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Does Life Have Value?

Does Life Have Value?

"How can life have any value," my former Christian apologist self would have inquired, "if the ultimate end of everyone is non-existence?" I, like many other defenders of the faith, stuffed the issue into a C.S. Lewis Box (a phrase I stole from Bee that's just a different and fun way to refer to a false dilemma or trilemma or any attempt to ignore other possible options): either life continues on for eternity or life has absolutely no value. More to the point a Christian apologist would attempt to make, either heaven awaits us or absolute nihilism is all we have. I argued along these lines back in my apologetics days:

If one day I will no longer exist, and everyone I know or could ever have any effect or influence on will also one day cease to exist, then what is the point of it all? How does anything I do now matter at all if the ultimate end is oblivion? Sinners and saints, murderers and martyrs, simpletons and scholars, the good, the bad, and everyone in between all face the same fate. Does it matter how we run the race if we're all going to end up finishing the same way (or, rather, not finishing the same way), with no benefit, no reward, no ultimate goal or destination?

The argument carries an emotional punch that hits us right in our desire for justice, survival, and purpose, and many people, reeling from the impact, fail to see the inherent flaws in the argument. One such flaw is that eternity doesn't imply meaningfulness. Meandering about aimlessly forever with no end can be just as meaningless and pointless as any finite existence. A life that has no end has no more guarantee of being a life of value than a life that is terminal. Astute readers might be asking at this point, "what makes something meaningful or valuable?" This leads me to explain another flaw, found in the understanding of "meaning" and "value." Both terms are subjective: for something to have meaning or value it must be meaningful to or valued by someone. My life has meaning, and my life has value, because I have given my life meaning, and I value the life I have. Eternity is not required. In fact, as I said in a previous entry, each breath I draw is valuable to me precisely because I do not have an unlimited supply. Even if there is some sort of life beyond death, it won't be this life, and that limited quantity of life makes it precious to me. I don't want to waste it because it won't last forever.

Theists often defend an "objective" or "intrinsic" value to life, which they argue comes from god, but that defense isn't justified. If our lives have value and meaning because god values our lives and makes them meaningful, then the value and meaning are still subjective, and necessarily so, given that said value and meaning come from god's emotions or prejudices or preferences. There is nothing intrinsic about the value of life in the theist's scenario, because if god ever changed his mind about human life, then human life would cease to have value and meaning.

The most egregious flaw (in my estimation) in the argument is that it's both a non sequitur and an example of the argumentum ad consequentiam fallacy. It's a non sequitur because whether god's existence has any effect on the value and meaning of human life has no bearing on the truth of - and proof of - god's existence. The argument can be boiled down to this:

Without god, life is meaningless.
We want our lives to have meaning.
Therefore, god exists.

The conclusion does not follow from the premises; concordantly, the argument is not based on reason, but on an appeal to the (supposed) consequences of a world without god, and thus it commits the argument from (adverse) consequences fallacy. Even if we concede that the theists are correct and life has no value, meaning or purpose without god, we come no closer to understanding the truth of whether god actually exists.

This leads me to my final thought: reality is what it is, regardless of what we want. Truth, whatever it is, remains the truth even if we hate it; even if it pisses us off; even if it makes us happy. To borrow the words of Shakespeare, "truth is truth to the end of reckoning."


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