Would you ever expect to find the complete works of Shakespeare printed, collated, and bound by an accidental explosion?
But this is exactly what we have. An explosion that not only gave us the complete works of Shakespeare, but a bunch of bipedal units to act things out, crowds to weep and moan, and an industry of Shakespeare criticism that spans centuries. But the explosion didn’t stop there. It also gave us Kafka, Russian architecture, solar panels, Jeffersonian democracy, Christianity, and ivory poaching.
We are bits of the flying flotsam, spinning away from the eye of the Great Disaster. Anything we do is attributable to Chaos, for we are its children, carbon-based shrapnel with sensitive nerve endings, a problem with self-importance, and a taste for pizza.
I see your painting. It’s by Pollock. But where is your story? What is the plot? Who are the characters. What are the rules?
In this story, the Darwinian device that moves action is called (hail, the conquering hero) natural selection. But it has no purpose, no goal at all. Survival is the result for some and death for others, but there is nothing in this story to show that one is actually to be preferred over the other. Survival as good is just one of the axioms that’s been adopted by the faithful. The characters? What do you mean? There is only a strange impersonal trinity—Time, Chance, and Matter. Matter exists, and it is shaped by chemical reactions as Time and Chance act upon it. You have no soul. You are simply a combination of chemicals. What you call “death” is nothing more than a transition out of one combination and the beginning of another. Welcome to the leaf pile—you as mulch is no better or worse than you as man. When you begin and end is a pointless question…
The truth is that very few atheists will try to maintain that atheism is pleasant. It has been pitched as a hard truth, and those squinty-eyed atheists are the brave ones (the “brights,” according to Richard Dawkins), the ones willing to peer into the burning bosom of reality, see absolutely nothing, and write best-selling books about their experiences (and to convince us of our own soullessness). They preach this hard, chemically fatalistic doctrine like a bunch of Victorian Calvinists unable to understand why the populace won’t simply bow their heads and come along quietly.
Because it is nonsense. (And you can keep your tenure. I’d rather have a ping-pong table.)