Can There be a Purpose to This Post?

EvangelistsA few weeks ago Josh brought up some good points about meaning and purpose in life at this link on Nate’s post.  We hashed through some of that over there but I thought I’d try to add a few more of my thoughts on the subject.  I actually agree with a lot of what Josh wrote (although I’m not sure he realized that), but there were some things he wrote that I thought could be looked at from a different angle.

First I’d like to explore what in the world is meant by “life’s meaning”.  For this I’d like to start with a quote from Loyal Rue:

When individuals articulate the meaning of life they are attempting to specify why they value life. 1

I believe this hits the nail on the head, and I believe it explains why atheists are actually correct when they say that their life is still meaningful to them even without a transcendent purpose.  They have their own reasons why they value living: perhaps relationships with friends and family, or the sheer joy of helping others, the enjoyment of learning, looking on a breathtaking vista, breathing in the fresh cool air of a new fall season, or all of those and more.  Whatever it may be, living is important to them (i.e. they value it) and they have many reasons to continue living.  That is what atheists are trying to express when they say “my life is meaningful” or “we can create meaning”.  This is why I believe that part of Josh’s last comment is not entirely true:

I do think it covers up the deeper reality that there really isn’t any reason to continue living the life we live without ultimate purpose.

There are reasons to continue living.  We have those reasons ourselves.  And my reasons for living aren’t even only within myself.  I know there are others who love me and want me to continue living as well.  So there are actually reasons to live even external of myself.  However, where I agree with Josh (and perhaps he just didn’t word the above carefully) is that outside of the desires of human beings there are no transcendent reasons to live if the more popular forms of naturalism are true (I say it that way because not all naturalists are alike in their beliefs).  What I think theists don’t realize though is that many atheists realize this and their response is “so what?”.  This actually is similar to the Buddhist response and relates to the parable of the poisoned arrow I explained in this post.

I’d like to dig even a bit deeper.  I think there may be a distinction between “meaning in life” and “meaning of life”.  What I mean is that usually when someone asks “what is the meaning of life”, I believe they are asking what meaning there is above and beyond humans (a.k.a. transcendent, ultimate, or cosmic). I’d like to share with Josh and others that I can relate to their need to have some “higher purpose”.  Feeling like I could be a part of something bigger than myself was a big draw for me before I became a Christian, and was a significant loss for me when I left.

Now when theists say “there is no meaning of life without God”, I believe there is actually a hidden premise in there.  The premise is: “meaning must come from a thinking, intentional mind” (because that’s how the monotheists who push this argument define God).  This seems to be a foundational belief, but I don’t see any logical reason that this must be true.  Perhaps there is somehow meaning built-in as a basic property of reality.  I believe this is a bit more of an eastern way of looking at things (perhaps Taoist), but Spinoza, Einstein and others seemed to also express such ideas.  But my western mind has the same bias that theists have, so while I’m open to possibilities I lean toward agreeing that “meaning can only come from thinking, intentional minds.” But think about that – where does that premise come from?  I believe it comes from our own experience that purpose and meaning are generated from human minds.  So there you have it – it comes full circle.  The very argument itself shows that humans can create purpose and meaning (which some theists, including Josh, agree to). They may not be eternal, but that’s not the point.

Further, I’d like to ask my readers to think and comment on 3 thought experiments. Theists will probably learn the most about themselves from them, but I believe some atheists can benefit as well.  Keep in mind that the experiments may not be possible scenarios, but that’s how thought experiments go:

  1. Consider a world where there is an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God who has created human beings for a purpose.  However, God tells all of us that absolutely nothing (including himself) is eternal.  All will come to an end at some point in the far future.  But he tells us that he still has a purpose for all of us to be alive.  Could this scenario be meaningful to you?
  2. Consider a world where we all know for sure that there is no God (don’t ask me how – it’s a thought experiment!), and there also is no transcendent meaning beyond human minds.  However, we also know for sure that human beings will exist for eternity.  Could this scenario be meaningful to you?
  3. Last consider a world where we all know for sure that there is no God and there is no transcendent meaning beyond human minds, but in this last world human beings all die like we do in our real world.  Also, we all know that humanity will come to an end at some point far in the future.  Most traditional monotheists would not find this kind of life meaningful.  But really think about it – what would you do if tomorrow scientists, philosophers, and theologians all got together and came to a 100% consensus that this is the way the world is?

The first 2 scenarios actually have an interesting story to them. In my blogging I’ve actually been surprised to find that some theists have desires which are very different from the ones I had as a Christian.  When I was a Christian it was more about feeling like I was a part of something grander than myself, so I would have answered with a resounding YES to question #1.  Eternity really had nothing to do with it.  In fact living eternally has never been much of a big draw for me.  I obviously wouldn’t want to live eternally in sadness, and I’d be ok with an eternity of bliss, but to be honest never-ending consciousness just seems a bit too much to me.  What I was very surprised to find however in an online discussion I had with Brandon was that the idea of “something(s)” being around in eternity and being affected by his life was an important factor for him in regards to meaning. I believe there is a lesson to be learned from this – all of us should know and recognize that we are all built differently, with different needs and desires.  While there is a great deal of overlap in many of our needs, when it comes to our desires related to questions of meaning it really does span the map.  My wife is the perfect example of this – she is the most content person I’ve ever met and it boggles her mind why anyone would ever care about or need any kind of ultimate purpose in their lives.  So theists should keep in mind that if they are trying to sell their worldview with the “meaning card” their effort may very well be wasted.

And in regards to eternity, this quote from John McTaggart is worth thinking about:

If we do not start with the certainty that love for an hour on earth is unconditionally good, I do not see what ground we should have for believing that it would be good for an eternity in heaven. 2

Lastly, given that I have a bit of agnosticism in me, in my mind there is still the possibility that there really is some meaning to the universe, be it from gods or from some basic properties of the universe.  While I’ve fully faced scenario #3 and already dealt with the fact that there is likely no transcendent meaning, I see no reason to completely dispense with the idea.  I talked more about that as well as other related things in this post.  I think it’s good to face all different kinds of possible scenarios in similar ways.  We can never remove our preferences, but it can help in reducing bias.


Footnotes:

  1. “Nature Is Enough”, by Loyal Rue
  2. Quoted by Erik Wielenberg in “Robust Ethics: The Metaphysics and Epistemology of Godless Normative Realism”
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163 thoughts on “Can There be a Purpose to This Post?

  1. Reblogged this on no sign of it and commented:
    I am firmly in the camp that believes that the universe has no special purpose, and that therefore we make our own meaning here. That’s precisely the wonder about being human. I know it feels good to think some divine mind planned on one’s own life especially – but there’s no adventure to that, no sense of achievement. I’d much rather grapple with life, at least I’ll feel I’ve lived it at the end.
    But I appreciate thoughtful perspectives on the matter. This is a well-written and intriguing essay.

  2. Nice post Howie. I’ve never understood why adding infinite time to existence would make it more meaningful. What’s that saying? “Too much of a good thing…” Like a good book or a good movie – if they never ended they would become wearisome.

  3. I don’t buy into this idea that we can create meaning for ourselves while embracing knowledge of a purposeless universe. I wanted to buy into that for a long time and did my fair share of reading Nietzsche. It made me feel validated, and I longed for that validation, but there was always an underlying horror. That said, maybe I’m just not the Superman. 🙂

    I would say both 1 and 2 would be meaningful. 3 is pretty hard to take. Generally we have the ability to ignore these big questions in our day to day lives so that we are somewhat shielded from the pain of living in a God-less universe (if that’s the case), so I can see how it would be possible to go on living in scenario 3. A lot of people don’t really think about the big questions much at all, so they’d probably be just fine. Others might find joy and meaning in other things, especially those with an optimistic disposition. However, there would be bad moments for most people, and profoundly bad ones for me. I would be a miserable person. But I’m sort of a “God-crank” as Sartre might put it. I’ve been obsessed with such questions since I was a child.

    I think the desire to live a religious life is just as you say, a desire to be a part of a larger whole that’s good, purposeful…and the other is a desire for immortality. The latter seems less important to me, but only slightly less. As you know, I’m an agnostic as well, very solidly in the middle, which is more or less comfortable.

    I went from atheistic to agnostic in my college years. All the while that I was an atheist, I called myself agnostic on some kind of technicality, although I really had strong atheistic beliefs and thought religious people were insane. I’d often ridicule them and call them stupid. I was pretty miserable and it took a lot of education to see that I was being just as dogmatic as the theist, and my dogmatism was clouded by that technicality of calling myself agnostic. Now I feel I’m truly agnostic, and life seems so much brighter and I’m a much happier person. At least there’s hope, and I’m not just giving lip-service to that idea on some technicality, saying one thing and believing another. I hope this makes sense!

  4. Thanks Dave. Excellent examples of the conundrum of the idea of eternal existence.

    By the way, I’ve been enjoying all of your comments on Nate’s blog. We think quite a bit alike. Have you considered starting a blog (or do you have one outside of wordpress)?

  5. Hi Tina (rung2diotimasladder) – as usual many good thoughts packed in your comment.

    I think the whole “create meaning” phrase can come across as confusing because it sounds almost majestic. I have used it before, but I try not to use it a lot because of that. If it only means what I said in the post (i.e. having and coming up with reasons to continue living) then I think it is possible, but it seems to imply more than that which is where I would agree with you.

    I can totally relate to #3 being hard to take. At this point in my life though I’d say that I’m content with any of the 3 scenarios. In some ways they seem irrelevant to me, because as far as everyday life goes I would live the same, and in fact my everyday life today is much the same as it was when I was Christian.

    I’ve been really glad to meet vocal agnostics online like yourself (and like Dave who commented also), because it seems agnostics like us are less inclined to be vocal like the explicit (positive) atheists. While I lean more toward atheism than yourself, I can relate to much of what you write. For myself, the label of “possibilian” (which you may have seen me write before) fits me the most. I like your expression here in your last paragraph of no longer having those negative thoughts toward religious people. That can be very freeing to see people of all different world-views with a bit more understanding and even respect at times. And I actually do understand your description of the “agnostic by technicality” – I’ve seen this online in discussions before and I’ve also seen it irritate theists.

  6. As always, this was an excellent post, Howie. And thanks for the plug. 🙂

    Your advice to consider that we’re all wired differently and may not find the same things compelling or have the same assumptions is terrific, and it’s something I fail at from time to time. There are definitely times when I find something obvious that other people just don’t seem to get, and vice versa.

    1) Consider a world where there is an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God who has created human beings for a purpose. However, God tells all of us that absolutely nothing (including himself) is eternal. All will come to an end at some point in the far future. But he tells us that he still has a purpose for all of us to be alive. Could this scenario be meaningful to you?

    Yeah, I think this would be meaningful to me. Though, to be honest, I’m not sure that I would find it much more meaningful that #3. I find it very freeing to know I can create my own purpose, and that I don’t have to submit to the whim of a deity. Not that I minded that when I was a Christian — I never found the tenets of Christianity to be burdensome, even though I was part of a pretty fundamentalist group. I wasn’t straining against Christianity, looking for a way out. Instead, this new-found freedom is just a nice surprise. It’s not something I had ever considered or ever thought I would want, but now I love it.

    Actually, I have a great example of what I mean. In 2007, the iPod Touch hadn’t been around all that long, and they hadn’t caught my interest. I already had an MP3 player, and I didn’t need anything as snazzy as the Touch. But my company ran a promotion for our locations — if we hit certain productivity benchmarks, then management at my level would receive an iPod Touch. I didn’t think much about it, but it turns out, my location hit the goals, and I got one. I’ve been in love with it ever since. It wasn’t anything I needed or wanted, but once I had it, I couldn’t imagine doing without it. That’s how I feel about the freedom of shedding religion.

    2) Consider a world where we all know for sure that there is no God (don’t ask me how – it’s a thought experiment!), and there also is no transcendent meaning beyond human minds. However, we also know for sure that human beings will exist for eternity. Could this scenario be meaningful to you?

    I think I’d find this most appealing of all the scenarios. It’s hard to imagine eternity, so who knows? Maybe I’d eventually be miserable. But as long as I could still vary my routine and experience different things, I think I’d enjoy this. I love life. I love my friends and family. And if there was a way to enjoy them forever, I think that would be great. Provided we keep making new video games, that is. 😉

    3) Last consider a world where we all know for sure that there is no God and there is no transcendent meaning beyond human minds, but in this last world human beings all die like we do in our real world. Also, we all know that humanity will come to an end at some point far in the future. Most traditional monotheists would not find this kind of life meaningful. But really think about it – what would you do if tomorrow scientists, philosophers, and theologians all got together and came to a 100% consensus that this is the way the world is?

    As you know, this is what I currently believe. I’m not too upset about it. I do find meaning in this kind of life, but I still wouldn’t mind life continuing on a bit longer. As someone once said, it’s not that the party’s over — it’s that the party is continuing, but you have to leave. That’s what death is. Everyone else will go on for a while, but we’ll miss out on what happens next. I wish it didn’t have to be that way. I don’t even have to know all the details of what happens next, but there are some things I do wish I could know: will we ever travel beyond this solar system? Is there life elsewhere in the galaxy? Will humanity colonize other worlds? What will happen to my children, grandchildren, etc?

    But while I would like to know those things, it doesn’t fill me with despair to know that I won’t. As I’ve said before, my “eternity” is the sum of my life, no matter how long it is. It’s not like I’ll be around to regret anything. And I’m okay with that.

    (Sorry to ramble on so long!)

  7. Howie,

    I got a little excited because I thought I had a clever comment about a third of the way through…and then you totally stole my thunder! 😉 a.k.a. GREAT JOB on this post.

    My comment was (going to be) about the connection between death anxiety / the desire for eternal life, and the desire for “ultimate meaning”. I’m pretty sure that’s a major factor in my desire for it.

    Per the comic, I don’t think I ever deluded myself into thinking I was “really content” as a Christian. Not for any long stretch of time, anyway. I think that discontentment drives (drove) my desire for more…more time, more experiences…. Not one of my finer qualities, I suppose.

    Is contentment contagious? Your wife sounds awesome. 😉

    Also, can you elaborate on this “agnostic by technicality” thing? And how does it irritate theists?

  8. Thanks Nate, and I’m glad you rambled, because wow – you really engaged with the post which is cool.

    Actually, I find your story of leaving Christianity intriguing. You were in quite a bit more fundamentalist group than myself but after only a little over a year of transition you posted on your blog that you were very content with your new world-view of atheism. Again this shows the wide differences there are in the way we’re all wired in perspectives and desires. For me it took several years of living life without religion – experiencing rewarding relationships, marriage and children, etc. to finally come to the point that I felt I really was content with my new perspective. And like I said, my wife never in her life had any desires for some kind of grand meaning, and I’ve met quite a few others like that as well.

    I have the same exact wishes to know what many things will look like in the far future, and that may be part of the driving force behind people’s desires to continue on.

    “It’s not like I’ll be around to regret anything” – this is exactly my own perspective on it. I wasn’t upset about not being conscious before I was born (which reminds me of a Mark Twain quote I can’t find right now).

    You made me shiver by bringing up the thought of life without video games. 😉

    Oh, and the iPod Touch rocks – you are the master of analogies!

  9. Hey Ratamcue0 – Yes, I believe discontentment can definitely be a part of the drive for more. Discontentment at times is a part of anyone’s life. Ups and downs due mostly to circumstances are natural. Some people unfortunately get stuck even after disappointing situations have resolved themselves or are long gone. I remember being stuck for a year or so after leaving the Christian “fold”, and the crawl out of that took a while longer than that even.

    I am pretty sure contentment is very contagious – I think a big part of my wife’s positive/healthy perspectives have rubbed off on me and I’m grateful for it. If you’re not married go out and find yourself a positive mate! 😉

    Ah, agnostic by technicality – Tina may have meant something different, but here’s how I see it: some atheists say they “just lack belief in gods” rather than that they “know there definitely are no gods”, but then when they have discussions with theists they talk as if anyone would be insane to believe that any gods exist. Now to be fair I’m kind of painting a bit of a straw-man here because beliefs are usually much more complicated than what can be said in one sentence, and a lot of atheists can and do clarify their beliefs better than what I just wrote. But either way I’ve seen several theists be a bit confused by this and even get the feeling that tactics are being used. Eric (unkleE) describes this thing better than I could in this comment.

  10. Great post Howie,
    Am in the camp of no meaning in and of life other than what we have chosen to give it. And I ask is it not enough to be alive. Must life have a grander meaning to be lived? Is it not enough to help your neighbour?

  11. Thanks Mak. Good morning to you as I am going to sleep on the other side of the world.

    Great rhetorical questions – life definitely doesn’t need to have a grander meaning to be lived.

  12. Picking up on Nate’s anonymous quote:

    “It will happen to all of us, that at some point you get tapped on the shoulder and told, not just that the party’s over, but slightly worse: the party’s going on — but you have to leave. And it’s going on without you. That’s the reflection that I think most upsets people about their demise. All right, then, because it might make us feel better, let’s pretend the opposite. Instead, you’ll get tapped on the shoulder and told – Great news: this party’s going on forever – and you can’t leave. You’ve got to stay; the boss says so. And he also insists that you have a good time.”

    – Chris Hitchens

  13. Very nice work! I’m constantly in awe of your ability to lay down thoughts on ordinarily decisive subjects and make it feel like a warm massage, rather than a punch in the face… something I’m gleefully guilty of 🙂

    Eternity is the great negater in this subject of meaning. It’s where, I feel, the theists’ appeals to the warm fuzzy collapse into an irreconcilable heap of broken dreams. Eternity is a ghastly sentence, the second worst possible thing imaginable… the worst being that you are the god God who is eternal and responsible for All, which must be considered the ultimate manifestation of loneliness. Of course, we’re approaching these abstractions from the human perspective, with limited human eyes and thoughts, so I guess its feasible the view is incomplete, but certainly from this perspective both notions are abhorrent.

  14. Thanks John. The “warm massage” vision had me laughing quite a bit. 🙂 I have a gift (or a curse) for empathizing with many different perspectives and having the ability to put myself in other people’s shoes and I think that affects my writing style.

    And you have the gift of eloquence – your writing paints pictures that describe a multitude of thoughts and emotions. I see irony in the whole eternity thing as well – like Dave’s examples of a good book or a good movie – if they continued eternally it feels like it actually removes meaning rather than adding.

  15. This is an interesting post. Thank you for the mental exercise.

    The first scenario is appealing to me, more so than the last, although I think the last is reality, sans the certitude. But I’ll make (1) my 2nd choice.

    I would certainly go for the second under the assumption that we could never know everything and the wonders of the universe/multiverse are endless, as would be our exploration of it/them.

    I find the most fascinating thing about life is the excitement of knowing that I do not know what lies beyond the next tree, field, mountain, star, universe. I revel in curiosity and curse the limitations of my mind, especially my limited abilities in mathematics. Thus, to me, there is nothing grander in life than the anticipation of discovery, even though I apply no more meaning to or of it other than my own, abiding curiosity and my ever-present fascination with the greatest mystery of all–and the spookyist–existence itself. Why is there not nothing? It is unanswerable, but fascinating just the same.

    I think that the human desire to find meaning in and of life necessarily follows from the evolution of consciousness/self-awareness. I believe that humans have an innate sense of insecurity born of awareness, especially awareness of our mortality, and that our religious constructs reflect our natural will to survive–to escape even the inevitable darkness. Of course, there are exceptions in the “salvationless” constructs of religion/ethical systems, but even they seem to placate fear of the approaching darkness with philosophy.

    As a character in my novel suggested:

    “The greatest fear of mankind is not an eternal Hell, but an indifferent universe. We fear that we are truly alone in a cosmos that cares not a whit for us. We fear that on a scale of cosmological time, we may be little more than a momentary growth of lichen on an outcrop of stone deep in the cold northern regions, and that all of our prayers, tears, bobbing heads, and lamentations will not entice the universe to say, ‘I am here, and I love you.'”

  16. Howie, another great post. I read it last night shortly after you published it but wanted to reply after having some time to absorb and think about it. I love thought experiments like this. To be quite frank, I would be OK with all three scenarios.

    As a devout believer, there was this uneasiness that something was amiss, and I expended a lot of energy trying to suppress that as though having that feeling was due to either “spiritual warfare” — like we were taught — the flesh warring with the spirit. It really created a situation that kept me from fully embracing life and my humanness. But what I came to realize was that my belief system wanted me to become desensitized to its anti-human message and an unethical god who didn’t practice what it preached.

    I don’t know if I’m making any sense because it’s hard to articulate my weirdness. 😉 Christianity did mess with my head when I was completely devout, but I didn’t realize how much until I shed my beliefs. I’ve always been a curious one and Christianity wanted to suppress that. It wanted me to be content that it was the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It wanted me to be content with a god who invented genocide. No need to ask questions because that might show you have doubts and doubts mean you have issues with faith and having a lack of faith and trust is displeasing to god and could buy you a ticket to hell.

    So my point is that I am far more content now than I was as a believer, but the contentment is not forced. It feels natural. There’s a freedom in being fully human without all the baggage of religion. That freedom is meaningful to me. I think #2 would be cool because we spend a human lifetime learning how to make sense of our surroundings, becoming more aware which can harnesses wisdom, and just when we think we’re getting a handle on it all, we go down hill fast and end up 6 feet under.

    If there is meaning to be found in #2, it’s that I wouldn’t have to say goodbye to my friends and loved ones and could spend a lifetime exploring my curiosities. #3 is OK with me and I think I’ve embraced it fully. It is what I believe now. In “spiritual” circles, it is taught that you have attained a type of “enlightenment” once you’ve face your mortality. #1 would be OK by me, too, so long as this god didn’t have the behavior of a dictator and shame us for being human.

  17. @Max T. Furr

    I hope you see this as I was in the middle of writing my ramblings when you posted, so I wasn’t officially subbed to this post until I posted my comment and can’t reply directly to you. I wanted to say how much I resonated with your comment. You wrote:

    I would certainly go for the second under the assumption that we could never know everything and the wonders of the universe/multiverse are endless, as would be our exploration of it/them.

    I find the most fascinating thing about life is the excitement of knowing that I do not know what lies beyond the next tree, field, mountain, star, universe. I revel in curiosity… “

    My thoughts exactly. Eloquently and elegantly stated.

  18. Thanks for your kind words!

    I just wanted to add that in scenario 3, it’s still possible to live a moral life. I know you know this, but I just thought I’d put that out there. So in that sense, we’d still have a lot of the things we already have. Our relationships with each other wouldn’t change at all, and in that we could find a great deal of comfort.

    —Tina

  19. Howie, you will allow me to post some comments that I think are relevant to this discussion. It is quite long though so bear with me. It’s from lectures by J. Krishnamurti

    So, in discussing what is the purpose of life, we have to find out what we mean by ‘ ‘life’ ‘ and what we mean by ”purpose”not merely the dictionary meaning, but the significance we give to those words. Surely, life implies everyday action, everyday thought, everyday feeling, does it not? It implies the struggles, the pains, the anxieties, the deceptions, the worries, the routine of the office, of business, of bureaucracy, and so on. All that is life, is it not? By life we mean, not just one department or one layer of consciousness, but the total process of existence which is our relationship to things, to people, to ideas. That is what we mean by life – not an abstract thing.

    So, if that is what we mean by life, then has life a purpose? Or is it because we do not understand the ways of life – the everyday pain, anxiety, fear, ambition, greed – because we do not understand the daily activities of existence, that we want a purpose, remote or near, far away or close? We want a purpose so that we can guide our everyday life towards an end. That is obviously what we mean by purpose. But if I understand how to live, then the very living is in itself sufficient, is it not? Do we then want a purpose? If I love you, if I love another, is that not sufficient in itself? Do I then want a purpose? Surely, we want a purpose only when we do not understand or when we want a mode of conduct with an end in view. After all, most of us are seeking a way of life, a way of conduct, and we either look to others, to the past, or we try to find a mode of behavior through our own experience. When we look to our own experience for a pattern of behavior, our experience is always conditioned, is it not? However wide the experiences one may have had, unless these experiences dissolve the past conditioning, any new experiences only further strengthen the past conditioning. That is a fact which we can discuss. And if we look to another, to the past, to a guru, to an ideal, to an example for a pattern of behavior, we are merely forcing the extraordinary vitality of life into a mold, into a particular shape, and thereby we lose the swiftness, the intensity, the richness of life.

  20. Howie,
    Good stuff. Something I’ve thought quite a bit about but have only addressed in bits and pieces in unpublished drafts. I have a few thoughts that I’d be interested in your comment on:

    – Perhaps my western bias is absolutely blinding, but I can’t wrap my head around intrinsic meaning (or value) that is separate from a mind. A case could be made that all of our conflicts arise when one person/group undervalues something relative to another person/group. Meaning/purpose/value seems to be intrinsically bound to agents. Nagel tried to define an atheistic intrinsic value but I couldn’t make heads or tails of that either. Any other pointers on how to get a handle on that perspective? Is it worth trying to understand?

    – I’m a bit surprised that you prefer scenario #1 and find nothing in scenario #2. Perhaps its just my confirmation bias, but when I read the comments at Nate’s blog I saw a strong leaning toward the significance of eternity. From my perspective, #2 offers the best of both worlds. Humankind as a species takes the place of “God” in terms of atemporal value, and it’s perhaps better because it’s something that we are each individually inherently bound to. We are part of the whole. Being part of the grand story of the people who defeated nature and saved themselves has a themetic ring that bears a striking resemblance to the redemptive story of religion. I gather that there are many who view #2 as an actual possible scenario. They would suggest that perhaps one day we, or rather our super-intelligent quantum-computing infused conscious offspring, will figure out how to circumvent the heat death of the universe. I can’t say whether we should rule that out of the realm of possibility. What do you think?

    – I find your wife’s perspective interesting. If you keep asking why something matters, where do her answers end up? Do they just loop back to herself? For example, assuming she does anything that helps the environment, where does the inquiry lead to if you keep asking why she does that? I think it pretty much has to loop back to yourself but for most of us this creates a conflict with an internal sense of social obligation and personal sacrifice for the benefit of the whole. Does she not sense that conflict? I suspect that this is where much of the intuitive desire for ultimate meaning finds its roots. Have you encountered any discussion that links game theory and ultimate meaning? I’m inclined to think that there’s a relation to be explored there.

  21. Well written Howie. I’m impressed by how much discussion it generated. I thought it might be interesting to answer from different perspectives at first:

    Scenario 1 (God exists, no eternal states): The nihilist answer is no. The existentialist answer is yes.
    Scenario 2 (no God, eternal states exist): The nihilist answer is yes. The existentialist answer is yes.
    Scenario 3 (no God, no eternal states): The nihilist answer is no. The existentialist answer is yes.
    (Notice I can’t answer from a Christian perspective because the variables of the thought experiments are already decided in Christianity. I think while I was agnostic I was more into existentialism just to give you an idea of how I would have answered during that time).

    The existentialist would say “yes” to any sort of reality, because in this philosophy, we create meaning in a sort of ex nihilo way. The true existentialist would even have to reject there being any sort of objective meaning built into the fabric of reality.

    The nihilist requires consciousness to be eternal, not necessarily individual consciousness but at least these must contribute to the next generation for an eternity of generations. So, the certainty of death and human extinction, a nihilist would argue, justify any action including immoral ones.

    Christianity and (to my understanding) also Buddhism are both through-and-through anti-nihilistic. Atheism, in general, has a more difficult time arguing against nihilism. That’s the major point I was trying to make in our previous conversation which I had trouble communicating. And this isn’t necessarily because Christianity is a morally superior philosophy, rather it’s an artifact of atheism being less connected to views of morality and afterlife. I do think that most atheists these days reject nihilism and adopt both existentialism and secular humanism. However, there’s nothing inherent to atheism that connects it to either one of these. Some might see it as a deficiency of atheism, some would not. Naturalism is also more or less orthogonal to nihilism.

    All this to say, as a postmodernist, I think we can combine and recombine all these ideas in any combination. As a Christian, I believe that we create our own meaning and we can either align with God’s meaning for us or reject it. This is offered to everyone regardless of their starting point.

    Anyway, thanks for a thought-provoking post!

  22. Oh one thing I forgot to add: versions of atheism and naturalism that reject freewill seem to be nihilistic on an intellectual level, although they always end up arguing that we should accept the illusion of meaning. I’m thinking of atheists like Sam Harris. This definitely adds another layer of complexity! 🙂

  23. Thanks Max – you’ve got tons of great thoughts packed into your comment. And like Victoria I can very much relate to your expression of excitement in curiosity.

    Oh, and the “Why is there anything?” ranks as the spookyist mystery to me as well. The question has intrigued me since junior high school. I just finished reading a book on that subject recommended by John Zande and I plan a post very soon on it.

    Is that character from your novel “The Empathy Imperative”? I just read the description on Amazon and it looks very interesting. I’ve added it to my booklist which has gotten very long since I’ve started blogging. I’m a slow reader, but if I live for eternity then I’m guaranteed to have the time get to it. 😉

  24. Thanks Victoria. What you wrote makes total sense and this stood out to me the most:

    I’ve always been a curious one and Christianity wanted to suppress that. It wanted me to be content that it was the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

    I’ve been a curious as well as a questioning person all my life as well and that was an issue for me as a Christian. I love it that I can question atheism and naturalism all I want and not have any guilt feelings about that. In the Christian circles I hung out with doubt was considered “ok”, but there always was the feeling that it couldn’t be taken too far. I feel much more free now to truly pursue reality which was always what I wanted to do in the first place.

    Here’s the interesting thing – when you are not a believer Christians urge you to be curious about their belief, but once you become a Christian then it becomes important that you are not curious about other world-views lest you be lead astray.

  25. Wow Mak, that’s some deep stuff. I got lost in all the questions. 🙂 Can it all be summed up in “the very act of living implies a purpose, and the purpose is simply to live” ? (It’s contagious, I asked a question too.)

  26. Victoria, regarding replying to someone on a post when not subscribed, try this out: go to your wordpress reader and click on “Comments I Made” near the top left. Then try and find the post which contains the comment you want to reply to. When you find it click on the title of the post. That should pop up a display that you can scroll down and see all the comments (you should also see the comments in threaded format). There should be “reply” links on all the comments. If it doesn’t work for you send me an e-mail and I can mail you pictures.

  27. Thanks Travis. I tried very minor edits to your post only to add dashes to split your points out which is close to what you probably wanted. Not sure if I got it right.

    You ask awesome questions that I could write way too much on, and I’m afraid I will.
    – I’m totally with you on not being able to wrap my head around intrinsic meaning separate from a mind. But that very wording implies that it’s just a foundational belief. Or do you have an actual proof of why this is impossible? I haven’t come up with one except that it goes against my experiences in life. But no, I presently don’t have any good pointers to perspectives like that. I suspect that any book written on it would just go against what you and I both probably have engrained in our minds from experience. My example of Taoism is the closest I’ve seen – the “Tao” is described as the “Way”, but any description I’ve seen of it really just describes it as a mystery, which isn’t very helpful. I find it interesting though that people like Einstein and Hawking clearly don’t believe in an actual God that has a “mind”, but yet they describe the universe as purposeful. But it may very well be that they are using artistic license in their wording there. My mention of the idea relates to my own approach toward metaphysics and ultimate questions in general. It’s a wide open field for me with huge amounts of uncertainty and even things that may go against my own preconceived notions are options on the table. I have this approach for a reason. I believe that human experience has shown us that being able to think outside of the box can help us to progress forward. The best example I have here is the concept that time actually bends. I have read about this from many different perspectives but still can’t seem to wrap my head around the idea. But apparently it seems to be a widely accepted idea in physics. The strangeness of quantum mechanics is another good example. Interestingly this applies to the idea of an ultimate “God” as well. That is an option on the table for me as well, but I can’t wrap my brain around it. First the idea of a mind not tied to anything physical is way beyond what I perceive as possible through experience. And even more mind boggling for me is the idea that there is a mind that exists for eternity outside of time. To be honest that almost seems like a clear contradiction to me, because the concept of existing for eternity implies that time is involved. Another related thing here is the idea that there are moral truths which are brute facts which exist in a Platonic sort of way. While this is also something that I don’t subscribe to (because I can’t wrap my head around it) I know that there are a lot of philosophers (some even theists) who believe this. If morals can exist as abstract properties then why can’t values or purpose exist in a similar way? I think too much, that much is sure.

    – This is fun, because now I get to share what I think about my own thought experiments, most specifically the eternity one (#2). In thinking more about it I believe I’ve nailed down my issues with having consciousness for eternity. Like most people, you have probably had the experience of thinking as a young boy or even as an adult that something you will reach in the future would be awesome (perhaps that perfect job, or whatever) only to reach that moment later on in life to think “and why in the world did I think this would be pleasant?” Wouldn’t you think that after about 832 googolplex years of life you may think “ok I’ve had enough”. To be honest, I’d imagine I’d hit that a lot earlier than that. So if #2 had the option of giving up consciousness if it became unpleasant then it would make it a lot more attractive. Going along with Nate’s ideas it would also be nice if there was the option to peek ahead to see how things in the future turn out. It’s my own thought experiment so I guess I’m free to add my own bells and whistles if I want right? 😉 Oh, and yes, I totally agree with you that your “quantum-computing infused” beings concept is a possibility.

    – I almost convinced my wife to comment, but she bowed out. I read your question to her and both of us were not totally clear on your point here. I think she felt that her reasons for acting in ways which benefit the whole do derive from her personal desires, even if her actions are sometimes self-sacrificial (because in the end being self-sacrificial brings her a good feeling even though there is a partial bad feeling in sacrificing other things which seem enticing). Not sure if that answers your question, but no she couldn’t see any connection to a desire for ultimate meaning and I’m not really seeing that either to be honest. I had a good laugh over the discussion with my kids because I whispered in their ears before asking her your questions that mommy would end the conversation by saying “and why do you care about this?” Turns out I am a prophet. 🙂 She also said “tell him that I probably have higher levels of oxytocin than the average person which may explain my altruistic feelings, and I clearly lack a spiritual gene, but beyond those 2 explanations the fact is I don’t really give a flip, and on days that I’m feeling ornery I don’t give a flying flip.” I love my wife beyond measure! 😀

  28. Howie,

    Suppose that you read at a rate of R pages per day, there have been N writers who have ever lived that will live eternally, and they produce at an average rate of W pages per day. I have a feeling that (N * W) >> R, so…

    I’m a slow reader, but if I live for eternity then I’m guaranteed to have the time get to it. 😉

    No, you’re not. =p

  29. Very interesting stuff Brandon (anaivethinker). I love philosophy when it’s communicated in a normal human way rather than in Greek, and you’ve done a good job here. I’ll admit to some confusion on Buddhism, but I think that may be a caveat to some of what you’ve written. Many Buddhists do not believe in an ultimate creative God (even though many of them believe in spirit beings which they may call gods, but they are really just like us but have reached a higher level). So when you say that Buddhism is anti-nihilistic and that atheism is a bit more nihilistic I don’t think that’s quite right. I think what you mean is that the popularized forms of atheism have a hard time arguing against nihilism, and I’d tend to agree there, although even then there is a great plurality of beliefs among atheists. If atheism really is just not believing that gods exist then I would say that it really is not a worldview and so we can’t make very many overarching conclusions about it. As you know I’ve been reading up on “religious naturalism” which assumes atheism, and that is definitely not nihilistic. Would you say all this is a fair assessment?

    On your other comment regarding free-will, the whole topic has always felt bizarre to me and I don’t know what to draw from it. I look forward to reading Travis’ recent post on it, but I need to find several free hours when I read Travis’ blog, because his posts are so packed with good information and deep concepts difficult to grasp.

  30. Howie,
    Thanks for formatting my comment. Must be something about your theme that doesn’t like ordered list tags. Anyway…

    – Regarding intrinsic meaning, I think the fact that those discussions resort to mystery is a key issue. It’s like they’re trying to use our understanding of “purpose” as we know it in our everyday sense to describe something that is different yet similar. Pretty hard to communicate those kinds of things so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I don’t get it.

    – I guess I misunderstood the scenario you had envisioned for scenario #2. I didn’t take it to mean that each individual would live forever, but rather that the species would go on forever. That we are, in a sense, part of the winning team. How does that change things?

    – I love how you make your blog a family affair. I think you guys understood the last part of my comment better than you think. The key response was that “her reasons for acting in ways which benefit the whole do derive from her personal desires”, which is what I expected because its really the only thing that makes sense. I was attempting to link that into the desire for ultimate meaning by observing that this conclusion – that we’re really just acting selfishly – doesn’t sit well with us so we keep looking for better reasons. The search for the true, final purpose. I wasn’t very explicit about why I then turned that into a question about game theory. This stems from the fact that there seems to be something strange going on. Generally speaking, our reasons for acting are ultimately self-serving but we tend not to like this conclusion. Why would that be? The theist says that it is because we’ve been created with moral compass and a desire for God which leaves us otherwise unsatisfied. The naturalist doesn’t really have any firm answers but game theory seems to be a good candidate. It basically says that we can evolve to value unselfish behavior because ultimately it actually benefits us as a member of the group. It seems to me that this same reasoning could explain our desire for ultimate meaning. Even though our reasons and purposes are ultimately selfish, we are evolved to achieve this through the filter of cooperation within a group, thus a sense of wanting to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Make sense?

  31. “That too me seems to be the answer. If there is any purpose to life, then it must be to live.”

    Noel (Mak) I agree. One of my favorite quotes from Joseph Campbell is:

    “Life is without meaning. You bring the meaning to it. The meaning of life is whatever you ascribe it to be. Being alive is the meaning.”

  32. “That too me seems to be the answer. If there is any purpose to life, then it must be to live.

    Howie, thanks so much for the pointers. I’m replying from my from my reader, although I will say that when you type, it takes a while for the reader to catch up. Nevertheless, a great tool to have. 🙂

  33. Travis,

    – Agreed.

    – That’s funny, because I was originally going to split scenario #2 into 2 different ones but was running almost twice as long as I usually do on posts. The one you mention here was another one I was thinking about and was actually even wondering if someone would interpret what I wrote that way. Turns out you did! 🙂 Yes, I agree with you very much here. This scenario would actually be one that could feel very rewarding. I don’t feel a strong need for it, but it would be nice to think that there are things I could do today that would affect other humans for eternity. And as you mentioned before, I don’t think any of us should be completely certain that this is out of the range of possibility. So if people really do have some need for eternal states affected by our actions then one could rely on the fact that there really is a possibility of this being true, even if they are atheist. There ya go, problem solved. 😉

    – Ok, yeah, I see your point now (I think I missed it a little before). When it comes to my wife, she always tells me very simply that these sort of conundrums which sometimes bother me just don’t affect her. The response I quoted her on in my previous comment to you was her jokingly expressing that. She always tells me she’s got so many better things to be doing than ruminating about philosophical issues. I think that’s an incredibly healthy perspective. As for myself, I can tell you that years ago I did express this exact angst with my pastor when we were meeting weekly in my “post-Christianity” phase, so I do know exactly what you are trying to articulate here. I’m no longer really bothered by this as it just seems like the way things are, and I’ve taken on a bit of that so what attitude like my wife. As far as game theory I know only as much as one could find in simple articles on the web, and your description of the evolutionary aspect is exactly what I get from that. My wife is a history of science buff (it was one of her college majors) and she read “Worldviews, An Introduction to the History and Philosophy of Science”, by Richard DeWitt. She mentioned that the end of the book gets into game theory a little bit, but I’m doubting that it would tie it to ultimate meaning. I’ve been slowly reading the book, and I think it would be one that you would like very much.

  34. Victoria – I just found out about that little “side door” in wordpress a few weeks ago and also found that through the same mechanism you could even press “like” for comments on any post you’ve commented on. I saw the threading and thought that was cool too. WordPress is weird to me. It’s got a lot of these features that seem hidden. And then it’s got old and new features of the same thing sometimes (like stats – the old stat page is still around). I still have a very hard time finding the page which controls the comment threads I’m subscribed to.

  35. Victoria, I like that quote.
    I think being cosmic orphans is the hardest thing for the members of our race. We seem to create gods who we end up fearing and asking ourselves questions whose answers we don’t like. Silly human beings

  36. Aren’t we though? There are definitely side-effects of being weened from the comfort and security of our mothers, not to mention death anxiety. In my opinion it really boils down to leaving that comforting space in the womb. It seems that the vast majority of people never fully recover from having their umbilical cord cut. I do not mean that as sarcasm. I just think that this longing that people experience has do to with attachment or lack of attachment with their primary caregiver. You certainly see the symbolism all throughout the bible, e.g., sucking of breasts, milk of the word, new born babies, born again, yada yada yada.

  37. It could explain some of these problems. Maybe this explains why to so many people atheists are not good people, by your constant questions you take the rugs under people’s feet all the time

  38. I agree. I’m not sure to what depth you took your love with god but I did have sincere love for the god of my culture over the span of 40 years, and I can relate to how believers would feel having their belief system questioned. I doubt anyone would take it lightly that they gave their best love away to a myth. I am fortunate in the fact that I was never around for had constant questions from atheists when I was going through deconversion. I was my own worst enemy. 😀 I was the one with constant questions to myself.

  39. Of late I ask myself how much I really believed, at some point I had a lot of faith god would do things for me. How much love I had for god, I am unable to really recall. It looks like such a long time.
    By the time I started meeting atheists, I was well on my way out. The train had left the station driverless and it was hurtling down at unstoppable speeds.

  40. Definitely a fair assessment, Howie. To my understanding there are different ideas in Buddhism, but some sort of justice in the afterlife and purpose for reaching nirvana are anti-nihilistic. The part about deities isn’t really required to be anti-nihilistic. It’s more about the continuation of existence and consciousness and some sort of objective (i.e., freeing oneself of desire to reach nirvana). I was at the British Museum a few weeks ago and was reading about how Buddhists believed in hell and they depicted a sort of demon figure to represent this. But, the caveat is there, my understanding of Buddhism is superficial to be sure.

    Worldview’s in which freewill does not exist are nihilistic, and many strains of atheism seem to fall into this category. But, they can’t be nihilistic and criticize the Old Testament, so they claim that we should embrace the illusion of meaning and morality regardless if it just doesn’t exist. It’s very much what Max T Furr said about the human condition, we would rather embrace anything than nihilism, even if it’s a totally false illusion.

  41. LOL — that’s really deconversion in a nutshell. Once the train gets to moving down the tracks it picks up momentum, and there’s no stopping it. Took a while for me to get on board, but once I did, I was in for the ride of my life. Talk about g-force. 😀

  42. And I chose the fast train, there are no bumps on the track. A good ride really.
    Howie will kill us for having our evening conversation on his brilliant post 😛

  43. anaivethinker- I don’t think if nirvana in Buddhism is about any justice in the hereafter, if anything, the concern is about living so that you don’t have to be reborn. It is not a life denying philosophy per se, but life affirming. Live well, achieve enlightenment, surpass the gods- you know that kind of thing.

    Atheism isn’t a worldview and one would expect if you don’t know this you would know by now given the amount you spend on atheists sites. A believer who thinks predestination is true has no use for freewill. Regardless of what you do, you are destined for fire, what is the use of freewill. And besides the question of freewill has nothing with atheism, it is a philosophical/ natural science question.

    And you can’t say because one does not believe A he can’t criticize B. This, even for you, is bad.

  44. Howie will kill us for having our evening conversation on his brilliant post 😛

    Quite the contrary Mak, I’m very much enjoying reading your conversation. 🙂

  45. Howie,
    The argument from desire was one of C.S. Lewis’ big three apologetics (the others being the moral argument and the argument from reason) and I tend to think that there is something to be addressed in each of these. I perceive that this desire truly is a widespread phenomenon and so it should count as data in our search for truth. If we are aware of something that doesn’t immediately fit into our understanding of the world then we should probably consider the possibility that our view is in some sense wrong. So, while I appreciate the pragmatic stance you and your wife have taken regarding this topic I am compelled to dig deeper, in search of a better understanding.

    Also, thanks to both of you for the book recommendation. Looks like a winner and it’s been added to my ever expanding list.

  46. Thanks Dave. Excellent examples of the conundrum of the idea of eternal existence.

    By the way, I’ve been enjoying all of your comments on Nate’s blog. We think quite a bit alike. Have you considered starting a blog (or do you have one outside of wordpress)?

    Thanks Howie, I enjoy reading your comments as well. I had been planning to start a wordpress blog for a while now, so I’m glad you brought that up because it prompted me to hit the “create blog” button. Now I just have to figure out how it all works.

  47. Victoria,

    Aren’t we though? There are definitely side-effects of being weened from the comfort and security of our mothers, not to mention death anxiety. In my opinion it really boils down to leaving that comforting space in the womb. It seems that the vast majority of people never fully recover from having their umbilical cord cut. I do not mean that as sarcasm. I just think that this longing that people experience has do to with attachment or lack of attachment with their primary caregiver. You certainly see the symbolism all throughout the bible, e.g., sucking of breasts, milk of the word, new born babies, born again, yada yada yada.

    Wow. That was…profound. 🙂

  48. Travis,

    The argument from desire was one of C.S. Lewis’ big three apologetics…and I tend to think that there is something to be addressed in [it]. I perceive that this desire truly is a widespread phenomenon and so it should count as data in our search for truth.

    I believe I share the desire, in some ways at least, but I don’t see why that should be considered a persuasive apologetic. It seems like wish thinking to me.

  49. Hey ratamacue0,
    To be clear, my point wasn’t so much that it should be considered persuasive, only that it should be accounted for. If this longing is truly a part of human nature then we should at least be able to offer reasonable explanations for its existence. If you find that explaining it as nothing more than “wishful thinking” is sufficient for you, then so be it. I agree that our capacity to anticipate, and thus desire, things beyond our immediate perception is a key part of the equation, but I also want to know why we desire this particular thing. It’s not clear why a desire for ultimate meaning is a natural outcome of evolution – which is the mechanism upon which naturalism relies when explaining widespread aspects of human nature – so I think it’s worth further exploration.

  50. Travis,

    I appreciate you response, and I think I mostly agree.

    we should at least be able to offer reasonable explanations for its existence.

    I’m not sure about this part, though. At least on atheistic and evolutionary premises, humanity has lacked explanations for many many phenomena for millennia. Some of those conundrums continue to the present day. And alleged answers to these “big questions” remain hotly contested.

    If there is no benevolent deity, then I don’t know of any reason to think that we’ll necessarily find answers to such questions. But by all means, let’s try. (Or “aspire”, if you will.) 😉

  51. ratamacue0,
    Yes, we may not find definitive answers to our questions and this is why I qualified explanation with reasonable. When we fail to find satisfying answers within the naturalist paradigm, that result in itself should weigh on our overall perspective. Ignoring a naturalistic difficulty is akin to accepting divine mystery as a satisfying answer to theological conundrums. We agree that dogmatic adherence to an explanation is misguided and this is all the more reason to be vigilant against falling into those old traps. Turning a blind eye to evidence that does not fit our current perspective is exactly the type of mindset which we claim to have shunned. So, if something appears to be an odd fit with our current worldview then let us by all means “aspire to find truth”. If our efforts fail to find justifiable congruence with the rest of our worldview then we ought to consider whether it is our foundational assumptions which need an adjustment; just as we did before.

  52. Excellent post Howie! I think your most insightful point was that we’re not all wired the same. Religious believers need to understand that all nonbelievers are not Nietzsches lamenting the ultimate senselessness of reality. I don’t know that reality is ultimately pointless, but if it is, I’m okay with it.

    But I also understand that there are many people who crave meaning, who yearn for their lives to have a purpose that fits in an overall ultimate purpose of reality. (The medieval diagrams showing a strict hierarchy for all beings, where everyone has a place and a role, existed for a reason.) Some of them crave this due to the harshness of their life circumstances, others because they’re just wired that way. They’ll look for that meaning anywhere they can find it.

    The main thing is we all have to live together, those of us who crave meaning, and those of us who are fine with just rolling our own. Those who insist that *their* way is the only right way are the problem.

  53. Hey Brandon – I think you are totally right that there are different ideas in Buddhism. It’s just like Christianity. I once glanced through a book that had a chart of all the different Buddhist offshoots and it was huge! My understanding of nirvana is more like Mak’s but I’m not sure it’s worth the discussion at this point since both of our understandings are a bit superficial.

    I’m still not sure about the whole determinism/freewill thing and from what I’ve read, a lot of atheists deny libertarian freewill. To be honest I find all of the viewpoints on freewill to have aspects that are troubling to me, but I need to read more on it to be clearer.

    As far as being nihilistic and not being able to criticize the Old Testament, I actually disagree but only because I think there is a different way to look at it than you do. I plan on a fuller post on this topic because I still want to actually reply to the stuff you’ve written about the Old Testament on Nate’s blog but my thoughts are too long to put in a comment. For now I’ll just say shortly that I think a nihilist can criticize belief in the Old Testament views because they see it as an internally inconsistent viewpoint. They could also criticize it simply because they and many others see it as a belief that could end up harming society – in this case they wouldn’t be saying that it’s objectively wrong, but only saying that they and many others don’t like it because they think it is harmful. I do agree with you though that sometimes atheists don’t clearly make these distinctions and so it looks contradictory. I am guilty of that myself.

    But I’d rather talk about the whole question of the desire for meaning. I wonder what you think about scenario #2 (either the case where all of us live eternally, or the case where all of us die but there are always human descendants existing at all points in time eternal.) I’m not asking for what the Christian perspective is about it. I’m just wondering if this kind of scenario would resolve the meaninglessness of atheism which seems to be unappealing to you. Just attempt for the moment to imagine in your mind that the scenario is a reality.

  54. Travis,

    If we are aware of something that doesn’t immediately fit into our understanding of the world then we should probably consider the possibility that our view is in some sense wrong.

    I couldn’t agree more and I hope you didn’t get the impression I was suggesting otherwise. In fact this is why I write a lot that I haven’t concluded that naturalism is correct. And I am always very open to the fact that my current views are wrong. I am also still searching to understand reality as it truly is, but I think what you expressed in your previous comment was that there is some feeling of angst we all have over the fact that our desires for altruism end up being selfish, but I don’t see the need to have angst over that. That was my point of saying “so what?”. If my altruism in reality does come from selfish desires then I can live with that without being bothered by it. Unlike my wife I still pursue philosophical questions and I do have some desire to get answers, but I’ve also fully dealt with the fact that many of these questions are out of reach for humanity at this point in time (and they may always be). I think a psychologically healthy pursuit of ultimate questions is the way to go, and I think there’s reasons to believe that’s the case whether there is a God or not. My post here details this out a little clearer.

    But anyways, I think I’m still a little fuzzy on the desire argument. You talked about morality in your previous comments and linked it to a desire for ultimate meaning. It seems the desire and moral arguments are linked together then. Have you written a post that I can read about this? As for the moral argument for the existence of God, I’ve never found it compelling. I discussed this a lot in my morality posts. I do think the naturalistic explanations for morality actually seem to fit a bit more with what we see and experience, but I can see how many people could find the subjectivity involved as unsettling. This is a a heavy subject that I’m sure we could both write pages about. While it is very brief and in no ways definitive I did find this short article to be a bit enlightening on this topic.

  55. Ratamacue0 – After I told my pastor that I didn’t feel like I could call myself a Christian I stopped attending church, but he and I agreed to meet up once a week and discuss some books together. We would read through about a chapter each week and then meet for lunch to discuss it. We went through about 10 different books – Christian, atheist, general philosophy, and general science. We met for almost 3 years discussing books. I still meet up with him every once in a while but just to hang out and chat.

  56. Thanks SAP! I’m one of those people that have been on both sides – I craved meaning quite a bit long ago and still have a preference for it some now, but I am ok as well if the universe is pointless. There is so much in this life to enjoy either way.

    The main thing is we all have to live together, those of us who crave meaning, and those of us who are fine with just rolling our own. Those who insist that *their* way is the only right way are the problem.

    Very good point.

  57. Howie,
    I never doubted your openness. I was mostly just trying to express that even though we can be in a place where we are indifferent to the perceived absence of transcendent purpose, there is still something to be dealt with in the fact that the desire seems to be a part of human nature; though I grant it varies widely between individuals. So even if we are at a point where it doesn’t bother us, there’s still something out there that we could try to understand and explain.

    I also get that we can expend too much effort seeking answers to the hard questions. We all have to find the right balance and decide for ourselves when we’ve hit the wall on any particular topic. I guess this is one where I don’t feel like I’ve hit that wall yet.

    As to the link between the argument from desire and the moral argument, I was just postulating how these might share similar explanations from a naturalistic perspective. It seems like both could be partially explained in the context of the selection of traits which benefit the group through individual sacrifices (i.e. game theory – which Wright is referring to with “non-zero-sum games”). Though I haven’t written anything up on this, I agree that naturalistic explanations seem to better fit our experience of morality. I also recognize that evolution is inherently selfish and it is only through these group selection theories that naturalistic explanations makes sense. My understanding is that those ideas have only really gained traction in the last several decades.

    Thanks for the link to the article. I have several of Robert Wright’s books on my reading list and everything I’ve encountered from him in the past has made a lot of sense.

  58. Travis, I think it’s very cool that you have all the patience you do to wade through all of these tough questions. A lot of the literature can be very dry and confusing at times. You are right that even though there are some who really don’t have much desire for having answers to these deep questions there are a lot of people who do. What you said about balance is excellent. That’s really what I’m going for. The search for knowing what is real is very important even if we’re ok with realizing that some things are very uncertain. One thing I do believe is universal is our human desire to minimize suffering and history has shown that understanding the true nature of reality helps achieve that. We need people like you as well as all the philosophers and scientists who have the patience, skills and expertise to achieve that.

    Ok, that sounded a little over the top – I think I’m going to go do something mindless today. Enjoy your weekend! 🙂

  59. @makagutu, I did not mean to imply that reaching nirvana necessarily related to justice in the afterlife or reincarnation. I have no idea what Buddhists believe on this. My point was that a continued existence of consciousness or self, in some meaningful way, as in infinite human generations, reincarnations, heaven and hell, other variations of afterlife, that these make Buddhism anti-nihilistic in a way that the popular version of atheistic and naturalistic worldviews today are not.

    I realize that “atheism” does not always refer to a worldview, that it is an isolated disbelief in the existence of gods. That’s why I stated that atheism is not really connected to certain beliefs that would make it anti-nihilistic. So, I agree with you and also Howie on this point.

    You bring up a wonderful point about Christians who reject freewill. They are just like Sam Harris — intellectually nihilistic/fatalistic. They must somehow embrace the illusion of choice. I think no matter what we actually believe about freewill, we will pretend as if it were real somehow.

    Actually, I don’t think I disagree with anything you brought up, Mak. 🙂 That’s nice!

  60. “Even though our reasons and purposes are ultimately selfish, we are evolved to achieve this through the filter of cooperation within a group, thus a sense of wanting to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Make sense?” I’m a fan of game theory if for nothing else the mathematical logic required to make sense of game theory. I don’t think that utilitarianism necessarily equate with a desire for wanting to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. It may purely be a self-preservation necessitates group cooperation, but that neither justifies a need to find ultimate meaning or explains an absolute existence of ultimate meaning. The bigger question is why does finding meaning matter if one cannot know with certainty the answers to metaphysical or existential questions? I ask this of Howie often when he attempts to broach this conversation topic with me, but he’s absolutely right that it always ends with me exasperated that anyone should care when we have other questions to me that are of greater concern. If I feel compelled enough in the future to comment again, I may just expound on that, but truly, I don’t care. 🙂

  61. Howie,

    I plan on a fuller post on this topic because I still want to actually reply to the stuff you’ve written about the Old Testament on Nate’s blog but my thoughts are too long to put in a comment.

    I look forward to your thoughts.

    For now I’ll just say shortly that I think a nihilist can criticize belief in the Old Testament views because they see it as an internally inconsistent viewpoint. They could also criticize it simply because they and many others see it as a belief that could end up harming society. . .

    I think there’s one more thing I could say about this that is important for your blog post about meaning. To my understanding we both agree that there is a strong connection between human freedom and human moral agency. The connection is this – without the former, the latter cannot exist. This means that people who reject all conceptions of freewill, have no real, meaningful basis to offer moral criticism. Sam Harris is a smart guy and perfectly aware of this. He must know that his moral criticism of the OT is completely nullified, so when he finds himself offering criticism it must feel like an involuntary twitch. He must wish that something had value so that he could say that the “internal inconsistencies” he discovers had any real meaning and a purchase on reality that amounts to more than Monopoly money. I prefer to think of myself as the IRS and will not accept this fake money. It’s actually worse that he knows it’s fake and sells it as if it were real. That is more than a “contradiction” to me. That’s straight up counterfeiting.

    I wonder what you think about scenario #2. . . [would] this kind of scenario resolve the meaninglessness of atheism which seems to be unappealing to you.

    Well I don’t believe in Christianity because it provides more meaning than atheism. I had plenty of meaning when I was atheist/agnostic. But, suppose that we made a scientific discovery that consciousness will continue forever and we also made a scientific discovery which fully explains how and why the universe came into existence without God. Then, absolutely, I think there would be meaning to life in an anti-nihilistic way. We could never throw up our hands in despair and say that our lives are meaningless in the long term progression of things.

  62. Brandon – I’m not sure what Harris’ response to that would be but I would be interested in hearing it. Have you ever seen where he has responded to that charge? I don’t know if it is like mine but I could see how it could be without being counterfeit. I’m going to wait till later to hash this out a bit better with you. It may be a few months but I should get to the post.

    Your response to my question about meaning matches my own views, and I can say I’m surprised to hear you say you had plenty of meaning as an atheist/agnostic, but that’s good to hear. Perhaps you have some existentialism in you. 🙂

    I find it interesting that a lot of Christians make use of nihilist conclusions (i.e. that life is meaningless without God, or perhaps more accurately without eternal states). For example, William Craig tends to use Nietzsche a lot to bolster his “meaning” argument. But I would imagine that a lot of the Christians who had this viewpoint but then de-converted ended up changing their mind a little then. Otherwise we’d likely see huge numbers of suicides among the de-converted.

  63. Howie, I would have to dig into Harris’ material to be sure, but I do recall he addresses it to some degree. He focuses on questions like, if we don’t have freewill, then what’s the point of criminal law and justice?

    I agree with your criticism of William Lane Craig on this issue and there’re plenty of more examples out there. I think atheists get their religious-like needs fulfilled. Like when I was atheist/agnostic I was totally driven by my science career. I poured my life into it and loved it. It gave me meaning. I was not very well-adjusted and maybe that’s because I was a bit younger, but I definitely did not need religion to have meaning. Of course there was a problem with this. When one of my projects did not work, I was let down dramatically as if being suddenly emptied of meaning. My favorite part looking back is that I believed that my selfish desire for success was good because it would ultimately benefit humanity which is true, but probably not a sustainable way to live without dropping into deep depressions and possibly even having suicidal thoughts.

    So, while it’s true that religion is one of psychiatry’s best kept secrets for combating mental illness, it’s not because we can’t replace religion with other things. It’s that other things tend to fail.

  64. Yeah, that might have been a little over the top, but I agree that we are most able to meet our goals when we’re operating under an accurate understanding of reality, and that the sharing of ideas is a huge part of obtaining that. That’s one of the reasons why I think that the internet is at least on par with the invention of the printing press. We are becoming a global community who are elevating the best of each others thoughts and ideas and I think we are collectively becoming better for it, even if there is a lot of pointless noise out there.

  65. I’m not sure whether I should feel privileged or scared – or maybe a little of both – to have played a part in the emergence of The Wife.

    At the risk of adding to the exasperation, I shall offer a few thoughts in response. I assume that when you are equating utilitarianism with evolutionary applications of game theory you are defining survival as the utility. I agree that this does not necessarily lead to a desire for wanting to be part of something bigger, but it seems reasonable to wonder whether it might have evolved as an adaptive desire, serving to improve the cooperation between group members. We find it pretty difficult to pinpoint the exact object of many of our social desires, so that makes it harder to extract a story of their origin.

    why does finding meaning matter if one cannot know with certainty the answers to metaphysical or existential questions?

    because we don’t know what we can’t know until we’ve tried to know. As some of us don’t know enough to stop.

    If you’re exasperated now, you have my permission to take it out on Howie.

  66. Brandon,

    Ok, good, now the Brandon we’re all used to is back. 😉

    Of course there was a problem with this. When one of my projects did not work, I was let down dramatically as if being suddenly emptied of meaning. My favorite part looking back is that I believed that my selfish desire for success was good because it would ultimately benefit humanity which is true, but probably not a sustainable way to live without dropping into deep depressions and possibly even having suicidal thoughts.

    So, while it’s true that religion is one of psychiatry’s best kept secrets for combating mental illness, it’s not because we can’t replace religion with other things. It’s that other things tend to fail.

    I’d like to understand this further. First, in the context of your thoughts on “meaning” here what is your definition of religion? In other words, can you list the things that are required in a worldview to be labelled successfully religion so that one could achieve the type of “meaning” that does not tend to fail?

  67. Howie, thank you for your compliment and sorry to be late in response. Your “I’m Gonna” book shelf sounds exactly like mine.

    Yes, the quote is from a book (“Beyond Paine”) which the main character, Jeff Hale, wrote (non-fiction within fiction), and it got him in deep trouble with the Christo-oligarchs who were taking all political power in the U.S. and had control of the board of regents at the university where Jeff was teaching. The book put him near the top of the list of liberal professors targeted for a nation-wide purge.

    It may be of interest to you that for background, I used the factual history of the rise of the latest crop of neoconservatives, schooled (by Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago) in an esoteric, Machiavellian philosophy of having their desired ends justify their means of obtaining them and that a Nietzschean will-to-power should be their primary motivating force.

    In addition to adopting that politic of subterfuge and power lust, the neocons embraced Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, which you probably know is a philosophy advocating that one’s actions are rational only when one’s self interest benefits over the interest of others.

    Having established that background, I simply projected into the future what might happen if the political pendulum did not swing back, but became immobile far to the right, caught up in an entanglement of corporate greed and religious fervor triggered by increasingly frequent world disasters thought to be (and in reality were) signs of the beginning of the biblical Tribulation.

    Evolutionary science is incorporated as well, asking the question; If evolutionary science is wrong, then was Descartes wrong and God was a deceiver, after all?

  68. Sounds like it’s worth the read Max. Ah yes, the Rand “dispense with altruism” idea. Sounds like a good idea to have some of that as a contrast to what empathy could bring. I’ve always avoided reading Rand I think because my empathy gene just wasn’t interested. 🙂 I’m gonna head over and read your preface.

  69. Thanks again Howie. You may be aware, as well, that Paul Ryan’s favorite philosopher is . . . wait for it . . . Ayn Rand. At one time, he insisted that his entire staff read “Atlas Shrugged,” a novel in which she clearly lays out her Objectivism. Since more folks in the media picked up on that fact early in the last primaries, he distenced himself from Rand.

    I am convinced that virtually the entire Republican Party has adopted the neocon world view–the Tea Party folks being an even more radical sub-category of those who have not tempered their lust for power and to dominate at all costs (to others).

    I don’t know if an embed code will work on this site, but I’ll make the attempt and post the source as well, of Ryan’s speech praising Rand at an Atlas Society Dinner:

    From https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFEyBKssP6Q

  70. Howie,

    Ok, good, now the Brandon we’re all used to is back.

    When I’m not being a stubborn polemicist, I’m as Rob Zombie grunts so eloquently, “More human than human” 🙂

    . . . in the context of your thoughts on “meaning” here what is your definition of religion? In other words, can you list the things that are required in a worldview to be labeled successfully religion so that one could achieve the type of “meaning” that does not tend to fail?

    Religion is just an impulse to value something as in worshipping and making something sacred. It is what we derive our self-worth from. Our accomplishments, success at work, families, spouses, children, entertainment, sex, pleasure, creating, expressing ourselves through art, friendships, communities, causes, activism, politics, scientific endeavors, and much more. It could be anything. None of this is essentially different from how the ancients worshipped idols. They prayed, offered sacrifices, and gave votive offerings so that their local god would give them something back or be placated. The only difference now is that we can remove the stone and the idea of gods and the gods we worship are much more hidden within reality which in some ways makes it more sinister and captivating.

    Here’s a quote from the speech I posted on Travis’ blog:
    “Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship – be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles – is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million death before they finally grieve you.” – David Foster Wallace, “This is Water”
    I worshipped success at my job, in science. This is a particularly dangerous and foolish thing to worship because success is dependent on things outside of our power like resources and serendipity. Worshipping something else like a political cause or one’s family is probably less dangerous than what I did, but the principle is the same. The world will always let us down and we will always suffer for this. It’s just a matter of whether it’s a short painful annoyance or it does something much worse. Wallace ended up committed suicide, so it’s not an illegitimate to ask, what was eating him alive? Although it’s profoundly sad.

  71. Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, which you probably know is a philosophy advocating that one’s actions are rational only when one’s self interest benefits over the interest of others.

    Isn’t advocating such a philosophy self-contradictory, since it attempts to persuade others to accept the same, thus putting them in a position of potentially preferring their own self-interest above the original advocator’s?

  72. Brandon, you make some good points I agree with here – I agree that basing all of one’s meaning and worth completely in something or someone (sort of like some young lovers tend to do) is not healthy. Thinking that the things that bring you meaning are fully trustworthy and could never let you down would be an unhealthy and dangerous way to approach life.

    A healthy approach is to recognize that there is no perfection in the world. The world is a mix of disappointments together with some beautiful rewarding things (like sunsets, and beautiful vistas, which also could be ruined on some days, and could theoretically be destroyed if some huge disaster comes along). God or no god, belief or no belief, we all live with this mix of sadness and joy in the world we live in. The Christians I spent time with back in the day didn’t seem to be any more content than the secular people I know (and I’m not so sure they were worse either), so we all deal with the ups and downs of everyday life disappointments – there’s no avoiding that even if there are gods.

    I remember very clearly the “we all worship something” sermons back when I was a Christian. Listened to a few of those and realized back then that something was a bit wrong with the analogy. As a worshipper of the God I believed in back then, I put my trust 100% in him, believed he was perfect, bowed my knees to him, and committed my loyalty to him. It’s hard to see analogous things like that in enjoying relationships with a wife and kids fully realizing that we all die some day and that none of them are perfect. It’s a bit too much of a stretch to make this look analogous.

    Perhaps even the healthiest thing would be to deal with the fact that the idea of gods might very well be imaginary and figuring out where to go from there. Some religions in fact even teach that this is a necessary thing to do to achieve contentment.

    But theoretically speaking, if there really is a perfectly loving and caring God who is all powerful and is interested in all of humanity and could provide contentment to people no matter the circumstance (I’m not talking about the imperfect koranic or biblical gods who are described as demanding complete loyalty no matter what the command “or else” almost akin to a Lord Voldemort type figure) then I would agree that it would be wise to put one’s trust in such a perfectly caring God. But the problem is that it is in no way clear that this type of being exists, so given that, I believe it is worth it to face the fact that reality could actually not include such a being. And if such a being exists it would know how to make it clear to it’s created beings that it exists. On the other hand, interestingly enough, I’m not entirely opposed to the idea that even if such a being does not exist that conjuring up within our minds that one does exist could possibly bring happiness in a placebo sort of way – so maybe not unhealthy, but some have a hard time seeing how such a being exists given the way the world is, so that’s not such an easy thing to do for everyone.

    As far as suicide goes, I remember attending an FCA meeting back in college where a guest speaker spoke of a friend of his who committed suicide because he was so distraught over a doctrinal issue which he was very unclear about, and because he had friends on both sides of the fence pulling him both ways. There are stories like this we could bring forth no matter what the worldview is, and it’s hard to tell whether there were other unrelated issues going on in all of these people.

    I’ve rambled more than anything here, but I just wanted to give you some of my perspective, some of which agrees with you and some of which does not.

  73. Howie, thanks for your response. I totally understand how you draw a distinction between an unhealthy valuation and worship of a deity. And, you know, I kind of agree with you. The lines may not always blur between valuation and worshipping. It’s always more complicated than the way we like to have neat, tidy blanket statements like “everybody worships”. Unless something more sinister is going on. But, I don’t know. It’s above my pay grade.

  74. Brandon, thanks for a good conversation and for keeping it positive. Things seem to be much more productive when people give a shot at being more human than human. 🙂 I hope I’ve done some of that as well.

    This stuff is above everyone’s pay grade, we all just try and make it look like it isn’t. 😉 Nevertheless, we’ve all got something from our experiences and education that’s worth sharing.

    I’ve been doing a little blog lurking – are you still planning on that debate conversation with the other bearded man?

  75. I’m still considering that debate. I think it could be beneficial, but I always worry about these things. I don’t want to create an environment that is tense and competitive. What’s interesting is that he already read my blog post on presuppositionalism and has arguments in store for me. He even claimed that we don’t believe in the same God.

    Maybe at this point I should just commit and go for it! But, the whole thing worries me for some reason.

    Do you have any advice for these sorts of debates?

  76. Hey Brandon,

    I don’t want to create an environment that is tense and competitive.

    And how would that be any different than the environment in about 99% of religious related blogs? 😉

    I hear ya though, we both know how presuppositionalists can get, and Tribulus seems to match that. And perhaps you are also sensing that it isn’t worth the trouble because it doesn’t fit the main reasons you have for blogging. But it looked like you had already said you were going to do it, so I’d say probably best to start it off – you already said you’d prefer a conversation, so see if you can keep it on that level. I’m not sure it could be much worse than some other interactions you’ve run into.

    I debated a presuppositionalist once before and I couldn’t go very long without realizing we were going in circles. It was hard to have a discussion with someone who basically says they know for sure the bible is 100% true and they know for sure that their interpretation of it is the correct one – after that I told him there wasn’t much to talk about since it seemed that he considered himself like a god, but that my best guess was that he was human like the rest of us and capable of being wrong.

  77. Thanks, Howie, that was helpful. The part about the debate going on my blog is so true! But ultimately I think it’ll be OK. I guess I’ll go for it and see what happens. 🙂

  78. When I read your thought experiments, I was very surprised at how easily I came to answer 1, 2, and 3 as yes.

    I would prefer that something of me goes on forever, but if not, I’m not going to complain too much.

    Maybe there’s just a certain level of comfort I’ve achieved with existentialism, a certain contentedness I’ve built up over believing that I can choose my purpose in life. So, in order to stay out of Sartre’s bad faith box, that means I’ve got to actually choose.

    I guess I’d have to say that the meaning of my life is to help the universe become conscious, as much as it can, of itself.

    I honestly find this much more comforting than “I live to serve God.” I say all this as a theist, by the way.

  79. I believe in, or at least strongly suspect, a base model god.

    This means that instead of God as a moody man who lives in the clouds and smites people, I simply believe in some entity that violates causality and made the universe begin. If you really strip the concept of God down, that’s all you need.

    So, such an unmoved-mover God would have no particular reason to dictate moral or practical concerns to us. He/she/it/they might not even be aware we exist. He/she/it/they might be a bowl of cosmic potato salad, it doesn’t matter.

    As such, if we refrain from the unnecessary assumptions about god – like anthropomorphic characterizations, giving a damn about morality or the notorious fuster cluck that is being all good, all knowing and all powerful – we are left with a world completely compatible with an existential outlook.

    Thanks for this fascinating article,
    Ben

  80. I think deists have more in common with atheists and agnostics than they do with theists.

    (Atheists and agnostics are not necessarily separate categories, BTW. I personally am not yet sold on the “no such thing as pure agnostic” thing, though.)

  81. No such thing as a pure agnostic. Hmm. Do you mean this in the sense of bearded men in the clouds or do you mean this in the sense of agnosticism about all beliefs?

  82. Actually, from what you described, I don’t think both terms do apply. From what I understand, the main difference between deism and theism is whether the deity had revealed itself (or deities… themselves) to humanity. It didn’t sound to me like you believe that.

  83. There’s no reason the deity couldn’t reveal himself/itself whatever. I also don’t have an opinion on whether or not god actively controls things. I’m agnostic on the nature of god.

  84. Re “no such thing as pure agnostic”… I don’t think there are consistent definitions (usages) of “atheist” or “agnostic” that most people will agree to, and I’m not sure about historical usage, either… But here’s the type of thing I was referring to.

    Agnostic or Atheist: What am I? Positions of Knowledge: http://youtu.be/Q0T1pIJKji4

    If you search for agnostic atheist or agnostic atheism, there’s lots to be found on the subject.

  85. Ben,

    Thanks for stopping by, and I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I like the meaning you’ve expressed – the fact that the universe has taken the shape it has resulting in conscious beings which can look back on itself is pretty awesome.

    For me there are so many different things that bring meaning to my life (i.e. give me reason to live) that it would be hard to nail it down to any one thing. Just the interactions I have with other people every day brings meaning to my life. Also, I’ve written before in my other post on meaning another source of purpose for me:

    while the big questions seem unanswerable given what we as humans know at this point in time, and I have embraced that, I also can’t know for certain that there won’t be a day sometime in the future that this changes due to the increase in human knowledge about reality (as well as the changes that may occur from further evolution). While this seems unlikely to me, I can’t deny the possibility that humans will obtain concrete answers to these questions, and therein lies a great deal of meaning and purpose for me. The constant pursuit of truth and facts with the express purpose of helping the people who might live many many years from now is actually very inspiring for me and it is one reason why I blog about these kind of things.

  86. Ben, perhaps we could consider another option besides a sentient being. Theoretical physics is making progress in modeling a brane-generating multiverse. In other words, it is, at this point, a mathematical possibility. Another thing in favor is the fact that we know that an energy field exists because we everything in the universe is part of it.

    I think it is far more logical that there have been an infinite number of big bangs with energy manifesting differently in each and ultimately in every possible permutation of energetic particles. Some, possibly most universes would have no stars and planets at all, but some would have just the sort of particle configuration to have stars and planets.

    Yes, philosophers have called such a scenario “reductio ad absurdum” (reduction to absurdity), but isn’t the idea of an eternally existing god even more absurd? The very concept, to me, is well short of rational. Whence would such a being obtain its knowledge? If it was self-actualizing, then how could a being, composed of nothing, come from nothing, into nothing and nowhere, think about it with its nothing brain, and make it something somewhere?

    As I understand from my reading, so far, the multiverse or brane hypothesis has solved at least one of the problems in the Big Bang Theory–the fluctuation in the cosmic background radiation.

  87. God doesn’t have to be sentient.

    This is a big part of the debate between atheists and theists I find kind of silly.

    The function of the platonic form “god” is to violate causality and create the universe. We don’t need anything else. We don’t need sentience, we don’t need eternity, we don’t need self-actualization and we certainly don’t need a beard and heavenly home in the clouds.

    The debates, instead of focusing on the basic idea of God, gets tied up in all sorts of highly derived apologetics from Abrahamic practitioners trying to dress up their religious practices with empiricism on one side and empiricists trying to ignore the fact that empiricism is, itself, a set of faith-derived assumptions grounded on nothing more than pragmatics.

    Instead of tying ourselves in that (boring) knot, I think it’s much more fun to think about what lies beyond causality and, thus, beyond empiricism.

  88. “This is a big part of the debate between atheists and theists I find kind of silly.

    The function of the platonic form “god” is to violate causality and create the universe. We don’t need anything else. We don’t need sentience, we don’t need eternity, we don’t need self-actualization and we certainly don’t need a beard and heavenly home in the clouds.

    The debates, instead of focusing on the basic idea of God, gets tied up in all sorts of highly derived apologetics from Abrahamic practitioners trying to dress up their religious practices with empiricism on one side and empiricists trying to ignore the fact that empiricism is, itself, a set of faith-derived assumptions grounded on nothing more than pragmatics.”

    Actually, I was not “debating.” I was offering a view. I’m sorry that you found it “boring” and “silly.” I am one who likes to listen to all views and offer my opinion. I saw that you offered yours. I responded offering mine. I think we learn that way and I think learning is a good thing.

    I’m puzzled as to why you even bothered to post on this site if other opinions bore you.

  89. No doubt that truth is elusive. Who can even define what truth means? Doesn’t it mean different things to different people? That is, each of us searches for our own truth….If we were all created randomly, there would be no purpose to our lives, but certainly we could each value our own lives (probably, for different reasons). However purpose implies intent which implies an intelligent mind. Even well-known atheist philosophers like De Sade, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and Bertrand Russell generally believed that both individuals, and collectively mankind, have no purpose in the universe….but what can we discern about these questions when our brains and our sensory system is so limited. Furthermore, Einstein said that the universe was an illusion and went on to partially explain that, “Man experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.” So how can we really be certain of anything?

  90. Thanks for the comment John (chicagoja). A lot of interesting points. To me truth is what is real independent of our subjective experiences, but you actually bring up a very good philosophical conundrum regarding truth meaning different things for different people. My own definition of truth could be argued to be absurd in fact. But from a pragmatic stance I stick with that definition though because anything else boggles my mind too much. 🙂

    Your point about Einstein is actually a really good one. It reminds me of a show I watched several months ago starring Stephen Hawking. I think it was a Nova show but not sure and I can’t remember the name of it. But he talked quite a bit in there about reality is actually very different than what we all perceive of it and that each person is actually even perceiving it differently – perhaps implying there really are different truths thus relating back to that conundrum I talked about.

    But even if there is a thing such as an “independent fact of reality” it definitely looks to me to be quite elusive.

  91. You hit the nail on the head; that is, how can there be any such thing as that which is”real independent of our subjective experiences”. Somebody has to judge, to be the final arbiter of what is real and what is not. That someone will base that decision on their own subjective experiences – and that’s how we get things like, say, religion. Quantum physics says that matter is not what we think it is. So if we don’t understand matter, our thinking (no matter how logical) is bound to be far from perfect. Intellectuals don’t seem to get it. They think that they can solve any problem with their mind. Problem is that science has shown that our mind is not even in our body. As far as determining reality based on “seeing is believing”, don’t bother. Our eyes receive 2D sensory data and send it to our brains via the optic nerve. The brain then “interprets” the signal and converts it into 3D through a process which is a mystery to science. The area of the brain which is responsible for sight is smaller than a thumbnail and contains no light whatsoever. Yet, we “see” objects, say as large as the Empire State Building, which we believe are outside of our bodies…. It’s kind of a long way of saying that our experiences, subjective or not, are not reliable enough to form a “real and independent” assessment.

  92. That’s pretty much what Hawking was getting at in that show I watched, and to be honest I’m still not sure how to practically apply all that to my day to day life. For me it just means that the metaphysical questions (which is what a whole lot of religious claims really are about) are just too elusive to worry too much about. Not that I give up on thinking about and reading about them – yet at the same time putting them in their appropriate place in my life. Practical things like “don’t put your hand in that fire if you’d prefer not to suffer” are more clearer and there are many questions in that realm which can be answered if we start from basic assumptions of our common human experience.

  93. This is why I believe that life is not intended to be understood, but instead is to be experienced. The parallel in science (e.g. the famous Double Slit experiment) where the results of the experiment are affected by the observer. Obviously, the act of observation is an act of creation. In effect, our role is to allow Creation to observe itself. Try wrapping your mind around that.

  94. And that reminds me of some of Paul Davies’ ideas. Also I recently read a book which went into the different interpretations of quantum effects (e.g. the experiment you mentioned) and it was very interesting. I’ve been planning on writing a post on it but don’t think I can do the book justice in a short post.

  95. chicagoja and Howie, regarding “truth,” I have come to the conclusion that while, philosophically, we cannot know with certitude what is true, for pragmatic purposes, we need to understand that there are two kinds of “Truth,” subjective and objective.

    I think both of you know what I am saying here. Subjective truths are, for example, religious truths. They may have no relevance whatsoever to actual existence/reality, but to offer an objective truism; one cannot tell a drunk he does not see snakes when he does, in fact, see snakes. It is truth to him.

    Objective truth is independently verifiable. Thus, pragmatically, we have to follow science in its every progressing movement toward defining that collective, objective reality.

    Still, I submit that the greatest question of all is; Why is there not nothing?

  96. Einstein said that, “The human mind, no matter how highly trained, cannot grasp the universe.” That’s because, as science now knows, most of creation exists outside of our universe, beyond space and time. From another perspective, the psyche is not limited to space and time (Carl Jung). Scientifically speaking, reality is unobservable and therefore unknowable – ergo truth can never be objective. Sorry, but man will be forever trying in vain to comprehend the incomprehensible.

  97. Yeah, Max, I think the keyword for me is “pragmatically”. We could get mired in the deep philosophical questions of whether or not everything is subjective (because all our conclusions are based on human minds which could actually even be collectively faulty at properly viewing reality), but at the end of the day we’ve got to live our lives. So yes, I agree that following methods of independent empirical investigations along with critical reasoning is the way to go to make sure we’re landing as close as we can to what is true. These methods (which most of us put under the category of “scientific method”) have shown in the past to lead to reliable results in the realm of the practical.

  98. Thought experiments with “what if” scenarios are meaningless to me. These thoughts bring nothing but anxiety. For example, my life is quite busy with kids – schools, doctors appointments, classes take all the time and money. I have friends who don’t have kids. They travel, they enjoy social life, etc. I used to think “what would my life be like if I didn’t have kids?” But why does it matter? I do have kids, and there is nothing I can do about it now except enjoying my life. The past does not matter. We cannot see it. We cannot change it. We cannot enjoy it. The future does not matter for the same reasons. There are many good or bad things that may or may not happen. The only reality is the present. Past and future exist only in our minds. What we have is what we have. “What other things start with ‘C’? Who cares about other things! ‘C’ is for ‘cookie’ and that’s enough for me!”

    I like Alan Watts’ views on these issues.

  99. That’s very Eastern of you agrudzinsky. 🙂 And I’m very glad to have a wider spread of views now on my blog, which is what I originally wanted when I started blogging.

    I personally enjoy thought experiments and I think they can teach us about ourselves. They can also help us flesh out biases we might have, and help us think clearer. It’s kind of like walking or running is healthy for the body.

  100. Hey Howie!
    Great post, first of all. One thing that jumps out at me is it seems like we’re asking different questions, you and I. In your thought experiment you ask, in each scenario, whether one “could find meaning” in that world. I would certainly agree with you that one could find meaning in any of those scenarios. In fact, if we posit there is no God, then nearly all of us clearly do that now anyway. That actually gets to the question I was trying to ask, and am still not sure I can verbalize well.

    The atheistic criticism of theism, in general, seems to be focused on this question: How can one believe in something for which there is insignificant evidence, or no evidence at all (depending on who you talk to)? So, to turn the question around I’m looking at the seeming consensus among atheists that 1) The world seems to be here by random chance with no apparent driving force or direction, and 2) evidence seems to point to the eventual destruction of the universe. Those two pieces of information seem to lead us to the conclusion that nothing we do in our time on earth will have any significance as the universe and everything in it will eventually cease to exist. The point you are making is that one can find meaning within one’s own life to make this life worth living. I would agree with that. However, I think we would agree that, in this scenario, there is nothing outside of each individual to indicate whether that meaning is “right” or “wrong”. It’s a preference based on our life circumstances. In which case, any meaning I find for my own life has to be tolerated by others on the grounds that there is no “higher purpose” against which to measure my life’s meaning. I could spend my life making other people miserable by organizing against other’s race or sexuality and, aside from some vitriol from those groups, there really isn’t anything telling me I “can’t” do that. Also, there isn’t anything of substance to tell me I “shouldn’t” try to convince people they need Jesus or they’re going to hell. It may not be “true”. But, in that world, “my son’s life is inherently worth protecting” or “people deserve equality and safety” aren’t “true” either. There is no evidence or reason to believe those things, either. Sure, my son is right here in front of me in a way “God” is not. But, that he has any inherent rights or is owed any particular treatment is unsupported by any evidence. There simply isn’t any standard to measure one’s choices by in that scenario.

    Sorry for rambling. It’s hard for me to lay it out really well. Hope that makes sense.

  101. Your right about the lack of a standard. In that regard, Sartre agreed with Dostoevsky that “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” However, I find the feud between atheists and deists rather interesting, particularly since deists do not have a monopoly on God. This sentiment was best expressed by the Sufi mystic Rabia Basri who said that, “Since no one really knows anything about God, those who think they do are just troublemakers.”

  102. Hey Josh,

    Thanks for stopping by. Part of the difficulty here is that the subject matter can be a bit nebulous. I think I also confuse things because I always like to make the point that not all atheists have the same responses to your question. But for clarity sake I’m going to take on what you and I believe to be the mainstream “New atheist” viewpoint, even though my own views may not exactly line up with that. Please be patient with me and I think we can learn from each other in this.

    So taking on that “hat” I would answer you then by saying that I agree with you that there is no inherent right owed to anyone. But I don’t believe that then nullifies any of the points I wrote about meaning and purpose in the post. So yes, meaning and purpose are subjective values that each of us have. Very luckily large percentages of humans in the world share some of those basic values most of which rely on 2 main things: empathy toward others (which has naturally developed through evolution) as well as a recognition that we’re all in this together and if we live in a way that is harmonious toward others then it will end up making our own lives all the more enjoyable.

    Does that resolve the problem? I suspect not, and I could try to guess at why you don’t think the problem is resolved, but it’s probably better if I let you try to explain.

  103. Hi chicagoja-

    “Since no one really knows anything about God, those who think they do are just troublemakers.”

    I agree that God, if He exists, has qualities and traits which we know nothing about. The problem with a statement like the quote above is that it requires exhaustive knowledge. The quote is a bit like the elephant parable where each blind man is describing only part of the elephant. In order for that parable to be meaningful to the discussion one must assume they, like the man who can see the whole elephant, have a full view of what is being discussed. In order to say “no one knows anything about God” one must know everything about God and be able to recognize that none of the things we think we know are accurate. So, it assumes the very knowledge it’s attempting to discredit.

  104. Howie-
    I’ve got no problem with what you wrote. I just think, from that perspective, one cannot make any sort of definitive statement about whether another person’s actions or words are right or wrong. We have these discussions because we believe there is some sort of truth out there worth finding. Truth beyond simply whether or not a god exists. How should we treat one another? Should I apologize or shouldn’t I? We believe there are true answers to those questions, do we not? Saying that qualities developed in humans through evolution doesn’t really get us anywhere, I don’t think. It could be argued that every person’s beliefs and behaviors are the result of how their line of descendents evolved. It further supports the idea that we can make no judgements about anyone’s behavior. If they evolved that way, who are we to say that evolution was wrong in their lineage and right in our own? Evolution may decide which viewpoint persists long into the future, but it doesn’t carry any measurement of truth by which we can say one groups beliefs or actions are better than another. So, again, the person or group who discriminates against or belittles others owes those mindsets to a certain bent of evolutionary branch. We can say we don’t like it, but we can’t say that person “shouldn’t” behave that way. Are there human consequences? Sure. But, our own feelings of outrage or injustice are just as much owed solely to evolution as the other person’s discriminatory or belittling attitude. Appealing to an evolutionary mindset levels the field so much as to make the conversation almost impossible.

  105. from that perspective, one cannot make any sort of definitive statement about whether another person’s actions or words are right or wrong.

    Yes, there is no definitive statement in the sense that there is no answer that lies “somewhere out there (beneath the pale moonlight 😉 )”. Even if one was to claim there is something definitive, given that we are fallible humans we could actually be wrong about that. I personally believe (and now I’m taking off my popular atheist “hat”) that it is possible that there is something definitive out there. And it may even exist without gods. It could be what philosophers call platonic abstract moral properties that may exist in the same way that the law of non-contradiction may exist. I personally see this as possible but don’t see enough reason to claim it is true. I was surprised to find out that a lot of atheist philosophers believe this. You may be surprised to find out that some theists even believe that some of these “properties” exist apart from and along with the God they believe in, and they do this mainly to resolve a paradox within theistic moral belief.

    We have these discussions because we believe there is some sort of truth out there worth finding. Truth beyond simply whether or not a god exists. How should we treat one another? Should I apologize or shouldn’t I? We believe there are true answers to those questions, do we not?

    Yes, both you and I do have these discussions to find out and make sure we are correct about what is true about reality. With my “hat” back on I am saying that the truth about reality is that there is no definitive “out there” truth about the questions you are asking. Another truth is that you as well as many others (but not everyone, as I’ve met several who don’t) desire there to be these definitive “out there” answers. But the answers aren’t out there – they’re right here in the pragmatic realm based on our values and desires which do exist in reality – and yes they are subjective even though you prefer that they weren’t. The truth is that we all have different answers to specific questions you may ask, and even theists have different answers. But again fortunately a lot of us have desires that are in common. For example, we can all envision a world where all humans and animals are in excruciating pain. None of us want this kind of world because we are all sentient beings with feelings. So using our language we use the word “bad” as a label to describe a world like that. Not bad in a definitive “out there” sense, but bad in that it is something that all of us collectively do not want – in fact we all abhor it. That is the main basis for the “bad/good” language that atheists use.

    Saying that qualities developed in humans through evolution doesn’t really get us anywhere, I don’t think.

    You are right that it doesn’t get the “out there” answers you want. But I was stating my view of what is real (truth) which was what I thought you were curious about. I do believe however, that learning about how these things truly came about could at least help us to feel more confident in our conclusions and also help us see what could pragmatically lead to a more “good” world to live in.

    It further supports the idea that we can make no judgements about anyone’s behavior.

    The only judgments that could be made are statements about what goes against things that are collectively considered bad (like my example above). Again, it’s subjective which you don’t like, but we do have common value and desires that can lead us to building up a way which people should live to help us have a world that lines up with a world that’s far away from that awful example I gave. Could what we build end up being actually “wrong” in some definitive sense – sure, but claiming a certain book written by ancients has the definitive answer could also be wrong. But my claim is that there is no definitive “wrong”. In some ways the fact that we can’t make definitive judgments can actually be freeing and positive in our view of “others”. For me I have a pleasant feeling about not judging people. You may feel like I judge you for being a Christian but I don’t really judge you as you being a “bad” person for believing it – I just personally have different conclusions about reality than you.

    Appealing to an evolutionary mindset levels the field so much as to make the conversation almost impossible.

    It could also be said that picking a particular book (perhaps the Koran) and claiming that it is the book with definitive answers also makes the conversation almost impossible. I don’t know, maybe I’m not sure what you mean by conversation. We seem to be having a very enjoyable one right now.

    And actually, I could bring up a paradox in your own moral belief – how can you be sure that the book you have chosen actually is the correct definitive book on morals? What criteria could you use to make sure it really does represent the true “goodness” that you believe exists? Couldn’t it be possible that the book you choose is actually written by a truly “bad” god that is trying to trick you into thinking that his book is the one that you should follow? I would suggest some of the things in the old testament might even cause us to think that may be the case if we were to assume there does exist some true definitive “good/bad” out there somewhere. I think that the criteria you would use to conclude about this would come from your own personal senses which then unfortunately puts you right back in the subjective realm which you are trying so hard to avoid.

    —–
    I think what I’m saying is that much of what you write is exactly correct, but you just see it from your own perspective as unsatisfying. Josh perhaps in a nutshell what you are just expressing here is that you don’t like the truth that some atheists are espousing. You want there to be something definitive, but we are saying there is not. Or am I incorrect in that?

    I’m actually enjoying this because it’s clearing up things a little in my mind, and it’s also helping me prepare for a post I’ve had in my mind for a while now. I hope we can continue and I hope my writing style hasn’t risen the frustration level at all.

  106. I think you’re certainly right, Howie. Much of what o write is from my own perspective. I definitely could be wrong and/or misled. I also think you’re right in that my wanting there to be certain answers colors my view of the world and how I seek “truth”. I appreciate your perspective, and that you’re so gracious in how you express you perspective.

  107. Josh, I think you just graciously gave me the last word, and on my own blog even. But unfortunately there’s the wise saying that goes “he who has the last word is always wrong” – ok I just totally made that up.

    Seriously though Josh, maybe we didn’t resolve anything here and that’s ok. And this is probably a good break point especially after that crazy post-sized comment of mine. Believe it or not I could actually add some strength to your own argument, but problem is that I have a response to that too. I don’t know if you are plagued like I seem to be with the ability to see things from many different angles. 🙂

    Another thing I’ve noticed is that as much as I’ve tried I’ve never been able to build a worldview that doesn’t have some troubling features to it. That’s only one of several reasons for the title of my blog.

    I actually have a post I’m planning for early next year (maybe Feb if I can get rid of my writer’s block) that relates quite a bit to what I wrote in that long comment of mine. If you want you’re certainly free to add more then even if it’s just a re-hash. Have a very merry Christmas!

  108. So, I’m going to do the jerk thing and potentially open back up a thread that seems to be closing peacefully.

    I agree that the hangup between these two perspectives is the idea of an “out there” absolute standard. And yes, as an atheist, I don’t believe such a standard exists. So in that way, I agree with your critique of it, Josh.

    BUT, I don’t think this means we can’t make good/bad judgments. Moral decisions are based on a number of different factors. The opinion of the majority is one of those factors, but it can’t be the only one. Otherwise, things like minority rights can’t be called moral. Empathy is a big component of morality. It’s what helps those of us in the majority realize that equal rights are important, even if we disagree with the position of those in the minority. That’s why I was in favor of gay rights, even when I was a Christian who believed homosexuality was wrong. My overriding belief was that people should be free to make their own decisions and live life how they see fit. I wouldn’t have wanted to be forced into Islam, so it made me not want to force others to abide by my beliefs.

    So let’s consider someone who wants to rape people. If it’s what he wants, should he be allowed to carry out his desires? We all want the freedom to do what we please, after all. But this creates an obvious exception, because carrying out his desires would necessarily impede someone else’s. It’s this kind of thinking that allows us to look back on more primitive cultures and make judgments about how moral they were. Individual freedom must be balanced against the well-being of society.

    One day, humanity may cease to exist. In fact, that’s almost a guarantee if we allow for enough time. So if there’s no afterlife, does that mean all of our moral values are meaningless?

    My son’s favorite ice cream flavor is vanilla. There is no universal absolute that establishes what the best flavor of ice cream is; nevertheless, we would all agree that my son’s choice is the right choice, because it only involves his own preferences. Within the realm of my son’s favorites, his opinion is the only one that matters. This is a concept that virtually all of us are comfortable with.

    But one day, as much as I don’t like to think about it, his life will come to an end. His favorite ice cream flavor will no longer matter. Does that mean it doesn’t matter now?

    My point is it’s okay for us to make these value judgments. Whether or not they matter long after we’re gone is a bit irrelevant. While we’re here, they matter to us — within the realm of human interaction, humanity’s beliefs about morality matter. To me, that’s enough.

  109. Now let’s consider the flip side (I apologize for my lack of brevity, Howie!)

    Let’s say that there’s an absolute standard of morality, and it’s given by a God. Wouldn’t this be divine command theory? Or “might makes right”? After all, if we’re able to question the moral code, much as we question the morality portrayed in the Old Testament, then we’re not really dealing with an “absolute morality” are we? We’re back to the scenario that I believe we’re in, where we get to define morality as a society.

    If we can’t question the moral code, then what’s right is being defined for us by the most powerful being around. We typically call this being “God.” But defining morality based on who’s the strongest becomes problematic. After all, during WW2, Hitler defined what was “moral” in Germany, because he was in charge. Yet society later decided that “just following orders” wasn’t a sufficient defense for many of the Nazis who committed atrocities during the war. Instinctively, we seem to know that there’s a real problem with “might makes right.”

    And consider this: if Satan ever became powerful enough to defeat God, then under divine command theory, Satan would define right and wrong. Should anyone be comfortable under a system in which that is possible?

    And really, if Christianity is true, who’s to say that’s not what happened? You don’t have to read much of the OT to see God as a pretty terrible character. He dishes out a very steep penalty to Adam and Eve when they break a rule, even though he didn’t explain to them the purpose behind the rule. When Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife, he didn’t punish Abraham — instead, he punished Pharaoh and Ahimelech. When David lied to Achish, David was rewarded. He commanded the Israelites to commit genocide so they could take over the land of Canaan. When Pharaoh refused (or when God made him refuse) to let the Israelites go, God killed all of their firstborn children. Is it possible that an evil god’s been running the show the whole time? That’s what Marcion believed…

    To me, when considering the two scenarios, one in which we figure out our own morality seems to make much more sense.

  110. Howie, hope you don’t mind if I bring a little levity into this “heavy” discussion …

    Re: Scenario #2, you wrote we also know for sure that human beings will exist for eternity. While I might like this scenario and most definitely agree with the advantages of it (as so eloquently expressed by Max T. Furr), there is one thing that needs to be added: “Humans will exist for eternity … without aging or health problems“!

    I feel certain anyone who is in the so-called “Golden Years” or has experienced health issues will know what I’m talking about. 😀

  111. Hey Nate. Thanks for adding your comments, as you can tell from my comments we agree quite a bit.

    I’m still very open to the idea of a definitive “out there” standard either in the form of the atheist philosophical “moral properties” idea or in the form of a perfect god that represents true goodness. There are times where I think I’d kind of like this to be the case, because it would be nice to be able to say – there it is, this is what goodness is, and it just is a brute fact. But I feel that given our humanity and the things we’ve written here this is a bit of a pipe dream. And if there really is some standard out there I just can’t make sense of it going against the common human values that we have that abhors a world where conscious beings are suffering. Also, when I was a Christian I felt that it gave me the moral grounding that I desired, but there were those nagging feelings of cognitive dissonance regarding all the bible passages you mentioned as well as others. I felt that they did go against the common human values that we have, and so it ended up being an internal inconsistency for me that I could no longer stay in.

    I also find it interesting that my post on meaning ended up morphing into morality several times (even before Josh commented). It confirms my thoughts I wrote in my older post about meaning where I said that I thought there was a lot of overlap between meaning and morality because they are both derived from our values.

  112. Hey Nate-
    I agree with both your evaluation of how we can make meaning and moral standards even if the absence of a definitive standard. I also agree with the troubles that arise if we were to agree that God exists and the Judeo-Christian scriptures are His revelation. That does open up an entirely new bag of issues to hash out. Because I believe that God exists, Jesus was God and there actually is specific purpose to life doesn’t mean I have those things figured or understand them completely. One of the downsides I find to having these discussions is that I feel making a particular point can often involve inadvertently coming off as if I understand everything related to that point. That’s certainly not the case.

    Howie-
    Agreed on pretty much any worldview having issues. There is a lot within my worldview that I find hard to swallow, and even more that I either flat out don’t know or can’t comprehend.

  113. Thanks guys. I’ve heard someone say before that every religious discussion eventually comes down to morality, and I think I’d have to agree. 🙂

  114. Josh,

    One of the downsides I find to having these discussions is that I feel making a particular point can often involve inadvertently coming off as if I understand everything related to that point.

    I can totally relate to this Josh. It’s one of the reasons I held back for so long from blogging. I was only a lurker for a very long time. I think the fact that you and I both have this same perspective and approach makes it much easier for us to have a productive conversation. I’ve learned so much from blogging so I’m glad I decided to start.

  115. Pingback: Morality Without Gods | Truth Is Elusive

  116. Pingback: Morality Without Gods | Christians Anonymous

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