In today’s spotlight I would like to discuss something I have been working on recently—the idea that I Could Have Been An Atheist.
Every week I interview some of the brightest and most informed people on our planet and I consider myself lucky to have such an opportunity. Very often our guest is a well qualified scientist, and/or an expert in their field, and they inform us that the notion of a god is but a left-over from a time when folks failed to understand the world they live in—a supernatural story that replaces the failure of understanding.
Science and Spirituality
We are told that the mind is but an emergent property of the brain, that evolution explains life, that mystical experiences including things like out of body and near death experiences—are but manifestations of REM sleep or a dying brain, and so forth. We are informed by hard data that free-will is largely an illusion, and that so-called past life traumas are explained by epigenetics. Identical twin research demonstrates genetic propensities so powerful that sociobiologist explain behavior as a result of evolution, and thereby often conclude that parenting matters little if at all—genetics determines who we are, what we will believe, like and dislike, and how we will behave. Studies have even identified markers of criminality that predispose a person to criminal behavior.
The Supernatural World
I could go on, indeed I have done just that in the new book I’m working on completing right now, but the point should be clear from this tiny glimpse into the world coming under the grip of our scientific knowledge—we no longer need a god, or a supernatural world, to explain the nature of life. We are but meat machines materialized from the natural process known as evolution, and therefore only a machination of atoms destined to become some part of something else as atoms. Perhaps our atoms will participate in a million different physical objects one day in the future—but we, our individual consciousness, is terminal in every sense.
Behavior and Reward
Suppose that’s true, and I don’t, but for the moment, accepting the premise, what is that supposed to mean? Does it change how we are to behave? Does it alter our goals and ambitions? Does it make us any less human in the higher sense of the word? Does it somehow instantiate an attitude of indifference? I think not!
If the only reason I care about other human beings, or doing the right thing, living a life of unselfish dignity, doing my best to be a better person, practicing the Golden Rule, is for reward—a life in heaven, then I’m betraying the very reason I should try to be the best person I can be. My incentive should after all be above the reward incentive or what I do is for selfish reasons alone—reward.
The Big Picture
As such, I believe that in the big picture, it really doesn’t matter. I live my life as though there may be more to everything than meat machine implies, but if not, I would not change the choice I have made. The famous agnostic, Michael Shermer, once told me that he lives his life today caring for others in the same way he did when he was a devout Christian. He sees no reason to do less and neither do I.
My thoughts, what are yours?