As An Atheist Can Your Life Have Purpose and Meaning?

I was wondering what other people thought about this.

I realize we weren't born with a purpose. No creator or "higher calling".

But as a non believer can your life have meaning and purpose without god?

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I’m somewhat late to the discussion, but here’s my 2¢ in the “for what it’s worth” category.  Each of us independently defines our “purpose” on what we do every day. Part of it is defined by our work, and what we contribute to society. Another part is family, and how we interact with those we love, and tolerate (crazy Aunt Myrtle). And, yet another part is how we view ourselves. Our likes and dislikes, our joys and passions (art, music, literature, science, etc.).

I recently got into genealogical research in I know, I know, it’s a Mormon site. But what the heck. They actually do a pretty good job. On my maternal grandmother’s side, I was actually able to trace my ancestors back to the House of Norman in medieval France (William the Conqueror – though given my family, any relative would have probably been the Court jester who got the job through a connected uncle). Father’s side were Irish potato farmers who fled to America during the famine. The whole thing is somewhat of a hit and miss operation, in that you’ll never find everyone.

It got me thinking. Somewhere in the murky past are my direct predecessors; ancestors whose romances are responsible for me being alive, and whose names I do not even know. I know absolutely nothing of their lives, joys, troubles, circumstances, hopes, fears, tragedies and triumphs. And, in a thousand years when my atoms are dispersed, I daresay my descendants will know nothing of me. There will, in all likelihood, be no monument, marker, tombstone, and no biography of me to tell them my story – my joys, fears, hopes, and disappointments; warts and all.

What then, is my purpose in being alive? It was stated earlier here that it is to pass on my DNA and reproduce. I certainly agree with that biological assessment, and have done that. How do I define it for myself beyond mere reproduction? Knowing there is no pie in the sky bye and bye, I have to define it myself, in the context of everyone with whose lives I interact. I suppose it’s to try and be the best person I can, with the limitations I have. As I told my children, if at your death, others can say this life was better as a result of your presence in it, then it had meaning and purpose.

sorry, but no, your purpose in life is not to pass on your DNA, passing on your DNA is simply the result of you living beyond puberty, and is dictated (in nature) by chance. the only reason you'd think that is biblical teachings, of which it's a main tenet. As has been oft stated in other posts, there is no need for any "purpose" whatsoever. Chance is everything, it is the essence of life.

I can remember as a kid I thought one of the greatest things in this world was the fact their was a "Santa Clause"!  This meant everything to me as a kid; the mystery of trying to stay up long enough to maybe catch a glimpse of him or to see the sled pulled by the reindeer!

But, guess what?  I found out the truth about the whole matter.  There was no Santa Clause, no reindeer or sled!  Sure it hurt.  Being lied to and cheated out of this wonderful experience that my mom and dad and the rest of the world was in on!  The entire world as I knew it lied to me about Santa Clause!

But, I got over it.  I found other things to fulfill my life!  Raising my children, coaching football, helping in community projects!  All of these things have been very fulfilling in my life and still are!

Christians seem to forget the fact that their god created "satan"!  What was god's purpose in doing that?  He created satan before Eve had eaten from the Tree of Knowledge according to their "bug nut bashit crazy scriptures"!

That's right; there is no Santa Claus.

I've always thought the Santa Clause is a literary device in a detective story that tells who done it, or gives away other info before the story's end.

I'm looking for Santa Claus in the Constitution.

If I don't find him there I'll check Indiana.

Not to live, enjoy, then die?

Right Tom - enjoy then die.

“Purpose” is the deep and abiding reason that makes life imperative, irreplaceable and beautiful.  It must convincingly address all three; no two are sufficient.  You can selflessly and effectively serve others; fine, but is your capacity to do so, genuinely unique and irreplaceable?  You may derive keen pleasure and enjoyment from life, and it’s good while it lasts.  But is deriving such pleasure genuinely imperative?  Perhaps it is contingent on something else.  Perhaps it only lasts while a certain amount of self-delusion is countenanced.  Perhaps it only comes down to luck.


It is not sufficient to have a smarmy construction of platitudes to keep us going.  It is not sufficient to claim the need or goal of reproduction. Even if I believed in reproduction, why should I reproduce, when there are many others who are no less qualified?  There is no lapidary construct of the simultaneously imperative, irreplaceable and beautiful.  And so, I am coming to the realization that life has no legitimate purpose. 

thank you Michael for your thoughtful replies. You give us a lot to think about.

We human beings create meaning, it's what we do. People express meaning through art, music, architecture, writing, invention, dance, protest, organizing, play, crafts, science, gardening, athletic achievement, raising children, building things, philosophy, choosing mates, making friends, making speeches and presenting arguments, and a thousand other ways.

Each individual generates meaning and is, in a sense, the center of the universe. Reality has infinite possibility. Every choice each of us makes selects which alternate universe possibility from that choice point becomes part of our shared reality. Remember observer effect in physics? Just one person having the possibility of seeing which slit a photon went through makes the photon into a particle, with a definite position, instead of a wave which is spread out. Your actions don't just shape your own life, they shape the entire universe-as-we-know-it. And that is the only universe we know. We are always part of the equation, each of us. The idea that the universe exists independent of us is our idea, one we affirm in everyday life because it's useful for our purposes. But there are limits to the usefulness of this idea, not only in physics experiments. By forgetting how important we human knowers are in the universe as we know it, we introduce an error. We imagine the universe is impersonal and devoid of meaning. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our shared language has the words "meaning" and "universe". Take away all of the people, all of the speakers and hearers using language and "Earth", "Sun", and "Galaxy" disappear. There would still be animals, and the feeling/perception meaning they share among themselves. There would still be hunger, pain, fear, and mother love, but no language to express them.

Without us, religious memeplexes such as "god" would also disappear. It makes no sense to me to equate meaning to fictional entities. It's like asking Mickey Mouse to tell you what's important in life. We can be smarter than that.

Thank you Ruth! Human being do create meaning. I agree.

I will not live long enough to learn all I want to learn, do all I want to do, and see all I want to see.  It makes more sense to me to do what is right just because it is the right thing to do not because I might otherwise be going to hell.  Living every moment to the fullest is like living forever. (Not original, of course.)  If I was living in the future (going to heaven,) I would not put as much value on the present. I prefer to have heaven here and now on earth enjoying my friends and family in the only time we will have together.  When my life is all used up, I look forward to having my ashes return to the mother earth.  It is enough.




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