Pt.2 – Six Answers For Everyone [Anyone] … You Pick

To re-cap from part 1:

I’ve been meaning to do one of these questions ‘things’ for some time. Having just posted the What Now part 2 post, I think it might be time for one of these.

It’s just six questions from Dive In Scripture so don’t get too excited, right. I don’ t have a plan here. I’m just going to answer them as they show up on the page.

Gah!! That took some effort to answer just “question #1” so it looks like this is  going to be a ‘six’ part series. All this pretending that there were only six questions is making me feel math challenged.

So lets see what is on the menu for the part 2 question(s)

2.    If we reject the existence of God, we are left with a crisis of meaning, so why don’t we see more atheists like Jean Paul Sartre, or Friedrich Nietzsche, or Michel Foucault?  These three philosophers, who also embraced atheism, recognized that in the absence of God, there was no transcendent meaning beyond one’s own self-interests, pleasures, or tastes.  The crisis of atheistic meaninglessness is depicted in Sartre’s book Nausea.  Without God, there is a crisis of meaning, and these three thinkers, among others, show us a world of just stuff, thrown out into space and time, going nowhere, meaning nothing.

Well, at least question number two can be considered a single question. Lets see if I can do it justice here.

Why don’t we see more atheists like those three mentioned? Wait, the question started with a statement that is wrong. What? Someone on the Internet is wrong? That can’t possibly be.

The statement that “rejecting the existence of god leaves us with a crisis of meaning” is wrong on a few levels. First to reject the existence of a god there needs to be credible evidence of said existence, something to reject. Without that we have only a hypothesis without any credible supporting evidence. Unsupported hypotheses are rejected all day long all over the world for many things and it never causes a crisis of any kind. Rejecting the hypothesis that a god exists does not cause a crisis of meaning, except for those silly individuals who. The only way that this can happen is if you have hinged all the meaning in your life on a fairy tale. Why would you do that?

Back to the question. The reason that we don’t see more like Sartre, Friedrich Nietzsche, or Foucault is because:

  • Many people don’t use religion as the starting point for their world view. The question presupposes that religion is true and god exists.
  • Most atheists are not nihilists or atomists, they simply don’t believe the evidence offered for the existence of a god. This doesn’t require that one spend any particular amount of time contemplating the philosophical underpinnings of why and how we decide the evidence is not credible. Sometimes it’s just an innate feeling that it’s wrong. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t spend time on the philosophical vagaries of these things, just that many do not.
  • Most atheists find meaning in life from what they value rather than simply wonder why the value promised by religion is not there
  • A philosophical world view is problematic. An example of this is that nihilism gets a bad rap, a negative stigma attached to it by philosophy and theology through its history. Claiming to be nihilistic is somewhat akin to saying you like to hurt people. It’s not something you say in polite company. This could be why you don’t see many people professing such ideas. I do profess them. We are just atoms that happened to come together with certain functions determined by genetics etc.

The last sentence of the question is a presupposition. This is where the problem with philosophy and theology kind of rubs things raw. This sentence declares that some philosophers believe we live in an existence consisting of “a world of just stuff, thrown out into space and time, going nowhere, meaning nothing.” This is bad because the way it is stated hinges meaning on something related to matter. Meaning in life or purpose is found only in what the observer ascribes to life and this cannot be anchored to matter in any objective or universally meaningful way. That is to say that as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, meaning is in the mind of the observer.

All of that ‘stuff’ that is just thrown out from the big bang into space and time is not going nowhere; it is expanding in ever increasing speeds. The truth is that it does not have any intrinsic meaning. It’s just matter. Consequently, we humans have no intrinsic meaning or value. The universe/existence does not care at all whether we live or die or even if our species has ever existed. There is nothing there to care. The only things that can care about human life are humans and those life forms which depend on humans. Other than that nothing in the universe actually gives a damn about human existence. Really!

While this ruins the theist’s thoughts of being special, it is true. The only piece of information that we have to say that there is anything in existence that gives a care about human existence is the apologist’s evidence for the existence of a god they claim cares about humans. This is the nihilistic view of things. There was effectively nothing. From that came what we call something and yet it is, in the big picture, a bunch more of the nothing that there is nothing to care about. There is absolutely no reason to think there is intrinsic value to human life other than what humans (and the life forms that depend on them) ascribe to human life.

God did it is not and will not ever be a valid scientific conclusion without credible, testable, verifiable evidence. Despite all the claims to the contrary, no such evidence has ever been found or produced.

In the long form answer I’d say that there are plenty of atheists with a nihilistic or atomism view of existence but it’s not popular to talk about it in that way because in view of the negative stigma it’s a pain in the ass to talk to theists and others about it when you have to explain to them that they have to get over their dogma or bigotry to understand what you’re talking about in the first place.

Let me add that just because you do not understand a thing does not make the thing wrong or bad or evil. Such thinking presupposes that what you do know is not wrong or bad or evil and we know that this ‘just aint so’.

 

 

Comments are always welcome.

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  1. Hi Mal,

    “just because you do not understand a thing does not make the thing wrong or bad or evil. ”

    I think you’re doing this with God. I don’t think you really understand this thing called – God. If you did, you wouldn’t be thinking that way.
    I “gnosis” God like I “gnosis” my sister. I have had intimate conversations with her so that I believe she exists. And so with Him. After I met Him, I’ve had intimate conversations with Him ever since.

    Did you read my post: http://robinclaire.wordpress.com/2013/01/04/a-god-why/

    robin

    • The problem comes in this form: Anyone can overhear or listen in on you talking with your sister. This is not so for your conversations with ‘god’

      If you want to call our consciousness ‘god’ then yes, perhaps I am doing what I do with ‘god’ but that would only be because you have renamed consciousness as god.

    • My apologies if I’m rudely interjecting into this conversation, but I’d like to point something out.

      I see a stark difference between the examples you provided. Let’s imagine that I was eavesdropping on both conversations (much like I’m doing now). In the example with your sister, I would have no problem hearing her; thus providing independent verification of her existence. However, in the case of God, you are the only person that can hear him; as it’s very rare to find God communicating the same thing to multiple people at once. He always seems to use one person and we are to trust that person. In this way, I fail to see how personal experience constitutes evidence for God; it’s too subjective.

      • There’s much evidence for the existence of Jesus [I’ve been researching this, so I know this is true]. The resurrection was not all that documented [I haven’t found any documentation on that – yet]. However, ALL the disciples said they saw him after he rose again. They ALL went from cowering little wimps to very powerful men who were willing to die [and almost all of them did die] for the sake of Christ. This was not a “one person” phenomena.
        robin

        • robin, I think you’re playing a bit loose and fast with the word ‘evidence’ for if you actually have credible evidence it would change the world as we know it. If you’re finding this evidence on the Internet I’m fairly certain that it is not credible in the sense that I mean. You might personally find it credible but you already believe. If the non-believer does not find it credible it is no good as evidence.

          • http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_the_historical_evidence_for_the_resurrection_of_Jesus

            Jesus was mentioned by several historians of the time – most notably Josephus the Jewish historian (who mentioned his miracles as ‘wondrous works’) and Tacitus the Roman. Pliny also mentioned a new ‘sect’ called the ‘Christians’ that had formed. Roman catacombs, tunnels used to bury the dead, are full of Christian symbols, pictures and depictions of the resurrection engraved on the walls by the earliest Christians hiding there for safety in around 80AD. Another source is Polycarp, who, himself was a disciple of John, the disciple closest to Jesus himself, who has left a great deal of writing about Christ – none of which contradicts the Gospel stories.

            A superb book is atheist Frank Morrison’s ‘Who moved the Stone?’ – a book that was intended to disprove the resurrection on ‘hard’ evidence. The result was that Morrison was converted, became a Christian and had to rewrite the book.

            The disciples, from being a scared group, meeting in locked rooms for fear of the Jewish authorities and Romans, were transformed into a vibrant energetic band of evangelists who spread all over the world. Most died for their beliefs. Would they have done this knowing that everything was a put-up job?

            After Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit, they were fired up so much that the Christian church spread across Europe from this tiny backwater of a desert country, where communications were poor, and traveling dangerous, and any deviation from the religion of Rome (e.g. worship of the Emperor) was a sure death sentence, to such an extent that Christian churches were present over most of the Mediterranean area, Africa, India, the Middle east, Spain, Italy and other places by the end of the 1st century, and in many cases just 10-20 years after the events. All this hardly possible if everything was based on a lie.

            The silence by those opposed to Jesus is a strong argument in favor of the resurrection.
            In the case of the resurrection of Jesus we can argue positively from the silence of His non-believing opponents for a number of reasons:
            1. They had just crucified Jesus and had power and authority on their side (in human political terms).
            2. Their antagonism to Jesus who they regarded as an ‘impostor’, led them to set a guard over His tomb to prevent any lies being told that He was risen from the dead.
            3. They felt the necessity to concoct a story to ‘cover’ the soldiers,
            4. No body was ever produced, even though the opponents of Jesus undoubtedly knew where the tomb was.
            5. No torture or interrogation or even executions were ever undertaken to force divulgence of the ‘plot’ to steal away Jesus’ body and its new location.
            6. No counter-claim by eyewitnesses was ever recorded even though they had both the motivation and the ability (as mentioned above) as well as the opportunity to do so.
            7. The authorities were certainly made aware of the claims of Jesus’ followers that He had risen from the dead, at an early time, both from the testimony first of the guards and then from the preaching of the believers.

            Records show on a number of occasions that the authorities expressly forbade the teaching or preaching ‘in this name’ but they never denied its historical reality.

            Robin

            • Robin, this is my area of emphasis and you’re getting a lot of things mixed up; sorry to say.

              First, none of the historians that you mentioned were contemporaneous. Additionally, the first of them – Josephus – is a clear example of Christian interpolation; this is rarely even disputed among biblical scholars. You didn’t mention Thallus, but he falls in that category as well. Tacitus, Pliny and Suetonius (another you didn’t mention) all wrote in the second century, which makes them at best, second hand sources. Polycarp is the same, and we actually don’t have very much from him.

              Christian symbols don’t translate to evidence of Jesus’ existence. First, the stories associated with Jesus come from multiple OT books – they’re a mixture of Jewish Wisdom literature and Messianic prophecy. Both of which held a significantly different interpretation prior to the second century CE. Second, Messiah’s were extremely common. For example, many Jews proclaimed Herod to be the Messiah at one time. Also, Joseph ben Pandera had many followers and was proclaimed as the Messiah. I’m telling you this because they (1) expected a new Messiah to appear and (2) many were proclaimed as such. This means we should expect pictures and symbols, but it doesn’t mean the NT Jesus actually existed.

              Frank Morrison isn’t a biblical scholar. I’m not saying you have to be, but this isn’t an area anyone can just jump into. Regardless, his claims are much like those you’re proposing.

              What we know of the disciples comes from the NT. Wouldn’t you expect to hear of such tales? We know absolutely nothing of them outside of the NT, which is strange since they are said to have been so popular and charismatic.

              “After Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit, they were fired up so much that the Christian church spread across Europe from this tiny backwater of a desert country, where communications were poor, and traveling dangerous, and any deviation from the religion of Rome (e.g. worship of the Emperor) was a sure death sentence, to such an extent that Christian churches were present over most of the Mediterranean area, Africa, India, the Middle east, Spain, Italy and other places by the end of the 1st century, and in many cases just 10-20 years after the events. All this hardly possible if everything was based on a lie.”

              This is one of the clearest examples of Christian revisionism. First, we could make the same argument of cultural diffusion for any religion. Mithra began as a Zoroastrian deity, transformed into a Greek Hero, and migrated to Rome as Mithras. How could this happen if it was based on a lie? Why would people die for him if he never existed? Second, the intolerance you’re trying to portray is simply unfounded. Rome was one of the most tolerant empires the world has ever known. There are very few examples that portray Christians as being unjustly persecuted, and those were by tyrants – which means EVERYONE was being persecuted. That’s why Rome’s religion towards the second century was so muddled. They accepted hundreds of belief structures. Lastly, the Church took hundreds of years to spread. Not 10, not 20; hundreds.

              Finally, everyone of the last 7 examples you gave presuppose the existence of Jesus. In other words, they were silent on X is predicated on his existence. It’s much more likely that they were silent on X because Y didn’t exist.

              I’ll close this little rant by saying this: neither of us can prove his existence or non-existence. There is simply not enough evidence and too much evidence to the contrary. But let’s concede for a moment and say he did exist. That doesn’t prove he was divine; it doesn’t prove he rose from the dead or performed miracles (which the NT has different versions of). All it proves is that there was a guy named Jesus from the first century that people worshiped. Well, there have been a lot of those, so should we believe in all of them?

              • Thanks for that. Well stated. Your final thought there is, for me, the important one. All those 1st century folk that ‘believed’ does not prove anything. Only years before they believed in other gods and with the same level of evidence. There are lots of folk that think the world is flat. Should we believe the world is flat just because lots of people believe it? What about those that think Nibiru is going to destroy the Earth? There are lots of them, should we believe their story?

                To me, the problem with the rapid spread of Christianity across Europe is this: Constantine spread it with the sword, more or less. The Nicene council were fairly reluctant to oppose the Emperor on which books should be in the cannon and no matter how that story gets spun, politics haven’t gotten worse over the years, they’ve always been bad like they are now. Going against the Emperor is a good way to die. This is not a testament to the value of the cannon but to the strength of the emperor. If he says Christianity is the new religion – well, everyone remembers what happened to Christians before it was the new religion, right? Constantine solidified the power of the church whose fine apolitical leaders followed through with care and feeding of the power and influence of the church.

                To say that Christianity spread due to the value of the message is to ignore all of human history and the want of greedy people to grow their power base… often at the expense of truth and justice.

  2. I am glad you made a distinction between atheism and nihilism. This is a particular argument I run into quite frequently. Brilliantly written; I really enjoyed this!

    • Thank you very much. Only 4 parts left to go … phew.

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