Why do we even exist? What’s the point?!

Posted on December 27, 2015 By

What is the meaning of it all? Why do we even exist? What is the purpose of our lives? 

In his late middle age—-after attaining great wealth, fame, and social status—-Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy realized that his rejection of God (and the Christian faith of his youth) had stripped his life of meaning and purpose. In his book A Confession, he laments the profound spiritual crisis caused by the meaninglessness intrinsic to his godless worldview:

“Today or tomorrow sickness and death will come (they had come already) to those I love or to me; nothing will remain but stench and worms. Sooner or later my affairs, whatever they may be, will be forgotten, and I shall not exist. Then why go on making any effort? . . . How can man fail to see this? And how go on living? That is what is surprising! One can only live while one is intoxicated with life; as soon as one is sober it is impossible not to see that it is all a mere fraud and a stupid fraud! That is precisely what it is: there is nothing either amusing or witty about it, it is simply cruel and stupid.”

Tolstoy continues by specifically citing the inability of the materialist worldview (in which atheism is rooted) to provide meaning or purpose:

“One who sincerely inquires how he is to live cannot be satisfied with the reply — ‘Study in endless space the mutations, infinite in time and in complexity, of innumerable atoms, and then you will understand your life…’”

Atheism cannot explain meaning or purpose

In order to be coherent, a worldview must reasonably explain the various aspects of reality which we experience. Aspects of reality which a given worldview fails to account for must be considered as evidence against that worldview. Atheism is grounded in the materialist worldview, which says that all of reality can be explained in terms of inanimate matter.

But a key problem for atheism is that inanimate matter doesn’t have meaning or purpose. Natural phenomena like rocks and thunderstorms aren’t about anything, and don’t mean anything, and therefore, materialism cannot account for meaning or purpose. The belief that life is intrinsically meaningless and purposeless (known as nihilism) is a necessary implication of atheism. This point was frequently proclaimed by Friedrich Nietzsche, arguably the most influential atheist philosopher of all time, such as when he wrote:

“Let us beware of saying that death is the opposite of life. The living being is only a species of the dead.”

Similarly, the atheist physicist Stephen Weinberg notes:

“The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it seems pointless.”

Atheist biologist Francis Crick, famous as the co-discoverer of DNA, remarks in The Astonishing Hypothesis how human life has no purpose because humans are nothing but bundles of inanimate matter:

“The Astonishing Hypothesis is that ‘You,’ your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.”

Please note how Crick places the word you in quotation marks in order to highlight his belief that human persons do not really exist in any meaningful sense because humans are really nothing more than complex bundles of matter. The existence of personhood is another aspect of reality which atheism cannot coherently explain, and must therefore count as further evidence against atheism. It would be absurd to ascribe personhood to a bundle of matter, or a “vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules,” in Crick’s words. How can a bundle of inanimate matter amount to a person?

Alex McFarland comments on the inability of atheism to explain the existence of meaning in 10 Answers for Atheists:

“Nihilists claim they deny that anything has value or meaning, but don’t they value this information? Since nihilists find no meaning in the universe, they should also deny objective moral values, but they don’t live their lives like this. Moreover, nihilism just can’t be lived consistently. James Sire observes: 
‘If the universe is meaningless and a person cannot know and nothing is immoral, any course of action is open…. Yet whenever we set ourselves on a course of action, putting one foot in front of the other in other than a haphazard way, we are affirming a goal. We are affirming the value of a course of action, even if to no one other than ourselves. Thus we are not living by nihilism.’
To this we can add the fact that nihilism goes against all the instincts of human nature. As secular humanist Paul Kurtz once acknowledged, humans have a basic instinct to find meaning and purpose. We shouldn’t just ignore this instinct but seek to find out what it means—to find out to what it points. So, nihilism fails as a worldview, but it’s the logical outcome of atheism. Some atheists are brave enough to face this sad conclusion, while others are not.”

Darwinism relies on the purpose of survival, but inanimate material things do not have purposes

Regarding McFarland’s above points, atheists frequently cite Darwinian evolution as evidence against God, but Darwinian evolution is based on the survival of the fittest, and survival is a purpose or a goal. How can bundles of inanimate matter be said to work towards a purpose or goal such as survival? Atheists must smuggle the purpose of survival into purposeless inanimate matter in order to do away with God. Theoretical physicist Amit Goswami (as I cite him in There’s Nothing Random About Evolution) comments on this contradiction which is intrinsic to atheism: 

“The Darwinian theory of evolution is based on natural selection: Nature selects those organisms that are fittest to survive. In the materialist view, an organism is just a bundle of molecules that are completely specified by their physical and chemical properties. Nowhere among these properties will you find a property called survivability. No piece of inanimate matter has ever attempted to survive or in any way tried to maintain its integrity under any circumstances. But living bodies do exhibit a property called survivability. Now the paradox. A Darwinist would say that the survivability of the living form comes from evolutionary adaptation via natural selection. But natural selection itself depends on survival of the fittest. See the circularity of the argument? Survival depends on evolution, but evolution depends on survival!”

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis incisively points out the problem with denying that life has meaning. If there is no intrinsic meaning to life, then why do humans experience a striving for meaning? Where did humans get the concept of meaning?

“If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.”

Atheism fails as a worldview in part because it must deny, rather than explain, meaning and purpose. Some atheists would have one believe that life has no intrinsic meaning, but that we can inject life with any meaning we wish. But, again, atheism insists that humans are nothing but bundles of matter, and how can one reasonably ascribe meaning to a bundle of matter?

Conversely, Christianity argues that our lives are part of a higher purpose, of which God is the author, and which only he fully understands. The human quest for meaning points to God’s higher purpose.





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    This was an excellent blog on the emptiness found at the result of living out an atheistic worldview if one follows it to its natural conclusion.

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    Graceus says:

    Correction: *Platonism*

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    SKL YJD says:

    “What is the meaning of it all? Why do we even exist? What is the purpose of our lives?”

    Religions try to make a philosophical issue literally into biblical proportions and complicate it so as to use it as a weapon against atheism.

    Why should there be anything more than a wholesome life on earth? We have the same rights as animals and all life on earth and if you take a long hard look we humans are no different.

    We simply have no way of knowing exactly what happens when you die. Logic tells us that nothing exists for the dead and our brains stop recording and cease to operate.

    This Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy you mention simply cannot face death or the fact people die and disappear never to be seen again, therefore taking on a religious belief is comforting for people like this.
    The point about having no purpose in life is mute because if you are lucky enough you live to a ripe old age and have many years to leave your imprint on the world, what more can you ask for? Life after death is unrealistic and a part of the religious superstition cleverly designed by ancient man.

    Life is cruel, it may end for the young and sick just as it does for all living things on this planet but to believe we are anything special over and above the rest of life just because we are top of the food chain with the most powerful brain is being egotistic and hopeful.

    Realistically our brains are powerful computers that we do not have complete control of that is capable of thought control and coercive persuasion and will often interpret information to suit the individual and subject them to apparitions, ghosts, spirits, angels, alien abduction, the soul, evil, Satan and gods that are supposedly seen or believed to exist.

    However, to believe all of us including the dead humans will be sorted into a loving heaven or a fiery hell based solely on the faith that you have worshiped the correct deity during your life and behaved in the appropriate manner is on the face of it quite ridiculous.

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      Scott Youngren ( User Karma: 43 ) says:

      SLY YJD,

      You are making assertions, but you are not providing logical arguments. Please pay particular attention to the crucial difference between an assertion, on one hand, and a logical argument, on the other hand.

      You write, “Logic tells us that nothing exists for the dead and our brains stop recording and cease to operate.” But what logic do you provide to support this stance?

      Further, logic strongly suggests that life does continue after death. I discuss this in detail in my essays titled Why Death Is Not the End and Has Anyone Ever Met God and Returned to Tell About It?

      Please watch this video featuring near-death experience (NDE) researcher Jeffrey Long, MD. Dr. Long cites nine lines of evidence to support his conclusion that life after death is real. I find one of the lines of evidence particularly intriguing: The NDEs experienced by people who were born blind, but nevertheless experienced fully visual phenomena during their NDE, for the first time in their lives. Please watch the below examples of “born blind” NDEs:

      Born Blind NDE 1
      Born Blind NDE 2

      Your view that our brains are basically “powerful computers” is based upon outdated (19th century) science. As the Nobel Prize winning neurophysiologist Sir John Eccles put it:

      “The materialist critics argue that insuperable difficulties are encountered by the hypothesis that immaterial mental events can act in any way on material structures such as neurons. Such a presumed action is alleged to be incompatible with the conservation laws of physics, in particular of the first law of thermodynamics. This objection would certainly be sustained by nineteenth century physicists, and by neuroscientists and philosophers who are still ideologically in the physics of the nineteenth century, not recognizing the revolution wrought by quantum physicists in the twentieth century.”

      Believing that a person’s consciousness dies with their body is dependent upon the assumption that consciousness exists only as a product of physical (brain) processes. Jeffrey M. Schwartz, a Research Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA, however, reveals this assumption to be discredited in his book The Mind and the Brain:

      “The shift in understanding inspired by neuroplasticity and the power of mind to shape brain undermines the claim of materialist determinism that humans are essentially nothing more than fleshy computers spiting out the behavioral results of some inescapable neurogenetic program. ‘The brain is going to do what the brain was always going to do,’ say the materialists. But modern physics and contemporary neuroscience reply that they are wrong. The teachings of faith have long railed against the perils of the materialist mindset. Now neuroscience and physics have joined them at the barricades.”

      How specifically does modern physics discredit the idea that the brain is a computer? Modern physics has demonstrated that consciousness comes first, and that matter is derivative from consciousness (as per the famous double slit experiment which I detail in God Is Real..Why Modern Physics Has Discredited Atheism

      As Max Planck, the physicist who founded quantum physics, put it:

      “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”

      Physicists Paul Davies and John Gribbin elaborate on how modern physics has discredited materialism (in which atheism is grounded) and the materialist concept of the human brain being a computer in their book The Matter Myth:

      “Descartes founded the image of the human mind as a sort of nebulous substance that exists independently of the body. Much later, in the 1930’s, Gilbert Ryle derided this dualism in a pithy reference to the mind part as ‘the ghost in the machine.’ Ryle articulated his criticism during the triumphal phase of materialism and mechanism. The ‘machine’ he referred to was the human body and the human brain, themselves just parts of the larger cosmic machine. But already, when he coined that pithy expression, the new physics was at work, undermining the world view on which Ryle’s philosophy was based. Today, on the brink of the twenty-first century, we can see that Ryle was right to dismiss the notion of the ghost in the machine—not because there is no ghost, but because there is no machine.”

      When Davies and Gribbin say that “there is no machine,” they are referring to the fact that matter is a construct of consciousness, and not the other way around. George Gilder elaborates on this point:

      “The usual materialist assumption is that the brain – the hardware – comes first and the mind somehow emerges from it. But the computer offers a contrary example. The computer design is itself a software design and determines the structure of the electronic circuitry that constitutes the computer…It is the human mind that brings meaning to the syntax of the machine, whether hardware, software or wetware. The higher-level languages of software lend significance to the dumb electrons circulating through the system.”

      Your stance that belief in life after death is motivated by wishful thinking is a double edge sword. Disbelief in life after death is motivated by the need to be free from having to answer to a higher power for one’s actions.

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      Bob says:

      You CLEARLY do not comprehend the Holy Scriptures.

      Shall I DARE suggest you man up and study every word with integrity?

      Then, even if you reject that, at least man up to completely explain Granite.

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      Tom says:

      Yes, it is “quite ridiculous,” as you say, but that’s just church doctrine not the truth of scripture. Unfortunately popular versions of scripture contain forgery to support the “quite ridiculous” false doctrine. Twelve times in the so called New Testament the word “Gehenna” was replaced with “hell” to intentionally deceive people into thinking God would torture so called immortal souls in fire forever, but that is a lie coming straight from the Adversary through the Roman Empire. It is still the basic doctrine of the church today, which is simply the remnant of the religious arm of the Roman Empire, even the Protestant Church, which is just Catholic Lite. God’s ultimate plan revealed in an accurate translation of scripture is the reconciliation of all on earth and in the heavens through Christ’s blood on the cross so that God may be all in all. https://youtu.be/O0hGB_ES4FA Atheists claim to be scientific while ignoring scientific evidence of God. Code is only known to come from an intelligent mind, and DNA code is the information that programs every living cell. Atheists claim it must have come from space aliens, but, if they exist, where did their DNA come from? DNA is necessary to produce DNA. Where did the original DNA come from? Information is what operates living organisms. What is the source of information?

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      Graceus says:

      “What is the meaning of it all? Why do we even exist? What is the purpose of our lives?”

      SKL YJD, I’m trying to ascertain from your comments what your answer is and I think this is it: “The point about having no purpose in life is mute because if you are lucky enough you live to a ripe old age and have many years to leave your imprint on the world, what more can you ask for?” You are doing exactly what the post described; you just gave your purpose: to leave an imprint on the world. However, that, too, is meaningless when billions of years from now the efforts from trying to leave an impression will all end in a fireball of an explosion. What does it matter if you left an imprint on the world that will not even last forever? Is this some kind of satisfying, comforting illusion that you are bringing upon yourself in order to make yourself feel good about living a life that will not even be a memory billions of years from now? If not, then why did you even say that? Who cares if you’re lucky or not?

      I see that you describe religious belief as “comforting” as if religious belief were only illusions having instrumental value. I find it interesting that skeptics portray themselves as beacons of truth and religious people as believing in comforting lies when in reality, natural selection doesn’t select for truth value. The theory is that is only selects for survival value. Let’s consider this: The majority of people on earth believe in a supernatural higher power, and to the atheists, these are comforting lies they made up to help them survive or they would not have been here. Do the religious people seem like “the fittest” to you? That would be quite a blow. So, in natural selection there is only survival value in neuro-physiological responses…such as running and hiding from a predator. For example, one person could believe that eating a poisonous plant is bad because it will put poison in one’s body and harm them, or one person could believe that eating a poisonous plant is a bad because it will turn one into a vampire. Both beliefs provide the same survival value, because they both produce the same NP response…namely, not eating the poisonous plant. We can see that natural selection cannot be cited as being responsible for our ability to discern truth from falsehood.

      So I just wanted to point out that your worldview does not make seeking the truth and proclaiming it as being intrinsically good or morally obligatory. Maybe it’s something you do to make yourself feel better or useful when you are on here commenting to Scott’s posts. On the other hand, truth seeking and proclaiming the truth is intrinsically good and morally obligatory on Christianity. We are commanded to seek the truth. Proverbs 23:23 “Get the truth and never sell it; also get wisdom, discipline, and good judgment.” We are also commanded to proclaim it: “…and ask on my behalf that words may be given to me so that, outspoken and fearless, I may make known the truths” (Ephesians 6:19). Everyone naturally seeks the truth and also corrects if they see falsehoods. There is nothing on atheism that makes it obligatory to do so. So when people do, they live irrationally and are borrowing from the Christian worldview. But if you say you’re doing it just for fun or to feel useful, then that would be more in line with worldview atheism/metaphysical naturalism.

      Back to your comments: “We have the same rights as animals and all life on earth and if you take a long hard look we humans are no different.”

      Here is yet another paradox! (The first being that humans act as though there is objective purpose and meaning in life; the second is that humans act as though truth-seeking is intrinsically good and morally obligatory). We also act as though humans are intrinsic and not merely of instrumental value. If someone uses another person for their own gain, we get upset as if that person who used another did something wrong! So here is another area where atheism is lacking, and I’m glad you brought up human value when you said we are nothing special like all other animals because I think it is connected to objective meaning and purpose in life (going to abbreviate Objective Meaning & Objective Purpose as “OM” & “OP”). Again, if Darwinian Evolution is true without God, then all that there is is instrumental value to things; there is no intrinsic value because that would go against Darwinian Belief. If one wants to believe that things have intrinsic value, that belief is called Plantonism and is essentially held without scientific evidence, at the belief that ideas or things such as virtues have always existed ‘somewhere out there’.

      Here’s a thought experiment: Suppose a millionaire, who has no living relative, lacks absolutely nothing material or even love, is depressed and wants to commit suicide because he no longer found instrumental purpose in his life for living (he grew tired of making up subjective reasons for meaning and purpose). Now this millionaire is not related to you, his death will not affect you. You have no _instrumental_purpose_ for his life because his death does not affect you. Do you, as a total stranger who happens to come upon him as he stands on a bridge ready to jump off, tell him that he shouldn’t jump? He found no subjective and objective purpose and meaning in life. The millionaire is of no benefit to you alive or dead. Since he is of no value to anyone, no one should care about his death, right? How do you think everyone would react to the death of a person you don’t even know? I believe everyone would think that it was a tragedy. Why? I think that even the atheist could agree that life in general is precious; but how can that be if purpose is only of instrumental value to other humans? Even atheists are sad and upset when other countries are invaded and innocent lives are killed and their deaths would not affect them in any way. Should psychologists just give up on a person who wants to commit suicide because he has no purpose and tell him “Sure, go kill yourself”?

      Why is life precious if people have no instrumental purpose for another person or they are not benefited by having that person around? Christians believe that God still has a transcendent purpose for humans, and that is what makes life precious to everyone and gives value to people (Oh, and because we believe man was made in the image of God). On atheism, there is no real purpose for life! For the Christian, even if no one else on earth valued you, God would because you are made in His image, and that is what gives life instrinsic value and because a transcendent being values you, you also have meaning and purpose in this life.

      On atheism it is a paradox. People act as though there is objective meaning and purpose in life and intrinsic value to people. But atheism or metaphysical naturalism doesn’t provide any of that. Atheism or metaphysical naturalism doesn’t even make it intrinsically good or morally obligatory for you to be seeking the truth or even spreading it by ‘correcting’ us right now.

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