If Atheism is true, then the universe lacks meaning.In other words, either the universe (and all within it, including you and your life) has meaning and God exists OR God doesn't exist and nothing has any meaning whatsoever. You can't have both meaning and atheism. You have to chose one.
But the universe has meaning.
Therefore, Atheism is false.
What I am Not Asserting
It might be best to start out by clarifying what I am not saying. I'm not saying "atheists can't think (subjectively) that there is meaning in the universe." I'm not saying "all atheists agree their lives are devoid of meaning." In fact, for the argument to be successful the atheist has to think there is meaning in the universe, they have to be willing to affirm the second premise. Otherwise, the atheist could just get around the dilemma by saying, "there is no meaning in the universe, thus atheism can still be true." Certainly there are some atheists who will take that view (e.g. Nietzsche), but most people, atheist or not, will not. Most people, including nearly all non-atheists, recognize meaning in the universe and in human existence and would refuse to deny the second premise.
What I am Asserting
Our first premise is saying that, without God, there can be no objective meaning to the universe. No real meaning to anything. Why? Because there must be someone who exists outside the universe to give it meaning. Why? Because the universe lacks intellect and will, both of which are necessary to give meaning to an action. If the universe is just a random occurrence it, in the final analysis, has as much meaning as the shape water takes when accidentally spilled onto the kitchen floor. A universe caused by an intellect and will is akin to a book written by an author, a Godless universe would have the same meaning as a monkey writing a book by randomly smearing his feces on the pages.
Can a Meaningless (Random) Cause Produce a Meaningful Universe?
No, because there cannot be more in the effect than in the cause. An example might demonstrate this better than an explanation. If I punch you in the face and break your nose, there must have been enough force in my blow to cause your nose to break. If my punch lacked the sufficient force to break your nose, your nose could not be broken by my fist. By the same reasoning, if the universe was caused by nothing or by something random (i.e. if it was created without meaning), the universe itself must then have no meaning. To suggest otherwise would be the same as suggesting that my fist both was the sole cause of your nose breaking and that my fist lacked the force needed to break your nose, which is, obviously, absurd.
Could Life Give Meaning to the Universe?
All life will ultimately perish. You will die. I will die. All humans will die. The sun will, eventually, supernova and burn up the Earth and everything humans even did (if atheism is true) will be forgotten and will have as much meaning as what ants did (or what rocks did for that matter). In fact, the entire universe itself will, thanks to the second law of thermodynamics, enter "heat death" and cease to have any life anywhere (if such life even exists at all). If such is our fate, there is no real meaning to anything we do or think because, in the end, it will turn out the same. If we can't change anything then what meaning does anything we do have? None. It would be like owing the government $10,000 in taxes, but being able to spend hours pouring over receipts to get extra deductions that will result in owing the government $10,000 in taxes. In such a case, whether or not you take the deduction simply doesn't matter, it has no meaning. If this world is all that exists and it will all end the same regardless, then what you do has as much meaning as whether or not you take those deductions.
Can Human Thoughts Give Meaning to the Universe?
This is also a non-starter, for both the reasons given above (more cannot be in the effect than the cause and life cannot change anything, thus it cannot have any meaning), and for another reason all its own. If atheism is true and all that exists is in a randomly generated material universe of natural processes, then human thought (as a part of that universe) is nothing more than the firing of electricity in a clump of grey matter inside our skulls. Our thoughts too are just another natural process and can no more "give meaning" to the universe of which they are a part than can the waves that lap onto the sea. In fact, we wouldn't even be able to be certain our thoughts were particularly accurate if our brains were formed by blind natural processes. Would you trust a randomly programmed computer to do your taxes?
In the end, if atheism is true, then Macbeth had it right:
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor playerTomorrow we'll look at the underlying logic of the argument and later in the week we'll see a common objection refuted.
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing. — Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 24-28)
|John Finch as Macbeth, 1971|