Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Meaning of Life

There has been much discussion in the last several years about the possibility of extending the human life span. As futuristic as it sounds, medical research is uncovering possible methods by which the maximum age could increase from about 120 years to 160, 180, 200, and just keep on going. Some argue against extending lives because they believe it to be unnatural. I have no sympathy for this view. I don't see how this objection wouldn't also apply to any and every kind of medical treatment.

That's a post for another day though. For now, I just want to emphasize what the possibility of extending life spans does not do. Avoiding death is a good goal to have, but the mere extension of our lives can never satisfy. Immortality is not enough: we need meaning. We need a meaningful life. The atheist existentialists tried to address this, but never really went beyond the suggestion that we should pretend our lives have meaning even though they really don't. Others may say that making other people happy or making a difference in society would do it. But that doesn't give any real meaning, only a relative meaning. That is, if the happiness of others or the betterment of society has no meaning, then working towards one of them is simply arbitrary. If changing the world for the better is pointless and meaningless, then why bother? Why not work towards making other people suicidal, or for the downfall of civilization instead? If our existence doesn't have any significance, any purpose, any meaning, then what motivation is there to do or say anything?

It seems to me that the only serious answer one could give would be pleasure. But this has several problems:

First, when we pursue pleasure, we tend to become sickened. If we seek pleasure with food and gorge ourselves, or with alcohol and drunkeness, it stops being fun. This doesn't just mean that if you eat or drink too much you'll get sick. It also means that if we regularly gorge ourselves, or regularly get drunk, it tends to become less and less pleasurable.

Second, if someone gets pleasure from something that is harmful to others, like child-abuse, what could motivate them to not pursue such pleasure? Well, the danger of being caught perhaps. But this only means that such a person would only abuse children when he's confident that he can get away with it. A sophisticated murderer would only kill people whose lives have less impact on society, and therefore their deaths would also have less impact; and so he would be able to get away with it. This is simply unacceptable.

Third, seeking pleasure is something everybody does. If it really led to the highest satisfaction one could achieve in life, why would anyone think otherwise? It's like that Calvin and Hobbes comic where Calvin taped paper wings to his arms so he could fly. Hobbes asks him "If paper wings is all it takes to fly, don't you think we'd have heard about it by now?" If pleasure is all there is to life, don't you think everyone would have realized it by now? But we don't: we realize that there is more to life, although we often can't put our finger on it. Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli, two Catholic philosophers from Boston College, wrote that to live solely for pleasure "is the stupidest gamble in the world, for it is the only one that has consistently never paid off ... every batter who has ever approached that plate has struck out. ... After trillions of failures and a one hundred percent failure rate, this is one experiment no one should keep trying." An essay by William Lane Craig, published as chapter 2 of his book Reasonable Faith, discusses this and similar themes; it's called "The Absurdity of Life Without God". Read it at your own risk.

(cross-posted at Agent Intellect)


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68 comments:

Matko said...

Where does theistic existentialism tie into this?

Karl said...

Not only that, but pleasure can be taken away in an instant. The French aristocrats in the 1780s were really enjoying the good life but then the 1790s rolled around and we all know what happened then. So a wannabe Epicurean can easily be cast into Hell-on-Earth with little or no warning and all the pleasure he/she had beforehand isn't going to be much comfort then.

So yeah, I am still surprised that the idea still has followers when history has shown repeatedly that trying to build a life based on pleasure is like trying to build a foundation on quicksand.

Oh and Matko, Jim pointed out that atheist existentialists never really addressed this question. You see if you believe there is no God or no eternal soul then the minute you die, the last person who knows you dies and the last record of your existence gets destroyed (which will happen sooner or later) then it will be like you never existed. It won't matter one bit if you died as a famous movie star or as some poor unlucky bastard in a concentration camp.

The atheist existentialist response was to basically ignore this uncomfortable fact as Jim said. Pretend our lives have meaning even though they really don't. The one or two atheist existentialists that actually did think about either switched to some other belief system or sank into despair and insanity like Nietzsche.

Matko said...

Karl, you misread what I wrote. I meant theistic existentialism like Kierkegaard's or Barth's, not atheistic like Sartre's.

On to your post: You're absolutely correct in your last paragraph. That's one of the reasons why existentialism crumbled after it claimed to solve man's existentialistic crisis after proclaimed death of God. The one atheistic existentialist who switched his belief system is Sarte who lauded Marxism at the end.

Jim S. said...

If I understand existentialism correctly -- and that's a big if -- they claim that we necessarily relate to something beyond the self that is larger than the self. Since atheism denies this (other people are not larger than oneself, and society is just a bunch of selves), they have to say that we must invent something larger than the self to relate to, even if it doesn't have any actual reality. Christian existentialism focuses on this need to relate to something bigger than the self, but allows for it to be God. This is misleading though, since a lot of them will say that applying any category to God, even existence, is idolatry.

I wrote a post on my other blog about Camus and Christianity a year and half ago, if anyone's interested: http://agentintellect.blogspot.com/2008/03/camus-and-christianity.html

Karl said...

Sorry Matko, I had just gotten off work and I was tired when I wrote that; thought I saw an A in front of the T.

Tim O'Neill said...

"The atheist existentialists tried to address this, but never really went beyond the suggestion that we should pretend our lives have meaning even though they really don't."

I can't speak for any "atheist existentialists", but my life has plenty of meaning thanks. Of course, I'm referring to extrinsic meaning rather than the intrinsic meaning assumed by Christians and most other theists. But the extrinsic meanings that give my life significance - my family, friends, passions, hobbies, pursuits, ambitions, goals - are, I would argue, what really gives us ALL a reason to jump out of bed in the morning.

When people tell me that unless their lives had some theistic intrinsic meaning (eg "God's plan") they wouldn't be worth living I either (a) pity them that their lives are so sad and barren or (b) don't actually believe them.

The extrinsic meanings with which we humans invest our lives are what matters. Imaginary intrinsic meanings based on "God" are fantasies that are essentially window dressing around what is really important.

Noons said...

I have to bring up another point about life-extension: overpopulation.

At any given moment on Earth, there are about 3 generations present. If life can be extended several decades, we would have 4 generations on Earth, a lot more people, but the same amount of food, water, etc.

Not only that, but what about youth extension? What if you could have the body of a 20 year old for 20 years or more? You could have several kids, watch them grow up, graduate college, all without getting gray hair and wrinkles...and then have more kids!

So each generation could produce two generations of offspring, similar to certain animals who mate and give birth every year, only for us it might be 2 or 3 kids, then another 2 or 3 after a 20-year gap.

The world's resources would never be able to supply such a large number of people, it would be a disaster.

Humphrey said...

"Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli, two Catholic philosophers from Boston College, wrote that to live solely for pleasure "is the stupidest gamble in the world, for it is the only one that has consistently never paid off ... every batter who has ever approached that plate has struck out".

Hmmm, I don't know about that. Hugh Hefner seems pretty happy to me.

Karl said...

Tim, most of the lives of the people I have seen bring up this argument don't strike me as being sad and barren. The argument springs up from the logical contradiction of claiming that your 'family, friends, passions, hobbies, pursuits, ambitions, goals' have significance when in the end they really don't.

If you don't believe in an eternal soul or God then your world literally ends with you. A hundred years from now the odds that anybody-including our own families-will actually care what any of us did is rather remote (I mean how many grandkids care about what their grandparents did with their lives?) And the fact that you and I had a good job or we enjoyed certain hobbies I doubt will be much comfort when death comes to claim us.

Jim S. said...

Tim: if by "extrinsic" meaning you mean subjective meaning, and if by "intrinsic" you mean objective meaning then I have a problem with it.

Let me put it in terms of ethics: if I were to say that murder is wrong according to my subjective morality, then I'm not really saying that murder is wrong. I'm only saying something about myself. "Subjective morality" is a contradiction in terms, since morality already contains the concept of its own objectivity within it.

I think this transfers over to meaning. If I said that my life has subjective meaning, then I'm only saying something about myself, not about the meaning. "Meaning" means "objective meaning."

Anonymous said...

A commitment to extrinsic meaning seems rather to fit under that "pretend our lives have meaning when they really don't" heading, at least when intrinsic meaning is denied. And there's something odd about talk of what's "really important" when conjoined with that same denial.

But then, this is where consistency seems to get thrown out the window. Craig seems to note as much as well.

Tim O'Neill said...

Tim, most of the lives of the people I have seen bring up this argument don't strike me as being sad and barren.

No, I'm sure they aren't. Which is why I don't believe them when they tell me that life is meaningless without God. I'm an atheist and my lifge is full of meaning and purpose. So would theirs be if they woke up tomorrow and found they had no belief in God. They would still have all the other types of meaning that give their lives purpose, meaning and significance.

The argument springs up from the logical contradiction of claiming that your 'family, friends, passions, hobbies, pursuits, ambitions, goals' have significance when in the end they really don't.

Pardon? Sorry, they have a great deal of significance. But of course you mean they don't have intrinsic meaning - ie some kind of meaning or significance in the context of the make up of the universe. To which I'd reply "Who the hell would be so arrogant as to think their lives should have that kind of significance? Who would be so deluded as to need that kind of significance for their lives to be worthwhile? Are they insane?"

If you don't believe in an eternal soul or God then your world literally ends with you. A hundred years from now the odds that anybody-including our own families-will actually care what any of us did is rather remote (I mean how many grandkids care about what their grandparents did with their lives?) And the fact that you and I had a good job or we enjoyed certain hobbies I doubt will be much comfort when death comes to claim us.

Umm, yes. So? Big deal. 44 years ago no-one knew anything about me and I had no significance in the universe at all because I didn't exist. So you're saying I'll return to that state? Wow - big deal.

JimS:
Tim: if by "extrinsic" meaning you mean subjective meaning, and if by "intrinsic" you mean objective meaning then I have a problem with it.

No. "Intrinsic" = some plan or purpose built into the structure of the universe of which we are a part. "Extrinsic" = signficances, plans or purposes of our own which are not part of some over-arching cosmic scheme.

I find extrinsic meanings to be what really gives our lives meaning. Imagining our lives have some cosmic significance strikes me as rather odd and feeling our lives are totally pointless unless they do have such significance is downright weird.

A commitment to extrinsic meaning seems rather to fit under that "pretend our lives have meaning when they really don't" heading, at least when intrinsic meaning is denied.

Sorry, but I'm not "pretending" anything about what gives my life meaning and purpose. I don't pretend that those extrinsic meanings are the same as the (supposed) intrinsic ones imagined by many theists, but I don't have the need to see my life as cosmically significant. And, as I explain above, I find those who do to be rather odd.

Anonymous said...

"Sorry, but I'm not "pretending" anything about what gives my life meaning and purpose. I don't pretend that those extrinsic meanings are the same as the (supposed) intrinsic ones imagined by many theists, but I don't have the need to see my life as cosmically significant. And, as I explain above, I find those who do to be rather odd."

You don't really explain much of anything. You just call them odd, weird, and otherwise. You're insisting you don't need intrinsic meanings to be happy - but it seems everyone else in this thread is admitting that's possible. They're just pointing out how that happiness is attained.

You deride intrinsic meanings as "fantasies", but then you talk about how what's really important is extrinsic meaning. I just pointed out that A) There is no "really important" aspect of a world with no intrinsic meaning (unless those words get butchered) and I'd add that B) extrinsic meanings are fluff. Mere assertions that reflect nothing more than a subjective, transient judgment call.

Indeed, extrinsic meaning in a world with no intrinsic meaning (or even a world WITH intrinsic meaning, but with an individual mentality that rules such out) comes across as "fantasy" almost by definition. "All the world is nothing but a pointless accident that burped humans onto the scene, but damnit, -I- think justice, friendship, and love are the most important values in the universe!" Alright, but that seems so close to 'pretending' that I can practically hear Walt Disney talking about imagineering.

Tim O'Neill said...

You don't really explain much of anything. You just call them odd, weird, and otherwise. You're insisting you don't need intrinsic meanings to be happy - but it seems everyone else in this thread is admitting that's possible. They're just pointing out how that happiness is attained.

My original post was commenting on the argument I regularly encounter that claims that a life without intrinsic meaning (eg “God’s plan”) is meaningless. Others countered by claiming that investing my life with extrinsic meanings (eg my family, curing cancer, building a model train diaroma in my back shed) I’m somehow “pretending” my life has meaning. There’s no “pretence” involved – these meanings are real. And, I would argue, they are the ones that actually get all of us out of bed in the morning and give us satisfaction or new drive as we go to bed each night. Far more so than abstract (and distinctly less accessible) intrinsic meanings like “God’s plan”. In other words, these extrinsic meanings are the real “meaning of life”.

You deride intrinsic meanings as "fantasies", but then you talk about how what's really important is extrinsic meaning. I just pointed out that A) There is no "really important" aspect of a world with no intrinsic meaning (unless those words get butchered) and I'd add that B) extrinsic meanings are fluff. Mere assertions that reflect nothing more than a subjective, transient judgment call.

Sorry, but my family and my loved ones are pretty bloody important and rather less than “fluff”. And they are certainly more real than some invisible being and some alleged cosmic plan he supposedly has for me.

Indeed, extrinsic meaning in a world with no intrinsic meaning (or even a world WITH intrinsic meaning, but with an individual mentality that rules such out) comes across as "fantasy" almost by definition. "All the world is nothing but a pointless accident that burped humans onto the scene, but damnit, -I- think justice, friendship, and love are the most important values in the universe!"

I can see my family and loved ones and they are the centre of my life. When I see some evidence of your invisible friend and his big cosmic plan, I’ll pay some attention to that idea. Until then, compared to the very real things that give my life meaning, your invisible pal and his mysterious (and rather nonsensical) plan are the things that seem to be deluded and self-indulgent fantasy.

Anonymous said...

"There’s no “pretence” involved – these meanings are real. And, I would argue, they are the ones that actually get all of us out of bed in the morning and give us satisfaction or new drive as we go to bed each night. Far more so than abstract (and distinctly less accessible) intrinsic meanings like “God’s plan”. In other words, these extrinsic meanings are the real “meaning of life”."

On the contrary, intrinsic meaning is what enables more personal joy to begin with. When things like life, values, etc are recognized not as ultimately the unpurposeful stuff of pointless happenstance but actually a fundamental part of existence itself - in other words, I don't need to 'give' them value, because they are, or even may, have an innate, intrinsic value all their own - it grounds the worth of everything else.

But you're insisting "these meanings are real!" while at the same time insisting intrinsic meaning does not exist. What does that leave you with? Honestly, not all that much. Fantasy. Attempting to provide meaning to an intrinsically meaningless universe through sheer force of will. "Real because I said so", like this is a Monopoly game and all that matters is enunciating the rules beforehand.

"Sorry, but my family and my loved ones are pretty bloody important and rather less than “fluff”. And they are certainly more real than some invisible being and some alleged cosmic plan he supposedly has for me."

The only "pretty bloody" importance your family and your loved ones could have is what you choose to assign to them. If every other day you decided "To hell with those guys, they're worthless" and every day between you decided "they are the most important things in the universe, worthy of all my love", well... that's what they'd be. Changing in value and meaning from day to day. You wouldn't be wrong, nor would the 'meaning' be incorrect. Because it's all made-up anyway. Fantasy, fluff.

"I can see my family and loved ones and they are the centre of my life. When I see some evidence of your invisible friend and his big cosmic plan, I’ll pay some attention to that idea. Until then, compared to the very real things that give my life meaning, your invisible pal and his mysterious (and rather nonsensical) plan are the things that seem to be deluded and self-indulgent fantasy."

The evidence abounds - but even if it didn't abound, so what? That doesn't make your meaning any more real, and any less of delusion. You seem to think that, so long as you rule out God or intrinsic meaning, then you can say 'Well, extrinsic meaning is all we got, and therefore it's all we need!' But what's being pointed out here is that extrinsic meaning... ain't much meaning at all. It's play-acting.

You insist your extrinsic meaning is real. Ergo, your family and loved ones "really are" important, special. Let's roll with that. If tomorrow you decided - whether due to reflection, inexplicable change of heart or a blow to the head - that, actually, all those people are worthless eaters, a pox on humanity.. is that what they would "really" be? Because that seems like it would be the case. And if so, it illustrates why this "extrinsic value" claim comes across as little more than playing make-believe - not accidentally, but intentionally - 24/7.

Karl said...

No, I'm sure they aren't. Which is why I don't believe them when they tell me that life is meaningless without God. I'm an atheist and my lifge is full of meaning and purpose. So would theirs be if they woke up tomorrow and found they had no belief in God. They would still have all the other types of meaning that give their lives purpose, meaning and significance.

Tim, how can something created by an accident have any purpose? Because if there is no intelligence governing this universe then we are literally meaningless; the human race arose out of an evolutionary fluke and odds are pretty good it will one day end. Any purpose we might find in our life is facade placed over that reality. That is the heart of atheist existentialism: find whatever temporary meaning you could in your life and don't think about this subject.

You know, I once saw Canadian poll results that showed something like sixty-three percent of Christians seriously think about their own mortality but only about twenty-seven percent of atheists do.

Pardon? Sorry, they have a great deal of significance. But of course you mean they don't have intrinsic meaning - ie some kind of meaning or significance in the context of the make up of the universe. To which I'd reply "Who the hell would be so arrogant as to think their lives should have that kind of significance? Who would be so deluded as to need that kind of significance for their lives to be worthwhile? Are they insane?"

But how can they have significance? By any definition something that came from nothing and one day will be nothing is nothing. Of the things you listed that give your life meaning, one day any and all traces of them will be gone. If you are real unlucky you will survive to see that happen. After all, a terrorist could nuke your city tomorrow and destroy everything you held dear. Suppose by some fluke you survived. Would they still have significance and meaning in your eyes then?

And I don't think its arrogance. I think its more of coming to terms with their place in the universe, realizing how truly small and insignificant they are without a soul or God. The ones who didn't believe in those two things but did think about this subject, like Russell and Nietzsche, either sank into despair or insanity.

Umm, yes. So? Big deal. 44 years ago no-one knew anything about me and I had no significance in the universe at all because I didn't exist. So you're saying I'll return to that state? Wow - big deal.

Aren't you kind of saying that your friends, family and co-workers lives would have been the same if you never existed? Odds are they could have gotten along fine without you and like you said the world got along fine without you for a long time. So how can you honestly say that your life does have significance or meaning? You just kind of admitted it doesn't. And I think it is a big deal for you because you are continuing to discuss the subject.

Tim O'Neill said...

On the contrary, intrinsic meaning is what enables more personal joy to begin with.

If you believe that, then fine. That just brings us back, however, to the rather vexed question of whether these supposed intrinsic meanings are real or a fantasy. That question simply doesn’t arise when it comes to my extrinsic meanings – my family, loved ones and passionate interests are clearly real whereas your “God” is the subject of some debate and is possibly imaginary. I’m fairly happy sticking to my indisputably real meanings to life thanks.

But you're insisting "these meanings are real!" while at the same time insisting intrinsic meaning does not exist.

No, actually. I pointing out that there is grave doubt about your intrinsic meanings, whereas my neighbour’s excellent train diorama is right there in his back shed.

What does that leave you with? Honestly, not all that much. Fantasy.

Pardon? So my neighbour and I have just imagined his excellent train diorama and his back shed is really empty? Odd – it looked pretty real to me.

Attempting to provide meaning to an intrinsically meaningless universe through sheer force of will. "

Umm, no. My neighbour really does love making his diorama. I really do love my family. And trout fishing. And studying history. And doing volunteer work. You’re getting muddled because you’re thinking I’m claiming these extrinsic meanings are exactly the same as your intrinsic one. I’m not. But their significance has the same effect – it gives our lives meaning and purpose. Why you think meaning can only be significant if it’s somehow “objective” and intrinsic to the universe is a question I’ll leave you to ponder.

The only "pretty bloody" importance your family and your loved ones could have is what you choose to assign to them.
Yes. So? I’d still happily sacrifice my life to save any one of them. Does that sound trivial to you?

Because it's all made-up anyway. Fantasy, fluff.

Nonsense – it’s totally real. And highly significant. You still need to work out why you need something to be intrinsic to the universe to have any significance. That assumption of yours is what seems baseless here. The fact is, my family is as real any anything can get and their significance is equally real.

The evidence abounds

It “abounds” yet there is a whole area of philosophy devoted purely to the question of whether or not your “God” or something like him even exists. We can’t say that about the existence of my family or my neighbour’s train set. Compared to the evidence for them, and their significance to my neighbour and I, your “God” looks pretty damn nebulous.

Tim O'Neill said...

Karl:
Tim, how can something created by an accident have any purpose?


I said they can give our lives purpose. I’m not referring to the kind of purpose in an intrinsic meaning to life – “intention, part of a wider plan”, but rather the kind of purpose a goal or objective can give us – “my kids are the reason I do the hard things in life”.

You know, I once saw Canadian poll results that showed something like sixty-three percent of Christians seriously think about their own mortality but only about twenty-seven percent of atheists do.

I’ve seen polls that say all kinds of things and I often wonder what questions they used to come up with the results. How exactly do you measure how “seriously” someone thinks about their mortality, for example? Personally, I’ve had enough personal experience of deaths and mortality to have give it plenty of “serious” thought thanks. I’ve recently buried one good friend and have another in the last stages of a terminal brain tumour right now. So please watch the condescending insinuations, okay?

But how can they have significance?

They have significance to me. Since they are investing my life with meaning, that’s the only significance that matters. Frankly, I think my neighbour’s train set hobby is silly and a bit nerdy, but he loves it. Good for him.

Of the things you listed that give your life meaning, one day any and all traces of them will be gone.

Since by then I’ll probably be gone too, why should that bother me at all?

If you are real unlucky you will survive to see that happen. After all, a terrorist could nuke your city tomorrow and destroy everything you held dear. Suppose by some fluke you survived. Would they still have significance and meaning in your eyes then?

That would be tragic. But I’m sure then I’d have new goals, passions and objectives which would invest my life with meaning.

And I don't think its arrogance. I think its more of coming to terms with their place in the universe, realizing how truly small and insignificant they are without a soul or God. The ones who didn't believe in those two things but did think about this subject, like Russell and Nietzsche, either sank into despair or insanity.

Ah, the old “you haven’t really thought about it because the truth of the lack of intrinsic meaning leads to nihilism or madness!” nonsense. Sorry, but that’s garbage.

Aren't you kind of saying that your friends, family and co-workers lives would have been the same if you never existed?

Where did I say that?

Odds are they could have gotten along fine without you and like you said the world got along fine without you for a long time. So how can you honestly say that your life does have significance or meaning? You just kind of admitted it doesn't.

No, I didn’t. Whether they could get along without me or not it irrelevant. The point is that I am here and so are they. So they are significant elements in my life that invest it with meaning and purpose. If I wasn’t here, the whole question of what invests my life with meaning and purpose would be moot.

And I think it is a big deal for you because you are continuing to discuss the subject.

Eh? What does that mean?

Anonymous said...

"If you believe that, then fine. That just brings us back, however, to the rather vexed question of whether these supposed intrinsic meanings are real or a fantasy. That question simply doesn’t arise when it comes to my extrinsic meanings – my family, loved ones and passionate interests are clearly real whereas your “God” is the subject of some debate and is possibly imaginary. I’m fairly happy sticking to my indisputably real meanings to life thanks."

Actually, the 'real meanings to life' are being disputed right here. That they're not "real" - or that their "reality" is tremendously bankrupt and empty - is what's being highlighted. That you're -happy- isn't really under dispute. Really, Craig and others expressly point out that happiness is possible here. It's how that happiness is achieved. And how this is the case for a pure extrinsic meaning regardless of the truth of intrinsic meaning.

"No, actually. I pointing out that there is grave doubt about your intrinsic meanings, whereas my neighbour’s excellent train diorama is right there in his back shed."

I'd disagree that there's 'grave doubt' - it's vastly more likely than the alternative, I'd argue. But even if intrinsic meaning does not exist, it doesn't make your extrinsic more than it is - which is, fantasy. Delusion. Fluff.

"Pardon? So my neighbour and I have just imagined his excellent train diorama and his back shed is really empty? Odd – it looked pretty real to me."

Meanings, neither intrinsic nor extrinsic, are physically concrete. So you're either avoiding the subject with the comparison, or you're cutting your own legs out from under you (I see a train, but I don't see extrinsic meaning - must not exist!)

"Nonsense – it’s totally real. And highly significant. You still need to work out why you need something to be intrinsic to the universe to have any significance. That assumption of yours is what seems baseless here."

It's not an assumption, it's the fact of the matter. No intrinsic meaning = no ultimate significance. You've watered that term down to mean 'It makes me feel happy!' - but your ability to be happy hasn't been in dispute.

I notice, by the way, you utterly passed by my question. I suppose since it too starkly illustrates what "real meaning" you get when you deny all intrinsic meaning, and insist that extrinsic is "real".

"It “abounds” yet there is a whole area of philosophy devoted purely to the question of whether or not your “God” or something like him even exists."

And there's countless papers and books written on whether or not the physical world exists, what physical means, or - indeed - whether train sets 'exist' (look up mereological nihilism.) If I'm supposed to be threatened by the fact that philosophers discuss many things, sorry. ;)deati

Tim O'Neill said...

Unfortunately Blogger isn’t really set up for lengthy “quote and reply” responses, so I’ll cut to the chase.

Anon. – your problem with my feeling that extrinsic meanings are more than enough to invest life with meaning and significance is based on your continued assertions that, unless these have some intrinsic, objective, cosmic basis they are “Fantasy. Delusion. Fluff.” You still haven’t explained why this is so. It is not a “fantasy” that my family exists – they do. It’s not a “delusion” that I love them and that my interactions with them form a major part of my life – I do. And this is not “fluff” – it’s a significant element of my life that not only simply gives me simple happiness (sometimes it doesn’t, actually) but clearly invests my life with meaning, purpose and significance.

None of these things cease to be true simply because there is (IMO) no intrinsic plan or cosmic purpose to life. They remain true, real and significant.

You referred to WLC’s essay, which I must say I found distinctly unimpressive. Like most apologetics, it struck me more as an exercise in reassuring the faithful than anything that would convince a sceptic. Craig seems to have the same mental roadblock when it comes to the significance of extrinsic meaning as you do:

If there is no God then man and the universe is doomed. Like prisoners condemned to death, we await our inevitable execution. There is no God and there is no immortality. And what is the consequence of this? It means life itself is absurd. It means that life the life we have is without ultimate significance, value and purpose.

I’m sure WLC intends those portentous sentences to have some vast impact (I can almost hear dramatic organ chords in the background as I read them), but my response and the response of any non-believer would be “Yes. And? Where did you get the rather silly and pompous idea that your life should have ‘ultimate significance, value and purpose’ in the first place?”

To me, those sentences are like someone declaring “If I am not an amazing superhero with incredible crime-fighting super-powers, I am merely an ordinary person wearing a silly costume and a cape. That would be awful compared to being an amazing superhero, so I must be a superhero after all!”

The fact is that our friend in the silly costume and cape is just an ordinary person and it would be rather more sensible for them to accept that fact and see the good aspects of being an ordinary person than to continue to pretend they are a superhero.

I’m simply pointing out that there is nothing at all wrong with being an ordinary person and that, in fact, it’s rather good. You seem to be insisting that unless we are all superheroes life isn’t worth living. That is very odd.

Anonymous said...

"You still haven’t explained why this is so. It is not a “fantasy” that my family exists – they do. It’s not a “delusion” that I love them and that my interactions with them form a major part of my life – I do. And this is not “fluff” – it’s a significant element of my life that not only simply gives me simple happiness (sometimes it doesn’t, actually) but clearly invests my life with meaning, purpose and significance."

Yes, your family exists. Do you love them? Sure, let's go with that. It's that last claim that falls to pieces.

You say it not only gives you happiness, but "invests your life with meaning, purpose, and significance". Well, you're rejecting intrinsic meaning - so you cannot possibly be saying that these things have this value regardless of what you think. Indeed, what you think of them is the only source of "meaning" here whatsoever. Change what you think, and you change the meaning.

That's a big problem here - you're using deluded terms. You talk about how these things "invest your life with meaning, purpose, and significance" - as if this meaning, purpose and significance were something external to you, this fabulous thing that was coming into your life. But that is not the case, and cannot be the case. It's your view of these things that is the only source of meaning possible in your view. And that means that these things aren't "investing your life" with anything. You are, by attaching meaning to them.

Mind you, I'm not making a stunning revelation here. I'm just pointing out that extrinsic meaning is... extrinsic meaning. Meaning you graft onto your world, meaning that only means "I am going to say meaning X exists, for me!" If you can't see why this makes your meaning into fantasy, oh well.

"I’m simply pointing out that there is nothing at all wrong with being an ordinary person and that, in fact, it’s rather good. You seem to be insisting that unless we are all superheroes life isn’t worth living. That is very odd."

First off - there's no real way you can point out that there's 'nothing at all wrong with being an ordinary person', or that 'it's rather good'. Extrinsic meaning, remember? You can say 'there's nothing at all wrong with being an ordinary person' only insofar as that's the meaning you've forcibly grafted on to the situation. If someone else replies, 'there's something deeply wrong with being an ordinary person', that's their extrinsic meaning. Fantastic! You're both right, in a way!

Second, the whole example seems horribly butchered. No one is saying that we -deserve- intrinsic meaning. It's simply being pointed out that, if there's no intrinsic meaning, then there's... no intrinsic meaning. You seem to be suggesting that life is valuable and meaningful and worth living even lacking intrinsic meaning and worth because... what? You judge it to be 'silly' and 'pompous'? More extrinsic meanings employed as if they were intrinsic meanings.

Again: Let's say you weren't talking to me about the love of your family. Let's say your family wasn't involved at all, in fact. Instead, you told me this:

"It's not a "fantasy" that my empty bottle of Sierra Mist Free exists. It's not a "delusion" that I love it deeply and that my interactions with it form a major part of my life - I do. And this is not “fluff” – it’s a significant element of my life that not only simply gives me simple happiness (sometimes it doesn’t, actually) but clearly invests my life with meaning, purpose and significance."

Sounds a whole lot crazier, doesn't it? Surprise: It's just as valid, and just as meaningful in the limit. Because you're the one applying (as in, making up) the value.

To insist that there is no intrinsic value in the world, yet to insist there's value nevertheless because of what one mentally projects is the stuff of delusion or inconsistency. Fantasy. Fluff.

Tim O'Neill said...

Yes, your family exists. Do you love them? Sure, let's go with that. It's that last claim that falls to pieces.

You say it not only gives you happiness, but "invests your life with meaning, purpose, and significance". Well, you're rejecting intrinsic meaning - so you cannot possibly be saying that these things have this value regardless of what you think.


Here’s where you keep getting tangled up. Of course the regard I have for my family has value – it has precisely the level of value that I myself invest it with. Ditto for my neighbour’s train set hobby. I may think it’s a nerdy waste of time, but it has great value and significance to him. It’s a reason he springs out of bed in the morning and the knowledge that he has done a good job on it that day gives him satisfaction when he goes to bed at night.

These are the extrinsic meanings that we give our lives. And they are the things that mean, despite the lack of intrinsic meaning in the cosmos, our lives aren’t the bleak and howling nihilistic wastelands of Craig’s dramatic rhetoric. A life without God is not absurd at all. It’s just … life.

You keep insisting that unless my extrinsic meanings have exactly the same kind of value and significance as your intrinsic ones they have no value at all. That’s nonsense – they have precisely the value I invest them with.

Indeed, what you think of them is the only source of "meaning" here whatsoever. Change what you think, and you change the meaning.

Sure. And the problem with that would be … ?

That's a big problem here - you're using deluded terms. You talk about how these things "invest your life with meaning, purpose, and significance" - as if this meaning, purpose and significance were something external to you, this fabulous thing that was coming into your life.

No, I don’t. In fact I have consistently done the opposite. See above.

And that means that these things aren't "investing your life" with anything. You are, by attaching meaning to them.

Yes, I am. And I’ve been saying that all along.

Meaning you graft onto your world, meaning that only means "I am going to say meaning X exists, for me!" If you can't see why this makes your meaning into fantasy, oh well.

Sorry, but how on earth can investing something that is real and has real importance to me with that kind of meaning be “fantasy”? It is real. It’s significance to me is real? Where is the “fantasy”?

Second, the whole example seems horribly butchered. No one is saying that we -deserve- intrinsic meaning. It's simply being pointed out that, if there's no intrinsic meaning, then there's... no intrinsic meaning.

Actually, Craig’s argument does more than that. He argues that unless the universe has some intrinsic meaning there can be no meaning in our lives at all. That’s crap – we still have the extrinsic meanings which, for most of us, are more than enough. As I said originally, if Craig’s life is really so sterile that without God his existence would have no purposes, significance or reasons to keep living then I feel very sad for him. But I also doubt that’s the case.

Tim O'Neill said...

Part II

You seem to be suggesting that life is valuable and meaningful and worth living even lacking intrinsic meaning and worth because... what?

Because we invest it with meanings that vary from person to person. You may have noticed that there are quite a few of we atheists around. You might also have noticed that we live happy fulfilled lives, raise families and do so without wallowing in the slough of existential despair that Craig so melodramatically pretends is the inevitable consequence of not believing in God. Do you honestly think this is because we haven’t stopped to think about this stuff? Or could it be that what I’m saying is true and extrinsic meanings are more than sufficient to give our lives meaning, purpose and significance?

Again: Let's say you weren't talking to me about the love of your family. Let's say your family wasn't involved at all, in fact. Instead, you told me this:

"It's not a "fantasy" that my empty bottle of Sierra Mist Free exists.


That would make me a very odd person, but it still works. I use the family example because that’s an extrinsic meaning that most people share and can relate to. I also use the model train building example to show that even things you and I don’t find significant extrinsic meanings can be such for other people. Your soda bottle example is the same.

To insist that there is no intrinsic value in the world, yet to insist there's value nevertheless because of what one mentally projects is the stuff of delusion or inconsistency. Fantasy. Fluff.

Sorry, but simply repeating that won’t make it true. Investing something real that really does have significance for me with this level of meaning is hardly “fantasy” – it’s real. Which is, BTW, rather more than we can say for imagining a cosmic plan based on an invisible and elusive deity who you aren’t even fully sure exists.

Karl said...

I said they can give our lives purpose. I’m not referring to the kind of purpose in an intrinsic meaning to life – “intention, part of a wider plan”, but rather the kind of purpose a goal or objective can give us – “my kids are the reason I do the hard things in life”.

But that is false purpose, an illusion of meaning. Why engage in a goal when ultimately it will amount to nothing?

I’ve seen polls that say all kinds of things and I often wonder what questions they used to come up with the results. How exactly do you measure how “seriously” someone thinks about their mortality, for example?

This particular poll had questions like 'how much time do you spend thinking about your purpose in life?'

Personally, I’ve had enough personal experience of deaths and mortality to have give it plenty of “serious” thought thanks. I’ve recently buried one good friend and have another in the last stages of a terminal brain tumour right now. So please watch the condescending insinuations, okay?

Sorry to hear that Tim, but you haven't exactly been lax in the condescending insinuations department. I mean you have both implied people who ask this question exhibit monumental arrogance and that their lives are sad and barren.

They have significance to me. Since they are investing my life with meaning, that’s the only significance that matters. Frankly, I think my neighbour’s train set hobby is silly and a bit nerdy, but he loves it. Good for him.

But what gives you the right to decide that they have significance? Why shouldn't the government be allowed to decide if they have significance? After all, it is only a matter of opinion anyway so why shouldn't the government be allowed to decide what is significant and what is a meaningless distraction that needs to go?

Since by then I’ll probably be gone too, why should that bother me at all?

Are you saying you don't care if your great grandchildren and great great grandchildren know if you existed?

That would be tragic. But I’m sure then I’d have new goals, passions and objectives which would invest my life with meaning.

But that brings up a new problem, how can you just come up with a new group of passions and objectives to give your life meaning after the old ones are destroyed? Doesn't that imply the ones you have aren't as important as you make out right now if they can be dropped and replaced with new ones should the need arise?

Ah, the old “you haven’t really thought about it because the truth of the lack of intrinsic meaning leads to nihilism or madness!” nonsense. Sorry, but that’s garbage.

And that isn't much of a rebuttal. Mind telling us how it is garbage considering how tends to happen on a fairly regular basis? Not mention, you just saying something is garbage doesn't mean it is garbage; just like you saying something has significance, meaning and purpose doesn't mean it does.


Where did I say that?


Its a logical extension of the 'world got along fine without me before 44 years ago' statement.

No, I didn’t. Whether they could get along without me or not it irrelevant. The point is that I am here and so are they. So they are significant elements in my life that invest it with meaning and purpose.

By your own definition, of course. But with no universal standards to judge merely makes it a matter of opinion. Why shouldn't somebody else's opinion about their worth carry more weight?

If I wasn’t here, the whole question of what invests my life with meaning and purpose would be moot.

And you still haven't given a good reason why hat invests your life with meaning and purpose as is.


Eh? What does that mean?


Exactly what it said. Just judging from what I can see here: you have gotten into a long drawn out discussion with two different people on the subject and your tone has become increasingly defensive and belligerent.

Al Moritz said...

I am a theist but here I have to side with Tim. If I became an atheist one day I would still feel my life being meaningful. Certainly, my faith in God gives it extra meaning (and I don't agree with Tim that it is imaginary meaning or a fantasy), but there would be plenty of meaning left if that would fall away (which pretty certainly will not happen).

I really don't see the existential lack of meaning of the atheist's life. I think it is a fake argument.

unouroboros said...

I really don't see this discussion going anywhere. Tim has basically avoided realizing that he's defined "extrinsic meaning" as someone would define "subjective meaning" and then he's denied that they are the same thing. He also seems to use "extrinsic meaning" as parallel to "basic fact descriptions". In other words, Jim S. was right and Tim has taken meaning out of the meaning of Meaning, but he doesn't see that... and is probably now just stuck in "Irish-Australian Bastard" role.

Good luck fellas.

Matko said...

I am a theist but here I have to side with Tim. If I became an atheist one day I would still feel my life being meaningful. Certainly, my faith in God gives it extra meaning (and I don't agree with Tim that it is imaginary meaning or a fantasy), but there would be plenty of meaning left if that would fall away (which pretty certainly will not happen).

I really don't see the existential lack of meaning of the atheist's life. I think it is a fake argument.


Almoritz, the point is not what you feel but is what you're feeling actually true.

We all feel that many things are true and couldn't be otherwise, but whether that feeling is based on a fact is the crux of the matter that can't be ignored, especially when we feel uncomfortable to probe our dearest beliefs and values.

Tim O'Neill said...

Karl:

But that is false purpose, an illusion of meaning. Why engage in a goal when ultimately it will amount to nothing?


And this seems to be the point that several people here can't get past. You guys keep telling me that unless my extrinsic meanings have some ultimate significance, they have no significance at all and any significance I feel they have is an "illusion". And I'm trying to explain that I don't need them to have some ultimate significance at all and that their signficance to me here and now is sufficient.

If such meanings wouldn't be significant to you because they have no ultimate/cosmic/intrinsic significance, then that's your business. But what I'm finding rather staggering here is that people think they can tell me what I should or shouldn't find significant using criteria that I simply don't share. That's pretty damn arrogant.

Sorry to hear that Tim, but you haven't exactly been lax in the condescending insinuations department. I mean you have both implied people who ask this question exhibit monumental arrogance and that their lives are sad and barren.


If you'd been paying attention, you'd have seen that I've repeatedly said that I don't think their lives are sad and barren at all. Read what I said again. As for people here exhibiting arrogance - see above.

But what gives you the right to decide that they have significance?

What gives ME the right to decide what is significant in MY life? Do I really need to answer that absurd question?

Are you saying you don't care if your great grandchildren and great great grandchildren know if you existed?

It would be pleasant if they did, but I'm saying that whether they do or don't doesn't determine whether something in my life is significant to me. I'm currently working on a novel that will probably never see the light of day. It's quite possible no-one will ever read it. Yet it's definitely something that gives my life extrinsic meaning at the moment.

But that brings up a new problem, how can you just come up with a new group of passions and objectives to give your life meaning after the old ones are destroyed? Doesn't that imply the ones you have aren't as important as you make out right now if they can be dropped and replaced with new ones should the need arise?

I believe in your (wierd) scenario I didn't simply "drop" the old ones - they got nuked by frigging terrorists!

And that isn't much of a rebuttal. Mind telling us how it is garbage considering how tends to happen on a fairly regular basis?

And would you mind telling me on what basis you make that assertion? Because there are millions of atheists in the world and most of them seem to be getting on with happy, productive lives just fine.

But with no universal standards to judge merely makes it a matter of opinion.

Yes - MY opinion about what is significant in MY life. Who else's opinion would matter? I really can't see why you are having such trouble grasping this. I don't NEED any "universal" standard to help me decide what is important in my life. My standards are the only ones that matter when it comes to my life. Surely that's bleeding self-evident?

Just judging from what I can see here: you have gotten into a long drawn out discussion with two different people on the subject and your tone has become increasingly defensive and belligerent.

I like long drawn out discussions, and I have a combative debating style. Big deal. You're somehow concluding that because I'm bothering to show how this "atheism = absurdity/nihilism" crap argument is crap this means you must be right?! How does that work? And "defensive"? That's a laugh. You're giving yourself way to much credit buddy.

Tim O'Neill said...

Al Moritz:

I am a theist but here I have to side with Tim. If I became an atheist one day I would still feel my life being meaningful. Certainly, my faith in God gives it extra meaning (and I don't agree with Tim that it is imaginary meaning or a fantasy), but there would be plenty of meaning left if that would fall away (which pretty certainly will not happen).

I really don't see the existential lack of meaning of the atheist's life. I think it is a fake argument.


Bingo! Got it in one.

unouroboros:

Tim has basically avoided realizing that he's defined "extrinsic meaning" as someone would define "subjective meaning" and then he's denied that they are the same thing.


Wrong. I've repeated stated that they are the same thing and that doesn't frigging matter. Who cares if you or I don't think that making a model train diorama in a back shed is significant - my neighbour does. And if it's significant in his life then that's an extrinsic meaning to life for him. No "objective" or "universal" or "ultimate" standards are required.

Come on people - this really isn't that hard to grasp.

Matko said...

Come on people - this really isn't that hard to grasp.

Yeah, I mean, atheists should have courage to watch into nihilistic void their worldview makes. It's not hard to grasp. I completely agree with you, man.

Tim O'Neill said...

"Yeah, I mean, atheists should have courage to watch into nihilistic void their worldview makes. It's not hard to grasp. I completely agree with you, man. "

If that rather feeble attempt at sarcasm is the best you can come up with then that speaks volumes about the weakness of your position. No matter how desperately some here try to cling to this theist myth that atheism leads to nihilism and despair, the evidence of millions of happy, non-nihilistic atheist shows this to be garbage. You DON'T need intrinsic, cosmic, ultimate meanings to make your life full of meaning, purpose and significance - extrinsic, subjective, personal meanings do the trick perfectly well. So Craig's argument is based on a falsehood.

Insisting it's true won't help you. It clearly isn't. So his argument fails.

Karl said...

You guys keep telling me that unless my extrinsic meanings have some ultimate significance, they have no significance at all and any significance I feel they have is an "illusion". And I'm trying to explain that I don't need them to have some ultimate significance at all and that their signficance to me here and now is sufficient.

And you seem to have missed the point that you have confused extrinsic meaning with subjective meaning. That any significance you place on something is merely an opinion. If someone like Josef Stalin decided that prized train set should be melted down for raw materiel for his tanks and guns or that you and your relatives are better off slaving away in a Gulag whose to say he is wrong? You don't have a universal standard to hold him to.

But what I'm finding rather staggering here is that people think they can tell me what I should or shouldn't find significant using criteria that I simply don't share. That's pretty damn arrogant.

And I think somebody going "I don't care about objective reality, my opinions and feelings are more important!" is about as arrogant as you are going to get. Because you are saying that the world revolves around you and that ultimately you are the sole arbiter of what has significance and meaning.

Read what I said again. As for people here exhibiting arrogance - see above.

If I recall, you said: When people tell me that unless their lives had some theistic intrinsic meaning (eg "God's plan") they wouldn't be worth living I either (a) pity them that their lives are so sad and barren or (b) don't actually believe them. Your previous post begs to differ, because you quite explicitly said that either their lives are pathetic or they are lying.

What gives ME the right to decide what is significant in MY life? Do I really need to answer that absurd question?

Yes, you do. Why shouldn't government be allowed to decide? It is a matter of opinion, is it not? And if it is a matter of opinion, shouldn't the people with more power be allowed to enforce their opinions on you?

Yet it's definitely something that gives my life extrinsic meaning at the moment.

No Tim, it gives your life subjective meaning. Perhaps you should buy a dictionary.

I believe in your (wierd) scenario I didn't simply "drop" the old ones - they got nuked by frigging terrorists!

And you just dodged the question so I will repeat it. If your current passions and objectives can be replaced with new ones when the need arises and their worth is only determined by your opinion how can you logically claim that they have any significance?

Because there are millions of atheists in the world and most of them seem to be getting on with happy, productive lives just fine.

That doesn't mean much. How many remain atheists their entire lives? How many really engage in serious thought with this subject? And considering that some of the most depraved and brutal criminals seemed to have lived happy and productive lives, I would have to say that the appearance of happy and productive doesn't count for much.

My standards are the only ones that matter when it comes to my life. Surely that's bleeding self-evident?

And I fail to see why you are having trouble grasping why the lack of a universal standard is serious problem. If someone like Mao Zedong or Adolf Hitler wants to restructure your life he has every right to do so.

You're somehow concluding that because I'm bothering to show how this "atheism = absurdity/nihilism" crap argument is crap this means you must be right?! How does that work? And "defensive"? That's a laugh. You're giving yourself way to much credit buddy.

Well Tim, I only have what you type on this blog to go by when judging you. Word choice and tone can imply a great deal. And you are becoming increasingly more belligerent. Anyway Unouroboros is right, this is going nowhere fast so I think this shall be my last reply to you on this subject.

unouroboros said...

Tim (in response to Unouroboros): Wrong. I've repeated stated that they [extrinsic and subjective meaning] are the same thing and that doesn't frigging matter.

Jim S: "if by "extrinsic" meaning you mean subjective meaning, and if by "intrinsic" you mean objective meaning then I have a problem with it"
Tim : "No."


It just seemed odd that you disagreed with Jim then...

Gathering some recent quotes:
What gives ME the right to decide what is significant in MY life? Do I really need to answer that absurd question?,
and,
My standards are the only ones that matter when it comes to my life. Surely that's bleeding self-evident?
and,
Who cares if you or I don't think that making a model train diorama in a back shed is significant - my neighbour does. And if it's significant in his life then that's an extrinsic meaning to life for him. No "objective" or "universal" or "ultimate" standards are required.

The problem you seem to grasp is this old bit of wisdom: "No man is an island".
Your standards say NeighbourA's model train diorama is significant to NeighbourA.
Your standards say NeighbourB's immense hatred of NeighbourA's model train diorama hobby is significant to NeighbourB.
Your standards say NeighbourB's sociopathic behavior and extermination of NeighbourA via bizarre model train diorama incident is significant to NeighbourB.
Your standards say NeighbourA no longer exists and has no need of model train diorama or the significance it brought to (no longer existing) NeighbourA.
Your standards say NeighbourB's continued killing spree that includes your family conflicts with your standards but continue to be significant to NeighbourB.
Your standards say to question NeighbourB's deciding what is right for NeighbourB is absurd.
Your standards say anyone's standards, not just imaginary NeighbourB, but any conceivable living or dead person, regardless of their actions, have the right to decide and act on what gives their lives meaning.
Your standards say "Who cares if you or I don't think that making a model train diorama out of your family's entrails in a back shed is significant?"

Nobody right? Wrong.

Yes, everybody (or at least most everybody) feels like they can have significant meaning in their life. But once they're dead, nothing matters. And so who are the arbitrators between what is significant and not? Not the dead. Whose significance is more important? Not the dead.
Who has anything to say about the actions or significance or rightness of a murdering dictator/hoard/neighbor? Not the dead.

But, you keep believing what you want... In a few decades, it won't matter.

unouroboros said...

I should make it clear that the part beginning "But once they're dead, nothing matters" etc. is not my own view.

Tim O'Neill said...

Karl said...
And you seem to have missed the point that you have confused extrinsic meaning with subjective meaning.


I haven’t “confused” anything of the sort.

What you haven’t done is explain why the fact that extrinsic meanings aren’t objective, cosmic or ultimate somehow makes them automatically insignificant. If this makes them insignificant for YOU that’s your business. But you can’t tell ME that they are therefore insignificant for ME. Only I can know that.

And that’s where this whole “atheism = inevitable nihilism” argument crashes and burns.

That any significance you place on something is merely an opinion.

“Merely”? If it’s MY life how the hell can MY opinion of what is significant to ME be “merely” anything? My opinion is clearly paramount.

If someone like Josef Stalin decided that prized train set should be melted down for raw materiel for his tanks and guns or that you and your relatives are better off slaving away in a Gulag whose to say he is wrong?

Eh? What on earth has that got to do with what we’re discussing here? Are we discussing the basis for morality all of a sudden? You seem to have become mightily confused.

And I think somebody going "I don't care about objective reality, my opinions and feelings are more important!" is about as arrogant as you are going to get.

This is getting absurd. Again – how can MY opinion of what is significant to ME in MY life somehow be unimportant? Surely anyone can see that when it comes to what is significant to ME in MY life my opinion is all that matters.

Because you are saying that the world revolves around you and that ultimately you are the sole arbiter of what has significance and meaning.

When it comes to what matters to ME in MY life, I am the sole arbiter of what has meaning. Who else could be? You are the sole arbiter of what is significant to you as well. I could tell you that you should be deeply concerned about toy trains or saving pandas all I like, but my opinion of what should be significant to you is totally irrelevant. You are clearly the only arbiter of what is important to you. That isn’t rocket science, it’s common sense.

Your previous post begs to differ, because you quite explicitly said that either their lives are pathetic or they are lying.

Oh please stop being so obtuse. Anyone can see that I was saying I DON’T really think their lives could be so barren and so their argument fails.

Yet it's definitely something that gives my life extrinsic meaning at the moment.

No Tim, it gives your life subjective meaning.


Yes. And they are insufficient to give my life purpose, significance and worthwhile meaning because … ? You’ve still never answered that. You keep insisting that subjective/extrinsic meanings aren’t “real” because they don’t fit your criteria of “real”: objective, cosmically significant, ultimate etc. Except I don’t accept those criteria and find subjective, personal, extrinsic meanings perfectly significant. And you simply can’t insist that I don’t, because I DO.

And you just dodged the question so I will repeat it. If your current passions and objectives can be replaced with new ones when the need arises and their worth is only determined by your opinion how can you logically claim that they have any significance?

Because I alone, as common sense will tell you, am the sole arbiter of what is significant to ME. No-one else is or can be. I’m sure if terrorists nuked my city my priorities would change markedly and finishing my novel would suddenly become a rather less significant goal in my life than, say, helping my loved ones survive.

You still haven’t grasped that meanings and purposes don’t have to be objective to be significant and that I alone am obviously the arbiter of what is significant to me at any time. And that these things can (and do) change.

Tim O'Neill said...

Part 2:

That doesn't mean much. How many remain atheists their entire lives?

Millions.

How many really engage in serious thought with this subject?

Many do, some don’t. For your argument to work none would engage in sufficiently serious thought without falling into nihilism. Are you really going to claim that?

And considering that some of the most depraved and brutal criminals seemed to have lived happy and productive lives, I would have to say that the appearance of happy and productive doesn't count for much.

The point is that there remain plenty of atheists who are clearly not wallowing in nihilism and despair thanks to the extrinsic meanings in their lives. For Craig’s argument to be propped up you’d have to show that (a) they are all simply pretending and are actually despairing wretches underneath or (b) they are all idiots who have never given the existential consequences of their atheism serious thought. Good luck with that.

And I fail to see why you are having trouble grasping why the lack of a universal standard is serious problem. If someone like Mao Zedong or Adolf Hitler wants to restructure your life he has every right to do so.

Eh? Sorry, but Mao Zedong or Adolf Hitler can’t determine what I find significant in my life. Only I can. So what are you talking about?

Well Tim, I only have what you type on this blog to go by when judging you. Word choice and tone can imply a great deal. And you are becoming increasingly more belligerent.

Yes, well funnily enough people tend to do that when they become frustrated by increasingly meandering, irrelevant and obtuse arguments. People telling me that I am somehow am NOT the arbiter of what is significant to ME in MY own life is the kind of total absurdity that engenders that kind of frustration.

Seriously, can’t you see that what I’m saying is very simple? The lack of a intrinsic, objective, cosmic meaning does not inevitably lead to a life devoid of meaning and therefore nihilistic despair, as Craig tries to pretend. Everyone’s lives also have extrinsic, subjective, personal meanings – things that individuals feel are important to them. And these things are more than enough to invest our lives with meaning, purpose and significance. Most atheists happily accept this and happily get on with their non-nihilistic lives on this basis. Only the few who consider intrinsic meaning the only kind worthy of significance have a problem with this extrinsic alternative.

Craig’s argument, therefore, is based on a false dichotomy and fails.

Tim O'Neill said...

unouroboros:
It just seemed odd that you disagreed with Jim then...


A slip of the keyboard – yes, extrinsic meanings are subjective.


Your standards say anyone's standards, not just imaginary NeighbourB, but any conceivable living or dead person, regardless of their actions, have the right to decide and act on what gives their lives meaning.


Umm, yes. Who else is going to be able to determine what is significant to THEM except THEM?

Your standards say "Who cares if you or I don't think that making a model train diorama out of your family's entrails in a back shed is significant?"

Sorry, but you’ve just gone off on an irrelevant tangent. Whether or not what someone finds significant is immoral is a totally different question. The point is that we all have extrinsic meanings in life. If some people have extrinsic meanings which are evil etc then that’s irrelevant to what is being discussed here.

Yes, everybody (or at least most everybody) feels like they can have significant meaning in their life. But once they're dead, nothing matters.

Er, yes. So? If they are dead, where’s the problem?

And so who are the arbitrators between what is significant and not? Not the dead. Whose significance is more important? Not the dead.

Since we are talking about the meanings in someone’s life, what has anything after they are dead got to do with this discussion?

Who has anything to say about the actions or significance or rightness of a murdering dictator/hoard/neighbor?

What has the “rightness” of these actions got to do with anything discussed here? This is irrelevant.

But, you keep believing what you want...

Gee, thanks. Stop peddling Craig’s flawed argument and my life will be even happier.

Al Moritz said...

I have to say that Tim's latest posts make a lot of sense. Again, I say that as a theist who looks for different kinds of meaning in life too, meaning which I agree with my fellow theists upon.

Anonymous said...

And this theist things Tim's just twisting in the wind at this point. But it's obviously not going to get anywhere. What a surprise.

Tim O'Neill said...

And this theist things Tim's just twisting in the wind at this point.

Really? Show me how.

But it's obviously not going to get anywhere.

Not if you shoot off drive-by, content free sneers and then run away. Show me where I'm wrong.

Craig says an atheistic universe is without instrinsic meaning and therefore is without any meaning at all. I counter that we also have extrinsic meanings and that these are more than enough to sustain a non-nihilistic life. Therefore Craig is wrong.

No-one here has been able to present a sensible counter to my argument.

unouroboros said...

The point, dear Tim, is that people who believe their lives have significance, when, ultimately, they don't have any, are deluded.

They may be satisfied with that delusion, and that's fine for them and everyone involved - as you say. Except, they are insignificant. They don't exist, they live, they cease to exist. It's worse than physically shouting into the vacuum of space, but worse, since we're speaking metaphysically, and the extrinsic significance felt by the non-entity was as though it never existed.

You are, sadly, wrong about morality and significance being unrelated. You can't have morality without significance, contrary to how people live and believe (i.e. believing you are a moral being, does not make it so). And since you've eliminated ultimate meaning, that eliminates ultimate morality. Which means, nothing you do really matters. Which means, nothing anyone does by any standard really matters or is really evil or really good. Others to what they think is right and significant. You do what you think is right and significant. You don't exist, you live, you cease to exist.


"Since we are talking about the meanings in someone’s life, what has anything after they are dead got to do with this discussion?"

Precisely. If someone decides to make you dead, what has that got to do with anything? It doesn't matter, and neither do you (obviously, at that point, according to your view). This is what Karl was trying to tell you by bringing up certain dictators, but you failed to see the point.

You seem unable to grasp that a succession of events in your life that you acknowledge and assign meaning and significance to, are on the exact same level as if you never existed (in your view, and what Craig is arguing). Sure, life's a great party at times (especially for wealthy 21st Century people), only it isn't always (for most people) - but it doesn't really matter, and you're deludedly cool with that... we got it.


I predicted this conversation wouldn't go anywhere, but, I thought it might be worth the effort (for truth?)

Once we realize that we're not the center of our own universe, we can start asking other questions... but, sometimes, that's a hard first step.

Anonymous said...

By the way, thanks all for the concerted efforts to try and get Tim to understand why he's on the ropes here. At this point I fear it's little more than 'argument by stamina', but seeing Karl, unour and company do their best to point out why Tim's 'meaning' doesn't 'mean' all that much has been enlightening.

Tim O'Neill said...

The point, dear Tim, is that people who believe their lives have significance, when, ultimately, they don't have any, are deluded.

And the muddle continues …

If we’re talking about extrinsic meanings (and we are) then the only person who can say if the things I value in my life have significance or not is ME. You can’t tell ME what I consider to invest my life with significance any more than I can tell you that about your life.
How many times do I have to repeat that?

Except, they are insignificant.

Really? And why would that be?

They don't exist, they live, they cease to exist. It's worse than physically shouting into the vacuum of space, but worse, since we're speaking metaphysically, and the extrinsic significance felt by the non-entity was as though it never existed.

To which I reply “big frigging deal”. If the ultimate extinction of these extrinsic meanings makes them “insignificant” for you then that’s your business. But you can’t keep insisting that this make them insignificant for ME. Only I can determine what I find significant. YOU can’t do so. And I don’t care one bit that these things are transitory, subjective, or non-eternal, so stop trying to insist that I accept your criteria for what is and isn’t significant. I don’t. Deal with it.

You are, sadly, wrong about morality and significance being unrelated. You can't have morality without significance, contrary to how people live and believe (i.e. believing you are a moral being, does not make it so).

That assertion might be relevant to a debate about morality, but it’s still not relevant here. Some of the extrinsic things that people consider significant and meaningful in their lives may be profound. Or they may be trivial (my neighbour and his trains). Or they may be evil. That’s irrelevant to the fact that they give those people’s lives meaning.

Precisely. If someone decides to make you dead, what has that got to do with anything? It doesn't matter, and neither do you (obviously, at that point, according to your view).

Yes. And? What the hell has that got to do with anything I’ ve said?

You seem unable to grasp that a succession of events in your life that you acknowledge and assign meaning and significance to, are on the exact same level as if you never existed.

In terms of some ultimate, cosmic significance? Absolutely. But I’m arguing that these things in my life don’t need to have that kind of significance to make my life meaningful. As I said, chances are no-one will ever even read the novel I’m writing. But it still gets me out of bed in the morning to do some work on it before I do anything else and it still invests my life with meaning.
It's still significant because I find it so. You can't simply tell me I'm wrong.

Sure, life's a great party at times (especially for wealthy 21st Century people), only it isn't always (for most people) - but it doesn't really matter, and you're deludedly cool with that... we got it.

This is getting seriously weird. You don’t seem to have grasped a single word I’ve said. It has nothing to do with whether life is “a great party”. Someone whose life is nothing but hardship will still have extrinsic meanings in their lives which give their lives, to them, significance and meaning. They don’t need the kind of intrinsic, eternal, cosmic, objective meanings offered by theism. Extrinsic, transitory, personal, subjective meanings do the trick quite nicely.
And this is not “delusion”, this is simply someone accepting different parameters for what can be significant to yours.

Surely you can see how these extrinsic meanings can be as equally significant as your intrinsic ones without being the same in every particular? Even if you can’t, what basis do you have for telling me I’m simply mistaken when I assure you that they DO have that level of significance for me?

Sorry, but the sheer arrogance of that is breathtaking.

Tim O'Neill said...

Anon:
By the way, thanks all for the concerted efforts to try and get Tim to understand why he's on the ropes here.


There are few things more pathetic than people who indulge in this weak internet debater's tactic of repeatedly declaring victory and then scurrying away again. If you don’t have anything to actually contribute then please put a sock in it and leave the discussion to those who are prepared to make an effort.

Matko said...

No matter how desperately some here try to cling to this theist myth that atheism leads to nihilism and despair, the evidence of millions of happy, non-nihilistic atheist shows this to be garbage.

Argumentum ad Populum

Millions of Americans not believing in evolution shows evolution is garbage. What did I just prove?

You DON'T need intrinsic, cosmic, ultimate meanings to make your life full of meaning, purpose and significance - extrinsic, subjective, personal meanings do the trick perfectly well.

The word you are searching is "objective". You need objective meaning, not cosmic or ultimate.

And "do the trick" is the perfect description. It's only a trick. And no one should base his life or lead it on tricks.

So Craig's argument is based on a falsehood.

Have you ready the relevant portion of his book?

Insisting it's true won't help you.

You're the one who does this ad nauseam.

It clearly isn't.

Saying it three times doesn't make it right.

So his argument fails.

Which you haven't studied, as it seems on a first glance.

Humphrey said...

I guess the problem I have is that this falls into the trap of being an 'argument from consequences'. Plus, if we were convinced that there was no higher purpose then we would just have to make do as best we could and adopt a kind of 'heroic atheism' In which we preserve a steadily shrinking island of extrinsic meaning.

Whoever came up with the example of Joseph Stalin deciding to make a 3 Dimensional model train set out of Tim's family's entrails in a back shed needs to drink less coffee.

Tim O'Neill said...

Matko:
No matter how desperately some here try to cling to this theist myth that atheism leads to nihilism and despair, the evidence of millions of happy, non-nihilistic atheist shows this to be garbage.

Argumentum ad Populum

Millions of Americans not believing in evolution shows evolution is garbage. What did I just prove?


That you don’t know what an Argumentum ad Populum is.

Craig claims atheism inevitably leads to nihilism because it implies a universe without any ultimate meaning. But ask on any atheist forum if the atheists there feel their lives are meaningless because it lacks any ultimate meaning and you’ll get a storm of replies like mine: “My life has plenty of meaning in it thanks – the meanings that I myself give it.” For this to be analogous to your evolution argument, the atheists would not only have to believe this, but also be wrong about it. But the only people who can say what is significant in their lives and what gives them (extrinsic) meaning are the individuals themselves.

So you’re back to the the problem that YOU can’t determine what they should or shouldn’t or shouldn’t find meaningful – only THEY can do that. So no, it’s not an Argumentum ad Populum - all those atheists who feel they have meaningful lives because of those extrinsic meanings show that Craig is dead wrong – you CAN have meaning in life even if you have no intrinsic meaning in your world view. It’s just that that meaning is based on these extrinsic meanings that are more than up to the task.

Which is all I’ve been trying to tell you for about a dozen posts now. When will you begin to listen?

The word you are searching is "objective". You need objective meaning, not cosmic or ultimate.

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. I DON’T need objective meanings at all. Subjective ones do just fine.

Have you ready the relevant portion of his book?

How could I have quoted from it in one of my first posts in this discussion if I hadn’t?

Insisting it's true won't help you.

You're the one who does this ad nauseam.


I’m only repeating myself because you don’t seem to be listening. One more time: . I DON’T need objective meanings at all. Subjective ones do just fine. If subjective ones aren’t significant for YOU then that’s your business. But they are perfectly significant enough for ME and since it’s MY life you can’t tell me they aren’t. I’M the only arbiter of what is significant for ME in MY life.

Please try to crowbar this into your brain before one of us dies of old age.

Tim O'Neill said...

Humphrey:

I guess the problem I have is that this falls into the trap of being an 'argument from consequences'.


Yes, it has that weakness as well. That's on top of the one I'm highlighting here - the consequence that Craig claims is inevitable simply isn't.

Plus, if we were convinced that there was no higher purpose then we would just have to make do as best we could and adopt a kind of 'heroic atheism' In which we preserve a steadily shrinking island of extrinsic meaning.

Umm, sort of. Though I certainly wouldn't express it like that. If you accept that extrinsic meanings are all there are, then you aren't "making do" (which implies that this is some kind of sad but inevitable second-rate option). And I can't see how the extrinsic meanings in our lives would be "steadily shrinking".

One of the things that struck me when I realised I no longer had a belief in God was how little changed. You'd think if belief in God makes such an enormous difference, my life would have been transformed, or that I would have become a hedonist, a amoral monster or a despairing nihilist. But nothing much changed at all. My morality had a slightly different basis and I accepted the extrinsic meanings in my life as all there is, but the transition was a total non-event.

Make of that what you will ..

Whoever came up with the example of Joseph Stalin deciding to make a 3 Dimensional model train set out of Tim's family's entrails in a back shed needs to drink less coffee.

You can say that again. I thought I'd seen some kooky responses to my posts on the Dawkins forum, but that one was surreal.

Humphrey said...

"And I can't see how the extrinsic meanings in our lives would be 'steadily shrinking'".

It was a sort of reference to our steadily ebbing mortality.

"One of the things that struck me when I realised I no longer had a belief in God was how little changed."

Yup. It makes very little practical difference; I say that having been an atheist for about 26 years. My moral and ethical assumptions have not really changed to a great degree. This is because we don't need a metaphysical belief system to recognise what is right and wrong (and a good thing too!). And of course, you don't need me to tell you that certain belief systems are actually corrosive to morality; witness the Protestant German in the 1940s who believed that God had ordained the Aryan race to become masters of the planet.

Where I think there is an issue is where our reason to pursue our self interest conflicts with our capacity to take an impartial point of view (the point of view of the universe) from which we give equal weight to all the beings in the universe. The two can't always be reconciled and they often conflict. There needs to be a compelling justification for doing what is right when it is demanding and goes against my happiness and self interest.

Matko said...

That you don’t know what an Argumentum ad Populum is.

Craig claims atheism inevitably leads to nihilism because it implies a universe without any ultimate meaning. But ask on any atheist forum if the atheists there feel their lives are meaningless because it lacks any ultimate meaning and you’ll get a storm of replies like mine: “My life has plenty of meaning in it thanks – the meanings that I myself give it.” For this to be analogous to your evolution argument, the atheists would not only have to believe this, but also be wrong about it. But the only people who can say what is significant in their lives and what gives them (extrinsic) meaning are the individuals themselves.


No, dear. You're using numbers to prove your position is true. But the fact is, you have to prove that a life lead by subjective, false meanings is a life worth living. Till now, you're just shouting.

So no, it’s not an Argumentum ad Populum - all those atheists who feel they have meaningful lives because of those extrinsic meanings show that Craig is dead wrong – you CAN have meaning in life even if you have no intrinsic meaning in your world view.

You appealing to him again. And now you're even question begging.

I’m only repeating myself because you don’t seem to be listening. One more time: . I DON’T need objective meanings at all. Subjective ones do just fine. If subjective ones aren’t significant for YOU then that’s your business. But they are perfectly significant enough for ME and since it’s MY life you can’t tell me they aren’t. I’M the only arbiter of what is significant for ME in MY life.

Nobody cares what's significant for YOU. What everybody cares is to be convinced that your position is reasonable for EVERYBODY. If you fail to provide that, your position is deemed dismissible.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone else find some amusement in some guy frantically, angrily trying to convince everyone else that the only person who determines the values in his life is himself?

Methinks he doth protest too much.

Tim O'Neill said...

Matko:

No, dear. You're using numbers to prove your position is true.


Twaddle. The point is that Craig claims atheism leads inevitably to nihilism because it implies a universe without intrinsic meaning. I'm simply pointing to evidence that Craig is wrong: ie atheists who are not nihilists. Why aren't they nihilists? Because extrinsic meanings are sufficient to make the universe meaningful. Therefore Craig's premise is wrong, as evidenced by the existence of non-nihilistic, extrinsic value-accepting, happy atheists.

Got it now, "dear"?

But the fact is, you have to prove that a life lead by subjective, false meanings is a life worth living.

So now for such a life to be worth living for ME I can't simply assure you that it is, I now have to make you accept that it is as well? Absurdity piled on absurdity!

Get it through your head - the only person who can decide what makes MY life worth living is ME. Your opinion on the matter is totally and complete irrelevant - it's MY life and the only person who can determine if these subjective, extrinsic things make it worth living is ME.

Nobody cares what's significant for YOU.

This is absolutely insane. It's MY life. MINE. Got it? So the ONLY person who's opinion on what is significant for ME in MY life is ME. To pretend anyone else's opinion on the matter is in any way relevant is completely nuts.

What everybody cares is to be convinced that your position is reasonable for EVERYBODY.

What utter hooting nonsense. One more time: It's MY life. MINE. Got it? So the ONLY person who's opinion on what is significant for ME in MY life is ME.

Please jackhammer this through your skull.

Al Moritz said...

Does anyone else find some amusement in some guy frantically, angrily trying to convince everyone else that the only person who determines the values in his life is himself?

Methinks he doth protest too much.


No, on the contrary, on this topic I find my fellow theists hilarious in their persistence on fake arguments. What is wrong with purely subjectuve meaning? Sure we theists have some of that too in our lives, besides the objective meaning that we derive from our faith position.

Tim is the one who makes sense here.

And I would be very careful about making the connection between meaning and morality. Yes, a connection is there, but the discussion here really takes on exaggerated dimensions.

unouroboros said...

Surely you can see how these extrinsic meanings can be as equally significant as your intrinsic ones without being the same in every particular? Even if you can’t, what basis do you have for telling me I’m simply mistaken when I assure you that they DO have that level of significance for me?

This is where you are deluded.
You feel certain that FOR YOU extrinsic meaning has the same level of significance as intrinsic ones... only you've agreed some particulars are different, and these differences, Tim, are that certainty and feeling has nothing to do with what is really significant. You can't grasp the meaning of that sentence. Fine.

The point is that Craig claims atheism leads inevitably to nihilism because it implies a universe without intrinsic meaning. I'm simply pointing to evidence that Craig is wrong: ie atheists who are not nihilists. Why aren't they nihilists? Because extrinsic meanings are sufficient to make the universe meaningful. Therefore Craig's premise is wrong, as evidenced by the existence of non-nihilistic, extrinsic value-accepting, happy atheists.

Open your eyes man! Craig is not at all claiming that atheists will claim to be, or feel like, or see the inevitable conclusion of their views and become - nihilists. The funny thing is, you've agreed that nihilism is true... ultimately, and that's Craig's point. You've agreed with that! That's what nihilism is: ultimate meaninglessness.

Tim O'Neill said...

Just when we though he’d finally realised he should give up …

Surely you can see how these extrinsic meanings can be as equally significant as your intrinsic ones without being the same in every particular? Even if you can’t, what basis do you have for telling me I’m simply mistaken when I assure you that they DO have that level of significance for me?

This is where you are deluded.
You feel certain that FOR YOU extrinsic meaning has the same level of significance as intrinsic ones...


Yes. Which is where the whole “debate” about whether they are significant for me should end. After all, who the hell else can decide what is significant for ME in MY life except ME? Answer – Nobody.

only you've agreed some particulars are different

Yes. They are not objective, cosmic or intrinsic and so don’t have the particulars of those kinds of meanings. They aren’t eternal, for example. They don’t exist independently of me and my feelings.

and these differences, Tim, are that certainty and feeling has nothing to do with what is really significant.

Utter gibberish. Since it’s MY life and the question is about what I feel is significant to ME, then MY certainty and MY feelings are actually ALL THAT MATTERS.
What the hell else could possibly be relevant to what is important to ME?!

Open your eyes man! Craig is not at all claiming that atheists will claim to be, or feel like, or see the inevitable conclusion of their views and become - nihilists.

Again you fail to grasp the point. Craig sets up a false dichotomy – either you believe in God or you end up wallowing (knowingly or not) in nihilism. But the example of atheists like me shows this is false, because we embrace the extrinsic meanings in life – the element that Craig’s dichotomy conveniently ignores.
So atheism doesn’t end up with a meaningless life at all and Craig’s argument fails.

Now please heed the pleas of your fellow theists and give up before you embarass them any further. Seriously.

unouroboros said...

Utter gibberish

Hehehe.

Me: "You feel certain that FOR YOU extrinsic meaning has the same level of significance as intrinsic ones...
You: "Yes. Blah Blah Blah. I don't understand what the difference means."

From Wikipedia: " Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism which argues that life is without meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value."

From Tim: "Sure, Life is without meaning, purpose or intrinsic value, but I'm knowingly not a nihilist because, gosh darn-it, I have sensations of significance".

Please Tim, heed the pleas of your fellow English speakers and read a dictionary.

Tim O'Neill said...

I’m beginning to think this whole exercise is intended to deliberately drive me to nihilism …

Me: "You feel certain that FOR YOU extrinsic meaning has the same level of significance as intrinsic ones...

You: "Yes. Blah Blah Blah. I don't understand what the difference means."


I does have the same kind of significance in that it is sufficient to give my life meaning etc, just as an instrinsic meaning does. But it isn’t identical in other ways – eg it’s not objective, cosmic, eternal, existent independent of me and my feelings etc.

From Wikipedia: " Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism which argues that life is without meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value."

From Tim: "Sure, Life is without meaning, purpose or intrinsic value, but I'm knowingly not a nihilist because, gosh darn-it, I have sensations of significance".

Please Tim, heed the pleas of your fellow English speakers and read a dictionary.


Jesus Christ on a stick. Craig’s argument isn’t based on a dictionary definition of “nihilism” FFS. It’s based on his assertion that without intrinsic meaning life is “absurd” and without any meaning at all. But this ignores extrinsic meanings, which are quite sufficient. So, due to this hole in his argument, it fails.

How many more times do you want to go over this?

Al Moritz said...

Subjective meaning is not valid. The only valid meaning is objective meaning, so if you don't have it, you have to fall into nihilism.

A far-fetched argument that goes nowhere, indeed, as Tim pointed out.

Can you fellow theists please finally stop it?

Matko said...

Subjective meaning is not valid. The only valid meaning is objective meaning, so if you don't have it, you have to fall into nihilism.

A far-fetched argument that goes nowhere, indeed, as Tim pointed out.

Can you fellow theists please finally stop it?


As every person makes his own meaning, people are allowed to do whatever they want to do, which logically leads back to nihilism. Someone can say, "My meaning is to help people around me." Other can say, "My meaning is to murder the world." The third one goes, "My meaning is to kill anyone whose meaning is to help people around him." No limits and no boundaries, ergo nihilism.

Not to mention, Tim's life philosophy is a philosophy of egoism as it always revolves around HIM, HIM, and HIM.

anonymousagnostic said...

Maybe I've got this all wrong but I don't think Tim's arguing that atheism can't result in nihilism (in the sense of a lack of any meaning to life or any moral values), merely that in the vast majority of cases it doen't have this effect. I wouldn't be surprised if there were lots of religious people who despair far more than many atheists do.

I don't think it's fair to call him egoistic because of his talking about subjective values. In the context of this argument (extrinsic vs. intrinsic meaning) he's obviously going to have to talk about himself a lot, but judging by his own description of how he lives and what's important to him I certainly don't get the impression that he's any more egoistic than anyone else posting here. I think he's successfully refuted the argument that all thinking atheists must end up by despairing.
I say this as an agnostic (or weak atheist by Tim's definition) with theist sympathies.

Al Moritz said...

anonymousagnostic said...
Maybe I've got this all wrong but I don't think Tim's arguing that atheism can't result in nihilism (in the sense of a lack of any meaning to life or any moral values), merely that in the vast majority of cases it doen't have this effect. I wouldn't be surprised if there were lots of religious people who despair far more than many atheists do.

I don't think it's fair to call him egoistic because of his talking about subjective values. In the context of this argument (extrinsic vs. intrinsic meaning) he's obviously going to have to talk about himself a lot, but judging by his own description of how he lives and what's important to him I certainly don't get the impression that he's any more egoistic than anyone else posting here. I think he's successfully refuted the argument that all thinking atheists must end up by despairing.

I say this as an agnostic (or weak atheist by Tim's definition) with theist sympathies.



Well said.

Anonymous said...

Look. The question isn't whether someone who rejects intrinsic meaning is going to despair. Craig admitted people who reject intrinsic meaning can be happy, and the fact that people who reject all intrinsic meaning to life and the universe can many times be happy was *never under dispute here*. You guys are fatally confusing a feeling of happiness with 'life having [real] meaning', or worse, that feeling of happiness with nihilism.

Let me repeat: That Tim can scream "Damnit you people I am happy even though I reject intrinsic meaning!" doesn't mean squat. It does not prove his worldview is not nihilistic (He rejects intrinsic meaning, the only 'meaning' that exists is whatever he makes up - what more is there to say?), it does not prove his worldview has 'real meaning' (Again, no one denied that nihilists can declare by personal fiat that 'this has meaning for me!' - In fact, that was the freaking point). Not only are his personal feelings beside the point (because, one more time: No one has argued all nihilists/atheists must be miserable. In fact, the opposite has been claimed), but they can't be proven anyway. The fact that Tim screams about how happy he is while clearly coming across as pretty damn angry, frustrated, and hypocritical doesn't make him happy, anymore than a chronically depressed person yelling "I am not depressed!" disproves their depression.

It's not just that Tim's worldview is egotistical (How can it be anything else, when he rejects intrinsic meaning and is passionately arguing for a single kind of meaning that "really matters" being the kind he personally makes up?), it's that it's - wait for it - a hilariously sad distraction. He wants to pretend that "The world is devoid of any ultimate purpose, any intrinsic meaning, and any ultimate morality. All has taken place by sheer mechanical accident without rhyme or reason. All are doomed." isn't really a bad thing. He talks about how wanting a world like that is egotistical, makes a person into a wannabe superman, etc. Very, very fox and grapes.

None of us, I think, want to smack Tim around via psychoanalysis. We'd rather talk about the real and obvious results and status of a world without intrinsic value. But that's the last thing Tim can talk about, because the facts on the ground are too clearly a nihilistic shipwreck. So he has to talk about himself, thus leading into this inane 'I'm really happy and that's all I need to prove I'm not a nihilist!' schtick.

A world devoid of intrinsic meaning is... a world devoid of intrinsic meaning, and all that entails. It isn't just theists who are pointing out what that leads to, you know. And all the hall of mirrors in the world won't make the ultimate repercussions anything but what they are. Yes, you can distract yourself from this. Yes, you can experience this raw emotion called happiness. You can do a lot of things, so long as you cope with (read: be inconsistent, be ignorant, be self-deceptive, be whatever needed) that other entailed worldview. You can even claim to reject intrinsic meaning yet internally accept it! You just can't change the facts about what a world devoid of it entails.

Sorry. It's a nasty picture of life and meaning, but hey, who promised life was otherwise? (Well, theists and other non-naturalists, but alas...)

unouroboros said...

"A world devoid of intrinsic meaning is... a world devoid of intrinsic meaning, and all that entails."
Well said anonymous. It's merely logic people.

Wikipedia: nihilism: "life is without meaning"
Tim: Craig says life is "absurd" and without any meaning at all (without intrinsic meaning).

The absurdity is that you live as though your life was sufficiently meaningful - when, as countless here have pointed out, that's not good enough to crawl out of the hole of meaninglessness.

Live how you please. Believe what you want. Feel significant. Enjoy true extrinsic meaning. Look at yourself in the mirror every morning and keep repeating to yourself: "Tim! Timmy-baby! Timrod. Timmy O'Drool. You're something special man. Keep it up". No one has argued that you believe you are a nihilist. You've admitted life is ultimately meaningless. You've admitted your existence is equivalent to never having existed. You are a nihilist. You are living an absurdly contradictory puppet show where you believe extrinsic meaning is as good as intrinsic meaning. Your assertions do not change the logic of the situation.

Here's a summary:
- Tim says Craig says: "without intrinsic meaning, life has no meaning at all"
- Tim says: "Uh, Craigy, extrinsic meaning = some kind of meaning. Q.E.D."
- Tim says: "Ultimately, everything is meaningless"
- Tim says: "Some kinds of meaning are ultimately meaningless".
- Tim doesn't realize he's a walking contradiction who's poorly playing a semantic game.
- Tim doesn't even realize that as an intrinsic nihilist, he's wasting his and everybody's time.

How many more times do you want to go over this?
As many times as it takes for you to realize what's being argued.

unouroboros said...

I think he's successfully refuted the argument that all thinking atheists must end up by despairing.

You do realize this refuted argument isn't what's being argued for, correct?

Al Moritz said...

The absurdity of this discussion reminds me of why I do not discuss much anymore on the web.

James said...

OK people, that's enough. Although Tim can look after himself, I'm not sure this discussion will go any further. If you want to take it elsewhere be my guest.

And for what it's worth, I agree with Al.

unouroboros said...

"I really don't see this discussion going anywhere." - 1st unouroboros quote :P

Thanks guys. Sorry for the web-clogging.

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