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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Purpose and meaning provide a pleasing illusion.

There is no purpose to the universe. Energy and matter interact based upon non-sentient physical laws. This interaction is completely impassive to life on earth. All life could end tomorrow, and the planet formerly known as Pluto would metaphorically shrug with indifference, as would the rest of the universe.

Life’s only purpose is to replicate – from single-celled organisms splitting through fission to the arguably more pleasurable engagement of sexual reproduction for multi-cellular creatures. (Bonobos, I’m looking at you here!). Finding meaning in this replication process is like finding meaning in a Xerox machine stuck on infinite copies.

The purpose of human beings is to be, well, human. This includes love, hate, war, peace, religion, politics, music, torture, sex, murder, etc.

The purpose and meaning for any individual is entirely subjective.

Generally, individuals pursue their own happiness and define these pleasures as meaningful. However, many selectively extricate the myriad moments of unhappiness, ennui, and unconsciousness from this narrative. But lest we delude ourselves that all individual happiness is gained from benign actions, we must face the reality that many individuals throughout history are driven to rape, fraud, stealing, murder, etc. So a carte blanche to be the best you you can be is a dangerous policy when taken to extremes. If you being the best you conflicts with me being the best me, I’d rather you change. In fact, most every human on the planet would change something significant about others if they could (politically, religiously, sexually, morally, etc.). This is the nature of human conflict.

Regardless of whether an individual positively or negatively impacts the lives of others, what they find meaningful is solely their own. The downside to an atheist perspective on purpose and meaning is the acceptance of reality that, when you’re dead, nothing you’ve accomplished will likely hold any lasting significance 200 years from now. The upside is, your mistakes and transgressions won’t matter either.

I don’t dismiss the pull religion has in offering the possibility of a happy afterlife (or a second chance in reincarnation). Those are universally appealing notions. It took a lot of work and a fair number of years to mold my consciousness (dismal though it may be), and it is a pity that all that effort will one day count for naught. Like building a house from the ground up only to have it burn down the day it’s ready to move in. Furthermore, losing a loved one can make life seem nasty, brutish, and short to borrow from Thomas Hobbes. The other side of that is loving another and being loved in return can make life seem magnificent, compassionate, and eternal.

If reality is nature, and nature is indifferent, then purpose and meaning are but illusory constructs which help us feel better. This is not always a bad thing.

I agree with the Nihilist view to a point -we are here by chance most likely.  I would add that now things have changed.  Our cognition IS NOT an illusion.

If you can perceive beauty, comedy, or anything of the sort -you've passed a simple test for a reason to go on, past simple replication.

When it all is boiled down, meaning - no meaning, I say the ABILITY to even ask the question also allows the person to imbue meaning.  

Fine, there's no purpose.  So let's make one.

- i like your posts tom (i can't shake being an optimist)

I agree with John Carey.  The universe does not need a purpose.  And, each of us can live with his own purpose in mind.  I think intelligent people are introspective enough to think about how we want to live our lives and what goals to pursue.  We GIVE our lives purpose.  Isn't that better than a god who says our purpose is to worship him?

There you have it.

*The purpose of (human) life is to MAKE PURPOSE.


That is insane, that's the exact opposite of reality. The concept of an individual having "a purpose" may well be the most destructive force on earth. If all the crappy purposeful leaders of the society/world and all the crappy purposeful industry leaders who with their purpose to acquire wealth and subdue the masses had not had their dumpy 'purpose' the the planet would not be the overpopulated, garbage infested, dead wildlife place it is turning into. And mostly, purpose is what drives faithers and missionaries to bend other cultures to their ilk.

The establishment of "purpose" is like the search for "enlightenment with the Buddhists, or the search for "Heaven" for Abrahamer faithers, it serves as a means to make oneself appear better than all others around. Purpose is to me an 'evil' word.

As true hikers' etiquette states, when going into the forest, leave as you entered, "pack it in, pack it out", that is the opposite of purpose.

But because there is so much "evil" purpose on the planet, my objective that I set for myself as a biologist, is to contribute to undoing the the mess caused by people with purpose.

Like you, purpose has a negative connotation to me.  I think of it in relation to a creator.  A creator gives purpose to his creations.

However, after looking-up the various meanings, it can also mean an object to be reached; a target; an aim; a goal; a result that is desired; an intention.  So, it depends on which definition we choose, what we think about purpose.  

I guess "meaning" also has several definitions, but again, the one I first think about, which is "what is the meaning of life", I'm inclined to say life has no meaning.  

Again, both words have a negative connotation to me.  I've just met too many people (in and out of religion), that try to force their meaning and purpose on me, and I resent it.

Spud thanks for your take on purpose - I agree that it gives a negative connotation - like a religious belief system.

I will take it to mean goal - like you stated it could mean in the definitions.

Life has no meaning - agreed.

But because there is so much "evil" purpose on the planet, my objective that I set for myself as a biologist, is to contribute to undoing the the mess caused by people with purpose.


You seem to define purpose in moral terms. But purpose itself to me is amoral – it is simply a self-described reason for existing or for taking action towards a desired goal. Indeed, many humans have set their objectives on goals which are harmful and destructive to others – but many have not. By my definition, you ironically stated your purpose when you said you wish to contribute to the undoing of the mess caused by people with purpose. But perhaps this  is only a semantic misunderstanding.

That is the 'traditional' definition of "purpose of life", of course we can twist definitions all we want to satisfy our needs.

But the word 'objective' is much more relevant/appropriate is one sets one's own objective. Objective and purpose are entirely different.

The first couple noun/verb definitions from may clarify this issue...


1. the reason for which something exists or is done, made, used, etc.
2. an intended or desired result; end; aim; goal.
verb (used with object)
6. to set as an aim, intention, or goal for oneself.
7. to intend; design.
Morality is not mentioned.
The word 'purpose' is used as a synonym for 'objective' in several instances if you examine

Yes indeed, you can prioritise what dictionnaries tell you is the secondary definition, that is your prerogative. I'll stick to the main concensus, science and communication function much better that way.

We don't really "perceive beauty, comedy, anything of the sort", those are interpretations of reality based on social conventions.

Light we perceive, cold hot we perceive, but what you've described is cultural interpretation of reality, which varies across cultures.




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