Saturday 29 May 2021

Half-explanations: Seeking to explain the meaningfulness and purpose of life - and the answers led to theism

It seems to be a human trait that - at least in the short term (of a few years) we can get stuck accepting an incoherent and partial explanation that does not really explain. If we are honest, however; sooner or later we should realize our error and modify our convictions. 

The mainstream and official metaphysical assumptions of the modern world have it that life has no purpose or meaning; because the universe happened due to physical processes that are some mixture of rigidly determined and utterly 'random', and are indifferent to human life. Human life is due to an historical process of natural selection that was not aiming anywhere, and merely represents the operation of differential rates of reproductive success...

Yet plenty of people would assert that they Do have some sense of meaning and purpose in life - or, to put it negatively, that their lives are Not utterly random Nor arbitrarily determined by prior causes... That is not their experience.

How can this be, given the imbibed 'truths' (i.e. unexamined assumptions) that there cannot be purpose or meaning to human life? In particular - how can people assert meaning or purpose despite continuing to hold to the same assumptions that rule-out any such possibility?   

Here we come-up against a multitude of half-explanations; that in one sense seem at least to take-the-edge of the craving for meaning, if not to satisfy it - yet in removing the urgency tend to block progress towards a full and coherent explanation. 

One example of this is synchronicity - which at one point I 'got stuck on', while yet an atheist. I had the partial belief that the external events of my life were not just meaningless coincidences, but that they were a guide to what I 'ought' to do - at least in the sense of telling me what would make me happiest and most fulfilled. 

I held to another half-explanation that there was a 'path through life' which I again 'ought' to follow - and that when I was off this path, I would become more and more miserable and demotivated; which was meant to be a signal that I should seek my 'proper' path. 

So, I remained an atheist, and continued to hold the mainstream-official assumptions that life was - really and ultimately - meaningless and purposeless (a product of physics and biology, and nothing more) - yet I also asserted that my life did, in fact, have purpose (a 'destined path') and meaning (with synchronicities, not arbitrary coincidences). 

I needed to ask how this was possible. I needed to Get real. I needed to take my own assertions serious, and follow through to their conclusions. 

I needed to explain how a destined path and meaningful guiding events could possibly occur - to ask what kind of universe was implied if these were real and true?   

Eventually, I did ask these questions, and was rather disturbed to discover that the only coherent explanation was that there was a creator-god, who had-made and was-shaping the world. This was the only way that the tiny events of my life in a vastly complex reality be lined-up such as to communicate meaning. 

And further, that this creator-god must love me, personally; in order to accomplish this careful alignment of millions of events to my own life (among billions of Men and far more other organisms) for my benefit

...Because, there was no doubt that I regarded synchronicity and destiny as 'for my own benefit' - they were operating to tell me what it was 'best' to do, what would (in some sense) make me happier and more fulfilled, and would lead to better outcomes for people I loved and the world more generally. I regarded it as Important that I follow My destiny. 

These are what I assumed in my actual life; and I eventually acknowledged that my assumptions pointed at a personal God, who was creator and create-ing; and who loved me personally

Thus I became a theist - this was around the middle of 2008 - and after that it was merely a matter of 'choosing my religion' from among those who acknowledged that God was of this nature. 


Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

I used to think that being a serious person meant only believing things that were supported by evidence.

What that actually meant in practice was "officially believing" that life had no particular meaning or purpose, that there was no free will, etc. -- all the while living as if I didn't believe any of that at all.

What it really means to be a serious person is to take your own bedrock assumptions seriously -- not to be in denial about them -- and to work out their ramifications as honestly and thoroughly as you can. This can be extremely difficult work, but once you commit to it, things start to fall into place.

Might some of your bedrock assumptions be false? Sure. But if you pretend they don't exist and make up a pretend "philosophy" without reference to them, you're guaranteed to be deluding yourself. What does it profit you to create a thoroughly respectable, "evidence-based" worldview if it's just for show, and what you really live by is a jumble of unexamined (because denied) not-quite-thoughts? Atheism is fake. Not false, fake.

Purify your hearts, ye double minded!

Bruce Charlton said...

@Wm - yes, exactly.

If you and I have a good attribute is in, eventually, having followed through on our assumptions. I got to a point (several times) when I was utterly appalled at where these assumptions had led me over a span of a couple of decades. From there it was still an embarrassingly long haul to coherence.

But I think in 2021, things are much more straightforward and these timescales are very compressed.

because evil is triumphant and rampant; if your assumptions are fake, then you will Very Quickly be led into appalling yourself with what you regard as 'good' and 'necessary' - that is, IF you are still capable of being appalled.