The Absurdity of Life Without God

by Luke Muehlhauser on December 3, 2010 in General Atheism,William Lane Craig

Some Christian apologists, in an attempt to scare Christians away from ever being able to seriously doubt their Christian beliefs, say that “Without God, life is absurd.”

Atheists who are living happy, fulfilling, moral, and highly meaningful lives – atheists like Warren Buffet – will turn their heads and say, “Huh?” The assertion sounds a bit like “Without fairies, life is absurd.” By why should one think that?

And really, what is meant by the claim that life is absurd without God?

William Lane Craig has written at length about this subject, so let’s examine what he has to say. We’ll examine chapter 2 of Craig’s Reasonable Faith: called The Absurdity of Life Without God. Also see his shorter article of the same title that makes all the same points.

Craig opens with a clarification:

The apologetic for Christianity based on the human predicament… does not even attempt to show… that Christianity is true; it simply explores the disastrous consequences for human existence, society, and culture if Christianity should be false.

What are these disastrous consequences?

If God does not exist, then both man and the universe are inevitably doomed to death… Compared to the infinite stretch of time, the span of man’s life is but an infinitesimal moment…

…And the universe, too, faces a death of its own. Scientists tell us that the universe is expanding… As it does so, it grows colder and colder… There will be no light at all; there will be no heat; there will be no life; only the corpses of dead stars and galaxies… a universe in ruins.

…If each individual person passes out of existence when he dies, then what ultimate meaning can be given to his life? Does it really matter whether he even existed at all? It might be said that his life was important because it influenced others or affected the course of history. But this shows only a relative significance to his life, not an ultimate significance.

…In the end it makes no difference whether the universe existed or not [because it is doomed to die anyway]. Therefore, it is without ultimate significance.

The same is true of the human race. Mankind is a doomed race in a dying universe. Because the human race will eventually cease to exist, it makes no ultimate difference whether it ever did exist. Mankind is thus no more significant than a swarm of mosquitoes or a barnyard of pigs, for their end is all the same…

…The contributions of the scientist to the advance of human knowledge, the researches of the doctor to alleviate pain and suffering, the efforts of the diplomat to secure peace in the world, the sacrifices of good people everywhere to better the lot of the human race – all these come to nothing. In the end they don’t make one bit of difference, not one bit. Each person’s life is therefore without ultimate significance.

…This is the horror of modern man: because he ends in nothing, he is nothing.

This is Craig’s first argument: Because mankind and the universe will come to an end, they are meaningless.

Craig continues:

But… mere duration of existence does not make that existence meaningful. If man and the universe could exist forever, but if there were no God, their existence would still have no ultimate significance. I once read a science-fiction story in which an astronaut was marooned on a barren chunk of rock lost in outer space. He had with him two vials: one containing poison and the other a potion that would make him live forever. Realizing his predicament, he gulped down the poison. But then to his horror, he discovered he had swallow the wrong vial… and that meant that he was cursed to exist forever – a meaningless, unending life. Now if God does not exist, our lives are just like that. They could go on and on and still be utterly without meaning. We could still ask of life, “So what?”

…Thus, if there is no God, then life becomes meaningless.

It’s not clear what the argument is in that passage, but let’s move on. Craig’s 3rd argument is clearer:

If life ends at the grave, then it makes no difference whether one has lived as a Stalin or as a saint. Since one’s destiny is ultimately unrelated to one’s behavior, you may as well just live as you please.

And, a fourth argument:

But the problem becomes even worse. For… if there is no God, then any basis for objective standards of right and wrong seems to have evaporated… Moral values are either just expressions of personal taste or by-products of socio-biological evolution and conditioning… In a world without God, who is to say which actions are right and which are wrong? …This means that it is impossible to condemn war, oppression, or crime as evil. Nor can one praise brotherhood, equality, and love as good. For in a universe without God, good and evil do not exist – there is only the bare valueless fact of existence, and there is no one to say that you are right and I am wrong.

Craig’s 5th argument concerns purpose:

If death stands with open arms at the end of life’s trail, then what is the goal of life? …Is it all for nothing? …And what of the universe? …If its destiny is a cold grave in the recesses of outer space, the answer must be yes – it is pointless. There is no goal, no purpose, for the universe…

This is similar to Craig’s 1st argument, but the word “meaning” has been replaced with the word “purpose.” Now, Craig’s 6th argument:

…even if [life] did not end in death, without God life would still be without purpose. For man and the universe would then be simple accidents of chance, thrust into existence for no reason. Without God the universe is the result of a cosmic accident, a chance explosion. There is no reason for which it exists. As for man, he is a freak of nature – a blind product of matter plus time and chance. Man is just a lump of slime that evolved rationality. There is no more purpose in life for the human race than for a species of insect; for both are the result of blind interaction of chance and necessity.

So Craig has 6 assertions about the absurdity of life without God, as far as I can tell:

  1. If life and the universe come to an end, then they are without ultimate meaning.
  2. Even if life went on forever, it would be meaningless without God.
  3. If saints and sinners all end up in the same grave, then there is no practical reason for each of us to act morally. We don’t necessarily benefit ourselves by acting morally.
  4. Without God, objective moral values do not exist.
  5. If life and the universe come to an end, then they are without ultimate purpose.
  6. Even if life went on forever, it would still be purposeless without God, for it would be the result of cosmic accidents.

Next, we will examine how God supposedly comes to the rescue of meaning and purpose.

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{ 207 comments… read them below or add one }

Joseph December 3, 2010 at 4:30 am

What’s worse than a meaningless life is the horrifying idea of an eternal life praising God in heaven.

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Mike N December 3, 2010 at 4:57 am

Craig sounds like a rather depressing person. Perhaps he should just accept that life _is_ ultimately meaningleass and try and enjoy it anyway! :)

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antybu86 December 3, 2010 at 5:05 am

I’m assuming you’ve seen Craig’s response to the Thomas Nagel paper. He seems to back off the silly”no purpose” claim and instead argue that there is “no ultimate purpose” without God and the afterlife:

The word “ultimate” is important here, for obviously we can have subsidiary purposes and conditional values without God, but my claim is that ultimately nothing really matters if there is no God.

Alhough in that recent debate with Dawkins, he switches back to simply saying “no purpose,” maybe because it has a rhetorical advantage. Either way, the question I still have is “why should I care about ultimate purpose when I’m happy enough with my the purposes I already have?”

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mojo.rhythm December 3, 2010 at 5:06 am

The arguments are beside the point. This is why Craig is a theist.

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TDC December 3, 2010 at 5:11 am

If Christianity is true, the vast majority of the human race is probably going to spend eternity suffering in hell.

I think it’s obvious which worldview is more soul-crushingly bleak.

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rvkevin December 3, 2010 at 5:12 am

I think his point can be briefly summarized as “you are going to die, so why not kill yourself now, for in a hundred years, you will be in the same position either way?” I think brushing off the here and now is a little, what you might say, obtuse. What the universe looks like a trillion years from now is not why we engage in the pursuits we find fulfilling, whether they be the arts or scientific endeavors. We engage in those for the here and now, for the joy of experiencing those endeavors in their own right. Whether we live fulfilling lives or not may not matter to us in a hundred years, but that matters in the here and now. So, why exactly is it absurd to care about our present condition?

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Mike N December 3, 2010 at 5:15 am

I think his point can be briefly summarized as “you are going to die, so why not kill yourself now, for in a hundred years, you will be in the same position either way?”

Somebody should send him Camus’ “The Myth of Sisyphus” then :)

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Garren December 3, 2010 at 5:17 am

It’s rhetorically effective to show a series of depressing pictures captioned with the name of the opposing point of view.

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Lou December 3, 2010 at 5:48 am

Ah, but don’t you know that whatever “meaning” you believe your life without God has is merely “illusory,” for you are nothing but a blindly programmed biological robot that evolved to project meaning onto your existence. Check out this thread.

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FTFKDad December 3, 2010 at 6:07 am

When you hear a great piece of music, are you the kind of person who sits down and cries because you know the song will soon be over, or are you the kind of person who wants to get up and dance?

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Gilgamesh December 3, 2010 at 6:23 am

I have to wonder, when Craig says “ultimate” for purpose in life, is he doing the same thing he does with “objective” for morality? In the latter, he is really saying that without God there cannot be God-subject morality. That would mean that when Craig says “there is no ultimate purpose in life,” all that can mean is that there is no purpose as designated by a God. Of course, this is only meaningful to the theist who sees the only purpose that matters if that designated by God.

Once you get based the rhetorical games, these arguments are for keeping the sheep in the pen, little more.

Oh, and FTKYDad, I think your statement is the quickest destruction of Craig’s argument and I love it.

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Reginald Selkirk December 3, 2010 at 6:42 am

Craig himself admits this is an argument from consequences. Since it is an admitted logical fallacy, I see no point in attempting a logical analysis. Craig says that if God doesn’t exist, then things are not as theists wish them to be. Boo hoo.

Yet again, this is an absolutist argument. If life/purpose/morality is not eternal/infinite/perfect/absolute, then it is no better than nothing. Talk about absurd! I have five dollars in my pocket. It is not enough to feed me for eternity, or even a lifetime. But it is enough to buy me lunch today, and that is certainly better than nothing.

Jeffrey Shallit wonders why fanbois like you give any respect and attention to WLC’s arguments. Most of them are as bad as this one.

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Zeb December 3, 2010 at 6:48 am

I agree that existence is meaningless and human life is absurd on the naturalist’s perspective, but not for Craig’s reasons given here. These reasons strike me as pretty weak.

For me, the difference between Christianity (and other non-physicalist worldviews) and naturalism is the existence of some kind of transcendent personhood. It should be needless to say that meaning is found in communication. Communication happens between persons. So the only meaning I can imagine the universe having is in so far as it is a form of communication (or a medium of communication) between persons. As a Christian I see the world and my life in it first as a communication between myself and God, and second between me an all other persons. On naturalism personhood is an illusion, an artificial construction whether it is applied to organisms or imaginary characters. All that really exists is the stuff in between persons, and a human attempting to find meaning by communication is just a non-entity hollering into a void. That’s the absurdity. That’s not a good reason not to be a naturalist (not without asserting the positive existence of personhood and meaning, anyway), but I suppose it is the reason that so few naturalists swallow the whole pill and incorporate the belief that life is meaningless and absurd into word and deed.

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Thomas December 3, 2010 at 7:02 am

“If Christianity is true, the vast majority of the human race is probably going to spend eternity suffering in hell.”

No I don´t think so. Christian theism does not logically entail eternal suffering in hell. Maybe it entails annihilationism, maybe everyone gets a second and a third chance and universalism is true. The point is that this is a big intramural debate. So it´s just not right to assumme automatically that “if Christianity is true, the vast majority of the human race is probably going to spend eternity suffering in hell.”

By the way, it´s important to remember that Craig is very explicit that his “absurdity of life without God” -thing is not an argument for Christianity. It´s just meant to “wake up” the unbeliever to realize that there is pretty much at stake here. Whether Craig is right or not, I don´t know.

I must comment on this one from Joseph, too: “What’s worse than a meaningless life is the horrifying idea of an eternal life praising God in heaven.”

One is always reminded at this conjecture about Alvin Plantinga´s remark:

“Bernard Williams seems to believe that heaven would be a bit boring for a person of taste and sensibility; and Michael Levine suggests that friendship with God could be fairly interesting, but doubts that it would be “supremely worthwhile.” Perhaps these reactions are as spiritually immature as those of a nine-year-old child on first hearing of the pleasures of sex: could it really match marbles, or chocolate?” (WCB, 317)

:)

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Patrick December 3, 2010 at 7:11 am

This is yet another reason I find the entire realm of philosophy so frustrating. I have an overwhelming urge to respond to arguments of this nature with, “Argument from adverse consequence, NOOB! L2PHILOSOPHIZE!”

My inner troll wants out.

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Joel December 3, 2010 at 7:14 am

A quick point: God isn’t the only thing that can provide objective meaning and purpose; some Platonic Forms can theoretically provide such objective meaning as well.

But of course, subjective meaning enough for everyone to justify their living. This seems to be true for theists too; Christians, for example, seem to place an inordinate amount of importance on a personal subjective relationship with God and with the close community and intimate personal relationships afforded by churchs.

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Dan Brown December 3, 2010 at 7:18 am

If you could reason with believers there would be no believers.

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Patrick December 3, 2010 at 7:22 am

Ok, my response was flippant. I know Craig said this wasn’t an actual argument for the existence of God, just an argument about the consequences of non belief. I also know he’s a dirty liar, but whatever.

The biggest reason I find this frustrating is because its just childish. Its not an argument, its an effort at name calling and insults.

The atheist equivalent of his argument would be if you showed up at one of his debates with an adorable three year old child, and argued for hours that if Christianity is true, and his interpretation of morality under Christianity is true, he should be ready and willing to rape this child, strangle it to death, and devour its body at a moment’s notice. And then you elided immediately into the suggestion that Craig is a potential cannibalistic, murderous pedophile, like all Christians.

I can make a pretty unimpeachable argument for the first conclusion from the sorts of mixed divine command / theological skepticism muddles that Craig advances in his arguments about Biblical atrocity. And you’d get the latter conclusion by being a sleazeball, much like apologists are when they make these attempts at emotional manipulation masquerading as philosophy.

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Chuck December 3, 2010 at 7:49 am

I am grateful WLC exists. Without his arguments I might have continued mistaking the friendly social club of church as evidence of eternal truth. Instead, with him, I encountered a pious man whose arguments seemed like one long rhetorical game in trying to control people who deny the invisible. I realized that religious arguments are just politics in getting people to be predictable so people uncomfortable with unpredictability can command certainty. I realized that dropping concerns of god’s existence opens me up to a more conscious moral agency and I can live here now rather than worrying how the future will turn out. He just doesn’t make any sense and his pretense towards investigation does not camouflage the fact that he has defined the answer prior to his investigation begins. I wish he were just a bit more honest and stick to his argument that he believes in the Christian god and will do so no matter what evidence or counter-argument he encounters. Which of course is testament to weak scholarship and intellectual pride.

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ayer December 3, 2010 at 7:56 am

There seems to be quite a focus on William Lane Craig in this blog and among the commenters. I suppose it’s testimony to his effectiveness.

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Chuck December 3, 2010 at 8:00 am

There seems to be quite a focus on William Lane Craig in this blog and among the commenters.I suppose it’s testimony to his effectiveness.  

There seems to be a lot of commentary regarding air pollution in society. I suppose it’s testimony to its effectiveness.

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ayer December 3, 2010 at 8:10 am

There seems to be a lot of commentary regarding air pollution in society.I suppose it’s testimony to its effectiveness.  

I didn’t say those focusing on him approve of him; but they can no longer just ignore him–even Dawkins has apparently given that up.

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dunefish December 3, 2010 at 8:12 am

Anyone knows what is this story called? I liked the plot and would like to read more of it :)

a science-fiction story in which an astronaut was marooned on a barren chunk of rock lost in outer space. He had with him two vials: one containing poison and the other a potion that would make him live forever. Realizing his predicament, he gulped down the poison. But then to his horror, he discovered he had swallow the wrong vial…

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Justfinethanks December 3, 2010 at 8:21 am

I suppose it’s testimony to his effectiveness.

Or, y’know, his popularity. Dawkins has countless books responding to him, many which even include his name (“The Dawkins Letters,” “The Dawkins Delusion,” “Deluded by Dawkins,” “Challenging Richard Dawkins”) Maybe they do exist and I don’t know it, but are there over a dozen books that target Craig specifically?

Would you also argue that the published response to specifically Dawkins is so incredibly voluminous (possible more voluminous than WLC considering that Dawkins has been promoting atheism specifically for a much briefer period of time), that demonstrates that he is “effective”?

“Effective” self promotion can a be a virtue but it’s not a philosophical one.

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Chuck December 3, 2010 at 8:22 am

I didn’t say those focusing on him approve of him; but they can no longer just ignore him–even Dawkins has apparently given that up.  

Anyone escaping the mental prison of biblical inerrancy has heard a ton about William Lane Craig prior to their apostasy. He, Plantinga, CS Lewis and McGrath are held up as the thinking man’s Christianity. I sought out intellect when the pulpit arguments became more and more arguments to popularity or outrage and dug into these guys but only found that they operated with the same pretense and affirmation bias. So, no he isn’t someone whose brand is new. He is someone whose brand is harmful.

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Luke Muehlhauser December 3, 2010 at 8:32 am

Reginald,

I write about Craig for the same reason I write about philosophy of religion at all. Craig’s arguments are popular, and need a decent response. And philosophy of religion, well, for many people it’s the only branch of philosophy they are interested to read about…

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Chuck December 3, 2010 at 8:36 am

Reginald,I write about Craig for the same reason I write about philosophy of religion at all. Craig’s arguments are popular, and need a decent response. And philosophy of religion, well, for many people it’s the only branch of philosophy they are interested to read about…  

I’m glad you do. I harmed myself by never examining these arguments as a believer and find my mental health strengthened by examining them now. WLC can be infuriating to listen to because he comes off as a cliched shill (my training is in advertising and theatre and his performances are very mannered and phony) but, it is good to read and familiarize myself with his arguments because I can better respond to all the folks seeking to reconvert me. I find that examining him now leads me to have a better grasp on the Christianity the evangelists profess without having to shackle my mind to the superstition they espouse.

Keep it up Luke. I like it.

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ayer December 3, 2010 at 8:47 am

Would you also argue that the published response to specifically Dawkins is so incredibly voluminous (possible more voluminous than WLC considering that Dawkins has been promoting atheism specifically for a much briefer period of time), that demonstrates that he is “effective”?

Sure, Dawkins has been very effective in getting increased attention to atheism and to either converting people to atheism or reinforcing those whose atheism might be wavering. Craig’s effectiveness in this sense is increasing, to the point where Dawkins found himself in a debate situation with him, even though he had previously said he would never debate Craig (because he knew he would lose?)

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ayer December 3, 2010 at 8:51 am

So, no he isn’t someone whose brand is new. He is someone whose brand is harmful.

His work is not new, but its impact is now at the level where Dawkins, Hitchens, many of the prominent atheist blogs, etc. now have to deal with him (whereas in the past all they had to worry about were untrained pastors, etc).

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Legion December 3, 2010 at 8:52 am

I wonder if the necessity of some atheists to think constantly about God is a kind of posttraumatic behavior disorder. After all, R. Dawkins says that the teaching of religion is a form of child abuse. And what happens during infancy is gonna stay with us forever.

As for Craig, I think he´s lying, but has to continue the charade. Moral values are relative, but the span of man´s life is so short we have no other option than to regard them as absolute. The concept of right and wrong beyond man (or any rational being from aouter space) is like having a thought without a brain. Nonsense.

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Chuck December 3, 2010 at 8:53 am

Sure, Dawkins has been very effective in getting increased attention to atheism and to either converting people to atheism or reinforcing those whose atheism might be wavering.Craig’s effectiveness in this sense is increasing, to the point where Dawkins found himself in a debate situation with him, even though he had previously said he would never debate Craig (because he knew he would lose?)  

I can only speak for myself but the work of WLC led me to atheism quicker than anything the new atheists published. I found (and find) his arguments just downright odd. His debate with Ehrman on the historicity of the resurrection made me see that Christianity demands one set of rules for itself and another set for everyone else. I doubt Dawkins is frightened of any theist. He has gone out of his way to meet with many in their environments.

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Chuck December 3, 2010 at 8:56 am

His work is not new, but its impact is now at the level where Dawkins, Hitchens, many of the prominent atheist blogs, etc. now have to deal with him (whereas in the past all they had to worry about were untrained pastors, etc).  

You miss my point. I am a Christian apostate and an atheist. One of the driving reasons why I am one is the bad arguments espoused by people like WLC. I’ve known of him for awhile and when I stopped just parroting his arguments and started examining them I understood that my Christian stance was not reasonable or intellectually sound.

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Chuck December 3, 2010 at 8:59 am

I wonder if the necessity of some atheists to think constantly about God is a kind of posttraumatic behavior disorder. After all, R. Dawkins says that the teaching of religion is a form of child abuse. And what happens during infancy is gonna stay with us forever.
As for Craig, I think he´s lying, but has to continue the charade. Moral values are relative, but the span of man´s life is so short we have no other option than to regard them as absolute. The concept of right and wrong beyond man (or any rational being from aouter space) is like having a thought without a brain. Nonsense.  

Legion, for me your assessment is spot on plus, I didn’t reach a faith assertion because myth and story were uninteresting to me but because I was fascinated by them. That fascination doesn’t stop now that I am a naturalist. In fact, it becomes more fascinating to me to see what things humans contrive to make sense of material randomness and then what kind of arguments they construct to convince themselves their imaginary worlds are real. Beliefs are fascinating.

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Chuck December 3, 2010 at 9:05 am

Does anyone have a link to footage of the debate Ayer is referencing?

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Hermes December 3, 2010 at 9:16 am

antybu86: I’m assuming you’ve seen Craig’s response to the Thomas Nagel paper. He seems to back off the silly”no purpose” claim and instead argue that there is “no ultimate purpose” without God and the afterlife:

Thanks for the link!

Addressing Craig’s ultimate claim, it’s a nonsense category used for rhetorical effect and should be dismissed. It is in the same category as perfect; it’s an absolute — an unbounded container — and thus is useful for abstractions but is in reality illusionary or unknowable. Just as the edge of an abstract perfect circle can be calculated, there is no actual edge that can be found on a manifested circle.

This must be something Craig knows already. He himself argues that there is no such thing as an actual infinite in the sense of time, so when will his afterlife end? Never? It’s nonsense, and he must realize it is logically the case that it’s nonsense and he’s only left with asserting what he believes not what he can demonstrate.

Another example; perfection. There are times where we call something or some event perfect. Examples can even be made that are observer independent. Yet, they aren’t perfect. If they were, that perfection would not be bounded or cause conflicts or contradictions.

Morals based on these ultimates fail for the same reason as they disregard specifics or end up having to calculate all the specifics regardless of ability to do so.

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Hermes December 3, 2010 at 9:30 am

Damn, here I thought I was adding to the conversation and Reginald Selkirk beat me to it, using fewer words.

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Chuck December 3, 2010 at 9:31 am

Damn, here I thought I was adding to the conversation and Reginald Selkirk beat me to it, using fewer words.  

Winged one, I always benefit from your additions.

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ayer December 3, 2010 at 9:31 am

Here is Dawkins refusing to debate Craig:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFamS4RGE_A

Here is the debate they participated in a few weeks ago:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6tIee8FwX8

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Shane Steinhauser December 3, 2010 at 9:33 am

“The atheist equivalent of his argument would be if you showed up at one of his debates with an adorable three year old child, and argued for hours that if Christianity is true, and his interpretation of morality under Christianity is true, he should be ready and willing to rape this child, strangle it to death, and devour its body at a moment’s notice. And then you elided immediately into the suggestion that Craig is a potential cannibalistic, murderous pedophile, like all Christians.”

On top of calling Craig out on an appeal to consequences I would totally play that card in response to his morality and “ultimate purpose” arguments. It would be fun to give him a taste of his own medicine.

Next I would respond to his “testamony of the holy spirit defeater, defeater” argument by noting that even if I took Craig back in time and showed him that Jesus did not come back to life he would cover his ears, close his eyes, and sing “la la la la I can’t hear you, I have the Holy Spirit and that defeats all evidence and arguments you could ever present la la la”.

Some people might think this is childish of me, but I have no problem with being childish and part of winning a debate is being rhetorically effective, as well as honest.

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Chuck December 3, 2010 at 9:33 am

Thanks for the links Ayer. I only needed the recent debate. I am aware of Dr. Dawkins not debating WLC and I agreed with his rationale. Interesting to see him change his mind.

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Reidish December 3, 2010 at 9:37 am

For the atheist commentators:

Do you agree/disagree that if God does not exist, life has no ultimate purpose? If you disagree, is it because you think the concept of “ultimate purpose” is incoherent, or for some other reason?

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Alex G December 3, 2010 at 9:56 am

I have to say I really do find the way Dr Craig comes across as a person in debates to be intolerable. It’s not relevant to his arguments, but he really grates me sometimes; he seems so painfully sanctimonious and smug. Might be just me, but I’m glad that public atheism at least has witty and likeable faces (e.g. Hitchens, absolute badass).

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Chuck December 3, 2010 at 9:58 am

His need to oversell his ideas screams insincerity. He could use a life-coach.

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ayer December 3, 2010 at 10:16 am

I have to say I really do find the way Dr Craig comes across as a person in debates to be intolerable. It’s not relevant to his arguments, but he really grates me sometimes; he seems so painfully sanctimonious and smug. Might be just me, but I’m glad that public atheism at least has witty and likeable faces (e.g. Hitchens, absolute badass).  

You’re saying you don’t find Hitchens and Dawkins sanctimonious and smug? They come across as the very personification of those two qualities.

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Adito December 3, 2010 at 10:16 am

Trying to read Craig’s chapter on this was just brutal. I actually get something out of most of his arguments, even if it’s just why I shouldn’t believe them, but that chapter was just empty definitions and endless rhetoric.

Reidish,

I agree that life has no ultimate purpose. The idea of an ultimate purpose really doesn’t make sense. Even if we accept that a God exists and He created us for a reason we can still ask “what’s so great about that?” At this point the theist will use some subjective idea of what they they think a meaningful life must entail and at the same time condemn atheists for doing the same exact thing.

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Chuck December 3, 2010 at 10:19 am

You’re saying you don’t find Hitchens and Dawkins sanctimonious and smug?They come across as the very personification of those two qualities.  

Except that Dr. Dawkins provides at least relevant scientific evidence and Hitch offers historical facts and a nice vocabulary. WLC is simply trying realllllllly (say with whining nasal tone) hard to sound smarter than you.

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ayer December 3, 2010 at 10:19 am

Thanks for the links Ayer.I only needed the recent debate.I am aware of Dr. Dawkins not debating WLC and I agreed with his rationale.Interesting to see him change his mind.  

I’m not clear on whether he changed his mind or found himself in a situation where if he backed out he would appear to be running away. From the way it went for him, I think he should have found a reason to back out.

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Chuck December 3, 2010 at 10:21 am

I’m not clear on whether he changed his mindor found himself in a situation where if he backed out he would appear to be running away.From the way it went for him, I think he should have found a reason to back out.  

I will have to watch the debate myself but you will forgive me if I see your judgement of it as evidence to your cognitive bias.

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Patrick December 3, 2010 at 10:26 am

Reidish- “Ultimate purpose” is defined as some sort of metaphysical concept that is intrinsically linked to God. So I guess that means there’s no ultimate purpose without God.

It seems kind of like asking whether the United States has a manifest destiny if God isn’t real, where “manifest destiny” is defined as a destiny given to the United States by God. The answer stems from the definitions chosen.

The real “work” being done in this argument is the effort to get the listener to accept the premise that only Craig’s form of “purpose” is worthwhile, and then to sort of finagle that into an emotional plea without admitting that you’re doing it.

Lets use Marilyn Adams arguments on optimism as an example of this sort of weaseling.

1. Define optimism such that its only possible if you believe in an afterlife.
2. Conclude that anyone who doesn’t believe in an afterlife is not an optimist.
3. Argue that anyone who is not an optimist is a pessimist.
4. Suggest that it must be very, very difficult to get through life as a pessimist, and that few people can accomplish it.
5. Loudly object when people tell you that you’re making an argument from adverse consequence. You’re not making an argument! You’re just telling people that unless they have similar religious views to yours, their life will be miserable and unlivable! And then you’re leaving THEM to draw the fallacious conclusion, and its not your fault when they do!

Its the same trick. The key to unraveling it is understanding that she is trading on the desirability of the traditional definition of optimism to grant desirability to her special definition of optimism, and doing the same for the undesirablity of pessimism.

Similarly this apologetic argument trades on the popular desirability of “purpose” in order to polish up a different definition of “purpose,” and to put down the original as a form of purposelessness.

Its important to understand the philosophy that’s being used, but its also important to understand the rhetorical strategies. They are not separable.

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Alex G December 3, 2010 at 10:29 am

You’re saying you don’t find Hitchens and Dawkins sanctimonious and smug? They come across as the very personification of those two qualities.  (Quote)

I think Dawkins is perhaps slightly pompous and certainly very abrasive. But even if I were a theist I would still have to fall for the Hitchens charm and wit, and Dawkins doesn’t have Craig’s arrogance or irritating qualities in my opinion. Not particularly important, he just comes across as a prick.

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Paul Pardi December 3, 2010 at 10:32 am

I’ve always found that Craig is imprecise in this argument particularly when he uses the term “without God.” It seems that all his argument requires is *belief* in God’s existence and that the existence of God per se isn’t really relevant. Meaninglessness, absurdity, purposelessness and the like are relative to persons (I may find life full of meaning and you may not) and so the relation of God’s existence to any purpose or meaning has to come by way of belief.

If Craig is right and God exists but no one believes in He does, then life still would be meaningless. If Craig is right and God does not exist yet everyone believes He does, life may be full of meaning and purpose. So it seems that the actually existence of God is beside the point. And this is one of the key tenents of the New Atheism (what Plantinga calls the de jure argument). God’s existence (as an idea) plays an important doxastic role and it on that dynamic that we should focus.

There are important psychological benefits to viewing life as full of meaning and purpose. As Becker has taught us, belief in God is one heuristic for this “problem” among many others. If Craig focused on the psychological benefits of belief in God rather than on the ontological claims he appears to be making, his argument may be more palatable.

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Chuck December 3, 2010 at 10:34 am

I think I lost complete respect for WLC when he participated in a debate in front of a Muslim crowd and started out with the traditional Islamic greeting despite his religious presuppositions which would make his Muslim audience Hell-bound and heretical. It was so phony relative to his presuppositions regarding human intrinsic worth that I couldn’t help but laugh at his little rhetorical shell game.

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ayer December 3, 2010 at 10:35 am

I will have to watch the debate myself but you will forgive me if I see your judgement of it as evidence to your cognitive bias.  

Yes, I forgive you ;)

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Chris December 3, 2010 at 10:36 am

You’re saying you don’t find Hitchens and Dawkins sanctimonious and smug? They come across as the very personification of those two qualities.  (Quote)

I actually find Hitchens quite charming. First, he’s often very funny, whereas Craig is only inadvertently funny. Second, he’s sincere. That is, even when some of his arguments fail, you can tell he really believes them. Craig clearly believes in the Kalaam argument, but he’s obviously faking it when it comes to his argument from objective morality and the argument presented above — being a professional philosopher, he must know these are bad arguments but he pushes them anyway. Which makes him, as Holden Caulfield would say, a phony.

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Chuck December 3, 2010 at 10:36 am

Yes, I forgive you ;)  

Thanks Ayer.

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Hermes December 3, 2010 at 10:38 am

Zeb: As a Christian I see the world and my life in it first as a communication between myself and God, and second between me an all other persons. On naturalism personhood is an illusion, an artificial construction whether it is applied to organisms or imaginary characters.

Zeb, I was mostly with you up till this part, though I don’t care about naturalism myself. The disconnect I had was when you wrote …

“communication … between me an all other persons”

… was valid for Christians and then stripped that out for naturalists in the next sentence. Where’s the method you followed to determine that is the case?

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ayer December 3, 2010 at 10:39 am

It seems that all his argument requires is *belief* in God’s existence and that the existence of God per se isn’t really relevant.

I think you are completely missing the distinction between “objective” and “subjective” purpose and meaning. Belief would provide subjective purpose, but the actual existence is required for objective purpose.

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Chris December 3, 2010 at 10:39 am

Not particularly important, he just comes across as a prick.  (Quote)

Seconded.

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ayer December 3, 2010 at 10:41 am

Craig clearly believes in the Kalaam argument, but he’s obviously faking it when it comes to his argument from objective morality and the argument presented above

Your powers of mind-reading must be impressive, because that’s the only way you would know whether he is “faking it.”

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Chris December 3, 2010 at 10:45 am

Your powers of mind-reading must be impressive, because that’s the only way you would know whether he is “faking it.”  (Quote)

If Craig can know that my objections to Christianity are just an intellectual smokescreen thrown up to avoid facing a Just and Holy God, then I can know that he is faking it.

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Zeb December 3, 2010 at 10:50 am

But even if I were a theist I would still have to fall for the Hitchens charm and wit, and Dawkins doesn’t have Craig’s arrogance or irritating qualities in my opinion.

I agree with you about Hitchens. I disagree strongly with almost everything he says on religion and politics, but I love listening to him. I call him the “the smartest guy who’s wrong about everything.” He was my favorite anti-theist before finding Luke. Dawkins however annoys the crap out of me. I haven’t read his books, but on camera I find him to be guilty of everything you guys are attributing to Craig. I’ve only listened to one Craig debate and only read excerpts from him here, and haven’t yet found reason to dislike him.

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Paul Pardi December 3, 2010 at 10:53 am

I think you are completely missing the distinction between “objective” and “subjective” purpose and meaning. Belief would provide subjective purpose, but the actual existence is required for objective purpose.  (Quote)

I think that ends up being an irrelevant distinction in this case because there is no practical difference between believing that God exists and his actual existing (this of course is not true of say there being food in the refrigerator). It may be true that there is no objective purpose to the universe (supposing that makes sense) if God doesn’t exist and there is objective purpose to the universe if he does. But epistemically, it makes no difference until one believes either P or ~P. It seems that for Craig’s argument, only the epistemic element is relevant.

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Hermes December 3, 2010 at 10:53 am

Reidish: For the atheist commentators:Do you agree/disagree that if God does not exist, life has no ultimate purpose?If you disagree, is it because you think the concept of “ultimate purpose” is incoherent, or for some other reason?

Note what Reginald Selkirk wrote as well as my post on ultimate being nonsense. As such, regardless of the existence of one or an infinite number of deities, there is no such thing as ultimate.

The issue is one of absolutes existing or not. They don’t manifest for the reasons I noted in my post. As such, Craig’s comments about ultimate are rhetorical and they probably don’t even convince him.

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Chuck December 3, 2010 at 10:55 am

I agree with you about Hitchens. I disagree strongly with almost everything he says on religion and politics, but I love listening to him. I call him the “the smartest guy who’s wrong about everything.” He was my favorite anti-theist before finding Luke. Dawkins however annoys the crap out of me. I haven’t read his books, but on camera I find him to be guilty of everything you guys are attributing to Craig. I’ve only listened to one Craig debate and only read excerpts from him here, and haven’t yet found reason to dislike him.  

Might I recommend his interview with McGrath? Dawkins comes off as respectful and thoughtful and his accent is smashing.

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ayer December 3, 2010 at 11:16 am

I think that ends up being an irrelevant distinction in this case because there is no practical difference between believing that God exists and his actual existing (this of course is not true of say there being food in the refrigerator). It may be true that there is no objective purpose to the universe (supposing that makes sense) if God doesn’t exist and there is objective purpose to the universe if he does. But epistemically, it makes no difference until one believes either P or ~P. It seems that for Craig’s argument, only the epistemic element is relevant.  

That’s a good point; I believe his main argument is that one needs a belief in objective purpose in order to live a truly fulfilling life, and that is impossible on atheism. So you are right that the actual existence of God is not crucial to the argument. Of course, if the argument is correct then all humans have an in-built need to believe in an objective purpose for their existence, which would raise the question of how such a need got there; but that is another issue.

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Hermes December 3, 2010 at 11:18 am

Paul Pardi, thanks for the post. It helped me fuss out one more thing.

As Reginald Selkirk and I noted before, there are some things that are abstract absolutes and do not actually exist as they are unobtainable or simply nonsensical. Objective is one of them. It is useful — like the word perfect — but it is not actual except when talking about specific details and situations and those still require a subjective observer. Probably any absolute concept that is plug compatible with Plato’s forms would fit in that category as well; useful, perfect in the abstract, but not manifested in reality.

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Chuck December 3, 2010 at 11:22 am

It seems that people who throw around the term “objective” mistake how we assess what we know with what we can possibly know. Sure there might be an “objective” purpose but I don’t see any religious commitments offering any view of it.

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Hermes December 3, 2010 at 11:29 am

Ayer: I believe his main argument is that one needs a belief in objective purpose in order to live a truly fulfilling life, and that is impossible on atheism.

Do you agree with Craig that this is actually impossible?

If you do, can you flesh out how he arrives at that being impossible? From what I see, these types of claims don’t track with reality very well. As a trivial counter, someone could have an absolute belief in what they see as an objective purpose that is not narrowly in one of the Christian sects or in an Abrahamic or even non-Abrahamic monotheism. This is an issue within monotheism and more broadly theism even before non-theists are addressed, so stepping out to non-theism as a set seems to be premature as it eliminates the middle steps that still deserve consideration.

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Zeb December 3, 2010 at 11:32 am

Hermes,

Do disagree with this sentence by itself?

On naturalism personhood is an illusion, an artificial construction whether it is applied to organisms or imaginary characters.

On naturalism, when we are talking about a human there is no person in there. “Person” is just a label we apply to some humans, and we imagine for whatever pragmatic purposes that the “person” endures even as the body changes from birth or second trimester or whatever until death or major brain trauma or whatever. It is a narrative construction that exists only in the mind of the narrator; it has no ontological reality in the human in question. So there is no person inside me, and none inside anyone else; all there is is talk of persons, thoughts about persons, behaviors in response to the idea of persons, taking place among bodies.

I realized after I wrote my comment that I should have qualified “communication.” Obviously on naturalism humans can communicate in the same sense that computers can. Through physical interaction they can exchange matter or configurations of matter that will affect their behaviors. I meant communication as a form or manifestation of interpersonal relationship, and I don’t see how that is possible if naturalism is true because I don’t think persons really exist if naturalism is true.

I also really meant all when I said that on Christianity the physical world is a vehicle of communication between me and all people. We are all in this together, and everything a person does affects everyone else in spiritual terms and is therefore and expression of the person’s love or lack thereof of all the other people. On naturalism, as I’ve implied, I don’t think anyone is in anything together, and the bodies only affect each other to a limited and measurable extent.

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Zeb December 3, 2010 at 11:35 am

Might I recommend his interview with McGrath?Dawkins comes off as respectful and thoughtful and his accent is smashing.  

OK, I’ll check it out. Thanks.

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Chuck December 3, 2010 at 11:37 am

If you can watch the version on Google video you will see the rough cut and each man’s restart on muffed answers. It is interesting.

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Reginald Selkirk December 3, 2010 at 11:48 am

ayer: I believe his main argument is that one needs a belief in objective purpose in order to live a truly fulfilling life, and that is impossible on atheism. So you are right that the actual existence of God is not crucial to the argument.

But if God does not exist, then the belief in objective God-given purpose is illusory, and therefore the theist’s life is not truly fulfilling, by the sort of absolute criteria he wishes to apply to the atheist’s purpose. If you acknowledge that a false belief can provide true fulfilment, then you lose the very core of the original argument.

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Reginald Selkirk December 3, 2010 at 11:52 am

Paul Pardi: because there is no practical difference between believing that God exists and his actual existing

Paul Pardi FTWTF! A relativistic argument in support of objective purpose!

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Chuck December 3, 2010 at 11:56 am

Paul Pardi: because there is no practical difference between believing that God exists and his actual existingPaul Pardi FTWTF! A relativistic argument in support of objective purpose!  

Paul’s little word game seems common and something I encountered this week from a god believer but always leaves me cold because it seems nothing more than someone saying, “It makes me feel good to believe in a god and therefore god is real (with all the incumbent moral superiority and reality claims).”

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Reginald Selkirk December 3, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Reidish: Do you agree/disagree that if God does not exist, life has no ultimate purpose? If you disagree, is it because you think the concept of “ultimate purpose” is incoherent, or for some other reason?

I agree that life has no ultimate purpose. See comments I already made in this thread about the over-rating of ultimate/infinite/eternal/absolute. Even if life has no ultimate purpose, I do not see this as diminishing the purpose I wish to imbue and extract from my life.

Next up, you can explain to Hermes why the purpose God wishes to assign to your life is in any way more “objective” than the purpose you or anyone else wishes to place upon it. Keep your answer short and honest please.

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Paul Pardi December 3, 2010 at 12:16 pm

Paul’s little word game seems common and something I encountered this week from a god believer but always leaves me cold because it seems nothing more than someone saying, “It makes me feel good to believe in a god and therefore god is real (with all the incumbent moral superiority and reality claims).”  (Quote)

My claim was not that because one believes God exist that God exists. In fact, just the opposite. My point was that God having positive ontological status is in no way relevant to Craig’s argument which appears to me to undermine his claim if he intends to use the argument as a positive statement for theism (understood as the claim that God exists).

There is good evidence both anecdotal and scientific (Becker, Freud, Rank, any of the existentialists) that BELIEF in God does have positive psychological value. In fact Dennett notes as much in Breaking the Spell and tries to unpack this as a product of evolution. But saying that BELIEF in God may have pragmatic consequences has little if any implication for the actual existence of God. My take is that such a claim may strongly undermine theistic arguments particularly if those arguments do not need an actually existing God to work. If belief is all that is needed then ontological theism is dead even if epistemological theism still has legs.

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Chuck December 3, 2010 at 12:18 pm

My claim was not that because one believes God exist that God exists. In fact, just the opposite. My point was that God having positive ontological status is in no way relevant to Craig’s argument which appears to me to undermine his claim if he intends to use the argument as a positive statement for theism (understood as the claim that God exists).
There is good evidence both anecdotal and scientific (Becker, Freud, Rank, any of the existentialists) that BELIEF in God does have positive psychological value. In fact Dennett notes as much in Breaking the Spell and tries to unpack this as a product of evolution. But saying that BELIEF in God may have pragmatic consequences has little if any implication for the actual existence of God. My take is that such a claim may strongly undermine theistic arguments particularly if those arguments do not need an actually existing God to work. If belief is all that is needed then ontological theism is dead even if epistemological theism still has legs.  

My bad. I missed that one bad. Thanks for the clarification. I agree with you.

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Luke Muehlhauser December 3, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Lol, FTWTF is new to me.

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Joseph December 3, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Just the horrifying idea that I might spend eternity with Craig praising the Lord is reason enough for me to want to prolong my life as long as possible. If there’s a God, please make it that when I die, I really die.

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ayer December 3, 2010 at 12:55 pm

ayer: I believe his main argument is that one needs a belief in objective purpose in order to live a truly fulfilling life, and that is impossible on atheism. So you are right that the actual existence of God is not crucial to the argument.But if God does not exist, then the belief in objective God-given purpose is illusory, and therefore the theist’s life is not truly fulfilling, by the sort of absolute criteria he wishes to apply to the atheist’s purpose. If you acknowledge that a false belief can provide true fulfilment, then you lose the very core of the original argument.  

“Truly fulfilling” was my phrase, not Craig’s; by that I meant, “completely fulfills the human need for belief in an objective purpose” (as opposed to “incompletely fulfilling that need by trying to substitute admittedly subjective purposes”). His phrase, as I recall, is “cannot live both consistently and happily” (in other words, it is an existential argument relating to human fulfillment). If the core of the original argument is that one cannot live both consistently and happily adhering to atheistic belief, but one can on theistic belief, how is that lost?

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ayer December 3, 2010 at 12:58 pm

if he intends to use the argument as a positive statement for theism (understood as the claim that God exists).

Actually, he doesn’t intend to use it for that; I believe he is quite explicit that this argument is not one for the existence of God.

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Paul Pardi December 3, 2010 at 1:18 pm

Actually, he doesn’t intend to use it for that; I believe he is quite explicit that this argument is not one for the existence of God.  (Quote)

Right, he doesn’t appear to be using this argument as a direct argument for God’s existence though I do think that’s where he wants to end up. That’s why I used the phrase, “positive statement for theism.” The general ambiguity in that phrase is intentional as I’m not entirely clear what apologetic value this argument has. If he’s not arguing for God’s existence, is his goal to argue that without [belief in] God, life is meaningless? What implications should one draw from that? I’d expect he’d want to say, “and no one wants to believe life is meaningless [or, more along Craigian lines: no one in fact does believe that life is meaningless] so in order to avoid that conclusion, it’s better to believe God exists.”

If all he wants to show is that without [belief in] God, life is “ultimately” meaningless and purposeless, I’m not sure why one would not readily embrace his conclusion. Such an argument is wholeheartedly given and accepted by Dawkins and Dennett.

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Reginald Selkirk December 3, 2010 at 1:45 pm

“Truly fulfilling” was my phrase, not Craig’s; by that I meant, “completely fulfills the human need for belief in an objective purpose” (as opposed to “incompletely fulfilling that need by trying to substitute admittedly subjective purposes”). His phrase, as I recall, is “cannot live both consistently and happily” (in other words, it is an existential argument relating to human fulfillment). If the core of the original argument is that one cannot live both consistently and happily adhering to atheistic belief, but one can on theistic belief, how is that lost?

Because this is a relativistic argument saying that believing one’s life has objective/ultimate/etc purpose is enough for fulfillment, whether the purpose actually is objective/ultimate/etc. You’re saying, “the theist is well enough off believing in purpose, whether it exists or not.” This does not mix well with the apparent need for objective/ultimateness. I.e. you must know that you are lying to yourself.

This is coupled with the mistake of assuming that the atheist must assume a particular emotional reaction to a perceived state of fact. I.e. that a perception of lack of ultimate purpose must make an atheist unhappy. You are insisting, “teh glass is half-empty! I insist that you must perceive that teh glass is half-empty!” I will decide for myself whether the glass is half-full or half-empty. I will decide what reaction I will have to my perceptions of the state of purpose in the world. I.e. I don’t have to be unhappy just because some criterion set by Craig or by you is not fulfilled.

The extent to which you are willing to lie and distort in the interest of your cause makes me happy not to share your delusion.

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Reginald Selkirk December 3, 2010 at 1:48 pm

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Apoteks Salmiak December 3, 2010 at 2:00 pm

1 & 2 & 5. Why is eternal God worship better?

3. So satisfying God’s arbituary will could cause you to be punished or rewarded. Why is this portrayed as a good thing?

4. God’s opinion is an opinion. Opinion that God’s opinion is good is an opinion. I’m not sure about the difference between objective and subjective anyway. Even then, I don’t think no one knows what God wants or will do, or if God exists at all.
I, or WLC can condemn or praise any thing we please. God doesnt give you any better right or sense to do it.

6. Is man then just god’s arbituary toy destined to eternal God ass -kissing or torture in hell? What kind of purpose is that? Why is that better than “cosmic accident”? Why is cosmic accident bad?

In conclusion, I don’t see any reason to think why God, soul, or supernatural are good and worthful, but humans, animals, matter or natural are bad or worthless. At least we know something about humans, animals, matter or natural. Why despise things you know something about and love unknown or impossible things?

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woodchuck64 December 3, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Reidish,

Do you agree/disagree that if God does not exist, life has no ultimate purpose? If you disagree, is it because you think the concept of “ultimate purpose” is incoherent, or for some other reason?

Ultimate purpose seems to be about satisfying all longings, all desires. From what we know of evolution, desires came about as a handy way to replicate genes. But intelligence also came about as a handy way to replicate genes. Intelligence now tirelessly works to understand itself and the universe until all its desires are satisfied. So in that sense, I believe all conscious-kind will probably find a state of satisfaction well before the universe reaches heat death.

(And since I’m really not sure what consciousness is, and I probably will invest in cryonics insurance, I can’t say for certain that my death will be the end of me)

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Hermes December 3, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Zeb: Do disagree with this sentence by itself?

On naturalism personhood is an illusion, an artificial construction whether it is applied to organisms or imaginary characters.

I’m not a naturalist, but it doesn’t seem to be an accurate representation of their views. I have heard some non-naturalists give this explanation, though, and it always sounded strange to me. While I don’t think your intent was to attack naturalists, you may be listening to some people who give explanations that are intended to be polemical as opposed to insightful. This doesn’t help improve accurate communication and understanding between people but is alienating and divisive.

The issue of illusion or artificiality, specifically, doesn’t seem to make much sense, for example. Take those out and there’s not much left.

On naturalism, when we are talking about a human there is no person in there. “Person” is just a label we apply to some humans, and we imagine for whatever pragmatic purposes that the “person” endures even as the body changes from birth or second trimester or whatever until death or major brain trauma or whatever. It is a narrative construction that exists only in the mind of the narrator; it has no ontological reality in the human in question. So there is no person inside me, and none inside anyone else; all there is is talk of persons, thoughts about persons, behaviors in response to the idea of persons, taking place among bodies.

Well, to give it a cursory review — I don’t intended to be rigorously accurate or complete on all levels — we are very much the stories we tell about ourselves. That much is transparently true and kicks in at the point we gain experience including but not limited to language and symbol acquisition. That doesn’t make it unreal, but is a description of part of what we are.

Other influences abound, but that one can’t be dismissed.

The internal narrative applies regardless of theistic perspective and is demonstratable through various psychological tests. Note that repetition of religious texts and being more like religious figures, speaking to them, is very much an adaptation of religions to incorporate the social customs and ideas and — indeed — characters into the adherent. You can say that these messages — through whatever channel — come from the divine as you see it, but even you must admit that there are instances of inauthentic non-divine experiences that are considered divine revelations by theists of all kinds regardless of religion or sub-sect.

I consider those divine revelations as well as other valid and real experiences from many sources to be mis-attributions from people who have imaginations that should be granted greater respect. Personally, I have a great deal of control and understanding of my imagination and am aware (hopefully) when it kicks in and shapes my understanding of reality.

On the issues of language and experience, we can skip psychology or any rigorous study and examine events in our own lives. How often do we stereotype others, for example? Stereotyping is like a macro that helps us make snap judgments since we can’t always know who it is that we’re talking with. We are quick to see what we already know expressed in the people and events around us. That speed comes at a cost; accuracy. Mistakes are made when people use stereotypes reflexively and don’t reconsider that reflex later so that they can adjust their own stereotypes. I see that in myself frequently as well as in others, and I bet you do too.

I realized after I wrote my comment that I should have qualified “communication.” Obviously on naturalism humans can communicate in the same sense that computers can. Through physical interaction they can exchange matter or configurations of matter that will affect their behaviors.

I don’t think that’s accurate. A naturalist will look towards specific physical aspects of human physiology and stop there for the raw communication channels. Human physiology is clearly not binary thus not computer like. On top of that, the naturalist isn’t restricted to an abstraction for understanding what else is involved, and neither are you. Neither theists (your sect or not) nor naturalists are limited to some clockwork mechanism.

The issue I see is that you have boxed in the naturalists while granting your position some kind of special extra bits. That’s not what we see, though. A reasonable person does not deny that at a minimum the natural world exists, and as such both you and this hypothetical naturalist can discuss things on that basis. If you want to advocate some special extra bits — beyond the natural world — then your task is to demonstrate the existence of those special extra bits. It is not justified to assert the inferiority of the other group’s position by denying them what they don’t deny you or themselves.

I meant communication as a form or manifestation of interpersonal relationship, and I don’t see how that is possible if naturalism is true because I don’t think persons really exist if naturalism is true.

If it happens, if it is a fact that people have interpersonal relationships, then where’s the argument?

You have to show — actually demonstrate — that your extra special bits are real and are not handled by natural explanations. You can not grant yourself special considerations or claim that you do not need to demonstrate it. If you think you can, write down your answer and think about it a bit before posting here. Show me that you respect the issues and the time I’m putting into this response to you.

I also really meant all when I said that on Christianity the physical world is a vehicle of communication between me and all people. We are all in this together, and everything a person does affects everyone else in spiritual terms and is therefore and expression of the person’s love or lack thereof of all the other people. On naturalism, as I’ve implied, I don’t think anyone is in anything together, and the bodies only affect each other to a limited and measurable extent.

I don’t think your understanding reflects reality, and I recommend you take a closer look at your own words. I find that if I write something and then read it back out loud I can more easily notice places where improvements or restatements can be made.

Does that sound reasonable?

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MauricXe December 3, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Hermes

This must be something Craig knows already. He himself argues that there is no such thing as an actual infinite in the sense of time, so when will his afterlife end? Never? It’s nonsense, and he must realize it is logically the case that it’s nonsense and he’s only left with asserting what he believes not what he can demonstrate.

Refer here:

http://www.leaderu.com/truth/3truth11.html

In order to understand (2.1), we need to understand the difference between a potential infinite and an actual infinite. Crudely put, a potential infinite is a collection which is increasing toward infinity as a limit, but never gets there. Such a collection is really indefinite, not infinite. The sign of this sort of infinity, which is used in calculus, is ¥. An actual infinite is a collection in which the number of members really is infinite. The collection is not growing toward infinity; it is infinite, it is “complete.” The sign of this sort of infinity, which is used in set theory to designate sets which have an infinite number of members, such as {1, 2, 3, . . .}, is À0. Now (2.11) maintains, not that a potentially infinite number of things cannot exist, but that an actually infinite number of things cannot exist. For if an actually infinite number of things could exist, this would spawn all sorts of absurdities.

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ayer December 3, 2010 at 3:18 pm

This does not mix well with the apparent need for objective/ultimateness. I.e. you must know that you are lying to yourself.

No, I believe Craig is saying that the belief in objective purpose must be sincere or it cannot be lived out consistently and happily. A sincere theist does believe in objective purpose (by definition), while an atheist could not sincerely believe in objective purpose and remain an atheist.

I.e. I don’t have to be unhappy just because some criterion set by Craig or by you is not fulfilled.

I don’t think Craig disputes that; the purpose of the argument is to get the atheist to consider the implications of the lack of objective purpose and whether they are really just deluding themselves that they are fulfilled (similar to what Dawkins does in trying to get theists in the grip of the “God delusion” to “snap out of it”)

The extent to which you are willing to lie and distort in the interest of your cause makes me happy not to share your delusion.

I have no idea who or what you are referring to here, but that is a good example of the “snap out of it” technique I was referring to; and that is what Craig is trying to do with his “absurdity” argument, I believe

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Steven December 3, 2010 at 3:45 pm

I actually wrote on this subject a few days ago:

“That God can love you? But can’t the same be said of your parents and family?

That God’s love is everlasting? But isn’t this saying that the value of something arises from its longevity? But surely this isn’t correct. As is illustrated in the tale of Sisyphus, just because an action is carried out for eternity, it doesn’t mean that it gains value because of it.

Is it because God is a superior being? But what about God makes any of his actions more meaningful than that of any other creature? Is being loved by a flawed person not meaningful because of their flaws? But surely their love is valuable, regardless of their shortcomings, or else we would be combining the negative with the positive, where, I think, love and other such qualities are valuable, irrespective of a person’s flaws.

All in all, I’m failing to see what about God’s existence has to do with meaning.”

At any rate, all Craig does are appeal to consequences. Nothing very convincing. Yes, life is meaningless. That’s only a problem if you make it so.

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Hermes December 3, 2010 at 4:27 pm

MauricXe, yes, thank you for posting for the details.

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Como December 3, 2010 at 6:38 pm

I think Craig’s argument suffers from the taxicab dilemma (he uses logic to get where he wants to be and then dismisses it). He failed to apply his own reasoning to his own argument. If the fact that humans were not created for a purpose (but just exist) means that their lives would be meaningless then the fact that a god was not created for a purpose (but just exists) would mean that its life was meaningless. In fact, the story of the astronaut living on for eternity is a good description of what Yahweh’s existance would have been like (even if it had no beginning). For us then, what would be the purpose or meaning in serving someone else who’s existance has no purpose or meaning?

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ayer December 3, 2010 at 6:46 pm

A being which is the locus of all value and exists necessarily has purpose and meaning by definition. Human beings are contingent, which places them in a different category altogether.

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Reidish December 3, 2010 at 6:50 pm

I see mostly “ayes” for “no ultimate purpose if God doesn’t exist”. Thanks for the responses, all.

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Como December 3, 2010 at 6:57 pm

“A being which is the locus of all value and exists necessarily has purpose and meaning by definition. ”

How so? What then is the purpose of that being?

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Patrick December 3, 2010 at 7:01 pm

Definitions do not work that way.

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Tony Hoffman December 3, 2010 at 7:25 pm

You’re saying you don’t find Hitchens and Dawkins sanctimonious and smug? They come across as the very personification of those two qualities.

Theists are always pretending that Dawkins is hopelessly out of his league, an obscure character who foisted himself late in life into their tradition. The fact is that Dawkins atheism is a second life, sort of like John Travolta’s career from Pulp Fiction on.

The Selfish Gene is one of the most intellectually stimulating books of the last century. (It’s like what Brian Eno said about the Velvet Underground; “they only sold about 10,000 albums, but everybody who bought one started their own band.”) Dawkins, alongside Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov, popularized science for a generation and more. Inevitably, those who dismiss Dawkins just haven’t read his books about biology and evolution. Very few people write so well.

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Zak December 3, 2010 at 7:59 pm

You’re saying you don’t find Hitchens and Dawkins sanctimonious and smug? They come across as the very personification of those two qualities.

To quote Sam Harris on this point… “There is, in fact, no worldview more reprehensible in its arrogance than that of a religious believer: the creator of the universe takes an interest in me, approves of me, loves me, and will reward me after death; my current beliefs, drawn from scripture, will remain the best statement of truth until the end of the world; everyone who disagrees with me will spend eternity in hell… An average Christian, in an average church, listening to an average Sunday sermon has achieved a level of arrogance simply unimaginable in scientific discourse — and there have been some extraordinarily arrogant scientists.”

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Hermes December 3, 2010 at 8:39 pm

Reidish: I see mostly “ayes” for “no ultimate purpose if God doesn’t exist”. Thanks for the responses, all.

Just so there’s no confusion, I did not say yes … or no. It has nothing to do with if any deities exist or not. I am sure that I’m not alone in this assessment.

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Reidish December 3, 2010 at 8:54 pm

Hi Hermes,

Just so there’s no confusion, I did not say yes … or no.It has nothing to do with if any deities exist or not.I am sure that I’m not alone in this assessment.

Noted. Your position is that “ultimate purpose” is a meaningless concept, so it’s pointless to discuss it in the context of the atheism/theism debate.

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ildi December 3, 2010 at 10:30 pm

Patrick:

Definitions do not work that way.

Ah, but they do in apologetics!

I like Ashley Moore’s take on it from the Jason Rosenhause thread:

These arguments basically boil down to: “Nothing is worth doing unless it is to impress an alpha male.”

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Al Moritz December 4, 2010 at 12:50 am

those who dismiss Dawkins just haven’t read his books about biology and evolution. Very few people write so well.

I agree. I strongly recommend The Blind Watchmaker but even more Climbing Mount Improbable. When he sticks to biology he is terrific.

The God Delusion, on the other hand, completely sucks. It is amateurish dabbling in philosophy and Dawkins often uses, contrary to what he should stand for, anecdotal evidence above scientific studies on religion and other matters.

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Joseph December 4, 2010 at 4:37 am

Has anyone so far identify what is God’s purpose? If not, what’s the purpose of talking about God’s purpose if no one knows about it? Is God’s purpose desirable for our purpose? If not, what should we do about it?

Isn’t this whole discussion about God’s purpose suck?

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Chuck December 4, 2010 at 4:47 am

Has anyone so far identify what is God’s purpose? If not, what’s the purpose of talking about God’s purpose if no one knows about it? Is God’s purpose desirable for our purpose? If not, what should we do about it?Isn’t this whole discussion about God’s purpose suck?  

Good point Joseph. This would depend on one’s creedal commitments and which god they reference. This question seems to signify that the assertion to objective morality through the invocation of god is no less subjective than any other meta-ethic.

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Bill Snedden December 4, 2010 at 5:28 am

@ayer:

That’s a good point; I believe his main argument is that one needs a belief in objective purpose in order to live a truly fulfilling life, and that is impossible on atheism.

It’s impossible on any worldview. There’s simply no such thing as “objective purpose”, at least not in the sense being used here.

“Purpose”, as the term is being used here, is necessarily the product of intent, which is the product of mind. Purpose therefore, is subjective by definition. What Craig and others are really talking about is substituting the intentions of another being for one’s own. Taking someone else’s meaning for your own life to be your own. Most rational beings condemn slavery, but apparently it’s considered a virtue by WLC and his fellow travelers.

A being which is the locus of all value and exists necessarily has purpose and meaning by definition. Human beings are contingent, which places them in a different category altogether.

This is simply a non-sequitur. Values (out of which things like meaning and purpose arise) are the products of mind. Contingency has nothing whatever to do with whether or not a being has a mind and thus nothing to do with whether or not human beings can create meaning or purpose for themselves.

@Zeb:

On naturalism personhood is an illusion, an artificial construction whether it is applied to organisms or imaginary characters.

Hermes has done a pretty good job of engaging this, but speaking as someone who considers himself a “naturalist” (to the extent that term has any meaning at all), this is simply rubbish. I imagine you read some statement or book by some naturalist who made this claim (or whom you misread to have made this claim), or that you are using some special definition of “person” that only theism can satisfy (i.e., the “soul”), but I can assure you that there are plenty of people who call themselves “naturalists” who have no issue with personhood. To say that “Naturalism” entails that no persons exist is too great a claim simply to make without some evidence to support it.

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Kaelik December 4, 2010 at 6:11 am

A being which is the locus of all value and exists necessarily has purpose and meaning by definition.Human beings are contingent, which places them in a different category altogether.  

If I define myself as the locus of all values (what are values? Define without God, since otherwise your definitions are self referential) does that mean that I have purpose by definition?

No, because that’s stupid. Any way you have of attributing values to God is a way they can be attributed to me.

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Patrick December 4, 2010 at 7:04 am

Kaelik- I agree with you, but he’s not going to.

In order to see where he’s coming from, you’re going to have to really, really shift your perspective. He’s borrowing from an intellectual tradition within Christianity that’s existed for a very long time, merges a lot of weird metaphysics with Christianity, and only really comes out to play when the faith is under certain kinds of attacks.

Try imagining how you’d see the world if you thought that concepts really exist as almost tangible things. For example, imagine that “deliciousness” is really a cosmic *thing* that emanates from the “source of all deliciousness.” Imagine that you believe that, were the source of all deliciousness to go away, or were you to be isolated from the effects of its tasty emanations, nothing would ever be delicious to you again. There could still be cakes and candies and roasted apples, but they would instill in you none of the pleasures of “deliciousness” once you were separated from the locus of this aspect of reality.

Now imagine that similar metaphysical connections exist for concepts like trust, happiness, duty, loyalty, and so on, and that all of these concepts reside in a single entity. Basically, reify every concept that has positive associations, merge the results with Plato’s realm of forms, and then nail gun the whole mess to the Christian God.

The resulting being is what you’re debating about.

Now think about how questions like, “what is the purpose of this object?” function in that universe. What’s really being asked is what the nature is of the emanation of the very real *thing,* “Purpose” that touches upon this object.

Finally ask, “what is the purpose of the being from which all Purpose radiates?” and you can see that under this whole metaphysical setup, it may not make sense to ask that. It becomes a question almost like “what is north of the north pole?”

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Reginald Selkirk December 4, 2010 at 7:40 am

Has anyone so far identify what is God’s purpose?

Good luck with that one. The liberal theists, the ones who don’t believe in Noah’s ark, or that cures people who pray, etc. tend to state that God is unknowable, and therefore his purpose must also be unknowable.

The more literal-minded may say that God has expressed his purpose in various ancient manuscripts which are filled with errors and contradictions, such as the Bible, the Koran, etc. Since we as modern intellegent educated people know these ancient manuscripts are filled with errors and contradictions, we can dismiss this claim rather easily.

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Reginald Selkirk December 4, 2010 at 7:43 am

ayer: A being which is the locus of all value and exists necessarily has purpose and meaning by definition.

Well hunky dory! Now all you have to do is logically establish the existence of such a being and you’re off to the races. Good luck with that. None of the alleged proofs of God’s existence (Kalam, etc.) establish that the God they are attempting to prove is “the locus of all value.” (They fail to establish other things, but that is tangential.)

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ayer December 4, 2010 at 8:38 am

Good luck with that. None of the alleged proofs of God’s existence (Kalam, etc.) establish that the God they are attempting to prove is “the locus of all value.”

Actually, two of them do: the moral argument and the ontological argument.

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Tony Hoffman December 4, 2010 at 9:26 am

Actually, two of them do:the moral argument and the ontological argument.  

By establish I’m pretty sure RS means provide a valid demonstration. So, I don’t accept That correction.

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Patrick December 4, 2010 at 9:30 am

1. I think it would be more accurate to say that one possible resolution of the moral argument is the idea of a “locus of all value.” You could also resolve it with a number of other theologies. You could use a polytheistic system in which each deity is the locus of a different value. You could use a system where values simply “are” in some universal, omnipresent sense that requires no locus, and in which no personhood is ascribed to these values. There are probably more options I can’t think up right now… anything that, if true, would lead to moral realism will satisfy the moral argument.

2. The ontological argument does not attempt to prove a locus of all value. It attempts to prove a greatest possible being without providing arguments about what this being actually would be like. You would need a separate argument to conclude that the nature of this greatest possible being is that it is the locus of all value. For one, you’d need to prove that a “locus of all value” is “possible.” Then you’d have to prove that nothing could be “greater” than it.

3. The ontological argument is connected in many people’s thinking with a “locus of all value” vision of God, but that’s largely a contingent accident of history. The same people who came up with the locus thing came up with the ontological argument. That’s why “greater” tends to be framed in terms that make so much sense to the locus people, assuming that you can, with fire and tongs and a showing of the implements, convince the wields of the ontological argument to define “greater.” But that’s not exactly the same as the argument seeking to prove that particular vision of God.

4. I feel as though the actual, complete sorting out of the presupposition of locus theology and the actual workings of the ontological argument would first require sorting out the double usage of “possible” in the ontological argument. But if you do that, the ontological argument seems to go away.

5. Chuck Norris is the actual greatest possible being.

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woodchuck64 December 4, 2010 at 9:30 am

Zeb,

On naturalism, when we are talking about a human there is no person in there. “Person” is just a label we apply to some humans, and we imagine for whatever pragmatic purposes that the “person” endures even as the body changes from birth or second trimester or whatever until death or major brain trauma or whatever. It is a narrative construction that exists only in the mind of the narrator; it has no ontological reality in the human in question. So there is no person inside me, and none inside anyone else; all there is is talk of persons, thoughts about persons, behaviors in response to the idea of persons, taking place among bodies.

I like Dennett’s approach to this in calling personhood the center of narrative gravity. Consider that a center of gravity is not an atom or a subatomic particle or any other physical item in the world, has no mass, no color, no physical properties at all, except for spatio-temporal location. But it’s there, it exists and it’s useful none the less. In the same way, we can think of a person as a center of narrative gravity.

See http://ase.tufts.edu/cogstud/papers/selfctr.htm

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Kaelik December 4, 2010 at 9:40 am

Patrick, thank you, but I am actually quite familiar with the type, I was just attempting to determine ayer’s level of thought on the subject.

And then I got carried away, and through in the dismissal, which is several steps later.

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JohnC December 4, 2010 at 12:00 pm

I think it is important to point out that Craig is not the first person to argue about the absurdity of life without God. More importantly atheist need to remember their history of arguing the same thing. Martin Heidegger (atheist existentialist) termed humans as “beings-unto-death” not Craig. So to call out Craig for saying it seems to be hypocritical since atheist have argued the same thing. Atheist philosophers (Albert Camus to name another) have argued extensively about the pointless and absurdity of human existence. If anything, Craig’s point about the absurdity of life without God should be something atheist can finally agree with him on. Heidegger defined humans as “being-unto-death” and in a naturalistic worldview that’s all man is.
“Perhaps I know best why it is man alone who laughs; he alone suffers so deeply that he had to invent laughter” — Nietzsche

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Kaelik December 4, 2010 at 1:13 pm

JohnC,

As a moral anti realist, I believe it is a true statement to say, “No Jewish person is less morally evil than Hitler. Every Jew is as morally evil as Hitler.” But I don’t say it anyway, because the implication of the statement is not that there is no such thing as moral goodness or moral evil, it is that I consider all Jews to be bad people, as bad as Hitler.

Likewise, Craig’s claims imply not that the world lacks any ultimate purpose because the concept of ultimate purpose is incoherent, but instead that a god existing means the world has ultimate purpose.

It is perfectly sensible to point out the flaws in his statements, IE, everything he has ever said, even if in one respect his conclusion accurately reflects reality, technically.

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manicstreetpreacher December 4, 2010 at 2:04 pm

Haven’t read all the comments on this thread, so I hope I am not repeating anyone, but Sam Harris gave the best response to the absurd idea that belief in God provides meaning to one’s existence.

Enjoy.

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Hermes December 4, 2010 at 3:38 pm

JohnC, why should any random non-theist take into account everyone else’s claims even if they match or complement someone else’s argument — such as in this case Craig’s?

Can you map out a logical and compelling argument for this point of view?

Conversely, are all theists required to follow all theist arguments and claims — say, those of a Hindu or of a Muslim or of a traditional spirit deity worshiper?

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JohnC December 4, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Hermes,
My argument is not that non-theist needs to take account everyone’s claims, it was to simply point out that the observation that life is absurd is not necessarily a theist observation. The philosophers i cited were to show that others (atheist) have likewise noticed the absurdity of life. I am not defending Craig’s argument. Im only pointing out that his that life is pointless without God is not only a theistic observation.

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Al Moritz December 4, 2010 at 4:25 pm

I find myself agreeing with Craig more often than not. However, in my view Craig’s argument that an atheistic life is pointless is — well, pointless.

I could imagine a fulfilled life as an atheist, if I would be one. Not just that, I actually see that it is possible in an atheist friend that I have. I would think that his life his probably more fulfilled than that of quite a few theists I know.

Certainly, as an atheist my life would have no ‘ultimate purpose’. But it could still have a satisfying subjective purpose.

Fear of loss of purpose is certainly no reason for me not to be an atheist. Nor is fear of death. It is just that the evidence makes it impossible for me to intellectually embrace atheism.

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Hermes December 4, 2010 at 5:01 pm

JohnC, got it. Do you see a qualitative difference between Craig and the other people who you cited?

* * *

FWIW, I’ve read part of Being and Time. His massively detailed professional work there is very impressive as a scholarly work. Craig, meanwhile, has said that his conclusions are not based on logic or evidence but on personal revelation. Additionally, there is some evidence that Craig possibly plagiarized or at a minimum greatly distorted his references in his masters thesis;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8oKCq_2aMWA

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L85oePTQZoQ

As such, I do not put him in the same category professionally as Heidegger. I mention Heidegger only because you brought him up and I find the comparison to Craig to be strained at best. Craig is a rhetorician advocating a sectarian Christian apologetic and as such he is interested in winning not in illuminating (not that Heidegger is a crisp slice of simplicity).

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Zeb December 4, 2010 at 5:29 pm

Hermes

The issue I see is that you have boxed in the naturalists while granting your position some kind of special extra bits.

That’s the whole point. Yes, in theory Christianity has “extra bits” that naturalism doesn’t have, and I’m saying that if those bits exist, they provide an opportunity for meaning that would not be available if they don’t exist, as naturalism says they don’t.

If it happens, if it is a fact that people have interpersonal relationships, then where’s the argument?

Well if it’s a fact, then it’s evidence against naturalism because naturalism does not fit with interpersonal relationships. But I don’t know how you could prove that it is a fact and not an illusion or a social construction, which is what I know some naturalists do say, and what I think naturalism necessarily implies whether or not all naturalists believe it.

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woodchuck64 December 4, 2010 at 5:37 pm

JohnC,

Craig’s absurdity of life without God follows because he thinks life is meaningless without God. I don’t see Heidegger or Camus arguing that life is meaningless so it follows that they don’t see life as absurd the same way Craig does.

“If I take death into my life, acknowledge it, and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death and the pettiness of life – and only then will I be free to become myself. ” -Martin Heidegger

“If, after all, men cannot always make history have meaning, they can always act so that their own lives have one.” –Albert Camus

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JohnC December 4, 2010 at 5:40 pm

Im not sure where or when i placed Craig in the same category as Heidegger, nor what that has to do with Craig being possibly guilty of plagiarism on his thesis. Also it seems Craig is attempting to use logic to defend his conclusions (even if you find his logic not convincing). Possibly Craig’s Christian beliefs are not grounded in a logical argument, I believe his topic about absurdity of life without God is though. Im not saying his argument is convincing (it doesn’t convince me). My point was, and still is, that observing the absurdity of life without God is not a theistic observance. Im not putting Craig in the same category as Sartre and Heidegger, i’m saying that Craig’s observation that life is pointless without God is not just his own, and that atheist have arrived at similar conclusions. Not only have they arrived at similar conclusions, i believe atheists have better arguments for why they have arrived at such conclusions and what the ramifications of these conclusions are. Thus the pointlessness of life without God is not a form of propaganda by Christians, its a conclusion arrived at by many atheists. Kierkegaard (i know he is a Christian) the father of existentialism said, “if there were no eternal consciousness in a man, if at the bottom of everything there were only a wild ferment, a power that twisting in dark passions produced everything great or inconsequential; if an unfathomable insatiable emptiness lay hid beneath everything, what would life be but despair”. The difference between Kierkegaard and the atheists that followed is that Kierkegaard believed that there was more to life while others disagreed.

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Zeb December 4, 2010 at 5:51 pm

woodchuck64
I like the term “center of narrative gravity,” and I look forward to reading the article you linked.

What do you mean though when you say “It’s there, it exists…” I realize you said that about a physical center of gravity, but then you said we can think of a self the same way. Where is it? In what sense does it exist? Unless narrative has an ontological status (which I think it does, but that’s a whole other conversation) on par with if not superior to physical reality, then narrative objects exist only within the narrative processing of brains. There may be a day when we can find a ‘Zeb’s self’ in your brain in the same way we can now find an image of an object you’re looking at in your brain. And we might likewise find a ‘Zeb’s self’ in my brain. These would be material configurations or processes embedded in larger brain processes called “narrating.” In that sense you could say “It’s there and it exists.” But ‘Zeb’s self’ would not be the thing that does what I do. On naturalism ‘persons’ only live in stories.

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JohnC December 4, 2010 at 5:59 pm

Heidegger and Camus would agree that life is meaningless, that is why they emphasize (like another existentialist, Sartre) that it is up to the individual to give their own life meaning. Heidegger is able free himself from the anxiety when he accepts the conclusion that he is a being unto death. Naturalist can conceive of meaning in their lives, but ultimately whatever “meaning” they perceive dies with them. What we are doing right now, in a purely naturalistic understanding, is a waist of our being-unto-death time we have. “idle talk”.

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Kyle Key December 4, 2010 at 6:13 pm

@Zeb:
“Yes, in theory Christianity has “extra bits” that naturalism doesn’t have, and I’m saying that if those bits exist, they provide an opportunity for meaning that would not be available if they don’t exist, as naturalism says they don’t.”
But you’re not saying “if those bits exist,” because you do think that they exist; in which case, do you care to share your discovery with the rest of us? Of course, I’m skeptical that these things (if I look into my crystal ball, I’m seeing “souls,” “contra-casual free will,” and “immaterial minds,” among the “extras”) have nothing going for them in terms of explanatory virtues, and are more of a way for one to think that the adverse conclusions they assume given naturalism simply disappear. I imagine two playmates in a make-believe battle, where one shoots a “missile” and the other invokes an “anti-missile shield”; neither could tell you in the slightest how their implements work or even if they make sense, but hey, it suits their purposes in the battle.

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Hermes December 4, 2010 at 6:21 pm

Zeb: That’s the whole point. Yes, in theory Christianity has “extra bits” that naturalism doesn’t have,

Have you heard the phrase “The map is not the territory.”?

and I’m saying that if those bits exist, they provide an opportunity for meaning that would not be available if they don’t exist, as naturalism says they don’t.

Have you heard the phrase “The map is not the territory.”? Just because you can lay out an argument or just make unsupported assertions or claims doesn’t make what you assert/claim or argue for automatically manifest in reality. You actually have to refer to something.

If isn’t is. An if is a speculation or an assertion unless unambiguously demonstrated.

Plus, the extra bits are currently undefined and thus meaningless in a conversation till actually identified in reality not just as a speculation or an assertion. Saying something is so simply isn’t good enough and opens you up to someone else doing the same and thus cutting off any meaningful conversation.

Well if it’s a fact, then it’s evidence against naturalism because naturalism does not fit with interpersonal relationships.

I’ve been waiting for either a retraction of these types of claims or a demonstration from you that it is indeed a fact and not an assertion alone.

If you see no reason to step up and demonstrate, then you are opening yourself up to allowing anyone else to do the same unilaterally towards any claim you make or they wish to make for themselves. Both of you would be equally justified; not at all.

Please let this sink in;

Forgotten were the elementary rules of logic,
that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and
that what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.

Source: http://www.slate.com/id/2090083

This applies to everyone.

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Patrick December 4, 2010 at 6:27 pm

JohnC- I don’t quite know which argument you’re defending.

1. Its unfair to pick on Craig when lots of other people, including atheists, say what Craig is saying. Under this argument you would be claiming that we are somehow being unfairly critical of Craig, as a person, and that our reason for being critical would, if taken seriously, requires us to be similarly critical of a lot of other people.

2. Its unfair to pick on Craig because he’s right.

Personally, I think Craig is right only in a trivial sense. If you define “meaning” or “purpose” to require a God, then an atheistic world view cannot provide meaning or purpose. The same game can be played with morality and a god, or even free will and substance dualism. I think that game is pretty trivial.

As for picking on Craig, I’m not a huge fan of generalized assertions that someone in a group is acting inappropriately without actually saying who and how. Its too easy to make a lot of hay out of nothing that way, and I’ve seen it happen too many times.

That being said, to pick on Craig a little bit, I DO think its worth remembering what’s really going on here. Atheists of a philosophical bent seem kind of hindered by their own training when dealing with people like Craig because they insist upon evaluating everything as if it were purely propositional content. That’s a false assumption. Just as Luke often criticizes atheist scientists for addressing only the science of religious apologetics and then thinking they’ve won even though they’ve failed to even recognize the philosophical aspects, I think philosophers fail in the same way when they fail to even recognize the rhetorical aspects of apologetics.

What Craig is actually doing is reinforcing a traditional mental barrier that keeps religious believers from straying from the flock. Religions teach their adherents that within the religion all value and purpose can be found, and that outside lies only nihilism or evil. This is a strong bond on a believer’s mind, and if you read through the stories of people who deconvert from religion, you can correlate by finding that huge numbers of them wrestled with the fear that if their religion turned out to be nonsense, there would be only a bleak, nihilistic wasteland waiting for them for the rest of their life. Go a few pages back in Luke’s blog and read the thread where people describe the major changes in their life. Working free of this particular mental bond features prominently.

Its classic suasion. The argument is not offered for its merits, but rather for the effect it has upon the mind of the believer, and anyone who refuses to address that aspect of the argument is going into the debate half blind.

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Zeb December 4, 2010 at 6:35 pm

Kyle

I said in my first post that I think some kind of transcendent personhood is required for life to have meaning. Maybe I should get into Kierkegaard. Right now I do believe in by-the-catechism Catholocism, and so I do believe in the transcendent personhood of man and God, and that life is meaningful. As I also said in my first post, I don’t think that having to embrace the meaninglessness and absurdity of life is a good reason to avoid naturalism. Did you ever see The Seventh Seal? If I could not be like Jof, I would gladly be like Jons.

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Hermes December 4, 2010 at 6:38 pm

JohnC: Thus the pointlessness of life without God is not a form of propaganda by Christians, its a conclusion arrived at by many atheists.

Thank you for the reply, John. I point back to something I wrote previously that was absurd but illustrative of what I’ve attempted to convey;

… are all theists required to follow all theist arguments and claims — say, those of a Hindu or of a Muslim or of a traditional spirit deity worshiper?

Completing that thought: the set of all atheists is as diverse if not more so than the set of all theists (regardless of religion if they have a religion at all).

Craig was in error when he attributed extra characteristics to atheists as a set. It may have been rhetorically satisfying and expedient, but it was not valid. He should have been specific about what set of atheists he was addressing or that he was discussing a subset if he wanted to make a valid point based on evidence and logic and not just a rhetorical one. Yet, that’s the point. He was only interested in the ends, not the means.

I try very hard not to put words into other people’s mouths or to attribute to them what they themselves do not say or express through other means. Sometimes I do when they won’t say what they mean, and I hope that they do indeed take offense and correct me — while being more forthright, less evasive, about what they as individuals think. This discipline can break many stereotypes and result in a better understanding of the issues, though it also makes conversations longer and most people aren’t very patient.

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Hermes December 4, 2010 at 6:42 pm

Patrick, excellent. As always, a joy to read. Thank you.

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JohnC December 4, 2010 at 8:43 pm

patrick:
“What Craig is actually doing is reinforcing a traditional mental barrier that keeps religious believers from straying from the flock.”

I am not attempting to make either of the arguments that you are confused on. I am not attempting to defend craig nor rebuttal him. The only thing i am attempting to do is make the point that his observation about the absurdity of life are not unique to him, or theism.

“I think it is important to point out that Craig is not the first person to argue about the absurdity of life without God. More importantly atheist need to remember their history of arguing the same thing”

The absurdity of life has been concluded and even embraced by many atheist (I agree that it is wrong to group all atheist in this category, and if i did so, i was mistaken to do so and apologize). But acknowledging that his argument is also made by atheist seems to indicate that he is not just “reinforcing a traditional mental barrier that keeps religious believers from straying from the flock” because there are atheist that agree with his conclusion. You make an excellent point, and i agree that people are not being unfairly critical to Craig, i’m only acknowledging that his conclusion is not only made by himself and have been made by prominent atheists philosophers (more prominent than Craig).

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Patrick December 4, 2010 at 9:49 pm

“But acknowledging that his argument is also made by atheist seems to indicate that he is not just “reinforcing a traditional mental barrier that keeps religious believers from straying from the flock” because there are atheist that agree with his conclusion.”

The only reason this quote isn’t false is the word “just.”

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Steven December 4, 2010 at 10:04 pm

I’m still confused as to how God provides any meaning. Would someone who espouses this view please explain what a disembodied mind that lies outside of human understanding has to do with giving meaning or purpose to our lives?

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Paul Pardi December 4, 2010 at 11:17 pm

I’m still confused as to how God provides any meaning. Would someone who espouses this view please explain what a disembodied mind that lies outside of human understanding has to do with giving meaning or purpose to our lives?  (Quote)

If God does exist (please note I’m using the conditional here) then it could make sense that humans mean something to God just as any object could mean something to any intentional agent. The keyboard on which I’m typing has meaning to me because I find it meaningful (it accomplishes some end or fulfills some desire or has some value I impose upon it or whatever).

But as I stated earlier in this thread, for this idea to be relevant to humans, it’s not really necessary that there actually be a God that views humans as meaningful. It’s only important that humans BELIEVE there is. If S believes that there is a God that views humans as meaningful, then S believes she is meaningful (ultimately, or transcendently or the whatever adjective one might which to apply here–it doesn’t much matter). Analogously, S might believe that the FSM exists and views her as meaningful. Thus S believes she is meaingingful to the FSM. There doesn’t actually need to be an existing FSM for this to work.

This is why (I think) modern atheists are focusing more on the rationality of belief rather than the existence of God. The latter is about the ontological status of God. The former is about the believers. If atheists can show that believers are not rational, unwarranted, flouting their epistemic duties, lying or whatever, then whether or not God exists is only tangentially important.

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Steven December 5, 2010 at 12:10 am

Paul, I understand what you said, but can’t that sort of meaningfulness also be attained through regular human interactions? If so, God doesn’t give your life any more meaning. If not, then what makes God so special?

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Paul Pardi December 5, 2010 at 12:43 am

Paul, I understand what you said, but can’t that sort of meaningfulness also be attained through regular human interactions? If so, God doesn’t give your life any more meaning. If not, then what makes God so special?  (Quote)

@Steven, yes, I think we certainly can and do find what Bill Provine called “proximate meaning” through a host of things: relationships, our work, the betterment of others, and the like. But our ability to recognize that we’re mortal also seems to involve a psychological need to have a transcendent meaning (some on this thread have used the term “ultimate” which I think captures the same thing). This has been documented throughout psychological history but I think Ernest Becker captured it best in his phenomenal book The Denial of Death (notably he deals with religion as an heuristic in the final chapter of the book which alone is worth the price of admission). Dennett also tries to tackle this problem in Breaking the Spell (see chapter 4 specifically).

We are driven to have our lives mean something beyond the measly 75 years (if we’re lucky) we have here on earth. The fact that everything we are striving to become will come to an irrevocably dead end some day is psychological impossible for us to handle. Wittgenstein said that death is not an event in life it is THE event in life. Russell Shorto in his excellent book Descartes Bones summed it up nicely, “Death is the event in life. It is our chief organizing principle. It’s why we rush and why we dawdle. Why we butter-up our bosses and fawn over our children. Why we like both fast cars and fading flowers. Why we write poetry. Why sex thrills us. It’s why we wonder why we are here.”

So while other proximate beings can certainly give us proximate meaning, a never-changing always present God who created and knows us more deeply than anyone and who finds us valuable and meaningful and will do so for eternity–even after we’re no longer around–is an idea that is extremely appealing to many of us. Dealing with mortality is necessary for all of us. If religion isn’t an option, something else will need to take it’s place. In my opinion, atheism will continue to struggle to go mainstream until it can find a suitable replacement.

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Steve M. December 5, 2010 at 1:48 am

“Atheists who are living happy, fulfilling, moral, and highly meaningful lives – atheists like Warren Buffet – will turn their heads and say, “Huh?”’

This merely demonstrates that you (and Warren Buffet) do not understand the concept. The absurdity of existence was not invented by Christian apologists. If you lack this experiential knowledge, your commentary is irrelevant, and everything you say upon the topic will be worthless, because you are feigning a resolution (indeed, I am not sure there is one) to a problem you are not properly familiar with. That it is possible to get through life without acquiring a raw understanding of this issue is hardly surprising, and most people seem to manage it–theist and atheist alike. It is not, however, a criticism; it is blind assertion. If one were to suggest that God does not exist, it would be senseless to respond with:

“Theists who have deep, meaningful relationships with God will turn their heads and say, “Huh?”

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Hermes December 5, 2010 at 3:34 am

Steve M.: “Theists who have deep, meaningful relationships with God will turn their heads and say, “Huh?”

Steve M., like any illusion put upon a person, your rephrasing is quite apt and can be found in advocates of intoxicants as well as other fantasies. In short: Why should someone who isn’t so enamored see it as a valid counter? The experiences are the same in dozens of categories, yet the evidence is just as thin as positive support. How to choose, and better, why is choosing any unevidenced claim — ones that cause harm in general or seem to be correlated with it — as opposed to requiring a reasonable level of support for one or the other first?

As such, your counter is not analogous; a slam against people who aren’t members of one group isn’t complete by saying that the group members themselves are happy. Worse, that they have no evidence for their fervent and heart filled beliefs doesn’t bolster their claims when the non-members can identify what it is that satisfies them and unambiguously demonstrate it.

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Chuck December 5, 2010 at 6:25 am

If atheists can show that believers are not rational, unwarranted, flouting their epistemic duties, lying or whatever, then whether or not God exists is only tangentially important.  

I think you show this by describing how god believers take their epistemic commitment and transfer it to ontological certainty. It is not a rational move and in those who have a philosophical eduction, it is dishonest.

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Luke Muehlhauser December 5, 2010 at 7:56 am

Steven,

Well put.

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woodchuck64 December 5, 2010 at 8:07 am

Zeb,

Where is [the self]? In what sense does it exist?

From an evolutionary perspective, a primitive sense of self is needed to separate the organism from the environment. However, the boundaries of that self are flexible and can be arbitrary; for example a hermit crab treats its shell as part of itself even though there are no nerve connections to it or biological relationship with it. Reducing self to the brain or somewhere in the brain has problems also: multiple personality disorders and fractional personality disorders (i.e. split brain) demonstrate the self isn’t found in one particular part of the brain. So in that sense the self defies location, expanding, shrinking or even dividing.

Dennett says that language and a narrative is the key to creating a full-fledged (human) self. “I think therefore I am” in it’s full potential was only realized when a proto-simian had a conversation with thin air and created an entity both communicating and listening, the self. Without language, the sense of self we experience is not possible.

So while a full-fledged self seems to be composed of elements that can exist in more primitive form (recognizing boundaries, recognizing sensations), only language and a rich narrative defines, creates and supports the human self.

Dennett characterizes his view as the middle ground of “Obviously yes!” and “Obviously no!” to the question “Do selves exist”. (From “The Reality of Selves”, in “Consciousness Explained”, 1991.)

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Reginald Selkirk December 5, 2010 at 8:28 am

JohnC: Also it seems Craig is attempting to use logic to defend his conclusions (even if you find his logic not convincing). Possibly Craig’s Christian beliefs are not grounded in a logical argument, I believe his topic about absurdity of life without God is though. Im not saying his argument is convincing (it doesn’t convince me).

Craig himself admits that it is an argument from consequence, and therefore not logically valid.

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woodchuck64 December 5, 2010 at 8:34 am

JohnC,

Heidegger and Camus would agree that life is meaningless, that is why they emphasize (like another existentialist, Sartre) that it is up to the individual to give their own life meaning.

I can not resolve a claim that life is meaningless yet meaning is possible. If meaning is possible, life is not meaningless. Only Craig is saying that meaning is impossible.

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woodchuck64 December 5, 2010 at 8:57 am

Paul Pardi,

Dealing with mortality is necessary for all of us. If religion isn’t an option, something else will need to take it’s place. In my opinion, atheism will continue to struggle to go mainstream until it can find a suitable replacement.

It’s working on it via cryonics. http://lesswrong.com/lw/wq/you_only_live_twice/

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Chuck December 5, 2010 at 9:01 am

@If religion isn’t an option, something else will need to take it’s place. In my opinion, atheism will continue to struggle to go mainstream until it can find a suitable replacement.  

What about secular humanism or Christian Atheism? Ethics can operate without intentional agency from a source of divine command.

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Paul Pardi December 5, 2010 at 10:26 am

What about secular humanism or Christian Atheism? Ethics can operate without intentional agency from a source of divine command.  (Quote)

Well, Al Gore may be on to something: http://www.philosophynews.com/post/2010/05/13/Hell-Fire-and-(Global)-Warming.aspx.

Actually, a non-theistic transcendent replacement to meet the need is just one option I suppose. Another is to refocus the need itself. While much of it anecdotal, there is some evidence that countries like Denmark and Sweden, while considered to be almost entirely secular, are among the happiest and socially well-adjusted countries in the world. There doesn’t appear to be a religious surrogate in place in these countries which may mean that the existential need has been redirected or satisfied by non-transcendent ideas.

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ayer December 5, 2010 at 10:29 am

Paul Pardi,
It’s working on it via cryonics.http://lesswrong.com/lw/wq/you_only_live_twice/  

That link is a profound (and somewhat sad) confirmation of Craig’s argument that the prospect of immortality is a necessary condition for true meaning in life.

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JohnC December 5, 2010 at 11:02 am

woodchuck64
Sartre argues, “Atheistic existentialism, which I represent is more coherent. It states that if God does not exist, there is at least one being in who existence precedes essence, a being who exists before he can be defined by any concept, and that this being is man, or, as Heidegger says, human reality. What is meant here by saying that existence precedes essence? It means that, first of all, man exists, turns up, appears on the scene, and, only afterwards, defines himself. If man, as the existentialist conceives him, is indefinable, it is because at first he is nothing. Only after ward will he be something, and he himself will have made what he will be. Thus, there is no human nature, since there is no God to conceive it… Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself” (Sartre, Existentialism and Human Emotions, 15)
For these atheist, man is not on earth for a purpose and there is no God that put them on earth for a purpose, “existence precedes essence”. What purpose man can have is what they themselves give it.
“Every existing thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness, and dies by chance”-sartre
“Life has no meaning the moment you loose the illusion of being eternal”- sartre

Craig remarks, “Sartre argued that one may create meaning for his life by freely choosing to follow a certain course of action” but Craig finds this to be an “exercise in self-delusion. For the universe does not really acquire meaning just because I happen to give it one” (reasonable faith 78,79).

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Bill Snedden December 5, 2010 at 11:48 am

@ayer:

That link is a profound (and somewhat sad) confirmation of Craig’s argument that the prospect ofimmortality is a necessary condition for true meaning in life.

No, in fact it’s not. That people seek to continue an existence they already find meaningful does not in any way necessitate that only continued existence renders anything meaningful. Your statement is a fallacious affirmation of the consequent.

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Patrick December 5, 2010 at 12:33 pm

I feel like some serious surgery needs to be done on this conversation to separate out all of the following claims.

1. If I don’t get to live forever, why not shoot myself in the head?
2. Life is pretty ridiculous.
3. Life is what we make of it.
4. Life is what we make of it, and THAT SUCKS.
5. Life is what we make of it… if we’re atheists. If we’re not, life is what God makes of it.
6. Subjective purpose isn’t worthwhile.
7. Subjective purpose IS worthwhile, but objective purpose is better.
8. The is/ought gap is a major problem, but God breaches it with MAGICAL POWERZ that I cannot explain.
9. The is/ought gap is a problem for atheists because they believe in it, but not for theists because they don’t. So theists have no problem finding purpose in the universe/life.
10. God provides purpose, but he does so in an explicable fashion.
11. It is simply God’s nature to provide purpose, and cannot be explained without reference to his nature.
12. God provides subjective purpose, but its God, so it doesn’t count as subjective.
13. Purpose in a theistic universe means the same thing as purpose in an atheistic universe.
14. Purpose in a theistic universe is fundamentally different from purpose in an atheistic universe.

There are probably more. Each of those has different implications for how you should respond. For example, if the speaker is arguing that atheists have to deal with the is/ought gap but theists don’t, then the speaker can’t well avail himself of arguments to the effect that mistaken purpose doesn’t count, because that argument instantly reverses itself on the theist unless the theist can convince the atheist to become a theist… at which point the argument is irrelevant.

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ayer December 5, 2010 at 12:53 pm

@ayer:
No, in fact it’s not.That people seek to continue an existence they already find meaningful does not in any way necessitate that only continued existence renders anything meaningful.Your statement is a fallacious affirmation of the consequent.  

It is not “only” immortality that is needed; as Craig notes (see the original post above), that is a necessary but not sufficient condition. It is immortality plus God that is required.

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Hermes December 5, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Well, since immortality isn’t possible than that ends that.

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Steven December 5, 2010 at 1:21 pm

@Steven, yes, I think we certainly can and do find what Bill Provine called “proximate meaning” through a host of things: relationships, our work, the betterment of others, and the like. But our ability to recognize that we’re mortal also seems to involve a psychological need to have a transcendent meaning (some on this thread have used the term “ultimate” which I think captures the same thing). This has been documented throughout psychological history but I think Ernest Becker captured it best in his phenomenal book The Denial of Death (notably he deals with religion as an heuristic in the final chapter of the book which alone is worth the price of admission). Dennett also tries to tackle this problem in Breaking the Spell (see chapter 4 specifically).
We are driven to have our lives mean something beyond the measly 75 years (if we’re lucky) we have here on earth. The fact that everything we are striving to become will come to an irrevocably dead end some day is psychological impossible for us to handle. Wittgenstein said that death is not an event in life it is THE event in life. Russell Shorto in his excellent book Descartes Bones summed it up nicely, “Death is the event in life. It is our chief organizing principle. It’s why we rush and why we dawdle. Why we butter-up our bosses and fawn over our children. Why we like both fast cars and fadingflowers. Why we write poetry. Why sex thrills us. It’s why we wonder why we are here.”So while other proximate beings can certainly give us proximate meaning, a never-changing always present God who created and knows us more deeply than anyone and who finds us valuable and meaningful and will do so for eternity–even after we’re no longer around–is an idea that is extremely appealing to many of us. Dealing with mortality is necessary for all of us. If religion isn’t an option, something else will need to take it’s place. In my opinion, atheism will continue to struggle to go mainstream until it can find a suitable replacement.  

I think this is an awful lot of assumptions. Just because some humans may psychologically feel a need for “transcendental” meaning doesn’t mean that this is true for everyone; when my father died, I actually took comfort in knowing his troubled life had come to an end, and that the meaning of his existence would only have meaning with his family–the only people he ever cared about. That’s just what he wanted.

Furthermore, I disagree strongly with Wittgenstein. If death is the event of life, is the last note played at an orchestra the event and sole purpose of music? Do we just go to hear music for the ending? Of course not. It’s silly to say that the end of something gives it its meaning.

You also say, “it’s psychologically fulfilling” but that in and out of itself means nothing; it tells us nothing of the truth nor does it even prove that God gives us any real meaning; at most, you say we believe that somehow this gives us more meaning. If it’s simply a matter of belief, then simply believing that regular human interactions give more meaning than anything else would mean that these relationships now have more meaning than anything else. Ultimately, it just seems a matter of taste, not truth. As someone pointed out, we don’t write poetry of have sex because it will meaning anything trillions of years later. Quite frankly, who cares?

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Steven December 5, 2010 at 1:23 pm

*We don’t write poetry OR have sex…

By the way, refer to the tale of Sisyphus to see that longevity has nothing to do with meaning.

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Kyle Key December 5, 2010 at 1:49 pm

@ayer:
And as already mentioned, it’s not even infinite existence and the existence of God that are required (required for what, again? You’ve yet to provide the slightest inkling of how a god would supply life with “ultimate meaning,” or what that meaning would be, or why anyone should care) but rather, simply the (likely delusional) belief in one’s infinite existence and belief in the existence of a god, on this view.
Contrarily, believing that Yahweh exists would entail far more existential despair than I currently have (which is none), since I’d know that I was created only to be a puppet for its vainglorious theatre.
How is it, do you think, that my life would have ultimate meaning, if I had knowledge that my “free will” were nothing more than Yahweh’s selfish desire to clap its hands and dance a bit when I worshiped it, or to throw a tantrum and toss me to the flames if I failed to do so? The loving relationship of a drunkard and his dog, who earns continued sustenance for doing silly parlour tricks, or receives a kick to the ribs when it’s confused or tired of the charade.

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ayer December 5, 2010 at 4:50 pm

I was created only to be a puppet for its vainglorious theatre.

Do (good) parents have children for that reason? That is the more appropriate analogy. Indeed, an omnibenelovent creator would be worth of love and admiration by definition. Of course, if Christianity is true, no one will be forced to do so.

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ayer December 5, 2010 at 4:52 pm

Well, since immortality isn’t possible than that ends that.  

It appears the cryonics afficionados don’t agree with you.

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Steven December 5, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Do (good) parents have children for that reason?That is the more appropriate analogy.Indeed, an omnibenelovent creator would be worth of love and admiration by definition.Of course, if Christianity is true, no one will be forced to do so.  

I’m sorry, but you keep on redefining things to suit your convenience. I see no reason why a benevolent creator is by definition worthy of love and admiration. All he is by definition is a kind creator.

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ayer December 5, 2010 at 5:46 pm

A creator whose nature is synonymous with “The Good” certainly would be. Now, you may not believe there is such a thing as “The Good,” but if there is it is certainly admirable. To assert otherwise is bizarre.

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JohnC December 5, 2010 at 5:47 pm

steven,
im troubled by your phrase “benevolent creator”…. If God is benevolent (good) you don’t think you would have admiration for a good God? What would keep you from having admiration for a benevolent God. If you did not believe God to be benevolent then possibly you could justify not having admiration for God. But if God is benevolent what is your objection to having admiration towards him… If he is a benevolent creator than he is a type of creator… There could be a benevolent creator, or an evil creator, or an indifferent creator, or possibly a creator that just contemplates about himself. I believe that these non-benevolent creators are not owed admiration, but if the creator is benevolent he does seem worthy of admiration.

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Steven December 5, 2010 at 6:05 pm

JohnC & ayer:

All that means is that humans have a natural propensity to admire what is good and benevolent. But benevolence is NOT defined as “something worth admiring”. You’re misinterpreting what I said; I was pointing out that just because something has attributes that we find admirable doesn’t mean that by definition such attributes are admirable.

On a side-note, how does God get meaning out of his existence?

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ayer December 5, 2010 at 6:19 pm

I was pointing out that just because something has attributes that we find admirable doesn’t mean that by definition such attributes are admirable.

IF there actually is an objective “Good” then it is by definition admirable (i.e., recognizable as superior to “less good” or “evil”) by any creature with cognitive access to that objective good (just like any creature with cognitive access to mathematical knowledge would simply “see” that 2 is greater than 1). IF there is no such standard by which value can be judged hierarchically, then you are right; but of course the theist DOES believe there is such a standard, and thus, on theism (at least on “perfect being” theism) God is by definition admirable.

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Steven December 5, 2010 at 6:30 pm

Uh, no. The number 2 is not more admirable then the number 1 by definition, simply because it’s value is greater than 1. That’s nonsense, and that’s pretty much what you’re saying right now. Just because something is “superior”, it doesn’t mean it is admirable. It’s also quite relative to what it is we’re comparing.

And, lastly, the standards are not inherent of theism. Nothing about God suggests an objective moral standards. Indeed, is God good because we define his nature as good (in which case, everything is subjective to whatever his nature happens to be) or because there is some individual standard that we can use to judge God’s actions and nature (which implies an objective moral system outside of God’s existence)? Notice too, that objective morals do not depend on God’s existence to be real; that’s what independent standards are–they don’t depend on some conscious entity’s existence to be real.

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Kyle Key December 5, 2010 at 6:37 pm

@ayer:
Finding something admirable in no way necessitates that one’s life has meaning, much less “ultimate meaning”; it’s entirely coherent for John Doe to affirm both propositions, “I find X worthy of the utmost admiration” and “I think my life is meaningless,” even supposing X is your god of choice. I seem to have missed the part of your response where you attempt to show how/why a god necessarily provides “ultimate meaning” for life, and why anyone would have to care about that. You made a slight attempt to show (by definition alone) that an omni-benevolent god related to a concept of “The Good” (stipulated by definition) desires admiration, but no attempt to show how that might relate to meaning.

On a less important note:
“Of course, if Christianity is true, no one will be forced to do so.”
I’ll ignore that there’s no singular “Christianity,” but in general, no, I disagree; a threat qualifies as coercion, so given the extortionate choice of “submit or face torture”–which additionally rests on a belief that can’t be chosen–everyone is forced. I can feel the love tonite.

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JohnC December 5, 2010 at 6:37 pm

“humans have a natural propensity to admire what is good and benevolent.”
Do you believe this to be incorrect? Are good things not worthy of admirations? What then is worthy of admiration (if anything)? Giving admiration to something that is worthy of admiration seems justifiable and coherent.

Im still confused why if you believed God to be benevolent you would not admire him?

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Steven December 5, 2010 at 6:41 pm

John, you’re completely missing the point. Simply because I have a propensity to admire such qualities does not mean that by definition they are admirable.

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Patrick December 5, 2010 at 6:43 pm

And the wonders of this sort of debate is that your question can be turned around, JohnC. Why are the traits Jesus preached- kindness, charity, etc, ultimately meaningless on their own merits if there’s no God?

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Hermes December 5, 2010 at 7:03 pm

Ayer: It appears the cryonics afficionados don’t agree with you.

But Craig does, correct? The whole ‘no such thing as an actual infinity’ claim? Can’t have immortality without infinity.

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JohnC December 5, 2010 at 7:50 pm

“John, you’re completely missing the point. Simply because I have a propensity to admire such qualities does not mean that by definition they are admirable.”

So why is it not justifiable to admire benevolence? That the argument I am curious to hear.
My point is that it seems correct to give admiration to benevolence. IF giving admiration for benevolence is justified (which i believe it is) and God is benevolent, then it is just to give a benevolent God admiration. So my question still is -> is it logical to admire benevolence? If it is logical to admire benevolence (whether or not its in its definition) then it seems logical to admire a benevolent God. I agree that just because people have a tendency to admire good doesn’t make it justified… but i believe that logically it is justified and we also happen to have a tendency to do so.

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ayer December 5, 2010 at 7:56 pm

it’s entirely coherent for John Doe to affirm both propositions, “I find X worthy of the utmost admiration” and “I think my life is meaningless,” even supposing X is your god of choice.

If John Doe was created by God, a being worthy of utmost admiration, for the purpose of an eternal relationship with that God based on love, and John Doe recognized that being as worth of such admiration and thus embraced that relationship, the purpose for which John Doe was created would be fulfilled–why would John Doe then find his life meaningless?

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ayer December 5, 2010 at 7:59 pm

so given the extortionate choice of “submit or face torture”–which additionally rests on a belief that can’t be chosen–everyone is forced.

But if hell is not a place of physical torture, but a place of eternal separation from God by those who reject God, how are they then forced into a heaven they find repulsive? Or alternatively, if those who reject God are simply annihilated out of existence (as some evangelical theologians believe is the case)–why not willingly choose that over entering a heaven they find repulsive?

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ayer December 5, 2010 at 8:02 pm

Why are the traits Jesus preached- kindness, charity, etc, ultimately meaningless on their own merits if there’s no God?

Because if there is no ontological grounding in God as the objective moral standard by which those traits are judged to be morally valuable, those traits are no different than a matter of subjective opinion among humans–and then by what standard are Jesus’ values to be judged superior to those of, say, Stalin?

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ayer December 5, 2010 at 8:05 pm

But Craig does, correct?The whole ‘no such thing as an actual infinity’ claim?Can’t have immortality without infinity.  

The human immortality envisioned by Craig does not involve an actual infinite, since each human life has a beginning point in the finite past–it only involves a potential infinite in the future.

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ayer December 5, 2010 at 8:16 pm

Just because something is “superior”, it doesn’t mean it is admirable. It’s also quite relative to what it is we’re comparing.

Yes, and when we are evaluating against a standard of objective moral value, the term “admirable” is completely apt.

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Steven December 5, 2010 at 8:19 pm

JohnC, you’re still missing the point. I hope you forgive what will be a rather crass reductio ad absurdum argument on my part, but I think it illustrates the point I am making:

If you find C-cup breasts to be good and sexually appealing, don’t you think you would have admiration for C-cup breasts? What would keep you from having admiration for a a pair of sexually attractive C-cup breasts? Surely, because you find C-cup breasts to be good and attractive, and there is nothing to stop you from admiring these type of breasts, they must be by definition admirable. In fact, IF there actually is an objective “Sexually attractive” then it is by definition admirable (i.e., recognizable as superior to “less sexually attractive” or a “turn off”) by any creature with cognitive access to that objective sexual attractiveness (just like any creature with cognitive access to mathematical knowledge would simply “see” that 2 is greater than 1).

I know. It’s rather crass, but it was just the first example that came to my mind. Oh my…

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Steven December 5, 2010 at 8:35 pm

But if hell is not a place of physical torture, but a place of eternal separation from God by those who reject God, how are they then forced into a heaven they find repulsive?Or alternatively, if those who reject God are simply annihilated out of existence (as some evangelical theologians believe is the case)–why not willingly choose that over entering a heaven they find repulsive?  

Annihilation doesn’t solve the Problem of Hell. We can merely reword the problem:

I don’t even understand how an honest, heart-felt belief can you send you to annahilation. Why would such a loving being destroy a being when it is well within that being’s power to transform this being so that it will want to live (out of its own free will) with God and get to experience ultimate, unwavering happiness? Or why God wouldn’t reason with this being so that it no longer wants to be destroyed and it sees the error of his or her ways? Or why would God create a being that will only be destroyed later on? Why let this being experience the horror of a consuming fire or obliteration, when it could have spared this being of such suffering?

Moreover, mere separation from God doesn’t work if we posit that God is omnipresent.

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ayer December 5, 2010 at 9:24 pm

I don’t even understand how an honest, heart-felt belief can you send you to annahilation. Why would such a loving being destroy a being when it is well within that being’s power to transform this being so that it will want to live (out of its own free will) with God and get to experience ultimate, unwavering happiness? Or why God wouldn’t reason with this being so that it no longer wants to be destroyed and it sees the error of his or her ways? Or why would God create a being that will only be destroyed later on? Why let this being experience the horror of a consuming fire or obliteration, when it could have spared this being of such suffering?

So now the complaint is that God does not somehow “transform” the person who freely rejected him (since being in God’s repulsive presence is equivalent to being forced to do “silly parlor tricks”) into a being that “wants” to instead worship that God forever? Surely respecting that person’s free choice and allowing that person to go out of existence would be the right thing to do (surely ceasing to exist is preferable to doing “silly parlor tricks” forever for a God you are repulsed by?). It looks like on your view God gets condemned no matter what he does. Oh well.

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Kyle Key December 5, 2010 at 9:31 pm

“If John Doe was created by God, a being worthy of utmost admiration, for the purpose of an eternal relationship with that God based on love, and John Doe recognized that being as worth of such admiration and thus embraced that relationship, the purpose for which John Doe was created would be fulfilled–why would John Doe then find his life meaningless?”

For any number of reasons, since one provides one’s own meaning. Perhaps John, despite believing that there’s a god, simply feels no inclination toward it. Perhaps he wants his own purpose and not one that he’s “supposed” to have; God’s purpose in creating someone needn’t be the purpose that they give themselves, and “purpose” needn’t have anything to do with the “meaning” of one’s life. If we successfully develop a strong A.I., and I watch my friend tell her new android that it was purposefully created to clean the toilets, I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if that android were to reply, “So? That’s your purpose for me. But I see myself like this: …blah blah blah…”

Here’s your non sequitur: “John Doe recognized that being as worth of such admiration and thus embraced that relationship.” A relationship (is this where you’re trying to smuggle in “ultimate meaning”?) doesn’t necessarily follow admiration, even if one thinks that to be what the source of one’s admiration wants, and neither does meaning. I may admire Rosa Parks, but that doesn’t mean that I had any desire to have any sort of relationship with her, nor does it mean that she factors into the significance that I assign to my life. And that’s including the bonus points she gains from the fact that, unlike a god, I have plenty of reasons to believe that Rosa Parks existed.

But honestly, I’m tired of trying to coax you into actually stating your position, so count me out for now. I’ve asked multiple times, and I’ve seen no progress. It seems you can’t help but speak in terms of admiration and relationships, so perhaps they have some critical role, but you’ve yet to elucidate what that role may be. Here it is, again, in simplest terms: God. Ultimate Meaning. How? Why? And why should one care?

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Kyle Key December 5, 2010 at 9:33 pm

@ayer:
And you must be confusing Steven with myself, since you used quotes from me in reply to him. I doubt he shares my exact thoughts.

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ayer December 5, 2010 at 9:37 pm

I know. It’s rather crass, but it was just the first example that came to my mind. Oh my…

So in your view, preferring “benevolence” to “evil” is equivalent to preferring a “C-cup” to a “B-cup”? Interesting.

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Kyle Key December 5, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Apologies for the three posts…I meant to say “target” instead of “source.” “…even if one thinks that to be what the target of one’s admiration wants…”

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ayer December 5, 2010 at 9:39 pm

@ayer:
And you must be confusing Steven with myself, since you used quotes from me in reply to him. I doubt he shares my exact thoughts.  

You’re right; I think it’s time to call it a day ;)

Don’t we make so much progress and reach so much consensus in these blog debates? Oh well, at least they’re intellectually stimulating :)

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ayer December 5, 2010 at 9:48 pm

God’s purpose in creating someone needn’t be the purpose that they give themselves, and “purpose” needn’t have anything to do with the “meaning” of one’s life.

No, but that would be the only purpose they would find truly fulfilling, since they were created with that purpose in mind and not their “self-created purpose.” If they choose of their own free will to reject that purpose, then there is another option (see my exchange with Steven)

I may admire Rosa Parks, but that doesn’t mean that I had any desire to have any sort of relationship with her, nor does it mean that she factors into the significance that I assign to my life. And that’s including the bonus points she gains from the fact that, unlike a god, I have plenty of reasons to believe that Rosa Parks existed.

Is Rosa Parks an omnibenevolent being who created you with the purpose of relationship with her? No? Then the analogy fails.

Truly calling it a day now. ;)

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Steven December 5, 2010 at 9:56 pm

So now the complaint is that God does not somehow “transform” the person who freely rejected him (since being in God’s repulsive presence is equivalent to being forced to do “silly parlor tricks”) into a being that “wants” to instead worship that God forever?Surely respecting that person’s free choice and allowing that person to go out of existence would be the right thing to do (surely ceasing to exist is preferable to doing “silly parlor tricks” forever for a God you are repulsed by?).It looks like on your view God gets condemned no matter what he does.Oh well.  

Why would God favor destroying someone when he can save them? Why would he favor destroying them when he can provide such a logically convincing argument (this is, after all, an omnipotent God) that the person about to be condemned sees the error of his ways? Besides, what makes free will so valuable? Right, your ability to supposedly achieve “morally significant good”, but by destroying this person, you are taking away this ability to ever choose “morally significant good” ever again; this, I think, presents an interesting case for why free will doesn’t matter when a person faces obliteration.

And, since we’re on the topic, here’s an interesting thought experiment (and please bear with me, although at the start it begins like the Euthyphro Dilemma, I will focus on something different. This is what I call the Morality Dilemma):

Is something bad because it is bad or because God declares it to be bad? One of the possible solutions is to say that God’s nature is necessarily good, and, therefore, God can never command any evil. Now, this brings about an interesting complication to Free Will Theodicy. If good can be achieved by making a being’s “nature” good, then why didn’t God create humans to be “naturally” good in a way that they would never choose evil, just like God? Indeed, if we posit that God is the ultimate being, and goodness is one of the aspects that defines his being, then he could only act in a way to maximize goodness; and if God can achieve the greatest possible good without ever being tempted into choosing evil, then, logically, God would create beings just like him, or else he wouldn’t be creating things with the greatest possible good.

On the other hand, if the incompatiblist view of Free Will theodicy is correct, then maximum good can only be achieved through a God tempted by evil, in which case, either the “God’s nature is good” argument invalid, or it appears that humans are capable of a greater good than God. The former leaves you vulnerable to the Euthyphro Dilemma and the second major horn of the Morality Dilemma (which I shall not discuss here) whereas the latter invalidates your conception of God as the ultimate being, since humans would be capable of greater good than God. Interestingly enough, Free Will theodicy also runs counter to the teachings of the Bible, were God willingly interferes in human events to wipe out evil (the story of Noah’s Ark, God’s commands for Israel to commit Genocide to eliminate the evils of child sacrifices), etc., so I REALLY wouldn’t recommend a Christian using Free Will Theodicy.

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King David December 5, 2010 at 11:02 pm

Changing one’s desires would not interfere with one’s free will, since even on a libertarian account of free will, one does not choose one’s desires, only how one acts on them. So, yes, God could make people “want” to obey Him instead of damning/destroying them and it would not interefere with their free will. Unless you think people are responsible for creating their desires ex nihilo. That requires a blank slate theory of human nature, which is bizarre.

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Hermes December 6, 2010 at 5:22 am

Ayer: The human immortality envisioned by Craig does not involve an actual infinite, since each human life has a beginning point in the finite past–it only involves a potential infinite in the future.

Good point. Too bad — or too good — that infinity will be quite devoid of humans, regardless of what it’s called.^ Additionally, I wonder when that eternal afterlife realm — this Heaven and Hell place — was made? In the beginning they were just there — uncreated? Later created, like a strip mall? So many ways to roll a myth. When was the eternal maker formed or woken up? Why is it still asleep? Wakey! Wakey! The Hindus have an answer, what’s Craig’s? Zzzzz…

^ Normal link (forums are down for maintenance today).

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Bill Snedden December 6, 2010 at 7:00 am

@ayer:

It is not “only” immortality that is needed; as Craig notes (see the original post above), that is a necessarybut not sufficient condition.It is immortality plus God that is required.

Irrelevant; it’s still rubbish. The fact that people seek to prolong that which they find valuable is simply not evidence that the value comes from the prolongation itself. That’s fallacious reasoning.

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ayer December 6, 2010 at 7:57 am

Why would he favor destroying them when he can provide such a logically convincing argument (this is, after all, an omnipotent God) that the person about to be condemned sees the error of his ways?

You’re not taking into account the possibility that someone could see the logical error of their ways but have other reasons for rejecting God (e.g., as Hitchens argues in his debates–he would reject in principle a divine creator even if he were proven wrong in the afterlife). After all, our discussion is premised on the assumption that the rejecter of God sees that the Christian is right about the existence and nature of God but still chooses to reject him. I guess, as under your scenario, God could put atheists in a room and berate them with logical arguments for eternity–I suspect that would be an interesting twist on “hell” for those atheists; to me, annihilation seems more humane, but to each his own.

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ayer December 6, 2010 at 8:05 am

If good can be achieved by making a being’s “nature” good, then why didn’t God create humans to be “naturally” good in a way that they would never choose evil, just like God?

I would say because God’s nature is The Good by the necessity of his existence, and God could not create another necessary being; for a contingent being, on the other hand, good is maximized by being freely chosen, since for a contingent being, freely chosen good is greater than determined “good”

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ayer December 6, 2010 at 8:35 am

so I REALLY wouldn’t recommend a Christian using Free Will Theodicy. 

I’m not sure what horrible effects you have in mind for Christians using the Free Will Theodicy, but Craig has been using it for years in his debates with atheists and has overwhelmingly prevailed in them (even in the opinion of many atheists), so it seems to be a theodicy that is working quite well in the marketplace of ideas

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JohnC December 6, 2010 at 11:46 am

The strongest arguments against the Free Will Theodicy come from those with a compatiblist view of free will and Plantinga has considered them improbable… Plantinga’s free will theodicy may not be perfect (some debate about how well it can explain natural evils), but it has been accepted by most philosophers, and probably is exempt from the “REALLY wouldn’t recommend” category of arguments made by Christians.

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Chuck December 6, 2010 at 12:11 pm

The strongest arguments against the Free Will Theodicy come from those with a compatiblist view of free will and Plantinga has considered them improbable…Plantinga’s free will theodicy may not be perfect (some debate about how well it can explain natural evils), but it has been accepted by most philosophers, and probably is exempt from the “REALLY wouldn’t recommend” category of arguments made by Christians.  

I thought Plantinga’s Free Will Defense simply showed that it isn’t illogical to believe in God but it isn’t a defense against the Evidential Argument from Evil nor is it confirmation that God actually exists. Am I wrong on this?

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JohnC December 6, 2010 at 12:37 pm

I thought Plantinga’s Free Will Defense simply showed that it isn’t illogical to believe in God but it isn’t a defense against the Evidential Argument from Evil nor is it confirmation that God actually exists. Am I wrong on this?

“The Free Will Defense can be looked upon as an effort to show that there may be a very different kind of good that God can’t bring about without permitting evil. These are good state of affairs that don’t include evil; they do not entail the existence of any evil whatever; nonetheless God Himself cant’t bring them about without permitting evil” (God, Freedom, and Evil, by Alvin Plantinga, 29) His argument is laid out completely on page 54 but i did not feel like typing the whole thing. You may be mistaking his Free Will Defense in God, Freedom, and Evil with his other book God and Other Minds. or we are both misunderstanding each other lol.

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Tony Hoffman December 6, 2010 at 6:12 pm

Because if there is no ontological grounding in God as the objective moral standard by which those traits are judged to be morally valuable, those traits are no different than a matter of subjective opinion among humans–and then by what standard are Jesus’ values to be judged superior to those of, say, Stalin?  

Really? You can’t think of any other possible standard for judging moral value? Your first time to this blog, Ayer?

I’d ask if all we have is only God, what objective standard do we have to ascertain that God’s nature is good? It seems like all we’re offered is a bunch of guys telling us to take their word for it.

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Steven December 6, 2010 at 6:40 pm

You’re not taking into account the possibility that someone could see the logical error of their ways but have other reasonsfor rejecting God (e.g., as Hitchens argues in his debates–he would reject in principle a divine creator even if he were proven wrong in the afterlife).After all, our discussion is premised on the assumption that the rejecter of God sees that the Christian is right about the existence and nature of God but still chooses to reject him.I guess, as under your scenario, God could put atheists in a room and berate them with logical arguments for eternity–I suspect that would be an interesting twist on “hell” for those atheists; to me, annihilation seems more humane, but to each his own.  

Sounds to me that this person is irrational and deluded; how can their free will be of any importance or value in such a case? The only reason Free Will Theodicy works is because we have rational people given the option to choose their path; if we’re all madmen incapable of having a coherent view of the world, then I don’t think “free will” matters at all, since it isn’t rational. You also assume that, according to Annahilationism, the person about to be annihilated has an option to change last second–needless to say, this isn’t anywhere in the Bible. And no, under my scenario, the argument would be instantly convincing. After all, being persuaded by a strong, irrefutable argument is hardly a violation of free will. By the way, if we’re judging what happens after death on the basis of what is humane (which is what Annahilationism is based on–applying human views on what is moral and what isn’t to God’s punishment), then I’d say Purgatory is much more humane.

As to your second comment: First off, how do we know that God is the “Good”? What standards do we have to determine that God is good (you’ve dodged this question long enough, I’d appreciate it if you answered it)? Or is God merely “good” because he’s God? But if that’s so, your argument is circular. God by necessity isn’t good, it’s just that whatever God happens to be is called good. Or maybe it’s tautological. Sorry, I’m just a bit lost as to what it is you were saying, but it seems fallacious nonetheless. At any rate, if either of these two are correct, then God isn’t by the necessity of his existence “good” as you claim, and my argument is still valid.

I also note that you say that God couldn’t create another necessary being. What I find interesting about this argument is that now, God is bound by logic. That is, God can’t do anything outside of logical boundaries and I wonder how this affects the Theistic view. On the other hand, if God can defy logic, then God could create other necessary beings ;)

As for your last post, I pointed out that God interferes to stop evil, and therefore, Free Will Theodicy is invalid with Christian Theology. It doesn’t really matter if Craig has been successful with it or not, what matters is that the two are problematic. In fact, I’m dismissing that post as a cheap Argument from Authority.

@ JohnC:

Correct, but A). you’d have to show that compatibilism is self-refuting, not just say “Well, Plantinga doesn’t like it” and B). as KingDavid pointed out, changing a desire doesn’t violate free will, so my point still stands (and so does the one about God’s “convincing, life-altering argument”). And the reason why I don’t recommend that Christians use Free Will Theodicy is because the Biblical God doesn’t care about free will; he is willing to kill humans because of their evil (Noah’s Ark, when he orders that the Amelikites (sorry, misspelled, I know) to be murdered, etc.) and to interfere in human affairs for the good and bad. All of this goes against Free Will Theodicy.

BTW, did you understand my prior point that “Something that I find admirable=/=by definition admirable”?

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ayer December 7, 2010 at 12:46 am

Sounds to me that this person is irrational and deluded

So Hitchens is “a madman” when he says he would reject the Christian God on principle even if it turns out Christianity is true? He would be surprised to hear that. It is true that, e.g., in the criminal justice system we don’t hold people responsible who are “not guilty by reason of insanity” but we do hold the vast majority responsible who reject the legal path and know quite well what they are doing. That analogy seems apt here.

By the way, if we’re judging what happens after death on the basis of what is humane (which is what Annahilationism is based on–applying human views on what is moral and what isn’t to God’s punishment), then I’d say Purgatory is much more humane.

Purgatory applies to those who have accepted God but are not fully sanctified and thus not ready to enter heaven in its fullness, not to those who have rejected God; they do not enter Purgatory. Are you really familiar with that Catholic doctrine?

First off, how do we know that God is the “Good”?

Because God, as the greatest conceivable being, has by the necessity of his own nature all great-making properties, i.e., Omnipotence, Omniscience, Omnibenevolence–oh wait, I forgot that you view the preference of “benevolence” over “evil” be equivalent to preferring a “C-cup” to a “B-cup.”

What I find interesting about this argument is that now, God is bound by logic.

Uh, that is the classic view; just how familiar are you with the Christian doctrine of God?

As for your last post, I pointed out that God interferes to stop evil, and therefore, Free Will Theodicy is invalid with Christian Theology. It doesn’t really matter if Craig has been successful with it or not, what matters is that the two are problematic. In fact, I’m dismissing that post as a cheap Argument from Authority.

We’re talking about the individual’s freedom to accept or reject God and therefore choose his eternal destiny; the Bible says nothing about the eternal destiny of those killed in Noah’s flood. The reason Craig has been successful with the argument it actually is not problematic as you say. Of course, if it is, then the next atheist who debates him will have a devastating reposte. I look forward to see if that happens.

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Hermes December 7, 2010 at 6:48 am

Ayer, you know why Hitchens would reject such a being if it were shown to actually exist. Your criticisms of Steven’s points don’t overlap what Hitchens would say.

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Steven December 7, 2010 at 6:22 pm

@ Ayer:

Each number corresponds with each paragraph you wrote:

1. Not if God’s argument showed that Hitchen’s principles are wrong. Again, this wouldn’t be out of the power of an omnipotent God.
2. Only vaguely, but I have heard that it can also be based by “your heart” and we could just say that God can send people who, out of evil reject God, to purgatory to have them cleansed or whatnot.
3. No, I was showing that you can’t say that because something is preferable, it must be by definition “admirable” as you claimed. I never said whether or not “benevolence” was more preferable than “evil”. That said, how do we know what is the greatest thing? Do we have some outside standard to determine that God’s nature is good, or do we simply define whatever God happens to be as the greatest possible thing? You’re not answering the question.
4. I’m very familiar with Christian doctrine; however, I have seen plenty of Christians throw out the “Well, God is above logic!” or “God defies human comprehension” argument whenever one of their points was shown wrong.
5. Now I’m the one who has to ask, how familiar are you with the current developments with Free Will Theodicy? In trying to argue for the Problem of Evil, you have to show more than just “We can choose to accept or reject God” and that’s what I was noting; furthermore, because God is willingly to override free will (uh…he killed the humans in Noah’s Ark because they rejected his commends), Free Will theodicy doesn’t work for Christianity. I would think this isn’t a terribly hard concept to understand.

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ayer December 7, 2010 at 8:10 pm

Ok, I will read up on the free will theodicy literature and you can read up on purgatory. All in all, a stimulating discussion. Peace.

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Pedro Amaral Couto December 12, 2010 at 5:11 am
Luke Muehlhauser December 12, 2010 at 6:56 am

“How the hell do I know why there were Nazis? I don’t know how the can opener works!”

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manicstreetpreacher December 12, 2010 at 8:59 am

Almost forgot to share Hitch’s take on this very pertinent topic:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YU3mEOw1gRQ

:-)

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Jack August 11, 2011 at 1:50 am

Most of the people writing in this blog are (clearly) atheists. And they speak of Craig with such confidence that you’d think they have very carefully read his works and really considered his arguments and found them wanting.

Yet what you find in reading these comments (I don’t mean to lack in respect to any one; if I do it’s unintentional and I apologize) is that the many of them seem to:
- Not to have even read Craig at all (like “antybu82” who says that only latter Craig adds the word “ultimate”, when in fact Craig has used it from the very beginning in chapter 2 of the book Reasonable Faith, or “Paul Pardi” who thinks that Craig argues for meaning in life to be found in belief in God, not in God himself, which Craig has clearly distinguished etc)
- Have misunderstood him (like “Paul Pardi” that says that Craig is implicitly arguing that since it is intolerable that God doesn’t exist then he must exist, when in reality all Craig never uses this as an argument for God’s existence but explicitly intends with this article is to weak us up to understand that these questions are of an extreme importance and need to be dealt with very seriously, or “rvkevin” who asks what’s wrong about caring about the present, as if Craig ever disputed that, or “Hermes” who argues that because an infinite number of things cannot exist in reality then afterlife is not possible, when Craig has amply talked about the difference btw actual and potential infinite, or “Reginald Serkik” who thinks that the purpose of the article is to make the atheist unhappy, whereas in reality it’s explicit purpose is to help the atheist see the logical implication of his philosophy etc)
- Actually agree with his points and yet talked as if these somehow undermined his position (like “Mike N” who admits that life is actually without meaning in atheism, or like “Legion” who admits that in atheism there are no objective moral values, or like “Steven” who admits that life is meaningless and argues that just because something is eternal doesn’t acquire objective meaning , all things which Craig has said earlier)
- Have poor knowledge of theology in general (like “Joseph” who says that worshiping God in heaven for eternity is a terrible perspective, or “Adito” who asks what good is to worship God and enoy Him forever, even if God existed, or “Como” who argues that God’s also existence is without purpose or meaning, or “Kyle Kye” who asks says that our free will is nothing more than the consequence of the wishes of a capricious deity, something like the relationship btw a drunkard and his dog or a puppet, or “Steven” who asks why should God annihilate those who reject him instead of transforming them as if it’s God’s choice that they refuse Him, or who is shocked to learn that God is bound by logic and cannot create another necessary being).
- Et cetera

So instead of giving simplistic answers or comments, I’d advice (to many in this blog, though not everybody) to first actually read what he has to say (and learn some general theology), try the best to charitably understand and interpret it and only after try to write a thoughtful, respectful response.

Three links:
http://www.bethinking.org/pdf.php?ID=129 (contains “The Absurdity of Life without God”; chapter 2 of Reasonable Faith, second edition: in the third edition of the book he expands a little more, but overall this is complete)
http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=8392 (an answer to some objections raised against this article)
http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/PageServer (his web site, in which you can get to know him better)

Better still is to acquire any of his books: “Reasonable faith” – his signature book, “Philosophical Foundation for a Christian Worldview” – with J.P.Moreland, “The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology” -editor.

I think he is a fine scholar and thinker, worth the time spent reading / listening (even though one may disagree with him).

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Jack August 11, 2011 at 1:51 am

Finally when I find people “writing off” Craig as irrational, insincere, a dirty liar, childish, a weak scholar, prideful, phony, intolerable, smug, arrogant, irritating, a prick, one who considers slavery a virtue etc (all adjectives I’ve seen used in the comments in this blog), I would point out that Craig has shown that these conclusions are not simply his ideas, but that they are also the ideas of great atheists (like Nietzsche, Camus, Sartre etc) and of great theists (like Pascal, Dostoevskij, Kierkegaard, Schaeffer etc) alike.

Are these people also irrational, insincere, liars or any of the other adjectives I saw being used for Craig? If not, then why criticize Craig for arriving at similar conclusions? If yes, then the person doing this evaluation needs to give us reasons why he thinks his ideas are better than those of these great men (at least these men, including Craig, who is de facto a fine scholar, have written works that have shaped the ideas of millions, and have earned the respect of even their “enemies”. In contrast, what have these “moral judges” of them in this blog done to appoint themselves that throne of judgment?)

One may of course respectfully disagree with Craig (as with any of the great thinkers I mentioned earlier).
But to call him names is simply foolish (don’t mean this in a disrespectful way, just in a literal way), and says more on the person who does so than on Craig himself.
He is as a fact a great philosopher and theologian who deserves respect even if you don’t agree with him.

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Tony Hoffman August 11, 2011 at 6:31 am

Jack,

If you’re looking for an engaged criticism of Craig’s work, I highly recommend:

http://realevang.wordpress.com/

Deacon Duncan has written many commentaries on Craig’s work, and I find his writing to be some of the best on the web. I am truly in awe of his ability to cut to the heart of a matter in a few paragraphs, and to cogently examine a variety of Craig’s arguments.

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