Let’s not kid ourselves

Berenbaum: “Everything about insects is fascinating. They are truly remarkable creatures. So beautiful and so honest.”

Mulder: “‘Honest’?”

Berenbaum: “Eat, sleep, defecate, procreate. That’s all they do. That’s all we do, but at least insects don’t kid themselves that it’s anything more than that.”

from “War of the Coprophages”, episode 3×12 of The X-Files

This exchange (penned by the brilliant Darin Morgan), may be less eloquent but is certainly no less “honest” than Dawkins’ famous conclusion that the universe has “at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”

In fact, it’s quite arguably more honest than those who share Dawkins’ assessment but go on to declare that we can go on living lives of meaning and purpose without the constant awareness that such constructs are anything other than protracted exercises in kidding ourselves. Every value and guiding principle we expect one another to live by – everything we do and believe in – pertains somehow to eating, sleeping, defecating, or procreating and not a whit more, because there is nothing else. What you call “loving” your significant other is purely driven by your animal instinct to preserve society and ensure the survival of your community’s gene pool. Sure, it feels like more, thank heavens, so that we at least can enjoy going about our ultimately pointless activities and following our arbitrary ethical guidelines. Societally constrained hedonism is the only real reason to go on living life.

If you believe this, suspending this realization is just an understandably desperate act of self-delusion. I mean, who wants to live like organic robots? If there is no fundamental principle of meaning and value other than our own derivative ones, pretending that what we believe and do in our lifetimes has any importance is merely playing out the actions of Deckard and Rachel at the end of Blade Runner (I’m trying to avoid spoiling anyone).

I don’t think the typically negative reactions to such reductionistic understandings of the universe are merely the result of human minds working overtime to avoid acknowledging a depressing reality; there’s also the fact that these lines of thought quickly take us to conclusions that are disturbingly, I would say suggestively, counter-intuitive. Killing deformed or retarded babies for fun is not just inconvenient to the survival of our species (in fact, it probably isn’t even that); it’s wrong. Isn’t it? That is, maybe things appear to have absolute meaning, value, and purpose because…they do.

Regardless, since I disagree with Dawkins that everything in the physical universe eliminates any evidence for a deeper purpose or meaning behind it all, I’ve chosen to live under the assumption that there is such greater significance to my life. Lacking conclusive evidence either way, to choose that possible understanding of the universe despite a realization of its conjectural nature is not a bit more of a delusion than the atheists’ willful suspension of disbelief in choosing their values and guiding principles.

In fact, when those who deny all but contrived, artificial meaning in the universe live as though there were any absolute importance or significance to how we live our lives, they are doing so in blatant contradiction to what they believe they know, consciously carrying on with their eyes closed. When we who believe in a deeper meaning for the universe live out our convictions based on that belief, we’re at least doing something that we truly do not believe contradicts reality. Personally, I’d rather be accidentally mistaken than knowingly embrace what I recognize are mistakes.

Christians may turn out to have been deluded, but at least we’re not the ones kidding ourselves.

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