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The Big Picture

'Have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates? Morons.' -- Vizzini from "The Princess Bride"

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Possibility of Atheism (part 1 of 3)

I recently came across this apologist essay claiming to knock down atheism...

The Practical Impossibility of Atheism

[Note: in order to find the actual essay, author and references, please check here. The real author is William Lane Craig]

About the only solution the atheist can offer is that we face the absurdity of life and live bravely. Bertrand Russell, for example, wrote that we must build our lives upon “the firm foundation of unyielding despair.”15 Only by recognizing that the world really is a terrible place can we successfully come to terms with life. Camus said that we should honestly recognize life’s absurdity and then live in love for one another.
First, this reference to Bertrand Russell [15] is to:
Bertrand Russell, “A Free Man’s Worship,” in Why I Am Not a Christian, ed. P. Edwards (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1957), p. 107
From this same book, Russell writes, “When the intensity of emotional conviction subsides, a man who is in the habit of reasoning will search for logical grounds in favour of the belief which he finds in himself " Ceratinly something seems amiss between the quote the author (Craig) gives and the other things Russell writes about. This means that the possibility of quote mining Russell is quite high. In fact, we find that it is 100%. Russell was referring to the despair of living in a world rife with all the scourges created by humanity (including Christians).

The fundamental problem with this solution, however, is that it is impossible to live consistently and happily within such a worldview.

Where is it written (in either Christian or secular writings) that "consistently" and "happily" are prerequisites for living? Neither Christian nor atheist can meet these criteria 100% of the time. So this is an obvious strawman, and non sequeteur. I am not always happy about having to go to work, but it is a necessary "evil" in order to provide for my family. (I do enjoy my work immensely, but there are days when it is tedious and stressful -- thus not "happy".) Craig, here, seems to want to claim that by taking on a Christian worldview, all the troubles in the world disappear. Which is not only false, but absurd to claim. In fact the most satisfying life can be ony that is not in the least "consistent"; that is always changing, full of challenge, and not always "happy". Without obstacles, that humanity can never accomplish great things. Thus claiming happiness and consistency are complete and total goals equates to a life that is completely boring and dull.

Modern man, says Schaeffer, resides in a two-story universe. In the lower story is the finite world without God; here life is absurd, as we have seen. In the upper story are meaning, value, and purpose. Now modern man lives in the lower story because he believes there is no God.

This is absurd. How is it that life based on discovery of the natural world we live in can be called devoid of meaning and valueless is beyond me. Value and meaning are fully subjective objects and no two people view them the same (this includes all Christians as well). How many Christians do you know who go to work to feed their families and consider that endeavor "meaningless" and "valueless"? I would guess the answer is exactly zero. Thus the material world is full of value and meaning, because the material world is full of people: family, friends, neighbors and those who are unknown. "God" has nothing to do with the meaning that all people, Christian and non-Christian alike, place on their lives and their efforts in the everyday world. To make that into something without meaning is to make life itself meaningless.

But he cannot live happily in such an absurd world; therefore, he continually makes leaps of faith into the upper story to affirm meaning, value, and purpose, even though he has no right to, since he does not believe in God.
Again, this is a strawman argument based on the notion that everyone's lives, in their day to day experience is without meaning, unless one attaches to it a meaing assigned by God. How is working to feed one's family worthless when it comes to an atheist, but suddenly if full of meaning when it is attributed to God? How is the happiness of friends and family suddenly null, if attributed to hard human work, and not God-given gifts? The value and worth is the same in both cases. Thus what we witness here is nothing but a rationalization aiming to say that there is some difference where none really exists.

Meaning of Life
First, the area of meaning. We saw that without God, life has no meaning. Yet philosophers continue to live as though life does have meaning. For example, Sartre argued that one may create meaning for his life by freely choosing to follow a certain course of action. Sartre himself chose Marxism.
"Meaning" according to Craig, can only happen if there is some outside frame of reference -- in his case, God. Anyone who attaches a different meaning, must therefore be wrong. The question is, why must there only be one "meaning" to life? Simple open a dictionary, any dictionary, to a random page, and read the meanings of a couple of words. What you will find is that many words have many meanings. Why is life so different? Why is it life can only have one meaning? Why is one's individual meaning not valid, but some "universal" meaning is not only valid, but the only valid answer? Another way of viewing this, is how many people have to have the same meaning, before it becomes valid? Since it takes some sort of universal acceptance before a meaning is valid, what is that threshold? I point this out, because even among Christians they cannot agree on what that meaning is.

Without God, there can be no objective meaning in life.
The problem here, is one of necessity. Why is an objective meaning necessary? That question must be answered before this type of statement can be made. Furthermore, why must "objective" meaning be universal? Again, virtually everyone places an "objective" meaning on life to which they strive to live. Here Craig either confuses or intentionally distorts what objective means. Any individual can have objective meaning to life. Objective does not equate to universal.

For the universe does not really acquire meaning just because I give it one. for suppose I give the universe one meaning, and you give it another. Who is right? The answer, of course, is neither one.

The answer, of course, is actually both. For Craig to be correct, he must prove conclusively that one meaning is false, and his meaning is true. Since this is not possible, his answer is not logical. The real answer is that there is no way to assign "right" and "wrong" to meaning without a common frame of reference. Unfortunately, the only common frame of reference is a materialistic one, that includes all human experience. Since this is the only provable case, then providing for a supernatural (non-materialistic) one is just another frame of reference, and one that is no more or less valid than the materialistic.

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

Not true. Where is it written that the universe must have only one meaning? For example, consider a childhood book,. For one child the meaning of the book could be that the stories comforted the child and made the child unafraid to sleep. For another child the book was the only thing left after a fire, and that book is the only link to how things used to be. Since there are two meanings for something as simple as a book, does that mean both are wrong? Of course not. The flaw in the logic of the author is his underlying assumption: there can only be one meaning. This alone negates his entire argument but we shall press on.

The next point is the irony in his 'fake' quote of sartre at the end. It is even more applicable to the Christian worldview. They make up one meaning of the universe, their mythological God, chosen out of the thousands of primitive gods, and pretend it is real.

The point is this: if God does not exist, then life is objectively meaningless; but man cannot live consistently and happily knowing that life is meaningless; so in order to be happy he pretends life has meaning. But this is, of course, entirely inconsistent–for without God, man and the universe are without any real significance.

Here we see him blatantly contradict himself. He just admitted that different people can have different meanings even though he casually calls them all wrong, not he says they cannot have have meaning; a 'wrong' meaning is still meaning. To demonstrate how mistaken his conclusion is consider this simple analogy: an artist (God) paints a painting (universe). Person A sees the painting and thinks how beautiful the painting is. Person B sees the painting and thinks how talented the artist is. Now, both have come up with different meanings. But according to him, person A is wrong, and his meaning has no merit. How is this judgement made possible by him? He gives no rationalization other than if only the painting is considered, then because everyone attaches different meaning, they must all be wrong, because there is only one meaning, and it has nothing to do with the painting at all, that it should be ignored completely in favor of only the painter's talent at painting.

This can just as easily be extended into a painterless analogy as well; a truck filled with cans of colored paint crashes into a truck fillied with blank canvasses, and multi-colored swirls of paint wind up on the canvas. This person would claim those canvasses cannot a priori have any meaning to anyone, let alone differing meanings.

Parts 2 (value of life) and 3 (purpose of life) are upcoming. But don't expect any reasoning any better than what we witnessed here.

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