It is true, that many people in the world throughout our entire human history, have paused and wondered about many fundamental questions regarding the universe and its origins, as well as our place and purpose in the cosmos and the grand scheme of things.
Countless individuals struggle with old questions that are still troubling humanity and mysteries that haven't been solved yet. Some of these very old questions are the following:
"How did the universe form?"
"What is the cause of the universe?"
"Did something create it?"
"Was it formed at some point, or did it always exist?"
These mysteries still remain, and are interesting and reasonable questions to ask for every intellectual, and finding answers is even more interesting but a lot harder than merely asking the questions.
Some people cling to the fallacious First Cause argument, in an attempt to answer some of these questions, and in turn insert a Creator, a supreme being with absolute power that created the universe using unknown and physically impossible processes, existing in an unknown dimension but still being everywhere at once. That Creator is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and omnibenevolent.
But let us not get into the imagined details about this Creator.
The First Cause argument states that every effect has a cause, therefore, there must be a cause for our universe, and that this cause must be the original First Cause of everything in existence. The fallacy of course is that this First Cause does not have a cause. If everything needs a cause, then what is the cause of the First Cause? Why is the First Cause exempt from this rule? This of course is special pleading, a well-known logical fallacy. The First Cause argument fails in its own merit, and in turn cannot rationally justify the insertion of a Grand Creator claim.
In short, if everything needs a creator or cause, then the Creator itself needs to have a cause.
(We will call this Creator, God, for the purposes of this article, and since most people like to use that word as well, it is more fitting to this exercise.)
Let us examine the religious beliefs and claims of a creator, supreme being, or God.
So, the theist point of view is that in order for something so complex and vast as the entire universe to exist, some sort of super powerful force needs to create it. Since there seem to be apparent design and eloquence to it, that force should have intelligence, and this intelligent creator can be called God.
The obvious response to this argument is stated earlier, but for consistency's sake, I will state it again:
If the universe needs a God or Creator to exist, then this God needs a Creator as well.
Perhaps some even more powerful being created this God, so that he in turn can create the universe. But who created God's God?
Obviously this is a paradox and is therefore illogical.
However, there are still people that claim God exists and we have the ability to be aware of him, to find him, to know his desires and his character, and do as he wishes. Putting aside the fact that there is no shred of evidence for the existence of a Creator or God, and the fact that the First Cause argument doesn't work to rationally justify a belief in a God, we can at least examine the claims of these people, their arguments, and their logical consistency (if any).
Today, the most predominant belief in a God is the Judeo-Christian one, and the God itself is the Abrahamic God of the Bible also known as the Holy Scriptures.
So let us proceed.
There are people today that not only claim that this specific God exists, but also that they have evidence for his existence, and can prove it to those that are willing to believe and accept the truth. By default, we are inclined to believe as many true things and as less untrue things as possible. However, sometimes we choose blissful ignorance over uncomfortable knowledge. Whatever the case, I assume that most people would like to know the answer to the question "Is there a God?" and in fact quite a lot of people do ask that question very often (it is one of the mysteries mentioned earlier after all).
So most people are willing to believe and accept the truth.
But what are these claims?
Many theists who claim they have evidence for God's existence would typically refer to the Bible as proof of God's existence. They will usually quote passages or phrases from the Bible, and claim that this proves God's existence.
If that were the case, then this text that you're reading right now proves God's non-existence. Obviously it does not. A book by itself cannot prove anything, unless it is coupled with solid credible evidence to support its claims and/or theories. Using the Bible as evidence for God's existence is like using the Harry Potter books as evidence for wizards and magic.
The old typical Christian response to this is that the Bible is God's inspired word, therefore whatever it says is true beyond any doubt. When asked how do they know it is God's word, they once again refer to the Bible itself, to prove itself as God's word and as the existence of God.
Clearly this is a logical fallacy, circular reasoning at its best. The Bible is no more evidence for God's existence any more than a book about dragons is evidence for dragons' existence.
Claim: God exists and created the universe.
Question: How do you know God exists?
C: The Bible says so.
Q: Isn't the Bible just a book? Why do we have to believe it?
C: The Bible is the inspired word of God.
Q: How do you know the Bible is the word of God?
C: Because the Bible says so.
It basically always comes down to scripture no matter how you look at it. Essentially, they are using the Bible to prove the Bible's authority and truth claims.
Let us move to some more serious and (hopefully) less fallacious arguments/claims. Many believers like to argue that since their religion of preference is more pious or morally just or peaceful than other religions it must have divine inspiration/direction. A very dubious claim of this sort is usually made by Jehovah's Witnesses, showing off their strict rules, intolerance and prohibiting way of life, as some kind of moral superiority that proves their religion is the only one that is right.
To elaborate, JW's have extremely strict rules that all JW's should follow, otherwise they will get disfellowshipped and shunned. Most of these rules are derived from scripture; some of these are extremely questionable, and considered immoral by other Christians, and atheists alike.
Regardless, let us examine the claim itself.
Having a ministry and practically forcing the religion's followers to behave a certain way, think a certain way, and believe the same things will obviously result in a unified group that is sort of isolated to the rest of the world, since the group doesn't consider itself as part of this world. The direction for the whole group comes from a certain small number of individuals (Governing Body) that claim they have divine inspiration, and know what is best for the group as a whole, and what God wants them to do. This claim, the one of divine inspiration has no justification or evidence whatsoever. Witnesses are supposed to take it on faith alone that the Governing Body really has some sort of communication (or enlightenment from) with this God. As for the claim that the religion is morally superior, this is clearly subjective, since some of the practices and beliefs they promote are considered immoral and unjust by a lot of people (namely atheists), so clearly this isn't something that anyone can use as an argument.
Morality is a human construct, and most of the time is subjective and with gray areas all over. I suppose someone could argue for a kind of morality that is objective, and doesn't rely on each individual's judgement, but this morality wouldn't include all actions, thoughts, decisions, and patterns. We can find human actions that are seemingly objectively right or wrong, but with careful examination and removing bias and opinion we can start seeing the gray areas or the negative consequences of that action.
Therefore it is reasonable to assume that we cannot judge what is objectively moral or immoral using all of humanity's idea of morality, because it differs and relies heavily on culture, customs, way of life and civilization in question.
To get back to the claim itself, the moral superiority is based on the religion's dogma.
This dogma is deemed as objectively moral, since it is basically God's morality, and this is the basis for our morality (supposedly). However, a lot of times, this kind of morality isn't consistent with itself, and we can see this especially when reading the Bible.
An example would be the command not to kill people. However, God himself has killed more people than any human being that has ever existed (according to the Bible). Also, God commands people to kill over and over again. This "moral value" directly contradicts the commandment to not kill, and displays a character that most people would consider immoral and wrong, if not psychopathic.
An objectively moral God would be against murder of any kind at all times without compromising that value ever. An objectively moral God would not require the execution of non-believers because he doesn't like them, nor the condemnation of homosexuals either.
Let us clarify that the basis that most people use for morality is not what some book has to say about it, but whether an action or inaction has negative or positive consequences on human life. If I were to physically harm someone, by attacking them with my hands or a weapon, I would have a negative impact on their life, as well as spark feelings of retaliation in the person's mind, and in turn jeopardizing my own life and well-being.
We do not want to suffer, and don't like it when other people make us suffer, and we all live in the same society as well as the same planet. So we cannot hope to be completely unaffected by other people's misery, even if that does not directly affect us. What hurts an individual can hurt the group as a whole, because we are in an enclosed environment. We do not live on our own personal planet or dimension separated from the rest of humanity.
Using the positive or negative consequence basis, we can establish whether an action/inaction is moral/immoral, generally speaking. There are always grey areas, and a lot of times morality is subject to one's opinion or knowledge of the world, however we have a pretty good idea of why an action can be considered immoral, and how this immoral action affects our species.
To conclude the examination of this claim, it is impossible to determine whether a group of people are inspired by an asserted and unproven God based on their decisions, actions, and way of life, regardless of how pious or just it may be.
Now, lets be more specific about some claims.
Some Christians claim that the God of the Bible created, among all things, human beings, us. They state that we were created as we are, in God's own image, similar to God.
This claim means that human beings should be the same since they first appeared, and not having been changed genetically, physically or otherwise. The same species from the start. Studying biology, paleontology and genetics, and investigating the evidence that has been uncovered over the course of over 2 centuries, we can determine that this is not the case. Human beings are in fact evolved, from other human species, that are in turn evolved from other human species, that are evolved from ape-like species.
The now extinct species, or rather the remains of those species have been uncovered to display a genealogy of a tree-scheme that leads up to our species, along with many branches parallel to ours. There is also genetic evidence which suggests evolution, vestigial organs, traits and characteristics, and of course the numerous fossils that we have uncovered.
So if we were in fact designed by a God, and were the same way the day we were created, why is there evidence that suggests otherwise? Is God trying to fool us? Doesn't he want us to realize the truth?
It certainly is mind-numbing to think that there are people willing to deny evidence and scientific research that leads to new discoveries and an enlightenment of our generation, in favor of an idea or belief that feels well, but has no evidence to support it.
Let us examine the evidence that would support the claim that a God (any God) designed and created us:
Well....there isn't any. A believer would usually refer to the Bible as evidence for creation. They will cite creation stories, about God doing all sort of impossible feats and performing miracles in order to create not only humanity, but also the entire universe.
However, these are stories, not evidence. At best we can consider them entertaining myths or fairy tales.
It would be more reasonable (but still unsubstantiated) to claim that God merely created the "seed" of life, the first life forms (bacteria etc) knowing it would eventually after a long time evolve into the human species of today, through natural but designed processes, all within his divine plan. And some believers do make this exact claim.
Of course, there is no evidence to support either claim, but at least the latter does not deny physical evidence and scientific research and knowledge that has been accumulated over a long period of time.
One wonders how are people so willing to put all logic and reason aside, in favor of faith, or to put it simply, in favor of a comfortable myth/story.
A rational mind does not believe what it wants to believe. A truly free unbiased rational mind accepts and analyzes the evidence, in order to come to an objective conclusion and establish truth, whether said truth is pleasant or unpleasant. It does not matter how much a scientist would like to prove the existence of a God, or an alien species, or fairies, or a new galaxy/star/planet. What matters is what is actually true, rather than what we want to be true. Wanting something to be true does not make it so.
In our search for answers, in the vast universe that surrounds us, and the many unsolved mysteries begging to be solved, we should be able to determine fact from fiction, truth from falsehood, and the only effective and consistent way to do this is by being objective, unbiased, and rational.
Logic is what tells that 1+1=2. Logic is what tells us that if we jump off the top of a skyscraper we will most likely fall to our deaths. As much as one would like to believe that they will spread wings and fly, or that they will bounce off the ground, reality does not comply to human imagination/fantasy and feelings.
In our search for answers, we try to be critical and logical, excluding our opinion and wishful thinking. Only by being objective can we establish what is true and what is untrue.
As theists would have it, whatever evidence we find, whatever scientific research and discoveries we make, whatever reasonable justified valid theory we come up with, it is all false if it doesn't agree and comply with their beliefs and dogma. It matters not how many intermediate species we find between ape-like species and our species. It matters not how many particles we find that give us answers about matter in the universe. It matters not if we actually figure out the process by which an entire universe can expand from a single point to what it is today.
It matters not if we ever find any evidence that something else created the universe, other than their God.
One fundamental question that many people have asked for so long, is "What is the meaning of life?".
We often wonder our place in the universe, if we matter in the grand scheme of things, and why our life and everyone else's matters. We tend to want to find special purpose and meaning in a lot of things, and life as well as existence is one of them. So we wonder and come up with clever, simple, sophisticated, romantic, or otherwise emotional responses to this question. I would say that this question is more about one's self image and view of the world, rather than an actual credible question that has an answer which is objective and true.
If one finds the most happiness in their life in their partner whom they claim to love, then they could easily say that the meaning of life is love. One could say that the meaning of life is knowledge and exploration. Another could say that it is happiness. People seem to have their own emotional response to this question. However, religious people, of course have an answer to this which tries to justify their beliefs.
Theists claim that the meaning of life is God. And that without this God, whomever he might be, there is no meaning or purpose in life. Putting aside the fact that many people find a purpose in life without believing in any supernatural deity, the erroneous argument that there can be no meaning in life without God seems to invalidate itself, since God may or may not exist. In which case life could or could not have meaning. It is also a self-fulfilling statement, since it inserts a God into the argument, then claims this God is required for life to have meaning, and that meaning is God himself. Circular reasoning once again.
But let us take a step back, and examine the original question a bit more closely.
"What is the meaning of life?"
The word "meaning" here does not fit this sentence. We know that words have meaning, because we give them one. We assign the word "apple" to a certain kind of fruit that we recognize, and therefore that word has meaning. The word "djfushwsndn" has no meaning, because one hasn't been assigned to it in any language.
Certainly though, this question does not refer to the semantic meaning of the word "life". It refers to life, as organic life, as in all life in existence. It also refers to human life only, for some people (namely theists). The word "meaning" doesn't fit because life can’t have any meaning, any more than it has an appetite, or color. "What is the color of life?" one could ask. However, the question itself is meaningless, not each specific word or the meaning of the words. The question does not make sense, it is illogical.
It is reasonable to assume that the word "meaning" is another word for "purpose".
So let us instead examine this question: "What is the purpose of life?"
Here, the word "purpose" is the key. We consider a lot of things in our life to have a purpose. For example, an automobile has the purpose of transportation, to reduce human effort and time spent to get from point A to point B. It has a purpose. How do we discern its purpose? We consider its utility. We judge that the automobile has a use for us, and therefore we conclude that since it is useful, it has a purpose. If the automobile had absolutely no use to us, not even aesthetically, we could say that it has no purpose whatsoever. It exists just for the sake of existence, and whoever manufactured it must be out of their minds. Even as a cruel joke, an otherwise useless object can have purpose. Its purpose is to prank or make people laugh, so it has a purpose.
Similarly, a lot of species have a purpose, because they play a role and are useful to the environment they live in. If a species that is prey to some predator species suddenly became extinct, the predator species would be endangered with extinction as well. So utility is key to determine if something has a purpose.
But what is the purpose of life? Why does life exist? What is its usefulness in the universe?
We do not know if life in the universe occurred to serve some higher purpose or to be of use to some other being in the universe or any other reason. Maybe there isn't a reason, maybe there isn't a higher purpose in life. What we do know though, is that life could have never quite possibly happened on earth, and our solar system and of course the universe would function just fine. There would be no catastrophic effect on the laws of physics if that were the case. The universe can definitely support the absence of life, it is unnecessary in the grand scheme of things. It also can support other planets with life except our own, and isn't necessarily limited to one life-full planet.
What is the purpose of life? There could very well not be one. It could very well be our own need and desire for a special purpose that transcends all purpose, it could be our need to find purpose in everything. Maybe there is a special purpose, but if there is, we do not know.
We humans are complex beings with a powerful imagination and curiosity that supersedes a lot of things, even logic and reasoning sometimes. We often search for patterns, imagine alternative possibilities, and create entire worlds in our minds. We try to find answers, are naturally curious and try to reach to conclusions about all things. We have an intrinsic need for knowledge and it is that need that drives us to find truth as well as make up our own "truth" and believe falsehoods regardless of what is actually true.
We search, and sometimes we find. We make mistakes and we learn from them.
We explore and discover and try to understand the universe around us, using everything we have at our disposal. Using our intelligence and building on existing knowledge from previous generations, we try to reach the moon and we succeed.
One day, we will be shooting for the stars....literally, and we may even reach them, on some galaxy far far away.....
Always a skeptic, a free-thinker, a rationalist, and above all, a humanist.