Why Evolution Is True is one of my favorite websites, partly for the cute animal videos, partly for the stumbling transparency of the human commentary. Writing in that space, Jerry Coyne replies to a post I wrote here, “Good Question for the Next Darwinist You Meet.” I quoted Eric Metaxas, appearing on Tucker Carlson Tonight, who said, “If you actually believe we evolved out of the primordial soup and through happenstance got here, by accident, then our lives literally have no meaning.”
That seems inarguable, but Coyne calls it a “crock.” According to the University of Chicago evolutionary biologist:
In one of the most popular threads that ever appeared on this site, “What’s your meaning and purpose?“, I asked nonbelieving readers to tell me what they considered the purpose and meaning of their own existence. Almost all respondents (there were 373) found their meaning and purpose in their jobs, their avocations, their children, and so on, and not in worshiping a fictitious deity.
I have only scanned the beginning of the thread he mentions. It starts with a response from a reader:
There is no “purpose” or “meaning” of our lives.
There is, of course, plenty of meaning and purposes *within* those lives.
We could just say “cake” — I bet some will say “cats”!
This being an Internet thread, not all the responses make sense. I understand this one:
There is meaning and purpose within my life, but my life itself has no meaning or purpose.
My life has no purpose, my life has no meaning, but I do not care!
There is no meaning in life.
There is no purpose in life.
I would add that meaning and purpose do exist, but only insofar as one’s desires create them.
The Heart of the Question
Under the new post by Coyne, I was happy to see a reply by Evolution News contributor Kirk Durston, who goes to the heart of the question:
No one disputes that atheists can make up a meaning for their lives … we make up stuff all the time …. fairies, unicorns, and so forth. I trust, however, that when we apply reason and rational thinking that we all realize that we just made that stuff up …. including the belief that life has meaning and purpose. Making up a meaning and purpose is quite a bit different from their actually being objective meaning and purpose.
Right. There “actually being objective meaning and purpose” to existence is the possibility excluded by the scenario sketched by Metaxas, where “We evolved out of the primordial soup and through happenstance got here, by accident.” In that case, you could imagine a meaning to life. But inevitably it would be a fictional rather than objective meaning. I do not want to belabor this. But there is a difference, as some of Jerry Coyne’s readers grasp even if Coyne himself does not.
Photo: Tucker Carlson and Eric Metaxas on Tucker Carlson Tonight, via Real Clear Politics (screen shot).