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If Atheism Is True, Does Life Still Have Meaning?

Meaning

Andrew Sullivan linked to my conversion story recently, and there’s been some interesting discussion in response. It was this particular part of my essay that generated the most controversy, and I can’t say I’m surprised:

"If everything that we call heroism and glory, and all the significance of all great human achievements, can be reduced to some neurons firing in the human brain, then it’s all destined to be extinguished at death. And considering that the entire span of homo sapiens’ existence on earth wouldn’t even amount to a blip on the radar screen of a 5-billion-year-old universe, it seemed silly to pretend like the 60-odd-year life of some random organism on one of trillions of planets was something special. (I was a blast at parties.) By simply living my life, I felt like I was living a lie. I acknowledged the truth that life was meaningless, and yet I kept acting as if my own life had meaning, as if all the hope and love and joy I’d experienced was something real, something more than a mirage produced by the chemicals in my brain."

Will Wilkinson disagreed with my methodology for deducing meaningfulness, saying that “the best reason to think ‘life is meaningful’ is because one’s life seems meaningful. If you can’t stop ‘acting as if my own life had meaning,’ it’s probably because it does have meaning.” Over at the New York TimesRoss Douthat responded to Wilkinson by saying that we need to look at that idea a little more closely. Douthat offered a thought experiment in which he described soldiers in the trenches who feel like the overall war is meaningless, yet find purpose in their bonds with one another. Ultimately, he concluded:

"This is a very natural way to approach warfare…and it’s a very natural way to approach everyday life as well. But the part of the point of religion and philosophy is address questions that lurk beneath these natural rhythms, instead of just taking our feelings of meaningfulness as the alpha and omega of human existence. In the context of the war, of course the battle feels meaningful. In the context of daily life as we experience it, of course our joys and sorrows feel intensely meaningful. But just as it surely makes a (if you will) meaningful difference why the war itself is being waged, it surely makes a rather large difference whether our joys and sorrows take place in, say, C.S. Lewis’s Christian universe or Richard Dawkins’s godless cosmos. Saying that “we know life is meaningful because it feels meaningful” is true for the first level of context, but non-responsive for the second."

Exactly. That’s smart-person speak for the point I was fumbling around to make: All of the atheistic arguments I’ve heard in favor of the meaningfulness of human life assume that our experiences are valuable. “I volunteered at a soup kitchen this weekend, and that brought others happiness and gave me a sense of fulfillment,” the thinking goes. “That gives my life meaning right here, right now, whether or not there’s a soul or an afterlife.” It sounds lovely. But I don’t think it works.

Let’s say we have the following equation, and I have the freedom to make X whatever I want it to be:

X * 0 = _____

I could do something cool like make X = (21 + 2 + 10 + 28 + 22 + 14 + 7), adding up the days of the month for family and friends’ birthdays so that their total is a number that represents the month and day my husband and I were married. Or I could carefully craft some other combination of numbers that was deeply significant to me. But the equation would still look like this:

(21 + 2 + 10 + 28 + 22 + 14 + 7) * 0 = _____

No matter how many or how few numbers I use, it would still yield the same result: Zero.

If consciousness is just a mirage produced by chemical reactions in our brains, and if the mirage permanently flickers out on the day those reactions cease, then do any of our conscious thoughts really matter? Sure, you can have an impact on others who will live on after you die, but one day they will disappear into thin air too. To my mind, all this talk of valuable life experiences adding up to something meaningful is like talking about how to make X add up to something meaningful in the above equation. In the end, it’s all for naught.

This, of course, does not necessarily mean that the atheist materialist worldview is false. Whether or not life has any meaning if atheism is true is a separate question from whether or not it is true in the first place. My intent here is simply to point out that you can’t have it both ways: Modern atheism denies that human consciousness is rooted in anything other than the chemicals in our brains, thus rejecting the idea that any of our experiences will last outside of time; yet it also tries to say that our consciousness and experiences are meaningful. I don’t see how both of those assertions can be true.

Interestingly, this is a debate I’ve had with atheists when I was an atheist, and with Christians now that I’m a Christian. It’s not only nonbelievers who argue that you can find meaning within the atheist worldview: I’ve talked to quite a few Christians who say that if there were no eternal life for the soul, they would still find life to be meaningful. Maybe there’s some gene that allows you to sense meaning even if you believe that you’re faced with complete annihilation? If so, I don’t have it, because that mindset is not one I’ve ever understood.
 
 
Originally posted at National Catholic Register. Used with author's permission.
(Image credit: Psychologies)

Jennifer Fulwiler

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Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She's a contributor to the books The Church and New Media (Our Sunday Visitor, 2011) and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion (Servant, 2011), and is writing a book based on her personal blog. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their six young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. Follow Jennifer on her blog, ConversionDiary.com, or on Twitter at @conversiondiary.

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  • Interesting thoughts Brandon. Question for you regarding this quote:

    "Modern atheism denies that human consciousness is rooted in anything other than the chemicals in our brains, thus rejecting the idea that any of our experiences will last outside of time; yet it also tries to say that our consciousness and experiences are meaningful"

    When you say, "…our experiences will last outside of time…" are you talking about the end of time (i.e., end of the world) or the end of one's existence (i.e., death)? If you're talking about the end of time, then I don't think there is much to talk about. If you're talking about the end of one's existence and experiences not being meaningful, I think at least some would disagree. For example, atheists and agnostics can affect the human populous with successful political and social efforts for generations to come. Peter Singer and the animal rights movement could be such an example.

    • James, thanks for the comment. Just for clarification, I didn't write the article; Jennifer Fulwiler did (we had a little glitch with the author box, but it's fixed now.)

      I can't speak for her but it seems like Jennifer is referring to the end of time. In other words, once every human being dies off and the universe reaches heat death (or a Big Freeze), why would any of our actions retain meaning? On atheism, there doesn't appear to be answer. That's what I think Jennifer is getting at.

      • Cool :) Thanks for the reply. I don't think atheism would have an answer to that.

      • Andre Boillot

        Maybe atheists are humble enough to not need the whole cosmos to be about them :)

        • Timothy Reid

          Humble, perhaps, but they also cannot claim that there is any meaning behind their humility because it doesn't matter.

          • Andre Boillot

            You're missing a few qualifiers for "meaning" and "matter".

          • Timothy Reid

            How about "real" meaning and "matter to anyone besides that one person"?

          • Andre Boillot

            Hey, thanks for admitting that something can have objective significance if it matters to > 1 person.

  • Susan

    What do you mean by "meaning"?

    • David Nickol

      What do you mean by "meaning"?

      Lest anyone be tempted to think this is some kind of flip question, I am currently reading Terry Eagleton's The Meaning of Life: A Very Short Introduction, and he devotes quite a large part of the book to trying to figure out if "What is the meaning of life?" is (as he puts it at one point) a question like, "What is the capital of Albania?" or a question like, "What is the taste of geometry?" I think we all have a sense that we know intuitively what is being asked in the question "What is the meaning of life?" But when we try to articulate that intuition, it is no easy task.

      • Argon

        Agreed. That's a wicked difficult thing to define. I would be grateful if the moderators and author would try to present a description that doesn't presuppose a first cause.

    • Moussa Taouk

      The challenge of defining stuff. I love it!

      How about... "The objective value of something". In a way I think it can often be interchanged with "purpose".

      In this case, I think the article can be viewed as saying "yeh, we might convince ourselves of some temporary pupose to living our lives (assuming there's no God) just because we do stuff that affects other stuff. But at the end of the day it's all random and has no objective value".

      How's that for a definition then, ey? (Man, I should have been a dictionary-ologist).

      • djs56

        I agree, defining stuff is a challenge, so, using less than 30 seconds and Google:

        Objective: 1 not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.

        Value: 2 a person's principles or standards of behavior; one's judgment of what is important in life.

        Of course, I've made a subjective choice to and highlight an apparent contradiction.

        • Moussa Taouk

          Ah come on djs56. Are you just trying to challenge my awesome word-defining capabilites? Haha.

          Ok, I take your point. Let me think through this. So: Gold has a greater value than dirt.What gives it greater value? Well, it's the mind of humans that gives it greater value. Apart from that, it has no value. It derives whatever value it might have from something (specifically, a mind) outside of itself. Its value is not dependent on itself.

          So what I'm saying (and I'm pretty much making this up as I go...) is that "meaning" of human life has a "value" that is derived from some means (I guess... a mind) outside of itself. In that sense it's objective.

          • djs56

            I'm just agreeing with you that it's a challenge to define stuff and (maybe) a coherent definition is not possible. I

            I think I also agree that something's value is entirely dependent on the consciousness doing the evaluating. However, i'm not sure about the objective part. Something objective seems to be something we (subjectively) believe would be the case without a conscious evaluation.

            I can reflexively ponder my own value, or the values of others, and these are, (by definition?) subjective. The words "Objective" and "Meaning" seem at odds with one another, similar to "Objective Values."

            I'm not certain, but i think the OP misses the point, my life has a "meaning" because "meanings" are derived from, or ARE what, consciousnesses do, and I am conscious. I also strongly suspect that this is a tautology. Anything more seems like rash speculation...

          • Moussa Taouk

            Hi djs...

            Something objective seems to be something we (subjectively) believe would be the case without a conscious evaluation.

            I can reflexively ponder my own value, or the values of others, and these are, (by definition?) subjective. The words "Objective" and "Meaning" seem at odds with one another, similar to "Objective Values."

            I have to accept your definition of objectivity in that first sentence. So then when I question the value of human life, it can only be objective if it is outside of any kind of mind.

            So I suppose I've been using the word objective in a slightly different way. Something that is what it is apart from the evaluation of a HUMAN consciousness. But maybe you're right on this one.

            Ok, so maybe the more accurate way to state the case is to say, "IF God doesn't exist, then the only value of human life is the value humans give to themselves in their own mind. And IF God exists, then they have value even outside their own mind (which is what I initially meant by objective). They then have value in the mind of God".

            How's that?

            But just to press the point of the word "objective" a little... is it totally invalid to use the word objective if I mean "apart from the evaluation of HUMAN consciousness"? It's just more succinct, and it EITHER means in God's mind IF He exists, or just out there IF He doesn't exist. Either way gets to the point that the word "objective" is really getting at. i.e. outside human consciousness.

          • djs56

            Hi Moussa Taouk...

            I think we are reaching some understanding.

            I think it's fair to say that if God exists and if God is conscious and if God knows about humans and ... etc. then god may have a value, meaning and/or purpose for human life. I don't see how this is an"objective meaning" as it's entirely "subjective" to that God's consciousness.

            "is it totally invalid... "

            No, of course not, but why limit yourself to humans - for example, aren't animals conscious?

          • Moussa Taouk

            "It's entirely "subjective" to that God's consciousness."

            Yes. I agree. So hence I avoided using the word "objective" because by your definition it would still be subjective to a consciousness, namely God.

            As to animals... I suppose you could. But generally they don't seem to put too much value on anything apart from what bit of grass or which meat they are now going to eat. But I guess you're right in that IF animals were to place a subjective value on various things then yes you'd have to discount their opinions as well.

            Are you now going to say, "well seeing as we're now excluding animal consciousness as well let's just go ahead and exclude all consciousness including God's"?

            Anyway... I better not pre-empt that. Haha.

          • djs56

            you've lost me agin - apologies.

            "IF animals were to place a subjective value on various things then yes you'd have to discount their opinions as well."

            I don't know what you mean by discount their opinions. All I was saying is i don't think putting terms like "objective" and "meaning" together makes sense. I haven't discounted anyones opinions, animal, human or super-natural (or plant or mineral..) Any type of conscious i think can construct meanings, in fact as i said before i think that may be of consciousnesses defining characteristics: ascribing meaning to objective reality.

          • Moussa Taouk

            I see how I've confused you. Sorry! I just confused myself reading my reply!

            I proposed a definition of "objective" to exclude human consciousness. Then you said "what about animals?". And I said "... I suppose you could (exclude animals from the definition of objectivity. i.e. new definition would be 'objective is that which is apart from the consciousness of humans AND ANIMALS')." But then I said (going back to 'objective value' that probably animals don't really 'value' things. But if they did, then for consistency, you'd have to exclude their conscious as well from the definition of "objective".

            Anyway, maybe I'm getting myself tangled in a knot that's not helping.

          • josh

            But if gold is more valuable than dirt because humans think it is, why would you switch to God or some other external evaluator to ask whether human life is valuable? Dirt is more valuable to a worm, presumably. What would a human care how an external mind values human life, except in a purely practical sense? Meaning and value are inherently subjective.

          • Moussa Taouk

            I agree with you, Josh. If there is no Being outside the universe, then all the value that we place on ourselves is within our own minds. But apart from that we're valueless. We are just like any other blob of matter. Any meaning or value is not external to ourselves... it's only what we WANT our value to be. So there is not objective value, only subjective value. Which is real in the head of the person, but nowhere else.

            IF God exists then that value is not only subjective but is also outside of our selves. i.e. objective.

          • josh

            Moussa, my point is that value is inherently subjective. You can have objectivity or you can have meaning/value, but you can't have both. If you want something objective, it doesn't need to be God. What I say my opinion is would be an objective fact for you, but of course it doesn't follow that my opinion is meaningful to you. Or, as I hinted, you could take the worm's opinion as your external standard of objectivity. :) In the end, it is still your subjective standard which chooses to adopt some external, 'objective' evaluation to value.

            If you don't feel compelled to adopt my opinions now just because I am external to you, then it surely makes no difference if I was a longer-lived being, nor even if I was eternal. If I was smarter and more knowledgeable you might respect my opinion more, but it wouldn't become more meaningful. Let's say I was so smart, omniscient even, that you just trusted me to know what is valuable and isn't. But that would only make sense if value is already an objective fact out there in the world. My knowing it couldn't be what makes things valuable.

          • Vasco Gama

            I don't agre with you that value is subjective.You might understand it that way, as it depends on subjective cognition, consciousness, and reason (and I think no one disputes that), but this in itself doesn't necessarily makes it so.

          • djs56

            Hi Vasco Gama, I think that's an interesting point, hopefully this will explain my thinking.

            I hope we can agree that there are subjective values, and for simplicity let's assume your examples of truth, good and beauty are values. I hope we can also agree that I can (subjectively) know the truth, beauty and goodness of something: it's true, I like pizza; I thought the arrangement of pepperoni on that pizza was beautiful; and (sorry to labour the point), that pepperoni pizza tasted good.

            But, aren't objective values unknowable - by definition. Of course they may exist, and I believe some do, but I can't possibly know that they exist. Can you explain to me a method whereby you come to know an objective value? Everything you know, by definition, has been derived through your conscious experience and is therefore subjective.

            Surely "Objectivity" is a belief?

          • Vasco Gama

            It is objective in the sense that humans seek truth, or in the sense that humans seek to do good, or in the sense that the contemplation of beauty gives them pleasure. The fact that our cognition, consciousness, or reasoning are subjective experiences doesn’t entail that what results from those experiences is not objective, in the sense that our perception of those values is true independently of the subjective experience.

            It is objective also in the sense that is perceived by someone who is not disabled. In the same sense that a human can perceive what is to be blue (although the experience in itself is subjective), and a blind person might not be capable of understanding it, or as the recognition of acceptance that something is true, unless one might be a fool( or pretend to be a fool), and fail to understand it, or one is able to recognizes the beauty in the singing of a bird, unless one might be deaf, and unable to understand it, or in the same sense that one is able to recognizes what is good, unless one is psychopathic (and fail to see that there is good).

            With this I don’t intend to say that whatever is true, good or beautiful is obvious and universally accepted, or that we don’t disagree and discuss those values (what is truth, good or beauty), as it is not the case (no one pretends that reality is simple, although one might desire that it was so).

          • Argon

            Commonality Objectiveness.
            We humans hold many values in common. I think that this due in part to a common biology and the similar ways we organize in groups and societies. For a set biology, a common means of social organization and given cognitive similarities one can suggest there would be an 'objective' standard for values held under those conditions. The values would change relative to the conditions but for any particular combination of these, one might conclude that the values displayed make perfect sense and logically follow from observations.

          • Vasco Gama

            I just said that values (such as truth, good and beauty) are objective, I didn’t claim that it is mysterious or unexplainable. In fact one might try to frame that objectivity on biology (or on metaphysics, sociology, or whatever).

            «For a set biology, a common means of social organization and given cognitive similarities one can suggest there would be an 'objective' standard for values heldunder those conditions. The values would change relative to the conditions but for any particular combination of these, one might conclude that the values displayed make perfect sense and logically follow from observations.»

            I didn’t exclude the existence of some cultural variability (or even subjective), but this is meaningless, or the possibility that reality might be different from what is (here we would be talking about what we don’t observe, but on the abstractions of what could be possible). The undisputable fact is that there is an extensive and solid universality and consistency on the perception of those values.

          • Argon

            'Truth' is an component of logical systems and can be conceptualized outside of physical manifestations. 'Good' and 'Beauty' (& 'Purpose/Meaning') are highly dependent on context. These latter two are heavily entwined with physical conditions. For example, there is a species of African frog that eats its young when food becomes limited as part of its natural cycle of life. The advantage is that the tadpoles can eat algae, which frogs cannot, and the growing tadpoles in turn provide an essential food source for adult frogs. Not every tadpole gets eaten and so the species continues. In a society made up of such individuals with the same biological constraints, eating one's children would not necessary be considered 'bad' even though that would be generally recognized as 'unthinkable' in human cultures.

          • Vasco Gama

            «Truth' is an component of logical systems and can be conceptualized outside of physical manifestations. 'Good' and 'Beauty' (& 'Purpose/Meaning') are highly dependent on context.»

            I don't pretend to imply that the perception of truth, good beauty can't also be dependent on context. The fact is that we acnkowledge the truth in good and beauty (which can exist in one or another context, or that one might not fail to recognize it), I didn't pretend that either truth, good or beauty are necessarily obvious or self evident.

            The example of the frog is interesting, but surely is meaningless unless you might try to suggets that humans might find reasonable to behave as frogs (which I am sure it is not the case).

          • josh

            Vasco, what makes value subjective is that you can never come up with an objective argument that logically compels someone to care about something, except by appealing to something they already care about. So you might argue that I should care about, e.g., justice out of self-interest for example. But the self-interest is itself subjective.

          • Vasco Gama

            Josh,

            The problem is that we don’t escape from the fact that we don’t recognize those values as subjective, as we are not capable to understand it that way, even if we choose that is reasonable to oversimplify reality (in that we are in fact wrongly choosing to look at them as subjective). It is not the case that we fail to recognize that in fact we are able to recognize what is true, but much more than that we expect and demand that others do that as well, such as in this case, were we are discussing something, and defending our arguments, in order to show that we pretend to be true is in fact objectively true. If it was not the case arguing about something would be absurd, and we would do it. Or in the same reason you might find that someone might have done something that is not good, and without justification caused harm to you. In this case you will find reasonable to show him that he objectively failed to recognized that, we don’t escape from considering it objectively evil (or not good), and in this sense we demand other people from acknowledging that, and we find absurd to consider that it is subjective and arbitrary (in that sense). Or as when we experience pleasure while experiencing beauty, we also see that as evident and objective and not the result of a peculiar personal subjective experience, and in fact we may try to share our experience with others and in fact we are puzzled by the fact that someone might fail to agree with us (although it might be possible).

            In some sense we might try to find arguments that say that those things are purely subjective (as depend on the subjective experience of our mind), in order to simplify our judgements and our evaluations, but I think that in fact we are fooling ourselves, just for the sake of simplicity.

          • Moussa Taouk

            "You can have objectivity or you can have meaning/value, but you can't have both." - I agree. I think the word "objective" can cause problems. There has to be a mind involved to value the thing.

            "If you want something objective, it doesn't need to be God." - I agree.

            "What I say my opinion is would be an objective fact for you, but of course it doesn't follow that my opinion is meaningful to you." - I disagree.

            Your opinion, just because it's outside of MY mind doesn't make it objective. It has to be outside of a HUMAN mind. And not a worm's mind either! I guess it has to align with reality. i.e. it has to be true. Also, whether or not your opinion is meaningful (of value) to me or not depends on whether or not I perceive it to be true or of some worth. So its value isn't derived due to it being from another mind, but by its correspondence to truth or being of worth in my mind.

            "My knowing it couldn't be what makes things valuable." - I agree AND I disagree.

            I agree because knowing something doesn't automatically give it value or meaning.

            But I disagree because you're suggesting that you "know" whether or not I'm valuable, which means I inherently have value or I don't apart from your mind. But I thought we agree that "value" is subjective. That is: it's not that you'd 'know' I had a pre-existing value. It's that either I would have value in your mind or I wouldn't. It would be subject to whether or not YOU value me.

            So with God, who is eternal mind, it's not His omniscience that knows that we have value. It's that He loves us. We are of value to God. Therefore we are meaningfule to God. Therefore we are meaningful.

            If you remove God from the equation, then there is NO eternal mind, and I agree with you... We all don't have value (meaning) outside of our own mind (and the minds of those around us).

            Thanks Josh. I loved coming to terms with what you're saying. I hope I HAVE understood you well and done your reply justice. I must say it took a few goes of reading it!

          • josh

            Moussa,
            "Your opinion, just because it's outside of MY mind doesn't make it objective."
            A slight misunderstanding of what I said I think. It's not that my opinion is necessarily true, it's just that it's objectively true that I have an opinion. In the same sense, it could be (for the sake of argument) objectively true that God has an opinion. What's not clear is why you should value the one and not the other. But you seem to agree with me now that it is your own subjective opinion about what makes things valuable to you.

            The discussion about 'knowing you are valuable' wasn't my view of how things actually work. It was a hypothetical to demonstrate the problem with claiming that God knows the objective value of things, which is a pretty common claim among Catholics but apparently not your view. It seems that what you value is the idea of someone eternally valuing you. But now that's doubly subjective! So I don't think it makes any sense to say that only that can make things meaningful. It would be equally true then to say that my cat's opinion on Tuesday is what makes things meaningful since that's what I care about.

            Now, as to your personal feelings about meaning (to you), the question is 'why' do you particularly care that some eternal thing values you? Especially once you are dead and gone? Or why not take the view that from outside time, it is eternally true that whoever loves you in this instant loves you eternally?

          • Moussa Taouk

            I'm so glad for this article. I've had the most interesting conversations as a result! On we go...

            "What's not clear is why you should value the one and not the other" (i.e. your opinion vs God's opinion).

            I value one over the other depending on how well it aligns with the truth. Your opinion MIGHT be valuable in that it might align with truth, and it might not be. God's 'opinion' is necessarily 'objective' because it's necessarily true (since God is all-knowing).

            "It is your own subjective opinion about what makes things valuable to you." - I agree. But my own subjective opinion is not what makes things (my life in this case) ummm... (I'm trying to not use objectively since it causes problems) let's say "ultimately" meaningful (i.e. 'valuable' in the way we're presently using the word 'meaning'). For THAT there needs to be a valuing of my life outside my self. (Have I misunderstood your point?)

            "It was a hypothetical to demonstrate the problem with claiming that God knows the objective value of things, which is a pretty common claim among Catholics but apparently not your view." - I disagree. I'm with the Catholics on this one. How did you conclude that?

            I DO think that God knows the objective value of things. But I think there are things that we may consider "objective" or "having the value that they ultimately really have even outside a mind" such as numbers or colours. But certainly God KNOWS the value and truth of all things.

            Sorry... can't get to the rest just yet. I gotta run!

          • Moussa Taouk

            Hi Josh. I'm glad for this article that has resulted in some very interesting conversations. Ok, ohwards and upwards!

            "What's not clear is why you should value the one and not the other."

            Well... I do value the objective fact that you have an opinion. Hey, I mean... I even very much value your opinion! But your opinion isn't necessarily THE TRUTH of the matter. Whereas God's 'opinion' is not really an opinion but is certain knowledge about the matter.

            "It was a hypothetical to demonstrate the problem with claiming that God knows the objective value of things, which is a pretty common claim among Catholics but apparently not your view." - No, I disagree.

            I don't know how you came to that conclusion. Maybe because I agreed that "if you want something objective it doesn't need to be God"? Maybe that was a misunderstanding. I agree that things have objectivity within themselves apart from the need to appeal to God. Such as numbers or colours. But God surely must know the objective value of things if He created all things and if He is eternal and all-knowing.

            "It seems that what you value is the idea of someone eternally valuing you." - I disagree.

            What I value is irrelevant to the question at hand. The question is: Is my life meaningful only within my mind (and those around me), or is life meaningful "from outside" so to speak. From beyond my own mind. I say if God exists, then yes. Because my value is derived from and God, and God's valuation is true. And if there is no God, then I say no. Beyond our human minds, there is no value to our lives. (Really there would be no value to anything in that case, but ok let's stick to human life).

            "But now that's doubly subjective!" - I agree. But God's subjectivity is what ultimately matters because it is necessarliy true. My subjectivity is very much secondary because I may well be deceived about my value and what I hold to be important.

            "Now, as to your personal feelings about meaning (to you), the question is 'why' do you particularly care that some eternal thing values you? Especially once you are dead and gone? Or why not take the view that from outside time, it is eternally true that whoever loves you in this instant loves you eternally?" - well...

            It's the truth of the matter that counts. There is certainly a human desire to be loved. But if that comes not from the way God has made us ("You have made us for yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you" - St Augustine) then it's the by-product of the result of random processes. So you're right. In that case I wouldn't really care. Because ultimately it would be a meaningless question.

            Please excuse the essay!

          • josh

            Moussa, I don't mind the essay but the self-contradictions are mounting. Earlier you said that God's loving you is what matters, not that he knows your value because that would imply that value exists intrinsically in things. You agreed that it was instead subjective. That's not the Catholic view. Now in your reply you are apparently reversing course. Now it's not opinions that matter but whether they match up with the truth. That's a notion of objective, not subjective. But what could 'objective value' mean? Value to whom? You want to say value to God, but that is still subjective, unless you mean that God knows values in things that exist apart from God, in which case God is not necessary since the value could in principle exist without him. You want a valuation outside yourself, but then arbitrarily also disallow any person around you, and presumably any person not anywhere near you, except God.

            How can you be 'deceived' about what you hold important? If you value something, why would you change your mind about it except that you valued something else enough to want to? In the end it is still you doing the valuing. If you are worried about deception, shouldn't you worry about your valuing what God thinks?

            God's subjectivity matters because it is necessarily true- What does that mean? If physical determinism is true then what I value is necessarily the case, why doesn't that make my subjectivity matter?

            You desire to be loved. That is either a product of random or deterministic processes. God doesn't enter into it. If he doesn't exist, you are still either the product of random or deterministic processes. Again though, why would you care either way? If you are a product of Godless processes, do you desire to be loved any less? You say without God it is ultimately a meaningless question, but that is the very question we were asking 'What makes something meaningful?', so you have simply begged your answer.

          • Moussa Taouk

            Mr Josh, I believe you've killed off half my brain cells with that last response. It’s this word “objective”. It is causing chaos! Oh my goodness, I’m afraid of ever using the word again!!

            “Objective value” in relation to the meaning of life. Can I have another crack at this from a slightly different angle? I may have contradicted myself, or else there’s a misunderstanding. Sorry if I’ve not been clear.

            We can use the word objective if I want an objective opinion about my talents as an artist. In that context, “objective” means an opinion of someone who has no vested interest in my talents as an artist. Well, that
            eliminates me, my friends, my family, my competition. The neutrality of their position is important because if they are not neutral they will be swayed from the truth about my abilities by their emotions / self-interest etc. It also
            eliminates worms because their opinion is non-existent, and if it exists is of little relevance because it will be far from the truth of the matter.

            But it’s not JUST the neutrality of the opinion that is of value. It’s also their ability to know such a thing. So if I get the opinion of someone on drugs or a drunk man, that’s of lesser worth than the opinion of a renowned artist.

            The ultimate objective opinion regarding my abilities would be for an atheist, I think, impossible. Because there is no perfect knowledge of art. Unless they believe there is a perfect standard of artistry to which I can be compared.

            For a THEIST, perfect objectivity can be found in God
            because His knowledge of all things is perfect.

            Swap painting abilities with life itself. “Objective value”
            is to say, from the perspective of one with perfect knowledge, is my life of value? For an atheist, that’s a meaningless question because there’s no one who
            can provide an ultimate vision of the value of our lives. Therefore, whatever value our lives have are localised to our own opinions or creations as per the article’s point or at most the imperfect opinions of those around us.

            Ok, over to you.

          • Sascha Rue

            Gold does not have a greater value than dirt. The value of something is dependent upon how well it serves the purpose. For example, if you are trying to get a nail into a piece of wood, what has a greater value: an iPhone or a hammer? In the same way, if you are trying to plant a flower, dirt has greater value than gold. The real question is, what purpose does man serve: God, himself, or other people? And which one of those purposes can last after the end of mankind?

            The immortality of the soul is a concept made by Plato. Biblically, your soul doesn't last either.

      • Vasco Gama

        I really don't appreciate this discussion, and don't understand what sense it makes for a theist to address this issue with an atheist (in the sense that I don’t understand what response he is expected to obtain), although I might understand the drive to do so.

        It just reminds me of a person who might try to follow is compass, while seeking to go north, and in the way while encountering person after person each going in a particular direction, which looks quite random to him, and, as he fails to see where they are going, perplex as he is he keeps wondering where they might be going, or what might be guiding them.

        • Moussa Taouk

          Vasco, I don't get it. Are you questioning THIS particular conversation when I (a theist) am answering the question of how to define "meaning" posed by (I assume) an atheist??

          Or are you questioning the value of a theist talking at all with an atheist regarding the question of the meaning of life?

          Or are you questioning the point of dialoguing with an atheist altogether regarding the existence of God?

          In either scenario, surely there is value because we are all seekers of Truth. In addition we all desire to share what we perceive to be the Truth with others for love of them and for love of Truth. One main way to do so is to have such conversations. Another way (for the theist) is prayer. But surely dialogue is fundamentally important!

          • Vasco Gama

            Please don’t get me wrong, as I said I understand the motivation on this (on any other) dialogue with someone else, such as in this case someone who is not a believer. And I realize it is well meant and purposeful. The dialogue with others is important, particularly with those we disagree with, by all sorts of reasons. However I think this dialogue (on the particular issue of the meaning of life) is not the same as a dialogue we might have with someone that knows us and somehow might perceive the difference it makes for us. In spite of we are called to bear testimony of the truth, and what it means, to others and in particular to unbelievers. In the dialogue with someone we don’t know there are all sorts of limitations, and it is limitative in the way that others might be capable of perceive and comprehend what we might address.

            In this sense, although I am capable of understanding what is the purpose of the dialogue is, I am also able to put myself in the shoes of an atheist, and in that case this entire dialogue would seem as nonsense, as it presumes that I would not feel not to have purpose and meaning in life, which is something odd and somewhat dramatic to recognize, and if I was an atheist I would be somehow outraged. As I said in my previous comment «no one knows he is lost, until he realizes that he is lost». But that is just my feeling, I might be wrong.

          • Moussa Taouk

            I agree with the limitations of this kind of communication. I really wish I could sit together with these guys and have the conversation over a cup of coffee. Or better still pursue a friendship with them and in that context have the conversation.

            But there is nevertheless value. For starters I've enjoyed the challenge posed by others to understand my thoughts in a more coherent and structured way. And I've learnt a number of things (about brains and definitions). But most of all I'm ever so glad that God does exist. I have a renewed appreciation of this fact. As for what the atheist friends get out of the discussion... maybe you're right. They might just get frustration and "outrage" from the whole thing. But I think they get something good out of it. Even if only enjoying a stimulating conversation. But if they are outraged it's not a reason to not talk about it. I think we have to come to terms with the facts of life. Maybe it's a maturing process for them (as it is for me).

            Thanks Vasco.

            Hey, where are you from?

          • Vasco Gama

            Moussa,

            I agree with you, I also enjoy these exchange of ideas. After a traditionaI religious education and the departure of Catholicism into atheism in my teen age years I experienced a reconversion back to Catholicism, about three years ago, in this sense my own experience as an atheist provide me a good insight, or a better perspective of atheism (but it maybe just a personal presumption), besides the fact that most of my friends and relations are atheists or pratical atheists. I am from Portugal.

            Thanks, it was nice talking to you.

  • One character that I think illustrates this sense of meaninglessness perfectly is the intellectual professor "White" in Cormac McCarthy's "The Sunset Limited." (There's a fantastic film version starring Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson.)

    Have any of our atheists and agnostics here seen it? What your thoughts on the character, and the film in general?

    • David Nickol

      I have not read or seen the play or seen the movie, but it does strike me that becoming profoundly depressed or pessimistic and believing one's own life is meaningless is an experience that Christians are not immune from in any way. I don't know of any studies, but it wouldn't surprise me if more religious people than atheists struggled with this sense of meaninglessness.

      I think it is not all that uncommon for people who believe in God to feel that God is irrelevant to their lives and indifferent or even hostile to them. Those are awful thoughts that atheists aren't subject to. And of course atheists don't have to worry about being tormented for all eternity for some little ol' thing they weren't even paying attention to. ("A word, a cup of water, a seemingly minor thing done or not done can spell the difference between everlasting ecstasy or unending horror, loss, and pain." — Mark Shea)

      • I'd agree generally. I'm not sure why you equate depression/pessimism with "believing one's own life is meaningless" though. It seems to me that we can have both, neither, or one without the other - and of course, every case could apply to either a Christian or atheist. But I think a sense of meaning or meaninglessness is more fundamental, and depends on how much we internalize and live out our world views - our respective answers to the question posed by existence.

        The "White" character, for example, is erudite, cultured, witty - but driven to suicide. Why? Certainly not pessimism.

        I don't regard my state of mind as some pessimistic view of the world. I regard it as the world itself. Evolution cannot avoid bringing intelligent life ultimately to an awareness of one thing above all else, and that one thing is futility.

        (BTW the film version is on YouTube in 7 parts. But you didn't hear it from me!)

        • David Nickol

          It seems to me that people don't seriously entertain the possibility that life has no "meaning" unless they are discontent, depressed, despairing, on in some other similar state. People who are at all happy or content with their lives (and are not suffering physically) don't ask, "Does life have meaning?", intellectually conclude that it doesn't, and then commit suicide as a rational act. Happy people are going to conclude that life has meaning whether they are atheists or theists, and unhappy people may conclude that life doesn't have meaning, although it they don't necessarily do so. (It may be that religious beliefs help unhappy people to convince themselves that, despite their unhappiness, life has "meaning.")

          So in some respects, I would say the question, "What is the meaning of life?" is really just a way of asking, "Am I depressed, or troubled, or unhappy with my life?"

          • Would you agree that we, as rational animals, have the ability to search for truth about the world, apart from our subjective world of emotions and experiences? This is the basis not only for philosophy and religion, but for science - the conviction that we can discover the truth of things "out there," and not in a way that is conditioned by my "in here." So truth seems to be independent of emotion.

            Now, that said, yes, some people won't begin the search for religious truth until they suffer. ("If you don't know God," my Dad says, "maybe you haven't suffered enough.") But others (e.g., Dorothy Day) seek God in a time of bliss and gratitude. It varies - but more importantly, it doesn't really matter. You could assert that people become academics because they were lonely, weak, or bullied as children. But even if that were true (it's not), it has no bearing on the truth value of their studies. Which brings me to this...

            It may be that religious beliefs help unhappy people to convince themselves that, despite their unhappiness, life has "meaning."

            That seems like an curiously brash generalization to make about every religious person that's ever lived (i.e., nearly every person that's ever lived) - especially from someone whose comments here are usually more fair-minded.

            Forget that it commits the genetic fallacy. It's also just plain rude!

          • David Nickol

            That seems like an curiously brash generalization to make about every
            religious person that's ever lived (i.e., nearly every person that's
            ever lived) - especially from someone whose comments here are usually
            more fair-minded.

            I am not quite sure what is objectionable. It's my conjecture (and I acknowledge it is a huge generalization) that happy people (religious or nonreligious) don't ask themselves, "What is the meaning of life?" It seems to me another way of putting the question is, "What's the point of it all?" (Or, 'What's it all about, Aflie? Is it just for the moment we live?") It's the question you ask when you have begun to feel that your life doesn't have "meaning." Some religious people who are unhappy may remain unhappy but find comforting answers. "Why do I suffer? I really don't understand, but even Jesus had to suffer, so I will try to take it in stride." Or, "I'll offer it up for the poor souls in purgatory." Or, like your father, "Suffering eventually will bring you to God." Or, "I will unite my own suffering to Christ's." I am not saying they are wrong and should just give up and despair.

            On the other hand, I am not saying that happy religious people don't think about what makes life "meaningful." They may see meaning in their lives, and think about it, and write about it. But they don't search for an answer. They already know.

            I say this because I think questions about the "meaning" of life are vague and have no straightforward answers. They may prompt people to think about important things, but they don't have answers in the form "The meaning of life is . . . " or "Life means . . . " You really have to redefine (or define) the question in order to answer it.

  • David Nickol

    If consciousness is just a mirage produced by chemical reactions in our brains, and if the mirage permanently flickers out on the day those reactions
    cease, then do any of our conscious thoughts really matter?

    This would seem to imply that living (including thinking, and feeling, and loving, and eating large quantities of Russian Tea Cakes [aka Mexican Wedding Cookies] and Milk Chocolate Cashew Bark) don't "matter" to anyone who isn't immortal. None of the great figures in the Old Testament anticipated life after death, and they didn't seem to think life was pointless. I fail to see why something that doesn't have "meaning" acquires it if it continues for all eternity.

    If pain is just a chemical reaction in the brain when you slam your fingers in the car door, does it really matter? If fear is just a chemical reaction in the brain when you are showering at the Bates Motel and Norman Bates's "mother" rips open the shower curtain and starts stabbing at you with a knife, does it really matter?

    It seems more and more obvious to me, by the way, that consciousness is produced by chemical reactions in the brain (although that is a vast oversimplification), but why that would make it a "mirage" I don't know.

    • "I fail to see why something that doesn't have "meaning" acquires it if it continues for all eternity."

      I don't think this was Jennifer's claim. From what I can gather, she's positing (rightly, I think) that on atheism there is no *ultimate* meaning in life, that on materialism, we can have subjective or relative meaning, but no actions or thoughts that are objectively meaningful.

      It's interesting that you brought up the OT figures regarding this topic. I think the writer of Ecclesiastes expressed the OT view of meaninglessness quite well:

      "'Vanity of vanities,' says Qoheleth, 'vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!'"

      • David Nickol

        atheism there is no *ultimate* meaning in life, that on materialism, we can have subjective or relative meaning, but no actions or thoughts that are objectively meaningful.

        But what I quoted was her rhetorical question that if conscious was chemical (that is, if materialism is true), "do any of our conscious thoughts really matter?" I can't speak for anyone else, but if tonight another commenter posts a message with definitive proof that there is no God, tomorrow I will still love shopping for books, I will still care about my family in the same way I do now, I will still contribute to the same charities, I will continue doing my exercises and watching my weight, I will look forward to season 4 of Homeland, and so on. And although I can't speak for them, I am quite sure that billions and billions of the earth's population will continue to fall in love, get married, have families, make careers, want grandchildren, and so on.

        It seems to me the point of the OP was that without "ultimate" meaning (whatever that is), there is no meaning.

        • Andre Boillot

          I also feel like some are equivocating far too often between 'ultimate' and 'objective' meaning. These do not mean the same thing, and something need not be ultimate or eternal to have objective meaning.

        • Martin

          Life probably would continue as usual. However, our (as Christians or other theists) understanding of our activities would change. We would know that all these "loves" (books, family, charities etc) would be mere involuntary reactions ultimately produced only by the increasing entropy of the universe with no more value than a rock falling and shattering on a deserted alien world.

          • David Nickol

            We would know that all these "loves" (books, family, charities etc) would be mere involuntary reactions ultimately produced only by the increasing entropy . . .

            I am very much under the influence of Steven Pinker's book The Blank Slate, which I recently finished. The point of the book is that human beings are not born as blank slates, and there is such a thing as human nature. The concept of human nature makes sense to me, and I think it is human nature to fall in love, have children, seek power, invent better ways of doing things, form groups, compete with (and battle) groups other than your own, and so on, and so on. In many respects, human beings do many of the same things that our pre-human ancestors did, and our pre-human ancestors didn't need the concept of "meaning" to motivate them.

            How many human beings in their day-to-day lives actually ponder questions of "meaning" and think, "If there were no God, this would be meaningless"?

            It seems to me that something like the story of Adam and Eve is an attempt to explain why things are the way they are, not a prescription that was followed so that things became they way they are. When humans became verbal and then literate, they didn't write down the history of how things came to be what they were. The invented stories that purported to explain why things were the way they were.

            When he brought her to the man, the man said:

            “This one, at last, is bone of my bones
            and flesh of my flesh;
            This one shall be called ‘woman,’
            for out of man this one has been taken.”*

            That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.

            There were male and female animals long before there were male and female humans. And male and female animals paired off long before there were humans (some of them even monogamous, or mostly so). So it was not because the first woman was made out of a man's rib or was made specifically as a "helpmeet" for the first man that human males and females pair off (sometimes even monogamously). That was already the case with our prehuman ancestors. Human beings, unremarkably, carried on the process. A great deal of religion, philosophy, and political theory consists of post-hoc rationalizations of what human beings did and do naturally and undoubtedly would continue to do if there were definitive proof that there is no God.

            Of course, if there were definitive proof that there were no God, it is doubtful that many believers would find it convincing, since believers feel there is definitive proof that God exists, and nonbelievers don't believe it. (There is, of course, no definitive proof one way or the other about the existence of a God or gods, so the hypothetical question "What if there were no God?" is not really a hypothetical question (or at least not a hypothetical contrary to fact, such as, "What if there were no gravity?").

          • David Nickol

            Or to put it much more briefly, people do what they do because that is what people do (largely because of having evolved as the kind of animals that they are), not because God designed them to do what they do. And one of the things people do is make up reasons to explain (or rather, rationalize) why they do what they do and how things got to be the way they are. Consequently, life has "meaning" because people evolved to be the kind of animals that they are, and "meaning" consists of living the kind of live they evolved to live.

          • Martin

            I would agree -- as a current theist and former agnostic myself, that is how I understood (and had held myself) life from an atheistic standpoint. In an atheist world view, we do everything blindly without free will or meaning. In fact, those terms are meaningless.

          • josh

            If that is so, then adding God to your worldview will still leave it without free will or meaning. Free will only becomes more incoherent when you add an omnipotent, omniscient creator god. Meaning becomes completely arbitrary when it is the whim of a cosmic game-player.

      • So there can be enormous meaning in life without any gods, just not "ultimate meaning" as defined by theists, which presumably means some kind of eternal relationship with an infinite being. I just do not see why this is troubling or unreasonable.

  • Steven Dillon

    Atheists are free to endorse any theory of mind that does not require theism. Thus, atheists can believe in practically any theory of mind: they're certainly not chained to theories that make consciousness illusory. In fact, most philosophers of mind are atheists and reject the sort of reductive materialism criticized in this article.

    • Argon

      Yes. Also, atheism is not synonymous with materialism though I would agree that many hold to both.

      • Good point, Argon. You're right on that. However, I've never met a materialist who wasn't also an atheist (at least a "weak" atheist). Have you?

        • Paul Boillot

          Couldn't Pantheists, Pagans, Shintoists fit that characterization?

          Any dieties they might have are of-the-world, not outside it.

          • Steven Dillon

            I was just writing about this earlier: classical polytheism is technically naturalistic. I think that's a huge advantage, though I can't defend naturalism here.

        • Peter van Inwagen considers himself to be a Christian materialist.

        • The question relevant to this post is not whether you've ever met a materialist who wasn't an atheist, but the other way way around.

          • Argon

            Bingo, Rob!

  • Renard Wolfe

    Without creating some allegedly "higher" meaning that requires a spiritual dimension:
    Why does it being a bunch of neurons make it less meaningful?
    Why does being temporary make it less meaningful?

    • Colin Gormley

      >Why does it being a bunch of neurons make it less meaningful?Why does being temporary make it less meaningful?

      A transitory effect has less of an impact than a permanent one, yes?

      • Renard Wolfe

        But not meaningless.

        • Colin Gormley

          >But not meaningless.

          That wasn't his question. His question was:

          >Why does being temporary make it less meaningful?

          The theoretical maximum of "meaning" could change. But essentially if all meaning is transitory then eventually whatever meaning might have existed is eventually nullified. That is Mrs. Fulwiler's point I believe.

          • Renard Wolfe

            It was my question.

            Without creating some allegedly "higher" meaning that requires a spiritual dimension why does it being temporary make it less meaningful?

            The only way you can make that bunch of temporary neurons mean less is comparing it to a nonexistent permanent soul. This is like saying that a million dollar check is worthless because I can Imagine a 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 dollar check.

            You're not seeing an internal inconsistency within atheism, You are projecting one of your suppositions into atheism and then wondering why the rest of atheism doesn't make sense with it there.

          • Colin Gormley

            >It was my question.

            My bad.. But precisely speaking it isn't the same question per se.

            >The only way you can make that bunch of temporary neurons mean less is comparing it to a nonexistent permanent soul.

            Well that is the question isn't it?

            I suppose it depends on how one defines "meaning". On the one hand we like to think that our contributions are immediately beneficial. On the other there is a part of us that hopes that in the end our lives will matter. That what we have does transcends us in some permanence.

            If one is content with bread and water I suppose one wouldn't attempt to find other food beyond it. When one discovers cuisine however then bread and water looks rather distasteful and "lesser". The theist claims that cuisine and culinary masterpieces exist. The atheist claims that bread and water is all there is so we should make the most of it.

          • Renard Wolfe

            I suppose it depends on how one defines "meaning".

            Exactly. This is often used as an argument against atheism, and its equivocation.

            Meaning1- It matters
            Meaning2- It matters on an eternal spiritual level.

            In order to say that there is anything wrong with atheism you first have to show that atheism is wrong. Which is more than a mite circular.

          • Colin Gormley

            >This is often used as an argument against atheism, and its equivocation.

            Maybe but I do not think that Mrs. Fulwiler is using it in the sense you think she is. What she is pointing out is that the traditional sense of meaning has as a component a notion of permanence. We WANT our contributions and actions that we assign meaning to possess the notion of permanence. It is a natural desire. Yet atheism lacks this by the fact the as humans we expire, thus whatever we assign as "meaningful" ultimately will pass away.

            If the atheist is comfortable with this and is consistent in his life that this is true then there is no contradiction. If the atheist is not consistent (and in my experience they are not) then a reconciliation is in order.

          • Renard Wolfe

            If the atheist is not consistent (and in my experience they are not) then a reconciliation is in order.

            Can you give an example of this without the equivocation?

            Calling one the "Traditional" meaning is just posturing for the equivocation. Its neither the oldest nor most common meaning of meaning. Nor does it mean that any atheist using meaning1 must be using meaning2.

          • Colin Gormley

            >Can you give an example of this without the equivocation?

            I am not sure what would suffice. Such consistency is an internal disposition and how they relate to the things that they say have meaning.

            I am thinking more in terms of the atheist who says that they can lead a life just as meaningful as the Christian. This is true if one assumes the atheist position since the Christian is laboring under a delusion and assigns permanence when it isn't there. But if the atheist attributes more meaning and permanence than actually their position allows then something must give, otherwise the atheist is the one living the delusion.

            >Calling one the "Traditional" meaning is just posturing for the equivocation.

            Now now no need to be rude. I meant traditional in the Christian or more broadly Western sense. One only needs to study Greek mythology to see that seeking permanence and meaning in one's deeds is quite ubiquitous, even if that means ultimately the annihilation of the self.

          • Renard Wolfe

            [blockquote]I am thinking more in terms of the atheist who says that they can lead a life just as meaningful as the Christian[/blockquote]

            There's NO internal inconsistency there, at all.

            To the atheist your deeper meaning doesn't exist. You can't simply make it up and have it there. The only inconsistancy is if you insist on putting your view in the atheists words, which oddly enough results in a contradiction.

            And any attempt to be honest will sound rude when someone is trying to pull something.

          • Colin Gormley

            >To the atheist your deeper meaning doesn't exist. You can't simply make it up and have it there.

            Do you actually read what I write. I made the same point:

            >This is true if one assumes the atheist position since the Christian is laboring under a delusion and assigns permanence when it isn't there. But if the atheist attributes more meaning and permanence than actually their position allows then something must give, otherwise the atheist is the one living the delusion.

            >And any attempt to be honest will sound rude when someone is trying to pull something.

            Lovely. Accusations of lying now? This took a bad turn. Bye.

          • Renard Wolfe

            You read the same point but don't see the difference between internal consistency and consistency with what you believe.

          • Renard Wolfe

            Its my question

            The question is

            Without creating some allegedly "higher" meaning that requires a spiritual dimension why does being temporary make it less meaningful?

            Changing the maximum of meaning is the same exact thing as just making up more meaning. Its like saying that a million dollar check is worthless because I can imagine a 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 dollar one.

      • Timothy Reid

        It has no meaning because those neurons will turn into mush some day and become meaningless. It didn't last. If nothing lasts, it's just a utilitarian universe and survival of the fittest.
        Let's pretend some serf farmer in imperial Japan helps a person who stumbled on a mountain road. Then an avalanche comes and sweeps them down the mountain killing them both.
        No one else is around to witness the event. The farmers' kind act has no meaning if there is no eternal.

        • That's a series of assertions without a reason provided for me to believe them.

          • Timothy Reid

            If there is nothing after death, does the farmer's kind act have meaning? If so, how?

          • Renard Wolfe

            Yes.
            Because for even one brief instant, another sentient being got to live, hope, and experience joy.

          • Timothy Reid

            What is meant by "sentient"?

          • Renard Wolfe

            Sentient: the ability to think "I exist"

          • Timothy Reid

            So you accept Descartes?

          • Renard Wolfe

            That part works.

            Keep in mind, the ability to tell if another being is sentient is somewhat subjective. Philosophically I can't tell if you're sentient I have more than enough information to reasonably conclude that you are, as are most people and some animals.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I would agree with that. It sounds to me - correct me if I am wrong - as though you are recognizing a permanent, cosmic meaning inherent in that one brief instant. Or do you think the meaning and value of that moment ceases to exist once the material reality has passed?

          • David Nickol

            If there is nothing after death, does the farmer's kind act have meaning? If so, how?

            It is not clear to me what you are asking. Do you mean to imply that if there is no eternal life, an act of kindness has no meaning, or if there is no eternal reward for kindness and no eternal punishment for unkindness, then an act of kindness has no meaning?

            By "meaning," are you implying "reason to do or not do"? That is, if there is no eternal reward, there is no reason to perform an act of kindness?

            I think it is generally agreed among Catholics that animals do not have immortal souls. Does this mean it is okay to treat them cruelly?

            If you should some day conclude there is no God, and you come upon people who are beating a child, would you not stop them if you could? Or would a child's suffering have no "meaning" if there is no God?

          • Timothy Reid

            I would stop them because I do believe that there is a God and that makes us all brothers and sisters with human dignity.....not because of the dread of hell.

          • Argon

            I'm aware of atheists who believe people are their 'brothers' and 'sisters' and should be treated with dignity.

          • Timothy Reid

            And my position on those atheists you described is that acknowledging that we're brothers and sisters and have dignity IS acknowledging a higher power.

          • Timothy Reid

            Something not only inside, but also outside of a person compels them to act in a situation like that.

      • Paul Boillot

        As far as I understand physics, there are no "transitory" effects: butterfly effect and all that.

  • Moussa Taouk

    You know, I'm going to take a risk and say something here. I hope all atheist folks here are... I don't know... secure enough within themselves to not go and act as per my thought-process. But I'm looking to get your thoughts on the matter. i.e. PLEASE don't do this at home!

    I try often to put myself in an theist's "shoes". My inescapable conclusion is (following from the article) that all things and people around me are MERELY conglomerates of particles and energy. No soul, no mind, no such thing as purpose or "meaning" or value etc.

    So the question is: What motivates me to do anything? At the end of the day it's the emotions. "I" "like" pleasure, I "hate" pain. So to avoid pain I work to get food so I don't starve. And to gain pleasure I go on holidays and make "friends" and "love" my family etc. But just remember that all this "happiness" and sadness" are just some chemicals. Whether or not they took place would be utterly meaningless.

    Now I can understand going through that saga while it gives "me" "happiness". And I can understand dragging myself out of bed and going to work because the resulting happiness easily outweighs the 15-minute grudge of waking up.

    But I don't get what would motivate me to go on when I'm totally unhappy. When my girlfriend has left me or when my wife has divorced me or when my child has died or when I just feel down or I'm depressed or I have some disease. Why not kill myself?

    THIS is the part that you shouldn't do at home. Please.

    My conclusion always is that if I'm honest with myself then at such times I'd simply shoot myself in the head. And that's it. The universe remains EXACTLY as it is (except for some infinitessimally small bit of electrical impulses that were going on in a small unusual lump of atoms).

    Any thoughts?

    As supplement, I say: you are ALL willed into being. You are MORE THAN a bunch of atoms. You are precious children of One who Loves you so, so much. Your joys are meaningful, and your sufferings are meaningful. May you be blessed always.

    • Andre Boillot

      "My conclusion always is that if I'm honest with myself then at such times I'd simply shoot myself in the head. And that's it. The universe remains EXACTLY as it is..."

      Though, crucially (to my mind) I would not remain the same...so for now the safety remains on, gun stays out of mouth. Don't worry though Moussa, I'm not offended by your assertion that you'd kill yourself if you were a sad atheist. The nice thing about atheism is that, even when your sad, you think this life is all there is. No thoughts of paradise on the other side to tempt you towards the early exit. I do worry for you though, and out of fear of what you would do without it, I hope you'll never lose your faith.

      I'm a bit mystified that we're treated to these questions of "ultimate objective meaning" regarding the state of the universe with or without us. On Christianity, the universe cares not for you either. All of your objective meaning is tied to the after-life, and it seems the only real concern is that you secure the final destination, for your consciousness, which most appeals to you. Sure there's 'loving God' and all, but really, it's making sure you'll experience the best outcome for eternity. So what makes the theist get up and go to work at the appallingly tedious 9-5? Does it help you attain heaven? If not, that too is meaningless.

      (PS. Brandon, if you're worried about how appropriate violent rhetoric is in a forum like this, I would imagine these sorts of 'I'm not suggesting you do so, but if I were a depressed atheist I'd totally kill myself' thought experiments should be equally problematic).

      • Moussa Taouk

        I think realistically if I ever lost my faith I wouldn't kill myself. But that's only because I wouldn't be "honest with myself". Actually I think that's the point of the article. Is that the inconsistency is often there, and that inconsistency is not valid.

        The tediousness of life (the way that we approach suffering in general) certainly makes a difference regarding our journey to heaven.

        You know Andre (and Brandon) I did take a risk in writing that entry. I suppose there is a risk that some people might take it down the unintended road, and I only encourage the post getting altered (or even deleted) if you deem it inappropriate for this forum. I guess I just wanted to bounce a totally nude and honest thought off you guys.

        Thanks.

        • Andre Boillot

          " Actually I think that's the point of the article. Is that the inconsistency is often there, and that inconsistency is not valid."

          Sorry, not sure what you're referring to by "inconsistency".

          "The tediousness of life (the way that we approach suffering in general) certainly makes a difference regarding our journey to heaven."

          How does working a boring job for 50 years help you get into heaven?

          "I suppose there is a risk that some people might take it down the unintended road"

          Tip: if you're going to talk about suicide, in an online forum, in a way which you acknowledge before hand might be problematic, just turn off your computer instead.

          • Moussa Taouk

            "Inconsistency" is when on the one hand one claims that life has meaning, and on the other hand one claims that all that exists is matter/energy. Matter doesn't have 'meaning' or 'purpose'. It wouldn't make sense to say that our lives have meaning in the absence of acknowledging God.

            "How does working a boring job for 50 years help you get into heaven?"

            Diligent work and doing one's job well is a virtue. It is in a sense partakin in the creative act of God and thereby takes on a dimension of dignity. Kind of like, "I'm working WITH God by contributing to the unfolding of society/progress etc".

            In addition, it's the business of going outside my own desires in order to do that which is good. Providing for my family or for my own sustenance is a good. Giving to the poor is a good. Contributing to society's well being is a good. Sleeping in is self-centred and serves only my own instinctive desires.

            Therefore on the whole, getting up and going to work (and doing my job well) is a virtue and so is in tune with God.

          • Andre Boillot

            "It wouldn't make sense to say that our lives have meaning in the absence of acknowledging God."

            If you contrive that things only have meaning if God is acknowledged, then yes, your tautology might hold. Needless to say, at best, this sort of thinking leaves one with a lack of 'ultimate objective meaning', and leaves plenty of room for poor ol' subjective meaning.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        Hi Andre -

        I would technically agree with this characterization of Christianity:

        "All of your objective meaning is tied to the after-life, and it seems the only real concern is that you secure the final destination …",

        but I'd like to just offer that I (and others, I think) would express that thought in a way that paints this world in a more positive light.

        I would emphasize more that the revelation of heaven sanctifies this world. Much like the finish line glorifies the running of the race, even while it is still being run. Anyone can enjoy running, whether they know there is a finish line or not. But the full experience involves some awareness and conscious acknowledgement that you are progressing toward the finish line. If one believes that "it means something" to get to the finish line, it makes even the tedium and suffering in the middle of the race into a beautiful and sacred and "meaningful" thing.

        (My point here is not to draw a distinction with atheism, but rather to rephrase the Christian view in a way that makes it more clearly an embrace of this world.)

        • Paul Boillot

          Who are you to decide what the 'full experience' means for anyone but yourself?

          Is running on a treadmill not running?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I thought this was implied, but to be explicit, please imagine that I preceded my remark (and all other remarks that I make) with: "The truth, as I perceive it, is as follows." I am not claiming to know the truth, I just am trying to communicate the truth as best I understand it. I think that is what we are all doing.

            Bearing that in mind, let me answer your question: no, running on a treadmill does not provide the full glory of running.

          • Paul Boillot

            What is "the full glory of running," and why is it absent running on a treadmill?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK, I recant my statement about "the full glory of running". Point taken.

            In my original (limited!) analogy, I intended to compare life not just to any type of running, but to a road race, with a finish line. My point was simply that the party at the finish line (heaven) does not detract from the experience while you are still running the race (this life), but rather enhances it. That is really as far as I meant to take that analogy. I am not claiming that my one limited analogy is so fantastically comprehensive that it speaks to all aspects of existence.

            I unfortunately participated in the abuse of my own original analogy, when I started making general remarks about running.

            My original analogy says very little about experiences of grace in this life, for example. For that, you would need a different analogy. When trying to communicate that aspect I might say, a la MichaelNewsham, that life is more like a weekend run in the park, complete with all the rewards of meandering exploration and stops for conversation. I don't dispute the value of that analogy, but that is different from the point I was trying to make. Both analogies describe important aspects of existence, but with a single analogy I find it difficult to make all important points at once.

          • Paul Boillot

            I had no desire for you to recant anything, it was a good enough figure in it's own way, but I don't think it served your purpose, rather it served mine.

            Running, in so far as I have ever considered it glorious, consisted of feeling my mind syncing with the rest of my body. Flesh in motion, finding a harmonious rhythm which did not feel like it ever needed to stop.

            I think the addition of a 'finish line' takes away from that. I think putting your mind on where you want to be, and not on where you are is the precise anti-thesis of a transcendent running experience...unless you're able to occupy a mental space of awareness without anxiety or desire.

            Running on a treadmill does not put me in tune with nature the way running through a broadleaf forest path in august does...but then we were talking of the "full glory of running" and not "the full glory of running in a forest."

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I'll be honest with you: I also generally prefer my solo runs in the forest over road races, for exactly the reasons that you mention.

            But to get to a state where you are strong enough to have that sort of "never need to stop" transcendent experience - that in itself is a type of "finish line". You didn't just roll out of bed one day and start running in that way (if you did, I'm very jealous), rather you suffered through a fair amount of pain in order to finally achieve that sort of transcendence. That transcendent freedom that you finally got to, that outside-of-time "finish line" of a perfect run through the woods gave meaning (perhaps) to the suffering that you endured to get to that point.

            Also, I would say, it mattered in some fundamental and permanent way that you finally got to that point. Had you given up before getting to that "finish line", pretending it just didn't matter, the cosmos would have forever been a poorer place.

            (Sorry for projecting my own experiences onto you in those remarks, and feel free to tell me if I am wrong. That was just the easiest way for me to write it.)

        • Andre Boillot

          Jim,

          My point was to juxtapose reductionist views in hopes that Moussa would realize that, just as he would think there was more to theism, atheism doesn't preclude positive views of the struggles of life, or embracing this world as it is ;)

          • MichaelNewsham

            How about your daily run through a beautiful park, enjoying the wonders of nature, smiling at passersby sharing in the experience, feeling the breath rushing through your body, knowing your fulfilling a personal best...but not winning a race!!

            Winning a race does not provide the full glory of running; it provides the full glory of winning- a worthy experience, yes, , but a different experience.

            I don't run, but I swim, and I don't need to beat somebody else to enjoy the life aquatic

            Sometimes the momentary experience is the goal.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            But Michael, please. I didn't say anything about "winning the race". My goodness, I hope that's not the essence of it, because I sure am missing out if it is. I am talking about acknowledging that there is meaning in the finish line. The cheers are often loudest for those who come in last, or for those who overcome the greatest adversity, and rightly so. Those are the folks who didn't give up on believing in the meaning of the finish line. It has nothing to do with "winning", nor did I claim that.

    • Paul Boillot

      "But I don't get what would motivate me to go on when I'm totally unhappy."

      I don't think anyone has any obligation to, and I will not allow myself to judge anyone who has arrived at that point subjectively.

      For my part, I will just say that your follow up:

      When my girlfriend has left me or when my wife has divorced me or when my child has died or when I just feel down or I'm depressed or I have some disease. Why not kill myself?

      is a non-sequitur.

      None of the conditions you listed would be universally or necessarily causes for a state of utter unhappiness. Quite apart from a lack of nuance about the variety of responses to life-altering situations, your examples can often be taken in-stride using natural fortitude, philosophy, habits which encourage balanced and well-regulated brain functions, etc.

      I think life as we know it is hardest for those who have bio-chemical problems with their CNS: I have extreme sympathy for those who have physical problems with their brains impeding their potential for bearable living.

      But for most of us, living the classical 'good life' does not an endless-series-of-parties mean. Atheists have as much, if not more, access to the consolations of philosophy, literature, art, food, drink and good conversation as the religious - with the added pleasure of facing the troubled world head-on, without self deceptions.

      • Moussa Taouk

        Hi Paul.
        "None
        of the conditions you listed would be universally or necessarily causes for a
        state of utter unhappiness."

        I'm not sure how to imagine "utter" unhappiness. Maybe you mean "without the possibility of future happiness"? or "without any remnant of consoling happiness in the present moment? Either way, I agree. Most likely there is SOME flicker of tiny happiness even in the most abject situation. "At least I can still see" or "At least I am loved by my friends" etc. But I tell you what... when actually IN that situation it can certainly SEEM (subjectively) like the world is "at an end" and future happiness is impossible. Regardless, even apart from the person's own subjective perspective, I would say that during that period of darkness the BALANCE of misery to happiness is way on the side of misery. Happiness barely features.

        But I might go even further and say this: Even happiness is just a bunch of objectively meaningless, value-less chemicals. So what about being happy? Whether I am or whether I am not is essentially (objectively) the same. So living to be happy doesn't really do much in the way of answering the question of "meaning". I mean... ok, let's take this to the nth degree and ask: so what if all humans went extinct? No one "cares". It's meaningless. Well, the humans might care as they contemplate their impending doom... but when that's over, ok, so what? Some chemicals changed the way they are behaving.

        As for the "classical 'good life'" I venture to ask (as many I know have often asked), in terms of enjoying philosophy and art etc... "what's the point"? And what's the point in facing the world head-on? Because it's virtuous to have fortitude? Yes... and? Who cares about being virtuous?

        Paul, please excuse me if it seems I'm ranting. I really want to explore this subject which has been on my mind for a long time and I have never felt courageous enough to raise with anyone (for fear of negative consequences). So maybe I'm getting a bit carried away. I'm just "letting it out", huh? cheers mate.

    • Susan

      all things and people around me are MERELY conglomerates of particles and energy.

      Try it like this:

      "All things and people around me are particles and energy."

      There is absolutely no reason to put "merely" in front of that. The facts about reality are astonishing and should make us appreciate MORE that we are particles and energy. That everything is. Especially that every sentient being, human and non-human is. The "mere" comes from those who think that a deity makes it more precious, without explaining how it does so. Also without demonstrating that a deity exists. If I rescue a kitten that is cold and starving or make a child recognize her importance or listen to Beethoven's 9th, the kitten will die and so will the child one day and so will I and the symphony will end but I'm not sure why any of it is meaningless. No one has ever explained to me in any reasonable terms how that would be so. Yahweh doesn't add a thing to any of it.

      Show me something permanent.

      I'm not picking on you Moussa. I appreciate the way you are trying to think through and discuss these things.

      As supplement, I say: you are ALL willed into being,

      That's an assertion without evidence. And it adds no "meaning" as far as I can tell.

      • Moussa Taouk

        Hi Susan. I love it when you challenge me. I only explore things more deeply when I am thoroughly challenged. I've got a thick(-ish?) intellectual skin, so please don't hold back. I mean... be gentle because I'm learning. Be patient. But please batter away as honestly as you like.

        This is a response to using the word "merely".

        "... no reason to put 'merely' in front of that."

        The reason I used "merely" is to reflect a world view that compounds features of creatures. You start with let's say energy. Now I don't want to down play the amazingness of energy. But then you get some particles, and the combination is even more amazing. You can then add another layer, namely ordered bodies of particles. Wow. Amazing. All this from a universe that started off with a pile of Hydrogen (or maybe something more basic than H?).

        Anyway, then you add this completely amazing thing we call "life". Double wow. I mean... that's incredible. Matter recreating itself. Even for a single-cell organism, that's enough to blow my mind. It's tripple quadripple amazing. Then there's multicellular organisms. (I'm breaking into a sweat here). Then there are plants that full on take radiation from the sunlight and convert it to grow bigger.

        Ok, so here I can say about the trees that they aren't "merely" matter. As in, yes they are matter, but they have ADDITIONAL features that make them EVEN MORE intriguing than some hydrogen atoms floating around somewhere.

        Then ofcourse you have animal life and finally you have the most incredible thing of all as far as I can see ... humans. They are not only made of matter. They are made of matter that is "alive" and not only that, it is AWARE of itself. It has "pleasure". It gets "sad". It wants to "love" and be loved in return.

        Ok, I need to slow down. I'm too excited. But yeh, so I didn't mean it in a negative sense. Rather I'm using it in the positive sense of accumulation of additional cool features that most matter doesn't have.

        ps. I hope I haven't missed the point!

        • Susan

          be gentle because I'm learning.

          I'm learning too.

          Be patient..

          No patience required so far. Your "spirit of discussion" is honest and thoughtful. Be patient with me. I'm trying to maintain the same standard.

          please batter away as honestly as you like

          You too. Your first three points have a good intuitive grasp of fair and open rules of discussion. Nicely put, intentional or not.

          The reason I used "merely" is to reflect a world view that compounds features of creatures

          That was followed by two lovely paragraphs that (to me. at least) are EXACTLY why "merely" seems like such an absurd word. It's used as a matter of course by theists. This is an priori assumption that reality needs something more (for us) than what it is, when most of us barely grasp what it is. All the evidence seems to say that "we" are because of "it", not that "it" is because of "us".

          I don't have a problem with that. I think that we humans could use a little trip through The Total Perspective Vortex on a regular basis. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Total_Perspective_Vortex#Total_Perspective_Vortex

          Sadly, our brains are not equipped to do that. :-)

          It's strange to me to hear my fellow primates sneer at "matter" as though we are above it. Hilarious and tragic at the same time.

          What's the matter with matter? I don't get it. It only works if you say "merely" matter. "Merely" is an editorial term.

          It is also an equivocation, a strawman. "Material". Look out for that.

          • Moussa Taouk

            Ok. We agree basically on everything except on whether we are matter or whether we are matter (as amazing as matter is) plus more.

            Help me to see something. My 'argument' is this:
            1. I am made of matter.

            2. Matter does not think.
            3. I think.

            Therefore

            4. I am made of matter plus mind.

            So, I've used 'merely' not to degrade matter but to upgrade the human's ability to 'think', to 'imagine' etc.

            What is an alternative sentence I can use instead of "My inescapable conclusion is (following from the article) that all things and people around me are merely (I won't put it in capitals for fear you're gonna whack me!) conglomerates of particles and energy" to illustrate that on my pretend-atheist world view I now find that I don't have a soul?

            Thanks.

          • Susan

            1. I am made of matter.
            2. Matter does not think.
            3. I think.

            3. negates 1. unless you can show that you are not matter. :-)

            (Don't forget. Not "mere" matter. Not until you learn about matter.It's quite a story.)

            4. I am made of matter plus mind.

            The only minds we know are actions of matter. Show me a mind without matter.

            What is "mind"?

          • Moussa Taouk

            "Show me a mind without matter."

            Show you how? like with your eyes?! Obviously mind can't be seen.

            Show you the effects of something that can't be seen by using logic? Ok, check this out:
            1. I am made of matter.
            2. Matter does not think.
            3. I think. and this doesn't negate 1 because I could be made of matter AND something else.
            4. I am made of matter AND mind.

            Alright, I gotta run. You have a fascinating (though I might venture to say, very skeptical) MIND! :) Take care.

          • Susan

            Obviously mind can't be seen.

            How do you distinguish your mother from a rock? A chimpanzee from a twig?

            2. Matter does not think.

            What does then? There you are. Matter thinking. Or you are a robot on the other end programmed to behave as though you are thinking. Which is matter thinking manipulating matter to pretend it's thinking. Either way, how do you escape matter?

            I could be made of matter AND something else.

            And I could be atoms and fairy dust. Trouble is, there's no sign of fairy dust anywhere. And saying atoms need fairy dust is unjustified.

            I might venture to say, very skeptical) MIND! :)

            No more sceptical on this subject than you are on most subjects. I think it might just seem that way to you because I don't accept claims that don't seem to add up to me and I'm explaining WHY they don't add up to me.

          • Moussa Taouk

            "How do you distinguish your mother from a rock?"

            Haha. This is the first time I've wondered whether my mother might actually be a rock. Hahaha. Oh man. Ummm... ok so let's see. Assume nothing. Haha. Oh goodness. Susan you kill me. Can I just say that "I just know"? I mean... maybe my mother is a rock. But I'm pretty sure she's not. Ok, there you go. I just know! Let's call it something smarter than that so I don't get kicked off this site for being too simple. "Intuitive deduction". I know by intuitive deduction that my mother is not a rock!

            "What does then? There you are. Matter thinking."

            The matter that makes up my body in some way might participate in the creation of thoughts. But of its own power the matter isn't thinking. I was playing around with prime numbers before and conluded that if you subtract the sum of x prime numbers from x-1 prime numbers the answer will ALWAYS be a prime number. And I was fascinated by that result. I can't conceive how matter can "comprehend" prime numbers nor any other numbers.

            The thing is, the nature of matter and the nature of thought are different in that thought is immaterial. Can matter produce an immaterial product? I can't conceive it. Thought is immaterial, therefore the "engine" behind it must be an immaterial engine. That engine we call a "human soul".

          • Susan

            This is the first time I've wondered whether my mother might actually be a rock.

            You see a difference, then? But you say that it's obvious that mind can't be seen.

            I just know!

            Know what? Do you believe your mother has a mind? Do you believe a rock does? If one does and the other doesn't, what's the difference?

            of its own power the matter isn't thinking.

            What is then? Please provide evidence.

            The thing is, the nature of matter and the nature of thought are different in that thought is immaterial

            This would be news to neuroscience. It would be useful if you could explain what "mind" is and show me evidence of one that isn't tied up in matter. Slug back a few shots of vodka and tell me that "thought" is not material. (Good luck typing it, though. :-) )

            Until you can demonstrate that thought is something that happens without a brain, you can't go on to talk about immaterial engines.

            So, back up a step. :-)

          • Moussa Taouk

            "But you say that it's obvious that mind can't be seen." - Well... I do think it's obvious, and it's obvious that I can't see my mother's mind. I can see her body but not her mind.

            "Know what" - That my mother isn't a rock.
            "Do you believe your mother has a mind?" - Yes.
            "Do you believe a rock does?" - No
            "If one does and the other doesn't, what's the difference?" - one can think and the other can't. But I can't prove that. I just know that by intuition. I could be wrong!

            "What is then? Please provide evidence." - The mind (perhaps in conjunction with matter) is thinking. The evidence is hard to come by. But it's the old "intuitive deduction" theorem. I'll name that the "IDT" for short because I'll be using that a LOT! Haha. Your favourite theorem! Ok: matter follows laws and behaves in regular patterns according to those laws (I can't prove that... just IDT). Thoughts don't follow any physical laws, although they might be affected by them (e.g. during pain, the thoughts will likely be focused on a particular subject... unless one is an advanced budhist monk or such). But things like the imagination of something for fun or the investigation of abstract ideas don't flow from the laws of physics. Those thoughts STUDY the laws of physics. (Or else the laws of physics would be studying the laws of physics, which doesn't make sense - IDT).

            Ok... so: since thoughts don't behave according to matter, which is bound to behave in a regular predictable way (apart from quantum particles... that may or may not behave in predictable ways) thoughts can't emanate from matter or at least from matter alone. They must have another source. One theory is that we have an immaterial soul. That makes sense.

            "It would be useful if you could explain what "mind" is and show me evidence of one that isn't tied up in matter." - I need to know the kind of evidence you're after in addition to the evidence above. But the "mind" I guess is the thinking or will-ing aspect of the soul. You've pressed me to a level of detail that I don't know much about. i.e. the difference and relationship between mind and soul. Something for me to research and better understand. Thanks.

            "Until you can demonstrate that thought is something that happens without a brain" - I think thought CAN happen without the brain (I can't demonstrate that... I'm going off faith in God and angels), but in normal human behaviour I think the thinking proceeds from the mind VIA the brain. Such that the brain without a mind is an unthinking blob and a mind without a soul is not a complete human being (or else an angel or God).

            Are you a neuroscientist? Can you please point me to something (not a book... just an article or something simple enough) illustrating the view that you're assuming? Thanks.

          • Susan

            I just know that by intuition. I could be wrong!

            I'm not suggesting that a rock has a mind and that your mother doesn't. I'm asking you to probe your intuition about "mind". Because we can't go with gut on these things and then insist without evidence, that there is an immaterial engine somewhere that is "mind".

            You asked for an article, not a book. This is a vast subject and I've been thinking (and asking all day from some very knowledgeable people) for an introduction to the mind/body "problem" for someone (you) who seems curious but who is asserting that there is an immaterial engine behind thought.

            I was given this by one knowledgeable friend:

            http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/stellent/groups/corporatesite/@msh_peda/documents/web_document/wts040941.pdf

            But told them that you seemed curious but buried in assumptions that did not square with the knowledge on the subject and also that you wanted an article.

            Another friend said "It is the hardest known problem and he wants the answer in less than a book."

            Also: "It is hard to tell someone who wants less than a book that he is only going to scratch the subject in an entire library section."

            He/she is right about that. If you were interested in minds and brains, you would acquaint yourself with the findings of neuroscience. You can't just assert immaterial engines. I hope you are truly interested. Intuition is not useful on this subject. It's sort of like trying to look at the back of your own head.

            He/she also said (and this is a question that haunted me when I was a theist, and frustrates me still when I talk to theists):

            " In the mean time, ask him who he thinks his first ancestor was who had an "immaterial" mind (i.e. born to parents who did not)?"

            I was grateful that he/she framed the question that always nagged me.

            Here is a link to an Oliver Sacks video. You can link to almost any Oliver Sacks video from there. You can skip past the introductions by going to the four minute mark, more or less.

            I also must remind you that you have claimed that thoughts are immaterial but that you have not provided one example of an immaterial mind, just claimed that thoughts are immaterial.

            If you are curioius, I am glad. But that takes work. I hope the link gets you started.

          • Moussa Taouk

            "...we can't go with gut on these things and then insist without evidence, that there is an immaterial engine somewhere that is "mind"." - I disagree. Kind of.

            I've been thinking as to where you and I differ. I think I might have something:

            You believe nothing until that thing is "demonstrated". I'm still not sure what that means, but I'm assuming it means "shown to be true by empirical means". It doesn't sound like you're a philosopher. Sounds like you're a scientist. You don't trust others very easily (especially "authority").

            I'm the opposite. I am comfortable in making assumptions and formulating my beliefs. I hold to those beliefs until they are shown to be wrong. Then I adjust my beliefs to suit the new information or I abandon that particular belief it it's shown to be totally false. I have no trouble trusting others. I try to verify stuff if it's challenging my core beliefs, but I'm comfortable to trust authority on many matters.

            THERFORE I think it's perfectly ok to go with gut feel (while obviously you don't think that's valid). I've given the reason for my intuition being that we have an engine behind our thoughts. But that's not enough for you because I used logic (as best I know how!) while you're after empirical evidence, which is impossible to provide for something like "thoughts are immaterial". We hit a brick wall. I conclude, from experiencing the act of thinking, that my thoughts don't weigh anything, don't have length or speed, or anything that can be empirically measured. The things that CAUSE the thought (i.e. the neurones firing off in the brain etc... thanks for the article... p13 was particularly interesting) do have speed etc. But that's not the thought itself. I mean... there's a picture. right now I have a picture in my MIND of your good self (although I'm making up an image of what you look like... you have long straight hair with big circle ear-rings and are wearing a white wool jumber and jeans and creamy coloured boots) and sipping a coffee, and my self (making crazy hand movements as I try to explain some concept to you) at a cafe sitting on green chairs and a green table with a glass round top. But if you dig into my brain you won't find that image anywhere! Hey, you know... maybe you will. But I've cut open plenty of sheep and I never found any pictures of grass in their brains. So... where is that picture? It's there as clear as daylight in my mind. Honest. It's right there. I can almost touch it. Where is it?

            This leads me to logically (though not empirically) conclude and be satisfied with the idea that there is more to me than the brain in my skull. I deduce it with logic. But I can't shot it empirically.

            And so seeing as this intuition makes logical sense, and has not been shown to be invalid by anyone, I hold to it. In conclusion I say, in the absence of better "demonstration", it's fine to go off gut feel!

            Oh man. sorry for the long answer. But it's a one off (I think). It helps us to know from which direction or from which position we're approaching future questions.

            "In the mean time, ask him who he thinks his first ancestor was who had an "immaterial" mind". - Good question.

            I've been wondering about the question of the human soul (which I'll exchange for the word 'mind' in your question). I guess animals have a mind. Although I'm on the fence with that one because I don't have a good definition of the word mind. As in... whether it's the thing that gives us free will and imagine stuff, or the thing that allows us to think instinctive thoughts.

            But let's talk "human soul" regarding that question because it's definitely a human characteristic. I had this thought the other day that the answer would be something like: My first ancestor with a human soul (possibly born of parents without a human soul) is the first one to take up a coloured rock or some ochre of some sort, and draw a picture on a wall.

            That gives me a solid action that represents the human sould. The ability to imagine. The ability to appreciate beauty. The ability to wonder. The ability to recognise the difference between self and environment. These things are difficult to get at. But art I think is an external action that represents these things. And so that ancestor would be my the one. (And I'll go ahead and give him the name Adam!).

            Susan, I AM interested in knowing about the brain and neurology. But I can't study it like you're suggesting because I don't have the time! I hardly have time to read. I'm usually off chasing my goats and sheep on the little farm and I'm working in the office if I'm not on the farm. And when I read I like to quench the thirst of my sould with spiritual reading. I'm reading "The Story of a Soul" by St Therese of Lisieux at the moment, and I tell you I'm reading it with a brand new perspective after having chatted with you guys here for a little while. But maybe one day I'll have enough time to do a lot more reading, and I'll have a go at knowing more about the fascinating world of the brain.

          • Susan

            It doesn't sound like you're a philosopher.

            What I respect about philosophy is that it calls into question how we think about what we think and that it requires at some point referring to something external, not just accepting my underdeveloped assumptions or someone else's.

            We are prone to thinking errors. The earth revolves around the sun, not the other way around. Disease is caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites and immune system malfunctions among other things, not by demons. I'll bet we agree on those things. On what basis do we agree on those things?

            Philosophy is NOT about believing your intuitions are real until disproven. At its best, it's about examining our intuitive assumptions (which are SO often wrong) and challenging those assumptions. Don't call intuition "philosophy" 'cause it ain't. Intuition is demonstrably NOT knowledge, especially as we get further and further away from local concerns and into larger questions about life, the universe and well.. everything.

            I can't study it like you're suggesting because I don't have the time!

            I appreciate that. I don't have much time myself. But if you don't have the time, then the best answer is, "I don't know." NOT that there must be an immaterial engine. There is no reason to assert that except that you haven't availed yourself of the astonishing information on the subject of material brains.

            maybe one day I'll have enough time to do a lot more reading, and I'll have a go at knowing more about the fascinating world of the brain

            I would be interested in your opinions of Ste. Therese and the soul if you invested your energy into understanding the astonishing things discovered about the human brain first. Brains in general, actually as the human brain is part of a continuum of brains.

            The ability to imagine. The ability to appreciate beauty. The ability to wonder. The ability to recognise the difference between self and environment. These things are difficult to get at. But art I think is an external action that represents these things.

            What about Neanderthals, for starters? What about extinct hominid relatives and living mammalian relatives that demonstrate (sorry about that "evidence" thing, but you can't hand wave it away) many of those abilities?

            Depending on your definitions... and YES... definitions DO matter or it's a sign that you're not thinking clearly enough on the subjects that YOU've raised.

            I'll go ahead and give him the name Adam!

            There isn't a him. Life on this planet doesn't give you a him or a her. Mind doesn't. Art doesn't. Self-awareness doesn't.

            You have a "feeling" that something makes sense to you and evidence is irrelevant.

            I have a "feeling" that the sun revolves around the earth and that I caught this head cold I have because my neighbour gave me the evil eye. "Logic" supports me on this. It's a gut thing. Intuition.

          • Moussa Taouk

            Hello my debating buddy. I hope you're feeling better from the head-cold.

            "We are prone to thinking errors." - I agree.

            "Don't call intuition "philosophy" 'cause it ain't." - I agree

            But let me see this through a little further, because it's an important question regarding knowing. The question is: where is my starting point? (and subsequently: "how do I proceed?"

            I say, my starting point is to make an assumption using the evidence available to me (intuition is the most basic kind of evidence available to me). I proceed by altering my assumptions based on new evidence.

            I THINK you would say: my starting is to not assume anything to be true until it can be demonstrated and because my intuitions / other unverified sources are unreliable. I proceed forward as new demonstrable evidence comes to light, so I follow the evidence where it leads me. (Please tell me if that's not your position).

            I can see 2 problems with your position. But in case I'm making an incorrect assumption, please confirm or correct whether what I've said above is accurate enough.

            "... the best answer is, "I don't know. (regarding the mind)" - I agree... depending.

            Depending more specifically on the consequences of knowing. I have no trouble admitting that I don't know the first thing about dark matter. Nor about quantum physics. Nor about whether hell inside the earth or a spiritual realm. These things are of little consequence to the practical living of my life and the choices I need to make. Whether or not my neighbour has a soul on the other hand... that has a massive implication. But this links in with the 2 problems I see with your (assumed) position on knowledge that I made above. So I'll wait, and then I can combine the two into one point.

            "What about extinct hominid relatives and living mammalian relatives that demonstrate..." - I don't know!

            It's not really a question of practical consequences. It's more a satisfaction of a curiosity. Ultimately, God knows who has free will and who doesn't... who is able to choose / reject Him and who doesn't. It's interesting, but I'm not fussed about the precise answer.

            "You have a "feeling" that something makes sense to you and evidence is irrelevant." - no, I disagree. Evidence is very relevant.

            But again, this is tied in with point #1 above... the way of knowing. It's a good way forward to talk about #1 I think. Perhaps then our approaches will become a little clearer.

          • Susan

            I say, my starting point is to make an assumption using the evidence available to me (intuition is the most basic kind of evidence available to me).

            Intuition is not evidence.

            You have made assertion after assertion that matter cannot think or feel despite the fact that everything we know that seems to think or feel is made of matter. You haven't given one example of mind without matter, although I've asked you for one.

            I proceed by altering my assumptions based on new evidence

            But you don't have time to look at the evidence. Yet, you continue with your assertions. I don't have time to study aeronautics. For that reason, I don't make assertions on the subject. My intuition might tell me that metal can't fly, that there must be some immaterial force that moves metal through the air. But you and I know that's silly.

            this links in with the 2 problems I see with your (assumed) position on knowledge that I made above.

            I want to make sure I understand. State the two problems again, please.

            "What about extinct hominid relatives and living mammalian relatives that demonstrate..." - I don't know!

            Good answer. :-)

            Ultimately, God knows who has free will and who doesn't... who is able to choose / reject Him and who doesn't.

            A deity without evidence cannot be said to "know" anything. Evidence for its existence would move it out of the mythological realm but so far, it's still there as far as I can see. You still haven't explained why your deity is different than a Dragon in Your Garage. This is important.

            the way of knowing.

            You mean epistemology. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistemology

            On what basis and to what extent can we claim knowledge?

            Here is another link on the subject of "mind".

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rl2LwnaUA-k&hd=1

          • Moussa Taouk

            Hi Susan. I hate to do this (cut a conversation short) but I don't think it'll end any time soon because we'll go from one pathway to another for a very long time.

            So perhaps the best thing to do is to agree that we're topics now that are not really related to the topic at hand... and hopefully we can address these topics when they come up in more relevant articles?

            Maybe just one teeny little thought about assertions. Can we call them "propositions" instead? Without getting into the details of defining assertions, I don't think I'm asserting anything. I'm just proposing ideas that seem to work.

          • Susan

            But I've cut open plenty of sheep and I never found any pictures of grass in their brains.

            Cut open your computer and you won't find any transcripts of this discussion.

          • Moussa Taouk

            :) Good analogy. 1 point for you.

            But I'm surprised that you're making that ASSUMPTION! what are you going off... GUT FEEL? Or are you TRUSTING some other AUTHORITY such as a computer engineer? Oh Susan, I'm starting to think you're not as skeptical as I initially thought!

            Haha. You funny intellectual-type you :)

      • Moussa Taouk

        "... but I'm not sure why any of it is meaningless".

        Maybe to answer the question it might help if you explained how such things can be meaningful. Actually... in two parts, if you don't ming. (Just exploring my own thoughts here but...):

        1. How can matter behave in a way such that its behaviour is meaningful? If by meaningful you mean "do stuff" then yeh ok. But if you mean what we generally mean by "life is meaningful" then I don't get how it's meaningful to you, the cat, or the girl. Just matter acting in a pre-ordained manner on other matter.

        2. If I assume that it can somehow be meaningful for matter to behave in a certain way, then after the death of you, the cat and the girl... I don't understand what "meaning" is remaining. Isn't all the meaning derived from that episode inside the consciousness of the three of you? (Not sure about the cat, but let's just assume it recognises the meaning of what just happened).

        • Susan

          Maybe to answer the question it might help if you explained how such things can be meaningful.

          I'm not trying to cheat here, Moussa. But the implicit claim of the article is that without Yahweh, things are meaningless.

          Now, we have to think about what "meaning" means. And why Yahweh makes it more meaningful. Consider that there's a sort of Euthypro thing going on here but with "meaning" in the place of "good".

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euthyphro_dilemma

          There is no "good" without Yahweh.

          There is no "meaning" without Yahweh.

          Why not? Why do we even respond to those words, atheists and theists alike, if they require Yahweh?

          Answer: It has not been demonstrated that they do.

          • Moussa Taouk

            It makes all the difference how the question(s) is approached with / without the Lord.

            I said somewhere in the swarm of comments somewhere below (when you asked for a definition of meaning) that it's something like "value" or perhaps "purpose". Let's take "purpose" to be a way of expressing "meaning".

            Purpose indicates a role that is to be fulfilled. An objective that can be met by the thing in question.

            Now, matter has no purpose. It does (I was just going to say "just does" but I thought better of it!) what it does. There is no particular objective to be met or role to be played. It does what it does according to certain laws. In that sense there is no 'purpose' of human life if we assume God to not exist.

            But if we assume God to exist, then that means we approach the question in an entirely different manner. One would then need to discern the reason or purpose for their existence. They would assess the objective for which they had been granted the gift of life. And then they would strive (with their free will... just saying) to meet the objective for which they were created.

            So essentially one assumption leads to living for happiness and the other leads to living for (as a Christian)... let's say... sanctity.

            In any case, I think the article is saying that it's inconsistent to claim non-transient meaning (that exists only in one's mind... if such a mind exists) on the one hand, and then on the other hand to affirm that God doesn't exist.

            Susan, one last thought... I think we do an awful lot of talking ABOUT God and we don't do enough talking TO God. Maybe the demonstration you're after might come to you as a result of meditative prayer? Because obviously given the limitations of science, and given God's nature, it's not exactly possible to "demonstrate" God's existence.

          • Susan

            In any case, I think the article is saying that it's inconsistent to claim non-transient meaning (that exists only in one's mind... if such a mind exists) on the one hand, and then on the other hand to affirm that God doesn't exist

            It doesn't only exist in my mind. It exists in the experience of the kitten. And I can demonstrate that the kitten exists and to an extent that we should all agree on that it has experience. It's scared. It's cold. It's hungry.

            it's not exactly possible to "demonstrate" God's existence.

            Give me one good reason your choice of deity (an omniscient diety that loves us and wants more than anything to communicate with us) won't demonstrate itself, choosing instead to disguise itself in special pleading.

          • Moussa Taouk

            "It exists in the experience of the kitten."

            It = meaning? I doubt that. I'll assume that the cat exists, but I can't go as far as assuming it can perceive (or experience) MEANING.

            In addition, the meaning remains transient and fleeting, confined to your mind and (even if I gran the assumption) to the experience of the cat.

            "Give me one good reason... won't demonstrate itself..."

            What do you mean by "demonstrate"?

          • Susan

            It = meaning? I doubt that. I'll assume that the cat exists, but I can't go as far as assuming it can perceive (or experience) MEANING

            Possibly not, but you'd have to define "meaning" first.

            In my example of the kitten, it was cold and now it's warm. It was vulnerable and now it's safe. It was starving and now it's full. If we are going to remove the sentient experience of a kitten from the definition of "meaning", then why include sentient experience at all? Should the experience of sentient beings not be factored into discussions about "meaning"? Possibly not. I don't know. So far, the term is as vague as it could possibly be and doesn't seem well thought out by the article's writer.

            What does "meaning" mean?

            Does it mean "purpose"? What is "purpose"? Why not just say "purpose" if that's all she means?

            What do you mean by "demonstrate"?

            I mean distinguish itself from the Dragon in My Garage.

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJRy3Kl_z5E&hd=1#

          • Moussa Taouk

            "... you'd have to define "meaning"". - I thought I had already done that. Yes, 'purpose' or 'value'. Depends on the context I guess.

            "What is "purpose""? - Alright, I mean you're going to have me defining the entire english language at this rate. Don't you know what purpose is?! You know... the objective or goal that something is intended to fulfil.

            I guess by "meaning" sometimes people mean "value" of life and other times they mean "purpose" of life, depending on whether they are trying to identify the worth of their life (to make them glad that they are not the product of randomness... that they are ultimately loved, I guess) or whether they are trying to identify their objective in living this life. I think "meaning" covers both human needs (being valued and knowing their objective) and so I think "meaning" is the most useful term for the discussion.

            "I mean distinguish itself from the Dragon in My Garage."
            Ok Miss Susan (or Mr Susan... not sure at this stage)... I think you can do better than that. Considering Ive got a hernia from defining every concept in my head, please share some of my pain. I need to know the criteria that would constitute a demonstration of the truth of a proposal. Logic? sense-access? Measurement? scientific method (proof by repeatable testing)? What's the required criteria? Dig deep!!

          • Susan

            Yes, 'purpose' or 'value'. Depends on the context I guess.

            That's the trouble. I'm not trying to be difficult. Terms that are implied by "meaning" have much to be unpacked on their own. "Purpose". Well, hammers have purpose and do not imply meaning. "Value". Gold has value but does not imply meaning. And neither one of them mean the other. If you are talking about "purpose", that's a specific term. "Value" is also a specific term. "Significance" is another term. They all mean too many different things to use them in "reasoned" arguments without explicit definitions.

            I am not trying to evade the subject. I am trying to confront it. I have found that terms like "meaning" are often abused, relying on vague emotional responses and used in articles that say silly things like "QED. Without Yahweh, there is no meaning."

            This is not philosophy. It's marketing. Pure and simple. Or apologetics.

            so I think "meaning" is the most useful term for the discussion.

            Not until it's clearly defined. "Meaning" means too many things and leaves far too much room for equivocation and emotional manipulation.

            Ok Miss Susan (or Mr Susan... not sure at this stage)

            Out of curiosity, were you never sure or are you beginning to be unsure? My name actually is Susan. I'll leave you to develop your theories from that. :-)

            I think you can do better than that.

            I'm not sure what your problem is with The Dragon in My Garage. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZV74zeX-lY&hd=1

            You asked what I meant by special pleading. How could I do better than that? You haven't explained what's wrong with it.

            I need to know the criteria that would constitute a demonstration of the truth of a proposal.

            The burden is yours. You have claimed the truth of a proposal. That your choice of deity exists and that I should be praying to that deity.

            By what criteria are you convinced of the truth of that proposal?

          • Moussa Taouk

            "This is not philosophy. It's marketing." - I disagree... kind of.

            I agree that it's not philosophy, but I disagree that it's marketing. I'd say it's "pure and simple" CONVERSATION. It's the expression of a view and the exploring of that view.

            Susan, I don't think it's wrong to use words in the colloquial sense in the way most people understand them. I guarantee if I went up to a random in the street and said to them "What's the meaning of life?" the most unexpected response I would anticipate would be "define meaning". Most likely they'll say, "well, you know... to be a good fella, to be a good father and husband. Treat others right and enjoy life!". Or for a Christian it would be somethng like "To love".

            It's a word that people just get. I'm talking about a colloquial, conversational setting.

            Having said that, this is a forum for those investigating a big subject and who are perhaps more educated and more capable of precision with their language. And I therefore accept that we should understand what we're saying (i.e. defining words) more than I would expect from the guy down the road. So In that sense I agree with you. And it would certainly make my life easier if the key term (meaning) was defined in the article.

            But on the other hand, if we can't speak the language of the average man, and if we can't have the conversation because the word isn't accurate enough... doesn't that reduce us to a tiny minority of high-minded intellectuals who live in their own little world of definitions and concepts? Isn't there a need for us to be able to be able to both investigate things with rigour AND have an article without making it intensely philosophical?

            Ok, ok, I agree. People hate it how much I'm always asking them to define everything. It's important. But only when necessary. If it's plain what people mean or generally mean by a word, surely it's ok to go with it. Maybe clarify and then go with it. But if the word is causing contradictions in an argument (such as the word 'nothing' from before)... ok for sure, we had better agree on a definition in such a case.

            "By what criteria are you convinced of the truth of that proposal?" - I think I covered this in my last reply to you on another thread. But basically I believe it, and it hasn't been demonstrated that this belief is wrong, so I continue to believe it.

            Let me ask YOU though: You used to believe it. and Now you stopped believing it. By what criteria were you convinced that the proposal was false?

            I always had wondered whether you're a Susan or a Sam from the beginning. But I trust you Miss Susan. Pleasure to meet you ma'am.

    • Peter Piper

      I have relevant personal experiences to share. I grew up as a committed Christian (not a Catholic). I remember that I had basically these thoughts, and that I was convinced that, if I lost my faith, I would shortly commit suicide. It turned out that I didn't know myself very well at all and that life continued to be meaningful, deep and wonderful even after I lost my faith.

      In another comment below, you suggest one possible account of this: that I am being dishonest with myself. I can only protest that it doesn't seem that way to me. As in: I have from time to time been dishonest with myself in the past, I remember what that felt like, and there is no trace of that here which I can detect.

      • Argon

        Peter, I come to understand that many will raise the 'being dishonest with yourself' explanation in part because it's a necessary component of their worldview. If God makes it possible or obvious for anyone to understand a particular dogma, then there must be reasons for why they fail and given that God is good, it must therefore be a failing of the person. They must actively be resisting.

      • Moussa Taouk

        Hi Peter. I concede without reserve that FOR THE PERSON, i.e. within a person's mind, and likely for those around that person (family and friends) our lives have a subjective meaning. That is, it's of importance to us.

        The problem I arrive at is to say: so what? It's all so transient. All so small. When I think of the insignificance of it all (i.e. the thoughts that go on in my mind and the minds of others), the realisation crashes down on me as to the "yeh, and so what? who cares?" of it all.

        The only way I can get out of the infinitessimally small (essentially zero) value of my life is the same as maths. If an infinitessimal number is to mean something it must be attached (added?) to infinity. Otherwise it's just not worth bothering about. So in life the only way life has meaning (i.e. any significance worth consideration) is if this infinitessimal being that I call "me" is attached to an infinite being who grants the possibility of 'raising' me to His Divine self.

        Many thanks for sharing your reflection, Peter.

        • Peter Piper

          It does no good to respond `so what?' after the `what' has been provided and even accepted by you: `our lives have a subjective meaning'. Similarly, the question `who cares?' almost answers itself in cases like this. We care!

          The fact that the universe contains ranges of space and time which vastly exceed those involved in our concerns does not render those concerns unimportant, just as astronomers' estimates of the size of the universe do not affect my estimate of my own height.

          • Moussa Taouk

            I agree that size doesn't provide or take away from meaning. In fact there is a certain (somewhat heart breaking) beauty in the small and fragile.

            As to the "who cares" bit though I respectfully disagree.

            In the absence of God, not only is life ultimately (accidental and) meaningless. But CARING is meaningless. There's no such thing as "caring". There are chemicals that have come together (either accidentally or in a pre-ordained way) for no purpose in particular. They came together according to the physical laws and now they are doing what they are doing. "Caring" doesn't make sense. It's a concept. Immeasureable, unweighable, immaterial.

            Therefore I say the question doesn't answer itself, and in such a world indeed nobody cares.

          • Susan

            It's a concept. Immeasureable, unweighable, immaterial.

            Like your deity?

            Moussa, mammals care about their young. And in social communities, care about their fellows.

            There is evidence for "caring" and that matter has assembled itself into beings that "care" or at least behave as if they care. Do wolves care about each other? What criteria of "caring" separates their caring from human caring?

            There is no evidence for your deity.

            One of the problems with theistic arguments is that they appeal to our intuitions about things that are in evidence and then claim that they aren't real unless there is an unevidenced deity behind it.

            I hope you can see the problem with that.

            Or at least that you can see why other people have a problem with it.

          • Moussa Taouk

            Yes, precisely. He's not mine all for myself, but I know what you mean! Yes, like my Lord. If He exists then every other "Immeasureable, unweighable, immaterial" concept like "care" or "hate" make sense. In His absence, none of it makes sense... It'd be all a chaotic jumple of activity. No more.

            "...or at least behave as if they care." - Agreed. If not God, matter alone, then they behave as if they "care".

            "Do wolves care about each other? What criteria of "caring" separates their caring from human caring?" - No, I don't think they do. They MIGHT, but it doesn't seem so to me. The difference would be self-awareness I guess. The application of "do to others as you would have them do to you". And the ability to say, "nah others can go jump. I'm going to do to others what I hope they never do to me for my own pleasure". i.e. the ability to rise above pure instinct.

            "There is no evidence for your deity. " - I disagree.

            YOU are evidence of my Lord. Such wonderful beings are too wonderful, too incredible to be self-evident, or the result of nothingness. Too incredible for my mind to comprehend anyway.

          • Peter Piper

            You suggest that, since I believe that people's behaviour is (in principle) explicable in terms of the physical laws acting on the stuff of which they are composed, I ought not to believe that there is such a thing as caring. But your argument for this isn't great.

            You simply point out one way in which a human could be described (in terms of the arrangement of their chemical constituents), and seem to assume that it follows that there is no other sensible way to describe the same human (for example, in terms of what they care about). It is as if you thought that because a picture can be described in Japanese it cannot also be described in English.

            You also point out that there is a concept of `caring' (though we should be clear that this concept is distinct from caring itself, just as the concept of `the sun' is distinct from the sun itself). But I don't see how the fact that there is such a concept could imply that caring `makes no sense' or that there is no such thing as caring.

          • Moussa Taouk

            Hi Peter.

            Caring implies valuing something. And value is something that needs a mind. "I value your opinion" needs a mind to hold your opinion in a status of hierarchy higher than a state where your opinion is not given. But it takes an agent, a mind capable of weighing the hierarchy of value, to make that judgement.

            To say that we "care" or material "cares" is to say that matter holds other matter higher in the hierarchy of importance. Which doesn't make sense to me.

            Back to "meaning"... I agree with Richard Dawkins when, in a debate with Cardinal Pell in sydney replied to the Cardinal's question about the meaning of life by saying (paraphrasing), "asking what the meaning of life is, is like asking what is the meaning of a mountain. It's not a valid question."

            I agree. In the absence of God, that response is bang on. It takes a mind to which to link "meaning" or "value" of life.

          • Peter Piper

            Caring needs a mind, sure. But I believe people have minds. Do you know anyone, atheist or not, who doesn't? When I say someone cares, I am not saying that their particular atoms care. Does that help clear up your second confusion?

            I'll grant that there is no `meaning of life': no grand, overarching meaning. There is still local meaning, the meaning in particular relationships and actions, which is enough for me.

          • Moussa Taouk

            "Do you know anyone, atheist or not, who doesn't?" - Yes (i.e. atheist who doesn't believe that people have minds).

            I do know people who take that position. Atheist's position (I would have thought) almost automatically means there is no immaterial entities like "mind" or "soul" or (as the recent article points out) "goodness" etc. Because such things point strongly to a realm outside of empirical testing. Which then gives God a pretty good shot at existing! Blessed be He.

            We're agreed about the absence of "ultimate meaning of life" then. I'm glad the local meaning is enough for you. Thanks be to God. I'm afraid for me it wouldn't cut it.

            Peter the rock! I hope you will re-find the Lord who loves you infinitely and who values all our lives beyond our imagining.

            Thanks.

          • Susan

            Yes (i.e. atheist who doesn't believe that people have minds).

            What does that person mean when they say that?

            no immaterial entities like "mind"

            How is "mind" an immaterial entity?

          • Paul Boillot

            "Atheist's position (I would have thought) almost automatically means there is no immaterial entities like "mind" or "soul" or (as the recent article points out) "goodness" etc. "

            The atheist position of materialism does conflict with the existence of "minds," as minds are not defined to be super-natural.

            The atheist position does conflict with the idea of a "soul," as souls are largely defined to be super-natural.

            " I'm glad the local meaning is enough for you. Thanks be to God. I'm afraid for me it wouldn't cut it."

            Well, from my point of view, you only subjectively believe that there is universal meaning, so as far as I'm concerned your meaning, like everyone's, is purely local :)

          • Moussa Taouk

            Paul, did you mean "the atheist position of materialism does NOT conflict with the existence of minds"?

            I thought there was a bit a debate around whether there is a "mind" behind things like self awareness, imagination etc or whether these things arise from not more than chemical processes in the brain (i.e. not mind). If the latter, then I thought atheists would not concede to the existence of a "mind" but rather only to a brain.

          • Paul Boillot

            Hah, yes. Crucial missing "not".

          • Peter Piper

            I'm interested that you know someone who doesn't believe people have minds (I guess it takes all sorts to make a world). But, to be clear: I, like most other atheists, am convinced that people do have minds. This is completely consistent with a lack of belief in God.

            You say that local meaning wouldn't cut it for you, but as I pointed out before, you don't know until you try. Previously, I wouldn't have expected local meaning to be enough for me either.

          • David Nickol

            As I understand it, behaviorism basically took the position that people didn't have minds. Wikipedia says:

            Behaviorism dominated philosophy of mind for much of the 20th century, especially the first half. In psychology, behaviorism developed as a reaction to the inadequacies of introspectionism. Introspective reports on one's own interior mental life are not subject to careful examination for accuracy and cannot be used to form
            predictive generalizations. Without generalizability and the possibility of third-person examination, the behaviorists argued, psychology cannot be scientific. The way out, therefore, was to eliminate the idea of an interior mental life (and hence an ontologically independent mind) altogether and focus instead on the description of observable behavior.

            Parallel to these developments in psychology, a philosophical behaviorism (sometimes called logical behaviorism) was developed. This is characterized by a strong verificationism, which generally considers unverifiable statements about interior mental life senseless. For the behaviorist, mental states are not interior states on which one can make introspective reports. They are just descriptions of behavior or dispositions to behave in certain ways, made by third parties to explain and predict another's behavior.

            I reproduce that to set up a joke, which apparently everyone who seriously studies psychology has heard, but it was new to me:

            Two behaviorists where having sex. When they finished, one said to the other, "It was good for you; how was it for me?"

          • Peter Piper

            Sure, but philosophical/logical behaviorism is pretty much dead (hence the past tense in your post) and the main reasons for this do not rely on theism.

            I like the joke.

  • For clarity, I like to use the word “intended”. Without a creator there can be no intended meaning (or purpose) for the existence of the universe and thus no intended meaning for us.

    I’m thinking the lack of intention (intention = zero) may act like the “0” in the above formulas.

    • Peter Piper

      Why can't the meaning of my activities be intended by myself or by communities of which I am a part?

      • I think they can, but in the context of the entire universe... if there is no creator with intelligence, there is no intention for us to be here, so it all comes from nothing and goes back to nothing eventually. It all becomes "0". I don't personally believe this, but the logic is sound if there is no creator.

        • Paul Boillot

          The logic is not sound.

          You have provided no evidence that without a creating intelligence the universe "comes from nothing" or "goes back to nothing."

          • By “nothing”, I mean nothing intelligent. Intention implies intelligence, and no intention for the universe implies no meaning for the universe.

          • Paul Boillot

            That's odd, we just had an article full of controversy over "nothing" and yet we're still throwing it around casually, expecting people to know that "nothing" means "nothing intelligent," and not "philosophical nothing."

            "No meaning for the universe" is an ambiguous statement, could you clarify?

          • Sorry to confuse. Let’s see if this helps or makes it
            worse.
            If I drop a gallon of paint on the street and the paint
            splashes into the shape of a rose, the image came from nothing intelligent, nothing intended for it to be there, it has no intended purpose or meaning. The elements and traffic will eventually erase it, so the image goes back as if it never existed (back to zero). The same is true for the purpose or meaning of the universe (and us) if there is no intelligence
            behind it all.

          • Paul Boillot

            As far as I understand the laws of QM, every particle interaction is symmetric WRT time, so after the universe arrives at maximum entropy, all the information content of that rose is still present in the dispersed particles: change the direction of the time arrow and the universe coalesces back to the moment of paint-can-impact.

            But that's utterly beside the point.

            I asked you to clarify what you mean when you say that there is no "meaning" "for" the "universe."

            I don't understand what you're trying to indicate. Are you saying that "if no intelligence created the universe" then "the universe was not intended"?

            I'll note in passing that previously in this discussion you also said "no intention for us" which didn't make much precise sense to me.

          • djs56

            Even though it may be "utterly beside the point" there is experimental evidence for time asymmetry in quantum mechanical systems. Here's a key reference ( with no less than 14 sigma significance!)

            http://arxiv.org/abs/1207.5832

          • Paul Boillot

            While the paper is no doubt interesting to the qualified reader, I am not that reader.

            I will continue in my (perhaps?) state of ignorance and believe that QM allows for "backwards compatibility" until someone much smarter than I am can explain to me convincingly why the other people smarter than me were wrong when they explained it to me convincingly in the first place.

          • djs56

            Hi Paul Boillot -

            In stead of diving into cutting edge particle physics how about the wiki article on T-symmetry? :o) There are many ways it can be broken...

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T-symmetry

          • Paul Boillot

            I am risking 2 things in replying to you djs:
            1) wading perilously far out of my intellectual depth (who am I kidding, that's never stopped me before)
            2) moving the conversation so far off-topic that I get censured again

            But fortune favors the bold, so here we go.

            "Although in restricted contexts one may find this symmetry, the observable universe itself does not show symmetry under time reversal"

            If we find T-symmetry in *any* contexts, then we cannot say that "the observable universe ... does not show [T-symmetry."

            Additionally, I fail to understand how the theoretical symmetry of matter/force interactions moving 'forward' through time and 'backward' is going to be disproved by a universe in which we are unable to reverse time.

            I mean to say: how will we know if the observable universe is T-symmetric until we reverse time and see whether or not every particle collision/photon absorption re-occurs precisely as it did, but in reverse?

          • djs56

            Hi Paul,

            RE 1) I admire the sentiment, and frequently do likewise.

            RE 2) I too understand this risks of going down an off topic rabbit hole, however, I've been lurking here for a while and technical points about science often come up so perhaps it is useful in a broader sense (?) However, I won't post any more after this, but hope to join in other discussions elsewhere.

            They are excellent points, of course we don't have the ability to reverse time in any practical sense, the amazing thing is we don't need to. In the 50s and 60s (as was pointed out elsewhere) they measured CP symmetry breaking implying T symmetry breaking. The paper I quoted before actually measured of the **amount** of T-symmetry breaking using entangled states. I'm sure you're aware Quantum Entanglement creates all sorts of **weirdness** for our everyday notions of space, time etc. And that's basically all the handwaving one can do to placate the interested non-expert :o) Sorry. If it helps here is a more general explanation of the paper:

            http://mappingignorance.org/2012/12/20/nature-cares-about-in-which-direction-times-flows-t-symmetry-breaking-measured/

          • Andrew G.

            I think you're mis-interpreting that result.

            The commonly-stated claim that the laws of physics including QM are time-reversible does not refer to T-symmetry, but rather to CPT-symmetry (that is, physics is unchanged if you apply all three transformations of particle/antiparticle, mirror image, and time reversal). CPT-symmetry is fundamentally implied by both QM and SR.

            Originally it was believed that C-symmetry, P-symmetry and T-symmetry all held independently, but experimental work in the 50s and 60s showed that neither P nor CP held on their own, and if CP is violated then T must also be violated in order for CPT to hold (the violation of T-symmetry must exactly cancel out the violation of CP). The paper you refer to simply measures the T-violation of a weak interaction using a direct method that does not depend on the CP-violation (rather than simply measuring the CP-violation and assuming from theory that the T-violation cancels it out). By obtaining an experimental measurement of T-violation directly, one which is consistent with measures of CP-violation, one significantly increases confidence in the theory and the interpretation of existing results.

            However, only the weak interaction appears to violate CP (it is an open question why the strong interaction appears not to), so systems involving only the electromagnetic and gravitational forces are T-symmetric.

          • djs56

            Hi Andrew G. - I understand exactly what you are saying regarding CPT symmetries. I was commenting about a statement on time symmetry, which is measurably not an unbroken symmetry of nature - that is all.

        • Peter Piper

          I agree that the absence of global intention can lead to a lack of global meaning. But local meaning is enough for me, and local meaning is easily provided by local intentions.

          • I think it's actually more "eternal vs. temporal" than "global vs. local"

          • Peter Piper

            If you wish, you can substitute eternal for global and temporal for local in my comment.

  • Timothy Reid

    I very much agree with your argument.
    If someone believes that there is no more to life than just the physical, then our life and our experiences ultimately have no meaning and no amount of positive mental attitude will make it so. If one argues that if we are remembered by our loved ones and then that makes our lives meaningful, then what about the billions upon billions of human beings who have lived and nobody remembers them or knows who they are? Do their lives have meaning if there is no eternal? I do not see how they can.
    People of faith, however, can easily accept that their life has meaning precisely because of their belief in God and the transcendent.
    Many people call themselves atheists, yet they also strongly believe in the reality of things that are eternal like love, justice, beauty, truth and dignity. How is believing in those realities different from someone's belief in God?

  • I'm thinking out loud so this may be a bit muddled, but I'm seeing a parallel to another conversation. When talking about proofs of God's existence (Kalam especially) we distinguish between things in the universe and the universe itself. Perhaps we need to make a similar distinction here, between the meaning of our life as a whole vs the meaning of the days and activities in our lives.

    Perhaps we don't have to find a meaning for our life as a whole because we don't experience life that way. Perhaps it's enough to find meaning in each day and each activity. I'm struggling to work though this thought; does is resonate with anyone else, anyone who might be able to take it further?

  • Cubico

    Forget all the philosophical and neurological "crap"....indeed the emperor has no clothes on. Whether our personal self is extinguished or not at our demise has little to do with the meaning of life at the subjective level,,,at least in our experience of same. While we live...and while we love...and how we treat people in general....provides the meaning we need in our lives. Beyond that...in our death....if all that awaits us is oblivion....so be it....but the importance and meaning that we attached to others in their lifetime....gives them meaning...and gives some meaning to their memories of us in their lives....so what the hell does it matter ultimately, if when we die....that is the end. Does it mean that if we had known that there was no afterlife that we would have treated others with less love and respect?

    • Timothy Reid

      What we people of faith would say is that, our belief is precisely why we ascribe meaning to our lives and our good deeds.
      Sure atheists can do "good" in the world, but why? It's just as easy for an atheist to chose moral relativism and social Darwinism and completely selfish living. What's to stop them?
      Of course we know that just because a person believes in God does not make them incapable of acting selfishly either, but if one looks at the teachings of the Church as defined in the catechism, one would see the commonly held virtues of love, peace, justice, humility, moderation, pursuit of truth and the dignity of all human people.

      • cminca

        "It's just as easy for an atheist to chose moral relativism and social Darwinism and completely selfish living. What's to stop them? "

        Timothy--using your "logic" one would have to assume that the only reason Catholics don't chose "moral relativism and social Darwinism and completely selfish living" is because you are scared of hell.

        Is that all the CC can offer? "Do as we say or your burn in hell?" Is fear of hell the only reason you are a Catholic?

        Of course not.

        I can hold the commonly held virtues of love, peace, justice, humility, moderation, pursuit of truth and the dignity of all human people without believing in the trinity, virgin birth, transubstantiation, or the whole host of other Catholic requirements. And I can certainly believe in prayer without needing a bureaucracy of officials and regulations in order to get it right.

        • Timothy Reid

          Fear of hell is not and should not be the primary motivation for any Christian, it MUST be love. Love is the highest motivation and the greatest spiritual gift for a Christian, not terror and fear of punishment. Anyone who keeps "the rules" motivated only by a self-serving desire to avoid hell is missing the boat.
          As to your last point, I was not speaking of any of those specific doctrines you listed like the Trinity or virgin birth......I was simply talking about transcendent reality. To us, God IS transcendent reality. God is subsistent existence itself. God is love itself. God is truth itself. I feel that anyone who believes in and respects love, truth, peace and justice is someone who believes in God, but doesn't call it that.
          Someone who says that there is no transcendent reality and there is nothing more to life than just the physical and there is no ultimate truth or morality or concepts of justice.....then I will believe that person when they say that they are an atheist.

          • cminca

            An atheist is merely one who doesn't believe in God. That has nothing to do with truth, morality, or justice.

          • Timothy Reid

            It has everything to do with it because God is Truth. What I think is that many atheists have a problem believing in a "personal" God because people are flawed and therefore there cannot possibly be some super person "up there" running the show.
            I submit that God is much more than that. He is Truth, justice, love etc....

          • Renard Wolfe

            Isn't that superman?

          • Timothy Reid

            Superman fights for truth and justice......God IS truth and justice.

          • cminca

            Timothy--when you say "God" are you referring to anyone's and everyone's God, or just the Judeo-Christian God?

          • Timothy Reid

            If God is God, then He is everyone's God. Thomas Aquinas describes God as existence itself, not some primitive understanding of a warrior god who can defeat all other gods.

  • The notion that our existence is meaningless unless it goes on forever seems to depend on the notion the future is all the matters and the "now" is worthless...

    ...because if the "now" has value in and of itself then we don't need to continue forever for the "now" to have meaning.

    • Timothy Reid

      It's pretty lame and impotent meaning because of its' impermanence. Temporary meaning?
      What we believe is that a beggar's life in 1st century Palestine holds EXACTLY as much significance as the life of Alexander the Great. King or beggar, they both matter and hold meaning in the eyes of God. If no one remembers the beggar anymore on earth, then why is his life meaningful? He's been forgotten. Alexander hasn't so his life is more meaningful? We do not believe so.
      I find this to be a beautiful position on life's meaning.

      • cminca

        I believe you misinterpreted Rob's remark.
        I think what he meant by "goes on forever" is a Christian's belief in the eternal life of the soul--not someone's worldly reputation.
        (Rob--please correct me if I misinterpreted.)

        • Timothy Reid

          What I'm saying is that worldly reputation is not all there is. A person who is unnoticed by history still has eternal significance because everyone has an eternal soul and is beloved by God.

  • Brad

    Isn't life more meaningful because of its limits? What good is it to try to improve if you have an infinite time frame to do it? It is only good and meaningful because we have a limited time to do it. It seems to me the idea of eternity is destructive to value. If we had an endless supply of diamonds they would be worthless. They are valuable because they are limited.

    • loveroftruth

      "What good is it to try to improve if you have an infinite timeframe to do it"? To me this seems like a rather utilitarian approach. In Christian theology ones reason for "improving" is based not, on what is most beneficial to oneself,but,on what is pleasing to God and best serves our neighbour.

      • Susan

        In Christian theology ones reason for "improving" is based not, on what is most beneficial to oneself,but,on what is pleasing to God and best serves our neighbour.

        Then your deity would create a game for sending your "neighbour" to heaven even if it meant eternal hell for you.

        No. At the end, the goal is infinite reward for yourself.

        Platonic utilitarianism.

  • cminca

    "Modern atheism denies that human consciousness is rooted in anything other than the chemicals in our brains, thus rejecting the idea that any of our experiences will last outside of time...."

    No--modern atheism denies that there is a God. It doesn't reject "the idea that any of our experiences will last outside of time"....

    Do you honestly think that it is necessary to believe in a God in order to think that, for example, founding a scholarship fund for underprivileged kids is a good thing?

    You don't need to believe in God, or "religion" or Christianity, to act morally or ethically. As those recent baby experiments showed--infants from 6-10 months old are sharing and altruistic to strangers. Are you claiming that, before speech, these children have absorbed the tenets of religion and are therefore acting as "Christians"?

    • Timothy Reid

      Not absorbing tenets, but are already filled with grace as children of God who offers grace to all humanity.

      • cminca

        Then one should assume that all of the world's ills are learned behavior.
        Since there are far more believers than atheists it doesn't take much reach to lay all of the world's ills at the feet of its religions.

        • Timothy Reid

          It would be wrong to lay all of the world' sills at the feet of religion. Our religion has the concept of sin and also original sin, the idea that we are made in God's image, but cannot lift ourselves out of sin on our own. We need grace and assistance to "be good".

          • cminca

            We simply need empathy for our fellow man to be "good".

          • Timothy Reid

            What is "being good"?

  • picklefactory

    This is simply motivated reasoning. One's desire that something be true is not a justification for believing that it is.

    Perhaps the author could look into terror management theory as an explanation.

    • Peter Piper

      This point was already answered in the OP:

      This, of course, does not necessarily mean that the atheist materialist worldview is false. Whether or not life has any meaning if atheism is true is a separate question from whether or not it is true in the first place. My intent here is simply to point out that you can’t have it both ways: Modern atheism denies that human consciousness is rooted in anything other than the chemicals in our brains, thus rejecting the idea that any of our experiences will last outside of time; yet it also tries to say that our consciousness and experiences are meaningful. I don’t see how both of those assertions can be true.

      • picklefactory

        Poorly answered, perhaps.

        Of course my consciousness and experiences are meaningful. Who says so? I do.

        • Peter Piper

          Yes, it is possible that the answer in the OP was poor. If you think so, it would be good if you could make it clearer why you think that.

          • picklefactory

            Irrelevant analogy via math, failure to define "has meaning" or "matters," emotional weasel-words like "mirage", "flicker," "annihilation".

          • Peter Piper

            Let us keep our attention on the point at issue: whether the answer given to your first point in the OP was sufficient. Most of what you have just said is untrue of this answer (which I quote above) and none of what you have just said is relevant to the point in question.

          • picklefactory

            Ah. Well, you quoted the concluding paragraph of the OP's argument, so I roamed back a little further when responding to it. But I take your point. I was focusing on the positive claim not quite asserted, that there is in fact some ultimate meaning to life. Certainly this is a fact not in evidence to begin with.

            "You can't have it both ways": this is the fallacy of the excluded middle. Fulwiler asserts that the only possibilities are eternal meaning or utter meaninglessness without demonstrating why this is so.

            Further unanswered: what would be the properties of an experience with an eternal and ultimate meaning?

            What does "last outside of time" mean? What would it actually mean to be "outside of time"?

          • Peter Piper

            As far as I can tell, the OP does not rely on the claim that there is ultimate meaning to life.

            Fulwiler's `you can't have it both ways' is not an example of the fallacy of the excluded middle, since her earlier argument was an attempt to show that the `ways' are inconsistent with each other. You may claim that this earlier argument fails, but even if that were true, it doesn't stop this later paragraph from being a successful rebuttal of your first point.

            Fulwiler's strategy in the paragraph I quoted does not rely on her ability to answer the questions you mention.

            It seems that your reasons for not accepting Fulwiler's argument may (like my own) be different from the one you originally gave. If so, I suggest you give these new counterarguments in a new comment replying to the OP.

  • Slocum Moe

    It really isn't atheism against religion. Some people need to believe that there must be some higher purpose. For others the adventure of life itself is sufficient. People believe what they must to stay sane, except for those who become insane.

    • Argon

      Bingo!
      The issues of purpose and 'meaning' are things both the theist and atheist may confront. For example, one doesn't get around the problems by assuming a deity. That just passes the buck. Yes, there are apologetics that seek to address that but in toto, I'm just not convinced that such proponents can 'stick their metaphysical landings' sufficiently well.

  • MichaelNewsham

    Old Zen story: A man is running through the forest pursued by a tiger. he comes to a steep cliff and jumps off, managing to seize a vine as he falls. As he's hanging there, the tiger's mate appears at the bottom of the cliff, roaring hungrily while the other tiger paces above.Then, two mice crawl out of a hole in the cliff face above him and start chewing on the vine (you can make one black and one white if you like your allegories heavy-handed).

    The man notices a tiny wild strawberry growing from the cliff beside him,and reaches out and plucks it and tastes it.

    "How sweet!"

    • Susan

      Old Zen story: A man is running through the forest....

      Old joke:

      A man is hiking by himself on a narrow mountail trail and suddeny the trail gets very narrow and gravelly as he rounds a bend well up the mountain. He loses his footing and plummets 30 metres and manages through luck and skill to grab hold of a branch, saving him from imminent death in the canyon below.

      He hangs there a while trying to come up with a solution. feeling his arm grow more and more tired and knowing that he can't hang on forever, probably not much longer.

      He calls out. "Can somebody please help me?" Nothing. "PLEASE, can somebody help me?" Nothing. "HELP!!!"

      Suddenly he hears a booming voice bellow through the clouds.

      "I WILL HELP YOU. LET GO OF THE BRANCH AND I WILL SAVE YOU."

      The hiker pauses....

      "Can somebody ELSE please help me?"

    • Renard Wolfe

      Take a pebble. Bean the mouse in the head. Throw it down to the tiger below as a distraction and then jump down on it with your pocket knife.

      Chance of working: Low. Chances of getting yourself into Valhala? Better.

  • Raphael

    There is no meaning to life if one believes that the universe is an accident.

    • Paul Boillot

      I don't believe you; could you please show your work?

      • Raphael

        Universe is an accident = meaningless life

        • Moussa Taouk

          HahaHA!! Oh goodness (cracking up with laughter). Sorry Paul, no disrespect to you man, but that's a bloody funny response! Ahhh what a classic.

  • David Nickol

    Perhaps those who believe in God could help us out here by completing the following:

    Atheism is not true. Consequently, life has meaning. That meaning is . . . .

    • I'd take it from the Baltimore Catechism, v.4, q. 6

      Meaning is found in learning about God, loving God, serving God now in this life, and enjoying time with God in the next life. I think that's the core of the Catholic answer, maybe most religious answers.

      • David Nickol

        Meaning is found in learning about God, loving God, serving God now in this life, and enjoying time with God in the next life.

        That is an answer I think most "theists" would probably agree with, but I am not sure it gets at the meaning of the word meaning. Here's the pertinent question and answer from the Baltimore Catechism:

        Q: Why did God make you?
        A: God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.

        That seems to answer the question of whether or not you have a purpose or function or designated role. You have an assigned purpose. What if you don't want to know, love and serve God? The argument we see here frequently is that God wants you to do this, but he wants you to choose to do it freely. So doesn't that imply that there is a purpose one level above knowing, loving, and serving God, which is to choose whether or not to know love and serve God? We are told by the believers on Strange Notions that God honors that choice—if you call it "honoring" to allow someone to make the choice and then punish him or her for all eternity for making it!

        • Timothy Reid

          The Catechism and Vatican II both do say that it is possible for an atheist to achieve salvation. It doesn't get specific as to how that is possible, but we as Catholics believe that (through the grace of God) salvation is possible for all human beings and grace is offered to all human beings. If a person is truly responding positively to God's offered grace, the Church says that this person can be saved. What "responding positively to God's offered grace" means.......well, that's an important discussion to have.
          I feel and I think some other people of faith might agree with me that some people who call themselves atheists are rejecting a narrow and incorrect image of God imparted by poor teaching or cultural limitations and do not see God as anything more than a human being with incredible super powers.
          God is not merely a super version of ourselves.

        • When I wonder about the meaning of life, I think about purpose. Maybe I'm conflating two very different questions, but I think that this is the important point that Jennifer and others are trying to make. Purpose is only real if it's placed into us from outside. If we are made for something. If we aren't made for anything by some outside force or agent, then life is purposeless, at least as theists (and as some non-theistic philosophers like Bertrand Russell) use the term.

          What if you don't want to know, love and serve God?

          My understanding of how your question would be answered is also somewhat different. It is taken as a brute fact that all people desire to know, love and serve God. Anyone who denies that they want this don't understand what the words mean. You can try to fulfil that desire a number of ways, or you can deny that the desire exists, but you can't get rid of it.

          That's at least my understanding of the problem as posed.

          • MichaelNewsham

            About the purpose/meaning distinction, yes (for some definitions of....) A human life has meaning; it doesn't have purpose, in the sense of some final goal set from outside..

          • I suppose I'm not as sure about the purposelessness of life.

          • Argon

            It is taken as a brute fact that all people desire to know, love and serve God. Anyone who denies that they want this don't understand what the words mean. You can try to fulfil that desire a number of ways, or you can deny that the desire exists, but you can't get rid of it.

            Yes, that's what I think is a necessary axiom of that particular form of belief system. The question is whether the premises are true.

            Was it a Twilight Zone or Outer Limits episode where aliens land on Earth and proceed to help humans based on their book which was titled "To Serve Man"? It's only after a number of grateful humans enter the aliens' spaceship and are locked in that human linguists translate the tome and learn that it's a cookbook.

        • You are expressing a frequently stated and profound misunderstanding of the theology of salvation. The misunderstanding goes like this. At the moment of death, God can assign people to Heaven or Hell, like the clerk at the DMV telling you which line to get in. This is not how salvation works, at least not in Catholic theology. By the lives we lead, we become the kind of beings who, because of their nature, go either to salvation or damnation. All the talk of reward and punishment is simply analogy, and a bad analogy in my view. A better analogy: Insisting that God can send people wherever he wants is like insisting that the zookeeper can submerge all the birds and tell them to swim, and toss all the fish up in trees and expect them to fly. During the course of your life, you are becoming either a bird or a fish, and God leaves you free to make that choice. But your freedom means nothing if he swaps your feathers for fins at the last minute.

          Peace

          • David Nickol

            All the talk of reward and punishment is simply analogy, and a bad analogy in my view.

            You will have to demonstrate to me that this is authentic Catholic teaching, because it does not seem consistent with what I know. For example, the Catechism says:

            1034 Jesus often speaks of "Gehenna" of "the unquenchable fire" reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost. Jesus solemnly proclaims that he "will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire," and that he will pronounce the condemnation: "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!"

            1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire." The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

            First, you would have to come up with a radical reinterpretation of the words of Jesus. "Throw them into the furnace of fire" and "depart from me . . . into eternal fire" do not sound at all like, "This is your choice, and although I wish you hadn't made it, I have to honor your freely made choices."

            Second, we often hear the argument that God wanted our love to him to be given freely, and so he gave us free will so as not to coerce our love, since coerced love is no love at all. However, since when did the threat of eternal punishment not constitute coercion???

            I am not a big fan of these lists of dogmas, but for what it's worth:

            406. The souls of those who die in the condition of personal grievous sin enter Hell. (De fide.)
            407. The punishment of Hell lasts for all eternity. (De fide.)
            408. The punishment of the damned is proportioned to each one's guilt. (Sent. communis.)

            If this is to be believed, it is Catholic dogma that there is punishment in hell, and it clearly cannot be limited to "eternal separation from God." You are either eternally separated from God or you are not, and so 408 clearly implies additional punishment. As long as the Church teaches there is punishment in hell, it makes no sense to also maintain that people choose hell of their own free will and God just honors their choice. No one would make an informed choice in favor of eternal punishment.

            Also—another question altogether—how could a mere human being merit eternal punishment? Eternal is infinite.

          • Moussa Taouk

            David, I just want to compliment and applaud your level of knowledge and the respectfulness with which you approach others in coversation.

            That link to the list of dogmas is useful... I've been wanting to find something like this for a while and never have. Thanks for sharing.

          • Here are some excerpts from the catechism

            679. By rejecting grace in this life, one already judges oneself, receives according to one’s works, and can even condemn oneself for all eternity by rejecting the Spirit of love.

            1033 ... To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called "hell."

            1037 God predestines no one to go to hell;620 for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want "any to perish, but all to come to repentance"

            The fundamentalist view requires a literal interpretation and understanding of the Scriptures. That has never been the Catholic view

        • loveroftruth

          It is faulty thinking that believes God will punish anyone for all eternity for choosing not to believe in His existence.Really those who choose not to believe are already in hell and have preferred to remain in darkness.

          • David Nickol

            Really those who choose not to believe are already in hell and have preferred to remain in darkness.

            Sorry, but Catholicism could not be more clear that punishment is inflicted in hell (proportionate to the sins of the damned persons) and does not consist merely of the pain of being separated from God.

            It seems to me that there are plenty of perfectly happy people living today whom the Catholic Church would claim are very likely candidates for hell (although, wisely, the Church doesn't claim to know which individuals are damned and which are not). If such individuals are "already in hell," then we can only conclude that they do not perceive their separation from God as painful, and if separation from God is the punishment of hell, they will not perceive themselves to be suffering in hell.

            It seems to me it is not possible to regret a choice made freely and with full knowledge. And is an all-just God going to punish a person for all eternity for making a mistake? It is one thing to punish a person for making a deliberate wrong choice. But in order for a choice to be deliberate (for purposes of moral culpability), the person must know what he or she is doing. How can a just God punish a person for all eternity for making a wrong choice based on incomplete knowledge?

          • josh

            If this is hell it's pretty cozy. Last time I checked fires were quenchable and the worm dieth.

          • Hi loveroftruth. If you check the comment guidelines, you'll find that this site encourages active engagement with the arguments of those with whom you disagree, and discourages sweeping disparagement of the character of those with whom you disagree.

          • loveroftruth

            Yes well sorry Rob Tisinai I didn't mean to leave you hanging but I had to take care of some other business.As for "sweeping disparagement of the character of those with whom you disagree". If by that you are suggesting that my comment about the state of a person in relation to his/her refusal to be with God, is discouraged according to the guidelines of this site, my response would be that given the nature of the subject under discussion,I think that is unduly restrictive.It is certainly not my intention to insult anyone.

          • Really those who choose not to believe are already in hell and have preferred to remain in darkness.

            This is a derogatory comment offered without argument or evidence, disregarding what atheists have said on this board.

      • I have to confess that such thinking always sounds like God created the universe in order to have a fan club.

        • Vasco Gama

          Rob,

          What is really meant is that God created a universe where humans are expected to experience the joy of being in communion with Him, well, but apparently they are free to disagree and rebel.

  • Tjaart Blignaut

    "denies that human consciousness is rooted in anything other than the chemicals in our brains"

    You would swear atheists believe brains are just jars of juice. Seriously what about the neurons? The oversimplification, and the sidestepping of the fact that practically no human is just a brain in isolation, but part of a massive network of brains, is saddening.

    " I don’t see how both of those assertions can be true."

    That is a fallacy of equivocation. You accept that there are two levels of meaning, which I call relative meaning (the meaning of our lives to ourselves and others around us) and ultimate meaning (the meaning of our lives in the context of the universe, eternity or otherwise something much more significant).

    Atheists like myself don't accept that there is some sort of ultimate meaning, that each speck of existence that is a human life needs to be significant in some grand scheme. We are perfectly happy with this not being the case.

    Relative meaning can be summed up as reasons to want to live. We want to live to enjoy life and to feel like we make a relative impact on others that is positive. Ultimate meaning has never motivated a single person to change the world, the motivation to change the world has always been the motivation to change something right here right now, relative to the existence of the speck of momentary dust trying to accomplish it, despite it's grand insignificance, and that is what makes relative meaning important.

    Equivocating the two and making it seem like we have no reasons to live is disingenuous. In the grand scale of eternity we mean nothing, but why care about that? Why do you need to be so super important and significant? What is wrong with being just a tiny speck, enjoying a brief moment, like a soap bubble in the sunlight?

    I would be just as happy to be a tall tree as I am to be an atheist. In fact I love the crap out of life, so much so that I don't need some super ultimate purpose or value.

  • Peter Piper

    I don't think that Jennifer Fulwiler's claim that Ross Douthat is making the same point as her is justified by the quote she gives. Douthat distinguishes between what I shall call local meaning and global meaning, affirming the former and denying that the latter is available to a typical modern atheist:

    Saying that “we know life is meaningful because it feels meaningful” is true for the first level of context, but non-responsive for the second."

    But Fulwiler appears to be making the further claim that without global meaning there can be no local meaning. She does not explain why.

    My own views: I don't believe in global meaning, but rather in local meaning. I agree with Douthat that it would make a difference if there were also global meaning, but nevertheless find local meaning more than adequate for my own life.

  • Octavo

    SMBC had a good strip about this line of thought.

    http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=2673

    I can agree that not being immortal makes me sad. Believing that my non-Christian friends and family (and I) will not be burning forever in hell makes me happy. I'm not sure if there's any point in determining which belief system causes the most happiness since one can't simply choose on that basis. I can't fake or pretend or try on Christianity.

    The things I do in life mean things to me, although I and my actions mean nothing to the uncaring void.

    ~Jesse Webster

    • One point of disagreement between atheists and Christians, though one not often emphasized, is that happiness and sadness are not random effects. They are clues to what we really are, and by “really,” I mean in an essential sense, stripped of accidents of birth and circumstances. We are made a certain way, for certain ends, and happiness is a clue that we are approaching those ends. It is sometimes a false clue, which is why ethical teachings and spiritual tradition are so important.

      So I don’t agree that you should disregard the fact that certain beliefs produce happiness or sadness. You can use this as one set of criteria for making the choice. I know many people who were made miserable by atheism (myself included). I think this is a direct effect of atheism, though not one universally observed. I know some miserable Christians, but their misery stems from other matters, not their beliefs. No doubt some people will find in Christianity a reason to make themselves miserable, and others as well. But the very great majority of Christians find in it peace and happiness (I can introduce you to them). This doesn’t make their choice suspect. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re only responding to pleasurable stimuli or engaging in thoughts that produce agreeable psychological effects. It is just as likely that they have found the truth, and it has set them free, to coin a phrase.

      Peace.

      • Paul Boillot

        There is nothing about being an atheist which entails thinking that "happiness and sadness are...random effects."

        Please do your homework before attributing your boogeymen to us.

        • Whoa, guys, this is supposed to be a conversation, not a smack down. By saying happiness and sadness are seen as random, I meant that they don't have any meaning or significance, and one's experience of happiness or sadness tells us nothing about the matters that cause these effects (other than the obvious fact that they produce the effects). I'm concluding this from the point atheists sometimes express, that religion is only a psychological phenomenon, that people believe it because it assuages their fears.

          But if happiness is something we should pursue for its own sake, then doesn't that mean atheists should cheer on all the people whose faith leads them to happiness?

          But for goodness sake, don't let your atheism lead you to hostility and anger. There's enough of that around.

          If there are any friendly atheists out there, speak up please!

          Peace, seriously

          • Paul Boillot

            Glenn, with all due respect: you started commenting in a thread where a dozen athiests have given their takes on the question of "meaning" in an atheist context vs. a theist context.
            You chimed in with:
            1) Atheists believe happiness and sadness are random, without "any meaning or significance."
            2) "atheists do a generally bad job of determining which witnesses are reliable"
            3) You said atheists' world view "degrades meaning and value," in a thread about the meaning of life to atheists, because...we think dead people are dead. I reply: "This is an unevidenced and therefore invalid assertion." You reply: "I think I accurately stated the atheist view about [dead people]."
            4) "Christian societies have done far more to promote justice than atheist societies"

            And then "Whoa guys, this is supposed to be a conversation."

            Conversations, where I come from, don't usually start with party A telling party B what it thinks or feels, and they don't often contain unevidenced assertions which go unchallenged.

          • By saying happiness and sadness are seen as random, I meant that they don't have any meaning or significance, and one's experience of happiness or sadness tells us nothing about the matters that cause these effects

            In which case you're still mischaracterizing atheism -- which holds only that there is no God or at least insufficient evidence to believe in God, and does not necessarily hold any of these other views you keep ascribing to it.

      • One point of disagreement between atheists and Christians, though one not often emphasized, is that happiness and sadness are not random effects.

        Really? Apparently I've been doing atheism wrong.

      • Octavo

        I'm afraid I don't see the correlation between a true belief and the happiness it causes. There are many disappointing true beliefs in life.

  • Andre Boillot

    Maybe there’s some gene that allows you to sense meaning even if you believe that you’re faced with complete annihilation? If so, I don’t have it, because that mindset is not one I’ve ever understood. To paraphrase Bertrand Russell: If all of our feelings and experiences take place in the ever-fleeting realm of time, they’re already as good as gone.

    First, and somebody correct me if I'm wrong, but the Russell quote the author links to doesn't seem to be accurate (or at least I couldn't find its phrasing anywhere else.

    (Emphasis mine)

    From the OP link:

    “All the labor of all the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius are destined to extinction. So now, my friends, if that is true, and it is true, what is the point?

    https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/389444-all-the-labor-of-all-the-ages-all-the-devotion

    From the actual essay:

    "That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand."

    http://sciphilos.info/docs_pages/docs_Russell_FreeMans_full_css.html

    I think you'll have to concede that these are very different conclusions. Giving the author the benefit of the doubt on this particular instance, I'm still not sure why she tries to use Russell in an effort to show that there's no point to any of this if we're headed towards certain annihilation. His writings are filled with examples to the contrary, not least of which is the conclusion of the essay linked above:

    Brief and powerless is Man’s life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way; for Man, condemned today to lose his dearest, tomorrow himself to pass through the gate of darkness, it remains only to cherish, ere yet the blow falls, the lofty thoughts that ennoble his little day; disdaining the coward terrors of the slave of Fate, to worship at the shrine that his own hands have built; undismayed by the empire of chance, to preserve a mind free from the wanton tyranny that rules his outward life; proudly defiant of the irresistible forces that tolerate, for a moment, his knowledge and his condemnation, to sustain alone, a weary but unyielding Atlas, the world that his own ideals have fashioned despite the trampling march of unconscious Power.

    EDIT: clarity

    • Paul Boillot

      I think you cut off Russell one sentence too early on the first quote:

      Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.

      That last one might be able to be read, by somebody determined to misunderstand him, as Russell saying despair is good, and then making the jump to "what's the point."

  • David Nickol

    Isn't it a strange way of phrasing the question to say, "If atheism is true, does life still have meaning?"

    Here are the two pertinent definitions of atheism from Merriam-Webster's Unabridged:

    a : a lack of belief or a strong disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods
    b : a philosophical or religious position characterized by disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods —

    I think what Jennifer Fulwiler is asking is if the version of God she believes in (God as conceived of by Christians, and possibly Jews) gives "meaning" to life, and but for that God, life would have no "meaning." Atheism can be "true" if there are any gods at all, including indifferent gods or hostile ones.

    So basically, the question is not about whether there is a god, but whether there is a particular God—the one Christians believe in.

    Also, in the sentence, "If atheism is true, does life still have meaning?" what purpose does the word still serve?

    • “Atheism can be "true" if there are any gods at all, including indifferent gods or hostile ones.”

      Are you saying that the existence of indifferent or hostile gods would make theists right on the existence of a higher being but atheists right on the question of meaning?

      "So basically, the question is not about whether there is a god, but whether there is a particular God—the one Christians believe in.”

      I agree, and I think this breaks down to two questions: (1) Is there a higher being? (2) Is the Christian understanding of God correct?

      Aquinas follows this analysis (if I understand it correctly, no guarantees there) at the very beginning of the Summa. He starts with the famous proofs for the existence of God (question (1)). But he recognizes that these proofs don’t tell us much about God. Once you get past this question, you have to rely on the reports of the most reliable witnesses you can find (question (2)).

      I think modern atheists do a generally bad job of determining which witnesses are reliable, because they a priori dismiss the testimony of any witnesses who assert the truth of spiritual realities – even if these witnesses are, by any other criteria, thoroughly reliable.

      Do you distrust witnesses who testify to, for example, miracles? If so, why?

      Peace

      • Andre Boillot

        "I think modern atheists do a generally bad job of determining which witnesses are reliable, because they a priori dismiss the testimony of any witnesses who assert the truth of spiritual realities – even if these witnesses are, by any other criteria, thoroughly reliable."

        Glenn,

        Do you think atheists dismiss witness reliability re: the spiritual any more than members of faith X would do so re: testimony by witness of faith Y? Also, I think you might be overstating the reliability of witnesses in general, or underplaying the effects of bias on memory/testimony.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eyewitness_testimony

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eyewitness_identification

        • Well, we have to take our witnesses one at a time! Some are reliable, some aren't. I don't think generalizations are particularly helpful on this point. Which is why I challenge atheists, because I think they must categorically discount the reliability of every person in history who has ever testified to a miracle. That's an awfully broad generalization.

          The question of the truth of religious propositions (how many gods there are, whether Jesus was divine, whether souls are reincarnated, etc.) is a tougher question, but it generally doesn't involve what I mean by "the testimony of witnesses," that is, a particular person who saw a particular event on a particular day. These broader questions involve matters of revelation, which is a different subject from what I'm trying to address here.

          Peace

          • Andre Boillot

            "I don't think generalizations are particularly helpful on this point. Which is why I challenge atheists, because I think they must categorically discount the reliability of every person in history who has ever testified to a miracle. That's an awfully broad generalization."

            I mean, do you even know what irony is?

          • Sure, and I understand sarcasm too. But I don't think it helps. I'm just a guy trying to make sense of it all. I think I have a handle on a few things. That shouldn't make me contemptible.

            Peace

          • Andre Boillot

            Glenn,

            To the extent I find you contemptible, it is in your claiming to decry generalizations and - in the very next sentence - generalizing about atheists.

          • Maybe I should clarify: substitute "atheist materialist" for "atheist" in that argument. It's a generalization in the sense that modus ponens is a generalization.

            I prefer to be thought of not as contemptible but merely misunderstood.

            Peace

          • Andre Boillot

            I still take exception to the idea that all atheist materialists would discount the reliability of witnesses to supposed miraculous events. You could be completely reliable in your account of an elevator plummeting uncontrollably for dozens of floors only to be saved by a safety mechanism you're not aware of. If you chose to then ascribe your being saved to a miracle, that doesn't make you unreliable.

      • David Nickol

        I agree, and I think this breaks down to two questions: (1) Is there a higher being? (2) Is the Christian understanding of God correct?

        Yes. As I said, I am not sure why the the question was phrased the way it was.

        Do you distrust witnesses who testify to, for example, miracles? If so, why?

        I am actually not an atheist, although I realize that I must often sound like one. I don't even know if I count as an agnostic. I suppose I could describe myself as someone who was raised to believe in God but have significant doubts and am bothered by people who come off as so totally certain of their own beliefs that they think what they believe is self evident.

        As for miracles, I certainly don't take the position that if there is the claim of a miracle, it must be false because miracles don't happen. However, there would have to be extremely solid evidence. I am not saying the miracles of Jesus or his resurrection could not have happened or didn't happen. However, there is not sufficient evidence in the New Testament or the historical record to come anywhere near proving it. It seems to me that belief in the miraculous events in the New Testament requires some kind of prior belief in Jesus. I don't think the New Testament in and of itself is convincing, but I think those with a certain kind of religious faith can reasonably believe it.

        • Argon

          Arthur C. Clarke wrote: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

          An event ascribed as a miracle is not necessarily rejected by atheists. Whether the event was a miracle might be up for debate but reliable evidence of high, non-human intelligence would probably be reasonable considered by many. The SETI project has broad support, for example.

          Interestingly, in a separate thread I learned that 'miracles' which occur an signs that benefit other religions and not the Catholic church's views, would not be accepted as miracles by the RCC. So there is definitely 'miracle myopia'.

        • Well said. Conviction of one's own rectitude is the sin of pride, the chief of all the vices. I suspect there are a lot of former Christians in hell because of it. But I hope for the best.

    • Paul Boillot

      "Atheism can be "true" if there are any gods at all, including indifferent gods or hostile ones."

      Could I get clarification on this point?

      • David Nickol

        Could I get clarification on this point?

        I wish I had a clue what I meant when I wrote that!

        I believe what I was thinking is that atheism can be false if a god or gods other than Jennifer Fulwiler's exist and her God does not exist. So the issue really isn't about atheism. It's about whether the God of Christianity exists or not. Of course, is atheism is true, he definitely wouldn't exist, but if atheism is false, he still might not exist.

  • Brad

    I once hiked to the top of a 14er in Colorado. Standing on the top was a very meaningful experience for me. A big part of that meaning is that the chance and ability of achieving it is limited. If I was forever 22 years old, hiking to the top would lose its meaning and probably be pointless. I'm not intelligent enough to say whether the existence of God makes life meaningful or not but what I do know is that an eternal existence is destructive to meaning and value. This is seen also pretty clearly in economics. I have a box of sports cards in my attic that have been there since I was a kid. When I collected cards the holy grail was finding a box of old cards because they were worth the most money. In my youth I thought they were valuable because they were old but actually it was because they were rare. Our fathers more often chewed the gum up and stuck the cards in the spokes of their bikes rather than stash them away for the future. Now there are boxes of cards from the 80's and 90's stashed by kids like me in attics across suburbia which are basically worthless. I would argue that this existence is valuable because it is limited.

    • I think you’re representing the Christian view as follows:

      Existence is eternal
      Eternity gives you the chance to do
      anything as many times as you want
      Therefore, eternal existence is
      destructive to meaning and value

      The minor premise is false from the Christian point of view. Our earthly
      life is the precursor to eternal life. It’s our limited chance to become the kind of people we need to be. It’s a great adventure, because we either do
      or we don’t. So eternal life doesn’t degrade meaning and value.

      The atheist worldview does degrade meaning and value, because, in the atheist worldview, Hitler and Gandhi wind up exactly the same.

      Peace

      • Brad

        All I'm saying is that based on our experience on earth, which is the only experience we can really say anything about, meaning and value depend on limits. An unlimited supply of anything, be it life or treasure, will ultimately become worthless.

        • I don't know . . . an unlimited supply of Klondike bars? An unlimited supply of Rilke? an unlimited supply of medieval choral music? As long as I'm not being force-fed, I'd like to know it's always there. Scarcity renders some things valuable, but it's not the source of all value.

          Peace

      • Paul Boillot

        "The atheist worldview does degrade meaning and value, because, in the atheist worldview, Hitler and Gandhi wind up exactly the same."

        This is an unevidenced and therefore invalid assertion.

        Additionally, I will counter by pointing out that on atheism, there is no reason for contentment in the face of genocide and holocaust, since this is the only place and time where we can enact justice.

        God will not sort them out in the end, the checkbook will not be balanced, so if we value justice we must pay attention to what happens now.

        Note: The good, wholesome, Christian America refused to enter WWII until it was attacked. The plight of Europe meant nothing to it.

        • I think I accurately stated the atheist view about Hitler and Gandhi, but if not, help me out.

          Christian societies have done far more to promote justice than atheist societies; I don’t think that’s a point on which reasonable minds can differ, but I’m open to correction. I believe this is one of the points of Peter Hitchens’ book The Rage Against God (on my reading list): atheism as a cultural and political orientation leads to disasters and atrocities.

          I think the America-in-World War II argument relies on the post hoc ergo proper hoc fallacy. You can blame America’s timing on all sorts of things besides Christianity. There’s a rich moral tradition in Christianity regarding the justness of war, but there are no aspects of this tradition that compel a Christian, individually or collectively, to use violence in any particular circumstance.

          Peace.

          • Andre Boillot

            "Christian societies have done far more to promote justice than atheist societies; I don’t think that’s a point on which reasonable minds can differ, but I’m open to correction."

            I see, you subscribe to the 'my un-evidenced claim stands until shown otherwise' school of dialogue.

          • I'm not trying to pick a fight, and I'm sorry to have provoked a hostile response. I was only thinking of the usual examples of atheist societies and didn't want to seem to patronize by pointing them out. I was thinking of Stalinist Russia, Maoist China, Nazi Germany, Pol Pot's Cambodia.

          • Andre Boillot

            You're not so much patronizing as, apparently, ill-informed. The main thing these regimes had in common was totalitarianism, not atheism. It's always tricky lumping communism together with fascism, and while the communists regimes were publicly atheistic, Nazi Germany was certainly not.

          • Well, I don't think I'm either one, but I guess the proof is in the pudding.

          • Paul Boillot
          • Andre Boillot

            By all means, show us the pudding.

          • Paul Boillot

            "I think I accurately stated the atheist view about Hitler and Gandhi, but if not, help me out."

            Of course you did, and the fact that this is a convo thread in response to an OP about "meaning" might have tipped you off that my problem with your statement wasn't about where their souls didn't go.

            "Christian societies have done far more to promote justice than atheist societies

            Secularism has proven to be the only guarantor of human rights. Free speech and freedom of religion were radical shifts away from Christian theocracies.

            "I believe this is one of the points of Peter Hitchens’ book The Rage Against God (on my reading list)"

            Peter is by far the less gifted, less interesting, and less intellectually honest of the two Hitchenses.

            "atheism as a cultural and political orientation leads to disasters and atrocities."

            This is not only unsupported, but actually contradicted by the historical record. You aren't just blowing smoke, you're wrong.

            "I think the America-in-World War II argument relies on the post hoc ergo proper hoc fallacy."

            WWII America is nothing of the kind. To be an PHEPH fallacy I would have to be claiming that America didn't intervene earlier *because* it was Christian. I didn't not. I merely pointed out that America, the most Christian country on the planet, not only did *nothing* proactive to help in the fight against Hitler, it actively refused to help until it was attacked. IIRC, FDR had to act illegally to provide what help he was able to before '42.

            If you're going to talk about atheist worldviews and Hitler in the same breathe, you should try reading history and learning that while the NDSP was gassing Jews and Homosexuals and the feeble, atheist communists were some of the biggest thorns in Hitler's side.

            While America refused aid.

            (Oh, and as a side note, for your information, Hitler got his ideas about eugenics from the movements started in California.)

          • Not sure what I said to justify the personal attack. But I'm sorry that's where we wound up. I think my points will have to just stand or fall on their own merits.

            Peace

          • Paul Boillot

            Show me a personal attack, and I'll retract it.

            If you're gonna get sore over been proven wrong, there's not much I can help you with.

          • Well, if you suggest that I get sore over being proven wrong, then you're saying I'm more interested in my ego than in logic or the truth. That'll do for one example.

            "You aren't just blowing smoke . . ."

            "you should try reading history . . ."

            I'm not wounded or anything. I'm a lawyer, so I get attacked for a living. I just don't think it clarifies anything.

            Peace

          • Paul Boillot

            "You aren't just blowing smoke . . ."

            "atheism as a cultural and political orientation leads to disasters and atrocities."

            That sounds like smoke to me, and a-historical smoke at that. You're wrong about it, but if you thought you were sincerely correct I apologize if my manner was overly abrupt. I'll edit my post.
            -------
            "you should try reading history . . ."

            "The atheist worldview does degrade meaning and value, because, in the atheist worldview, Hitler and Gandhi wind up exactly the same."

            Describing atheism as degrading to meaning and value because they acknowledge that microbiology happens to corpses of good and bad people alike, while at the same time ?being ignorant? of the fact that atheists were among Hitler's most hated enemies while he was alive seems like a gross oversight on your part, counselor. I can't think of any way you could correct that oversight save more reading. Is that too harsh for you? I'll amend it.

            Lastly, Mr. Dickinson, I made no assumptions about why you get sore when you're proven wrong, you're putting words in my mouth. The underlying psychological process is one only you are privy to.

            All I know is that you made several outlandish and unsupported claims, were called on it, and then cried 'foul.' Usually my 'personal attacks' are more personal-y and more attack-y; but, since those remarks offended your sensibilities, I will change them for you.

          • "...while the NDSP was gassing Jews..."

            Are you trying to say the Nazis? Their initials were NSDAP, not NDSP.

          • Paul Boillot

            Indeed, I had the wrong acronym. Thanks for the correction.

          • Argon

            "Christian societies have done far more to promote justice than atheist societies"

            Please don't go there. Godwin's Law and all that.

          • Argon, what do you imagine that statement has to do with Godwin's law (and all that)?

          • Argon

            Hi Dave.
            It's the flip side of that. Glenn also wrote: "The atheist worldview does degrade meaning and value, because, in the atheist worldview, Hitler and Gandhi wind up exactly the same." and "I was only thinking of the usual examples of atheist societies and didn't want to seem to patronize by pointing them out. I was thinking of Stalinist Russia, Maoist China, Nazi Germany, Pol Pot's Cambodia.", thus stepping into it with both feet.

          • Thanks for following up, Argon. I see where you are coming from. But I believe you've misapplied Godwin's Law. It's not a strict prohibition of discussing Hitler in all places, including where it's relevant. Glenn wasn't calling all Atheists a bunch of Hitlers or Stalins, which is the kind of name-calling-cum-argumentation which that "law" was invented to address. He's simply saying that with regard to meaning of life, were Atheism true, it matters little whether you lived your life full of virtue (e.g. Gandhi) or genocidal rage (e.g. Hitler), or anywhere in between. Because in the purely material world, when you die, it's over. Nothing continues on. Even if you had affected other lives, they're also gone in the blink of an eye. And so on. Done. Dunzo. It doesn't matter. Within this vision of reality, "meaning" as a concept loses a lot of oomph.

            As for your second Glenn quote - maybe he could have said, "atheist regimes" instead of atheist societies. But his point doesn't seem controversial, especially with regard to Communist countries. Atheism prevails, and in many cases is outright mandated.

            I think I saw somewhere that there is a corollary to Godwin's law. This law states that you aren't allowed to misapply Godwin's law in an attempt to shut down a valid line of argumentation simply because it references Hitler. And like Godwin's Law, if you violate it, you lose the argument! :)

      • Casey Braden

        Don't Hitler and Gandhi wind up exactly the same in the Catholic worldview, too?

        I mean, I know that no one can speculate as to who is in heaven and who is in hell, but if there is a heaven I sure hope Hitler isn't there. And Gandhi was a Hindu...

  • Spot on! If you cease to exit at death, things stop having meaning for you. Your life may have meaning for those who remain, but not for you, you no longer exist.

    It seems the author agrees with this. Regardless of whether any gods exist, lives have meaning for conscious beings, while they are alive.

    We don't known what happens to consciousness after life ends, but if it does stop, I don't see what belief in a god would do to give it eternal meaning for me once I stop existing. Conversely, if a god exists and there will be meaning for me after I die, great! This possibility does nothing to assist me in believing this to be true or making it true, or picking which god idea is the correct one to ensure a positively meaningful afterlife (as opposed to annihilation or conscious torture.)

    But these analogies are misplaced. The brevity and apparent rarity of our human lives gives them more meaning to me, not less. If the author thought that her life was less rich without a belief in God, I am sorry, but I can't imagine a life with more hope, value or wonder than the one I am experiencing.

  • Paul Boillot

    If there is no God, why is there anything and not nothing.
    If there is no God, how can we be moral?
    If there is no God, does life have meaning?

    It's a shame that one of the most celebrated, respected, and approachable atheist writers (imho) of the 20th century spent so much time and effort helping to answer these questions, and get's the treatment he does here.

    To paraphrase Bertrand Russell: If all of our feelings and experiences take place in the ever-fleeting realm of time, they're already as good as gone.

    The author of this piece is "paraphrasing" quote she simply gives "www.goodreads.com" as a source for. That webpage has it simply credited to B.R., no source material indicated. It took me pouring through google searches to find out what Andre found, that the 'goodreads' "quote" is a managling of something BR actually *did* write, but it's even worse than a bad paraphrase of a bad paraphrase.

    The quote that Ms. Fulwiler tracked down to http://www.goodreads.com (I wonder if she just perused the BR quotes and found the one that sounded bleakest) is not a BR quote.

    It's a quote from a Ms. Maria Kalman, an "illustrator, author and designer" who wrote an opinion column for the NYT which was translated into a book The Principles of Uncertainty.

    The standard existential crisis is at the center of “Principles.” Kalman quotes Bertrand Russell: “All the labor of all the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction.” She then asks, “So, now, my friends, if that is true, and it IS true, what is the point?”

    ~"The Synesthesiac"

    So at this point, we have a fragment of a quote from Bertrand Russell discussing these things back in 1903, which is used by an illustrator to make her own point, which point is then attributed to Bertrand Russell without citation and widely disseminated, which Ms. Fulwiler takes at face-value, apparently undismayed by the lack of source material, and uses as the basis for further editorializing.

    • Thanks for the investigative work, Paul. I appreciate the heads up. I've adjusted the post.

      That said, I hope you see that the quote is ancillary to Jennifer's main contention. Her points hold just as well without it.

      • Paul Boillot

        Brandon:

        First of all, thank you for taking my concern seriously.

        I find the misrepresentation of a third-party's ideas to be especially annoying for two reasons. First, the basic dishonesty and disrespect to truth. Second, the implicit disrespect to everyone else's intelligence; quotes can, and should, be tracked down, and false/misquotes will out.

        So again, thanks for your diligence: I don't believe respectful discourse can be had on this most tricky of topics without complete honesty and transparency.

        That said, I don't believe it's ancillary to her main contention. If I've learned anything about good prose writing (and that's debatable) over the years, it is that an engaging author must start strong and close strong.

        Ms. Fulwiler quotes Bertrand Russell near the end of her piece, in my estimation, to give an added punch to the thesis that 'atheism entails meaninglessness.'

        Pulling a fabricated Russell quote which ends with "...what's the point?" adds a dash of "even your [atheists'] best thinkers agree with me."

  • If Christianity were true, would life still have meaning? Vast crowds of people, presumably most who ever lived, would wake up after death and find that, no matter what sort of life they lived, whom they had loved, or what had been done to them, it will all be lost to them as their minds are burned out of their skulls with undying flames; the rest who enter heaven will find their past life merely mostly lost, except those elements directed toward love of God. In both places, their finite minds will condemn their every present moment to eventually disappear from all living memory forevermore. And that's just the subjective type of meaning! What about the things these people loved and valued and strove for during their lives? All are to be wiped out, not a trace remaining, when God destroys the old heaven and earth and makes the new. And for those lucky enough to have been born in a time and place where they could become Christian without being exposed to the overwhelming evidence against Christianity, and so who enter into the new heaven and earth, whatever work they do there must also, in infinite time, be changed by further events beyond recognition, and so lost to the infinite ages. Oh, woe to the Christians, who believe they must live forever in a meaningless world!

    Yes, it's ridiculous. It's ridiculous for exactly the same reasons that Jennifer's musing was ridiculous. The basic error is that "temporary" does not imply "meaningless".

    The right answer about meaning is super-simple:

    A human's life is meaningful when she spends her time in pursuit of the things she values. A human's life is meaningless when he spends his time merely surviving without pursuing the things he values.

  • Great article. For me, the concept of meaning vanishes in the absence of free will. What can possibly constitute meaningfulness when everything - every slightest sliver of thought or action - is predetermined? To (mis)quote our President, "If your life has meaning, you didn't build that!"
    Sure, things might feel meaningful. But that's just an interesting effect of those spinning atoms taking their turn as part of someone's brain. And when I say, 'interesting', I must acknowledge that such interest is also just a predetermined, mechanical effect of those atoms in my head. Without free will, we are robots. So atheists/materialists can certainly claim that their life has meaning. Just as a robot can be programmed to say that its life has meaning. It doesn't matter if it's true or not, because neither one can help it. It was unavoidable.

  • RaymondNicholas

    Life has meaning insofar as life has meaning to a dog, bird, or tree. No purpose other than to survive, no legacy, no vice, no virtue, The meanings of words become lost. The only ethics--utilitarianism, assuming you could get a majority to agree. The only good that is done and the only evil that is done is that which is done in order to survive.

  • James Chastek

    Jen,

    I thought your argument was interesting, but the commentary on it became too big for a combox so I made it a post here.

  • I just found this great video. It seems a perfect answer to whether life can have meaning without a belief in God.

    • Andre Boillot

      ...but I'm not sharing it with anyone!

  • I just found this great video. It seems a perfect answer to whether life can have meaning without a belief in God.
    http://youtu.be/at_f98qOGY0

  • nowornever

    Define meaning, please. I think my thoughts are meaningful in the sense that I assign meaning to them; I deny, however, that there exists some sort of 'objective meaningfulness' that exists outside of human consciousness.

    I think you're mistaking the map for the territory, here.

  • Paul Boillot

    I stumbled across this yesterday, I think it adequately addresses the issues at hand.

    http://killspook.tumblr.com/post/70556831742

  • Casey Braden

    I understand the author's point, but I just disagree about where meaning actually comes from. Ultimately my life will pass in the blink of an eye when compared to all of human history. I am just one insignificant spec on a tiny planet in a remote and unremarkable corner of our galaxy, which is only one of billions......I get all of that. Yet none of that has any bearing on the fact that my life has meaning to me and those I care about and those other lives I touch. I could care less if there is any ultimate meaning beyond that. I don't need any supernatural meaning to my life in order for me to find meaning in it.

  • I think there's a fundamental incompatibility with the theist perspective on the words meaning and meaningfulness, and the naturalist perspective of those words. For some reason, theists seem to tack on that zero to the equation because annihilation is equivalent to naught. I'm not sure how this is so.

    For the naturalist, annihilation is simply not part of the equation because annihilation is meaningless in the context of our perceivable reality. There is no reality worth considering in a philosophical context which is not perceivable at some level, and therefore the consideration of annihilation, while perhaps scientifically and philosophically diverting, nevertheless seems to be ultimately worthless.

    This is not to say that considering the possibility of immortality is not worthwhile. In fact, I'd like nothing more than to help contribute to scientific endeavors to prolong life and eliminate the symptoms of aging and disease. However, in no naturalist context does it seem reasonable to tack on a null multiplier to an equation of meaning. If every single human being on the planet today were to be suddenly granted immortality and we were to continue to exist for the proceeding eons to come, it would be impossible for our perspectives of our existence to remained moored in the intractably prone position of the grave.

    Imagine human history unfolding for billions of years one perceivable moment at a time, and then as the last star twinkles out of existence into the cold black void, you, as an immortal human being looking back upon those billions of years of existence and make your judgment: "Oh, but I now will no longer exist -- and because the syntropy of the universe is not as infinite as a deity which I cannot even imagine to its ultimate extent, it is all for nothing." It seems an absurd counter-proposition, even in the opposite limit of the naturalist perspective.

    My point is, that I certainly understand if your mindset is such that finding meaning in life despite being faced with the prospect of ultimate annihilation is difficult for you. But entertain for a moment the idea that it may not be a lack of meaning from which you shy away, but a deep-down fear of non-existence.

    But know that that is okay. It frightens us all. That fear is the mark of our humble origins. Because we are simple but sentient mammals looking up into the unfathomable depths of the cosmos. But there is comfort to be found, in the loving embrace of your fellow human being, in the poetry of their imaginations, in the awe of every living creature you may encounter, in the emotionally stirring phenomenon of our terraqueous globe spinning towards a brilliant fireball which ignites our sky in lustrous colors every day, and in every consideration of the unimaginable vastness of your stellar ancestry.

    If this is all we have, then cherish every moment. And use every moment to let those whom you love know that they are loved.

  • Damian Shawcross

    Time has no ending but the burning question is what started time and when did time start, time can go for eternity either side of 0

  • Anonymous

    "If everything that we call heroism and glory, and all the significance of all great human achievements, can be reduced to some neurons firing in the human brain, then it’s all destined to be extinguished at death. And considering that the entire span of homo sapiens’ existence on earth wouldn’t even amount to a blip on the radar screen of a 5-billion-year-old universe, it seemed silly to pretend like the 60-odd-year life of some random organism on one of trillions of planets was something special. (I was a blast at parties.) By simply living my life, I felt like I was living a lie. I acknowledged the truth that life was meaningless, and yet I kept acting as if my own life had meaning, as if all the hope and love and joy I’d experienced was something real, something more than a mirage produced by the chemicals in my brain."

    This is exactly the same thought I have in my head. Nice to know there's someone out there feeling the same way as I do. Regards from Indonesia

  • bdlaacmm

    "I don’t see how both of those assertions can be true."

    Neither do I. It's one or the other, but not both. Either we are the product of purely materialistic interactions between bits of matter and energy, OR life is meaningful. Choose only one - you can't have both.

    • Doug Shaver

      Either we are the product of purely materialistic interactions between bits of matter and energy, OR life is meaningful. Choose only one - you can't have both.

      I am a materialist. My life means something to me. Whether it means anything to do, I don't know why I should care.

    • Doug Shaver

      you can't have both.

      You say so, but I am a materialist, and my life is meaningful to me.

    • Michael Murray

      Either your first statement is true or its false. Do you really base your judgement of the truth on whether or not you like the answer ?

  • rideforever

    ATHEISM IS DENIAL OF YOUR REALITY
    Every human being when he wakes up in the morning knows his life has a purpose.
    Those who are atheists are dishonest if they don't kill themselves, if you are just a machine, a series of neurons - why bother.
    "Atheism" is just another stupid bunch of crap that humans have in their heads, as if the human head is not full enough already of stupid crap.

    If you are an "Atheist" and believe you are nothing, why don't you kill yourself. It's all the same isn't it ?

    ... you are still there aren't you.

    Still humans, they are so full of shit.

    • Doug Shaver

      Stupid humans, they are so full of shit.

      Are you an exception, or are you not a human?

      • Michael Murray

        I had a colleague some decades back who had Crohn's disease. He ended up having to have a colostomy. He came out of a meeting once and said to me "I was sitting in there thinking that I'm the only person here not full of shit".

      • William Davis

        The dunning kruger effect is strong in this one, recent comment:

        LOVEPlacebo effects are different depending on who is the nurse. Something everyone knows.
        The truth is that love is very real and cures people.
        Instead of doctors and corporations, all we need is love.
        Many people know this already.
        Perhaps science will "discover" it soon.
        Just like Columbus "discovered" America.
        (although there were millions of Native Indians living there at the time)

        https://disqus.com/home/discussion/theatlantic/is_the_placebo_effect_in_your_dna/#comment-2113120130

        Now to use "love" to cure ebola. I'm guessing Beatle's lyrics are supposed to pass as logic here?

        • Ignatius Reilly

          God is a concept by which we measure our pain.-John Lennon

      • rideforever

        It is only because I am a human that I realise how deep the shit is.
        But unlike others, I have no illusions about it.

        • Doug Shaver

          So, all humans are full of it, but you and a few other exceptional people know that you're full of it. Is that what you're saying?

  • JakeHalsted

    Interesting that people have this debate at all. I don't really care. I live by the principles in my life that my Christian faith guides me by....but I don't fixate. Maybe that's why I'm not a theologian.. I have better things to do with my time than question the # of angels on the head of a pin. In general, my Christian faith makes me a better person.

  • brewil

    I'm no great thinker but surely the greater meaning in our lives is due to our actions in the moment. Life is best lived in the moment, not as a projection into an uncertain future. So what does it matter whether you believe in your existence as a body or a timeless soul unless all meaning is only an accumulation of a life's experience? By being conscious we give meaning to things because of our heightened awareness. Is our subjective experience not enough?

  • TheSaint4JC

    People keeping a memory and record alive by passing down the acts of their ancestors can all be lost if some cataclysmic event happens like the entire Earth (which contains those records/memories) is completely obliterated by a supernova of our Sun. Hence.... meaninglessness of the evolutionary mindset.

  • Doug Shaver

    If Atheism Is True, Does Life Still Have Meaning?

    Meaning for whom? If my life is meaningful to me right now, what more do I require?

  • Tom Anderson

    the meaning of life is to give life meaning and if that meaning is to take life than so shall your life be taken ... that is the atheism way we don't need god to understand what we don't know or fear

  • Brian

    Under the assumptions you have made, I would agree that, to the atheist, life is utterly meaningless beyond trite consolations about camaraderie in spite of existential despair. That position, which many atheists do share, is built upon the false idea of life as being a progression toward something.

    To the Christian, life is essentially a brief flash of consciousness and experience where you are given a chance to exercise your free will and determine whether your true, eternal existence will be in the good place or the bad place. All sorts of sects and groups have different views on the particulars, but this is a general theme.

    The typical Atheist in the Western world, because they were molded by a society with a strong Christian heritage, builds their worldview as a counter to the old status quo: Christianity. So Atheists find themselves stumbling over rationalizations to find the true answer to what the ultimate meaning, at the end of all this experience, is. Why did I go through all of this? Why this life? Well, at the end, it was for some reason I came up with. And so that I could suffer through it with my friends and family.

    Both of these views are, in my opinion, two sides of the same coin. In both cases, the question of the meaning of life is grounded on the distinction that life is defined by its end. But why are we overlooking the experience of life itself? From birth to death, that process of growing, experiencing, learning, creating and doing, from day to day, is the meaning of life. There's no grand mystery to solve. It isn't some obtuse riddle to be pondered by a wise old sage or analyzed by a genius physicist. Life is simply something we do. We are beings that grow out of a world which we evolved in to. All we are really meant to do is that: grow and live.

    It may not be the most glorious and adventurous, or ecstatic and content existence imaginable, but who ever told you it should be was blowing hot air. Life is peeling potatoes. Life is taking a walk. Life, like a nice vacation, is something we hope will be relaxing, exciting and fulfilling. Some things may surprise us or frustrate us. It may not turn out like we had hoped at all. All in all, all we can really do is look at our present moment as if we are our older selves, reflecting on our lives, and live each moment day to day the best we can. That's what life is about, and it was never a secret.

    Best wishes in all your endeavors.

  • De Ha

    Quite frankly, the arrogance of theists to think the universe gives a shit about humans is one of the things I don't like about Religion.

    You're not that special. Get used to it!

  • Argument Clinic

    If I understand correctly you're making an argument based on the God of Gaps. You assume meaningfulness is required for existence therefore something needs to be part of the "life equation" to give the equation meaning.

    We could re-state your equation above as X * Y =

    In this equation X represents the meaningfulness (subjective meaningfulness) you give things like working at the soup kitchen and putting smiles on people's faces and what not. Y represents some concept of existential meaningfulness. This is some immutable meaningfulness that you have regardless of whether you want to have it or not. Without it, no matter how much subjective meaningfulness you add because the existential meaningfulness is 0 the equation always ultimately evaluates to 0.

    Therefore you are asserting that meaningless is an invalid evaluation of that function and therefore something else must provide that existential meaningfulness.

    There is absolutely no evidence or rational reason to believe this and you have no supplied any type of rationale for this argument. You have merely stated essentially that because you don't like the concept of meaninglessness of existence that this equation cannot evaluate to 0. That's not a good reason and a basis for wishful thinking.

    Now I know this most likely sounds very cold to someone like you who doesn't want to accept such things. I can come this far with you, I would very much like things to be the wishful thinking that people imagine with their prefrontal cortexes but there just is no evidence yet. The challenge for folks like you who believe in such things is to provide the smoking gun. In essence, you have a scientific theory but theories require proof and thus far no proof has been provided.

    With regard to all this nonsense about an afterlife and punishment for non-belief that is described different ways by different religions that is merely Pascal's wager and a way to coerce people to adopt a belief system to "play it safe". The problem I have with that is that it seems to have been a convenient basis for power grabs like the way the Catholic church essentially controlled most of Western Europe for many centuries. To convince lower status people to slave their lives away for the benefit of the privileged elite.

  • Ryanmcel

    I....just can't imagine caring about anything if I believed it would very soon be for nothing. I don't understand why an atheist would ever show anything but selfishness in times when he could get away with it, yet it seems many atheists do have morality and selflessness. I don't know why. I just don't get it. But really I dont even get why theyre still alive if they believe atheism. Just why even live out the rest of a few years until they die, in THIS piece of crap world where THIS is all they would ever experience? They think this world is That good that the lame experiences here are so profound they're worth more than the not caring that they will all have not even happened soon? I'd dwell on the pointlessness of it all every second, and be like why should I be happy that this good thing happened to me when it will soon have not happened?

    • Sample1

      These opinions and observations of yours surface from time to time and we atheists have provided answers for years now on SN. For once I'd like one of the believers to respond to you that is sympathetic to a naturalist's outlook.

      Mike, faith free.

    • Sivalingam Canjeevaram

      Good thought! I read and re-read your comments x times..

      MOTIVATION - CONVICTION - INSTINCT
      Purpose is very clear "To stay alive and propagate"
      "To work towards success of offsprings and ability and motivation to continue this purpose" If this is not the purpose then there won't be any life and continuity.

      It seems this (live - propagate - ensure offspring also has this purpose) purpose is "programmed" like a BIOS chip. Call it "instinct" things like this some times are overwhelming or scary and many atheists then become theists (but still denying god as defined by earthlings..(am I an alien?(((..black hole?..)))))

      Sort of "how can a computer be without a logic? without a software? if this purpose is true, then why do I have this purpose? is it right to ask this question? what is right? (..phew, I dont yet want to go there..I am still 40)

      did some external force put this purpose in life? something like, the force was building an "automatic" , self - reliant entity capable of growth, self-direction , is there not a word "Artificial Intelligence", are we the AI? WTF..? am I the "schmuck" driving around in the Simcity? ..No wonder some atheists have hurriedly became thiests, because this is "frightening", believing that there is an external force or god will give us "rest" like,,oh WTF, its is all because of this "God" no more need for me to scratch my head.

      Then it all seems "the same road travelled" whether atheism or theism, there are unanswered question (..and yeah,there is pot and alice in wonderland..) theism will now seem to be a logical choice..but wait, have i not searched this closet for my car keys before? did I miss something in the first place? fcuk..I hate losing my car keys, and ..every day..damn..

      Why do I believe so strongly that there is "no god"?
      Why do I , even for a moment, for argument sake I accept god - but still doubtful? why the fcuk? (bashing chairs and furniture in my mind..)
      Am I dumb and failing to see something that is so obvious? No. no no, I will never want to be like that,.

      WTF? I am now lost, what was your good question, let me read your comment again for then th time..
      ---
      meanwhile below is the disjointed portion of this reply, thanks to face book for not having character limitation...

      Other purposes ; (or am I confusing means and end?)
      - is to live "like a pig" ? - indulgence, pleasure
      - ego feel good ? - power, greatness, wealth, fair, trust worthy
      - freedom,? - freedom of choices, freedom of time, etc

      Not sure if I am reinventing the wheel, but most or all comments I am writing are an introspection. Seems I am looking to generate more questions, more tests and more debates. So thank for "your honorable" to pose a question.

      There are times when I wished a "termination", almost every week I think "sum of all is zero" in life. Nothing bothers anymore. I can observe my own aloofness and disinterest, I can see that I am no more playing the Civ V game which I am playing for more than 8 years now (same game). But I can see that many urges have still not yet "died" like my need for morning coffee , the need to "unload" when balls of steel become like balls of "rock" and I pester my wife.

      I can still see that certain

      • Sivalingam Canjeevaram

        Athiests come and go, thiests become athiests
        atheists become muslims etc etc , does not matter anything.

        One of my beliefs that does not make me believe in theism is my disbelief in "after life" or an existence of an identity after death. How much ever i take the efforts I am just not convinced. An individual human's identity is so complex, so many memories , so many experiences and learnings , I am not concerned that "all of it" can be stored in a "non physical state" aka "soul"

        We know radio waves carry information, we know we see as far as billions of miles into the next galaxy and just with the help of light and "waves" . I have still not deepened in "light" and "energy" and "matter" But still it is unconvincing that such an information of my identity can exist out of the physical body

        I am convinced that all experiences, learnings are "not lost" it seems an effortless task to be convinced on this. These are just passed on to the next generation. Again I have not deepened in human physical memory , but I am sure that this efficient machine is not storing "..my experience in downtown new york eating sushi.." but there are tiers or levels of memory in which information is processed in steps and then digested and converted into another type of information like a "vanilla extract" and eliminates all the "unnecessaries" and finally stores it in the GENETIC CODE

        Such a small piece of "floppy disk" the nucleus, RNA, DNA,
        may be this is gods design? may be this is how god works?
        so god needs a "medium and mechanism" oh? that is why he could not perform mircales nowadays ? wait ? do I spound like a reverse - convert? no hell..

        ..let me save this in my word document..

  • Doug Shaver

    If Atheism Is True, Does Life Still Have Meaning?

    With or without God, my life means something to me. If yours means nothing to you without God, it's your problem, not mine.

    • Sivalingam Canjeevaram

      Honourable "Doug" Sorry, May I ask you what is your point?
      Pardon me for not understanding you, and yes I am not "Japanese"

      • Doug Shaver

        I was addressing the author of the OP. The author asked, "If atheism is true, does life still have meaning?" When I responded, "With or without God, my life means something to me," I was saying that my answer to the question was "Yes." When I further responded, "If yours means nothing to you without God, it's your problem, not mine," I was commenting on the author's assumption that life cannot have meaning without God. I consider that assumption to be a problem for any theism that includes it.

  • Michael Murray

    This seems to be coming up everywhere of late

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/2017/02/bad-atheist-arguments-atheists-dont-need-god-meaningful-lives/

    I wonder what the meaning of this is!