I would like to bring out the inspiration of atheists today by drawing from two concepts brought forth by Charles Darwin’s observations. In The Origin of Species, Darwin writes about the struggle for existence. Darwin’s observations led him to the following conclusion:
“The dependency of one organic being on another, as of a parasite on its prey, lies generally between beings remote in the scale of nature. This is often the case with those which may strictly be said to struggle with each other for existence, as in the case of locusts and grass-feeding quadrupeds. But the struggle almost invariably will be most severe between the individuals of the same species, for they frequent the same districts, require the same food, and are exposed to the same dangers. In the case of varieties of the same species, the struggle will generally be almost equally severe, and we sometimes see the contest soon decided: for instance, if several varieties of wheat be sown together, and the mixed seed be resown, some of the varieties which best suit the soil or climate, or are naturally the most fertile, will beat the others and so yield more seed, and will consequently in a few years quite supplant the other varieties.”
The most compelling observation Darwin made was while different species struggle with each other for existence, so too do all organic beings of the same species. As a matter of fact, he concluded that species of the same kind struggle more severely with each other. We know that Darwin’s application of this statement was meant to describe all beings, including humans. That humans are the same species and struggle for existence with each other just as all animals do, was quite a radical conclusion at the time. For it could only mean that we are also animals.
Now on the surface, this is roughly received. In looking logically at historical record, it can be confirmed by the well documented struggles of the Roman Empire, Religious Inquisitions and numerous wars fought between men. Humans have always struggled with each other for resources. Even in the most modern since, we are struggling for existence with each other for resources. We have representative governments that cannot agree on the best ways to manage those resources and are divided between defending the concept of social justice vs. independent survival through proper applications of economic systems.
It is in our nature to struggle for existence. Humans have something that no other living beings have on earth; the ability to think, imagine and reason. The fact that we are at the top of the food chain has given us the security to have the time to develop these abilities over millions of years. What comes of the struggle for existence is an ability to imagine and think about meaning. We ask; Why are we here? Where do we come from? How did we get here? When did it all start?
It is in the struggle for existence that creates a struggle for explanation and meaning. I suspect that this is what drives most people to religion. It is what drove Darwin to discover the things about nature and brought him to conclude that we owe our unique higher intelligence to nature’s laws, not god’s. It is what drives those of religious persuasion to reject his conclusions despite 150+ years of confirmation from the scientific community.
It really doesn’t take long before we begin to struggle for meaning in life. No sooner than we learn to formulate words and sentences, do we start to use those words and sentences to demand things. One of the most powerful words a child learns from their parents is the word “no”. The word “no” is a negative response that is often used by parents as a response to their children's demands. We ask early on “why not?”. This is the first sign when the struggle for existence meets the struggle for meaning. We want to know why we can’t have something.
Now you know that not every person is the same. We are all born with different personalities. Some of us ask too many questions, some of us don’t ask enough. The most curious of us tend to question everything. All humans are motivated by 3 internal attributes. Those are our needs, our wants and our fears.
Now as adults, those basic internal attributes become more developed. We are in need of food, water and shelter. We want comfort, love and purpose. We fear suffering and death. Our struggle for existence drives our needs, our struggle for meaning drives our wants. What then drives our fears?
We turn back to Charles Darwin. In speaking about instincts, Darwin concluded:
“All wolves, foxes, jackals, and species of the cat genus, when kept tame, are most eager to attack poultry, sheep, and pigs; and this tendency has been found incurable in dogs which have been brought home as puppies from countries, such as Tierra del Fuego and Australia, where the savages do not keep these domestic animals. How rarely, on the other hand, do our civilised dogs, even when quite young, require to be taught not to attack poultry, sheep, and pigs! No doubt they occasionally do make an attack, and are then beaten; and if not cured, they are destroyed; so that habit, with some degree of selection, has probably concurred in civilising by inheritance our dogs. On the other hand, young chickens have lost, wholly by habit, that fear of the dog and cat which no doubt was originally instinctive in them, in the same way as it is so plainly instinctive in young pheasants, though reared under a hen. It is not that chickens have lost all fear, but fear only of dogs and cats, for if the hen gives the danger-chuckle, they will run (more especially young turkeys) from under her, and conceal themselves in the surrounding grass or thickets; and this is evidently done for the instinctive purpose of allowing, as we see in wild ground-birds, their mother to fly away. But this instinct retained by our chickens has become useless under domestication, for the mother-hen has almost lost by disuse the power of flight.
Hence, we may conclude, that domestic instincts have been acquired and natural instincts have been lost partly by habit, and partly by man selecting and accumulating during successive generations, peculiar mental habits and actions, which at first appeared from what we must in our ignorance call an accident. In some cases compulsory habit alone has sufficed to produce such inherited mental changes; in other cases compulsory habit has done nothing, and all has been the result of selection, pursued both methodically and unconsciously; but in most cases, probably, habit and selection have acted together.”
It is hard to dispute that our instincts drive our fears in life. Now look what Darwin was saying. We are all born with natural instincts, but some of our natural instincts succumb to habits either learned or acquired from our surroundings. There are two ways to deal with our fears.
The first way is we can face our fears is directly with reason. There are some who face fears of suffering and death with their instinctive habit for reason and search to end the suffering and prolong life. The struggle for existence drives the want to extend it and the struggle for meaning drives the need to improve it. The result is science.
The second way to deal with fear is indirectly with imagination. Others' fears about suffering and death combined with their ability to imagine create an instinctive habit for a need of a perfect protector and want of a future and never ending life. The struggle for existence drives their want for it to be never ending and the struggle for meaning drives their need to protect themselves from the absence of it. The result is religion.
When the struggle for meaning comes from an imaginary result (religion), our struggle for existence becomes harder. It is much easier for a few to rule many when people think imaginary thoughts. There are no questions asked, no reasonable solutions offered, and no realistic long term expectations. The focus of religion is death, not life.
When the struggle for meaning comes from the result of knowledge (science), our struggle for existence becomes easier. It is much harder for a few to rule many when people are constantly searching for truth and asking questions. Reasonable solutions are a result and compromise is encouraged to achieve long term expectations. The focus of science is life, not death
I worry that we will be overcome by an imaginary struggle for meaning. Do not think for one minute that our country will be better off with religion as a foundation for its moral code and political representation. We have millions of people in this country ready to strip our children of finding meaning through rational thought and reason and insert their ruthless imaginary purpose. They do not want truth and knowledge, they only seek to create chaos and confusion by promising a future and everlasting life when your struggle for existence ends. They want to replace the beautiful observations of existence by Charles Darwin with the imaginary fables of scripture. They want to control your behaviors and rule over your guilty conscience. They want to tell you that your life has no meaning without following their god, their savior, their way.
I tell you today, ask if Galileo’s existence would have been better without religion. Was the existence of the forgotten Greek philosopher Democritus less meaningful when he concluded, "Nothing exists except atoms and empty space; everything else is opinion."? How many more answers about the world could the greatest scientist of all time, Issac Newton, have discovered had he not spent half his life obsessed with religion? How would the world have been had Louis Pasteur just accepted his fate and the fate of others to an almighty creator instead of using his scientific struggle for meaning to find our bodies were internally alive with tiny organisms working to hurt us?
We cannot afford to live off the credit of the promises of religion. Life is a cash only business. Throw the credit away and start using your cash, because when the bill comes due at the end, you will find the credit to be unpaid. Cash in on the beauty of nature and the universe. Cash in on working to make our struggle for existence easier for our children. Cash in on learning about the life you're living, don't live your life on credit of a life not lived yet.
When I die, I want to be remembered as someone who saw this difference. I want people who knew me to tell others talk that I wanted to help people understand that the struggle for existence should not be hard. I want them to say that I tried to make it easier for everyone by finding meaning in truth and knowledge, not imaginary fables of immortality and a perfect protector. When I die, I will do so knowing that I tried to reach out and share that knowledge with others. Maybe at the time of my death, I will have inspired a few to encourage others to find meaning in reason in order to make life better for everyone. I hope that when I die, I will have helped others by reducing their fears about suffrage and death.