Count no man happy until he dies, free of pain at last.
Sophocles Oedipus Rex
Life’s a piece of shit, when you look at it. Life’s a laugh and death’s a joke it’s true.
Eric Idle, Monty Python: The Life of Brian
The Argument from Design is still the favorite argument of theists to demonstrate that a god must exist. While there are many variations to the argument it essentially boils down to examining an aspect of nature and arguing that if it were any different, life as we know it could not exist. Atheists then counter with pointing out the flaw in their reasoning and/or showing examples in nature of cruelty or waste which do not resemble an intelligent design. Another aspect to this argument that is rarely, if ever, discussed, is the nature of human existence itself and examining whether or not it is the product of design or unguided natural forces.
One clear indication that human existence is not the product of intelligent design is what could be called the cycle of satisfaction. This cycle is brilliantly summarized in the following passage by German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860),
Human life must be some kind of mistake. The truth of this will be sufficiently obvious if we only remember that man is a compound of needs and necessities hard to satisfy; and that even when they are satisfied, all he obtains is a state of painlessness, where nothing remains to him but abandonment to boredom .
Man’s state of painlessness is what we call pleasure or happiness. All of our experiences of enjoyment are rooted not in a positive feeling of pleasure but in the absence of pain. It is no exaggeration to say that our highest hope is being numb to our own senses. Whether it’s intoxication from alcohol or the release of endorphins, our encounters with pleasure are in fact the removal of the sensation of our bodies.
This holds true for our minds as well. It is when our minds are the least aware of our circumstances that we have the most enjoyment. An enjoyable time is sometimes called diverting, “time flies when you’re having fun” etc. In other words, the more we feel life, the less pleasure we receive from it.
Schopenhauer goes on to say,
what is boredom but the feeling of the emptiness of life? If life—the craving for which is the very essence of our being—were possessed of any positive intrinsic value, there would be no such thing as boredom at all: mere existence would satisfy us in itself, and we should want for nothing.
In this sense pain, need, desire, boredom etc. is man’s default condition. We chase after relief from this condition but soon learn that this relief is fleeting. It’s hard to reconcile this with an intelligent (let alone loving) Designer who is actively engaged in our well-being.
1. Arthur Schopenhauer On the Vanity of Existence