God and the Meaning of Life

In my lunch breaks I’m reading through Erik Weilenberg’s book Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe. In an earlier post, “Do Moral Facts Not Require an Explanation?” I commented on Wielenberg’s claims about moral facts not requiring any explanation.

When I first got the book, I first turned to the second section, which addresses the claim that atheism provides no basis of moral fact (yeah I know, I peeked). In “Confusing the Good and the Right” I commented on on the way that the book rather obviously confuses the idea of goodness with rightness. Now that I have begun reading the book from the beginning, I note that the first section of the book (there are five sections in total) likewise proceeds on the basis of a mere confusion of terms.

The first section is called “God and the Meaning of Life,” and it addresses a line of reasoning used by William Lane Craig, for example in his presentation on “The Absurdity of Life Without God.”

Craig says that if each individual passes out of existence forever at death, then it doesn’t have any ultimate meaning in the sense that in the long term it does not matter whether he existed or not. Granted, as some might immediately point out, it may have relative meaning in the sense that it influenced other lives or the course of history (all made up of people who likewise pass out of existence forever at death). But if the lives of others suffer from the same meaninglessness, then this reply does nothing to mitigate the force of this line of reasoning. In the end, all the relative contributions of each and every person who has ever lived with come to nothing when the universe fades into the heat death. Thus whatever subjective or relative meaning we may attribute to our lives or the lives of others, they are ultimately meaningless. The same presentation makes the claim that without God there is no ultimate truth about the values of right and wrong, and further that without God there would be no purpose of human existence. We’re not here for any reason, there’s nothing we are made for, and the species itself will vanish just as accidentally as it came about. There’s no telos to humanity or to anything in existence. Here’s Dr Craig’s article on the idea that life is in some sense absurd without God.

It’s important to stress the way Dr Craig repeatedly refers to life lacking ultimate meaning or ultimate value without God. This is because he grants the obvious fact that out lives can have relative or subjective meaning or value. People can value their lives or the value of others, we can find meaning in our lives or the lives of others by enjoying or cherishing them and so on. Dr Craig has commented on the meaningless of life without God a number of times in publications and public talks, and when someone raises the objection that we can still value our lives and those of others, he grants the point, but explains that he is talking about objective or ultimate value and meaning.

Dr Wielenberg himself (almost) nicely captures this distinction in the following way:

Under one interpretation, for human life to have meaning is for it to have a purpose that is assigned by a supernatural being. When life has meaning in the sense we can say that it has supernatural meaning

Under another interpretation, for a human life to have meaning is for it to bring goodness into the universe. When life has meaning in this sense, the universe is better than it would have been had the life not been lived. We can say that the life of this sort has external meaning

Under a third interpretation, for a human life to have meaning is for it to be good for the person who lives it and for it to include activity that is worthwhile. When life has meaning in this sense, the individual is better off having lived then had that person never existed at all. Moreover, the life is one in which something worthwhile is accomplished. It is a life that has a point all stop it is the urge to live a life like this that is revealed in the expression “I want to do something with my life.” we can say that a life of this sort has internal meaning. This concept may seem similar to external meaning, but the two are distinct. It is possible for a life to have internal meaning yet lack external meaning. Suppose a person engages in worthwhile activity that brings him pleasure and gives his life internal meaning. Suppose further that what gives his activity worth is that through it he accomplished in some meaningful God will. But suppose that if he had never lived, the same goal would have been accomplished by someone else who would have enjoyed it, pushing it just as much as he did. In this case his life lacks external meaning because the universe would have been just as good if he had never lived. Yet his life has internal meaning.

There is a certain degree of circularity or vacuousness here. It is not terribly informative to tell us that a life is meaningful or worthwhile if the person who lives it accomplished something worthwhile. After all, much of what we say about meaningfulness and value will determine what is and is not a worthwhile accomplishment! Still, we can simply remove these comments and still see what Wielenberg is getting at. Life has external meaning or value if it has meaning or value from a third person perspective. This is objective meaning all value. It is not a life that is meaningful or valuable only according to the tastes of the one who lives it, but a life that is meaningful or valuable all things considered. Internal meaning or value, by contrast, is subjective. When we talk about a life having meaning or value in the sense we are talking about relative value. Note, for example the way that Wielenberg incorporates the phrase “good for.” We are not talking about a life that is good in any absolute sense, but rather a life in which that person living it finds some value.

To understand Dr Craig’s comments about the absurdity of life without God is to realise that he is talking about external meaning and external value. He does not deny that if God does not exist (and yet somehow the universe and complex life managed to exist anyway), people might still attribute value to the lives that they and others live on account of internal or subjective meaning and value. And yet, observe how Wielenberg then proceeds to respond to Doctor Craig’s line of reasoning. First he summarises the argument:

Suppose we think of a person’s life as a series of events. Some of these events are brought about by the individual, while others are caused by external forces. Roughly, a life may be characterised as the sum total of all the things that happen to an individual while that person is alive. But, goes the argument, the value of a series of events depends entirely on the value of the very last stage of the fears to which the series causally contributes. If that final outcome is valuable, then the events that led up to and contributed to which may have value. If that final stage of the fears is to avoid of value, then similarly all the events that led up to it are worthless.

Without God there is no afterlife of any kind. Consequently, every human life ends with the permanent cessation of the individual’s conscious experience and mental activity (at least of any interesting sort). Without God, every human life terminates with the grave and the annihilation of the conscious self. The last outcome to which any human life contributes is an utterly static, lifeless, extropic, frozen universe. Since such an outcome is entirely devoid of value, it follows (according to this argument) that all human lives are entirely devoid of value and hence lack internal meaning. In a Godless universe that ends with a whimper, no human life is worth living. [Emphasis added]

Never mind the attempted rebuttal, Wielenberg goes wrong right at the outset, with the description of the position that he means to rebut. This is not Craig’s position at all. Just as he elsewhere confuses the good with the right, here Wielenberg confuses distinctions that he has already made, namely external and internal meaning. The confusion becomes all the more bewildering when Wielenberg quotes Susan Wolf, who rejects Craig’s position but who summarises a variation of it as follows:

[A] life can be meaningful only if it can mean something to someone, and not just to someone, but to someone other than oneself and indeed someone of more intrinsic or ultimate value than oneself … if there is no God, then human life, each human life, must be objectively meaningless, because if there is no God, there is no appropriate being for whom we could have meaning.

This is not Craig’s argument, it is merely a hypothetical argument. However, like Craig’s argument, it is not an argument against the possibility of subjective meaning all value in life if God does not exist. It is only an argument against the existence of objective meaning in life if God does not exist. Stated using the distinctions that Wielenberg made earlier, it is an argument against external meaning to life if there is no God.

But then look how Wielenberg summarises Wolf’s argument:

The fundamental premise of this line of reasoning is that a life has internal meaning only if a suitably significant being cares about or takes an interest in that life.

You might wonder why I find it important at all that this confusion is taking place. “OK, so Wielenberg is getting his distinctions around internal and external meaning muddled up. Big deal. Just address the point he is making.” But therein lies the problem. Dr Craig’s argument all along has been that whatever internal value or meaning life might still have even if there is no God, it would have no objective or external meaning, since power existence was never intended, was unmotivated, has no purpose, has no objective value, and there is no way in which we were supposed to live or not live, to say nothing of the fact that everything that we are or value is merely temporary. However, after obviously misconstruing this argument to be one that concerns internal or subjective meaning and value, Wielenberg then proceeds with his rebuttal, which consists of nothing more than a series of proposals as to how life might have internal meaning even if God does not exist.

Wielenberg considers a number of proposals as defeatist for Craig’s argument, he looks at Richard Taylor’s suggestion that our lives can have internal meaning just if we take the right attitude to our life. He considers Peters Singer’s proposal, interpreted by Wielenberg to mean that our lives can have internal meaning if we commit them to some worthwhile goal such as the elimination of suffering. He settles on Aristotle’s perspective, in which some activities are intrinsically good and that is that, and our lives have internal meaning if we live it in the pursuit of such activities. Wielenberg does not agree with Aristotle about which activities are intrinsically good or the best, but he nonetheless shares the view that they are intrinsically good activities, although he admits that he is unable to justify any claim about which activities are intrinsically good.

Wielenberg closes with an appeal to the reader with challenges along the lines of: Don’t you find some activities just worthwhile? Doesn’t it seem to you that there are some things that just to make your life worth living? In reality, all Wielenberg is actually doing is asking readers whether or not life is meaningful, he is certainly not giving reasons for thinking that it can be so without God. To the extent that he is, he is – by his own admission – talking about internal meaning.

I am not granting here that Wielenberg’s proposals succeed even in what they attempt to do. His favoured proposal is that life can have internal meaning even if God does not exist because there are things that we can do with our lives that are intrinsically good. His concept of the intrinsic goodness is open to serious question, but in responding to Wielenberg we do not even need to go this far. The crucial thing to note, is that Wielenberg’s arguments, however good they might happen to be, are not responses to Dr Craig’s line of reasoning about how meaningful life would be if God did not exist. A much more substantial response would be a concession and a counter challenge: Yes, life lacks objective meaning without God, and what of it? Reality does not owe us any comfort. Perhaps the best we can do is to simply add admit the futility of our own existence and tried to subjectively enjoy it as best we can. But Wielenberg simply will not do this. Hammering the proverbial square peg into a round hole, he offers up an argument for the subjective value of the lives we live, and presumes that in doing so he is answering the challenge about the objective meaninglessness of life without God.

Just as with his arguments about God and the relatively discussed elsewhere, the appearance of a substantial response to the theistic argument is no more than an illusion in Wielenberg’s book. If he is responding to any position it is certainly not one that Christian philosophers have actually offered.

Glenn Peoples

Erik J. Wielenberg, Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 14-15.

Wielenberg, Value and Virtue, 17.

Susan Wolf, “The Meanings of Lives,” http://www1.law.nyu.edu/clppt/program2003/readings/wolf.pdf, cited in Wielenberg, Value and Virtue, 17.

Wielenberg, Value and Virtue, 17.

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39 thoughts on “God and the Meaning of Life

  1. So just to sum up as a reader to see if I read you right. Craig’s argument is that without God, there is no objective intrinsic ultimate meaning to anything. Where objective means observer independent, intrinsic means ‘in itself (whatever that means)’ and ultimate means for all time.

    The reason why no ‘ultimate’ meaning to our actions is that we end up with a universe that’ll be the same no matter what actions we take. However in a universe where God exists, things will matter to him whether or not we cease to exist. The reason why the meaning isn’t observer independent, is that if no one was around there’d be no one to assign meaning to anything. Since God always existed, his opinions will always exists and therefore whatever meaning he assigns to something will always exist. And you’ll have to help me on the intrinsic meaning. What does that word even mean?

    Your second point was that Erik Weilenberg misunderstood Craig in that Craig was arguing against ‘any kind of meaning’, instead of merely ultimate objective intrinsic meaning. Weilenberg though managing to argue for some meaning localized to within human affairs, he failed in showing how humans could have UOI meaning if Naturalism was true?

  2. Yes that’s more or less it, Leonhard, although really my whole point was the second point. The first point only set the scene by describing what Wielenberg was responding to. It might pay to add to: “we end up with a universe that’ll be the same no matter what actions we take” – Not just that, but for Craig there’s also significance in the fact that every person will cease to exist forever, even if the universe were eternal, and also in the fact that if there’s no God then there’s no way that we’re meant to live – nothing right or wrong about any way of life or action.

  3. In the end, all the relative contributions of each and every person who has ever lived with come to nothing when the universe fades into the heat death. Thus whatever subjective or relative meaning we may attribute to our lives or the lives of others, they are ultimately meaningless“. Exactly. Craig gets it – he just doesn’t like it.

  4. There were published atheists who have written about absurdity and accepted it’s importance long before Craig started writing about it. Thomas Nagel would be the obvious example. He spends some time working out what absurdity is and what it is not and in the end question whether we even need a “solution”.

    More recently Julian Baggini’s addition to the “Very Short Introduction” series (on “atheism” naturally), points out that a robot has a purpose provided by its creator, but that’s not the same as having a “meaningful existence”. As such, it could be argued that you actually need a self-created meaning for it to have any importance. What does it matter to me that God has a purpose for me? What does it matter to the robot that humans have a purpose for it? Individuals need some sort of personal claim on that meaning. Otherwise, to quote Shakespeare: “like flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, they kill us for their sport”.

  5. I don’t have anything to say specifically about Weilenberg’s treatment of Craig. (I am only familiar with his work via a relatively recent article in the journal Faith and Philosophy against Craig’s argument that objective morality depends on God; Weilenberg thinks propositions are among the things that exist, and he thinks that among the existent propositions are some that are moral in nature, with these forbidding and obligating us to perform different actions — or if he doesn’t phrase it in terms of obligation and prohibition, then at least right and wrong).

    Anyway, I think everyone should be able to agree what sorts of lives meet the criteria for being objectively meaningful, subjectively meaningful, externally meaningful, internally meaningful, and meaningful in whatever other ways we wish to describe. This should just be a matter of having definitions of these different sorts of meaning, then comparing different lives (which unfold in different possible worlds with their own overarching metaphysical descriptions, e.g. theistic versus atheistic) to see if they are meaningful in the ways described.

    If Craig’s argument is to be attacked anywhere, then, I think it will be at the point where he thinks his argument delivers the most force, namely, the negative emotional reaction we are supposed to have once we follow his reasoning that our lives are objectively meaningless without God. Because Craig’s argument for the meaninglessness of life without God is, in the wider context of his natural theology, really a proemium intended to make his audience take the question of God’s existence seriously, the argument would not function as he intends it to function were the audience to agree that life is objectively meaningless and yet feel entirely unshaken by this fact. I believe Craig would see the argument as useless if it never had the emotional effect he desires it to have (and which it certainly does have in some cases). It is not just an argument for a conclusion; it is an argument for a conclusion that you will feel a certain way about. Craig is pretty clear about this being his motivation for presenting the argument. I am not presenting his method as a scare tactic; he and others are sincere in their belief that the argument’s conclusion is indeed something to feel bad about.

    As a previous comment mentioned, Julian Baggini has written on this whole question. I am only familiar with his book What’s It All About?: Philosophy and the Meaning of Life. On page 164 of that book he states: “The reality is that whether you are phlegmatic or despondent about the purposelessness of the universe depends a great deal on just how you as an individual emotionally respond to it, not on any difference in your depth of understanding.” He goes on to say that when Nietzsche and other thinkers began to hint at life’s meaninglessness in a world that was fast losing its theistic foundation, their anxious reaction may have been owing to the sheer fact that society had for so long associated God and meaning. But now that we are more used to the idea that God does not exist, His absence does not cause us as much anxiety as it used to. “We live in a very different world and so should not be surprised if their angst now appears to many of us more redolent of adolescence than of genius.”

    I sometimes seem to experience Christianity as a scientific hypothesis which makes certain predictions, by and large functions well in this regard, but sometimes sees its predictions fail. These are like anomalies in Thomas Kuhn’s treatment of scientific paradigms. Anomalies have to be explained by adjusting one’s theory in some way. People who wear a grin while accepting the meaninglessness of life without God are one such anomaly for me. Another would be sinners who appear to have achieved happiness in the kind of life Christianity calls unfulfilling; think of Hugh Hefner, who to my knowledge has never uttered a word of regret about the sort of life he has lived and continues to live. I continue to ask myself: how to make sense of cases like these?

    (P.S.: I really hate to nitpick, and I don’t know if you are ever concerned about cleaning up the main blog posts once you’ve posted them, but this one had a share of typographical errors, the most awesome of which was “the proverbial squid peg into a round hole.”)

  6. “We live in a very different world and so should not be surprised if their angst now appears to many of us more redolent of adolescence than of genius.”

    Did Baggini really say that . . . about Nietzsche!? The man has the depth of a car-park puddle. If I’m not much mistaken in that same book he cites Kate Bush as a major influence.

  7. Did Baggini really say that . . . about Nietzsche!?

    Better than dismissing Nietzsche because he was mad towards the end of his life. Martin Luther was suffering from psychological disorders for much of his life and was a published raving anti-semite towards the end, yet he rarely seems to be brought up for it by those same religious writers who like to dismiss Nietzsche out of hand.

    I would note that the lack of existential angst from atheists regarding the death of God was Nietzsche’s whole point. In the parable of the madman, those in the market are atheists. They respond to the news of God’s death in the words of Elijah, asking whether the god has gone on a journey or got lost etc. The question is precisely supposed to be how we have come to care so little about God’s death and insists that the loss of belief in God is actually more important in the scheme of human history than we seem to make out.

    So yeah, Baggini is wrong to propose that angst about belief in God is a reason to dismiss Nietzsche’s parable, but similarly religious angst about the lack of meaning in the universe is a dodgy reason to praise it. Nietzsche’s parable isn’t about the issue of absurdity.

  8. I agree that we should look at the content of someone’s views, not the psychological state of their proponents. But I’m not sure how your rendering of Nietzsche’s parable means that it is not about absurdity. Surely Nietzsche is being, or taking himself to be, incredibly honest about the implications of the loss of the ‘true-world’ myth (as he saw it) for our sense of purpose and morality? In this sense, Baggini is like one of the people in the market place, living off borrowed intellectual capital, and not performing the Nietzschean revaluation of values.

  9. Craig’s article is so silly that a response to it is unecessary. However a response to someoene who thinks it’s profound is not.
    The distinction between “objective” and “subjective” meaning is… well, meaningless. ‘Meaning’ only makes sense in relation to a person. To say that without God my life is ‘objectively’ meaningless is nonsense, unless I find a relationship with him something that makes my life significant. But that’s not the case, Yahweh doesn’t make my life meanignful, other things do. Therefore, for me, it’s life WITH God that is absurd, and pointless.
    The whole irony of arguing that if there’s no external purpose to a person’s life, it’s ‘objectively’ meaningless is that this argument applies to Yahweh himself: He ALSO lacks an external purpose to his existence, and he creates his purposes them as he goes along (like creating humans and having relationship with them), just as humans do (given atheism). In other words, the absurdity of Craig’s article, and yours, is that those pathetic complaints seem utterly laughable coming from people who believe God is in exacly the same predicament as humans are on atheism: both lack an external purpose to their existence and both construct them as they go along, and so, according to your contention, God’s existence is also ‘objectively’ purposeless and ‘obejctively’ meaningless!! Oh, sweet irony…
    Nice going, faith-head! It seems that the God virus has had no mercy on your poor brain. Tough luck, I guess..

  10. “The distinction between “objective” and “subjective” meaning is… well, meaningless.”

    If you don’t understand it, say so. But don’t blame the writer. Theists and non-theists alike make use of this distinction, as do both Craig and Wielenberg.

  11. Ello: “There were published atheists who have written about absurdity and accepted it’s importance long before Craig started writing about it.”

    Quite so. Craig (as far as I can tell) doesn’t mean to be coming up with a brand new point that nobody has ever thought of.

  12. Jeremy, from the very first post here, it was quite clear that AoR had no intention of using reason, but was just venting feelings of disapproval or anger. Just look at his recent posts. Heat without light.

  13. “I guess he hurts somewhere then.”
    yes, when I read silly articles like Craig’s.

    “I must ask, why to you feel the need to so often use what you clearly mean to be insulting terms?”
    I don’t “feel the need”. I just think “faith-head” is the most appropriate term in this case.

    “If you don’t understand it, say so”
    I do understand it. To say that “significance” can be thought of in terms of ‘subjective or objective’ is meaningless. It’s always subjective in the sense that people find significance for their lives in different things or activities. For someone who finds it in making music, say, and not in relationship with Jesus, to say it is the latter that provides “objective” significance, while the former “mere subjective” makes no sense. It’s a matter of preference. That’s why the contention “life without God is absurd” is nonsensical unless you ask “whose life?” or “for whom?”. Life without God might be absurd for a theist, but this need not be the case with a musician, say, for whom life without music would be absurd. And just as life with music, or relationship with other people but without Jesus is absurd and pointless (which,frankly, sounds crazy to me) for a Christian(and even for some atheists), it is life with Jesus, but without certain other things, that is absurd and pointless for me.
    Theists should stop projecting their own preferences onto others. How arrogant and ignorant it is to assume that if your life lacks significance without God, this must be the case with everyone else!

  14. “I do understand it. To say that “significance” can be thought of in terms of ‘subjective or objective’ is meaningless.”

    No, it is not meaningless. You are clearly using words wrong. You think the distinction is false because no significance is objective in the sense Craig describes.

    But this is clearly incorrect. You are simply getting it wrong when you say “It’s always subjective in the sense that people find significance for their lives in different things or activities.” You are talking about internal significance, and of course this is subjective. Nobody is denying that such subjective significance exists, but that doesn’t show that external meaning doesn’t exist now does it? Contrary to your claim, you actually do not understand the issue here.

    “Theists should stop projecting their own preferences onto others. How arrogant and ignorant it is to assume that if your life lacks significance without God, this must be the case with everyone else!”

    Again, you’re muddling things up. The point Craig is making is not that theists maintain that without belief in God their lives would be meaningful, and therefore this must be true of everyone else as well. This is a complete straw man. The claim Craig makes is that if God does not exist, then human life has no ultimate and objective purpose – a claim atheists should willingly accept as many have.

  15. I don’t “feel the need”. I just think “faith-head” is the most appropriate term in this case.

    Please explain “faith-head”? I assume you mean it in the perjorative sense that hop-head or snow-drop might be used to refer to drug addicts of various kinds.
    If so then you clearly dont understand the concept of “faith”, since “faith” is not addictive.
    Would it be appropriate to refer to you as a “self-head” a “me-head” or maybe an “abuse-head”? Implying that you are addicted to an inward looking self centred attitude to life and that you cannot help but be abusive of those you disagree with.

  16. ““faith” is not addictive”
    the belief that there’s someone up there (Yahweh) who loves you, cares about you, protects you, gives you eternal life and so forth, is a’feel-good’ belief that can certainly be adictive. I don’t see how a believer can seriously deny that.(Craig, for example, all but says that he would find atheism unbearable: you know his rant– “we’re all doomed to death”, “life is absurd without God” and without what He has to offer, only God provides ultimate significance or importance to human life, etc.). Add to this the belief that Yahweh has created the whole Universe with you in mind, has a special plan just for you, and everything that happens to you is a part of this plan, and one sees that “self-head” or “me-head” are actually quite synonimous with “faith-head”, I mean what can be more self-cenetered that the belief that it’s all about you, and you’re god’s specilal creature? One of Craig’s complains about atheistic morality is that on atheism we’re not special, but just another animal species. In fact Craig’s pathetic “Life without God is aburd” ‘lectures’ is one of the best examples of why “religious humility” is an oxymoron.
    Hitchens provides one of most eloquent descriptions of religious solipsism and egomania in his debate with Olasky (see “Christopher Hitchens -On religious solipsism” on youtube)

  17. I would have to say your ideas of how Christians think and feel are at odds with my experience, belief that the individual is special to God isnt the same as believing its all about that individual, rather it requires us to recognise the worth of others. [ An atheist position leads inevitably to the belief that any one individual of a species has no worth at all, afterall its just a numbers game concerning survival of the species not the individual]
    I agree with Craig, given that all humans seem to seek meaning in life then to find life to be nothing but a meaningless accident would be the cruelest of cosmic jokes. Nihilism would be the only honest/realistic response, all else would be delusion. Now that we know this, maybe we should commit collective suicide and expunge the incredibly dangerous species that is Homo sapiens from the face of the earth.
    Maybe i should call you “death-head”, but i hope you are not really.

  18. Solipsism (from the Latin ipse = “self” and solus = “alone”) is the metaphysical belief that only oneself exists, and that “existence” just means being a part of one’s own mental states — all objects, people, etc, that one experiences are merely parts of one’s own mind. This view is first recorded with the presocratic philosopher Gorgias (c. 483-375 BC) who is quoted as having stated (probably as a means to provoke discussion)

    1.Nothing exists
    2.Even if something exists, nothing can be known about it, and
    3.Even if something could be known about it, knowledge about it can’t be communicated to others
    A common error in reasoning asserts that this makes one like a God, creating the reality in which one exists. This misunderstanding arises from the difficulty in fully appreciating very large scales.

    A thought-experiment related to solipsism, although in principle distinct, is the Brain in a Vat; i.e., the view that “I” may be trapped within some utterly unknowable reality, so that everything one thinks one knows is illusion.

    Thought similar to solipsism is present in much of eastern philosophy. Taoism and several interpretations of Buddhism, especially Zen, teach that drawing a distinction between self and universe is nonsensical and arbitrary, and merely an artifact of language rather than an inherent reality. Giovanni Gentile postulated a form of solipsism with his own brand of Idealism, which maintained that one’s dependent view of reality only existed in so far as it related to the world it created itself into.

    Another variation is a sort of materialistic agnosticism, stating simply that nothing outside of one’s own thoughts can be absolutely proven to exist; it may all simply be the illusion/imagination/whatever of the thinker.

    I suspect that Chris Hitchens is an entertaining speaker but maybe he needs to do a little researh into what “solipsism” atually means, he may also have to find out what being Christian actually involves since the two are mutually exclusive.

  19. “You are talking about internal significance, and of course this is subjective”
    “if God does not exist, then human life has no ultimate and objective purpose”
    there is no such thing as “external significance”.
    First of all, “significance” is relative to persons (whether humans or god), therefore it’s ontologically subjective, by definition. Second, what gives one’s life significance is completely a matter of one’s own preferences. For one to say “X makes my life significant” (for example a religious person saying “relationship with Jesus makes my life significant” )is to evaluate X regarding it’s importance for one’s life based on his/her own preferences, hense it’s epistemologically subjective as well. A musician might consider music of the highest importance for his/her life and therefore of ultimate significance(to him/her). /Of course, if a person sets a goal for himself, then that which is significant, in terms of being important for achieving that goal, becomes epistemologically objective./
    If I don’t particularly care about God’s purpose for my life (let’s say I’m not interested in having relationship with Jesus because I’m happy with my relationships with other ppl), then that purpose is of little significance to me. So it doesn’t make my life significant. It’s that simple.
    So, we have to ask “significant to whom?” and not whether something is “internally” or “externally” significant. Why is it so hard to understand that?
    “a claim atheists should willingly accept as many have.”
    many have, because they wish God did exist and have a purpose for their lives, but anti-theist like myself, wouldn’t regard that purpose as “ultimate” or all-important, since they prefer a Universe that lacks a God and his purpose. I mean I’d rather create a purpose for my life myself, than have someone else do that for me. That’s what it means to be a free person, doesn’t it? Besides, if God is free to construct his own purposes and set his own goals, why can’t we do the same?

  20. “I agree with Craig, given that all humans seem to seek meaning in life then to find life to be nothing but a meaningless accident would be the cruelest of cosmic jokes. Nihilism would be the only honest/realistic response, all else would be delusion. Now that we know this, maybe we should commit collective suicide and expunge the incredibly dangerous species that is Homo sapiens from the face of the earth.”
    That’s just pathetic. Seriously. And what makes you think that everyone is as existentially insecure as you are?
    I’m not quite sure what it means to say we seek meaning in life. ‘Meaning’ can mean many things. Do you mean that in the sense of our mission/purpose in life or something? But only when life lacks such purpose imposed by someone like god, we’d be free to decide ourselves what we shall live for and what our lives would be about. Not only a godless Universe is not “the cruelest of cosmic jokes”, but it’s the only one where we’re not tools in the hands of a deity, but indeed free. Just like god himself. Just what is the meaning of God’s existence? Following your logic God has to committ suicide too, because he would also find (his)life to be nothing but a meaningless accident(ok, maybe not accident but still meaningless, because He doesn’t have a god to provide Him with a meaningful existence), hense his existence would also be the cruelest of jokes. He’s in the same predicament as we are on atheism–I mean in this sense god IS an atheist, right? The only difference is that he’s immortal, which makes matters even worse: it’s one thing to lead a meaningless life for a 70-80 yrs.(if you’re licky), but to lead a meaningless life for eternity is another thing entirely, isn’t it? Ah yes, he’d also be a nihilist, “all else would be delusion”.
    I don’t get it, why is it that theists always complain about the human condition without God, when God is in exactly the same condition (he lacks a God too). And as I said, since according to you that’s really bad, it’s infinatelly worse for God since he’ll exist for infinately longer

  21. “An atheist position leads inevitably to the belief that any one individual of a species has no worth at all, afterall its just a numbers game concerning survival of the species not the individual”
    Sure, the survival of the species is of prime importance, but it doesn’t follow that individualism is untanable. Quite the opposite. After all, the species is made up of individuals, right? So I don’t see any problem. Christians always seem to be eager to fall for the same simple-minded “if Darwininan evolution is true, then we should…” nonsense, with the conclusion often being some form of Social Darwinism. It’s actually Christianity that aboilishes the autonomy of the individual. We’re all “sheep”. Servility is rewareded. The strive for independence and freedom, i.e. growing up, is punished, as is the rebellion against the authority. Again, see the video with Hitchens where he speaks on preciesly this issues.

    “the individual is special to God isnt the same as believing its all about that individual, rather it requires us to recognise the worth of others”
    if god can recognize the worth of humans, why can’t we?

    “A common error in reasoning asserts that this makes one like a God, creating the reality in which one exists.”
    no, the link between the belief that only oneself exists, while all else is a figment of one’s imagination and ‘religious solipsism’ is pretty straighforward: in both cases one is very, VERY special 🙂
    I can’t put it nearly as eloquently as Hitch did, though

  22. What can i say, if you think my point is pathetic , i think you are delusional. A single gene carrier in a species of 6 billion a meaningless insignificant speck caused by a combination of cosmic and biological accidents. Apparently believing you can create some significance for your life and somehow believing you are “free” when you are really just a biological machine.
    And clearly you can only conceive of a God in the Greek or Hindu sense, ie a slighlty more powerful human but with fundamentally the same motivations, emotional limitations and personal frustrations.

    ” if god can recognize the worth of humans, why can’t we?”
    Absolutely right , we can just because He does, but you dont believe in God so i dont think this question is open to you.
    First you would have to provide an objective reason to believe individual gene carriers have worth before you could recognise it. And since the species clearly doesnt need any one individual or for that matter any one million individuals that could be a challenge and any reason you find delusional and ephemeral.
    I suspect we could actually make a good case that the planet would be healthier and our neighbour species far better off without us, ie we currently have negative worth by the objective measure of planetary ecological health

  23. “there is no such thing as “external significance”. ”

    I appreciate that, as an atheist, you are committed to the view that life cannot have external significance, and so it doesn’t exist in this sense. But it is by no means meaningless, and is certainly a concept that exists and can be understood.

  24. “I suspect we could actually make a good case that the planet would be healthier and our neighbour species far better off without us, ie we currently have negative worth by the objective measure of planetary ecological health”
    perhaps. but an even better case can be made that we would be healthier and far better off without god.

    “Absolutely right , we can just because He does, but you dont believe in God so i dont think this question is open to you.”
    If god considers humans to have worth, it’s because of something he sees in them, something rare and therefore of significance. could it be the human abiity to do science, write poetry, fall in love, etc.? and since humans are what they are whether theism is true or false, the worth humans have when god exists, is the same when he doesn’t.

    and what’s delusional about being realistic with regard to man’s place in the Universe, and yet not being particularly bothered by it? This should actually give you a hint of how inadequate and misguided I find theists’s complains about humans not being at the center of creation on atheism, because they need not be in order to have a fulfilling life. Any view that moves us away from that center is met with (yes, pathetic) whinings: it doesn’t sound good that we’re not special, that the whole Universe wasn’t design with us in mind, that we’re not going to live forever(as though that’s desirable) and so on. /yes, I’m fine with an impersonal and godless Universe because apparently I’m not as self-centered as you are./ Now you see why I said earlier that ‘religious humility’ is an oxymoron?
    I noticed you didn’t deny the point that it’s ironic to say without a purpose-giver our lives are meaningless or otherwise lacking something important, since god also doesn’t have a purpose-giver, and he has to construct his own purposes, just as humans do on atheism.

  25. “but an even better case can be made that we would be healthier and far better off without god”

    really, you do know that atheist regimes in the 20c killed more people than all the so called “religious” wars in history. Even more so when in most cases the “religious” wars just used relgion as an excuse rather than being the reason. Also since you already insist that God doesnt exist you are obliged to attribute the problems you see to something other than God, ie we cant be better off without god if god doesnt exist to begin with.

    If god considers humans to have worth, it’s because of something he sees in them, something rare and therefore of significance. could it be the human abiity to do science, write poetry, fall in love, etc.? and since humans are what they are whether theism is true or false, the worth humans have when god exists, is the same when he doesn’t.

    No.

    Once again you are thinking of God as just a bigger better kind of human.
    With God these things are part of the image of God within us. Without God they are just evolutionary adaptations/accidents and attributing significance/value to them is delusion as they are ephemeral and next decade/millenium/epoch may be selected against. Even now our ability to exploit/destroy our environment is ultimately selecting against us.

    Further more the very fact that you cant get away from making worth/significance judgments, that you find value in poetry , falling in love [ a biochemical reaction faciltating the breakdown of ego barriers and allowing mating to take place] etc suggests you think humans are somehow special when compared to other animals. Not exactly accepting our place in the universe, rather closer to solipsism than you might like to think.

  26. “really, you do know that atheist regimes in the 20c killed more people than all the so called “religious” wars in history”
    so what? they were victims of other dogmas. The problem with them was not that they rejected religion, but that they were too much LIKE religion. Today European countries like Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands, etc, are the most atheistic in the world, and are the healthies, as indicated by life expectancy, literacy, gender equality, homicide rate, etc, etc. In fact almost all developed countries have moved in this direction with the probable exception of the U.S., and incidentally the U.S. has higher rates of homicide, abortion, STDs, teen pregnancy and so on. The 50 nations that rank the lowest with regard to the U.N.’s human development index are some of the most religious.
    Besides, the point I was making is that a good case can be made that God (not simply belief in God)is an impediment to human emancipation, maturity, autonomy, independence.

    “Once again you are thinking of God as just a bigger better kind of human”
    I don’t see how is this relevant.
    “With God these things are part of the image of God within us. Without God they are just evolutionary adaptations/accidents and attributing significance/value to them is delusion as they are ephemeral and next decade/millenium/epoch may be selected against.”
    what does it matter how these things came about? what difference does it make whether they are “part of God’s image” or evolutionary adaptations? This sounds very much like the genetic fallacy. The fact that they came about that way or another, or that they might disappear is irrelevant. I mean, God could also wipe them out right? would you say that therefore attrubuting value or significance to them would be a delusion on the part of God? I repeat: if there’s anything about humans that makes God attribute value them, then God merely recognizes that they possess something that is worth being valued. If our ability to do math, or write poetry is significant (and apparently God seems to think so), whether humans live in a theistic or atheistic Universe is irrelevant, bc we have the same abilities. The only difference would be that on atheism, they would have come about by random mutations and natural selection, while on theism pressumably God would have guided the process of evolution to make sure they arise. Either way the result is the same, so their value is the same.
    in the case with love, how it originated or the fact that it’s a biochemical reaction doesn’t take anything away form it

    ” you think humans are somehow special when compared to other animals. Not exactly accepting our place in the universe, rather closer to solipsism than you might like to think.”
    of course I think we’re special compared to other animals. It’s theists like you who insist that on atheism we’re “mere” animals. I’m pointing out that compared to other species we are capable of doing things they’re not, hense their significance. So, no I’m not accepting “our place in the Universe” as “mere” animals, bc there’s nothing “mere” about those things. What I reject is the solipsism of religion: we’re at the center of creation and it’s all about us.

  27. It’s theists like you who insist that on atheism we’re “mere” animals.

    Actually this is a position put forward by famous and credible atheist philosophers who taken atheism to its logical conclusions. Something most atheists are not actually willing to do.

    Please out line how we are anything other than mere animals on atheism and if so on what basis you attribute value/meaning/worth

    “Besides, the point I was making is that a good case can be made that God (not simply belief in God)is an impediment to human emancipation, maturity, autonomy, independence”
    Not logical, you are using a premise you deny, as the basis for argument, ie God’s existance.
    Once you have denied that, your problem is with the nature of mankind not with God. God cannot be the problem if He doesnt exist and belief or not in god is just another human foible, like facism, communism etc

    “so what? they were victims of other dogmas. The problem with them was not that they rejected religion, but that they were too much LIKE religion.”
    Again if there is no such thing as God, if he is just a product of our overactive imagination ie our minds. Then it would appear that dogma/religion , call it what you will, is a fundamental characteristic of humankind. So we are back to the same problem the issues you have are not with God, not with religion but with Homo sapiens.
    What you hate, what you rant, rave and rail against is what you are.

  28. “Actually this is a position put forward by famous and credible atheist philosophers who taken atheism to its logical conclusions”
    no, those philosophers have not taken atheism to it’s logical conclusions, rather they’ve been taken in by certain theistic presuppositions, so in a sense they’re not atheists but closeted theists.

    “Please out line how we are anything other than mere animals on atheism and if so on what basis you attribute value/meaning/worth”
    on the same basis God would do so if he existed. I think I already made this clear in my previous post. I’ll repeat for a third time: if there’s anything about humans that makes God attribute value them (like their unique ability to do science, write a novel, etc., etc.) then God merely recognizes that they possess something that is worth being valued. And how those abilities came to be, whether by random mutaions and natural selection or not, i.e. whether in the context of atheism or theism, simply doesn’t matter because the result is the same. So what’s the problem?

    “Not logical, you are using a premise you deny, as the basis for argument, ie God’s existance.”
    oh, come on. my argument is conditional. as is yours: if God doesn’t exist (which is something you reject) we’re “mere” animals. so by the same token, you’re using a premise you deny, hense your argument is not logical.
    I agree that dogmatism is a fundamental problem of human nature, which, given it’ bitter fruits, we have to outgrow. sadly, religious people are a very good example of dogmatic thinking.
    “What you hate, what you rant, rave and rail against is what you are.”
    since I’m railing against the opression entailed by (mono)theism, are you saying I’m an opressor? What kind of a silly argument is that?

  29. “Not logical, you are using a premise you deny, as the basis for argument, ie God’s existance.”
    oh, come on. my argument is conditional. as is yours: if God doesn’t exist (which is something you reject) we’re “mere” animals. so by the same token, you’re using a premise you deny, hense your argument is not logical.

    Again no, i dont beleive in the non existance of God nor the consequences ie that we are mere animals. You on the other hand appear to be using a condition you deny to support a position you hold.

    [As an aside the Christian position isnt that God simply recognises worthwhile attributes, as if in someway He was suprised by them, rather that He placed those attributes in Humans in His own image, in the first place]

    “since I’m railing against the opression entailed by (mono)theism, are you saying I’m an opressor? What kind of a silly argument is that?”

    So far you havent actually said anything about opression entailed by theism, mono or otherwise, nor provided any evidence of it. I mentioned some atheist ideologies and you said they were too like religion.
    But you are still facing the same problem, if God doesnt exist [ ie your position not a theoretical condition of argument ] then everything you complain about is characteristic of humans.

    “I’m railing against the opression entailed by (mono)theism”, fine but if God doesnt exist then this must be a symptom of an underlying problem in the same way as the opression entailed by Communism or National Socialism or Drug pushing or Protectionist racketts or whatever.
    How hard is it for you to understand, by your own premise [that God doesnt exist] all opression of any kind religious or otherwise is a human problem. You may be able to eradicate any one idividual expression/symptom of that problem but so what, another will just pop up’

    So you are wasting your own and evertyone elses time railing against a symptom, what is the real problem, do you actually know, what are you going to do about it, or do you just sit on the sidelines and whinge?

    In as much as you are human too[?], then yes you are as capable of opression as the next person.

  30. “Again no, i dont beleive in the non existance of God nor the consequences ie that we are mere animals”
    sure. but you believe that IF God didn’t exists, humans would be ‘mere’ animals. Similarly I’m saying that If God did exists, we’d be slaves. Since I don’t believe he exists, I don’t think we are. Now, religions can be opressive due to their dogmatism (like other ideologies such as Communism or Fascism), but that’s a seperate issue. so why the confusion?
    “So far you havent actually said anything about opression entailed by theism, mono or otherwise, nor provided any evidence of it”
    really? Read my previous posts. In case you missed my point, here it is: the God of Abraham is like the jealous father who builds a torture chamber in his basement and threatens his children into submission. Unlike any good parent who wishes his/her children become mature and independent inividuals and as such move on on their own to find their own way in life (as all children eventually do when they grow up), God demands to be loved and be at the center of their lives for all times! Having a relationship with him is they only way they can escape being tormented for an eternal and ‘saved’… from the hell he himself created! Ah, yes, and all of this is an expression of his moral perfection and his eternal love for humanity (if one doubts that one is in for a reaaally bad time!)

    “the Christian position isnt that God simply recognises worthwhile attributes, as if in someway He was suprised by them, rather that He placed those attributes in Humans in His own image”
    fine. but also irrelevant. If God considers those attributes worthwhile, then why wouldn’t they be worthwhile on atheism. Again, the only difference is that on atheism they’ve been “placed” in humans by random mutations and natural selection. The end product is the same

  31. “Again, the only difference is that on atheism they’ve been “placed” in humans by random mutations and natural selection. The end product is the same”

    Here we must fundamentally disagree, on atheism they are just things that have recently conferred adaptive advantage [like eyes or opposable thumbs] and are just as likely to become a disadvantage should selection pressure change. You attribution of “worth” in any other sense is a delusion of the human mind and ultimately ephemeral.

    “God demands to be loved and be at the center of their lives for all times! Having a relationship with him is they only way they can escape being tormented for an eternal and ‘saved’… from the hell he himself created!”

    Yet again, on atheism this must be a human invention, therefore any problems you have with these concepts are problems you have with men not God

    On Christianity, you are misunderstanding, Hell isnt a place created by God but rather the state you find yourself in when ultimately you come to know you were wrong and your choice to live apart from God has become irrevocable. The torment is the anguish of regret, it is entirely self inflicted. God doesnt demand to be loved and the centre of your life, He has given you the choice and the freedom to make that choice. The fact the He made you, offers you the ways and means to be the best you can be and warns you about how you will feel if you choose otherwise isnt oppression, its simply a Father sharing reality with his child.
    Of course God wants you to grow up and mature He offers you the ways and means to do so from His knowledge as your creator. Your complaint is more like that of a petulant teenager, having been warned that too much MacDonalds and soft drink will only make your acne worse you blame you parent for your pimply scarred face and the fact that girls find you unattractive.

    You dont have to believe, no one can force you and God most certainly wont. Please have the intellectual honesty to know what you are rejecting as opposed to some caricature. Reject Christianity if you must but do so honestly.

  32. “You attribution of “worth” in any other sense is a delusion of the human mind and ultimately ephemeral.”
    The fact that they might be selected against, which is unlikely to the extreeme, is irrelevant. They are what they are, and and how they came to be simply doesn’t matter. If human’s attributing worth to them is delusional, so is Yahweh’s.

    “on atheism this must be a human invention, therefore any problems you have with these concepts are problems you have with men not God”
    of ocurse it’s a human invention. I’m trying to point out that the imaginary God of Abraham is not morally perfect, as his fans believe, but jealous and tyrannical. He’s the opposite of a good parent. Do you have to believe Hannibal Lecter exists in order to argue that he (as a fictional character) is wicked and evil, in case some fans of his claim otherwise? Why do you even have to raise this point?

    “Hell isnt a place created by God but rather the state you find yourself in when ultimately you come to know you were wrong and your choice to live apart from God has become irrevocable. The torment is the anguish of regret, it is entirely self inflicted”
    that’s nonsense. If I’m just fine without him in this life, why on earth would I be unhappy in the next? God for me is like a salesman who offers nothing I’m interested in. If Hell is mere seperation from God, then being in Hell wouldn’t bother me in the slightest, since I don’t need Yahweh. it’s as simple as that.
    If Hell is lakes of fire (and if that’s what you believe I wish YOU have the intellectual honesty to admit it, and not make nonsensical claims that I’ll regret not being around Yahweh, which makes as much sense as saying I’ll regret not having cigarettes in the hereafter, provided I don’t smoke here and now)to say God gives you a free choice and doesn’t demand you submit to his will is just a sick joke. Do you think this line of argumentation would succeed in any court of law? One would have more success arguing that a person being robbed at a gun-point had a free choice in parting with his money that arguing one has a free choice in declining God’s “offer” of having a relationship with him. In fact His would be the ultimate form of coersion.
    ‘Of course God wants you to grow up and mature”
    being under permanent parental authority and supervision is the opposite of growth, maturity and autonomy. at least that’s how it is here on earth
    “Your complaint is more like that of a petulant teenager”
    no, my complaint is that of an adult who thinks it’s demeaning for adults to be treated like children, and for whom life only makes sense without a Sky Daddy, even though living in a “mindless” Universe which doesn’t know your’re here and doesn’t care when you go, where nothing guarantees that in the end ‘everything would turn out fine’, is in a sense harder, than living in one where God cares about you, makes sure in the end no tear is left undried and so on. your complains are those of a teenager who seem extreemely distressed with the prospect of losing his Daddy and His heavenly rewards, and for whom apparently life without God is meaningless, absurd, and the rest of it. Now, what I find aburd, is such degree of existential insecurity.

  33. I could respect you arguments more if thety displayed some understanding of what Christianity teaches, in fact i could respect them more if you even showed signs of reading what i had writen.
    eg i can accept you dont want or believe you need God, thats fine and your choice. The problem arises when you find you were wrong and its too late to change your mind, thats when regret will arrive.

    ” it’s demeaning for adults to be treated like children”, i can asure you that God thinks so too. This is in fact at least part of the reason we are created with free will. However even adults can benefit from the wisdom, experience and advice of more older wiser more experienced adults. How much more so from their creator God. When some one who has seen it all before warns you that the path you are travelling leads only to tears, thats hardly a domineering parent refusing to let go of the reigns, its only common decency.
    Ultimately Hell is God respecting your choice that you dont want Him around, and leaving you to experience the tears.

    I’ve have got to ask, you admit that on your own premise [ Gods non-existance] all your complaints are effectively against a human invention, why then the anger and invective. It actually sounds like you dont want God to be true but deep inside you cant quite eradicate the fear that He might be.

    By the way you concepts of God suffer some discrepancies. On moment you acuse Christians of only beleiving because a sadomasochistic madman has a torture room in the basement and the next because we are so insecure as to need a sugar daddy in the sky. Slight dichotomy there !

    I would like to wish you Merry Christmas but you dont believe. Happy Saturnalia or Solstice, but no, they are religious festivals too.
    Its too much to hope you are consistent in your atheism to turn down the holiday [ holy day] so i will just bid you farewell.

  34. “can accept you dont want or believe you need God, thats fine and your choice. The problem arises when you find you were wrong and its too late to change your mind, thats when regret will arrive”
    I take it you didn’t read what I wrote. It’s only a free choice if I’m not threatened with eternal torment. You also seem unable to understand the difference between Hell as mere separation, in which case to say I’ll regere it would be nonsense, and as place of fire, in which case Yahweh is a monster.
    “When some one who has seen it all before warns you that the path you are travelling leads only to tears, thats hardly a domineering parent refusing to let go of the reigns, its only common decency”
    again, if hell is seperation that would be plain nonsense. btw, to fail to make the distincion between the 2 different definitions of hell, it means you’re either dishonest or a moron.

    “On moment you acuse Christians of only beleiving because a sadomasochistic madman has a torture room in the basement and the next because we are so insecure as to need a sugar daddy in the sky.”
    The fact that ppl, out of existential insecurity, would invent a sky daddy that loves them and would give them eternal life, doesn’t mean they wouldn’t invent the torture basement where he’ll submit to eternal anguish those would fail to meet his demands. I guess that’s part of the pleasure the “saved” would experience in heaven: to watch the misery of the damned. Hich put best: if you think I’ll suffer for eternity for not submitting to your god’s will you’re a wicked and delusional idiot.

    “I’ve have got to ask, you admit that on your own premise [ Gods non-existance] all your complaints are effectively against a human invention, why then the anger and invective. It actually sounds like you dont want God to be true but deep inside you cant quite eradicate the fear that He might be.”
    I don’t haveto believe an ideology is true in order to denounce it as monstrous. ans no, I don’t want god to be true, bc I don’t like the idea of being a serve. Human emancipation and freedom is impossible with an unchallengable authority like Yahweh’s. What I’m trying to show you is that what theists find as desirable is either absurd or wicked. and their whinings about a Universe without god are often pathetic. That’s why I think we should be glad there’s not a shred of evidence that Yahweh exists. Merry Chrismas

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