Moving Forward With Ultimate Questions, Part 2

In this video clip, John Schellenberg describes a bit more of his way of thinking about ultimate questions which is very much in line with my own (you can find the full video here):

A couple of points I’d like to make:

– In other videos, Schellenberg calls himself an atheist in a very similar way that I call myself an atheist (with some minor differences), yet he is not a naturalist.  As you can see in the above video, while he leaves open the possibility that naturalism could in fact be true, he says that “the jury is still out, in a really big way” – and I agree, in a big way. 😉  I’ve run into several people on the internet who seem to equate naturalism with atheism.  While many atheist bloggers are indeed naturalists as well, polls of philosophers on the questions of “atheism” and “naturalism” actually indicate that among philosophers the number of atheists who do not accept naturalism is actually larger than one might think.

– I agree with Schellenberg that the future of human evolution, while unknown, could very likely lead us to a point where we can get more definitive answers to these big questions of life that many of us ponder.  When I think about the kinds of rational and critical thinking skills which humans have compared to other life forms like bacteria and many animals, then I wonder about what kinds of understanding of reality that future beings might possess. Perhaps the future will open the doors of understanding to some of our much deeper questions.  As I have expressed before, these thoughts for the future are a great source of meaning for me.

– Even aside from evolution, simply the mere fact that human knowledge seems to be growing at an almost exponential rate is very encouraging for me.  If 6000 years ago you had asked a Sumerian if they thought that we could find the answers to questions like “where do diseases come from” or “where does lightning come from” then very likely they would have said that these kinds of questions would always be out of the reach of humans.  While there are still a great many questions that seem elusive to us today, great progress has certainly been made in many fields, such as medicine, vehicles of transportation, computers, weather prediction, space exploration, etc.  I think it is fair to ask what methods helped us to progress in this very large increase of knowledge that we have today – was it faith that the writings of ancient people were totally true or was it more objective methods like the scientific method?  Obviously you know what I think.

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10 thoughts on “Moving Forward With Ultimate Questions, Part 2

  1. I don’t think there are ultimate questions. I guess I’m a WYZWYG sort of person — what you see is what you get.

    I do not call myself a naturalist or a materialist. I do try to keep on open mind for other possibilities. However, experience has shown that proposed other possibilities have never panned out. So call me a skeptic.

    We certainly don’t know everything. There might always be more to discover. But I doubt that we will dig up something that is truly mystical.

  2. Hi Neil,

    I sometimes substitute the words ultimate or even metaphysical for “big questions of life” when perhaps I shouldn’t. I do that because I found I was writing “big questions of life” over and over and it began to sound too repetitive. 🙂 So I’m not sure if the word ultimate is the issue. Questions like “is there purpose or meaning outside or above human minds” or “are there objective values or morals outside of human minds” are certainly questions that a lot of people think about. Maybe what you mean by there not being ultimate questions is that the answers to questions like these are no – in other words the answers are not ultimate. Certainly a possibility, although you can tell by my writing that I’m not so sure this is the case.

    However, experience has shown that proposed other possibilities have never panned out

    I can relate to this sentiment somewhat because I have seen that some investigations into things like ESP or prayer that have been done which have not panned out. And people like Joe Nickel who try to investigate “paranormal” claims do end up finding that the claims do not pan out. I’d like to see more people like Joe Nickel trying to objectively investigate these kinds of claims without ruling them out beforehand (which Joe claims that he does) so that we can be more sure of what the conclusions are. For me I don’t feel like there have been enough thorough and expansive studies like these to have definitive conclusions. I’m very interested in reading more about research like this – do you have any links or book recommendations related to this?

  3. Link or books — no. I do follow cases where, for example, the paranormal is investigated. Yes, I appreciate people like Joe Nickel who actually do the hard work of investigating, but I don’t have the patience to do that myself.

    What you call “ultimate questions” are what I see as coming from the way that philosophy mythologizes our relation to the world.

  4. Do you know others like Joe Nickel who try to perform these investigations without coming to a conclusion beforehand? He seems to be one of the few names of people who really try to investigate without already coming to a conclusion (although I’m sure some would argue that his methodology already determines the conclusion). The only other name I’ve heard of is Benjamin Radford.

  5. Oh, and Neil, forgot to mention – I hope you don’t think I’m trying to be clever or asking you these questions to make a point (sometimes communication on the internet sucks in this way because it is so hard to indicate your honest interest in questioning). You mentioned that you have followed cases where the paranormal has been investigated. If you have any information I could read on that I’d truly be interested. If not, no problem. Thanks!

  6. When I say that I follow, I do not mean that I take careful notes. At one time I subscribed to “Skeptical Inquirer”, and I think Joe Nickel wrote articles there. And then there’s a British guy whose name escapes me, who I found interesting. But I concluded that he was more interested in mystery than in solutions.

    Often, in my life, I run into remarkable coincidences. I expect that happens to everyone. But I think that’s a matter that we notice the remarkable coincidences, but fail to notice the more common mundane non-coincidences.

    If someone would come up with clear evidence of the paranormal, that would make life more interesting. However, I have lived long enough to think it unlikely.

    And, no, I am not questioning your motives. Curiosity is good, and you are just being curious.

  7. Thanks for the reply Neil.

    I’m 100% with you on the coincidences thing – I was planning a blog post in the future about coincidences.

    My wife and I have a bit of a running joke going that whenever we notice mundane coincidences (which is quite often) we say something like “it’s 100% proof of the spirit of (fill in the blank)”, or something to that effect. 🙂 Not meant to insult believers – just a little satire on the whole coincidence being proof thing.

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