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I hope you are well. I got your contact information from Google that says you are humanists.
Could you please share with me what makes life worth living?
I’m a high school student who loves science. But I’m depressed by scientific claims that life has no purpose and that we might not even have free will.
How is it possible to live a happy and meaningful life with a purely scientific worldview that rejects traditional notions of purpose and free will?
Could you please honestly share with me what makes life worth living?
Please respond soon.
You ask a lot of questions! Let me give you my perspective, but everyone will have a different viewpoint.
Like you, I also love science. I have a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering, with a minor in Physics from Cornell University. While I was at Cornell, I attended a talk by Carl Sagan, which is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_-jtyhAVTc. It is long, but you can start at the 5th minute if you want to skip the introduction.
I am not aware of any scientific claim that life has no purpose. It is not part of any science class I have ever taken. I am curious why you have this opinion. Was it stated by a reputable scientist or by a non-scientist who misrepresented a scientific view? Physics is a science that seeks to understand matter and energy and the laws that govern them. Physics does not make any claim that life has no purpose. [As a side issue, whenever possible rely on primary, not secondary sources. For example, if you want to know what a politician believes, it is often best to listen directly to him/her rather than rely only on what a political adversary has to say.]
You, me, and everyone else only have one life, and it is here on earth. I cannot give you any argument simpler than that to show how precious our time alive is and how we should live it with purpose.
There is not one "golden" purpose that we should all strive towards. We all need to find the purposes in our life. Mary, I hope you find love, friends, family, and meaningful work (inside and/or outside the home). I hope you have hobbies, and enjoy art, literature, music, and film. And you laugh. I hope you continue to learn and think and grow. Contribute to your community and to the world at large. I hope that your life is long and rewarding, and when it ends, the people who know you will remember you fondly.
For me, while working in California, I met a woman born half way around the world who became my wife and my soul mate. Since we married, we have lived in 4 US states and twice in Belgium. We have 3 children who we are watching turn into young adults. We both worked in the semiconductor industry, developing and making the products that have enabled our modern digital society. She has been a homemaker since the birth of our second child and I now work part time (by choice) as a patent consultant. We have our hobbies and we volunteer for the local foodbank. We give to charities close to our heart. As my wife is a former refugee, we sometimes give to charities that benefit refugees. We recently moved to Pennsylvania and wish we had more friends. We have found the Pittsburgh Freethought Community is a good place to meet people.
I try not to be openly critical of other people's beliefs, as that rarely bears fruit. But you did ask about purpose. I do NOT believe our purpose on earth is to praise an egotistical god who will condemn us to hell if we do not sing his praises loudly and repeatedly enough. That thought is just too difficult and depressing for me to accept.
You also asked about Free Will. I believe my actions are dependent upon my genetics, my experiences, and the laws of physics. The simple answer is that I choose to live my life as if I have free will.
I created this thread to summarize email questions from "Mary W" and my response.
Full Disclosure: The actual name and content has been changed for anonymity and brevity, but the fundamental questions are preserved from "Mary's" original email.
Yes, life can have meaning for a freethinker. I can’t give you a short rationale here, but see my following books and videos (click the hyperlinks), which argue in favor of free will and a rational approach to ethics:
Free Will and Human Life (2021 book): After examining philosophical, theological, and scientific arguments against and for free will, this book concludes that a secular, scientific basis for free will exists. See the book description in the hyperlinked Amazon webpage for further information.
“Free Will and Human Life” (2021 YouTube lecture): Summary of some of the principal themes of Free Will and Human Life.
Reason and Human Ethics (2022 book): This book argues that a secular, biological, teleological basis of human ethics exists and that reasoning and critical thinking about both ends and means are essential to human ethics. It examines how these principles apply in the contexts of individual ethics, social ethics, citizen ethics, media ethics, and political ethics.
“Reason and Human Ethics” (2022 YouTube lecture): Summary of some of the principal themes of Reason and Human Ethics.
I hope this helps.
Alan E. Johnson
Independent Philosopher, Historian, Political Scientist, and Legal Scholar
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