On the question having a purpose to or meaning for life, I have been criticizing the desire to have been created for a divine purpose.
Though I have denied that the idea of being created for a divine purpose implies a lack of freedom of will, I have argued that being created for a purpose does not make the purpose good. Also, the pursuit of a divine purpose in a universe where no such purpose exists means deifying one's own interests and desires – while kind or malevolent. Also, it makes a person an easy victim for anybody who claims that he knows what God wants. Such a person would not actually be directing you in the pursuit of God's interests. He will be making you the unwitting slave to his own interests which he has then assigned to God.
However, the common atheist response to the question of meaning and purpose in life is almost as absurd.
This is the idea that each of us gets to choose our own meaning or purpose in life, and whatever we choose has real value.
If we are talking about a person, and I have the ability to choose where that person was born, who its parents were, what it likes and dislikes, and what happened to him five years ago, this should be taken as a reliable sign that I am dealing with a fictional character. I do not have the liberty to make those types of decisions if we are talking about a real person. Instead, there is a fact of the matter.
The same is true of assigning a purpose or meaning to life. If a person has the liberty to simply 'choose' a purpose or a meaning, then this should be taken as proof that he is creating a fictitious entity. This 'purpose' or 'meaning' is no more real than the character she invented for som story or book.
To live one’s life as if this fictional purpose or meaning is real is to live a lie.
One might as well choose to serve a God. There is actually little difference between choosing to serve a (fictitious) God to which one has assigned one's own desires than there is in choosing a fictitious 'meaning' or 'purpose' which was also created from the desires of the creator.
I have been using as a foil for my series here an article from the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Purpose of Life, in which the author states:
[W]ould you rather believe . . . . that you are a product of natural selection capable of choosing your own plan and purpose in life as an intelligent being in your own right?
If I am capable of choosing my own plan and purpose, then it is not real. It is a work of fiction – an act of make-believe that I then devote my life to pretending that it is real. If it is real, then I have no capacity to choose. I only have the capacity to discover.
Furthermore, one of the criticisms that I have given to the idea of a divine purpose is that, since there is no God, then people ultimately assign their own desires and interests to God and then assert that those interests have divine sanction. Vicious and vindictive people will create a vicious and vindictive God, and then will look upon it and say that it is good.
The same problem applies to atheists who invent a fictitious meaning or purpose and then pretends that it has real-world significance. They are going to invent a meaning and purpose that suits their own desires. A vicious and vindictive atheist is going to adopt a vicious and vindictive purpose, and he is going to look upon it and say that it is good.
The only difference between the atheist who invents a meaning and purpose, and the theist who assigns a meaning and purpose to God, is that the former, at some level, admits that he is living in a world of make-believe and ‘let’s pretend’, while the latter does not.
Yet, neither are suitable for the person who says, "Let's leave the world of make-believe and 'let's pretend' behind. Let us look instead to discover what the real world has to offer us. If there is meaning and purpose to life it is there to be discovered. And if there is no meaning or purpose to be discovered, let us not pretend that there is. Let us admit this fact and move on with our lives."
An important corollary to the idea that there is a meaning or purpose to be discovered is that we do not have a choice in the matter. The proposition that there is a particular meaning or purpose is to be discovered, and we cannot choose what it is we are going to discover.
And the popular atheist claim that it is wonderful to be an atheist because one then has the freedom to choose a purpose to life . . . that idea deserves to be tossed away. Choosing a purpose to life is as lame as choosing a religion. Such a person is simply choosing to play a game of "let's pretend", and refusing to live in the real world.