Tuesday, May 24, 2011

There Is No Why

As soon as I saw what Stephen Hawking had to say about Heaven, I knew my reader would explode with articles denouncing, and completely misunderstanding, his words. For some reason, a large portion of Christians seem to think Hawking is the High Priest of Atheism and they must! denounce! him!

My reader did not disappoint. I could blog about nothing but theistic reactions to Hawking's thoughts from now until doomsday (December, 2012). I'll spare you the stoopid (see how nice I am?) and give you this one representative reaction:

I'm not the brightest bulb in the pack, but I missed something here. Hawking was asked about the value of knowing WHY we are here, and responded above about societies, survival, Darwin, yada yada. But what I'd like to know if, as he says, our very existence is "pure chance", WHY ARE WE HERE? Why should I care to seek the "greatest value of our action"? Why should my personal goals include the consideration of "our" anyway? And what if I belong to a society that isn't fittest? Wouldn't natural selection wipe out my goals, my greatest value of action anyway? I'm not being facetious here, either. If anyone out there wants to take a stab at WHY, from a Darwinian and atheistic point of view we're here, I'd like to know. It's only fair. I asked believers why doesn't God heal amputees. It's the nonbelievers turn.

Here's the answer: There is no why. That's it, really. There is no reason, no grand design, no plan, nothing. We are because we could be, and all things that could happen do happen at least once.

I know, right? It's so fucking mindblowing that we are not the center of the universe. We're just a speck of dust in the vastness of infinity and in the grand scheme of things, we matter not at all, except to ourselves. We could disappear off the face of the Earth right now and the vast majority of the universe wouldn't notice a thing.

It's okay. Just breathe. You'll be alright, I promise. I didn't say you didn't matter to anyone at all. I'm sure you do. And that's why you should seek out the "greatest value of [your] actions". Because to other humans, it does matter, and each other is all we have. There is no god to save us, no Armageddon to wipe the slate clean, so salvation and no glory. If you want good, you'll have to make it happen. Just you. And me.

We'll be okay. We always have been. You see, it's been this way the whole time. There was never a time when it wasn't just you and me. You may not have known it, but this is the way it always was and you got along just fine.

So take a deep breath and carry on with whatever it is you do.


  1. But.... But...

    Then God isn't real and isn't going to choose Barca over Man U? Waaaaaaaaah! This is so unfair. I thought God just hated Congolese women, maybe women in general, amputees and quadri- and paraplegics, people with all manner of genetic diseases, including innocent babies born with them and dying young and horrible deaths. I thought that they had all been unFaithful and unRaptured. Unlike investment bankers and large corporation CEOs and COOs and Boards, those mercenaries at Blackwater and that other new army in the UAE started by Erik Prince, all of whom, although also unRaptured, are still here solely because of their benevolent service to mankind.

    But that's all wrong, PF? Are you sure? You really mean we're gonna have to fix this effing planet all on our own and try to get along even if there's no punishment other than living with each other if we don't try to all do the right thing?

    Damn! Because this planet is one serious fixer-upper!

    Damn you Stephen Hawking! Talk about dark energy!

  2. Well said. I'm never quite sure how to respond to the "if there is no God, then life has no meaning" line of thought, because it's so fundamentally misguided that I'm never sure where to start picking apart its assumptions.

    Partly, that's because I see people (like this one) demanding to know, Why Are We Here? And it just kind of puzzles me. Isn't it sufficient that we are here? Seriously, that's not good enough? You have to have Cosmic Significance as well?

  3. It's good enough for me, Michael. ;)

    I think most people struggle with why we are here. The idea of being an 'accident' of evolution (not that there really are evolutionary accidents) is simply too daunting to many people people. Frankly, I think of it like the latest iteration in the Galileo/Copernican vein. We are not the center of the universe. Still a sticking point for most people after more than a few millennia.

    I guess more people would have to deal with the issue of how they actually behave if they thought there is no Great Fixer Person in the Sky and their purpose for being here is to do his bidding and follow his word and be... Fixed.

  4. If you want good, you'll have to make it happen. Just you. And me.

    I happen to be a (poly)theist, and I just wanted to say that the above sentence is one of the best statements I've ever heard. Thank you. And QFT.

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  6. Wow, I can't believe I got linked to! Well, since I don't get too many visitors on my blog, thanks. I also wanted to thank you for actually responding... really. I only got one comment, and I wanted to a real response. I also thank you for not trashing me, but giving a thought out answer.

    To be honest, I can't explain why for me (and many others, obviously), we need to have a why. Saying, "There is no why" is not satisfactory. I almost feel like my question is being brushed off as insignificant (am I wrong?). But why? I posed the question to believers about the amputees because, to be quite frank, although I believe in God, I refuse to pretend I don't doubt my faith at times (http://far-above-rubies-and-pearls.blogspot.com/2011/03/they-shoot-doubters-dont-they.html). I kind of felt brushed off by other Christians when I admitted that, or when I question things.

    My point is, I believe people on both sides tend to attack people just for asking questions, or dismiss the question altogether, and it makes me think... well, why? Lol, sorry, but I guess I ask that question a lot.

    Also, to make it clear, IMO, I'm asking these questions because I don't believe the universe revolves around me. Far from it. I'm seeking to understand my place within the universe.

    Anyway, thanks for the hits! :-)

  7. Well, let me put it to you this way: The fact that you don't find "there is no why" to be a satisfactory answer doesn't make it an untrue or unsatisfactory answer. It just means you don't like it. *shrugs* Many things in life are unsatisfactory, it doesn't make them untrue. I want, more than anything, a dragon. I'm not mocking you, I want a dragon. I'll never get one, and it sucks that I live in a world where that is not possible, but there it is.

    As to "center of the universe", you probably do think you are the center of the universe, and I don't mean that to be rude or dismissive. So do most of us. It's like confronting white privilege. When I first read about white privilege, I was all "oh, that's ridiculous!", and even now that I accept it, I often can't see the privilege right in front of my face.

    In a predominantly Christian society, the idea that man is the center of the universe, the apples of God's eyes, is so pervasive that it's almost impossible to see. For example, on my way to work, I noticed how nicely canopied the neighbors bushes were and wondered how I could do that. Then I wondered why I have any right at all to do that to a bush. It's just a bush, being a bush and I'm hacking at it all the time for the great crime of being planted in front of the windows of my house. What right do I have to mutilate bushes? None, really. Once I followed that line of thought, my mind was so blown, I almost missed the bus as it drove by. I mean, how often does anyone stop to consider the privileges of merely being human and how valid they really are?

    What I'm saying is "why" is automatically a question that places the asker at the center of things. If you are asking it, at some level you believe yourself to be at the center of things, even if you are unaware of it. There is no why is a simpler truth than some complex, contradictory story about an omniscient, omnipotent being with rather peculiar goals. It might not be satisfying, but there it is.

  8. Hi Alisha.

    ...or dismiss the question altogether, and it makes me think... well, why?

    Sometimes, questions get dismissed because they questions are deeply rooted in a particular set of base assumptions. For someone who doesn't share that set of base assumptions, the question simply isn't relevant and probably doesn't make sense.

    To give you a different example, I am what I would call a Vanic Witch and am heavily influenced by the Wiccan author/founder Gerald Gardner. One of the questions that Christians often ask me when I tell them this is "Well, how do you determine if you're "good enough" to get into heaven?"

    The problem is, that question is irrelevant to my basic understanding of life and the afterlife. I believe in reincarnation*, not heaven. I also don't believe that reincarnation is based on how good or bad I am. So asking that question makes absolutely no sense. The only response I can reasonably give to that question is therefore to dismiss the question and explain why I'm doing so.

    I suspect (I'll let the atheists tell me if I'm right or off my rocker) that from an atheist standpoint, "Why are we here?" is an equally irrelevant question because it's based on the assumption that (1) some intelligent presence put us here and (2) that intelligent presence put us here for a particular purpose. Clearly, both of those assumptions don't fit in with an atheist standpoint, so the best they can say is, "I'm sorry, the question is irrelevant from my viewpoint and here is why."

    Now some of your other questions (which I think PF gave the beginning of answers to) are much more interesting, as to why should we "be good" if we're just here by chance and there is no God. Of course, another interesting question might be how PF defines what it means to "be good" and how she came to those conclusions.

    * And unlike the Buddhists and Hindus, I believe that being reincarnated is the desirable goal rather than something you suffer through until you've sufficiently balanced your karmic account and can escape the cycle.

  9. @Jarred, wow, thank you for such an intelligent and respectful answer. Thank you. I'd like for PF to answer some of those questions, too. Also, a question for you: why do you view reincarnation as a desirable goal? Life is horrendously cruel for many people. Even being able to learn invaluable character lessons does not seem worth it if you come back as a girl born in the Congo who has been repeatedly rape due to war. Btw, I hope I'm not hijacking this thread or anything...

    @PersonalFailure, you do understand that being harsh isn't cancelled out by saying you're not trying to be rude, right? Sarcastic I can handle, but cyncial is a bit much for this pregnant lady. But I get what you're saying. You mentioned white privilege, and that got me thinking. I'm a Black woman, and I'm aware of the disadvantages slapped on me as a minority female. However, I know of many White people who are either totally oblivious to this or just ignorant about it. When they make statements that betray their lack of knowlegde of understanding of (or their total disagreement with the concept of) White privilege, I've learned it's best to conversate to increase understanding as opposed to to say, um, dismissing their worldview as being irrelevant. I might not understand it or think it totally ridiculous, but I *try* to think the best and respond as such. Isn't this the best way to get "good to happen"?

  10. Alisha: you do understand that being harsh isn't cancelled out by saying you're not trying to be rude, right? Sarcastic I can handle, but cyncial is a bit much for this pregnant lady.

    Do you realize that you just conflated, like, four terms with completely different meanings?

    One can be harsh without being rude. Sometimes the truth hurts. There's a difference between pulling someone aside and telling them they really need a breath mint and standing up in the middle of a board meeting to do the same.

    Also, I'd point out where sarcasm and cynicism come in to this one, but I have no clue what that means. It's not cynical to say that we ain't the center of the universe. That's like me saying that the White Sox lost yesterday and you saying, "Oh, don't be so cynical." And it's not sarcastic to tell someone who is acting like they're the center of the universe that they, y'know, aren't. There are nearly 7 billion people on this planet. This is one planet among 8 (official) planets circling our Sun. Our Sun is one of billions of stars in this galaxy, which is one of billions of galaxies in the universe.

    We are tiny, inconsequential beings living tiny, short lives clinging to a rock out in the middle of a vast, cold, uncaring universe. Pointing out that you're not the center of that universe so you should really stop acting like it is a simple statement of fact. Sorry.

  11. as for reincarnation -

    i'm not Wiccan [different flavor of pagaon] but for ME, reincarnation happens until one has learned everything they CAN learn here [and what one might learn from a life of rape isn't NICE or GOOD and i am absolutely NOT condoning anyone of - but i dare say SOMETHING is learned. even if it's only life is often hell] and then we move to a "higher" level where we start over.

    i think - if i remember correctly - that most Wiccans believe in reincarnation until Godhood is reached. not JHVD level of Godhood, i don't think, as i have yet to meet a pagan who believes in the Structure of JHVD-type Godhood.
    i could be wrong - as i said, i'm not Wiccan and it's been a loooooooooooong time since i studied it :)

    also: truth here, PF is *NOT* joking about the dragon. at all.

  12. @Alisha: why do you view reincarnation as a desirable goal? Life is horrendously cruel for many people. Even being able to learn invaluable character lessons does not seem worth it if you come back as a girl born in the Congo who has been repeatedly rape due to war.

    Well, I'll be the first to admit that it's easy to see the joys in life when I live very comfortably as (I think) upper middle class American. I might feel differently if I was the girl in the Congo you mention.

    Ultimately, I believe as I do because (1) I serve a goddess who believes that living passionately and in relationship with other people is the highest ideal and (2) I'm heavily influenced by the a certain Wiccan myth which posits that for love to be fulfilled, those loved ones must be born again in the same time and place, remember one another, and fall in love again.*

    Of course, the other part of my feelings on this also ties into my beliefs about wyrd and orlog, and the idea that everyone (and not just humans) are building something here and that the process of reincarnation plays into this building process. I would argue that the reason such cruelty as rape and war exist is because we have yet to fully do something about these things. Part of creating that better world for everyone is bringing about justice for all and ending such cruelty. And I'm thankful that (according to my beliefs) I have several lifetimes I can and will spend working toward that goal.

    * I'll note that while those Wiccan traditions that trace an Initiatory lineage back to the New Forest region of the UK do acknowledge that some may choose to become one of the Mighty Dead after death, the focus of those traditions is mainly on returning to the earth to celebrate love again. As such, the idea of reincarnation until achieving godhood as described by Denelian is not as prevalent in such traditions as it is in more eclectic forms of Wicca.*

    ** Note that I'm not saying that one form of Wicca is better or more valid than the other here. I'm simply pointing out the difference/variety in thought.


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