I am taking a class this quarter called Philosophy of God. While covering the work of Sigmund Freud we briefly touched on the question of whether or not humans are important if there is no God. The consensus of my (mostly religious) class was that of course Atheists must see humans as unimportant because God is what makes humans important. I knew that many people think this of Atheists (as well as thinking that we can’t have morals), but it was interesting to sit and listen to people discuss this idea in the context of the work of a non-believer who spent his long career studying the minds of humans. How could Freud have considered people unimportant while simultaneously spending so much ink on the inner workings of the human mind?
Of course, there is no objective meaning of “important” if there is no God. On the grand universal scale humans are not important. The universe doesn’t care about us and there is no supernatural being to care about us. We’re not important in any way that is external to our own world, individually or collectively. Maybe if we find intelligent life outside of our own solar system they will consider us important, but maybe they won’t care about humans at all; we simply don’t know yet. However, scaled down to Earth itself, we’re incredibly important in several ways.
If “important” is defined by impact, humanity as a whole is incredibly important. Our presence has enormous impact on the geography and ecology of most of the globe, and we’re even dramatically changing things as fundamental as the chemistry of the atmosphere. Our activity has lead to the creation of several species through domestication, and the extinction of many species through habitat destruction and directly killing them off. The impacts of humanity have been so significant that geologists call the current geological time period the “Anthropocene,” meaning the “human epoch.” Our impact will remain on the planet far longer than we will. Our impact is beginning to spread beyond our own planet, with the slowly expanding exploration nearby planets and even the very beginnings of spreading beyond our own solar system.
“Important” can also be defined as something that people have strong feelings about. Humans matter enormously to each other, in both positive and negative ways. We love and hate other people, on both mass and individual levels. Mostly, I like to think that we care about each other and want good things for others. There is no God to care about us, but we care about us. Jesus doesn’t love me, but many other individual human beings do.
I find this kind of importance more compelling than some objective supernatural importance. The importance that comes from the love of other humans is the kind I find the most valuable. With no God, we are all we have. I think that message is important.