This question was brought up in class. However, I did not want to impede some good student discussion so I kept quiet.
One person implied that science has nothing to say about the meaning of life. My response is to paraphrase something I'm fairly certain that Bertrand Russell once said: "What do you mean by the meaning of life?"
1. Does my life have meaning?
2. Where did all "this" come from, why are we here, etc.
If it's the first question the certain branches of the social sciences definitely have something to say. If your meaning is number two, then many branches of the natural sciences and biology all have something to offer as well.
My point is that many non-religious types find beauty in the natural world, joy from watching their children grow up, are law abiding and do good in the community. They also explore that big question -- where did all this come from? --they just do so through different means than most religious persons. Side note: It gets really fascinating when you find a religious scientist that blends their faith with their religion! (sometimes in a good way and sometimes in a very muddled way)
Those interested in reading one view might want to skim this article. While I don't agree with everything Cline says, he still makes some good points.
"If someone brings it up, it is because their belief in a god is, at least in part, predicated upon the idea that their god provides meaning and purpose to their lives. This is not a bad thing — the problem lies in the fact that they cannot imagine that anyone's life can have meaning and purpose unless it happens on the same terms as their life."Perhaps science fiction is a safe place to bridge the gap between science and religion? An example might be the original humanist Star Trek vs. the more religious Star Trek: The Next Generation. Examples like that are perfect for some constructive and educational discussions.
One last note: in a previous class it was suggested that atheism is a religion. I would gently point out that most atheists do not agree with that idea.
"Atheism is a disbelief, not a philosophy. My disbelief in the Tooth Fairy is not a philosophy of life - is it for anyone else? Furthermore, a philosophy of life is not necessarily a religion and it doesn't necessitate that a religious belief exists in the person with the philosophy."There are, however, many atheists who do adhere to some sort of non-religious philosophy.
Whatever you do think, I can say that I've followed both sides of this topic long enough to personally think classes like this one are more of what is needed. All too often people never sit down to discuss these things. At the end of the day the regligious, non-religious, and science fiction fan all have much in common.