On Feeling Small

February 1, 2010 | By | 2 Replies More

There are many people out there who fight Darwin’s theory of natural selection because it makes them feel “small,” it makes life “meaningless” or it causes only despair. In the February/March 2010 issue of Free Inquiry Magazine, Christopher Hitchens substitutes the word “stoicism” for “despair,” then poses several questions in response:

[I]s this Darwinian stuff really the goods or is it not? You can’t take a position against it on the mere ground that might make humans feel small. (Incidentally, isn’t religion supposed to make people feel small and worthless: mere sinners created from dust by an angry and jealous deity? Our own well charted descent from lowly amoeba and bacteria is surely nothing as humiliating as that.)

I suppose you could argue that my next question is to some extent a matter of taste and therefore ultimately undecidable, but how is it more uplifting to human beings to compare themselves to well-tended but helpless farm animals, grateful for any favor from the owner and not believing themselves able to manage any sustenance without a corresponding guardianship?

The point Hitchens raises has puzzled me for many years. How could any life feel worthwhile without a sense of autonomy? As soon as one hands one’s fate over to Someone Else (who is guided by God-knows-what), it would seem that the “meaning” of one’s life exists merely in the hand-over of control, and not in one’s many earthly choices, no matter how impressive they might seem.


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Category: Good and Evil, Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Alison says:

    True that. When you get an argument from an ardent religious person about purpose, it just makes things seem more pointless. It's constantly tossed around that atheists believe that life has no meaning or purpose, yet the meaning and purpose of a christian life is to glorify god and follow god's rules so you can spend eternity living with god and glorifying god and waiting for god to show you what your purpose is because it's too big and important for you to figure out yourself so you just wait and hope that god will tell you because you can't possibly figure it out for yourself. So. . .your purpose is to do what you're told and wait for orders, and hope you heard them right? What kind of purpose is that? Even a farm animal gets more substantial guidance. Don't get up against the fence or you get shocked. Go to the place where the food is at feeding time. The human with the high voice always has treats.

    Life as a self-directed, inquisitive human, a result of millions of years of evolution, living in a world with ever-expanding technological and intellectual advances, does not make me feel small at all. That I have a hand in my destiny, and an impact on the lives of others around me, makes me feel far more significant than I would as a mere pawn or servant. I always have trouble wrapping my brain around this particular theist assumption.

  2. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    The Judeo-Christian religions developed as religioins of the slaves and the disenfranchised, and promote a slave mentality that can be used to prop up oligarchies.

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