“There is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pointless indifference…We are machines for propagating DNA…It is every living object’s sole reason for being.”
Dr. Richard Dawkins, a famous biologist said that, and on atheism, it seems to me that while it’s sad, it’s also true. One weird aspect that atheism commits one to is the denial of design—design of any sort, not just of the human body or the universe. For example, scientists do not “design” climate change models. They do not “design” instruments for measuring weather and climate. The computers they use in modeling predictions are themselves not “designed.” In fact, even a Boeing 747 isn’t actually “designed” per atheism. Why? In a discussion with renowned atheist and neuroscientist Sam Harris (author of “The End of Faith”), biologist Dr. Jerry Coyne, himself a committed anti-theist, remarked,
“At any one point in time, it is completely the configuration of molecules in the universe—and in particular in your brain—that mandates what you do. You could not have done anything other than what you did. In other words, you don’t have any choices. You think you do, and it looks like you do, but you don’t really.”
Because there is no “spirit” in atheism, there is no will. That is, when you’re, say, angry, there is no “external,” nebulous force (will/spirit) which can act on the chemical reactions going on in your brain to prevent you from, say, striking your wife, or to prevent a police officer from gunning down an innocent man in his own home. Because there is no such thing as will or spirit, there can be no intentional states of consciousness. You don’t actually design a Boeing 747, nor do you intend to, because as Dr. Harris notes,
“You are no more responsible for the state of your brain in this moment than you are for your height…thoughts simply arise in the mind. But the idea that we as conscious beings are…responsible for the characters of our minds, simply can’t be mapped onto reality.”
Atheism commits itself to a denial of intentional states of consciousness, for which a spiritual realm would be the best explanation. Intentionality is the property of being “about” something, or “of” something. It signifies the object-directedness of our thoughts. To exemplify, I can think *about* my summer vacation or *of* Jennifer Lawrence. Because, in the view of atheism, there is no will, but only physical matter, there is no actual intentionality. A rock or nervous system isn’t “of” or “about” anything—that is the realm of the mind and spirit.In his book, “The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions,” Dr. Alex Rosenberg, a professor at Duke University, notes,
“Since the brain cannot have thoughts about stuff, it cannot make, have, or act on plans, projects, or purposes it gives itself. Nor, for that matter, can it act on plans that anyone else favors it with. There are no plans. That’s just more of the illusion Mother Nature exploited for our survival.”
Dr. Rosenberg further said in a dialog,
“I never think about anything; I don’t think we really think about anything.”
Rosenberg’s view has a defeater (not mentioned in this post), but for the most part, it’s what he’s left with in his worldview; it’s the only game in town, because physical objects just don’t have properties of intentionality, and if you don’t have a spirit, then all you are is a physical object. The brain cannot be about something any more than a chair or a table is about something. It is only thoughts which are of something that have this kind of “aboutness” or intentionality. But on this view there is no self—there is no soul—which has the property of intentionality; instead you just have the brain, and intentionality, like free will, is in effect an illusion. So climate change models, airplanes, deodorant—none of these things are designed, as design requires both free will and intentionality.
So what does this all mean? Rosenberg sums it up:
➤Is there a God? No.
➤What is the nature of reality? What physics says it is.
➤What is the purpose of the universe? There is none.
➤What is the meaning of life? Ditto.
➤Why am I here? Just dumb luck.
➤Does prayer work? Of course not.
➤Is there a soul? Is it immortal? Are you kidding?
➤Is there free will? Not a chance!
➤What happens when we die? Everything pretty much goes on as before, except us.
➤What is the difference between right and wrong, good and bad? There is no moral difference between them.
➤Why should I be moral? Because it makes you feel better than being immoral.
➤Is abortion, euthanasia, suicide, paying taxes, foreign aid, or anything else you don’t like forbidden permissible or sometimes obligatory? Anything goes.
➤What is love and how can I find it? Don’t look for it; it will find you when you need it.
➤Does history have any meaning or purpose? It’s full of sound and fury but signifies nothing.
➤Does the human past have any lessons for our future? Fewer and fewer, if it ever had any to begin with.
Atheism is the conclusion that nothing has any meaning—not being, not thought; not you. On that, I’ll let Dr. Sam Harris have the last word, from his book, “Free Will.”
“Free will is an illusion. Our wills are simply not of our own making…We do not have the freedom we think we have.”
With love, always,