Give Me Heaven Back

I just found out an old friend died a few days ago. I just can't seem to be okay thinking he is just gone (even though he wouldn't know anything if that is the case). - How does one feel anything is REALLY meaningful if only temporary. (Please appeal to my emotions and not my intellect.) Thanks.
Atheist Answer: 

I usually avoid appeals to emotion because when used as arguments they're a type of logical fallacy; they have no bearing on the facts. If there's a Heaven, for example, my disbelief and incredulity cannot destroy it. If there isn't, though, all the belief and desire in the world won't create it.

That said, I'll do what I can.

If there's no afterlife, the most important thing to remember is that your friend is not suffering. Not only is he no longer in any pain, he does not feel deprived of anything - sight, touch, stimulation, emotion, companionship. It's tempting to think of death without an afterlife as a bleak, desolate place, but it doesn't matter because there's no one there.

The combination of body and mind that literally comprised your friend is gone, and can never be recovered or reconstituted. In a great many other ways, however, your friend is far from gone. He left an enormous legacy which will last until the end of time (if any). People who experience this legacy will regularly think of it as him. They will say he "lives on" through it.

First and most obvious are memories of him, including yours. You won't always remember everything about him, but there are plenty of things you will remember for the rest of your life. His death negates none of this. Memories of him will be written down and become stories, and be passed along even after those who remember him have also died. Even if nobody ever reads the stories, they will always be around somewhere, ready to bring him back once more.

Second is the body of works he wrought in life, the legacy he actually worked to create. If he had children, almost the entirety of his genetic code survives in them, together with a great store of memories and stories. His career has had a permanent effect on the economy and the business world, whether large or small. If he was creative, his art or craftsmanship can be preserved. If you know what he wanted to be remembered for, by emphasising these things you can actually positively influence future concepts of who he was.

Finally there are the effects he had without even meaning to, or knowing: the air that was displaced by his body, the nutrients and water that passed through him, the electronic signals spreading into space from the calls he made on his cell phone...there's an endless list. It may be that nobody ever traces a future occurrence (a breeze, a flower, a burst of static in a far-off space probe) back to the existence of your friend, but you can be certain that the universe has been indelibly marked by his brief presence, and will bear those marks forever. In this way, he not only lives on; he's immortal. Someday we will be too. If fact, we already are.

I'm very sorry for your loss, Celia. Despite all I've said, it is a loss. You'll never again have his company the way you're used to having it. As you mourn him, however, you may rejoice in what remains of him, which extends forever beyond his coffin. Your friend was who he was, and did what he did, and nobody can ever take that away.

- SmartLX

Life's Meaning, Emotions, and Other Nonsense : )

Hi SmartLX, I still have not done any suggested reading to this point but wanted to touch on a couple things. I will paste some of your words as reference points: "It's not simply time that creates complexity, it's opportunity. On Earth before life, the air, the ground and the water threw together molecules of every kind countless times. Chemicals have a chance to react every time they touch, so countless billions of combinations got a chance. Some stuck together, and of those, some kept reacting once they had combined. Of this group, a very, VERY small percentage had the tools to make copies of themselves. These groupings, possibly just one grouping in the whole world, produced the first self-replicating organisms. So you see, nature had no intent; it wasn't trying to create anything in particular. It just tried everything at once, and at least one attempt gave an interesting result." My new words: The earth ... ground, water, and air ... at this point I still don't know how science figures those things got here. The big bang ... but what exactly does that mean, what caused "air" and water? If it did come from an explosion (that's what the bang was, correct?), something had to explode. What was that and where did that come from? Also, what multitude of molecules were here before that aren't here now? How does anyone know that and that tons combined but did not take? What caused them to be moving and able to combine? What would cause any combination to self-replicate and move forward. I just can't seem to get that to make sense from randomness. Your words: "The evolution of emotions is harder to visualise, but you can easily see the survival value of simple emotions like fear and love. You run away from things that might kill you, you protect your beloved family and procreation (sex) makes you happy. Pick a more complex emotion yourself, Celia, and see if you can think how it might help someone have a longer life, or more children. Tell me if you get stuck on one." My new words: Yes, I can see how emotions can be helpful in keeping life going; however, they also are pretty much our biggest downfall. Think of all the crap we get into and ways we ruin our lives (and others') ... emotions! So, again, I feel it is at the least a wash and therefore wonder why we would evolve such a thing with no other purpose. Even the food chain makes me sick. When I had a firm belief that God existed, that there was a point, that an afterlife of perfection was waiting for people (and I believed animals would experience that too), I could handle such things. Even though it was apparent God let awful things go on here, I felt that He was ALLOWING it and, therefore, it was ultimately okay ... that there was some sense, purpose, consolation for it all. However, coming from a view of no God, it seems we should be only instinctive (not emotional) to be more efficient (if life's goal is indeed to simply move forward). I don't want to feel horrible about a polar bear eating a seal or a wolf chasing down a baby elk or even a bearded dragon eating a grasshopper (but I do because of my emoitions). Honestly, I even feel badly about vegetables, but at least they don't have faces, so I can tell myself they don't enough going on to care. I don't see how to be in a place of enjoyment knowing that life just happened, it goes away, and who knows what all is going to happen in between ... unless one completely lives in denial and pretends it is something different. I guess some are okay with it, but I just can't seem to be. Why do humans have an seemed instinct that there is something more, that there is a purpose? Why would we develop that feeling? It is difficult not to think that there really must be something more since "most" have that inner feeling. I can relate to what you said here: "I knew that people worshipped many other gods with no more evidence than I had. Once I had explained the coincidences, there was no more reason for me to believe." My new words: I ended up around a group of people who had some really strange beliefs. It annoyed my how ridiculous they were, and it was baffling they could actually believe it; but they did. That made me take a good look at what I was believing and realize I didn't really have any more evidence than they did except that I had believed the Bible. - If there is a God, why would he not make it obvious to EVERYONE that he is there? Why would he simply work through a book that would be interpreted in so many ways, disagreed upon, have so many obvious human elements to it and not even get a copy to everyone?! That makes it very difficult to believe. My thought is that if there is a God, knowing it should be innate (which in almost seems sort of true except that we come up with so many different versions and there are no real answers to some of the important questions). Christians (and I'm guessing other religions) will say that one has to go on faith. The problem with that is, what if one accidentally develops a faith in the wrong definition of God and what his Word is? (Which so many say is true of those who don't believe the same way). Again, that does not make sense to me. I guess that is my problem, I can't come to a place that makes sense, and I can't handle that. :) I'm not going to proof read this (I'm burnt out and have things to tend to), so I apologize for any errors or redundancy. Any comments appreciated. I'm hoping eventually I will end up somewhere more peaceful.
Atheist Answer: 

As you will have noticed, Celia, formatting doesn't work in the question field. That's because it was designed for much shorter questions. We don't mind at all if you split up your thoughts into separate questions, and it might also help you organise your thoughts. For now, I'll just follow along and answer what I see.

- Do you realise that with each exchange we're looking further back in time? You meet each of my responses with, "But how did X get there in the first place?" Eventually we'll reach the stage when I simply don't know, but beyond that is not simply a gap in which gods must sit, as you'll see.

The Earth formed from a cloud of loose rocks and gases, containing nearly every known element, which was pulled together by gravity. The heaviest elements, like iron and lead, sank towards the middle. The lightest elements, like hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen, stayed around the edges. The heavy clump in the middle solidified and formed the rocks which make up the planet beneath us. The aura of gases around it became the atmosphere. Some of the hydrogen and oxygen combined to form water, and rained down into what's now the oceans. The earth, air and water were now separate.

- They were not stable, though; earthquakes, mudslides, lava flows, winds, tides and rains still moved everything around, slowly and quickly. That's how the molecules of everything came together, and still come together every moment of every day.

- The likely reason that life isn't still forming from scratch is that the combinations were different back then. For example there was a lot more ammonia and methane in the air; what if those two are needed as gases? (This is very likely. In an old experiment, they shot canned lightning into a replica of the ancient atmosphere. They produced 22 amino acids.)

- Most chemical reactions occur as a result of contact and friction between atoms and molecules. That doesn't mean that all contact causes reactions, but with more and varied contact you will likely get more types of reactions. In a muddy, gassy swamp, where the earth, air and water all mix together, you've got massive potential for interesting new combinations.

- I'm not a good enough chemist to explain the origin of self-replicators. This short video shows one likely way.

- The Big Bang was when everything in the universe rapidly expanded outwards from a single point. It's often seen as the beginning of the universe, but it ain't necessarily so. The vast amount of material in that single point might have always existed, and spent some time compressing together beforehand. It might have been contributed by another universe, one of many. Or, if you subscribe to a certain part of quantum theory, it might have emerged spontaneously from a quantum "foam".

- If you use a god to explain the origin of the matter in the universe, you then need to address the origin of the god. If you declare, without evidence, that the god has existed forever, then why not declare that the universe has existed forever and didn't need to be created? As an explanatory device, gods are quite useless here.

- Not every effect of evolution must be beneficial. A new feature doesn't have to be perfect to be passed on, simply more beneficial than the alternative when all's said and done. The benefits just have to outweigh the costs.

Think of all the "crap" emotions put us through and consider how many lives are actually lost. Just how many suicides are there, anyway? Compare this with the billions of little nice things people do for each other every day, just because it makes them feel good. Consider the children who would not exist without their parents' love and devotion to each other in the face of any circumstances. The benefits of emotions outweigh the costs for most people, most of the time. That's all it takes for them to be passed on.

- Nature, as Darwin said, is red in tooth and claw. Countless animals die in fear and pain because they have been defeated in pursuit or battle by other animals who intend to eat them. To me, this makes more sense if there is no god than if a god continuously allows all this suffering. (The Christian response to this is that even the most loving animals don't have souls, and although we should be nice to them they are not ultimately important.)

- Life does just go away. This life will end for each of us. Does that make it any less enjoyable to live? Doesn't the possibility that there is no afterlife make this life all the more important? Think of the things you enjoy in life. Would you enjoy them any more or less if God has never existed all along? Why does life need to have meaning to some distant, external observer anyway? If it has meaning to you, if there is something you have to live for, that's plenty. Atheism does not lead inexorably to nihilism, as Christians sometimes charge.

- Humans think there is "something more" because there always is something more. The universe, and even the planet, has more in it than we can ever explore in one lifetime. Simply because we can, we extend this beyond the natural world and wonder about the possible existence of the supernatural. It's at this point that we may not have any grounds to continue. I think it occupies our thoughts anyway because there's no good way to explore the supernatural. It's a permanent "undiscovered country".

- You've developed a great many questions about your own faith. There are many answers the faithful and those without faith can give you, but there are no concrete answers and there may never be. The nice thing is, you don't have to be sure to be happy. I'm not sure there are no gods, but I think the chances are so low that I am content to live my life as if there aren't any. It's like going out at night despite the tiny possibility that I'll be hit by a meteorite; why bother to worry about it?

- SmartLX

Why do you want to live?

If you don't believe in a God, why do you want to live? For what purpose did you get up this morning? I'm not trying to come off as insincere; I really am curious, because I don't hear this issue talked about much on atheist websites. Where does the meaning for your life come from? Is there a such thing as meaning apart from God? Personally, what do you consider the meaning of your own life to be, and what are your goals in life?
Atheist Answer: 

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