Your Ups And Downs, Your Highs And Your Lows

Question from Marianna:
If you do not believe in a higher power, how do you explain joy & suffering and the source of each?

Answer by SmartLX:
If you’ve ever owned or even looked after a dog, you know joy and suffering aren’t unique to human beings. Animals feel much of the emotion we do, but with far less subtlety and of course they can’t articulate it as well. If emotion is a gift, it was given to an entire extended family of creatures – of which we are very obviously a part.

If on the other hand emotion was not bestowed on us from on high, then positive and negative emotional states have persisted and developed over time and generations because they have some benefit to us, or are related to some other beneficial trait. It’s easy to see how emotion can help people survive and procreate: for instance, being in love gives great joy to both partners and helps them stay together, suffering teaches us not to do the things that make us suffer and our innate empathy drives us to create joy and alleviate suffering in others. Aside from all that, emotion may simply be a natural consequence of a certain level of basic intelligence, the benefits of which are myriad. It certainly requires a certain minimum intellect; while a mouse or a chimpanzee can be clearly emotional, it’s beyond the capability of an ant or a brine shrimp.

You could put just about anything into the form, “Without God, how do you explain _____?” and even if there weren’t over a century of scientific research providing just such an explanation, it would be easier to answer than explaining God Himself, having assumed His existence for the sake of argument. Using a completely unknown (hypothetical) entity to explain something else does not ultimately help one’s understanding, because it doesn’t tell you how one causes the other.