Do you think the pursuit of objective intrinsic meaning in life is ultimately absurd? Are we better off just accepting that we are ultimately a byproduct of mindless forces, creating our own meaning to our lives and living it to the fullest? In other words, is there some truth do what existentialist philosophers have been saying since the early 20th century?
It depends what is meant by the terms ‘objective’ and ‘intrinsic.’ If by ‘intrinsic’ you mean ‘having value apart from being valued by a being’, it’s hard for me to grasp what that could mean, or how something could exemplify that property.
Let us say that nothing has intrinsic value in the sense I gave above. Does that mean life is absurd? Again, it depends what you mean by ‘absurd.’ If by ‘absurd’ you mean ‘incapable of producing value,’ then life is not absurd: value is produced by way of things having value for certain beings. If by ‘absurd’ you mean ‘having no ultimate purpose’, then I would respond that the very idea of ultimate purpose may be incoherent (see Nagel), so crying about a lack of ultimate purpose may be like crying about a lack of square circles. If by ‘absurd’ you mean ‘incapable of being enjoyed’, then life certainly is not absurd: there are many enchanted naturalists like myself.
I think it’s probably fair to say that most people [can't read] academic philosophy. This includes natural theology. The New Atheists are often criticized for not engaging with the ‘best in the field’. But the ‘best in the field’ often requires at least undergraduate level philosophy training. Often, it requires still more, with wider knowledge of cosmology or physics… to understand an argument. Given this barrier, how far would you have liked to see the New Atheists engage with contemporary natural theology?
Lots of other people criticize the New Atheists for not engaging the best of the field, but I usually complain about something else: for example their misrepresentations of theistic arguments, or their proposal of many bad arguments of their own.
I’ve already agreed with P.Z. Myers that the New Atheists need not engage ‘sophisticated theology.’ If God doesn’t exist, then sophisticated theology is irrelevant.
What about not engaging the best of the field? It’s best practice in philosophy to first (1) present your opponent’s argument in it’s strongest form, and then (2) examine its weaknesses. In contrast, the New Atheists typically go after the weakest types of theistic arguments that nobody defends anymore. For example, Dawkins spends most of his theistic arguments time on the syllogisms of Aquinas – from 800 years ago! One need not unpack the details of Robin Collins’ Bayesian teleological argument to do better than that. Let’s at least engage the syllogisms of William Lane Craig. Those are pretty easy for people to follow, by design.
Moreover, the New Atheists often simply misrepresent the theistic position. A spectacular example of a bad, invalid argument that misunderstands the theist’s position is Dawkins’ main argument against God.
I won’t say much more now, as I’m writing a book on the subject. But I will answer your question about how far I think the New Atheists should have gone in responding to Natural Theology. It’s an easy question to answer because, of course, other books have already done what I would like to see being done. David Eller’s Natural Atheism, for example, is suitable for laymen, but engages theistic arguments and the religious landscape far more accurately than do the works of the celebrated New Atheists. Another winner is The Christian Delusion.
What is your opinion on psychedelic drugs such as DMT, Mescaline and Psilocybin? Do you think they can be used as a serious tool for introspection and philosophical utility or are they just chemicals which induce non-veridical spooky experiences?
I am curious about your thoughts on this since most freethinkers I know actually are quite open to them and think they have alot of potential to increase understanding of the human mind and reality.
Drugs can increase our understanding of what kinds of experiences humans are capable of having, and they might even trigger a revelation that happens to correct, but then so can giving blood or undergoing some really horrible experience. Psychedelic experiences are just as likely – and probably, more likely – to distort a person’s view of reality as to clarify it.
Do you have an opinion on the War On Drugs? For, against or neither?
I know very little about the war on drugs except that the government has obviously lost this war, and that locking people in prison for smoking weed seems silly. Disrupting the supply is probably a good thing. The hard drugs – cocaine, meth, heroin – certainly destroy lives. But really, I don’t know enough to comment.