I was going to do a series about meaning but as I was studying and writing the series on morality I realized that there is a whole lot of overlap in the 2 subjects. They are both based on values which would explain that. Many of the things I wrote about morality could also be written about meaning.
One example of this is in the question of God being the answer to meaning. Just as in thinking about morality, the question is obvious here as well – where did God get his meaning? If he is not disturbed by the fact that there isn’t something outside of himself that provides meaning then why should we be? Why does adding another conscious entity to the equation solve the problem of meaning? If it turns out that there is no God does that remove all meaning from our lives? I discussed these kinds of questions when discussing morality as well.
I won’t write too much about the idea that we can create our own meaning in life – it has been hashed and rehashed many times, and I certainly agree that we can create our own meaning in life. I think it is important in discussions with theists to make a distinction between a simple practical and “ordinary” usage of the word “meaning” versus a more “cosmic” or “outside of humanity” kind of meaning. Most atheists including myself are willing to admit that there may not be this kind of cosmic meaning, but in practical terms we can still have meaning in our own lives, and the foundations for this are just our own values that we may have. For example my children give great meaning to my life – I don’t see this as a cosmic, “outside of humanity” meaning, but just meaning in the sense that they are extremely important to me.
Also, just as in the discussion on morality, I believe there is a possibility (again the possibilian in me) that some kind of meaning exists in “the fabric” of reality, and perhaps it is even beyond the current capability of humans to understand (i.e. transcendant). I do not see why It is logically necessary to believe in gods to believe in this kind of possibility. Perhaps this is a bit mystic or spiritual, and I don’t mind getting “kicked out” of the atheist community for expressing this kind of idea. 😉 I don’t claim belief in this kind of meaning, but I do see it as possible.
And furthermore, on a bit less less of a mystic tone, for me, while the big questions seem unanswerable given what we as humans know at this point in time, and I have embraced that, I also can’t know for certain that there won’t be a day sometime in the future that this changes due to the increase in human knowledge about reality (as well as the changes that may occur from further evolution). While this seems unlikely to me, I can’t deny the possibility that humans will obtain concrete answers to these questions, and therein lies a great deal of meaning and purpose for me. The constant pursuit of truth and facts with the express purpose of helping the people who might live many many years from now is actually very inspiring for me and it is one reason why I blog about these kind of things. But in the pursuit of truth, if it really is truth that we are seeking (and for me it definitely is), we must constantly apply rigorous objective methods, and also must question our most cherished beliefs and allow others to try and falsify the claims that we make about what truth is. That is the primary way as humans we will get closer to what we are seeking, given that this kind of process will help to overcome the biases that all of us are so plagued with. And the possibility that this leads humans in the future to real answers to these big questions is a huge driver for meaning in my life.
If you are an atheist, agnostic, or just plain doubter but are struggling with a sense of a loss of meaning, there are a lot of resources out there for getting a better grip of this subject. As a small starting point I would recommend this post by Richard Wade on the Friendly Atheist blog. There are a couple of other links to videos on there as well that you may want to watch.