Jason Rosenhouse is a Professor of Mathematics at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. In a recent post on Evolution Blog, Dr. Rosenhouse makes a rather astounding statement about the relationship between one’s views on human origins and the value one places on human life:
“Answers about our origins have no implications at all for questions of meaning and value. Arising through blind, uncaring forces in no way implies that life is not awesomely precious, and being made in the image of a transcendent designer in no way implies that it is.”
If life itself emerged from the pre-biotic slime due to some fantastically improbable process (as to how this happened scientists have nothing to offer us except blank stares, shrugged shoulders, and purely speculative theories; each one wilder than the next), and then evolved over countless millions of years into the upright walking primates we call humans, the simple unadorned truth is the following: The human being is to the lobster what the lobster is to the cockroach, and the lobster is to the cockroach what the cockroach is to the paramecium. Human life, or any type of life for that matter, has no value or significance at all. In the words of the late paleontologist Stephen J. Gould:
“We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures; because the earth never froze entirely during the ice age; because a small and tenuous species, arising in Africa a quarter of a million years ago, has managed so far to survive by hook and by crook. We may yearn for a higher answer – but none exists.”
Another distinguished paleontologist and highly influential evolutionary biologist, George Gaylord Simpson, expressed this raw, brutal truth in the following manner:
“Man is the result of a purposeless and materialistic process that did not have a human in mind. He was not planned. He is a state of matter, a form of life, a sort of animal, and a species in the order of primates, akin nearly or remotely, to all life, and indeed, to all that is material.”
Other atheistic thinkers are much more candid on the subject than Dr. Rosenhouse. A sampling:
- Sigmund Freud: “The moment a man questions the meaning and value of life, he is sick, since objectively neitherhas any existence.” (In other words, if an atheist directly confronts the issue of the meaning and value of life he will most likely end up needing a psychiatrist!)
- Cornell Professor William Provine: “There is no hope whatsoever of there being any deep meaning in human life…you’re here today and you’re gone tomorrow and that’s all there is to it.” (Say what you will but he deserves points for honesty)
- The late atheist polemicist Christopher Hitchens: “The question for me would rather be, this being the case,[thatthere is no purposeful creation],then why care, why do I bother? That’s a very good question. It also doesn’t have a conclusive answer.” (It seems to me that before Hitchens had committed himself to his whirlwind crusade for non-belief he should have cleared up that question first)
- Nobel Prize winning scientist Dr. James Watson: “I don’t think we’re here for anything, we’re just products of evolution. You can say, gee, your life must be pretty bleak if you don’t think there is a purpose; but I’m anticipating having a good lunch.” (I guess Freud, Provine, and Hitchens did not have the good fortune to dine in the Oxford University cafeteria)
- Atheist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre: “Life has no meaning the moment you lose the illusion of being eternal.” (Comedian and filmmaker Woody Allen once remarked that he does not want to attain immortality through his films, he wants to attain immortality by not dying! Sartre is long dead and – as the traditional Jewish expression goes – we wish Woody Allen until 120 years)
- Romanian philosopher Emile Cioran: “I’m simply an accident, why take it all so seriously” (Yes Emile, why indeed?)
To sum up the atheist view of the meaning and value of life in their own words: There is no hope of finding any objective meaning or value in life, there is no real reason to care or bother, we’re not here for anything, we’re just products of a blind purposeless process, there is no reason take our accidental existence seriously, all meaning we assign to life is illusory, it makes a man sick to think about it and we may yearn for a higher answer but none exists.
Contrast this with the view of an Orthodox Rabbi such as myself: “Precious and beloved is man who was created in the image of God. Exceeding love was bestowed on him by being informed explicitly [in the Torah] that he was created in the image of God.” (Babylonian Talmud) The most revolutionary idea in the history of mankind was the Torah’s clear assertion that man was created in the image of the infinite, transcendent Creator of the universe, that he can transcend his own material existence and grasp, as it were, eternity. Finally, there was an escape from the degrading, chaotic world of pagan mythology. It also forms the basis of the American Revolution: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that all men have been endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights.” Let’s face it, any self-respecting atheist should choke on these words. He would claim that it is a violation of the separation clause of the Constitution to read the words of the Declaration of Independence in a public school! I hope that non-believers will not obfuscate the issue by citing parts of the Torah or Judaism that they disagree with or think are inhumane. Feel free to reject the rest of the Torah if you like – that discussion is for another time and place – the issue on the table is how one views the origin of human beings and the implications of such.
Dr. Rosenhouse: As an atheist it is your prerogative to choose any system of values that suits your fancy; be it nihilism, humanism, logical positivism (or positive logicalism for that matter), progressivism, conservatism, hedonism, capitalism, socialism, utilitarianism, communism, Buddhism, fascism, etc. – or any combination thereof. All are equally as meaningful or meaningless, as significant or insignificant, as your personal preferences lead you to decide. All are nothing more than artificial, purely subjective products of human imagination whose purpose is to dull the simple truth that Freud expounded; that is to say they present the non-believer with illusory systems that prevent him from getting “sick” while contemplating the rather “bleak” reality of our existence. By all means choose “whatever gets you through the night” as instructed by philosopher of the ages, John Lennon. After all, the only alternative – besides belief in God – is to take a long walk off a short ledge – not very helpful for an academic career…even if one has tenure. I do request, however, that you not demean your own intelligence and insult ours, by pretending that how one views human origins does not have profound implications on how we view the meaning, purpose, and value of human existence.
Moshe Averick is an Orrthodox Rabbi and author of Nonsense of a High Order: The Confused and Illusory World of the Atheist available on Amazon and Kindle.