Why Do Atheists Search For Meaning?

On the Facebook page of a college atheist club, I read a post by one of the atheist leaders. He linked to a news article about a humanist couple who had formed a group to help people find meaning and purpose in life. The atheist leader added “Great to see mainstream media writing about science-based, rational approaches to finding meaning and purpose in life.”

Now all this is well and good, for who could be against people finding meaning and purpose? We are, however, immediately reminded of atheist guru Richard Dawkins who has told us “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” Dawkins has repeated this concept, telling us that questions related to such things as the purpose for things in the universe are completely meaningless questions, on par with asking “what is the color of jealousy?”

Atheists have long held that the world from top to bottom is completely without meaning or purpose. In the 1890’s, atheist Friedrich Nietzche wrote “Whither are we moving? . . . Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing?” In the 1930’s agnostic Bertrand Russell, after pointing out that the universe will result in a vast inevitable death, concluded that our lives can be built “only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair.”

Yet in the news article and the post I read, we have atheists and humanists spending great energy and spraying grand compliments about finding meaning in life. How can this be? If the universe were indeed “nothing but blind pitiless indifference” from top to bottom, why do we, as parts of the universe, search for it and hold it valuable?

One atheist I met admitted to local meaning but no long-term, ultimate meaning. All such explanations seem to have arbitrary, conjured, and tortured distinctions. We are again left with the question: If there truly is no ultimate meaning, why would we care to pursue one?

Further, atheists spend much energy attempting to stamp out the perceived wrongs of religion. If all of life is meaningless, why care? Yet they do care. Why? And do not give me all this claptrap about searching for truth or how we care about people. Again, if things are as meaningless as Dawkins, Russell, and Nietzche tell us, there is no purpose in finding truth or helping our neighbor, both thoroughly religious concepts.

The answer to this problem is best answered generally through theism, and specifically through Christianity. No matter how much we deny that there is meaning and purpose in the universe, the truth is that we all long for it. We are wired with the thought that there must be more. We search for meaning because we know there we will find significance. We know that blind pitiless indifference is not something we want or will accept, for we protest against wrongs, uphold what is good, and search for meaning that we do not have.

We protest against wrongs done to us and our neighbors because we know there is an ultimate standard of good that transcends the universe. Jesus told us “I am the way.” He is the source where we find meaning.

For the atheist and humanist who deny Jesus, they are locked in eternal dissonance, at once longing for meaning yet denying its existence.

About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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2 Responses to Why Do Atheists Search For Meaning?

  1. Rob Ward says:

    The best discussion I have heard about meaning was by L’Abri’s Andrew Fellows. This was a super beautiful philosophical and profoundly deep “Meanings (plural) of life” lecture. I highly recommend that you listen to the MP3s from L’Abri’s website (a bit difficult to find but lots there). This lecture for me was a BIG deal because meaning is so key to modern life and apologetics. Ecclesiastes anyone?

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