This photo of Saturn was taken with the sun directly behind the planet. What astonishing beauty.
I know it seems as though I write far too much about Messrs. Harris, Dawkins, et al. but they are influential people whose arguments should be taken seriously, even when it's difficult to do so.
Sam Harris has a piece at Edge titled 10 MYTHS - AND 10 TRUTHS - ABOUT ATHEISM about which I can't resist commenting.
Given that we know that atheists are often among the most intelligent and scientifically literate people in any society, it seems important to deflate the myths that prevent them from playing a larger role in our national discourse.
1) Atheists believe that life is meaningless.
On the contrary, religious people often worry that life is meaningless and imagine that it can only be redeemed by the promise of eternal happiness beyond the grave. Atheists tend to be quite sure that life is precious. Life is imbued with meaning by being really and fully lived. Our relationships with those we love are meaningful now; they need not last forever to be made so. Atheists tend to find this fear of meaninglessness ... well ... meaningless.
Harris' reply would likely come as a surprise to many atheists in the popular culture and the most philosophical among them, including the scientists.
Consider these quotes from prominent atheists among dozens more that could be summoned:
"Life is an unpleasant interruption of nothingness." Clarence Darrow
"I am a traveller on a train with no ticket, travelling to a place where no one is waiting." Jean Paul Sartre
"Neither the existence of the individual nor that of humanity has any purpose." Bernard Rensch
"Man's [only] significance lies in the fact that he can look out on the universe and it can't look back on him." Will Durant
"The only plausible answer to the question of the meaning of life is to live, to be alive, and to leave more life." Theodosious Dobzhansky
"The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless." Steven Weinberg
Consider, too, the sense of meaningless conveyed through the literature produced by atheists like Albert Camus in his book The Stranger, The Myth of Sisyphus, or The Plague.
Even so, all the above is really beside the point, as is Harris' reply to the "myth." The question isn't whether atheists do or do not believe life is meaningless. Anyone can believe anything they'd like. The question is whether Harris' belief that life does have meaning is based on anything more substantial than wishful thinking. After all, if human existence in the aggregate has no meaning it's hard to see how an individual human's existence would be meaningful.
If everything we do is destined to vanish utterly, if we are all alone in the cosmos and when our sun dies nothing at all will be left, what ultimate meaning can there be in our lives or loves? There is no more meaning in human existence, individual or corporate, than there is in the life of an ant in an anthill or a bacterium floating in a swamp. We're born, we suffer, perhaps we have a flash of temporary joy here and there, and then we die. Our lives are nothing more than footprints in the sand at the edge of the surf. When we die all trace of our existence will sooner or later vanish from the earth. It will be as if we never lived, and if there's no difference between having lived and never having lived then living has no enduring meaning, purpose, or value.
Only if we survive for eternity can life be meaningful. Some people tacitly acknowledge this when they say that what we do can live on after us. This reply is an attempt to achieve a kind of immortality, but it ultimately collapses since eventually, in a godless universe, nothing anyone has ever done will remain. Harris is free to believe that love gives his life all the meaning he needs, but it sounds like he's whistling past the graveyard.
There'll be more comment on the other nine myths in the days ahead.RLC