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If someone asked you, as an atheist or agnostic, if you feel that everything is just random not with any purpose? How would you answer?

Someone just asked me this because, in our conversation about religious denominations, I said I'm a humanist. So, he replied "Oh, so, you think everything in the world is just random, with no purpose?"

I felt this was a misunderstanding of what a humanist believes. My feeling is that only a few things in life are random and that most things are done with a purpose, so I answered both. He said "No, it can't be both. It's only one or the other."

I replied that I do things mostly with a purpose or reason. I ended the conversation by saying I don't want to argue because I think we are misunderstanding each other. (This was one of my conversations in the pool with a visitor.)

What I wanted to to say, and will say if I see him again, is that for me, it doesn't need to be only random or that everything has a purpose, but what I really believe in is natural consequences.

Most everything around us happens as a result of natural consequences. It may seem random to others, if they don't seek the science. Looking into why things happen, there usually is a reason or pressure mounting to push something to happen.

What do you think? How would you answer?

Julie808 8 Mar 19
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33 comments

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11

that person's reply was a flash warning, the same way how some animals advertise their toxicity by being brightly coloured. Everyone has there own definition of what a humanist, a xtian, an Islamist, etc is, and you're correct, they were definitely off, or trying to augment it to how their beliefs confine them.

I don't mind gently correcting someone's misunderstanding of my personal spiritual views, especially when I might be representing others painted by the same brush. I don't claim to think the same as other humanists, atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, nones or whatever someone might want to call me. I love to express my deeply held beliefs to someone genuinely asking because they are interested. I don't think he meant to create discord, and he apologized quickly for asking the question, but I like to educate people when they have misconceptions of "all atheists" and so on.

10

I reply with a lecture on quantum mechanics and the universe. Their eyes glaze over. And I end with the phrase. β€œAnd then shit happens”. 🀣
(and I know absolutely nothing about Quantum Theory except it’s very strange like quantum entanglement)

I enjoyed your answer very much. πŸ™‚

@Betty 😍. I hope I never run into an evangelical physicist

@ADKSparky I have no doubt that you would find a way to have a little fun at their expense. πŸ™‚

@ADKSparky It's pretty unlikely. Only 7% of elite scientists believe in a personal god. NDT has a whole thing about this.

As I understand, quantum means things jump rather than move linearly. Atoms in one place get to another place without occupying the space we would call "between" the two. Kind of neat.

10

Everything IS random (see: Chaos Theory) and so what?
What anyone ever has, is this moment, and their memories. Period.

9

I usually don't engage in such conversations because they tend to ask a lot of questions, but tend to not really listen to the answers they are given.

Personally, I think the universe acts according to rules of nature, not all of which we fully understand. Any purpose comes out of consciousness and intent.

For religious people, they think it was all created for them by a god or gods. I think they are pretty full of themselves and greatly over estimate their own importance.

I enjoy these kinds of conversations and it was civil, I just wasn't able to articulate my answer the way I wanted in between my laps in the pool. But it bothered me that I didn't clarify my answer, so I was glad to cross paths with him again today, so I could clarify and it went very well. I believe he actually agreed with me. I'm not sure this person was religious - but was genuinely interested in my thoughts.

9

The purpose of life is to live it.

Betty Level 8 Mar 19, 2023

A tautology can't be a purpose

@Thibaud70 Okay, so I forgot the "it". All fixed now. πŸ™‚

8

I don't care if everything is random.
Most of the time, that's how it feels to me.
As far as purpose goes, my purpose is whatever I decide it is on any given day.

I doubt I would have engaged.
It probably would have ended badly.
I have a tendency to tell people who insist their gods are real, to go fuck themselves with their bullshit.

Anyone who knows me, would know better than to start that particular conversation.

I think that a lot of things seem random, but have something that caused it to happen, whether a void needing to be filled, a whim to go another direction out of boredom, an accident happening because of miss-attention, layers upon layers of things that lead up to various actions. It's easy to think either random or god-determined, but more fun, for people like me, to delve into the depths of why things happen.

@Julie808 If that's what is fun for you, I say go on with your bad self.

8

No matter what one says to religious people, unless you would say that you now believe they would never be satisfied. To me it doesn’t really matter reason or not, what is important is that I live in the moment.

7

Is the world random? The word random is a pejorative term used by religionists, so the question comes from a place of hostility and fear. Whatever response, if any, that is given should be suitable for the person's mindset, and your capacity to enlighten them.

Even the religionists suffer the paradox of Free Will versus Determinism (aka it's all planned). Such unanswerable questions lack meaning because the terms are badly defined, if not entirely illusory. If the questioner persists, you can ask them to explain how free will exists or how prayer works if everything is planned.

Invoking a god does not provide meaning or purpose. But without thinking it through, that is what is implied by the question. The question is an abstract non sequitur, actually intended to confuse prior to delivering the pitch. The pitch being that if you adopt certain beliefs, you will have a purpose for your life.

We are incapable of grasping many things in life, and some questions don't have an answer. Only on rare occasions can science provide a glimpse of how things happen. We can never know why, because the term why is being mis-applied.

7

Literally smack some sense into them (good and hard with slightly cupped palm and follow-through). Ask them if there was a reason behind that action. Watch as they try to square that circle. While it may not be productive, it will be fun.

6

Biology and the need to perpetuate the species drives us and though we might have evolved through random mutations, our desire to perpetuate is not "random" and it is a purpose. This need is why we pair up and "love" each other and why parents love their offspring and want to care for them.

However, if someone asked me about issues such as this, I would most likely say that I exist due to my parents randomly having sex. I have given purpose to my life based on biological and cultural aspects, and that's enough.

And if someone gave me the logical fallacy of "one way or another," I would not continue the conversation.

6

I think you guys are using two different forms of those words, so even if you actually kind of agreed, you wouldn't end up seeing eye to eye.

My take, everything is 100% the result of cause and effect, and the science bears this out. You may have jumped into the river, the purpose of which was to save the drowning child, but you didn't have a metaphysical purpose given to you to be there to save it. There's no grand scheme, end goal, or meant to be.

6

The fact that there are no big, overarching, or god given purposes, does not mean that there are no purposes.

The two are not mutually exclusive. To think that it is so, is a bad example of absolutist thinking, either A. or B. no third alternative and nothing between. Absolutism is a fallacy which believers are trained to think in terms of, because it sets them up to be vulnerable to a lot of other fallacies, such as. "If science can not answer it, then it must be god."

But if I go to make my friend a cup of tea, because she likes tea, then I have a purpose, of making my friend happy for a short while, albeit a small purpose. But when you remove the big purposes, then you can see how important the small ones really are.

Suppose there is, a hypothetical, creator god looking down. Then what do you think is most likely to meet with its approval; that I pray to it for a place in a better world, which I believe I am owed because I am important, and its spoiled creation is not good enough for me, or that I show full appreciation for that part of its creation which is my friend, by thinking it worth while to make her a cup of tea, and thinking that one of her smallest joys is important ?

( Now forget the hypothetical god, it has served its purpose. LOL )

6

It would depend on how I was feeling.

If I was feeling particularly pissy, my response would be along the lines of "What an absurd question. How about learning to think?".

If I was feeling nothing like so belligerent, it would be along the lines of "Could you explain further, please?".

As you suggest, the Laws of Nature are a good starting point, and those are underpinned by scientific theories, such as the Table of the Elements and Einstein's Theory of General relativity.

5

Thanks for all the replies. I now feel more confident about how I can clarify my response to this fellow if I see him again.

I had originally answered "both" to his "random" or "purpose" question and changed the subject quickly because I didn't want to start an argument in front of so many onlookers.

Now I feel I still like my "natural consequences" clarification, but I also like the "cause and effect" that @ChestRockfield mentioned, so if I see this person again, I'll likely clarify my answer to this person who was trying to understand my perspective.

I guess I never really get to talk to people who think that atheists believe that everything is random, and not with any purpose, but I don't really like the choice of "purpose" so I think changing or clarifying it as cause and effect, natural consequences, and maybe sometimes intent or fulfilling potential, creating a natural balance or harmony can be even more beautiful than a "purpose" when thinking about the bigger questions.

Life, is complex, a beautiful mystery and I like thinking about it. I can only think about it by being agnostic. If I believed there is a god determining everything, then there is no beauty in the world for me.

I actually like having these conversations with people, but not in the middle of my pool exercises. πŸ˜‰

Again, I'm so grateful for this group/site. I had to clear my cookies (again) to get back into the site to see the answers, and again to reply, but that almost makes the responses all the more precious.

5

I do not believe there is a god with a plan for us. I have a plan so things that happen happened because of my plan. People I have met, things I have achieved, or did not achieve are because of my decision. I may not have recognized everything that might have happened but it was my decision that these events occurred.
Of course my decisions are based on ability and opportunity. I am lucky to say that I had those and others may not have.

Agree ,we can influence certain events . But as mentioned elsewhere- physics determains some underpinings of past & future events.

5

I would say "ok".

Sadly, I'm not the type of person who can just say "okay" and leave it at that. I have a strong need to express my thoughts, which is why leaving the conversation with this guy, by changing the subject, must be bothering me so much, haha.

@Julie808 Some people are worth the extra effort and some are not. The trick is, to be comfortable enough to walk away when you need to. πŸ™‚

@Betty I ended up running into this person at the pool this afternoon, and since he's blind, I introduced myself to him again and said I was glad to see him because I wanted to clarify my answer to the question he asked me the other day. I said my piece and he agreed with me, so we have a bit of a nice followup conversation before his wife changed the subject, as she was lost in conversation with someone else in the pool.

It's all good. I could tell that many others around the pool were listening in, so perhaps we expanded a few other minds this afternoon. I love it when an intelligent conversation can be had respectfully and everyone feels they can share a bit of their own perspective and everyone is happy. πŸ™‚

@Julie808 I do love that. I am so glad that he agreed with you and you now have a lovely memory and a very good feeling. I do hope that the people who were listening got something out of it too. Sometimes it is worth it to follow up. Good on you. πŸ™‚

5

The universe operates to certain immutable laws,or rules, and any purpose is made by ourselves.
I listened to out tame physicist Brian Cox last night explaining the latest theory on the origin of the universe.The big bang caused ripples in a dense energy field and those ripples became the first galaxies.
Fascinating stuff.

Cool that works!❗

4

I have found a great belief in the Butterfly Effect or also known as the Chaos Theory. Actions and decisions made every day by everyone have effects way beyond what we actually see or are aware of. Even natural disasters, which there is no way to know or change, have effects on many things and people way beyond the immediate area of the event. Events in my life seemed too weird to be just random. But if I look at it from the Chaos Theory, these events were brought about by decisions I made and other people made, which had they or I made a different decision would have never happened. Even simple things like deciding to go one way to the supermarket rather than another, might lead to an accident that would never have happened had I gone the other way. This in turn could affect the lives of all the people involved in the accident, all the people in my life and theirs and include the first responders and generations to come. And yet, no one will really know that it was my original decision that set this entire chain of events into motion. Best I can do for a quick explanation or what for me has simplified my life.

4

Everything is not random. The universe is complex. It may have started out by forming structures at "random" depending on how you define that word, but now the earth orbits the sun in a way that is definitely not random. It's highly predictable and well-understood. The universe isn't random. The sun will come up tomorrow, and the next day. But it's also not directed. There is no "purpose" to the universe itself (as far as I can tell) because there is no governing intelligence (again, as far as I can tell). But people can find and have purpose because they have intelligence. It's not ultimate purpose, but it is proximate purpose. We make our own purpose. We make our own meaning.

As a people we make our own meaning. Whether or not we are part of something bigger is not something we will ever know with the tech we have at this time. Why that should matter, is an individual concern. For me, the meaning of life is to live the life I have and do the best I can. Is it random or is it purposeful is not a question I can answer so I don't consider it.

4

The laws of nature are simply observed regularities like ocean tides or planetary movements. All of which point to repeat patterns underlying nature. Occasionally, events may occur which are considered irregular and do not fit the observed pattern. There is a fundamental tendency in nature towards order; however, I am not inclined to think that it something that is being directed behind the scenes by an invisible director.

3

If you over think all of these types of beliefs, there can be only one conclusion insanity, seems to be what they all fall in with, instead of logical fallacies and factual reasoning!!!

I must like to overthink things, and I enjoy educating the mistaken. This person was truly just trying to understand my thinking, and I failed at articulating it at that moment because I was in the middle of my pool exercises and didn't want to have what could have been an argument in a public space. But I enjoy thinking up responses for better answers if questioned like that again. πŸ˜‰

3

Life's purpose is not predicated upon a necessary belief in the existence of a suite of super beings for which there is not one jot of evidential support.

2
2

I wrote this several years ago, and its somewhat relevant to what you are asking.

Generally, most people would agree that philosophy is only important as a general guide in human affairs and progress, and that it is much more important that we have compassion (I'll not use the word "love", because it is polluted with all kinds of different sentiments and innuendos) for our fellow human beings, which works to improve and stabilize societies. It is sufficient, and one could throw out philosophy and do well without it, following that line of thought. That conclusion seems to be indubitable, when measured against the small microcosm of human existence. Humans cling to the idea of the universe being teleological . . . . the explanation of phenomena in terms of the purpose they serve rather than of the cause by which they arise.
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But when this view is expanded, to encompass the universe, it is clearly, and, indeed, indubitably, mistaken.

Plato argued that true explanations for any given physical phenomenon must be teleological. Plato was wrong, and I think I understand why Plato had so much contempt for the works of Democritus that he said that all of his books should be burned. One only needs to start with nature to see that there is not much compassion there . . . .
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[vice.com]
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For millions of years, the dinosaurs flourished, evolved, only to be wiped out from existence. Expand that to planets . . . and one sees instances were entire planets can be wiped out as stars explode, and the whole teleological argument goes out the window.
Plato most likely hated Democritus because Democritus did not buy into the belief that there was some ideal, god, or perfection, i.e. teleological force guiding the flow of the universe . . .
But the evidence is all around us, although there are many people who refuse to accept it. (They see it as detrimental to the whole idea of civilization.). But it is not. When we realize just how fragile our civilization is, and what surrounds it, (and could potentially even destroy it), we are much more likely to be compassionate toward others . . . . because, indeed, we are all in this together, and no, we do not have some form of divine protection . . . . that belief distorts the picture and causes people who embrace it . . . to actually be less compassionate toward their fellow humans, because they selfishly believe that they have some form of special protection, sanctioned by some supreme being. To those particular individuals, I say "No, you arrogant caterpillars . . . . you don't have any divine protection." Just as the dinosaurs were wiped out, so too could humans be wiped out, and the universe would continue on indifferently without them.

1

From context it sounds like "purpose" to him means over-arching design or master plan. Nature may appear to be random, and in some regards is, but it has a genuine purpose--survival. (imo humans needs to get more natural. Whatever we're doing, it's not fostering long-term survival).
Seems like he wanted to talk about freewill vs predetermination. I lean heavily toward freewill.

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