Monday, October 15, 2012

What Would You Do If God Didn't Exist?

The question itself is not mean to presuppose God'e existence, it was just the shortest way to ask the question.  Here is the fullest version of the thought experiment I am asking all of my readers to try out.

If tomorrow, humanity discovered definitive evidence that disproved the existence of God and the afterlife, how would that alter your life?  What would you do with yourself knowing that there is no afterlife, and that we are all here by a one-in-a-dillion chance?

This question applies to believers, non-believers, and agnostics alike.  I am willing to bet that even people who say they are atheist still have some glimmer of hope in them, some nagging desire for there to be existence beyond this physical realm.  I don't think any human particularly enjoys the notion of the void--of a state of no consciousness.  So what would it do to you to know, with certainty (because I don't care who you are: you can never know for certain what lies beyond the veil of life) that this life is all there is?

This question may be hard to answer for theists.  I get the sense that they don't often entertain the notion of a Godless universe, because such a thought is frightening to them.  I admit, the thought of such a thing is disturbing to me as well, but I am guessing that my fears are different than that of, say, a Christian or a Muslim.

For me, the non-existence of God would not mean much.  In fact, it would actually make me feel even more special.  To think that somehow this entire existence we know today is the product of sheer chance is pretty damn amazing in my opinion.  To think, that out of all the billions of stars and the maelstrom of unorganized matter in the universe, this thing we call life happened here on Earth is sort of overwhelming, especially when you know how utterly inhospitable much of the universe is.

I already have a sense of insignificance, because even if there is a God who thinks I'm special, that doesn't take away from the fact that when I die, an imperceivable fraction of the universe will care.  My life means nothing to Mars, or to Alpha Centauri.  The Vega system will never hear about the mediochre Jack Camwell dying, as all humans must, in relative obscurity.

The words I am writing at this moment will have no greater impact on the whole of existence than a single drop of water bears significance to the ocean.  And you know what?  I'm pretty okay with that.  I don't need to believe that some mystical force loves me and cherishes me, because I know there are other human beings to whom I mean the world.  I understand and accept my insignificance, but my children sure as hell don't.  I'm more important to them than anything they even know of (except maybe for Spongebob and Adventure time--haha).

And I know that the people I care about certainly are not insignificant to me.  My children, my family and friends--they all mean something to me.  They're special to me from my mother to the Anonymous Howard Beale, as I like to call him.

So why would I need God to feel like my life still bears meaning in the face of insignificance?  Should not the prospect of facing the eternal void, the uncompromising abyss, only spur me to seek further meaning and greatness to this thing we call life?

Perhaps I would be liberated if I knew that God did not exist.  Perhaps that would allow my mind to explore further possibilities of what exists beyond existence.  Maybe, just maybe, I would find more satisfaction in life knowing that this is all I have.  If God does not give my life meaning and purpose, then it would befall my shoulders to do so.

That's what I'm asking my readers to do.  Imagine that there is no God, and that the only meaning we have is what we make of it.  It sounds bleak at first, because there are those who would make humanity out to be nothing but piles of flesh and bone--resources to be used up.  But there are those, like myself, who do not consign ourselves to our physicality simply because God may not exist.  Life is special whether it is by complete chance or if it is the design of a higher intelligence.

This week's experiment is to find meaning in life without God.  Try it, if you dare.  You may be surprised what you come up with.

27 comments:

Drew said...

As an atheist, I don't think my life would change too much if I was provided absolute certainty that there is no God. I would probably have a moment of terrifying "Oh shit I'm gonna die eventually" similar to my initial realization of atheism, but it would pass as it had before. The meaning of life would no change for me, as I have already lived my life as if there is no God.

Also I wouldn't call it a "glimmer of hope" that God exists so much as an acknowledgement that I cannot know for certain God exists, and depending on WHICH God that is it might not be terrible anyway. I admit that even an eternity of torture seems in some ways to be more desirable than Oblivion, but the idea of No God is obviously one that does not scare me.

Jack Camwell said...

Thank you for your response Drew.

I think that we as humans hope more for an afterlife than we do for God to exist.

Try to imagine a world in which we all believed that heaven, or something like it, existed but God didn't.

At least that's what I was referring to about the hope--hope that there is an existence that goes beyond our physical lives.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

Ducky's here said...

I would take comfort knowing there is no afterlife.
Never seemed fair to be stuck with eternity when you didn't have a choice.

Jersey McJones said...

Ya' know, Ducky, you just reminded me of "Free Will." What kind of "free" choice is it to rot in hell or go to heaven? Silliness.

Personally, Jack, I think one could never come up with enough proof to convince believers. I mean, c'mon! Do we not have enough proof already?

JMJ

Jack Camwell said...

That's why I called this a thought experiment, Jersey.

That's an interesting thought, Ducky. I honestly had never thought of it that way, lol.

Jersey McJones said...

But that's what I think most religious people would do - simply deny the proof.

JMJ

Anonymous said...

'What would you do with yourself knowing that there is no afterlife, and that we are all here by a one-in-a-dillion chance?'


Buy and Ouzi then go out and mow down as many democrats as I can before they cut me down.

Jersey McJones said...

I guess it goes to show how many people rely on religion for their morality, as they are deeply disturbed sociopaths.

JMJ

Silverfiddle said...

Two words: Sex Slaves!

But seriously, yes I would be more of a bastard probably, knowing I didn't have to answer for my actions in the afterlife.

Jersey goes off on a tangent, as usual.

So, genius, you have "proof" God does not exist?

Jack Camwell said...

Silver, you bring an interesting point to the table.

Human nature is indeed deeply flawed if most humans rely on reward/punishment to determine whether or not they follow some set of morality.

Why can't you be good for the sake of being good? Does this mean that good, honest, moral atheists are better people than you since they are good for the sake of being good, whereas you're good for the sake of avoiding punishment?

Jersey McJones said...

Silver,

That's really sad. On two levels, but one more important than the other.

On one level, you missed my point, and compounded the absurdity of that miss by calling it a tangent while proving it's relevance.

But on the other hand?

Really?

It would make you a worse person?

That's terrible. You may as well just say - "You'd better thank God I'm religious, or else I'd be a f'n sociopath!"

Is that how you really are deep down?

That would be terribly disappointing, on all sorts of other levels too.

Wow man.

How could you truly love God and yet feel that if he died tomorrow you'd break His laws in a heartbeat? What kind of love is that?

JMJ

FreeThinke said...

Well, Jack, it's impossible for me even to imagine, because I don't see God as an anthropomorphic authority figure in the sky with a long white beard and a stern look on His countenance busily building "cases" for and against each of us by putting black marks against each of our names in The Book of Life whenever we sin.

I understand and accept God to be synonymous with Life, Truth, Love, Principle, Intelligence, Soul and Spirit.

No one in his right mind could deny the existence of those things, therefore it would be impossible -- given that understanding -- to imagine life without God.

God IS Life. Life IS God. God IS Truth. Truth IS God. God IS Love. Love IS God, etc. etc. etc. so on down the line.

I'm highly pragmatic. I try not to worry about things that I can't control or that I find either disagreeable or incomprehensible.

I try to focus on projects I believe might do a measure good or to make my immediate surroundings even more pleasant and attractive than they already are.

I do not care for "The World." I care about the care and feeding of my mind and spirit.

I'll be 72 on my next birthday, and so far this line of thinking and belief has worked well for me. More than that I would not dare ask.

~ FreeThinke

FreeThinke said...

" I would be more of a bastard probably ..."

Do you really think that's possible, Kurt? ;-)

Sorry, my friend, but you have to admit you did leave yourself wide open for it.

~ FT

FreeThinke said...

Like it or not, Ducky, we live in Eternity. We have ALWAYS lived there.

In metaphysical reality time does not exist. There is only The Eternal Now.

We do jot cease to exist when we "die," we are only transformed.

Remember: Matter can neither be created nor destroyed.

But I strongly suspect that "matter" is illusory. It is only a minuscule aspect of something infinitely larger. You could call it "Spirit." I do, it's as handy a term as any, or you could call it The Cosmic Field of Energy which is the source of Life in all its many, varied and ever-changing forms.

If all there was to Reality were the few things we are able to perceive through our five senses, life would be flat, dull and tedious beyond description. Of course, microscopes and telescopes long ago proved how pitifully limited our perceptions really are, and we are developing more sophisticated far seeing versions of those all the time.

"For now we see through a glass darkly, but then facet to face."

I get chills and goose bumps every time I think of what that passage might imply.

~ FreeThinke

Jack Camwell said...

Thank you Jersey and FT for the responses. Since I agree with Jersey, I'll only respond to FT.

I don't believe in the anthropomorphic God either. At least, I think that's less likely to be how God exists.

YOu actually bring up a good point, and I think it reveals more of my purpose. In reality, I was more asking theists who believe in an anthropomorphic God this question.

Silverfiddle said...

Jersey: We can't all be pure and altruistically good like you...

Is you morality organic, springing from within you? Or is it extrinsic?

You may want to ponder things a little deeper before engaging in your buffoonish pontifications.

Jack asked a serious question and you used it as a soapbox to bash believers.

So again I ask you, where is your proof that God does not exist?

Jack Camwell said...

Silver,

Jersey's proof of God's existence is completely irrelevant to the discussion, especially since in this discussion we are assuming that God does not exist.

How about you answer the questions I asked you. Here's a refresher:

Why can't you be good for the sake of being good? Does this mean that good, honest, moral atheists are better people than you since they are good for the sake of being good, whereas you're good for the sake of avoiding punishment?

Jersey McJones said...

Silver, I don't know how "good" or "bad" I am. That's all relative and subjective. But I do try to do right by my fellow man because that's how I was raised and taught to be. Call it "extrinsic" if you like, but it's really just plain reality: we are mostly just products of our environment. That's why I am a liberal. I understand just how much luck plays into life.

JMJ

Anonymous said...

Well Jackie, I believe religion and morality are not as entwined as you may think, at least not on the scale of an individual. My personal outlook is actually very simple.

I don't know if there is a Creator. That does not mean I forsake this existence and be a complete douche bag to people, and nor do I completely let my defenses down and surrender to them. My philosophy is vigilance.

There are good and bad people. I think if we are all honest, we are all a little bit of both. It's like that phrase "I can be your best friend or your worst enemy." How can such duality exist? It isn't good or evil as such as it is a mindset of perception.

A person's mindset and their perception determines whether or not they personally feel as if they are doing wrong by another.

If someone would have sniped Jerry Sandusky after his trial started there would be mixed feelings about it. The act itself somewhat meaningless as you stated, one person, on one planet. However it is the moral implications that arise because of the act that will hold a mirror up to people based upon their opinion.

Terrorists, be they american or otherwise, are really no different. They are convinced somehow that they are right, just like we are generally convinced that all terrorists are out to destroy us. Well from the average Iraqi's point of view WE are the damn terrorists.

Jack Camwell said...

I don't think morality and religion are so intertwined in actuality i.e. if there was never any religion, morality could still exist.

But I think over time, religion has become intertwined with morality in the minds of humans particularly because I think many, many humans lack the capacity for compassion, morality, and doing good for the sake of doing good.

I don't think that most humans are cruel at heart, but I think most are too stupid to do the right thing unless they feel like they will be punished for not doing the right thing.

Too stupid or, as Jersey said, sociopathic.

Given that religion has often been used to justify even immoral behavior, I'm leaning towards the sociopath thing. I think it takes a good mind to NOT be a complete douche.

And you're right about the person's mindset determining whether or not they think they are doing good or doing harm, but I think that mindset doesn't necessarily determine the inherent morality or goodness of an action (or else I'd be a relativist).

I think the general rule to follow for actions to be moral depends on whether or not you are making a conscious decision to add to the suffering and misery of the world. What good is an action that benefits one person, but completely destroys another?

I think the general thing I'm hitting on with this facet of the discussion is that religious morality often uses "because God says so" explanation. The action is moral because God said so.

Well take that away, and then people are left to actually DEFEND and justify their actions. I think we know from experience that most people are too stupid to actually justify their actions beyond the simple explanation that "some higher power told me it was right, so it must be right."

But then we have to ask ourselves the question Socrates posed to Euthyphro. Paraphrased:

What makes an action moral? Is it because God says it's a moral action, or does God promote that action because it is inherently moral?

I would argue that actions are inherently moral or immoral (or somewhere in between), and the morality of an action is not determined by some supernatural being.

Anonymous said...

I couldnt have said it any better to be honest! keep up the awesome work. You are very talented & I only wish I could write as good as you do :) …

Jack Camwell said...

Thanks anon =)

Jersey McJones said...

You summed that up very well, Jack, and thanks for the cite.

You picked up on the real question behind the hypothetical.

To work your question, you'd have to assume there never was religion in the first place, lest it be obviously colored.

With that caveat, we already have the answer:

FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS BEFORE CHRISTIANITY THERE WAS A HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL SPECIES OF MAMMAL THAT ESSENTIALLY CONQUERED THE WORLD.

You could pluck an infant up from 10,000 years ago, raise her or him in contemporary New Jersey, with or without God, and she or he would be no different than any of us. Morally. Ethically. Intellectually. Spiritually. Socially. Personally. Really.

That's SCIENCE. I wish conservatives would embrace that again. All this anti-science these days is getting really annoying.

For religious folk,

Look, if you want to believe in God, then fine. But please, for Christ's sake, it's too much information for me. I don't need to know your religious beliefs and you don't need to know mine. They're pointless when it comes to any serious business or governmental thinking. Pray alone for a fuckin' change.

Great post, Jack. Loved it.

JMJ

FreeThinke said...

You could no more separate yourself from God than a beam of natural light could separate itself from the sun.

Our attempts to deny our essential unity with the Holy Spirit are the source of all of our anger, anxiety and conflict.

As Ogden Nash obliquely and whimsically put it:

Only the game fish swims upstream;
The sensible fish swims down.


~ FreeThinke

Jersey McJones said...

FT, there are plenty of species of aqua-fauna who thrive against the tide.

There are people who don't - even when they should. They cling to their God and their guns. Idiots.

Cling to your better judgement.

JMJ

Silverfiddle said...

To answer your question, Jack. Like most human beings, I would act in my rational self interest, and in a society that generally means following the golden rule.

Jersey's great revelation (which is no revelation at all) is that morality is separate from religion.

Of course it is. Morality most certainly exists outside of religion, and each religion offers its own brand of morality.

Anonymous said...

I am a Christian , but I think if God didn't exist and I knew this for a fact and there was no afterlife, I would love the people in my life much more and would want to be with them all that I could and the things I do, jobs,hobbies,etc. would mean more to me and I would want to leave some kind of legacy behind for others.