Saturday, October 22, 2011


     Most non-atheists see atheists as unhappy campers.  They think that atheists find no meaning or purpose in human life and nature as a whole.  They believe that without a transcendent, supernatural intelligence to validate it, nature offers no basis for human joy.  To them, it seems impossible that an atheist who on one hand denies a divine plan for humanity and on the other affirms a random materiality at the core of being can find human life happy or fulfilling.  They feel that all atheists must be  uniquely prone to pessimism and depression in the face of existential discouragements like those caused by today's hard economic times.
     In this and follow-up posts I want to explain to those who feel this way why I and most other atheists do not agree.  On the contrary, we feel at least as much zest for living and as much pleasure in having been born as they.  Furthermore, we much prefer our explanation of the world to theirs.  The world is not the creation of supernatural and immaterial deities, we hold, but instead a boundless web of material substance that during the Big Bang lost its initial symmetries and became the time-space-mass-energy manifold that generated every atom in our cosmos,
     Today I'll begin by explaining how I think this human zest for living, joie de vivre, or Lebensfreude originated.  As I've said in earlier posts, materialists like me believe that all existence is material and that so-called nothingness and non-existence are human fictions.  Everything, including human thought and feeling, consists at bottom of mass-energy.  Every particle in our cosmos came from the Big Bang, which released all the matter of our stars and galaxies as well as the space-time they occupy.  All the best evidence indicates that the Big Bang was a chance eruption of unknown natural forces.
     We infer from the facts of our own cosmos that this eruption was not caused by a human attribute like cognition or emotion but was, like all the natural objects it produced -- stars, galaxies, black holes --, the result of a fundamentally non-rational, non-human randomness at the heart of reality.  But how could objects as predictable as the black holes, galaxies, and stars of our world have emerged from such unpredictability?
     Almost certainly, I would argue, from the same kind of clash between material order and disorder we see everywhere around us.  Electromagnetism, gravity, and the strong and weak nuclear forces obey a rigid lawfulness yet intersect randomly in space-time.  Not one black hole, galaxy, or star was planned, predestined, or "necessitated."  They all arose from these four fundamental forces blindly driving atomic mass into black holes and stars.  Then they just as blindly began recycling the debris from exploding stars and colliding galaxies into subsequent-generation solar systems.  Everything in the cosmos emerged from a material order utterly oblivious of itself.
     So too our solar system.  Its originatiing clouds of dust and gas were pulled by gravity into a rotating disk with just enough mass and motion to cause a nuclear ignition at the centerpoint and just enough debris elsewhere to coalesce into orbiting satellites.  Among these satellites, our earth was just close enough, just tilted enough, rotating on its own axis just fast enough, with an orbit just circular enough (and so on) to evolve human sentience.  The laws of nature formed our oxygen-wrapped planet and us by chance.
     Somehow human sentience emerged from this mystifying blend of order and disorder.  I say "mystifying" because from a human point of view the ultimate facts of existence are unknown and quite probably unknowable.  So-called supernatural revelations are products of human fraud or delusion and useless except as case examples of crime or craziness.  Scientific study is incomparably more useful and valid, but it too is limited by its current inability to verify anything beyond the physics of our cosmos -- or even to understand that physics fully.  It hasn't yet ascertained what the "dark energy" making space-time balloon nor what the "dark matter" comprising most of cosmic mass are.  It doesn't yet know for sure whether neutrinos travel faster than light.  It has no idea how or why the Big Bang happened.
     All we can currently do is speculate about where nature's from and headed by extrapolating from what we know about it here to the mysterious unknowns that enfold us.  One conclusion I've drawn from this kind of speculative extrapolaton is that infinite reality is as natural and material -- and as interconnected and continuous -- as the finite reality we experience here.  The All, as materialists since Epicurus and Lucretius have termed it, is an endless and timeless continuum of some fundamental substance.
     Another conclusion I've reached is that the finite particulars of our Big Bang, our cosmos, our solar system, and our species are unique and original within the All.  That is, they are finite manifestations of infinite material Being.  No matter how closely ours may resemble other Big Bangs, cosmoses, solar systems, planets, or species elsewhere in the All, the particulars of the mesh of pattern and accident that formed us here can never recur.  That unique mesh created a circumstance and reality different from any other that ever did or will exist.
     We are the only material objects of precisely our shape and substance that could have emerged from the randomly interacting natural laws of our cosmos.  The melding, blending, and amalgamation that resulted from the clash of order and disorder here is inimitable.  As products of evolutionary chance, we think and feel in a way nothing else ever did or will.
     In other words, our sentience is the unique offshoot of random convergences in this unique cosmos.  While it may resemble sentience elsewhere here or in the All, it can never be duplicated or even approximated.  It stands irreducibly alone, occupying an entirely new and unrepeatable existence within the totality of the All's patterned chaos.  It's as worthy and valuable as the All itself simply because it too exists.  Material existence in any form never needs any validation or justification.  It is as infinitely self-validating and self-justifying as the All itself, which is all material being.  Its possibilities for self-realization are limitless, to me an exciting and inspiring thought.  Moreover, my sense of my own value and uniqueness in this infinity of material being makes me especially glad that, unlike the inorganic matter I'm made of, I'm somewhat self-aware.
     In my next post, I'll extend this notion of value and uniqueness to human evolution and argue that my zest for living is rooted in, but not confined to, that same inorganic matter.