by Stuart Gathman

Life Purpose for the Skeptical Geek

Life Purpose for the Skeptical Geek

If you haven't done so already, you have to ditch Materialism if you want meaning and or purpose. Materialism is the theory that this universe and/or multiverse is all there is. A basic tenet is that things with apparent meaning like DNA are actually the result of blind chance guided by natural selection - with no intelligent purpose behind it. It follows that our apparent intelligence is only an illusion. It is simply a complex response to stimuli shaped by survival. Atheism implies Materialism, but often adds other stuff like ethics - although those are meaningless given the premise of Materialism, unless they are regarded as simply survival enhancing behaviour.

Once you allow for an intelligent being that created this universe, you can look for what his/her/its purpose was. A basic question is whether this being interacts with this creation in any way. If you answer no, you get Deism. A Deist is stuck with intuiting purpose from the way the world was made. Presumably the Creator arranged for our intelligence to be up to at least attempting the task.

The best way to answer the question about whether a Creator interacts with this world is to look at history. Don't make the mistake of considering a supposed miracle as evidence of divine interaction. The problem with this approach is that our knowledge of what is truly a miracle, and what is not will always be incomplete. Even our present knowledge of science allows for "statistical miracles" - events that are astronomically improbable, but nevertheless possible (e.g. macroscopic tunnelling). It may be that our Creator dislikes breaking the rules he himself established. Worse, you open yourself up to being taken in by unknown technology: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." The key is looking for intelligence behind a suspected interaction - whether or not it seems miraculous.

Suppose you need to arrange a signal with a friend, so that they can communicate important information to you despite normal speech being impractical. For instance, you want them to tell you which way the Redcoats are coming, so you arrange a signal with lanterns: "one if by land, two if by sea." Or, your friend has had a severe brain injury, and can no longer speak but can still hear. So, you ask them to blink once for no, twice for yes. These arrangements have two necessary features: the signal is prearranged, and the signal is uncommon. For instance, it would have been a bummer if someone needed a lantern and borrowed one left by Paul Revere. The blink system won't work well if your friend blinks uncontrollably all the time. Sometimes the prearrangement can be logical, rather than temporal. For instance, if SETI picks up a signal that can be interpreted as a series of bits representing the first 1000 primes, that would be an exciting indication of an alien intelligence. But this kind of logical prearrangement can be tricky. It might be a natural source that we haven't seen yet. It might actually be a signal originating from Earth.

The story of Gideon in the book of Judges in the Bible is a good illustration of prearranging a sign with God. He put out a fleece (wool). The first time he tells God, "If you want me to lead the army, let the fleece be wet, but the ground dry". Presumably God can hear him even though he is not speaking in an audible voice at the moment. This is an unusual occurence, but to be sure, be arranges the opposite for the next night, "let the fleece be dry, but the ground wet". Notice he didn't simply notice that there was a dry fleece on a wet ground and say, "Wow! That must be a sign from God!" He arranged the signal ahead of time. Also notice that if the humidity of the fleece had remained the same as the ground, that would not necessarily mean that God did not want him to lead the army. It could also mean that God wasn't responding in the manner he asked for. Gideon could have arranged a slightly better signal by putting out two fleeces, "If you want me to lead the army, let the ground be wet, and both fleeces be dry. If you don't, let the ground be wet and just one fleece be dry." Or just one fleece with this, "If you want me to lead the army, let the fleece by dry and the ground wet. If you don't want me to lead, let the fleece be wet and the ground dry." He could reverse the conditions the second time. Of course, only a geek would ask God for that kind of sign.

The Creator is not braindamaged, and is surely capable of speech, having created it, or at least the conditions necessary for it. The reasons for not speaking directly to everyone are likely due to other reasons, such as disliking unnecessary miracles, or perhaps he doesn't feel like continuing until a person pays attention to what he has already said. Indeed, there are historical records of what seems to be the Creator speaking in human language to a person or persons. You need to evaluate these records with some questions in mind. Are they authentic? I.e., did Isaiah really write the book of Isaiah in the Bible, or did someone compose it 800 years later as a work of fiction, or perhaps an outright lie? Avoid circular reasoning such as, "Isaiah couldn't have written it because it talks about specific events that hadn't happened yet." Did the author intend the work as literal truth - or is it a work of fiction? Did the author have any motivation to lie? And finally, when the author records words supposedly from God, do they communicate something specific and meaningful for the person or persons they were addressed to?

In summary, learning about and communicating with the Creator of our universe is a real empirical possibility. Since this Creator is responsible for any purpose in the world, learning to communicate with the Creator is crucial to discovering more details concerning your individual purpose.

Posted 4/25/2005 at 11:9 PM
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