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After spending a lot of time considering the issue, I have decided that two, equally reasonable conclusions can be arrived at regarding human existence. We are more than our physical bodies, or we are not. It is one or the other.
Either consciousness is an epiphenomenon of matter, or matter is an epiphenomenon of consciousness. We are frisky dust destined for the nothingness of the deep sleep, or we are immortal and this often irritating Earthly experience is a very brief episode in a very long journey. Life and mind are an accident, against all the odds, or they are part of a scheme, infinitely conceived and beyond the conception our earthly senses and limited intellect can afford us. Take your choice. What’s your poison?
I think the reason so many of my atheist friends are atheist is because they have limited the choice in the debate between having to choose between having martinis with Christopher Hitchens or suffer an infuriatingly ridiculous evening with Pat Robertson.
Between the two institutions of organized, dogmatic religion and The First Church of Atheism we have three options: heaven, hell, or nothing. I choose a fourth option: none of the above.
We know that we owe what we can sense of ourselves, and the world we live in, to the Big Bang, but do not know what caused it. We are involved in matter, but thanks to quantum physics we do not know exactly what matter is. Matter is not Newtonian billiard balls, but something hardly substantive, more like energy and waves of probabilities than something that can be swatted with a tennis racket. Space and time are interdependent, curved and relative. Physicist have postulated the possibility of multiple universes.
As humans we know our physical environment through our senses which are only tuned to consciously perceiving a minutia of the broadband that is available. We only consciously use a small percentage of our brains.
The only honest answer to the biggest of ontological questions is that we just do not know, and may never have the capacity to do so given the limits of what we have to work with here. But that does not mean we should stop trying.
The True Believers of dogmatic-mythically conceived religions would say we should stop, because all the answers are contained in sacred texts written by ancient inhabitants of Earth who thought the world was flat and not very old.
My atheist friends and I can agree that we are evolving creatures. Everything evolves. Nothing does not evolve. And anyone who would challenge the facts that science has provided us should be shunned and marginalized, like the Pat Robertsons of the world.
I would add, we are here to evolve, not just physically, but spiritually. That this world might be a laboratory designed to force us to evolve, and no matter what happens here, we graduate intact.
It is my choice to believe that we are more than our physical bodies; that we are primarily consciousness and only secondarily matter, and therefore something enduring and maybe immortal. That choice is built on hunches of intuition which I cannot take out of a box and show anyone. It is also based on the rationalization that it makes existence infinitely more interesting and wide open with possibilities.
Dogmatically based religion would have us put a lid on scientifically verifiable knowledge when it is not in line with the mythic-fantasy espoused by it. Atheist would have us put a lid on speculation that we, and the world we live in, might be a subset of a much greater universe, or universes, that are conscious-mental-spiritual, not physical, in nature.
Science, logic and reason are indispensable tools to be utilized on the quest to knowing ourselves and the reality we live in, not just a means by which to minimize pain and maximize pleasure. As evolving beings, we owe it to ourselves to keep open the possibilities and not to shut the door on mature, reasoned speculation no matter where it might lead us.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.