How God Gives Life Meaning, Value, and Purpose

by Luke Muehlhauser on December 6, 2010 in General Atheism,William Lane Craig

Last time, we examined William Lane Craig’s assertions about the absurdity of life without God. They are:

  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.

Now, let’s see how he argues that the existence of God can solve these worries.

Meaning

As for meaning, Craig seems to think that life can only have “objective meaning” if it is meaning imposed on life from the outside. He writes:

…without God, life has no meaning. Yet philosophers continue to live as though life does have meaning. For example, Sartre argued that one may create meaning for his life by freely choosing to follow a certain course of action…

[But] Sartre’s program is actually an exercise in self-delusion. For the universe does not really acquire meaning just because I happen to give it one. This is easy to see: for suppose I give the universe one meaning, and you give it another. Who is right? The answer, of course, is neither one. For the universe without God remains objectively meaningless, no matter how we regard it. Sartre is really saying, “Let’s pretend the universe has meaning.” And this is just fooling ourselves.

So life can only be objectively meaningful if meaning is imposed on it from the outside, and God is needed to impose meaning on it from the outside.

Value

Craig’s passage on value does not explain how the existence of God can provide the world with objective value, but instead compares the atheistic life to Auschwitz and so on. Luckily, Craig has written on this topic at great length elsewhere. The idea is much the same as the above: Life cannot provide its own value, and must have values imposed on it from the outside, and God is needed to impose value on it from the outside.

Purpose

As you might have predicted, Craig says that life cannot provide its own purposes, but must have purposes imposed on it from the outside, and God is needed to impose those purposes on it from the outside.

Craig sums up:

But if atheism fails [to provide life with meaning, value, and purpose], what about biblical Christianity? According to the Christian worldview, God does exist, and man’s life does not end at the grave. In the resurrection body man may enjoy eternal life and fellowship with God. Biblical Christianity therefore provides the two conditions necessary for a meaningful, valuable, and purposeful life for man: God and immortality. Because of this, we can live consistently and happily.

Does Craig’s case for the absurdity of life without God work? Stay tuned.

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{ 81 comments… read them below or add one }

Como December 6, 2010 at 4:47 am

I would have liked to see more justification by Craig that a god’s existance would make the universe ultimately meaningful. In Reasonable Faith he goes on for pages and pages stating over and over again that the universe and life are ultimately pointless, purposeless and meaningless. Then he makes his claim that a god would change everything in that short little five sentence paragraph that you quoted at the end of your post. He gives no explanation or justification for his claims.

This reminds me of his debate on Intelligent Design (Ayala?). He spent almost all of his time trying to poke holes in the theory of evolution and almost none providing evidence for his theory or explaining how it was supposed to work.

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Joseph December 6, 2010 at 5:10 am

Suppose there is a God, and suppose that God gives meaning to life. But what is that meaning? Craig skates around that issue but never tells us what that meaning is. So we have God, we have meaning for our existence, but no one knows what that meaning is. The whole thing seems to be an exercise in futility.

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Chris December 6, 2010 at 5:30 am

Why does he say “Biblical” Christianity? Is that code for fundamentalism?

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kaka December 6, 2010 at 5:33 am

hey luke i’m reading this book too :)

“Purpose

As you might have predicted, Craig says that life cannot provide its own purposes, but must have purposes imposed on it from the outside, and God is needed to impose those purposes on it from the outside.”

yep that’s pretty much it, although i would add the word ‘objective’. craig is really arguing that life cannot provide its own objective value. god, being a transcendent objective viewpoint, provides it.

the counter-argument (which you might cover later), is to say belief in god is itself subjective so any purpose flowing from god is also subjective.

i’m looking forward to your analysis!

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J. Quinton December 6, 2010 at 5:43 am

“Sartre is really saying, “Let’s pretend the universe has meaning.” And this is just fooling ourselves.”

I’d like to know how this argument doesn’t equally apply to the existence of god: “Let’s pretend that god exists so that the universe has meaning”

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Garren December 6, 2010 at 5:59 am

When I read this part of Reasonable Faith, I had the suspicion that Craig was saying something correct — that value must be imposed by a conscious valuer — while noting that our universe didn’t always and won’t always contain conscious valuers. It’s as if he’s rejecting intrinsic value, but still insisting value act as if it were a constant. An always-existent, constant-valuing being would fit this particular requirement.

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Reginald Selkirk December 6, 2010 at 6:21 am

Chris: Why does he say “Biblical” Christianity?

That’s his way of saying that killing tens of thousands of people from other tribes, including their women, children and fetuses, and even their livestock, is a valid attempt to fulfill God’s purpose. I.e. it couple purpose with morality.

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exapologist December 6, 2010 at 6:28 am

Poor ol’ God. No one around to impose meaning on his life from the outside…. (wink)

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Mazen Abdallah December 6, 2010 at 6:36 am

Meh.
Same problem as with morals. Saying ‘God gives objective morals’ is horseshit because God gives his idea of morals, which is subjective.Any meaning God gives us is his own. Additionally if we exist because a higher being named God made us we intrinsically lack meaning, because we’re just his creations, set about in his plan. With no ability to really affect anything in the universe or existence (because we’re a lower class of being ) we don’t seem to matter a shit of a lot. Overall,we don’t even know if God’s meaning is even a useful one. We exist on earth, he tests our behavior and then we play a harp in heaven or whatever. Still no meaning. Are we meaningful because God makes it so? That’s an absurd resolution to a profound question. Real big man taking shots at Sartre when he has such a

Also finally, maybe there is no purpose or meaning. Doesn’t mean God exists because you have just enough consciousness to realize you may not matter and it pisses you off.

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Patrick December 6, 2010 at 7:55 am

I’m still not getting this. Have you quoted the relevant sections?

1. What is meaning?
2. What is ultimate meaning?
3. If the problem is that human meaning is subjective, why is God’s meaning not subjective, except for the fact that theologians say so?
4. Why is objective meaning valuable?
5. Why is subjective meaning insufficiently valuable?

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Zeb December 6, 2010 at 8:31 am

Does anyone know what Craig, other philosophers, or people in general mean when they talk about life being “meaningful” or the universe having “meaning”?

They way I take it, since I don’t know of a clear consensus definition, is that life or the universe could have “meaning” only in the same sense that any other intentional expression can. It must refer to or represent some other thing. In that sense it seems to me that something like God would be necessary for the universe to have meaning. A person’s actions could have meaning in this sense (if reductive elimination doesn’t undermine personhood), but it’s usually a small part one’s life that is determined by one’s choices, so it would be a small portion of life that is available to be imbued with meaning.

But if the word “meaning” when we’re talking about “the meaning of life” is just a catch-all for value, importance, purpose, anything that would prevent one form being a nihilist, then I don’t think God is necessary for a person to have all that (again, if ‘persons’ exist as such). There would be no constant, enduring, universal value, importance, or purpose for a person to align with, but a person could still honestly and justifiably say, “X is valuable to me, X is important to me, and X is my purpose.” That doesn’t seem any less real than a person saying, “I value what is valuable to God, what’s important to me is what is important to God, and my purpose is to serve God’s purpose.”

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Joseph December 6, 2010 at 8:48 am

Suppose there is a God, and suppose that God gives meaning to life. But what is that meaning? Craig skates around that issue but never tells us what that meaning is. So we have God, we have meaning for our existence, but no one knows what that meaning is. The whole thing seems to be an exercise in futility.  (Quote)

I’m still wating for anyone to tell me what meaning life is supposed to have. Come on all of you theists, any clue?

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Reginald Selkirk December 6, 2010 at 8:50 am

42

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Scott December 6, 2010 at 9:24 am

WLC keeps saying that without god, life is meaningless. When does he ever establish that life has a meaning? It seems like he’s just appealing to the fact that we don’t really like the idea of a meaningless universe and building a case for god from that.

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Luke Muehlhauser December 6, 2010 at 9:33 am

Reginald,

Problem solved!

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MauricXe December 6, 2010 at 9:41 am

I’m still wating for anyone to tell me what meaning life is supposed to have. Come on all of you theists, any clue?  

To be in fellowship with God.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9NlRKJBKt4#t=1m24s

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Zeb December 6, 2010 at 9:54 am

I’m still wating for anyone to tell me what meaning life is supposed to have. Come on all of you theists, any clue?  

Life would be a dynamic expression of the relationship between a person and God. It could also be an expression of one’s relationship with all other people (or other elements of the world) via God.

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Patrick December 6, 2010 at 10:33 am

Its not a sufficient answer to tell us what a Christian would find meaningful in their religion. You need to tell us how that is “meaning” in a sense that is different from other, day to day senses of “meaning.”

You wouldn’t accept an atheist saying that life has “meaning” because you get to eat good food, right? Its a true statement, I just had a very nice lunch. But its not answering the question, I suspect. How do you tell a good answer from a bad one, bearing in mind that you can’t reference your own feeling that one answer is better than another, since that would be subjectivity which was disallowed by the initial framing?

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Zeb December 6, 2010 at 11:18 am

Patrick

What do you mean by “find meaningful”? By the way I understand “meaningful” as separate from valuable, important, with purpose, etc., life is meaningful if Christianity is true in a way that it is not if naturalism is correct. That is, all the events of life and all the elements of the world refer to or represent something else, and are an intentional expression of relationship between persons. Christianity is not the only system that could provide that kind of meaning; any theism with an omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent god could do so, as could pantheism and animism. In some Native American religions, the moon and sun, rocks and trees and earth are all alive with personhood, and humans can communicate with and know and be known by those persons. In those religions, the spirits of nature and of the ancestors are present and active in the lives of the living. If they are right about the existence and activity of those persons, then life is meaningful whether anyone believes it or not, because what happens to you and what you do is a sort of communication; all the physical events of our lives directly refer to or represent (and affect) the status or nature of interpersonal relationships. For that kind of world view, life means something. Otherwise it just is what it is, it doesn’t mean anything.

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Hermes December 6, 2010 at 11:20 am

MauricXe: To be in fellowship with God.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9NlRKJBKt4#t=1m24s

Craig is right ~@1:50 — but mis-attributing the actual source he’s talking about and thus killing any value in the process beyond using it as a bludgeon. If he said that bit to me as I stood before him, I’d walk up and tap him on the forehead with a flexed forefinger. He discounts his humanity, clings to dogma, and misses the point of all those old stories. Why they were true at the time, and were also never actually useful or accurate as history. He’s selling a distortion to people who see some of the small bits he offers as true but who don’t realize how much baggage Craig has attached to it.

Hitchens addresses the mis-attribution as a real claim — because that’s Craig’s primary mistake — but note that Hitchens makes it a point quite frequently in his talks about the transcendent and numinous as being something that he understands. His attribution has what Criag’s lacks; a core human element.

Elizabeth Gilbert covers this in her Ted talk on creativity ( http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html ). Specifically, note what she says at the 15:50-17:15 mark.

… centuries ago in the deserts of North Africa, people used to gather for these moonlight dances of sacred dance and music that would go on for hours and hours, until dawn. And they were always magnificent, because the dancers were professionals and they were terrific, right? But every once in a while, very rarely, something would happen, and one of these performers would actually become transcendent. And I know you know what I’m talking about, because I know you’ve all seen, at some point in your life, a performance like this. It was like time would stop, and the dancer would sort of step through some kind of portal and he wasn’t doing anything different than he had ever done, 1,000 nights before, but everything would align. And all of a sudden, he would no longer appear to be merely human. He would be lit from within, and lit from below and all lit up on fire with divinity.

And when this happened, back then, people knew it for what it was, you know, they called it by it’s name. They would put their hands together and they would start to chant, “Allah, Allah, Allah, God God, God.” That’s God, you know. Curious historical footnote — when the Moors invaded southern Spain, they took this custom with them and the pronunciation changed over the centuries from “Allah, Allah, Allah,” to “Ole, ole, ole,” which you still hear in bullfights and in flamenco dances. In Spain, when a performer has done something impossible and magic, “Allah, ole, ole, Allah, magnificent, bravo,” incomprehensible, there it is — a glimpse of God. Which is great, because we need that.

She makes some mistakes in attributing that source as well, yet in that moment, the source is ourselves but not necessarily the story we tell of ourselves. That is what makes it transcendent, that is what allows us to be more than ourselves; we get out of our own ways. This is a practice, not a supernatural other. We can see that in the lack of those moments in the untrained and the bounty of them in the well practiced brilliant humans that occasionally shine in our presence, or when we shine ourselves.

Craig’s genie has a bad attitude; practiced in dogma and slight of hand. That is where he fails and why he is not trusted except for those who have the same type of jinn attached to their psyche.

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JohnC December 6, 2010 at 11:37 am

It seems the objection is that Craig is saying that life without God is meaningless without giving a satisfactory answer to how it is meaningful with God. Perhaps the best way to solve this is by making a convincing argument about the purpose and meaning in life without God. If man is just a product of random and purposeless causes, what is the meaning of his/her life in comparison to an ants? Can man’s life be more meaningful than an ant in this scenario?

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DicePlayGod December 6, 2010 at 11:39 am

Aren’t all his arguments beside the point? Even if all those assertions in his arguments are true (a huge concession no one should make), we are still no closer to demonstrating that there is in fact an actual god that fulfills that meaning-giving role.

The fact that you really, really, really want something to be true in order that such and such bad things won’t happen is no evidence that it actually is true in fact.

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Joseph December 6, 2010 at 11:47 am

PatrickWhat do you mean by “find meaningful”? By the way I understand “meaningful” as separate from valuable, important, with purpose, etc., life is meaningful if Christianity is true in a way that it is not if naturalism is correct. That is, all the events of life and all the elements of the world refer to or represent something else, and are an intentional expression of relationship between persons. Christianity is not the only system that could provide that kind of meaning; any theism with an omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent god could do so, as could pantheism and animism. In some Native American religions, the moon and sun, rocks and trees and earth are all alive with personhood, and humans can communicate with and know and be known by those persons. In those religions, the spirits of nature and of the ancestors are present and active in the lives of the living. If they are right about the existence and activity of those persons, then life is meaningful whether anyone believes it or not, because what happens to you and what you do is a sort of communication; all the physical events of our lives directly refer to or represent (and affect) the status or nature of interpersonal relationships. For that kind of world view, life means something. Otherwise it just is what it is, it doesn’t mean anything.  (Quote)

Sorry Patrick but any atheist can feel what you feel about everything that exist sans God. I think you are delusional if you think that life has more meaning because you believe in God. The fact that you can’t prove any of that stuff speaks loudly that it is just a state of mind any human being is capable of.

In fact I can makle the case that life has more meaning if you believe that this is the only life you’ll ever have than if you believe there is an afterlife. A lot of Christians I know believe they will be happy only when they die and go to heaven. They think this life is just some sort of purgatory. They belittle everything, and nothing is ever perfect for them.

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Joseph December 6, 2010 at 11:49 am

Last post is addressed to Zeb. Sorry.

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Zeb December 6, 2010 at 11:56 am

Joseph, I did not say that life feels more meaningful for Christians than for atheists, I said that life actually is more meaningful (and I meant for all people, regardless of belief) if Christianity is true than if naturalism is true. If naturalism is true, then the feeling of meaningfulness that Christians have is an illusion. But what do you mean by “meaningful” anyway? I was using a specific definition which I gave a couple times, and it has nothing necessarily to do with happiness. Depending on whether you consider animism a type of atheism, you could even read my argument as saying that some atheistic systems, if true, would be on par with Christianity, if true, in terms of life being meaningful.

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Hermes December 6, 2010 at 12:02 pm

JohnC: Perhaps the best way to solve this is by making a convincing argument about the purpose and meaning in life without God. If man is just a product of random and purposeless causes, what is the meaning of his/her life in comparison to an ants? Can man’s life be more meaningful than an ant in this scenario?

Craig is making the claim. If you want to make the same claim as Craig, you are fully welcome to support that claim. Craig — or anyone making that claim — can’t shift the burden.

Additionally, what’s with the highlighted bits? Specifically, the emphasis given by using the word just?

It’s a statement with a built-in conclusion and biases that I simply don’t see are relevant; they are alien.

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Patrick December 6, 2010 at 12:02 pm

Zeb- I feel like you feel you’ve given me an answer, but haven’t. Maybe that’s my problem, maybe its not. But I don’t see an answer in your response, even though I think you do.

You write, “That is, all the events of life and all the elements of the world refer to or represent something else, and are an intentional expression of relationship between persons.”

Is that really what “meaning” means in this context? Something has “meaning” if it symbolizes something else? If so, why is meaning important? Also, this definition of meaning would mean that God is not meaningful, because he doesn’t symbolize anything else… unless of course you try to define your way around that, as theists typically do…

Still not getting it. And I’m not sure that Craig, or most Christians, mean “meaning” in a narrative sense.

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Hermes December 6, 2010 at 12:03 pm

DicePlayGod, yep.

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JohnC December 6, 2010 at 12:19 pm

Joseph;
In fact I can makle the case that life has more meaning if you believe that this is the only life you’ll ever have than if you believe there is an afterlife. A lot of Christians I know believe they will be happy only when they die and go to heaven. They think this life is just some sort of purgatory. They belittle everything, and nothing is ever perfect for them.

I disagree with your proposal, and am interested in hearing your case. First, your argument can only have some weight if there is no afterlife. Obviously if there was an afterlife, any decision that would affect an eternal afterlife would be far more important and significant than decision that only affect this life. I think we both can agree that you are arguing that life has more meaning if you believe this life to be the only one with the presupposition that there is no afterlife.
For the sake of argument, i will agree with this presupposition. My point is that believing that this life is it does not entail anymore meaning than believing in an afterlife. My first objection is one that i believe would annoy all of us, and that is that they both are equally meaningless. But less avoid that one lol. Second objection, is that believing that this life is it would greatly change the priorities of that person. I believe that we can agree that believing in a afterlife or not has a significant impact on our priorities. My argument is that, a person that believes in an afterlife may possibly have priorities that are more meaningful than someone who believes that this life is it. It is the priorities of someone that believes there is an afterlife that i would argue would make their life more meaningful.
This can also be reversed. I find that many Christians are not as environmentally concerned because “God will take care of it” or Jesus will come back before global warming is too bad, almost assuming that God does not care about how people take care of creation. People that do not believe in an afterlife could have priorities concerning the environment, or be just concerned as people who believe in an afterlife about things life peace and charity. I believe this shows that the belief or disbelief of an afterlife can have a great affect on one’s priorities. These priorities in return can affect the “meaningfulness” of their life. Starting with the presupposition that the afterlife is not true, i do not think you could argue that believing “this life is it” is makes your life more meaningful then believing in an afterlife. And visa versa. You maybe more satisfied with your life than your Christian friends, but I don’t believe that you can conclude that your life is thus more meaningful then theirs. And this argument is completely dependent on the presupposition that there is no God or afterlife. Obviously if either is true, than believing in God would have consequences that effected eternity not just this life.

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JohnC December 6, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Hermes;
Additionally, what’s with the highlighted bits? Specifically, the emphasis given by using the word just?
It’s a statement with a built-in conclusion and biases that I simply don’t see are relevant; they are alien.

Are you arguing that man did not evolve through unguided, purposeless, and random causes? “Natural selection is the blind watchmaker, blind because it does not see ahead, does not plan consequences, has no purpose in view” Dawkins

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Zeb December 6, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Patrick

I think maybe you really do understand my answer. My first comment in this thread was asking what “meaning” could mean in this context, especially since Craig talks about value and purpose separately. “Referring to or representing something else” is the only meaning I can understand “meaning” having in this context, especially since that is the meaning the word has in all other contexts I can think of. I’m not sure it is important to anyone who doesn’t feel that it is. So maybe it’s not that big a deal that Christianity provides meaning and naturalism doesn’t. Some atheistic systems, such as Zen Buddhism, say that life is meaningless (it doesn’t mean anything, it just is what it is) and that we should dissolve our thirst for meaning. Other atheists who believed that life is meaningless felt that meaning is important, and decided to create meaning for their lives where it doesn’t naturally exist. Such a one might decide to make her life about establishing justice, or creating beauty, or anything. This “aboutness” is the “referring to or representing some other thing” that I mentioned. I have to admit that I have this thirst for meaning, and obviously many people do, because we try to find meaning all over the place, whether a black cat crossing your path means you’ll have bad luck, or the success of the nonviolent civil rights movement means that “The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice…” It is possible that our lives are just a string of events and that the universe is just a collection of physical stuff, but some people aren’t satisfied saying, “It is what it is.” They want it to mean something, to refer to or represent some thing more than what it is. And it seems to me that meaning can only come withing the context of intentional expression, which I why I say that Christianity can provide it but naturalism cannot.

I would certainly say that God is not meaningful (the being, not the word). I guess I shouldn’t predict what other Christians would say about that, but honestly I’d be surprised and dismayed if they said God is meaningful. Valuable and important, yes, but not meaningful, indeed because his being doesn’t refer to or represent something. He is what he is, he doesn’t mean anything.

If you don’t think Craig and most Christians are using “meaning” in this narrative sense, then what do you think they mean? Do you think it is different from what people generally mean when the refer to life being meaningful?

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Patrick December 6, 2010 at 1:39 pm

“If you don’t think Craig and most Christians are using “meaning” in this narrative sense, then what do you think they mean? Do you think it is different from what people generally mean when the refer to life being meaningful?”

Remember when you said that you didn’t take “meaningful” to be the same as “important?” I don’t think most people (including but not limited to Christians) make a distinction. I don’t think most people have a very solid idea of what they mean when they say that one thing is meaningful and another is not. I think that if you were to ask them to define “meaningful” they’d give you a confused discourse on “purpose” and “worth doing.” I think most people would try to define “meaningful” by giving examples of things that are or are not meaningful. And I think that even the most religious would probably not give a definition of “meaningful” that requires a God, unless they were prompted to do so. They might retroactively claim that the definition they already gave only works if there’s a God, and give a standard argument from relativism coupled with God as the solution to relativism as an explanation… but I think even that would be beyond most people’s thoughts on the subject.

I wouldn’t want to try to speak for Craig. I’d wager he means whatever he needs to mean given the exigencies of the moment.

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Joseph December 6, 2010 at 2:12 pm

Joseph, I did not say that life feels more meaningful for Christians than for atheists, I said that life actually is more meaningful (and I meant for all people, regardless of belief) if Christianity is true than if naturalism is true.   (Quote)

It’s an assertion you haven’t proved. It’s just your opinion. The fact that you need to invent a god and go through loops of illogical contortions indicates that you are deluding yourself into thinking that’s the only way you can give meaning to your life.

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Joseph December 6, 2010 at 2:22 pm

JohnC wrote: “You maybe more satisfied with your life than your Christian friends, but I don’t believe that you can conclude that your life is thus more meaningful then theirs.”

If I have this only life then I will strive to make it meaningful, while my christian friends have the illusion of a meaningful life and might very well squander their only chance of what they’ve got in this life.

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JohnC December 6, 2010 at 2:29 pm

“It’s an assertion you haven’t proved. It’s just your opinion. The fact that you need to invent a god and go through loops of illogical contortions indicates that you are deluding yourself into thinking that’s the only way you can give meaning to your life.”

Joseph
I dont think he is going through loops of illogic, he is saying that IF Christianity is true, life is more meaningful than if naturalism is true. You can not believe in Christianity or any theism, but i dont believe that you can make the argument that if there is an afterlife that this life without and afterlife would be more meaningful. What meaning life has in naturalism (if any) is limited to their finite existence. In Christianity, decisions (such as accepting or rejecting grace) has meaning not only in this life but in the afterlife. His claim is IF Christianity is true, then there is more meaning. This seems logical, because this life’s purpose and meaning can extend past just finite and limited existence.

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JohnC December 6, 2010 at 2:35 pm

What if your Christian friend’s priorities are on serving or helping others. They justify their action because they believe God has told them to help others and that they do not find value in the world’s satisfaction. They believe that they should love others because God loves them. Do you believe that would be “squandering” their only chance at life? Are those not meaningful pursuits?

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Hermes December 6, 2010 at 2:52 pm

JohnC: Are you arguing that man did not evolve through unguided, purposeless, and random causes? “Natural selection is the blind watchmaker, blind because it does not see ahead, does not plan consequences, has no purpose in view” Dawkins

Do you consider that a complete thought, a complete representation of their views — full stop — where no additional substantive perspectives would be offered by Dawkins or others in the biological sciences?

If it is not a complete not, can you complete the thought and add in the additional perspectives they would possibly add?

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Hermes December 6, 2010 at 3:02 pm

JohnC …

Craig is making the claim. If you want to make the same claim as Craig, you are fully welcome to support that claim. Craig — or anyone making that claim — can’t shift the burden.

… I take it that you do not want to take up the challenge or attempt to address Craig’s claim in a manner that represents Craig’s claims?

I would agree with you assessment …

JohnC: It seems the objection is that Craig is saying that life without God is meaningless without giving a satisfactory answer to how it is meaningful with God.

… but would add that it’s his responsibility to give such an answer instead of leaving it as an assertion. I understand why someone would not want to take up that issue. Yet, without support it is a dead objection that even Craig seems unwilling to stand behind. Is it fair that he made it, then left it out there as an attempt to shift the burden of his claims?

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Joseph December 6, 2010 at 3:31 pm

What if your Christian friend’s priorities are on serving or helping others. They justify their action because they believe God has told them to help others and that they do not find value in the world’s satisfaction. They believe that they should love others because God loves them. Do you believe that would be “squandering” their only chance at life? Are those not meaningful pursuits?  (Quote)

It’s the same logic the 9/11 terrorists used. They believed they were pleasing their God. If you don’t call that wasting your life, I don’t know what is.

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Joseph December 6, 2010 at 3:35 pm

His claim is IF Christianity is true, then there is more meaning. This seems logical, because this life’s purpose and meaning can extend past just finite and limited existence.  (Quote)

Again there is no proof of that. It might be that everything you will be doing in this life might be totally meaningless in the afterlife.

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Patrick December 6, 2010 at 4:56 pm

What if your Christian friend’s priorities are on serving or helping others.They justify their action because they believe God has told them to help others and that they do not find value in the world’s satisfaction.They believe that they should love others because God loves them.Do you believe that would be “squandering” their only chance at life?Are those not meaningful pursuits?  

I find this so weird. If I said that I valued a car because it helped me pick up chicks, people would say that I didn’t really value a car for itself, I valued it instrumentally for its ability to get me laid. If I said that I loved my wife for her money, people would say that I didn’t really love my wife, because love requires that you value someone for themselves, not for their instrumental value. But if I say that I love my neighbor because I love Jesus and want to do what he says, and he told me to love my neighbor, no one has a problem with that.

I always feel like Christian efforts to explain morality end up tarnishing it. Its like… loving your neighbor for the same reason Jesus loves his neighbor isn’t good enough. You can’t do it because you’re a loving person, or because they deserve love. You have to do it because of a complex series of theological arguments that can never quite be pinned down, but definitely, definitely, definitely involve the denial of the intrinsic worthiness of love and the denial of the worthiness of subjectively desiring to love.

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ayer December 6, 2010 at 5:45 pm

You have to do it because of a complex series of theological arguments that can never quite be pinned down, but definitely, definitely, definitely involve the denial of the intrinsic worthiness of love and the denial of the worthiness of subjectively desiring to love.

So you accept the intrinsic worthiness of love? That’s an unusual position for an atheist to take (at least from posts and comments I have read on this blog), where “intrinisc value” is generally dismissed. Your position would also appear to refute all varieties of utilitarian ethics, where nothing is done for its own sake, but only for its consequences, the calculation of which involves a “complex series of arguments” that make natural law or divine command ethics seem simple.

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Steven December 6, 2010 at 6:52 pm

I find it interesting that Craig is saying that even human creations have no meaning. I’ll use his quote, and substitute it with the word “hammer”:

“…without God, who would dictate what purpose human tools have, human tools would have no meaning. Yet philosophers continue to live as though human tools do have meaning. For example, Sartre argued that one may create meaning for tools by freely choosing to follow a certain course of action…

[But] Sartre’s program is actually an exercise in self-delusion. For the tool does not really acquire meaning just because I happen to give it one. This is easy to see: for suppose I give the hammer one meaning–say, to hammer nails– and you give it another–say, to stop a door from closing. Who is right? The answer, of course, is neither one. For the hammer without God remains objectively meaningless, no matter how we regard it. Sartre is really saying, “Let’s pretend the hammer has meaning.” And this is just fooling ourselves.”

What I’m trying to say is, even if we can’t agree what the “meaning” of the hammer is, for indeed it works well as a device to keep doors from closing or as a means of pushing nails down, the lack of “objective” meaning doesn’t make the hammer any less useful. In fact, it gives it more uses than what if would have had if God imposed his will on the hammer.

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mojo.rhythm December 6, 2010 at 8:24 pm

Life probably does not have meaning in the linguistic sense, but it does have value. I find value in my life and in pursuing my desires, and so do most other sentient creatures. That is more then enough to satisfy me.

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ayer December 7, 2010 at 12:52 am

I find it interesting that Craig is saying that even human creations have no meaning. I’ll use his quote, and substitute it with the word “hammer”:“…without God, who would dictate what purpose human tools have, human tools would have no meaning. Yet philosophers continue to live as though human tools do have meaning. For example, Sartre argued that one may create meaning for tools by freely choosing to follow a certain course of action…[But] Sartre’s program is actually an exercise in self-delusion. For the tool does not really acquire meaning just because I happen to give it one. This is easy to see: for suppose I give the hammer one meaning–say, to hammer nails– and you give it another–say, to stop a door from closing. Who is right? The answer, of course, is neither one. For the hammer without God remains objectively meaningless, no matter how we regard it. Sartre is really saying, “Let’s pretend the hammer has meaning.” And this is just fooling ourselves.”What I’m trying to say is, even if we can’t agree what the “meaning” of the hammer is, for indeed it works well as a device to keep doors from closing or as a means of pushing nails down, the lack of “objective” meaning doesn’t make the hammer any less useful. In fact, it gives it more uses than what if would have had if God imposed his will on the hammer.  

The hammer gets its purpose from the outside, from an intelligent being that created it for that purpose; aren’t you making Craig’s case?

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Kaelik December 7, 2010 at 1:30 am

The hammer gets its purpose from the outside, from an intelligent being that created it for that purpose; aren’t you making Craig’s case?  

The hammer gets it’s purpose from a human being deciding it has a purpose. I don’t need to create a hammer to give it purpose, just use it. Likewise, the argument is that purpose can be conveyed on a life merely by having a human choose to have a purpose.

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Alexandros Marinos December 7, 2010 at 2:09 am

The hammer gets its purpose from the outside, from an intelligent being that created it for that purpose; aren’t you making Craig’s case?  

So if I use a hammer as a paperweight, am I perverting the purpose that the hammer was created for?

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Zeb December 7, 2010 at 5:57 am

Re: the hammer, are you guys talking about purpose, or meaning?

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ayer December 7, 2010 at 6:38 am

So if I use a hammer as a paperweight, am I perverting the purpose that the hammer was created for?  

You’ve still imposed the purpose “from the outside.”

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Hermes December 7, 2010 at 6:44 am

So does a slave owner to a slave.

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ayer December 7, 2010 at 6:44 am

So if I use a hammer as a paperweight, am I perverting the purpose that the hammer was created for?  

Yes, and the human being gets its purpose from God deciding it has a purpose, i.e., the purpose for both the hammer and the human being comes “from the outside” (just as Craig argues).

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ayer December 7, 2010 at 6:46 am

Oops, that last comment was responding to Kaelik, not to Alexandros again

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ayer December 7, 2010 at 6:55 am

So does a slave owner to a slave.  

That’s true, although that would be a case of “perverting the purpose the human being was created for.”

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Bill Snedden December 7, 2010 at 7:22 am

@ayer:

That’s true, although that would be a case of “perverting the purpose the human being was created for.”

Ah, so apparently it is immoral to use a hammer for a paperweight. ;)

There is, of course, a difference between human beings and hammers: human beings are moral agents. Moral agents are ends in themselves, not means to a further end. To impose a purpose upon a moral agent is immoral, regardless of who’s doing the imposition. To do so renders the imposer a slave master and the imposed a slave.

A rational, wholly good being could not and would not do such a thing. To the extent that such a being could have created us as moral agents for any purpose, it must be to be free to find/create our own purpose. No being is worth worshiping who would do otherwise.

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ayer December 7, 2010 at 7:48 am

@Bill Snedden,

I agree the hammer analogy is not great; but to the extent it works it tells against the atheist, not the theist.

I also agree that a moral agent must be allowed to reject the purpose for which it was created, but a wholly good being would create moral agents to fulfill a good purpose–for example, to have a loving relationship with the perfect being who is the source of all goodness; just as a parent has a child in order to have a loving relationship with that child. Obviously the child can reject that purpose (see Prodigal Son, Parable of), and must be given the freedom to do so (since the purpose of a loving relationship has free choice as a necessary condition). Such a God would be worth worshiping. Of course, no analogy is perfect.

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ayer December 7, 2010 at 8:01 am

Ah, so apparently it is immoral to use a hammer for a paperweight. ;)

I think I would say “awkward” instead of “immoral” ;)

Now, bashing someone over the head with a hammer WOULD be an immoral use.

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Kaelik December 7, 2010 at 8:32 am

Yes, and the human being gets its purpose from God deciding it has a purpose, i.e., the purpose for both the hammer and the human being comes “from the outside” (just as Craig argues).  

If a human being can grant purpose to something, then how do we need God to have purpose. If you admit that the hammer has a purpose because humans give it one, then humans can just give themselves or other humans purpose, even in an atheistic universe.

Your claim about purpose coming from the outside is bunk. We have one example, the hammer is given purpose by a human. It is true that in this single example we can agree on, that purpose comes from outside the hammer. It is also true that purpose comes from a human being.

It does not follow that because this one example has purpose imposed from the outside, that all purpose must come from the outside. It could equally be true that all purpose comes from humans, from this one example.

The hammer example shows that humans grant purpose. Therefore, in an atheistic universe, purpose could equally be given by humans.

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Patrick December 7, 2010 at 11:06 am

So you accept the intrinsic worthiness of love?That’s an unusual position for an atheist to take (at least from posts and comments I have read on this blog), where “intrinisc value” is generally dismissed.Your position would also appear to refute all varieties of utilitarian ethics, where nothing is done for its own sake, but only for its consequences, the calculation of which involves a “complex series of arguments” that make natural law or divine command ethics seem simple.  

No, I just find it surprising that Christians reject the intrinsic worthiness of love. It seems kind of like spitting on Jesus.

Christianity teaches that God is “good” in a particular way, but apologetics deny that there is any value in human beings emulating God in this fashion, because loving someone for their own sake, or because you yourself have a loving nature, is subjective and no better than being Stalin without a God to declare it so through a complex series of apologetics that never allow themselves to be pinned down in which the good is intrinsically good, but non contingently associated with God (because God is goodness and the good is good so its part of God) but in which the good wouldn’t be good if God wasn’t good, even though it was the goodness of good that made it part of God… blah.

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woodchuck64 December 7, 2010 at 1:43 pm

Zeb,

They want it to mean something, to refer to or represent some thing more than what it is.

Jonathan Haidt in the Happiness Hypothesis makes the point that humans seem to be part “bee”, desiring to lose all sense of self and autonomy within a larger, greater self. Religious or strongly communal activities like prayer, meditation, chanting, singing, dancing, marching all seem to “numb” the part of the brain that defines strictly where the self ends and the rest of the world begins, allowing individual personhood to dissolve into a group being or “God” if you prefer. Whether God exists or not, Haidt makes the point that this ability does an excellent job of creating strongly cohesive groups for the express purpose of competing with or warring against other groups for the title of most evolutionarily fit.

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Steven December 7, 2010 at 3:39 pm

The hammer gets its purpose from the outside, from an intelligent being that created it for that purpose; aren’t you making Craig’s case?  

To the contrary, I am arguing against Craig’s case. Did you even read Craig’s quote? He said that the universe couldn’t possibly have any meaning because humans can’t agree on what that meaning could be; using this logic, because a hammer could have multiple meanings, it must have no value, even if it is useful to hold doors or hammer nails.

Kaelik wrote the rest of it for me. If humans can give meaning to hammers, then why can’t they give meaning to the universe? And if not, are hammers meaningless?

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ayer December 7, 2010 at 4:49 pm

@Steven,

A hammer has a purpose specifically designed into it by an intelligent creator (do I need to link to a dictionary definition of “hammer” here?–sheesh); its purpose comes from “outside” the hammer. If that is the analogy, then the universe has a purpose specifically designed into it by an intelligent creator; its purpose comes from “outside” the universe. You should really drop this hammer analogy; it is not helpful to your case. In fact, it apparently an analogy used by theists to make the opposite point (see http://www.everystudent.com/wires/greatest.html), and I can see why.

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Steven December 7, 2010 at 4:58 pm

Ayer, I was hoping you wouldn’t bring up such a silly point. According to Craig, the disagreement over the possible purpose is what makes humans giving their own lives meaning “self-delusional”, NOT the source of their life. Besides, we can just re-adjust the analogy so it isn’t made by “an intelligent designer”. How about a rock? It can be useful for hunting mammoths or for keeping a door from closing. There, the analogy still works and the absolutely irrelevant objection of “an intelligent designer” is gone; just goes to show how asinine the objection is. Moreover, simply because someone creating a hammer to hammer nails doesn’t mean that the hammer loses meaning because it is used to stop a door from closing or because it is used as a paperweight–in other words, even if something is used for other reasons than what the creator had in mind, it doesn’t lose meaning (or, if it does, then the same is true of our lives, and God is STILL incapable of providing “objective” meaning to life because humans can and do give their own life meanings different than that of God).

That said, you also have to prove that the universe was created by an intelligent creator. Have fun with that.

P.S.: Broken link.

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Steven December 7, 2010 at 5:01 pm

That came out horrible confusing. Let’s try again:

Ayer, I was hoping you wouldn’t bring up such a silly point. According to Craig, the disagreement over the possible meaning (or purpose) of life is what makes humans giving their own lives meaning “self-delusional” NOT whether or not life was created by an intelligent designer. Besides, we can just re-adjust the analogy so it doesn’t involve an item made by “an intelligent designer”. How about a rock? It can be useful for hunting mammoths or for keeping a door from closing. There, the analogy still works and the absolutely irrelevant objection of “an intelligent designer” is gone; just goes to show how asinine the objection is. Moreover, simply because someone created a hammer to hit nails doesn’t mean that the hammer loses meaning because it is used to stop a door from closing or because it is used as a paperweight–in other words, even if something is used for other reasons than what the creator had in mind, it doesn’t lose meaning (or, if it does, then the same is true of our lives, and God is STILL incapable of providing “objective” meaning to life because humans can and do give their own life meanings different than that of God).

That said, you also have to prove that the universe was created by an intelligent creator. Have fun with that.

P.S.: Broken link.

Much better.

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Hermes December 7, 2010 at 6:02 pm

That’s true, although that would be a case of “perverting the purpose the human being was created for.”

How do you determine that?

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Hermes December 7, 2010 at 6:12 pm

Ayer, I retract my request for an answer.

Steven, Kaelik, Bill Snedden, and Patrick have covered quite a bit. Address them thoughtfully and honestly, and I’ll be satisfied with the outcome of those discussions.

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ayer December 7, 2010 at 6:59 pm

@Steven,

You are still making Craig’s case. The first hammers, of course, were designed from rocks by intelligent beings. The rock derived its purpose from “outside.” Similarly, the universe’s purpose must come from “outside” the universe and humanity’s purpose must come from “outside” humanity. As the original post states, that is Craig’s point; and it seems obvious.

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Steven December 7, 2010 at 7:15 pm

…Craig’s case is that because humans can’t agree on any particular meaning, then it is objectively meaningless. I’m not sure why you’re having a hard time understanding that. So within the context of Craig’s argument either hammers and rocks are meaningless because humans can give them multiple meanings OR humans are capable of giving something meaning, even if they disagree on what that meaning is. Craig says nothing about “meaning from outside”. That’s YOUR argument.

Now, my only question is, simply because inanimate objects gain meaning from the outside, who’s to say that conscious entities are unable to give themselves any meaning? You haven’t made a case for this.

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Steven December 7, 2010 at 7:17 pm

Actually, let me provide an example for that:

Suppose hammers had a will of their own. Would they be meaningless if they decided to gain meaning by hammering nails or by keeping doors open? If the answer is yes, how come if they’re doing the same thing as they do when humans give them meaning, they’re now meaningless? IF not, then humans too can give themselves meaning.

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ayer December 7, 2010 at 7:51 pm

Craig says nothing about “meaning from outside”. That’s YOUR argument.

What are you talking about? I am quoting the summary of Craig’s argument in the original post: “As you might have predicted, Craig says that life cannot provide its own purposes, but must have purposes imposed on it from the outside, and God is needed to impose those purposes on it from the outside.” I think that is quite a good summation of Craig’s argument.

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Stallion December 7, 2010 at 8:02 pm

Out of curiosity, Luke, what would constitute your main rebuttal to Craig?

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ayer December 7, 2010 at 8:04 pm

@Steven,

A hammer with a will of its own that decided to pretend to be a doorstop would do nothing to change the fact that it was designed for, and has the purpose of, hammering nails. Similarly, just because Stalin decided his ultimate purpose was to run an oppressive totalitarian state and build communism didn’t mean he wasn’t rebelling against his true purpose, which originated from the “outside”.

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Steven December 7, 2010 at 8:21 pm

Oops, you’re right. Ah well, at least I criticized that POV anyway.

Now, you don’t seem to get it, so I’ll try one more time.

1. Forget about design for a second. To make this easier, let’s just say ROCKS got a will of their own and decided to keep doors from closing or being paperweights and apply back to my last post about –that’s the REAL problem.
2. What does it matter what it was designed to do? You previously said that hammers could work as either paperweights or as a tool to slam down nails; if the hammer has meaning either way, then it means that, even if we go against the designer’s purpose, we can still attain meaning.
3. You still haven’t answered why the creator’s real purpose would somehow invalidate the purpose a hammer gave itself. And what makes the creator’s purpose the “ultimate” purpose?
4. You have to prove we were created by God, which you haven’t done

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Luke Muehlhauser December 7, 2010 at 9:02 pm

Stallion,

I dunno. That’s not really the point…

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Kaelik December 8, 2010 at 2:58 am

The first hammers, of course, were designed from rocks by intelligent beings.The rock derived its purpose from “outside.”Similarly, the universe’s purpose must come from “outside” the universe and humanity’s purpose must come from “outside” humanity.As the original post states, that is Craig’s point; and it seems obvious.  

The first hammers, of course, were designed from rocks by human beings. The rock derived its purpose from “human beings.” Similarly, the universe’s purpose must come from “human beings” and humanity’s purpose must come from “human beings.”

The lesson to learn is that the first hammers have two qualities about their purpose 1) comes from outside itself, 2) comes from human beings.

You have arbitrarily declared that 1) is the defining characteristic of all purpose conveyance.

I arbitrarily declare that 2) is the defining characteristic of all purpose conveyance.

If you want anyone to take you seriously, you have to give us a reason to believe that 1) is the actual determinate besides asserting it.

Your repeated assertions are not a satisfactory replacement for justification.

Either give a reason to believe that all purpose has to come from outside, or drop this.

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ayer December 8, 2010 at 5:48 am

Kaelik,

You must not have been following the hypothetical in my discussion with Steven, which involved whether a “hammer with a will of its own” (not a human being) can invent its own purpose which is equally as valid as the purpose it was designed (from the “outside”) to fulfill. As noted above, this latter purpose Steven even refers to as “the creator’s REAL purpose.” Why is the real purpose more valid than the purpose the created object pretends to have? Well, why is truth more valid than illusion? That’s pretty deep–I suppose I would have to say it is just foundational but I haven’t really done a lot of analysis on that. We’ve really gotten down to basic presuppositions at this point, which is I guess the most you can hope for from these blog debates. But I guess it has been somewhat clarifying in terms of the difference in mindset. Thanks for the exchange.

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Kaelik December 8, 2010 at 6:02 am

Kaelik,You must not have been following the hypothetical in my discussion with Steven, which involved whether a “hammer with a will of its own” (not a human being) can invent its own purpose which is equally as valid as the purpose it was designed (from the “outside”) to fulfill.As noted above, this latter purpose Steven even refers to as “the creator’s REAL purpose.”Why is the real purpose more valid than the purpose the created object pretends to have?Well, why is truth more valid than illusion?That’s pretty deep–I suppose I would have to say it is just foundational but I haven’t really done a lot of analysis on that. We’ve really gotten down to basic presuppositions at this point, which is I guess the most you can hope for from these blog debates.But I guess it has been somewhat clarifying in terms of the difference in mindset.Thanks for the exchange.  

I have followed the exchange. And that’s precisely the point. If I invent a car infused with advanced AI, and I do this for the purpose of driving me around and feeling badass about it, but instead the car decides that driving other people around as a free taxi is it’s purpose, why would the purpose I claim be the “real” purpose, and the purpose the car comes up with be a “fake purpose?”

Both are purposes. Both are equally the “purpose” of the car. My purpose is just different from it’s own. There is no reason to think that it coming from outside matters at all.

If you really want to argue that God’s purpose counts and human ones don’t stop talking about outside. You want to be arguing that purpose can only come from the creator of the object, or the reason for it being.

After all, otherwise, Jesus has no purpose, because it can’t come from outside himself. This way, you can still declare that God is a sole source of purpose for humans, but still accept that hammers have a purpose.

I still see no reason why a purpose of the creator counts for more than the purpose of anything else, but you at least have a non contradictory place to stand, which is better than right now, where you claim that hammers can have purposes given by humans, but humans can’t give each other purpose.

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Stallion December 8, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Luke, I ask because you tell us to stay tuned to see if Craig’s appeal to God works. Will you be responding to Craig? If so, how?

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Luke Muehlhauser December 8, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Stallion,

That’s what you have to stay tuned for. :)

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everettattebury December 27, 2010 at 11:46 am

The religious claim that it is God’s purposes that matter more than my own, but somehow they always end up trying to impose upon me THEIR OWN purposes.

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Matthew May 20, 2011 at 8:56 am

Wow, that was a lot to digest. How about this. If there is a God and if He has shown His purpose for our lives in the Bible, then as 1 Peter 4:11 and 1 Corinthians 10:31 say, we were created to glorify God. A life lived that glorifies God results in an eternal life lived for God’s glory.

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NIghtvid Cole November 15, 2011 at 12:40 pm

If purpose and meaning must be externally imposed, then you cannot have an unpurposed purposer and cannot have an unmeant meaner. Infinite regress problem.
This theist argument suffers from the same problems as the unmoved mover and the undesigned designer.

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