Some years ago, a professor in Canada named Gad Saad wrote an article claiming that atheism is more suited to the saying “seize the day” than religion. In doing so, Mr. Saad specifically raised one argument: because atheists believe that their existence is of a very limited duration, they only have a short period of time to achieve their goals and leave a legacy, therefore they should seize the day. This assertion results in at least two immediate objections, one of which is very boring, and one that is, hopefully, more interesting.
The boring objection is that certain religious beliefs offer stronger motivations for seizing the day. If someone believes in an eternal afterlife, and that their current behaviour will affect that afterlife, then there is an extremely high value to getting off the couch and doing whatever that particular religion requires. On the other hand, if an atheist believes that death is a complete and ultimate end, then there’s relatively little punishment or reward for doing anything. After all, atheism doesn’t involve a demon poking you with a pitchfork for eternity because you spent your mortal life with Netflix rather than scripture.
The more interesting objection, though, is that atheism does not necessarily dictate that one’s entire existence is of a limited duration. To determine whether one’s existence comes to an ultimate and complete end at death, one must ask what constitutes a human. There are many different sorts of atheists, but this brief article will discuss a common and simple position.
There is a sort of atheist who claims that humans are constituted entirely of physical matter, and that there is no such thing as an immaterial and persistent soul. When the human dies, the matter that constituted him is separated and that’s the end of that. Matter, or whatever one calls the fundamental substance of reality, cannot be created or destroyed, so reality persists while the now-deceased human’s matter moves on to constitute other things.
This set of beliefs, however, would actually justify the conclusion that we all have eternal life. Suppose an individual dies tomorrow. The matter constituting their body would gradually disperse, and they’d be considered quite dead. However, given sufficient time, all the matter that constitutes reality will move back into the exact same position as it is today. Because a person is constituted solely of physical substance, and the physical substance has now returned into the exact same position, that person would be alive again. This is a necessary occurrence, no matter how many trillions of years it might take, because matter persists eternally.
So, atheists should feel free to kick their feet up for the time being. After all, they can just seize the day a few trillion years down the road.