Dan Barker told about 60 students and Gainesville residents that there is no meaning to life Monday night.
Barker, the co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the separation of church and state, discussed atheist beliefs. The former evangelical minister said those who don’t believe in a god can find purpose to life without religion.
Barker said he used to preach the Bible, as some do on Turlington Plaza.
“I was that guy,” he said. “You’ve seen those guys on campus with the Bible, and they’re very confident about their love of Christ.”
Barker also spoke about his newest book, “Life Driven Purpose: How an Atheist Finds Meaning.” He said he wrote the book in response to “The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?” written by Rick Warren, an evangelical pastor of Saddleback Church, a megachurch in California.
Warren’s book emphasizes God’s plan and the necessity of religion, he said. Barker said his book teaches people to find the meaning to life inside themselves instead.
He said while there is no overall purpose to life, people can find meaning within their personal lives through work done on earth.
Barker said atheists can solve scientific questions, social inequality and poverty to find meaning.
“If you are working actively to try to surmount those problems, then there is purpose in life,” he said.
He said not all atheists think life is meaningless.
“We give value to things that are rare,” he said. “So we atheists and non-believers acknowledge that our lives are brief, which gives them more value.”
Julie Bontems, a UF political science and criminology senior, said she wanted to hear Barker speak so she could connect with other atheists.
“I think it’s very important to have these kind of discussions,” the 21-year-old said.
She founded Humanists on Campus, a discussion-based non-secular organization, and is a member of Gator Freethought, a student organization that focuses on philosophical views.
She said both organizations discuss purpose in life. The definition of atheism varies by person.
“I think people have this idea who we are, that we’re cynical, and that’s not the reality,” Bontems said.