Atheism And The Meaning Of Life. Pt. 1: A Distinction
A charge commonly brought out by religious apologists is that to be an atheist means that life will by extension have no meaning or purpose. I've seen this commonly being pushed by them in order to dissuade people from questioning their faith. Upon realising my atheism, this vexing question did keep me up at night, and I would like to write about it here. I don't think a single post could justify the topic, so I will do it in parts. I don't know how many as yet, but one is insufficient.
In this first post, I'd like to make an important distinction that would make consequent discussions easier to understand. When believers talk about meaning and purpose, what they mean is that life must have a purpose. In other words, life must be a means to an end. If life is all there is, it naturally follows that no such end exists, and therefore such meaning and purpose does not exist. I will call this type of meaning ultimate. Ultimate meaning and purpose in the context of my posts will be referring to things as a means to an end. Let me give an example. The ultimate purpose of throwing together ingredients and following instructions is to have a cake as the end result. In the ultimate sense, the activity would not be meaningful if there were no end result or purpose that is desired.
The other kind of meaning I'd like to address is what I will refer to as relative meaning. Relative meaning is quite different. The relative meaning of mixing the ingredients of the recipe may be because I enjoy mixing ingredients and following recipes. The outcome is somewhat irrelevant. I may even be diabetic, and not properly able to enjoy the cake. The important thing to note about relative meaning is that the process is an end in itself, and not reliant on some ultimate goal.
I'll try to draw another comparison, because this can get a little confusing. I may start jogging in order to get fit. I may not enjoy jogging, but that is what I consider the least painful method of getting fit. The process is only meaningful to me because the ultimate purpose defines its meaningfulness. If a scientific breakthrough proves that jogging does not make people fit (yes this is highly unlikely), I would abandon jogging, in the same way that apologists claim that one should have no reason to continue living if life was found to have no ultimate purpose.
Of course, baking cakes and jogging are irrelevant to the meaning and purpose of life itself. Why continue to live if there is no ultimate purpose to living? The conclusion for me, and maybe for some others reading may seem obvious, but I think it still deserves explanation.