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Chapter Four: Why people believe

Section 7: God and meaning

Many believers turn to God because they want life to have meaning.

pic: Monty Python

"What is the meaning of life?" "Life must have a meaning." "God makes life meaningful." "God is the meaning of life." And so on.

"Meaning" in this context is "purpose" or "intention". The phrase "the meaning of life" suggests both that life has a purpose and that something conscious - God, ourselves or something else - created that purpose.

For many believers, faith is founded on the premise that life must have meaning and that meaning is defined or offered by God. Life without meaning is inconceivable; therefore God must exist. (For Buddhists, there's a twist; meaning does not come from God but from the cycle of reincarnation.)

There's your proof! There is a God! Hallelujah! Break out the champagne or whatever God permits you to drink!

Hold it, folks, put that bottle away. There's a huge hole in your reasoning - in fact there are two.

Firstly, the fact that you want life to have meaning does not guarantee that meaning exists. It's an expression of desire, not evidence of fact.

Secondly, even if life does have meaning, how can you be certain that the meaning you find is the correct one? You may think that it is the Christian God who gives it meaning, but you could be wrong. It could be Allah or Shiva or Odin or some alien god that we do not yet know about...

In other words, the argument that "life must have meaning and God is that meaning" is illogical and - forgive the pun - meaningless. All that statement really says is: "I want life to have meaning and I have decided that the deity I choose gives life meaning."

The claim that God provides the meaning of life may satisfy the emotional needs of millions of believers, but in reality it tells us nothing about the existence of God or the nature of the world we live in.

The deep roots of belief

Despite reason and evidence indicating that God does not and cannot exist, billions of people across the world continue to worship him in one of his many forms.

Belief in God draws its strength from a wide range of sources and provides a sense of security and wellbeing for many. Transforming that belief into an understanding and respect for rationality takes time and much effort.

4.1: The origins of religion
Where did faith come from?

4.2: In the genes?
Are we programmed to believe?

4.3: Community and identity
Defining ourselves through faith

4.4: Peer pressure
Faith as fashion

4.5: Death and despair
There must be a better world

4.6: A sense of justice
Evildoers must be punished

4.7: God and meaning
Religion gives us a purpose

4.8: The power and the glory
They reflect on us too

4.9: Against the tide
Converts and natural-born rebels

4.10: Nature calling
A glimpse of God?

4.11: Pick 'n' mix
What are your reasons?

4.12: Summary

Finished this chapter? Move on to

Chapter 5
Faith in action

People create God in their own image. What happens when they not only believe in God but put their faith into action?

The results are predictable: good people do good things in the name of religion and bad people do bad things. They act in God's name but God is irrelevant.

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Chapter Four: Section 8 The power and glory

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If God existed, he would...

admire the beauty of a universe that he did not create

recognize that eternity is meaningless

deny both heaven and hell

disown all men and women who speak in his name

denounce the harm caused by religious "morality"

help the human race to thrive without him

If God existed, he would be an atheist.

What is the difference between science and faith?

science is certain of nothing and requires proof of everything

faith is certain of everything and requires proof of nothing

Which do you trust?

"I know there is no God"
"I believe there is no God"

Check the answer

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