of.  Good tasks to dedicate ourselves to.  Depths of personal courage to be able to face the world's tragedies, and our personal ones.   Principles and hopefulness to guide us toward love, and even toward self-sacrifice for others.  A need to be part of something important, that will continue.

All of us need to find that.  Many of us find it in the mature, grown-up form of religion and God that we're now free to approach afresh.   Many of us find a form of it in family, and children, and community.  Some of us find it in striving to explore and understand pieces of the universe and how it works.  Still others find it in creating things, in artistic expression.

The important thing is looking with an open mind and heart for the good things that draw us, knowing that we'll have to sift through a bit of unimportant nonsense that should just be rejected because, well, humans and their ideas sometimes suck.  There's bad religion, and poor science, and petty atheism, lousy art.  Not all the time, though.  Every now and then humans surprise us with their courage, and their wisdom, and their love for one another.

A "true" theory is one that works.  One that is useful.  One that helps people, and helps people grow.  We all need to find that for ourselves,  and keep testing it against our experience and our insight.  It's a quest we share, and in it we're never really alone.

I'm always a bit bothered when I hear someone say that 'Life has no meaning' and it doesn't matter...   If it has no meaning and doesn't matter without a god how does it have meaning and matter with one?   No one can ever really answer that question.    If you don't know the 'mind' of god then you are just as ignorant of HIS 'meaning' and 'purpose' of life then you are if there isn't one.      In the end you are still left to find meaning and purpose for yourself or live without them.  (and just 'believing' and hoping that there is one)

Of course life has meaning... its just not left up to an all-knowing all powerful being to decide what that is.  This also means that it isn't static.  WE created the word not some god.

  We know what has meaning to us.  My family has 'meaning' to me.  I love them dearly.  I don't need a god to tell me they are worth anything or that he had to create them for some divine purpose.  All I need to know is that they are here now and in my life and they mean something and matter to me.  

The 'search' for knowledge has 'meaning' and matters to me.  Beauty has meaning and matters to me.  Suffering and trying to help alleviate it has meaning and matters to me.  So many things have meaning and matter to me.    

Life is a mystery and a wonder and we are searching to add to its 'meaning' all the time..  Its not a discovery of some ancient god's plan, but one of growth and possibilities.  We do not know the limits, so there's no need to artificially create them.  We are constantly discovering new meaning and purpose to life.

I think that the 'ultimate' meaning of life is as wrong a question to ask as 'is there a god'.  Its assuming the cart pulling the horse. 

"Meaning" as I said earlier is our creation and what we do with it and where it goes  may have no 'ultimate' answer... It may only have a 'current' answer for each of us or several answers depending upon perspective as family, group, community, country, belief system etc..

Its true that there is a lot of bad out there, but its also true that there's a lot of wonderful and amazing too.   We do not know the limits of what is possible and no longer are constrained by an ancient image of a god and his tiny universe.   What we do know (which isn't much) is that the deeper we dig the more we find that the universe is larger, grander and more awe-inspiring than we previously imagined.  We have no need to imagine a 'supernatural' for we haven't yet scratched the surface of the natural not to speak of plumbing its depths.

  We are alone as individuals, but we are also together as individuals and as families, groups, communities, etc. 

We are also collections of molecules and atoms BUT we don't consciously experience life at that level.. You can't ask an atom what its existence 'means' or how it matters. 

To say that life has no meaning or purpose is like trying to answer that question for an atom or for the universe.... but WE don't exist at that level.  Not YET.

This is how I've come to look at things and deal with life.

Fantastic post, Wesley!

Thanks Strega!.   I always enjoy reading your posts.

 

I don't think I can add anything more than what has been said so far, but I'll just relay my own personal perspective, anyway.

For starters, my personal "journey" with atheism differs from yours, as I've never been religious.  I never had to make a switch, leaving behind the comfortable and/or familiar.

I was simply never raised to be a believer.  My mother is a non-believer, and while my father would classify himself as a believer, that is perhaps only by default of his own upbringing.  I have a very religious extended family (my paternal grandmother and most of her 7 kids and their families are incredibly dedicated believers and church-goers) and we've all always been very close, so I've been presented with the notion of Christianity for my entire life (Specifically, of the Baptist flavor.  I even went to church/Sunday School with my grandma a decent number times in my younger years), but the ideology was never really forced upon me.

On the flip-side, neither was non-belief.  My mother would likely call herself an agnostic (with atheist leanings), but this was never drilled into me, either.  She never specifically told me that there was no God (and in fact, I'm not even sure when I first became aware that she was a non-believer; obviously, there must have been clues to this end, but I don't think she ever outright confirmed it to me until I was mature enough to discuss my own conclusions on the subject with her)

Without being indoctrinated, I was left to come into my current state of atheism by my own devices.  I could see both sides, and chose the one that I agreed with.

I've since grown more and more strictly atheist.  My intellect tells me that agnosticism is the more logical path (we truly can't know, after all), and without having either ideology forced on me, that should have been my path, but I find that I simply can't accept the notions of religion (of any sort; I'm not a selective atheist). I can juggle the idea that it is possible, but I find it to be so incredibly ridiculous.

So being "alone" in a "meaningless" life in a world/society that's not exactly "ideal" is just the way I've always viewed reality (or at least ever since I lost the innocent and naive outlook of childhood).  And that's never bothered me. (in fact, as an introvert, being alone is something that I crave)

But regardless, as others have pointed out, not having anything to look towards up there forces you to appreciate what we have down here that much more.  This isn't a trial that we're forced to go through to get to the promised land.  This is an experience we're lucky to have gotten!

Daniel, your explanation provides context. Thank you.

I was about to remark on your final sentence, about being lucky, and then noted your final paragraph. You switched from a first person singular pronoun, to second person, and than to first person plural. I write non-fiction and like to experiment.

But regardless, as others have pointed out, not having anything to look towards up there forces me to appreciate what I have down here that much more.  This isn't a trial that I'm forced to go through to get to the promised land.  This is an experience I'm lucky to have gotten!

I'm thinking, Can I consider myself lucky without knowing, or at least imagining, an alternative?

Ah yes.  My rambling mind tends to keep me off track when it comes to keeping up with things like point-of-view.  I suspect that I subconsciously noted that I had begun with a perspective that wasn't broad enough, so I switched mid-stream (once to project my view onto others, and then again once I realized that I had left myself out by the first switch...lol)

But anyway, let's just call that one a "rough draft".  My intent was to include everyone from the start.

The "lucky" part, from my view, is simply that Life is rather improbable without a creator.  Conditions need to be within a relatively narrow window for it to even occur (so far as our current knowledge tells us), and then maintained long enough to get from that point to where beings with a thinking mind could have been stumbled into by evolution.

And then beyond that, the odds of a single individual coming into existence is even more astronomical.  I'm only alive because every one of my ancestors survived long enough to produce offspring.  Millions of generations' worth.

So there's where the "luck" comes into play.  The alternative is not existing.

The "lucky" part, from my view, is simply that Life is rather improbable without a creator. Conditions need to be within a relatively narrow window for it to even occur (so far as our current knowledge tells us), and then maintained long enough to get from that point to where beings with a thinking mind could have been stumbled into by evolution.

So, magic explains life, then, for a super being who can create life out of dead matteris actually a kind of magician. I find it far easier to believe that the chemistry, while seemingly rare due to depending upon special circumstances, is actually far more likely than the magic explanation.

And then beyond that, the odds of a single individual coming into existence is even more astronomical. I'm only alive because every one of my ancestors survived long enough to produce offspring. Millions of generations' worth.

Yes, of course, but for every person in existence today, there are, no doubt, billions if not trillions of other individuals who might have come into existence if all of their progenitors had survived. Lucky for us, they didn't, or we probably wouldn't exist today, the human race having died out long ago due to overpopulation and exhausting the planet's ecology.

So there's where the "luck" comes into play. The alternative is not existing.

That's a classic false dichotomy.

I don't think we disagree here.

My point is that the luck is in the fact that all of the circumstances lined up against incredible odds, without the help of a higher power. Without magic.

I'm not attributing these amazing coincidences and improbable circumstances and chains of events to a creator.  I'm stating that having a creator would make all of them that much less amazing.  And the fact that everything worked out just right for us without a higher power guiding it is incredibly lucky.

My apologies that that wasn't exactly clear.

As for the false dichotomy, I don't think so.  I can either exist or not exist.  It is incredibly fortunate that I do exist, because the odds were stacked against it from the start.

Unseen, I agree that billions if not trillions of other individuals might have come into existence. Evolution has no concern for the environment.

Give some of your capable attention to so-called false dichotomies. The discussion here suggests that they are a preliminary to... hm-mm, what is the singular form of "dichotomy"?

Does a false dichotomy result in a monochotomy?

Daniel Rambling can open doors to interesting places. It can also let doors to painful places remain closed.

Put a few chemicals in water, add electricity, and let some time pass. Some research suggests that methane, not oxygen, made the resulting amino acids possible. Not lucky; inevitable.

You and I are alive because some big and strong cyanobacteria gobbled up the nearby smaller and weaker cyanobacteria. It was hunger, not luck.

If the nearby smaller and weaker cyanobacteria had collected allies they would have nibbled away at the big and strong cyanobacteria. Their offspring would have survived.

Where would that have put you and me?

"Put a few chemicals in water, add electricity, and let some time pass. Some research suggests that methane, not oxygen, made the resulting amino acids possible. Not lucky; inevitable."

Yes, the abiogenesis process works.  The luck is in that this little ball happened to contain the necessary elements (whatever they may have been; and methane is likely, since oxygen was originally toxic to early Life) in the necessary ratios, having a temperature that was just right for liquid water, and had an electrically active atmosphere.

Sure, when you put all of the necessary ingredients together, the result is inevitable.  Having all of the necessary ingredients in the first place is not.

Of course, the argument can be made that out of the unimaginably vast multitude of planets in our universe, due to probability there has to have been at least one (very likely a great deal more than one) that had the right conditions.  The argument can also be made that perhaps Life will also arise under vastly different conditions than we've observed (maybe Life does not require liquid water, maybe Life can be based around other, non-carbon-based molecules, etc.), but so far, that's just hypothesis, and our experience tells us otherwise.

But as for our particular story, we happened to be one of the planets that hit the jackpot.

"You and I are alive because some big and strong cyanobacteria gobbled up the nearby smaller and weaker cyanobacteria. It was hunger, not luck."

Perhaps, but it was luck that those organisms happened to be bigger than those around them, and then it was luck that all of the subsequent generations survived their particular set of hardships.  Hell, just a few generations ago within our current species, the rate of infant mortality was high enough that simply living to adulthood was a shaky prospect.  Our ancestors were the ones lucky enough to "make it out alive".  And in days before modern medicine, it often did come down to luck (lucky to not become infected with some then-incurable and fatal disease)

And then there's the luck involved in avoiding several extinction events (or being of the proper form to ensure your survival under the subsequent conditions).  There's also a HUGE amount of luck involved in the evolutionary process (yes, the outcome of mutations/adaptations are rigorously tested and proven by the environment, but the mutations themselves are random; it's not that a rabbit needs to be faster, so the next generation has a "fast" mutation; the "fast" mutation may or may not occur at any time... if it is advantageous, it remains by being passed on through the process of natural selection; if not, sorry about your luck)

"If the nearby smaller and weaker cyanobacteria had collected allies they would have nibbled away at the big and strong cyanobacteria. Their offspring would have survived.

Where would that have put you and me?"

Actually, since you've put it this way, we're likely only here because the smaller and weaker guys teamed up.  This is a commonly proposed hypothesis for the formation of the first multi-celled organisms.  They were originally colonies of single-celled organisms that banded together for the common cause of survival, and eventually began to perform different increasingly specialized functions based on location and need in the "body".

But even ignoring this, if we're here because the weaker organisms didn't team up to eat the stronger guys, then isn't that also an element of luck?

My point in all of this is that yes, obviously our particular outcome has occurred, so it was possible from the start, but it had to overcome a large number of obstacles on its way here, most of which are left entirely up to chance.

Hell, we're lucky every single day that an asteroid doesn't smash our planet...lol

Perhaps Life is inevitable, and it will find a way no matter what (we could be lizard-men today, or we might have been silicon-based lifeforms if that had happened to be a more abundant element on our planet, or we might live underwater, etc.).  But our current form and state and environment are only the way they are due to luck, and Life pushing its way through the odds.

And again, I find that to be infinitely more satisfying than saying that we're all here (and continue to be so) through the grace of a higher being.

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Posted by ɐuɐz ǝllǝıuɐp on July 28, 2014 at 10:27pm 0 Comments

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