Does Life Have Meaning?

Perhaps the most popular objection to naturalism is the claim that without a God life is meaningless. Let’s take a look at it. This is actually a two-part claim

  1. under a natural world view life has no meaning
  2. God provides meaning to life

But right away we notice something strange about this: it implies that we must obtain our meaning from something outside of us, namely God; and yet apparently there is no need for God to obtain meaning from something outside of himself. There is an unspoken assumption here that God is inherently meaningful. Or else the assumption is that God doesn’t have a need to be meaningful.

Why wouldn’t either of those options apply not just to God but to us as well?

Perhaps because God is eternal and we are not.

But this line won’t work, since it turns meaning into a matter of longevity. We are meaningful only if we live forever. Therefore it is not God but eternity in heaven (or, one could infer, eternity in hell) which makes us meaningful. But how can this work to make today meaningful? This moment meaningful? After all, the future has not yet been written. At the very least, I can’t know how many future days I shall have, or with certainty whether I shall end up in eternal heaven or not. Since I can’t know what kind of longevity I will have, therefore I can’t know with certainty if this day or this moment is meaningful or not.

Furthermore, unless each moment is meaningful in itself, it makes no sense to say the whole series of moments is meaningful. Can you have an on-and-on series of meaningless moments that somehow become meaningful simply because they go on and on? I doubt it. Years ago I wrote

How can immortality make life worthwhile, if mortality can’t? If a minute, a moment, isn’t sufficient to imbue life with value, what use is an infinity of them? Endless time is then only endless failure.

It still holds. Meaning cannot be a matter of longevity. If anything, it would make more sense to tack in the opposite direction. If I have an infinite number of days ahead of me, how important can this particular day or this particular moment be? If I waste it, it doesn’t matter at all. On the other hand, if I only have a few days left then this moment and this day become vitally important.

It is not longevity but brevity which makes our day important.

Did God Create Us Meaning-Deficient?

Perhaps God derives his meaning from us, just as we derive our meaning from him. But if so, then the objection to naturalism self-destructs. We could just as easily get our meaning from each other and leave God out of it. We already saw that meaning can’t be due to longevity, and that means that another person can be the source of our meaning as effectively as God can. This in fact is the natural answer: that meaning is social. It is human.

Perhaps it could be asserted that we derive our meaning from the fact that God authored us. But this has already been shown to be inadequate, for no one authored God yet we don’t go around bemoaning God’s meaninglessness.

Perhaps, the supernaturalist might argue, God deliberately created us with a deficiency which makes us reliant on him for meaning. God would have no equivalent deficiency and therefore would be self-sufficient as far as meaning goes, but as for us sons of Adam, God would be essential. Perhaps it is even punishment for humankind’s original sin as depicted in Genesis.

First it should be noted that this is an attempt to make God necessary by postulating a deficiency which makes us need a deity in order to feel meaningful. But is there really such a deficiency? How do we explain atheists, for example, who do not seem to have the deficiency? Did God not create atheists? Did he not punish atheists along with everyone else?

Perhaps atheists are people who have discovered that God doesn’t exist and suddenly — poof! — their “meaning deficiency” vanished with God. My suggestion, in other words, is that the theistic feeling that life lacks inherent meaning may simply be a bugaboo due to confused notions theists have — notions which atheism can resolve.

What Does Meaning Mean?

How can becoming an atheist make the problem of meaning go away? If there is some secret here, what is it? To answer that, we need to look carefully at the subject. What, for starters, does the word meaningful mean?

It means, of course “to have a meaning.” Okay, so if we say something “has a meaning” what are we in fact saying?

We can clarify this by considering words. Words indisputably have meaning — at least usually. If I say “look at that tree” my sentence has a meaning: turn your eyes toward that particular tree, the thing I’m looking at or pointing at. And what is the meaning of a word like “tree”? It is a reference to something actually out there in the world, something we designate as being similar to a number of other things which we classify as “trees”. By saying “that tree” I reference one of these tree-like things in the real world.

Words are meaningful because they reference something, they point at something we can identify, either something conceptual — that is to say a concept (“trees”) — or an action (“look”) or an actual something in the world (“that tree”). Words are meaningful because they point elsewhere: they refer to something.

The words “that tree” point to an actual something in the world, therefore they are meaningful. But what does the actual something — the tree in question — point to? What does it mean?

The answer is that the tree is not a word. It is simply itself. It is a real object and therefore does not mean anything. It is a referent not a reference, a source of meaning and not itself meaningful. This is actually to the tree’s glory. It is real, and not merely a bit of language pointing to something else.

If words are meaningful, it is because there are sources they point to — like our tree — which are real things and give those words meaning. Words can be references to other words which are references to more words still. But ultimately there have to be real things, final referents that bring to an end the sequence of pointing, or else language is nothing but a game of mirrors. Trees, and all the other real things in the world, are those final referents.

Being meaningful, in other words, is something appropriate to words, but not appropriate for real things.

From this we see that to ask what our lives mean, or what makes us meaningful, is to make the mistake of thinking that we are like words, rather than like the tree — that is to say, like real things. We ought to dance and be glad our lives are meaningless, for this means we are sources for meaning, not mere references but actual referents for meaning.

The objection to naturalism based on lack of meaning is, in other words, entirely misconstrued and therefore bogus. If we are wise, we should adamantly object to being “meaningful”.

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23 Responses to Does Life Have Meaning?

  1. “How can immortality make life worthwhile, if mortality can’t? If a minute, a moment, isn’t sufficient to imbue life with value, what use is an infinity of them? Endless time is then only endless failure.”

    I strongly respect this forum and all of the views held by those who participate in its community; however I must point out that, at times, some of the writers seem to revel in obfuscation to get their point across. The idealogy of this forum is clearly sincere and is a shared passion amongst the writers, but I have noticed that it is also often jeopardized by the ergo propter hoc fallacy of its writers.

    The above quotation seems to fall into the field of logical fallacies wherefore I have mentioned. The writer implies that the value of an infinite life can be judged from the point of view of one whose life is finite. The writer suggests that all moments are equal in value and thus an infinite amount of them would be a perpetual repetition; as if we were Bill Murray in Ground Hog’s Day. The writer is taking the theistic interpretation of eternal life, in my personal opinion, too literally. This is not to say he is wrong or I am write, this of course is just my view. Theists do not view eternal life in the same spectrum as they view earthly life. Rather, theists (or Christian theists I should say) view eternal life as an existence completely with and of God. The converse of this would be damnation: eternal separation from God. Time is not of consideration at this dimension.

    The above is my understanding of a theistic point of view, I would reference you to the book The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis for a better understanding of what I cannot say well.

    To justify the possibility of eternal life: eternal time can be held in one moment. This is not physically possible to us at this point in our technological evolution, but is absolutely elementally possible. You see, if we were to suppose that eternal life is simply one being stuck in celerity (3×10^8 m/s), then it would be possible for us to see the rationality of eternal life. Eternal life is not irrational and is in fact a matter of pure physics. Which leads to another question for another time: How have the laws of physics been implemented by a natural universe through the process of evolution? How have they originated?

    We are but dots in a vast universe of time and space. Who are we to understand our purpose? Just as our cells do not understand their great purpose, we cannot understand ours. How can we ever comprehend someone who created us? Can a computer comprehend anything that we do not bestow upon its intelligence? These are all great questions, and peopel are asking great questions at this forum. Keep up the insight!

    -Garrett Johns

  2. An alien from outer space says:

    I seem to notice that God and no-God is not a rational option but an emotional one.

    What I mean is that on reason the possibility of God’s existence and his non-existence are equally rational: you can have as many reasons for his existence as non-existence.

    When you read however theists explaining and defending the existence of God, also the atheists, you will see right away that it is all an emotional actuation.

    The theist wants to believe in God’s existence and can bring forth all the reasons which the atheist cannot rebut; similarly the atheist does not want to believe and can as well bring forth all the reasons which the theist cannot rebut.

    Study is more fruitful on the grounds for believing as for disbelieving. And I for one tend to see the psychology of human motivation at play here.

    What are the advantages on psychological terms for belief as for disbelief?

    Put very bluntly, the atheist sees in God an enemy, but the theist a friend. That is what the dichotomy of theism vs atheism is all about.

    Examine the psychological history of a theist as of an atheist, and you will see that it is all a personalistic actuation pro God or contra God.

    What experiences or aspirations motivate a person to be a theist or an atheist, that is the most exciting of research.

    In very plain words, why are atheists angry at or with God and why are theists not? Read their writings, listen to their words, and you will see why.

    snesumuS

  3. Rastaban says:

    Garrett –
    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I’m trying to figure out your objection to my claim that an infinite series of meaningless moments would not, by virtue of its infinity, make the series meaningful. From this I concluded that the meaningfulness of life does not depend on its longevity. You seem to think otherwise. In fact you argue that “eternal time can be held in one moment.” But if so, it must go by very quickly since it is contained in a single moment — much too quickly for my taste. But maybe you mean that the moment is unchanging and eternal, in which case your reference to Ground Hog’s Day seems apt. I’d rather have multiple moments, all different, than be trapped in something that never changes. I can’t see how such a life, especially if eternal, could appeal to anyone.

    You also ask how the laws of physics have originated if the universe is only natural (i.e. no God). The atheist answer is that the “laws of physics” are really not laws but descriptions — useful scientific descriptions of the world. The origin of these useful descriptions is the collective minds of scientists, and they are so remarkably useful because scientists have used a method (the scientific method) to identify which descriptions are the most useful and reliable.

    Alien from outer space —
    I appreciate your comment, but I can’t figure out why you placed it here. From what I wrote above, what makes you think that I am angry at God?

    We hear this a lot: atheists are angry at God. But atheists don’t think there is a God to be “angry at”. Does someone who says there’s no tooth fairy say that because they’re angry at the tooth fairy? I supposed if you strongly believed in the tooth fairy, you might fancy that non-believers were just being emotional — that way, you wouldn’t have to consider their reasons for disbelieving.

    Some atheists are indeed angry — not at God, but at being tricked into believing in something that’s not there. Many of the major religions employ both emotional tricks and outright threats in order to make children believe. Discovering the deceit can bring on anger — not at God, but at the religions responsible for the false indoctrination.

    Comfort yourself with the “atheists are angry at God” lie if you like. In actual fact there are good reasons for disbelief, as there are good reasons for belief. But perhaps you are afraid of finding out the reasons for disbelief.

  4. Kathleen says:

    If anyone has read “The Abolition of Man” by C.S. Lewis(a real favorite among atheists I’m sure), you will understand where I am coming from, although Lewis said it much better than I can.

    Atheists have NO purpose in life except to pursue pleasure, which really isn’t a ‘purpose’, it’s an instinct. An atheist argument for the non-existence of God is the same as saying there is no moral law/standard or Tao, as Lewis referrs to it. Without a Tao, atheists cannot rightfully make any judgements about anything. Atheists would have to be comfortable with saying people like Hitler and Pol Pot were completely justified in doing the things they did because, after all, they are mere particles pursuing what pleases them. I haven’t met a single person(and I’ve met a lot of people) who would say this. An atheist would also have no right to be slighted by insults either if there is no standard for them to say the person who slighted them is ‘wrong’. Atheists cannot escape the Tao; there are standards of right and wrong. God is the standard.

  5. Olle says:

    Kathleen:
    This statement that atheists and other nontheists cannot have a morality is too oftenly stated as the crush down argument in favor of a deity. But the very idea that we must get our morality from ‘God’, is absurd if you don´t believ in one, of course. It is my personal conviction that we first got our morality from evolution. As a species depedning on each other – since we are social animals – we must act in such a way that it benefits the group or greater population. This was perhaps even more crucial several hundreds of thousands of years ago, when we were still a prey and needed to cooperate in order to survive. But it is kept by the evolutionary process because it is (and was) obviously a great benefit for us.

    And, also, you have the possibility to think further than your lifespan. How do you want to be remembered? How do you want your children´s and grandchildren´s society to be like? And during your own life, how do you want other to see you?
    In a way, when one think about it, is it not more wonderful to be moral without the fear of an imaginary hell or the longing for an imaginary paradise? To just do good things because you´d like the wrold to be a greater place for all of us? Only do good because you´re afraid of hell or looking forward to heaven says that you actually care more about yourself in the long run.

    Finally, how can you be so sure – if God indeed exists – that God has a ‘good’ morality? Just read the Bible and look at the wonderful morality from God which justifies racism, genocide, homophobia among other things often ignored by theists who cherrypick their sweet parts of the books when they speak to the congregations. I know many formerly religious friends who have joined me as atheists when I´ve showed what the Bible of their religion actually says. You can´t just accept some parts of it but not the others!

    (P.S. Sorry for my bad English, I´m from Sweden.)

  6. Matthew says:

    Olle said “In a way, when one think about it, is it not more wonderful to be moral without the fear of an imaginary hell or the longing for an imaginary paradise? To just do good things because you´d like the wrold to be a greater place for all of us?”

    Olle, would you define “good”?

  7. Olle says:

    Matthew:
    Not exactly the easiest question! But I´ll give it a try. I think that the Darwinian evolution made us think from an utilitarianistic point of view; that is, to always act in such a way that it benefits as many as possible. And that is why I think we naturally develope the golden rule, with or without religion.
    For example, name one moral action performed or a moral statement made that could not been performed or stated by an unbeliever. I have never heard a reply of that, ever. And the reason is, as I said, that we have this urge to behave morally towards others.
    On the other hand, try to think about an immoral, wicked action performed or an immoral statement made that could only come from a believer. All people have I asked can easily come up with something in 10 seconds…

    It would be naive of me to think that I could define ‘good’ when philosophers have tried to do so the last 2000 years, at least. But I can give you some examples of what I mean.

    To give money to charity
    Give away you seat on the bus to an old person or a pregnant woman
    Return money someone dropped just in front of you
    Speak up against injustice and opression when few dare to do so

    How do you define good?
    Cheers!

  8. Matthew says:

    Thanks, Olle.

    You said, “name one moral action performed or a moral statement made that could not been performed or stated by an unbeliever.” My answer is “to really love God.” That is why I asked you to define “good”; because what is good or moral depends on your point of view.

    “To always act in such a way that it benefits as many as possible” is based on a utilitarian principle that covers both good and bad actions. A person who follows it might give money to charity, but he also might want to kill old or mentally handicapped people so that they wouldn’t be a burden to others.

    “Do unto others as you would have them do to you” is not a utilitarian principle; it is an altruistic one. It is based on the idea that every person is as valuable as you are, and that you are valuable. And a person can be truly valuable only if there is some underlying order in the world. If the world is completely random, and concepts of value are imposed upon it by us, then the best a thing can be is useful.

    A real Christian (for the sake of my argument) does good things not because he fears the afterlife, but because he believes that God, humans, and creation are intrinsically valuable rather than random. That’s what C.S. Lewis was really saying in The Abolition of Man, and what Kathleen was trying to get across, I think.

  9. Olle says:

    Ok, I get that an utilitarian principle may not be the greatest idea, and since most people don´t act in that way, perhaps my amateur speculations about evolution is wrong. I should go and see a biologist at my university I think.

    But, I think you misunderstand evolution as well; the evolutionary process is NOT random. It only reaches its goal by tiny steps, one at a time. The moment after Big Bang, everything was set up in such a way that you and me would eventually come to exist (purely physically and biologically that is, not taken ev. free will into account).
    I don´t see why so many, especially Americans, won´t accept the theory of evolution?! Here in Europe most people do, even religious people. My brother, for instance, believes that ‘God’ created Big Bang, and after that he [my brother] rely on scientifically explanations. Why can´t Americans do the same? Big mysterium for a Swedish guy, haha!

    As to my ‘challenge’, I don´t think you can say that loving ‘God’ is a moral action. Because as an atheist I don´t think that there is a ‘God’ to love, so the morality depends on the reality of ‘God’, which noone can either prove or disprove.
    Perhaps we have to agree on disagree. But it was nice talking to you anyway. Lots of love!

  10. Matthew says:

    Thanks for the note. You’re right that we probably won’t agree, but I’d like offer two quick clarifications. First, when I talked about everything being “random” I was referring to a lack of purpose, of telos. I wasn’t denying the inevitability of any event. Maybe evolution reached us by tiny, necessary steps, but it didn’t do that for any specific purpose. Second, the fact that you don’t think loving God is a moral action just shows that your original question was weighted, which was my my point. And as a personal note, I think evolution is less accepted in America because we have more Christians here, and they realize that evolution threatens the concept of telos. Maybe I’m wrong about that, though.

    Anyway, it was nice to talk to you too. Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

  11. Kathleen says:

    Olle(or anyone else who would like to respond):
    I’m just curious where you get your moral standard. You seem to imply that it has been innately known by everyone from the beginning of evolution; if so, how would you explain someone like Hitler? Did he have a defected morality? Are some people naturally more moral than others? Is there any Ultimate Moral Standard? and one last question, Do you believe in ‘perfection’?

    (Honestly, I value everyone’s oppinons, and although I am a staunch believer in God, I truly want to see and understand other sides, after all finding Truth sometimes means you must admit you are wrong)

  12. Olle Abrahamsson says:

    Kathleen:
    What I suggest, as do most biologists/anthropologists, is that fundamental morality is naturally developed due to evolutionary benefits. By fundamental morality I mean such behaviour that a) is beneficial for our survival and/or b) is not destructive for us. Our genes always want to reproduce to the next generation, so the genes that will survuve will be those who make us survive. It can easily be imagined that taking care of your children, feeling empathy and sympathy for others in your culture and so forth enhances your chances of survival.

    For example, imagine how it was like when we humans lived in tribes in central Africa (ca 150,000-200,000 years ago). We were hunters, but we were also prey (to lions and tigers etc.) It has to be the case, that if we didn´t cooperate in the tribes, we wouldn´t last very long. Compare how important it is to keep your groups together in wars, for example. One who steals from or betray other in the tribe/group would be rejected. And thus being less likely to survive.
    This is not only speculation: We observe this in apes today, and in almost every other herd animals. Apes feel empathy for other apes. That means that morality is not unique for humans – and that´s a good thing, of course.

    As for Hitler, many psychologists have tried to explain how he could have formed such a extremist worldview. Of course, noone can know for sure how that happend, but here is a concise attempt:
    His father died when he was 14. At age 16, he dropped out of high school without a degree. His mother died of breast cancer when he was 18, and it seems when one reads his letters and diaries that she was his only true beloved person in his entire life. He took that very hard, and become depressed. He daydreamed a lot of becoming an artist, so he attempted Academy of Fine Arts Vienna twice (1907-1908) but failed both times. The school wrote “unfitness for painting”. He became poorer, and finally ran out of money, and ended up at a homeless shelter. While all this was happening, many Jews were very succesful in buisness in Germany at this time, and Hitler seems to have been influenced by the racism that flourished in Vienna at that time due to the economic gaps between the average German and the wealthy Jews. There´s even more to it, I recommened everyone to read Mein Kampf, it´s really interesting to read how a quite ordinary German boy can turn into such a monster. So it might well have been the case that Hitler actually was a perfectly normal boy in his earliest childhood, but many circumstances led to his moral failure. I think the same could be the case with criminals of today (except for those who have psychotic illnesses of course), but because we have better social safety nets today, they can be rehabilited.

    So I do think that everyone is born with a set of good morals. This, we could call the moral standard – every ethical action that is not derived from these standards is unnatural and are probably destructive for mankind. That means that you neither have to be religious to have a moral standard, nor do you have to study philosophy – you are naturally equipped with that. But if you do study philosophy, you can develope your awareness of ethics and morality and thus being able to make desicions about other people – that´s the reason we have democracy, medical ethic councils and so on. You don´t put anybody at those positions, they generally have to be well educated and have studied som kind of ethical philosophy (for example politics, which originally was a Greek Platonian philosophy – ‘politikos’)

    Personally, my moral (except from the natural moral) is derived from philosophers like Baron d’Holbach, Daniel Dennett, Michel Onfray etc. If I were to summarise my views, you could say that:
    I believe one´s ultimate meaning in life is to become as happy as possible, whith whatever means necessary – with the disclaimer that you can´t act in such way that you block or interfer other people´s way to hapiness. Thus I am an hedonistic utliltarian. Recent research has actually shown that we feel happy when we are being nice to others, it benefits us and produces more dopamine. Well, obviously we don´t need researchers to tell us that – we can feel that by ourselfs – but know we even have proven it scientifically, and not just based on intuition or emotion.

    Finally, I had to look up “perfection”, because I had never heard of it before, and I came to the same conclusion as the Polish philosopher W?adys?aw Tatarkiewicz (1886-1980). Quoting Wikipedia (article ‘perfection’):
    “[He] has written: “To demand of someone that he strive after perfection seems equally inappropriate as to blame him for not striving after it.” Such striving, he adds, “is often egocentric and yields poorer moral and social results than an outward-directed behavior based not on self-perfection but on good will and kindliness toward others.”

    You´re very open-minded, I like that. It takes courage to admit that one sometimes have to admit when one is wrong. That applies for all of us.

    Peace,
    Olle

  13. Olle Abrahamsson says:

    Oh, sorry for all the spelling mistakes and grammatical errors in my previous post – I was so excited about the discussion that I forgot to read the text through before posting it. I hope everyone understand despite of that.

    Olle

  14. Kathleen says:

    Olle:
    Your answers seem perfectly rational to me. I must admit I have only recently began searching for answers beyond the scope of my strictly christian upbringing. I go to a christian highschool and have been completely indoctrinated with God (not unwillingly might I add) my entire, albeit short, life. I realize we may simply have to agree to disagree, but I appreciate your responses and I am also excited about the discussion, so I have some more questions for you…

    From your previos post, you asserted that there is an innate moral standard that has been formed in us at the beginning of time and has grown and matured along with mankind to adapt to the circumstances of the time. The standard you first described (tribes in central africa example) seemed to be a ‘survival of the fittest’ type outlook; we live to live. My question is, in your oppinion, can different people be allowed to have different moral standards? And, if so, what happens if their moralities are conflicting?

  15. Olle Abrahamsson says:

    Kathleen:
    Well, I don´t know exactly what you mean by difference moral standards; since I think that we all are born with a standard set of moral standards, I therefore believe (as I have said earlier) that it´s unnatural and harmful not to follow these instincts.
    If I may guess what you mean, maybe you think of moral decisions like:
    Should a woman who has been raped be allowed to make an abortion? Should two adults be allowed to have sex before marriage? Is it ok to lie sometimes? Is it ok to feel jealous? etc.

    My stand on that, is that you should always be able to back up your arguments with very good rational arguments. If two adults have sex before marriage, who do they harm? They follow my priniciple explained in my previous post – be as happy as possible by any means without inflicting on any other person´s way to be happy. And since they both agree on their actions, and the actions don´t affect any other, they are free to do so. In the case with the abortion, I think it has to be the woman´s choice whether she wants to abort the embryo or not. It is plausible that the unwanted child wouldn´t have such a great upbringing since s/he will always be reminded that s/he is the result of a terrible crime. So if the woman decides to abort the embryo, that´s her perfect right. (Besides, since the fetus hasn´t developed a nervous system or a complete brain at this stage, it can not possibly feel or be aware of anything at all.)

    So, my final say will be this:
    1) You could do whatever you want unless you inflict on other´s right to do whatever they want.
    2) You may have a different set of morals unless you inflict on other´s right to have their set of morals.
    3) You should always base your moral decisions on reasonalbe, rational and well-thought grounds.

    If you base your decisions on religion, for instance, you are not being rational. Religion is a matter of faith, and faith is an idea about the world that is not based on evidence or facts (otherwise it wouldn´t be faith). If it says in the Bible that it is immoral to do ‘X’ – what does that mean? Who wrote the Bible, and when, and under what circumstances? Why is that immoral? Because God says it is? If you follow the Bible strictly, you would have to stone to death homosexuals, people who commit adultery, people who curse God (=swearing! Quite a busy time stoning people…) etc. All this is in the Old Testament. No sane Western person would do that, right? Therefore it is clear that you can´t base your moral decisions on religion, or for that matter, any set of belief that is not critisised and questioned first. (The Nazi officers in Auschwitz said during the Nürnberg trials in 1945 that they were “only following orders from their generals”. Since then soldiers are obliged to think for them selves, if they get an order wich sounds stupid, they have to question it.) That is the reason I don´t like religion (or Nazism, or Communism etc.) – it teaches you not to question your beliefs. That´s why, for example, science is different: If scientists didn´t question their results, we would still believe that the Earth is flat and that diseases is best cured by blood-letting! We should always examine our way of thinking and decide whether we´re on the right path or if we maybe have to change something. I question my atheism all the time (but I have never found an argument to believe in any supernatural). But neverhteless, I have the courage to admit when and if I am wrong.

    In conclusion, you must base your decisions on critical thinking and by questioning your arguments.

    Perhaps I expanded the topic a little, but I thought i had to in order to give my point of view. I also have a question for you, but it´s not a bout morality: Do you think that one could accept, say, Big Bang and Darwinian evolution while still being religious? Maybe you could say that Big Bang was the way God created things?
    The reason I ask is because most Christians and Muslims in Sweden believe so, but in the States it seems that there´s this “fight” going on between religious people and scientists/science teachers. How come? Why not be compatibilists?

    Love,
    Olle

  16. Kathleen says:

    Olle:
    According to what I have been taught tus far, I believe someone can believe in the big bang and darwinism and still be “religious”, but they would not be considered “christian.” For example, most people I know would consider most catholics to be religious people, not christians. Christians hold the Bible as the ultimate authority because it is the divinely inspired, inerrent word of Yahweh. The Bible clearly states that God created the world in seven days and He played an active part in it throughout the Old Testament. Therefore, the “christians” in Sweden must not use the Bible?

  17. Kathleen says:

    Oh sorry, God created the world in six days, rested the seventh:)

  18. Olle Abrahamsson says:

    Oh, now I have a lot to write about!
    First of all, the translation from the Hebrew Bible to the Germanic languages (English, Latin, Swedsih etc.) is not correct. My aunt is a priest who reads both Greek and Hebrew, and she says that the Hebrew word that is translated to “days” in fact means “eras”. So 6 eras could mean 6 days, but also 6 billion years or 6-whatever years. Infinity, if you will. So one cannot really rely on that (moderate religious people use this fact to justify their belief).

    Second,
    The Christians in Sweden do use the Bible, but remember that we are a Protestant country (well, at least those 15% that are Christian). That is moderate Christianity. They still believe in a personal God and believe that he (she?) intervenes in our lives. They will often interpret the Bible metaforically, and sometimes they are in fact right – as with the incorrect translation mentioned above. That´s what critical thinking leads to; more precise and justified claims.
    You see, Christianity is a name that today cover a lot of branches and sects. Here are some examples:

    Roman Catholicism
    Greek-Ortodox Catholicisim
    Russian-Orthodox Catholicism
    Lutheran Protestantism
    Calvinistic Protestantism
    Puritanism
    Jehova´s Wittnesses
    Mormonism

    …and many, many more.
    It seems that it´s only in America that some people don´t consider these as different parts of Christianity. You may do so, but be careful to acknowledge that this is your view and yours only. In Europe, and in many other areas of the world, we don´t do this distinction between these belief systems. We say it is all branches of Christianity.
    One also have to remember that Christianity origianlly is a branch, in itself, from Judaism. That´s why you keep the Torah (Old Testament).

    Third;
    So if you hold the Bible as the ultimate authority, then you also think we should run out to stone homosexuals and blasphemers? I don´t think so. If you don´t either, then why do you think we have changed out minds since the time when this was written?
    Why do you think that just some 150 years ago it was perfectly acceptable to keep slaves in America? Why did we justify racism in both Europe and America until the 1960´s?
    The answer is: The change of the moral Zeitgeist.
    I am utterly convinced that some of the things we consider ok today, will be terrible morals for the people of the 22nd century. It has been like that for all history – why would it suddenly stop?

    So my new question is one that I have already mentioned:
    If you believe the Bible to be the ultimate authority – the words inspired by God – do you therefore consider stoning of the people mentioned above to be motivated by the Bible? If not, you have demonstrated that you get your moral from somewhere else. (Unless the Bible contradict itself, and in that case it is a terrible source which is not to be relied upon)

    Oh, and a second, more philosophical question I use to ask religious people:
    Many religious people say that God is omnipotent – all powerful.
    Could God then create a stone, which is so heavy that he cannot lift it? If he can´t, then he is not omnipotent. If he can – then he cannot lift it and is not omnipotent anyway.

    Cheers!

  19. Matthew says:

    I don’t mean to interrupt this wonderful discussion, but I’ve got to say something about that stone example. “Could God make a stone so big he couldn’t lift it” is an illogical question. It is exactly the same as asking “Could God make a square triangle,” or “What happens when an irresistible force encounters an immovable object,” or “This statement is false.”

  20. Hello from LA –

    I’ve just begun reading these entries.

    My first note: Define God.

    (The root source of so much current conflict, I feel, is due to lack of agreement on this.)

    Some say God is ‘out there’ – the white-bearded old man on the throne. Others have Her wrapped in lovely chiffons, with multiple arms, ruling over only certain aspects of ‘life’. Then the tribal Gods mask up; the Gael / ancient Draoi ‘evolve’ into gods —> Tuatha de Danaan; the entire pantheon of Greek/Roman Gods BCE; gods of nature/Gods of dreams/gods of Egypt/Gods of galactic discourse between be-ings more advanced than ‘humans’……..

    and on and on it goes……

    Define God.

    GOD IS.

    That’s all I need to know.

    Mind Is.
    Am I mind or am I form?

    Am I anything, really?

    Consider quantum physics, quantum mechanics. Consider ONE instant in time, wherein all time IS, were it not-so named, because by naming it anything, we reduce it to a concept, which leads us into judgment, which derives from ego, which is informed by what?

    I have in the past 7 years or so come to know that every single choice I make of this/that, here/there, now/then, blue/white, banana/nuts, will determine a certain outcome. Only I am responsible for this outcome, since the ‘choice’ was only in my mind, thus I perceive (key word that) whatever I’ve trained myself to believe through many moments of choice making. Is any of it meaningful? Do I want it to be meaningful? Why not? It is only meaningful because I have deemed it so, in that moment. These collections of moments which seem to accrue, these choices based on whatever my mind selects at some seeming moment become my life.

    My life is not ruled or controled by anything outside me – me being my mind’s sense of its current form – UNLESS I so choose that. I do not choose that, thus hold myself accountable for every choice.

    What if I make a mistake?

    (I see a ‘mistake’ as anything that causes myself – my ego – pain, or suffering, or anyone else the same.) Do I want that? No. I make choices that will avoid pain and suffering – for myself and others. ‘God’ doesn’t cause suffering and pain – we do. With every choice that leads to these ‘mistakes’. God is the easy target for blame because the Egyptians/Greeks/Gaels/tribes/Jews/Christians/Muslims etc continue the ‘separation’, the duality, the mental breakaway from their true essence, their ‘nature’ if you would. Their
    innocence.

    I need nothing outside myself to BE. That I Am is sufficient for me to know. I need nothing outside myself to fear – there IS nothing to fear, and my Self is not my form. My form may think it is itself, but my mind determines whether or not I align with Self or self. I choose.

    My form isn’t what matters with regard to ‘God’. (no matter the name) Divine Energy/Radiant One/Yahweh and more… my form’s need to be guarded and protected is the base reason I might imagine I need a God (or at least to blame or battle your God) that my form might survive. When I move away from duality and the world of form, will I still have my MIND?! That is whatI have spent 40 years searching to answer.

    And I now know.

    But my answer, and your answer may not be not the same.

    And here is my deepest philosophy, how I respond to many moments as a form:

    Is that so?

    But – and here is where my life takes on its brilliant relief – I have absolutely no concern whatsoever with either having an answer or with what the answer IS.

  21. Dwight says:

    Debra, thanks so much for commenting (sorry I am so lax at replying). What you write has raised some questions in my mind. For example, you begin with the admonition “define God”. You suggest several disparate ways in which people have defined God. Then, instead of proposing a definition, you simply write “GOD iS. That’s all I need to know.”

    Does this mean that defining God isn’t important after all? Or by saying “GOD IS” do you mean to define God as what exists? If that’s the case, then I would say you are a pantheist. (Which, interestingly, is not much different from my sort of atheism.)

    Re-reading, I think you are a pantheist (or panentheist?). Am I right? You write, “I need nothing outside myself to BE. That I Am is sufficient for me to know. I need nothing outside myself to fear – there IS nothing to fear, and my Self is not my form.” To the extent I think I understand this, I would call it pantheism.

    And I would agree. “My Self is not my form” I interpret as meaning that the scientific (and non-scientific) knowledge we have of ourselves—the descriptions we have of our bodies (which you are calling “form”)—do not and cannot capture our actual nature. If that’s what you mean, then I agree. We do not have a “knowable” nature, in that sense. And it is ok.

    If I understand you correctly, our viewpoints are not far apart. I use different language (as I see it, this is a rejection of “the principle of sufficient reason” which has dominated Western thought since Plato at least), and maybe I am approaching things from the opposite angle. What do you think?

  22. Phil Anderson says:

    I am intrigued by this debate about ‘meaning’. No sensible person can doubt that atheists can have meaningful lives from day to day. So what are theists talking about when they presume an atheist’s life appears to lack ‘meaning’ ? I think basically theists are referring to the implications of not having an afterlife with a guaranteed happy ending i.e. for the theist the things, experiences, relationships that give their life meaning are threatened by the notion that these meaning-giving facts are impermanent, transitory and liable to snuffed out at any time . They fear the loss of that which gives their lives meaning. They can’t it seems simply live in the ‘now’. They insist on life persisting for ever and joyfully. The idea that we in fact live on a conveyor belt of time due to drop off into oblivion sooner or later unnerves them; this apparent road to ‘nowhere’ seems – to the theist – to make the whole journey meaningless.

    I find believers are unwilling to admit that the emotional root of their belief in God (whatever other rationalisations they may have) is their fear of death. I also find many atheists unwilling to admit what on the face of it seems self evident: that it would be desirable to most people if what we value most and our experience of these goods were not terminated by death.
    But then why should the truth be comforting? Why should the universe fit in with our wishful thinking? I am a non-theist who would, emotionally, like to be ‘saved’ from death and the finite nature of existence – but I’m also rationally convinced there are no supernatural saviours except in the theist’s imagination.

  23. I say as Inquiring Lynn:” Life is its own validation and reward and ultimate meaning to which neither God nor the future state can further validate.”
    Albert Ellis’s ” The Myth of Self-Esteem” and Robert Prices” The Reason-Driven Life ” advise on how to have that more abundant life.
    We naturalists do not wail that we need divine love and divine purpose and the future state to have meaning as human love and our own purposes and this one life suffice. We don’t scream as do Augustine and Francisco Jose Ayala do with their argument from angst that our lives are forlorn without Him so we must be in His b osom to live life. No evidence exists for that and the polar one from happiness-purpose.
    As John Paul Sartre notes, we are responsible for our fates. Thus, to wail is to betray and to blaspheme our very own lives!
    We owe no divinity any thing whatsoever, and no divinity owns us per Lamberth’s argument from autonomy and just faces the one -way street of having to have put us into a better place in the first place and -never changing that! Google arguments about Him-that square circle and the problem of Heaven about this last paragraph,please.

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