There seem to be two types of people in the world with opposing views on our existence:
(1) there is purpose, reason for everything; there are no accidents or coincidences; there is physical and metaphysical, soul and spirit, eternal existence.
(2) there is no purpose to existence; luck, accidents, and coincidences abound; there is physical but no metaphysical; I am nothing beyond a body with a brain, a fleeting temporary one-time only existence.
For years, actually decades, I tried on the first type of view described above. Stupidly, I never even considered the second way. I just tried the first way harder, and with many different variations. The culture is so strong about espousing the first way, albeit in numerous, even thousands of variations, that I didn’t even consider that I could ditch all variations altogether. I became more and more frustrated.
Then I began reading some interesting books. First it was books about very religious people ditching their religions. Books like Dan Barker’s Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists. And there are many others. Then it was books on science and reason. Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris among others, are brilliant, knowledgeable, and convincing writers. Wow. I was blown away.
FINALLY I gave myself permission not to choose any religious variation, but simply to ditch the whole thing! Frustration — gone! What a relief! After trying for decades to squeeze God and supernatural things into the reality that exists — and failing — I finally came to the point of simply going with the reality that exists.
The first set of books mentioned above, those by formerly religious people turned atheists, really showed what inconsistent, utter nonsense religions (including “New Age” variations) espouse. The second set of books, those by scientists and brilliant free thinkers, really painted a picture of the history of the universe we inhabit and my own existence. That whole picture is incredible.
The picture that is painted comes down to this: my entire existence is one huge, enormous stroke of luck and accident. Not only is the notion that there are no accidents or coincidences complete rubbish, everything is an accident. There is no indication whatsoever of anything supernatural like the soul or the spirit or multiple reincarnated lives etc. (See my post on why I don’t like to use the word “spiritual.”) There is no indication whatsoever that there is any purpose to our existence. (I love Lawrence Krauss’s take on this. Krauss says that understanding this frees us to make our own purpose; and that freedom is exhilarating!)
Some 13.8 billion years ago the Big Bang set in motion the universe we live in. Galaxies formed. We live in one solar system among some 100 billion in the Milky Way Galaxy, which is among some 100 billion galaxies in our universe. One planet orbiting one star of one galaxy among those 100 billion galaxies had the conditions such that bacteria formed, after which the long, painstakingly gradual process of evolution brought about — at this point in time — the human species as we know it. Keep in mind that evolution and the expansion of the universe are still happening. Millions of years in the future, if there is life on this planet, it will be very different from what we have now. Right now is just one snapshot in time of a very long, and for all practical purposes, eternal and never ending process.
Along the way of that long, painstakingly gradual process of evolution and natural selection, more than 99% of all species which have existed on Earth became extinct! We live in a moment in time where we have a level of technology and scientific work that have enabled us to figure out much of the history of the universe and our place in it now. For example, a century ago we had not figured out the Big Bang. The true picture of how evolution really works had not emerged until the last few decades. All the previous centuries, humans and their ancestor species had not nearly the understanding about all of this as we do now. Hence, we have much fabled stuff, the prime example of which is the Bronze Age bible.
And so here I am, one person with a life of several decades, of one species (currently not yet extinct), of one planet, of one star, of one galaxy, of one universe, for a cosmically, exceedingly brief moment of time. Oh the sheer luck and accidentalness of it all!
One writer drew the analogy that each of us is like a wildflower that pops up in a meadow. Only a certain set of conditions would bring about that particular wildflower. It looks beautiful. And after a certain amount of time perhaps combined with another certain set of conditions, the wildflower is dead and gone. So I am like a wildflower that just pops up in a meadow for just a wee bit of time. And my days are numbered. I might as well shine in my beauty and enjoy! Certainly the words “This is it – Pay Attention” take on particular importance.
For more on my personal take on this purely accidental, lucky brief moment in the sun that I have, see my post from last year “On Turning 60 and the Joy of #Atheism.”