Are we doomed?

The Apologetics 315 blog quotes William Lane Craig:

If there is no God, then man and the universe are doomed. Like prisoners condemned to death, we await our unavoidable execution. There is no God, and there is no immortality. And what is the consequence of this? It means that life itself is absurd. It means that the life we have is without ultimate significance, value, or purpose.

A lot of religious people seem to think this must be what life as an atheist would be like: dreary, depressing, hopeless, and/or terrifying. Perhaps for them, with their lifetimes full of indoctrination that that’s what it should feel like, it would. But I don’t think it has to be that way.

For one thing, what are “man and the universe” doomed to if there aren’t any gods? One might well point out that, if (most versions of) the Christian god existed, the majority of humanity is doomed by God himself to be tortured in hell for an eternity. No Christian god, no eternal punishment — which is a big win. (Remember, according to several denominations’ interpretation, Revelation says only 144,000 people get saved on Judgment Day. Total. From all people who ever lived. So this would be a lot of folks getting spared infinite fire and brimstone.)

I guess what Craig is saying is, we’re doomed to die, and the universe is doomed to die too. Well, as far as we know, the universe doesn’t have feelings or even self-awareness, and we have no basis on which to presume what the universe’s state preferences might be if it could possibly have them, so I’m not concerned about the universe reaching thermodynamic equilibrium. But yes. People eventually die. Life stops, and then (as far as we know) you don’t experience anything anymore. I am not crushed by this realization. There’s no reason we should be disappointed to be denied immortality, any more than we should be disappointed to be denied the ability to turn invisible or to perform telekinesis.

Craig doesn’t seem to consider those other losses to be a crushing blow, because he hasn’t been steeped in a belief system that presumes them to be real. If you’ve been living your whole life in a dreamland where people can be immortal if only they believe hard enough (and clap their hands!), then the shock of reality could be pretty painful. This is certainly a challenge atheists face when discussing religion with theists. But lots of atheists used to be theists, and they got through this shockwave eventually. In time, one realizes that just because an idea feels sad doesn’t make it not true, and truth is the most important feature — I would say, the only important feature — when deciding whether or not to believe something.

After getting through that phase, though, one can imagine a godless universe from a different perspective. True, we see no “ultimate significance” to each human life in the way that a religious person, believing each person to be a tool of their god/s in some cosmic play or battle, would see it. But this doesn’t mean a life has no personal significance, or that there is nothing worthwhile to be done while one is alive. On the contrary, as an atheist I can’t just listen to some boilerplate lesson on the way to behave and then turn off my brain and follow robotically, so I grapple with these questions about the right way to live seriously and on a daily basis. I think this kind of reflection-guided life, compared to a religious life, is actually more fulfilling and more meaningful. All the more so when you factor in the reality that we will die someday, and we have to figure out what to do with our limited time here on earth.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t often feel like life is absurd. Certainly, I think that to say the experience of being a self-aware nugget of supernova ejecta is “absurd” is an understatement. But the absurdity doesn’t mean I’m “doomed.” It means I have an amazing opportunity, and I’m going to make the most of it, rather than do like William Lane Craig suggests he would in my place: just pout about some contradictory and/or terrifyingly repugnant fairy tales not actually being true.

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  1. When I first lost my faith I was very depressed about the whole thing. But as you said, it’s not really because I’m going to die, it’s because I was promised heaven so many years. I’ve heard it compared to convincing someone that they have won the lottery, then breaking the news to them that they really didn’t. Seems like a pretty reasonable analogy to me.

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