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The Reason Driven Life, chapter 2

April 1, 2011

Chapter 2 is entitled “You Are a Work of Art,” and begins with a quote from Plutarch: The atheist believes there is no god. The superstitious man believes there is, but wishes there weren’t.

The point to the chapter is that no one planned for your existence. You are the result of the union of an ovum and a sperm cell that together provided the genetic blueprint that makes you you. The particular ovum and sperm that made you came together through blind chance. The odds against that particular combination coming to pass are extremely small. As the author says, “You won the sweepstakes by being born.” Fundamentalists claim that your existence is evidence of God’s plan. I’ve often wondered if they know just how narcissistic thins sounds. Your existence, against all odds, is not evidence of a divine plan. This argument is a fallacy. The fact is that you exist. The chance of a being that is exactly you being born may be vanishingly small, but if it weren’t you, it would be some other person (an alternate sibling) with a different genetic code. It’s like a game in which each of the 1,000,000,000 players puts his or her name into a container and one of the names is drawn out. The odds of any individual’s name being drawn is only 1 in 1,000,000,000, but the odds that someone’s name will be drawn is 1,000,000,000 in 1,000,000,000 – or 100%.

Nonetheless, you are valuable just by being here. But the exact nature of your value doesn’t derive from any divine plan, but rather from what you do with the life you have. Have you made a mark in any way? Have you improved the world? Have you made the people around you laugh and enjoy life? The value (both quality and quantity) of each person’s life is unique to that person. The idea that there is one specific way in which a life can have value (slavish obedience to a tyrannical sky god) is childish at best.

Fundamentalists want us to believe that all of the bad things that happen in the world are part of God’s plan. Our talents and disadvantages are chosen by God before our birth, as are the obstacles and gains that come our way during life. Just how sadistic is a God who purposefully creates anacephalic babies, or babies with one of the countless genetic disorders that cause them to die so very young after months or even years of pain and suffering? If this is all part of God’s plan, then God himself must be evil, relishing the pain of others. In this matter, I am reminded of the God portrayed in Piers Anthony’s And Eternity, a perverted voyeur sitting in heaven, masturbating while watching the suffering of the humans below. I’m glad I don’t believe in a God like that.

  • Point to Ponder: I won the sweepstakes just by being born!Your life is so unlikely that it is a wonder you were born in the first place. The value of our lives depends solely on the value we give it with our actions. While I believe that every individual has the right to squander their life in subservience to the dictates of primitive, bronze age shepherds, I can’t help but to see it as a waste. If all of the time and money that were spent on worship, building places to honor our imaginary friends and attempting to make everyone else follow our own superstitions and taboos were instead spent on helping those around us, creating beautiful works of art, literature and music that lift the spirit or on finding solutions to the many problems that surround us, the world would be a much better place.
  • Quote: The Universe was not pregnant with life, nor the biosphere with man. Our number came up in a Monte Carlo game.(Jacques Monod)I’ll concede again that the odds of each us being born in the first place is extremely small. But this is a wonder of mathematics and statistics – not an unexplainable wonder that can only have come about through divine intervention. Taken in the aggregate, the odds of some person sitting where you’re sitting and wondering the same things you wonder are well nigh a certainty. Believing that you’re here due to blind chance in no way dimishes your value as a human being. Your value doesn’t derive from circumstances before your birth, but rather from the things that you do that give them value. Furthermore, there are many ways to bring value to your life. Not everyone has to find value in the same way, or by the same means.
  • Question to Consider: There are things about me that I don’t like. Do they really make much difference? Which are worth trying to change? Can I see my way to resigning myself, with a laugh, to the rest?I have seldom seen such clarity of thought about our own defects. All of us have things about us that we would like to change. Are those things worth changing? If so, we should change them. If not, we should laugh them off and learn to live with them.

As always, the paragraph under each of these points consists of my own thoughts and reflections. I would encourage anyone to read The Reason Driven Life and to see what the author has to say in support of each of the points.

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