Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Does anything really matter?

Nothing matters unless there's somebody it matters to. Imagine if there were no sentient beings in the universe--neither human, alien, nor spirit. There is only matter and energy. In a universe like that, all kinds of things may be going on. Stars nova, commets smash into planets, and galaxies are formed. But none of it matters if there's nobody it matters to. It doesn't even matter whether anything is happening at all. It doesn't matter whether the universe even exists or not. Since it doesn't matter, there is no particular way things ought to be. "Ought" applies to nothing at all in a universe like that. So there is neither right nor wrong, good nor evil. Things just are.

Now consider the human condition. Here we are on a tiny spec of dust in the universe called "Earth," having recently come to the realization that in a few billion years, the Sun is going to begin to expand until all life on earth is destroyed. Assuming by that time we haven't figured out how to set up colonies on other planets in other solar systems, humans will cease to exist.

That raises a question: Once humans are gone, will it matter that they ever existed at all? It can only matter if there's somebody it matters to. If there's nobody it matters to, then it will not have mattered. If it doesn't matter that humans ever existed at all, then nothing humans did while they existed matters.

That raises another question: Since humans haven't ceased to exist yet, does anything matter now? Again, it only matters if there's somebody it matters to. Perhaps it matters to humans themselves. Individuals and societies pour significance into the various things that happen to people, but they don't all pour the same significance. Suppose, for example, that some nice old lady is skinned alive and left to die because some sadistic crazy person thought it might be fun to watch. One person might be outraged, but another person may not care at all. Does it matter or not?

Well, it matters to one person, but not to the other. There is no objective answer to the question, though. There is no ultimate meaning in it at all if significance depends merely on human preferences.

The only way there can be a correct answer to the question--an answer that is true whether two people agree with it or not--is if there is some sentient being who transcends humanity. This being must not only be sentient and stand over and above humanity, but this being must have some ultimacy about it. It must be some sort of necessary being, a being on which everything else depends, and therefore is invested with its meaning. Only if this being exists can anything matter in any ultimate sense. If there is no such being, then nothing ultimately matters.

If there is a necessary, sentient, and transcendent being on which everything else depends, and things matter to this being, then there can be ultimate meaning. Things like suffering and death would not just be things we either care about or don't, but they would be real tragedies whether we recognized it or not, because it would matter to the ultimate being.

Without supposing that such a being exists, we can appropriately call the being "God" since the being is necessary, sentient, trancendent, and is a being on which everything else depends for its existence and meaning. If there is no God, then nothing matters in any objective sense, because meaning is left to the subjective preferences of contingent and transient beings, like humans. If nothing matters in any objective sense, then there is no particular way things ought to be. If there's no particular way things ought to be, then there's no right or wrong, good or evil. In short, if there is no God, then there are no objective moral values.

For more on this subject, check out The Absurdity of Life Without God by William Lane Craig.

15 Comments:

At 4/21/2005 3:59 PM , Blogger Mike - HotFudgeSunday.com said...

I think Francis Schaeffer wrote about the state of dispair one is logically led to with the conclusion that there is no God. All becomes meaningless.

Very good essay, sir! These last few have been real "keepers."

 
At 3/02/2007 2:26 AM , Blogger Christine said...

smart for a religious person.

 
At 6/10/2007 10:01 PM , Blogger jelyon said...

I was here - via your exhortation on Scott, I mean, Paul's blog.

 
At 2/23/2009 2:51 PM , Blogger Michael said...

You end your post saying "In short, if there is no God, then there are no objective moral values." This is ridiculous.

Emotions, state of mind. All people instinctively favor positive emotions and state of mind. Instinctively it matters. If we went around skinning all the old lady's we would create all kinds of negative emotions and states of mind that, while might not matter after the sun cooks the earth, will matter in the present and as long as the earth and humans exist because those actions will effect our moral and present living conditions. We would then bring ourselves to an emotional state and "place" in which our instincts would tell us that life is not worth living.

If we spend our time doing positive things and helping our fellow humans, we will aquire emotions that instinctively tell us that live is worth living. Feelings of accomplishment, caring, and empathy and love.

Any human, given a choice, would instinctively choose a life filled with the latter than the former. Therefore, it is OBJECTIVELY our moral responsibility to work toward the latter mentioned and away from the former.

If you are living your life for the humans 2 million years down the line then your right, life is not worth living. Try living for whats here now and the generation to come. Then have faith that you have taught that generation well and that THEY can continue to teach the next generation even better. If you can do this you might just find life to be worth living.

 
At 2/23/2009 5:24 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Any human, given a choice, would instinctively choose a life filled with the latter than the former. Therefore, it is OBJECTIVELY our moral responsibility to work toward the latter mentioned and away from the former.

That doesn't seem to follow. How does it follow that because people do choose what leads to positive emotions that they therefore ought to choose what leads to positive emotions? This strikes me as being a textbook example of the is/ought fallacy.

I agree with you that things matter insofar as people care about them. But in the absence of God, they only matter to those people. That is, by its very description, relativism. Objectivism is the view that things would matter even if no particular person cared.

What would you say to somebody who doesn't care about the well-being of other people? Or if two people disagree about whether some event is a tragedy, how can either of them be right or wrong unless there's some transcendent source of significance?

 
At 12/15/2009 8:08 PM , Blogger purple said...

nature is playing experiment.emotions only last a short while else we would eg.mourn to much .bees make honey and pollinate what are we for!to eat bananas but we think we are wonderful cause we know there is potassium in them.take away the earth.any buyers for xmas cards?blessed is he who has not seen. what? show us.tell us .then judge us

 
At 1/22/2010 4:27 AM , Blogger Aufty said...

I just thought I'd add that morality could easily be a product of evolution, as it's necessary to prolonged survival. That is, a demeanor that promotes helpful, positive, compassionate and just behavior survived because it was necessary to prevent human extinction. Surely without these things humans would be destroyed already.

 
At 1/22/2010 9:47 AM , Blogger Sam said...

Aufy, the evolutionary explanation only accounts for why we think in moral categories, or why we believe in morality. It doesn't explain where morality (i.e. objective right and wrong) come from, or whether there really is such a thing as right and wrong. It could be that we all have these natural impulses to behave in such a way that we are more likely to survive, but that says nothing at all about whether it matters that we survive or that we behave in such ways. It says nothing about whether we OUGHT to behave in such ways. Morality is all about oughts, but evolution cannot account for oughts.

But I think you go too far when you say humans wouldn't even survive if not for morality. After all, there are plenty of species on the earth who are doing quite well without it.

 
At 3/31/2010 12:31 AM , Blogger Lacy said...

Just so you know, this is the first thing that comes up when Googling "does anything matter"

I liked it.

 
At 5/01/2010 7:03 AM , Blogger Niels said...

Meaning (other words for "if anything matters") is given by people. Something can have meaning for a person or a group. By definition then there is no such thing as absolute meaning, just a person's view of it or a group of people.

No people --> no meaning.
More than one person --> more than one perspective on meaning for any one "thing".

Dragging one or more deities into this is unnecessary imho.

Whether anything at all matters, whether existence has a reason, is actually not really an interesting question, because we will never have a definite answer to this. The better question therefore would be: what do you give meaning and why? This is likely to be pretty random and influenced by your peers.

 
At 7/03/2010 9:19 PM , Blogger Kevin said...

Are you still alive?

 
At 8/12/2011 6:21 PM , Blogger MrMultiSingularity said...

Ultimately, given what you say, there are a few things to take into account. The first is the now phenomena. This is taking into account the fact that ultimately, as far as we KNOW, everything is merely perceptive and we do not know for certain what is or is not. All we know to be true is what we perceive to be true, which ultimately... may or may not be true.

Adding to that, our perceptions are very limited and (again, according to our perceptual knowledge) we "know" that there is far more existing beyond what we are perceptually aware of. Grant it, this brings up a bit of a schwarshingers (spelling) cat scenario where we are to question whether or not those things were really there a all before we perceived them as such.

Regardless, given perceptive reality, we have to keep in mind when discussing whether or not things matter that we DO NOT KNOW FOR CERTAIN, what is real... or what is really going on for that matter. In many ways, we are enslaved to our perceptive experience and what it leads us to think is real. In this world of thought we find that in truth we KNOW very little, so what really matters... I mean, what is "real" to begin with (beyond perceptive reality at least)?

SO back to the now phenomena. In every moment that exists, we do for certain know a few things. We know how we are feeling, or at least we know that we are feeling how we are feeling (for those less in touch with their emotions); We know what it is we perceive and what it is we perceive as "real", and we know our experiences (keep in mind that these experiences transcend the worldly realm we are most familiar with and include events such as dreams). Well, you mention more than a few times that something only matters if it matters to someone or something. Well adding to that what I said, we can't even know for certain anyone or anything exists outside ourselves, we only know the perception of others existing exists. With that being said, the only things that matter to a person, are the things that matter to that person at that time, or in that moment. Time itself changes what matters to a person. And what matters to a person, is their emotions and their experiences.

Now I will say that this comment itself can open up some cans of worms pending on the understandings of its readers. One of those being the talk about entities outside oneself and another being the whole dream phenomena. Another subject that could be discussed in large is the whole sentience issue and the idea of consciousness itself being the ultimate creator of all consciousness perceives in its truest and highest form. (The idea the pure thought creates reality) this idea is most backed up by the dreamstate, as I know my consciousness creates whole worlds every night, in an instant.

Now, as far as things mattering... I still have many issues with feeling like nothing matters, but that is because I have trouble feeling grounded to the social adventures that the dream of this world creates. I don't like playing the games of stupidity that exist with random silly arguments. All the things that "matter" so much to so many, just seem so stupid and absurd to me that I get annoyed that I am subjected to them at all. Greed, Lust, suffering, being without a place to live and not even allowed to exist freely... All these things lead me to sometimes feel like this whole dream is worthless.

 
At 8/12/2011 6:21 PM , Blogger MrMultiSingularity said...

But, with that said... I do believe in a form of consciousness greater than myself, even if that consciousness is nothing more than just myself in the past or myself in the future... Afterall, the me of now understands more than I did when I was 13, so it is reasonable to think that the me of later will understand more as well. Since I believe in a form of consciousness greater than the me of this moment, I have faith in that version of consciousness that things were set up to have some form of point that would mean something to me. AKA, when that greater consciousness wrote the story of existence and reality, it did so having itself in mind.

So even though I may currently be a lesser version of my total self, I know that my total self had me in mind when it decided to have me exist.

For all the Atheists out there... Well all of physics is predictable right? I drop an apple, it falls according to gravity. Grant it, quantum physics starts to incorporate the facts that nothing is actually ever touching and observation creates reality (but if you understand those already, than read what i said above before this), but yes, Newtonian physics is predictable. Also, since you don't believe in a God of sorts, every thought feeling, and emotion any person ever has is nothing more than a series of chemicals reacting with one another and the actions a person takes is nothing more than a reactive action in response to the river of chemicals they are existing in. Well, all those reactions are equally predictable as they follow Newtonian physics as well and can be predicted like the flow of water. Well now that we've covered everything in the universe from matter to thought, then EVERYTHING, from the moment of the big bang to the end of the universe.. is predictable. Well, if it's all predictable, than who... what... how, set things in motion in the first place? And when it, they, did so... Than wouldn't they do so in such a way that made it a pretty picture/ nice story? Or at least an interesting one :-)

Ok, that's enough for now... Peace and love.

 
At 7/07/2012 1:39 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nothing you ever do will matter in the slightest. However it is very important that you do it.

 
At 11/22/2014 2:23 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

Why is life one big competition to the grave with no winners?

 

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