Q: Atheists: How do you explain life?
I’m one of those rare breeds who believe equally in God and in Science… I evidently see evolution, and I can even go along with the Big Bang Theory, but how do you explain what makes us alive? Or cognitive thought and imagination? How can these things be explained in the material world if you do not believe in a spiritual world?
Thats why I have to believe in some sort of Creative Force… because I cant reconcile life. How do you do it?
A: No offense, but your inability to reconcile your observations with your beliefs has no bearing on objective truth. I honestly don’t say that to sound rude, condescending, or anything negative. I’m simply trying to offer the suggestion that your perspective might be skewed to accept a certain assumption.
If you really want to boil it down to the absolute basics, I believe the reason we are alive is entropy. It’s the only “force” that ensures that things will change, and change is absolutely necessary for the existence of life. It reminds me of the quote by Alan Watts: “A living body is not a fixed thing but a flowing event.” We are not alive simply because we are alive but because energy itself is bound up in every atom, and entropy is the expression of that power.
Cognitive thought and imagination are simply the byproducts of a highly evolved neurological machine. Our brains were really only developed to take information in, process it, make a decision, and then react to that decision. All brains (and other brain-like systems) work in this way, and it’s only because our brains have become so complex that we’re able to experience things like imagination and abstract thought.
The spiritual world you’re referring to is a completely abstract concept. And since it has no basis in physical reality, it’s easy for me to reconcile with my beliefs. I hold a fundamentalist belief about the term “supernatural.” I believe that all things that exist outside of nature are supernatural. Though it’s clear that there is a “force” that drives life itself, it’s a typically-anthropocentric logical leap to say that it comes from any guiding hand.
If you absolutely must believe in some kind of intelligent designer, consider this. If you choose to do one thing over another, you have made a decision using your intellect. If that decision affects your life or anyone that comes after you, then you have altered your world through your intentions. If your intentions affect something in your world, then you have designed something. And the most intelligent designers I’ve ever encountered are human beings.
I believe the concept of Intelligent Design confuses cause and effect. There can be no deity that intelligently set things up the way they are or else everything would be more intelligently designed. Headaches? Disease? Cancer? War? Rape? Death? What good are these things to thinking and feeling individuals, and why would a benevolent creator curse us with so many problems? The truth is that there is no intelligent designer; intelligence itself has “designed” things to be the way they are. Every time a being chooses one thing over another, its intellect has affected the world. If there was a Great Designer, these decisions would be made for us. And that seems more like a video game than a life to me.
A: Organisms are giant machines, and they require a lot of energy. All day, every day, most organisms spend their time concerned with the consumption and excretion of biological material. And since they constantly reproduce, they are introducing more of these consumers into the environment.
Birth brings about mutations, which brings about change and leads us down the path of evolution. Without birth, nothing would evolve. And without death, we would completely engulf the planet in just a few generations.
And so, the meaning of death is to bring balance to the ecosystem by ensuring that future organisms have a chance to evolve.
Looooong before the words “Christmas,” “Hannukah,” “Kwanzaa,” and “Festivus” ever entered humanity’s vocabulary, we have been celebrating the winter solstice. And why not? Without modern technology and capitalism making us fat, warm, greedy, and complacent, we’d be hunkered down in our holes, caves, and huts trying to make it through the brutal winters.
As many people have said, this is a time for giving. It is a time to appreciate all the things we could be living without, like food, shelter, and each other. And so, with the shortest day and longest night of the year at hand, take time to consider just how lucky we are to be here at this time in history. Whatever you call this time of year, try to remember why exactly why we celebrate it.
My cousin, Steve Metze, is currently serving in Iraq for the Texas National Guard. He has an interesting story, really. Heâ€™s a graduate of West Point, teaches Television and Film at the University of Texas, and is second or third in command of the Texas National Guard. In May of 2004 he got married, and conceived a child a couple months later. Then he got word that he was going to ship out to Iraq at the first of 2005. He was overseas as his wife went through the third trimester, and (thanks to a generous temporary leave from the military) was only around for a couple weeks to witness the birth. Right now he is serving the rest of his year in a wing of a former Iraqi palace, on the other side of the planet from his new wife and newborn daughter.
A couple years before he left for Iraq, he made a documentary about gamers (of the Dungeons and Dragons kind). Since he is part of the command in Iraq, he has been in a relatively unique position. And being a filmmaker, he has decided to put his talents to good use. Though he has not officially announced it, he is currently filming a documentary about the life of the troops in Iraq. As soon as he gets back to the United States he will turn the footage over to his editor, and soon after that we will be setting up a site to promote the film. Iâ€™m looking forward to working on that project almost as much as Iâ€™m looking forward to seeing the film, but not nearly as much as Iâ€™m looking forward to seeing him home again.
I imagine the Cosmos, infinite and remote.
I reflect on our sun, the perfect planetary host.
I consider our world, the pale blue home of the Earthlings,
I think of this forest, and of this path I tread.
Intentionally lost among Appalachian giants,
I wander a chaotic, forkful path.
Willfully losing myself in the grandeur,
I grow hyper-aware of these ancient plants.
Standing in the middle of an empty space,
I am surrounded by five spruce guardians, their branches interlinked.
I wonder what their purpose could be,
And hear the reply from my ancestor’s voices.
These trees provided the ancients with a place to perch
Tens–hundreds–thousands–of generations before me.
A place to develop their growing brains,
And to expand their busy minds.
Perhaps these trees were arranged this way,
A sign of the next step in the Ancient’s evolution.
Once they understood the Father of Light,
And the Seasons, they began to see the pattern.
A new ability was given to them, and therefore to us,
As the passing of the years no longer went unnoticed.
With the knowledge of Mother earths regularities,
They could plan a time for planting and harvest.
The source of the river is an incandescent ball.
Energy flows constantly, carefully harvested here by leaves.
Generations of creatures, divert the flow,
Creating living tributaries with every bite.
© 1999-2022 Eric P. Metze