Meaning in Pain Proves there’s a God (Jeff Cook)

Meaning in Pain Proves There’s a God (Jeff Cook)

Today we hit what I see as the second best reason to believe in a God, and as I outline in more detail in Everything New, this is the reason I not only believe in a God, but a very specific God.

Anyone who thinks seriously about God has to think about the evil in our world—both the moral evils that some human beings inflict on others, and the natural evils that seem to unthinkingly strike even the best people.

Many have argued that the suffering in our world gives us a good “reason” to reject God-belief, for certainly a good God would act decisively to end sex slavery. A good God would destroy Malaria. A good God would not remain silent in the face of war, disease, the death of children, and the other tragedies that many experience each day.

But there are other arguments that arise out of pain and suffering in our world.
When we assume that there’s no God, the value and meaning of suffering in our world is fairly clear. As many have pointed out, in a universe of blind physical forces some people will get hurt, other people will get lucky, and we won’t find any rhyme or reason in any of it.

If God does not exist, the vast majority of horrific suffering fails to lead to any identifiable good. Most tragedies kill the victim before the victim can discover any meaning in their pain. As such, when a young girl dies of bone cancer, when a region is drowned by a tsunami, when a man detonates a bomb laced with nails and ball bearings in a crowded area—these catastrophes have no resolution or value for the deceased.

If there is no God such victims couldn’t experience their pains being made right again, couldn’t work through the tragedy to find value. Such evils were just brute facts to swallow at gravesites.

Conversely, if God is real, suffering and death might be doors leading to new lands. They could be transformed in God’s future into meaningful experiences, for no matter what might happen to the body of someone suffering, her soul might grow, her mind might progress, her future self that God was presently fashioning might alter into something far more substantial.

We might outline such an argument this way:

(P1)  Horrendous pains resulting in the death of a human being occur daily in our world.

(P2)  If materialism is true, Horrendous pains resulting in death hold no meaning for the sufferer.

(P3)  Without meaning for the deceased sufferer, horrendous pains resulting in death are irredeemably tragic.

(P4)  If materialism is true, our world experiences daily events that are irredeemably tragic.

(P5)  Our world does not contain events that are irredeemably tragic.   [Denying the repugnant conclusion]

(C1)   Materialism is false.

(P6)  In order for there to be meaning in the horrendous pains resulting in death in our world, there must be a mind of immense power that can create states of affairs in which pain of the quality and quantity we experience are transformed into good.

(C2)  Given P5 and P6, a mind of immense power that can create states of affairs in which the horrendous pains resulting in death in our world are transformed into good exists (and this being we call God).

What does pain tell us about our world? This may be the primary question for a world like ours.

When I look at desperately sad event through the perspective of God-belief and of materialism only one holds out the potential for real hope. The other is irredeemably tragic.

Suffering gives me a substantial reason to embrace God-belief, for a God alone could take a world that is clearly groaning and transform those spots into something alive. But if there is no God, most of the pain experienced by those I love, by most of humanity in fact, is plainly pointless.

As philosopher Peter Kreeft notes, If God is absent then our lives, with all the spots of light in them, are surrounded by darkness, but if God is real then our lives, with all the spots of darkness in them are surrounded by light.

Jeff Cook lectures on philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado. He is the author of Everything New: One Philosopher’s Search for a God Worth Believing in (Subversive 2012). You can find him at  everythingnew.org and @jeffvcook

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Tim

    As far as I can tell, this is an argument for why would want to believe in God, rather than an argument for his existence. P5 rejects the idea of a lack of deeper meaning as repugnant. However, how distasteful or not a thing may be has no bearing on its reality. There are plenty of truly awful realities in this world. And wonderful realities as well. Our wishes concerning them does not make them more or less real. And this argument comes across as just an attempt to do that. Argue that the existence of God is more likely as we would all wish it to be so, under the idea that a life without deeper God-imbued meaning is too unpalatable to our existential sensibilities.

  • phil_style

    I agree with Tim. This is an argument for wanting God to exist, not an argument in support of his existence per.se.

  • Jim

    & doesn’t it presuppose that the existent God is a God of a particular character? Could there not be God who enjoys seeing people suffer? He seems to have slipped an assumption that God is a particular kind of God into his characterization of God.

    Further, couldn’t it be the case that the meaning I perceive in my suffering is one that I impute, even in the face of a God who might enjoy seeing me suffer? i.e that I make meaning when ultimately there may not be any?

    I’m not pitching for that, of course. Just addressing the argument

  • Jag

    The problem of evil turned into an argument for the existence of God?

  • Phil Miller

    Well, the problem of evil isn’t really a problem without God, is it? Anything we call evil is simply an arbitrary description of experiences that we don’t think are right for some reason or another. I think all atheists could agree that suffering is bad or even evil, but they would have a hard time describing what makes it objectively evil compared to anything else. The killing of children, for instance, is bad for the human species, but beyond that, why is it good for the human species to continue in the first place.

    I’ve brought this argument up with atheists before, and sometimes they get irritated and say I’m saying they’re all immoral monsters or something like that. That’s actually not what I’m saying at all, though. Many atheists are moral people in many regards, but what I’m saying is that when it comes down to it their value judgments don’t necessarily line up with a purely materialistic worldview.

  • Tim

    Phil @5,

    I’ve addressed your moral argument before. The “objective” basis for morality from a purely materialistic point of view can be found in our biologically-rooted pro-social dispositions as a human species. We are biologically geared to experience moral dispositions that facilitate our ability to thrive as a social species. These dispositions, like so much else that makes us human, tends to matter to us and we identify with it. I personally believe there is a strong spiritual aspect as well, but atheists do not require a deity to feel objectively rooted in their moral sense to some degree or another. You can always reject your human heritage of course, but to do so in a moral/love/compassion/etc. sense results in becoming a quite “inhuman” character. In other word, a monster. While atheism has no notion of pure evil, that gets you for all intents and purposes to a functionally equivalent place.

  • Phil Miller

    Sure, Tim, I agree with all of that. The only thing is that there’s not really any answer an atheist can give as to what makes the human species more special than anything else in the universe. It basically comes down to that we’re special because we think we’re special.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    I think phil_style @ 2 summed it up very well. This is an argument from desire.

    Phil, are you going to present an argument based on the existence of the desire itself?

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Tim (1). You wrote, “P5 rejects the idea of a lack of deeper meaning as repugnant. However, how distasteful or not a thing may be has no bearing on its reality.”

    Because all facts are theory dependent, and because we select the way we choose to view the world (the theories by which the world is analyzed)–our distaste actually has massive bearing on reality. There are many foundational beliefs we hold based on our desires:

    -Believe our brain works
    -Believe there is a external world and we are not a brain in a vat.
    -Believing in the true, the good and the beautiful, and that such riches are worthy of our pursuit.
    -Etc.

    Better to say “distaste some times does not have a bearing on reality.” But sometimes identifying what is repugnant is a sign pointing us toward what is real.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Jim (3) You wrote, “& doesn’t it presuppose that the existent God is a God of a particular character?”

    Yes. Why is that a problem?

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Phil (2), Klassie (8). I’d love your response to Post (9).

    Cheers!

  • Tim

    Phil,

    I would say that atheist’s would not claim a special status for humanity, excepting perhaps the idea that we can understand the universe in ways that other animals cannot. And of course our experience of life on this planet, like many higher-functioning mammals, can be quite rich – which may be valued intrinsically for its own sake.

  • Morbert

    Atheists reject P5.

  • Morbert

    Jeff (9),

    This might be a fundamental difference between theists and atheists. As Cristopher Hitchens once said “The one thing you cannot accuse atheists of is wishful thinking.” We do not believe our personal tastes or principles must necessarily reflect reality. Repugnance is not evidence of what is real, because reality is in no way obliged to conform to what we would like it to be, or even what we think it might be. This is why atheists adopt very careful epistemic positions and definitions when it comes to what is true and what is not.

  • Tim

    Jeff (9),

    I would second Morbert’s response in #14. I would also note that the idea of repugnance, particularly when compared across species, fails to prove a reliable indicator of any absolute reality, excepting of course at the functional level of the organism, where threats to survival and reproduction can in certain contexts elicit a revulsive response (e.g., sexual revulsion to siblings as a genetic matter; disgust of contamination as a protective health measure). In this regard, repugnance can operate much like fear. But the jump from localized, species-specific revulsion to claims about absolute reality amount to an unjustified leap. No more warranted than using our species’ intrinsic fear-response to spiders as a basis to reason up to claims of transcendent reality.

  • Phil Miller

    The question is though, of course, if an atheist can actually refute what Jeff wrote here:

    But if there is no God, most of the pain experienced by those I love, by most of humanity in fact, is plainly pointless.

    The way I see it, it’s hard if not impossible to untie atheism from nihilism. It’s true that most atheists don’t live like they’re nihilists, and there a number of reasons for that. Atheism can’t answer the question of why existence is better than non-existence.

  • Tim

    Phil (16),

    I would modify your statement to say that you can’t envision how you could live as an atheist without also being a nihilist. Many atheists are deeply satisfied with their day in the sun. Temporal expectations rather than eternal ones. Meaning within your species rather than transcending outside of it. These topics go at least as far back as ancient Sumerian times, as attested to in the Epic of Gilgamesh.

  • Phil Miller

    Many atheists are deeply satisfied with their day in the sun.

    Which is fine depending on whether you actually get your day in the sun. For many people throughout history, being able to actually enjoy life was something of a pipe dream, and their lives were cut short by disease, war, etc. So the question then becomes is there actual meaning in saying it’s a tragedy when a life is cut short, meaning is there a greater purpose behind human life, or is it simply something that happens, and, oh well…

  • Morbert

    Phil (16),

    Atheists not only can’t refute it, we agree with it (provided “pointless” is carefully defined).

  • Tim

    Phil,

    While that may be true for some unfortunate souls, I think many atheists see this as just the more reason to do what we can to make the world a better place, here and now – rather than waiting for all to be set right after this life. In this context, humanistic efforts can provide great meaning to atheists.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Morbert (13). You wrote, “Atheists reject (P5) [Our world does not contain events that are irredeemably tragic. [Denying the repugnant conclusion]]”

    And that gives us ample reason to not only seek a God, but to set materialism aside as unworthy of our affection–as Camus does, shaking his fist at reality itself.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Morbert (14). You quoted Hitchens, ““The one thing you cannot accuse atheists of is wishful thinking.”

    Well, give me a response to my argument:
    Do you have evidence that your brain works?
    Do you have evidence that there is an external world and we are not a brain in a vat?
    Do you have evidence there is such a thing as the true, the good and the beautiful, and that such riches are worthy of our pursuit?

    Being familiar with the literature, I can tell you that Hitchens does not.

    You wrote, “We do not believe our personal tastes or principles must necessarily reflect reality. Repugnance is not evidence of what is real, because reality is in no way obliged to conform to what we would like it to be, or even what we think it might be. This is why atheists adopt very careful epistemic positions and definitions when it comes to what is true and what is not.”

    What is that epistemic position and do you get there through reason or preference?

    Peace,
    Jeff

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Tim (15). You wrote, ” The idea of repugnance, particularly when compared across species, fails to prove a reliable indicator of any absolute reality, excepting of course at the functional level of the organism, where threats to survival and reproduction can in certain contexts elicit a revulsive response (e.g., sexual revulsion to siblings as a genetic matter; disgust of contamination as a protective health measure). In this regard, repugnance can operate much like fear. But the jump from localized, species-specific revulsion to claims about absolute reality amount to an unjustified leap. No more warranted than using our species’ intrinsic fear-response to spiders as a basis to reason up to claims of transcendent reality.”

    Two thoughts. First, presuppositions cannot be justified. They are presuppositions–and they are absolutely unavoidable. Again, epistemologically–there are no theory independent facts.

    I’ll repeat my question above to you, “How do you arrive at your epistemic position through reason or preference?”

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Tim (20) You wrote, “I think many atheists see this as just the more reason to do what we can to make the world a better place, here and now.”

    Is that a reason or value judgment. Certainly the conclusion: “I must make the world a better place given (P4)” doesn’t follow–ya?

  • Phil Miller

    While that may be true for some unfortunate souls, I think many atheists see this as just the more reason to do what we can to make the world a better place, here and now – rather than waiting for all to be set right after this life. In this context, humanistic efforts can provide great meaning to atheists.

    “Some” is quite an understatement, though…

    Up until relatively recent times, living a rich full life on earth would have been considered the exception rather than the rule. And, yeah, sure humans are working to make the world a better place, but it still seems that for the foreseeable future that the quality of one’s life will depend largely on where they were born and who their parents are.

    It still gets back to the underlying issue, though. The idea that we must make the world better so that human lives are more comfortable is built on the foundation that human life is valuable or meaningful in the first place.

  • Morbert

    Jeff (21 + 22)

    21:

    The problem is you are not tendering your reasoning as a motivation to seek God/shake our fists at reality. You are tendering your reasoning as an argument for the existence of God. Hence, the rejection of P5 means it is rejected as an argument for the existence of God.

    The answer to your first two questions is no. (Your third question was not specific enough).

    I am a metaphysical nihilist and a functional empiricist/instrumentalist. I.e. I acknowledge that I cannot prove statements about what is real are necessarily true, but I operate based on information I receive through my senses.

    You are also making the same mistake you have made in previous arguments. Just because all arguments are ultimately axiomatic doesn’t mean we are compelled to accept tendered axioms. If that were the case, I would have the greatest argument of all time:

    (P1) God exists

    (C1) God exists

  • Morbert

    Phil (25),

    You wrote “The idea that we must make the world better so that human lives are more comfortable is built on the foundation that human life is valuable or meaningful in the first place.”

    How so? The only meaning and value needed would be meaning and value to each other.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Although I’m not an atheist (yet :), you are really providing me with some good reasons to be one, Jeff), Morbert’s line of reasoning is quite sound. You want to make an argument that God exists Jeff – not that he could exist. Your axiomatic attack on atheism merely provides for the latter, not the former.

    As to meaning etc. – as a species, we look out for our species – hence we “value” human life. The fact that we are self-aware, and have advanced cognition, makes that all pretty interesting, since comfort and advancement then incorporates those facilities that encompasses cognition and self awareness, therefore also creativity, care etc.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Morbert (26). You wrote, “You are tendering your reasoning as an argument for the existence of God. Hence, the rejection of P5 means it is rejected as an argument for the existence of God.

    Some will affirm P5 for a variety of reasons: intuition, other arguments, or, the one I prescribed, if life is to be livable, one ought to reject repugnant conclusions that are not known to be decisive.

    You wrote, “I operate based on information I receive through my senses.”

    Why choose this? Is that selection through reason or through preference?

    You wrote, “You are also making the same mistake you have made in previous arguments. Just because all arguments are ultimately axiomatic doesn’t mean we are compelled to accept tendered axioms.”

    I’ll respond to this after you respond to the question above. Peace!

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Klasie (28). You wrote,”You want to make an argument that God exists Jeff – not that he could exist. Your axiomatic attack on atheism merely provides for the latter, not the former.”

    Not if you affirm P5. But of course, if you have followed my arguments on this blog you will know that I think you cannot escape a discussion of presuppositions when talking about God (but epistemologically you cant escape a discussion of presuppositions when speaking about anything really).

    The argument above seems worthy to me, if you hold P5. If not–so be it. Embrace your meaningless, inherent life. At the end of the day, I come to the point I find materialism boring, depressing and–if true–unworthy of my time thinking about it.

    You wrote, “As to meaning etc. – as a species, we look out for our species – hence we “value” human life.”

    We “do” or we “ought to”? Is this a descriptive or prescriptive statement?

    You wrote, “The fact that we are self-aware, and have advanced cognition, makes that all pretty interesting, since comfort and advancement then incorporates those facilities that encompasses cognition and self awareness, therefore also creativity, care etc.”

    And it could be otherwise, ya? Can you derive an “ought” from this “is”? I suppose we are now returning to the question of value addressed here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2012/10/17/top-ten-arguments-for-god-jeff-cook/

  • Phil Miller

    How so? The only meaning and value needed would be meaning and value to each other.

    If human lives only have meaning and value if other humans ascribe meaning and value to them, it inevitably leads to some human lives being worth more than others. Society will decide that some people are worth saving while others aren’t. That’s great if you’re deemed worthy of being saved, not so great if you aren’t.

    When it comes down to it, I just don’t think answers that are based on the idea that we exist simply because we exist are satisfying enough in the long run. As I said before, I think atheists need to give a compelling answer as to why existence is inherently better than non-existence. Why do things that are alive struggle to stay alive?

  • EricG

    Jeff – while I see some point to your argument, I think you should be careful. To say “Embrace your meaningless, inherent life,” as you do above, doesn’t come off well, and could generate the opposite reaction to what you intend (who wants to accept an argument on threat of meaninglessness?)

    It also isn’t true. Many find meaning even in dire circumstances even without theist assumptions. See, for example, psychologist Viktor Frankl’s description of meaning found by those in the German death camps. I personally find significant meaning, despite facing a terminal illness, with or without a theist assumption (although I would strongly prefer it if there is a loving God).

    One thing that undercuts your argument is that it plays on our cognitive biases. We have an extraordinary anxiety of death and meaninglessness (see Tillich) that can lead us to be biased in favor of a story that suggests an easier route to meaning. (While some of what Freud said was wrong, this part is plainly supported – see studies by Richard Beck for example).

    The problem of pain is a serious question for the theist. I think it is better to acknowledge our lack of understanding of the problem, and to point to other bases for faith. Otherwise we can seem to trivialize the problem.

  • Tim

    Jeff Cook,

    I see you’ve once again opted for the presuppositional route, arguing in effect that everyone has to start at some “unjustified” presuppositions, and yours are just as good as anyone’s, so there.

    I have to ask then, why not just save yourself the trouble and just assume God and be done with it?

    The whole basis for rationale discourse is to argue from shared, I repeat shared assumptions. However, you start with assumptions with God baked into them. “Well, if you accept that there is ‘absolute’ morality…if you accept that a lack of transcendent meaning cannot be true of our reality…etc” and you end with “therefore God”, thinking you’ve proved something, or provided a “pointer”, or what have you.

    So you are, in effect, simply preaching to the choir – which of course is not uncommon in apologetics, though certainly regrettable. So you might as well just say that you “assume” that there is a God, that you “intuit” it or whatever have you and save yourself the unnecessary steps of crafting a thin veneer of logic between your assumptions which pretty much just beg the question of God in the first place.

    Now, relating to what warrant I have for such apperently “unjustified assumptions” I have such as an imperfect but often adequately reliable brain, I would suggest a different approach to understanding how we arrive at this notion. It works. We infer from our past experiences in using our brains that it works. We can effectively solve practical problems – we apply our minds to them and it, we’ll, works.

    Now you can always reject that of course. You can say that there may be some as of yet unexplained reason for why our brains can be so adept at solving practical and technological problems without telling us anything about actual reality. But such a an explanation asks us to reject the most straightforward and direct expanation in favor of an unecessarily complicated one. Like me rejecting that the woman I came home to today is my wife, rather than an alien that took over her body. We tend to accept the most straightforward an non-unecessarily convoluted explanations for things. Why? Because again, it tends to work – and it caries a lot of face validity to it. Furthermore, it is an assumption, which at least in practice, we all share. Which is an essential ingredient, I would remind you, for meaningful rationale discourse. We may not share all our assumptions, but we should start with what we do share.

  • Tim

    Phil Miller (25 & 31),

    I see this again and again in these apologetic posts. This Manichean notion of some absolute, timeless, ideal morality vs. no morality at all. Or transcendent, eternal meaning vs. zero natural, temporal meaning. Etc.

    I’m sorry, but reality just isn’t often quite that neatly separated into such discrete dichotomies of polar extremes.

    You can have a valuation of human life that is temporal. It can be rooted in our human nature. Our nature that includes deeply felt tendencies of compassion, empathy, love, social bonds, etc. We are geared to care at others at some level. And you are correct. It can vary. It depends on how emotionally connected we are.

    This is why some of our closest bonds are with our children. Some of the weakest with strangers we’ve never met. Though there are circumstances that can upend that in a heartbeat, closing the gap of emotional distance as it were. Hearing a girl screaming out in a burning building. You might not have thought of that girl’s well-being before. If heard on some news report you might just pass over it without much thought. But hearing her humanity in her cries, right in front of you, people will often rush into a burning building without so much as a thought to themselves to save such a girl. Stranger or not. At the cost of their life or not. Because this is human. This is how we are constituted. And it’s messy. It’s not even. It varies depending on quite chance emotional distance. And it is a fluke of evolution perhaps – one that on the average serves evolutionarily to propagate our species, preserving lines of kinship and communities most frequently the recipients of such otherwise sacrificial acts.

    But we embrace our humanity all the same. As that is what we are constituted to do. To feel. To care about. Take God away from me and I would still value being human. As many of my atheist friends do. Guarantee me that if I leave this life only the abyss awaits, and I will still sacrifice my life to save a child crying for help in front of me. Because that is what I want to do. That is what I care about. And just the idea that I could choose otherwise doesn’t matter to me. It’s just not in my nature. By way of comparison, the Old Testament claims to record Yahweh as defining his name as, “I am what I am.” Ditto.

  • Phil Miller

    But we embrace our humanity all the same. As that is what we are constituted to do. To feel. To care about. Take God away from me and I would still value being human. As many of my atheist friends do. Guarantee me that if I leave this life only the abyss awaits, and I will still sacrifice my life to save a child crying for help in front of me. Because that is what I want to do. That is what I care about. And just the idea that I could choose otherwise doesn’t matter to me. It’s just not in my nature. By way of comparison, the Old Testament claims to record Yahweh as defining his name as, “I am what I am.” Ditto.

    This is all very well and good, but at the end of the day, a materialist has to admit that all these feelings and concepts are simply the result of certain biochemical and neurological processes with no deeper purpose behind them. If all altruistic endeavors are simply a way for evolution to ensure the species survives, then, well, OK, but why pretend that they are endowed with deeper moral meaning?

    I guess that’s the thing that I get hung up on in these conversations. I have never said that atheists can’t be or aren’t moral people. However, it seems that all the terms that we use to describe morality and virtue are so steeped in theistic thinking, that it is nearly impossible to talk about morality with getting back into that. I would say all the feelings and sacrificial actions you describe are honorable, but when it comes down to it, you seem to be saying that they are only that way because it what humans are hardwired to do. If that’s the case, then it doesn’t make much sense to ascribe a value judgement to them at all.

    What it seems you’re saying is that people act like humans because they’re human, just like cats like cats because they’re cats. But the fact of the matter is that history shows us over and over that humans are totally capable of acting sub-human. Even atheists would say that. But, then again, that is making a value judgement that assumes that there’s some sort of objective standard humans should be held to.

  • Tim

    Phil Miller,

    “This is all very well and good, but at the end of the day, a materialist has to admit that all these feelings and concepts are simply the result of certain biochemical and neurological processes with no deeper purpose behind them. If all altruistic endeavors are simply a way for evolution to ensure the species survives, then, well, OK, but why pretend that they are endowed with deeper moral meaning?”

    Yes, at the end of a day the materialist, or atheist, accepts that our biological makeup has no deeper meaning behind it. From an atheistic point of view meaning begins and ends at the human level. It does not transcend it. Obviously.

    “However, it seems that all the terms that we use to describe morality and virtue are so steeped in theistic thinking, that it is nearly impossible to talk about morality with getting back into that.”

    With respect to this sentiment, I would challenge you that it is often a seeming “impossibility” on the theist’s end to conceive of morality sans God. Many atheists have no such difficulty. So I would caution you to over-generalize your own difficulty in this matter.

    “I would say all the feelings and sacrificial actions you describe are honorable, but when it comes down to it, you seem to be saying that they are only that way because it what humans are hardwired to do. If that’s the case, then it doesn’t make much sense to ascribe a value judgement to them at all.”

    I would disagree with this sentiment. It makes sense to value what humans are geared to value. We would only be expressing our nature. You wouldn’t expect a bee to suddenly give up making honey if given another option, and told they had a choice. And we don’t expect humans to start acting, well, inhuman just because philosophically they come to the realization that they have some other choice. Is it in a sense arbitrary? On an evolutionary level? Sure. And the logic stops there. The meaning stops there. The morality stops there. Anything beyond that is a discussion of humanity vs. something else. Some inhuman invention we could, in theory, create for ourselves. Becoming the sentient bee that chooses not to make honey. The fact is we just aren’t by and large inclined to pick that path. To go against our nature. We are who we are, and most of us don’t feel the need to defend that. But within the bounds of our humanity, the values we hold dear do very much make sense. They do have some objective grounding. They do not necessitate an arbitrary, meaningless, nihilistic existence. Within our humanity, there is the capacity for real value and meaning. Real significance. Temporal and naturalistic of course from an atheist’s point of view. But real nonetheless. Outside of our humanity there is no relevance. You’ve gone off the grid and there is no reference point any longer. And that is what every atheist, at some level, ultimately accepts. It tends not to cause an existential crisis, except for those who can only, such as yourself (as of yet), conceptually understand morality and meaning in no other than theistic terms.

    “What it seems you’re saying is that people act like humans because they’re human, just like cats like cats because they’re cats. But the fact of the matter is that history shows us over and over that humans are totally capable of acting sub-human. Even atheists would say that. But, then again, that is making a value judgement that assumes that there’s some sort of objective standard humans should be held to.”

    Investigations into “man’s inhumanity to man” have revealed that us humans tend to routinely rationalize or otherwise disarm our normal moral dispositions to conduct the atrocities of which we are all too familiar. Nazi’s dehumanized Jews as vermin. That enabled them to commit the acts that they did. I recall reading a story of a Nazi that, while routinely “exterminating” Jews ended up guiding a little girl by the hand. And in that moment, he saw that girl, for the first time, as human. As just a little girl. Not as vermin. Not as a disease. But as a girl. And he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t kill her. He saw her for who she was. Human. And we’ve seen that in religious wars too. They are the infidels. The godless. The wicked. Deserving of destruction. We see that in tribalism. They are the “other”. They aren’t like us. They don’t hold our values. They don’t think like we do. Live like we do. They become less human in the eyes of those who may ultimately decide to do them harm. And of course there is the notion that morality is not our only driving impulse. There is lust, anger, greed, pride, etc. All evolutionarily important. But not imbued within our constitution in the manner our moral dispositions are. These feel different. They aren’t pro-social. They don’t play of our emotions of compassion, empathy, love, etc. And so while they are “human”, they don’t define human morality. And morality serves to keep them in check, allowing us to thrive socially. All part of being human.

    And atheists accept this. They embrace their humanity. They don’t feel so conflicted. Many of them don’t feel nihilistic. And they have no reason to. I have yet to see the argument successfully made that says you can’t derive meaning from who you are. To enjoy and bask in the wonder of life regardless of how you got here. To enjoy the laughter of your children, the company of your wife, the grandeur of the universe, and all life has to offer, during your brief moment in the sun. Deeper answers than this as to meaning and value are not required by the atheist to have fulfillment in their lives.

    I would close with this quote from Siduri in the Epic of Gilgamesh (their version of Hades was really only a place to go and rest. The living was over. Really only a shade away from the nothingness atheists see as naturally following after life):

    “Gilgamesh, where are you hurrying to?
    You will never find the life for which you are looking.
    When the gods created man
    they alloted to him death,
    but life they retained in their own keeping.
    As for you, Gilgamesh,
    fill your belly with good things;
    day and night, night and day, dance and be merry,
    feast and rejoice.
    Let your clothes be fresh,
    bathe yourself in water,
    cherish the little child that holds your hand,
    and make your wife happy in your embrace;
    for this too is the lot of man.”

  • Phil Miller

    I would disagree with this sentiment. It makes sense to value what humans are geared to value. We would only be expressing our nature. You wouldn’t expect a bee to suddenly give up making honey if given another option, and told they had a choice. And we don’t expect humans to start acting, well, inhuman just because philosophically they come to the realization that they have some other choice. Is it in a sense arbitrary? On an evolutionary level? Sure. And the logic stops there. The meaning stops there. The morality stops there. Anything beyond that is a discussion of humanity vs. something else. Some inhuman invention we could, in theory, create for ourselves. Becoming the sentient bee that chooses not to make honey. The fact is we just aren’t by and large inclined to pick that path. To go against our nature. We are who we are, and most of us don’t feel the need to defend that. But within the bounds of our humanity, the values we hold dear do very much make sense.

    The line of reasoning you’re taking is starting to remind me of Aristotle’s notion of universals. You seem to be saying that there is some concept of “humanness” that exists somewhere, and that is what defines humanity. Or maybe you’re just saying that humans define what it is to be human. But in any case, you seem to be ignoring a lot of evidence in choosing to define what is truly human behavior and what isn’t. You describe the human experience as follows:

    To enjoy and bask in the wonder of life regardless of how you got here. To enjoy the laughter of your children, the company of your wife, the grandeur of the universe, and all life has to offer, during your brief moment in the sun. Deeper answers than this as to meaning and value are not required by the atheist to have fulfillment in their lives.

    But this is ignoring good portions of the data we have as to what humans’ lives are like and what a human experience can be. Many people spend their lives living in what can only be called hell on earth. The enjoyments they have are fleeting and few and far between. There is no hope an atheist can give to them.

    To be honest, we have to say that “humanness” includes not only the feelings of love, connection, and solidarity you describe but also the feelings of blind hatred, rage, and destructive impulses that humans have frequently displayed. If creatures are defined by how they behave, I don’t see how we can ignore them. What you want is to have your cake and eat it to. You want the ability to appeal to a higher moral authority without there actually being one. You keep on using the word “constitution” which is an word to choose, imo. It implies that there is some higher order or purpose behind the thing being “constituted”, but in a purely materialistic word that can’t be the case. Things just are because they are. And overall, the earth is a pretty violent place. Nature is, to quote Tennyson, “Red in Tooth and Claw”.

    Again, I have never disputed that atheists display morality and selflessness, but from my perspective it’s not because of some sort of evolutionary development, but rather it’s because the image of God, the divine spark, exists in a humans no matter how hard they try to deny it.

  • phil_style

    I must echo Klasie at # 28 , I’ve been somewhat disheartened by the unconvincing nature of much of the “arguments” proposed in favor of God’s existence in this series. As someone who already finds it hard to provide a rational stance for theism, this has not been encouraging.

  • Morbert

    Jeff (29)

    I cannot decide whether or not to reject P5 just as I cannot decide whether or not to reject the repugnant premise “Wars occur.” Repugnance is not a metric for what is true and what is not.

    I adopt empiricism on a functional level because it works. Remember that I do not adopt it on an ontological level. I do not use it to makes statements that are necessarily true. I cannot know if the bus that is barrelling down the road is real, or whether Newton’s law of momentum conservation is necessarily true on a uniformitarian level, but I am not going to step out in front of the bus.

  • http://www.everything.org Jeff Cook

    To All.

    (In response to Phil-Style (38)).

    I find it difficult to believe that I’m a brain in a vat, but I have no rational evidence.
    I find it diifcult to believe that the future will not be like the past, but I have no rational evidence.
    I find it difficult to believe that moral truths are real, though I have no rational evidence.

    I assume you are like me in still believing you are not a brain in a vat, that the future will be like the past, that some moral claims are true–despite your lack of rational reasons.

    Someone tell me why P5 above is not a similiar move to those above.

  • http://www.everything.org Jeff Cook

    Morbert (39).

    “Wars occur” is empiricial.
    “(P5) Our world does not contain events that are irredeemably tragic.” Is a different kind of claim.

    You wrote, “I adopt empiricism on a functional level because it works.”

    This is an emotional preference. It is not arational move. You prefer/desire “what works” over the alternative. Which is fine. I am a pragmatist myself on such issues. You know what else works, believing the pain and suffering in our world is *not* irredeemably tragic. The opposite view strikes me as crippling. What say you?

    Peace.

  • Tim

    Jeff Cook (40)

    Thank you so much for ignoring my response to just this point of yours in #33 where I do in fact lay out such warrant. I can see my efforts were well spent trying to engage you on that topic…

  • http://www.everything.org Jeff Cook

    EricG (32). You wrote, “Jeff – while I see some point to your argument, I think you should be careful. To say “Embrace your meaningless … life,” as you do above, doesn’t come off well, and could generate the opposite reaction to what you intend (who wants to accept an argument on threat of meaninglessness?)”

    True. Poorly stated. Not meant as a threat. There is a reality there worthy of our understanding and rejection.

    You wrote, “It also isn’t true. Many find meaning even in dire circumstances even without theist assumptions. See, for example, psychologist Viktor Frankl’s description of meaning found by those in the German death camps. I personally find significant meaning, despite facing a terminal illness, with or without a theist assumption (although I would strongly prefer it if there is a loving God).”

    There is a difference between subjectively-created, temporary meaning (which I think one can create on materialism), and indefinate, lasting objective meaning (which materialism cannot support).

    You wrote, “One thing that undercuts your argument is that it plays on our cognitive biases. We have an extraordinary anxiety of death and meaninglessness (see Tillich) that can lead us to be biased in favor of a story that suggests an easier route to meaning. (While some of what Freud said was wrong, this part is plainly supported – see studies by Richard Beck for example).”

    We also have “cognitive biases” for truth ya? Would your reflection undercut favoring truth over untruth?

    You wrote, “The problem of pain is a serious question for the theist. I think it is better to acknowledge our lack of understanding of the problem, and to point to other bases for faith. Otherwise we can seem to trivialize the problem.”

    The one thing my argument is not is trivial. It is not trivial when you need to speak to someone who’s son has been diagnosed with cancer, or who’s wife just died in a car wreck, or who has found they have an inoperable tumor in their brain. My argument is highly existentially relevant.

    Materialism has absolutely nothing good to say to someone in the midst of tragedy.

  • http://www.everything.org Jeff Cook

    Tim (33) . You wrote, “why not just save yourself the trouble and just assume God and be done with it?”

    I think its worth talking through where specific presuppositions lead us. That is an exercise we can all enjoy together, no matter what vantage point. And–so far–it is the reason I select God-belief. That certainly is worthy road, ya?

    You wrote, “The whole basis for rationale discourse is to argue from shared, I repeat shared assumptions. However, you start with assumptions with God baked into them. “Well, if you accept that there is ‘absolute’ morality…if you accept that a lack of transcendent meaning cannot be true of our reality…etc” and you end with “therefore God”, thinking you’ve proved something, or provided a “pointer”, or what have you.”

    Some people do intuitively hold or prefer to believe in moral truths, beauty, conscience, personal identity, the brains reliability, freedom, love (which we will get to), and meaning (in pain and in life itself). If you already affirm such realities (as many do) God-belief is an outstanding metaphysical foundation for such realities. Materialism is not. Just showing where our commitments lead. (I also pitched arguments from religious experience, the beginning of the universe, and the necessary outcome of a eternally existing material process, which are just 3 among a handful I could offer).

    You wrote, “Now, relating to what warrant I have for such apperently “unjustified assumptions” I have such as an imperfect but often adequately reliable brain,”

    How do you know? It may be wholly unreliable and you are not aware.

    You wrote, “I would suggest a different approach to understanding how we arrive at this notion. It works. We infer from our past experiences in using our brains that it works. We can effectively solve practical problems – we apply our minds to them and it, we’ll, works.”

    I bet you have no non-circular reasons for affirming this claim.

  • http://www.everything.org Jeff Cook

    Tim (42). I’m catching up. I teach 4 classes today. Give me some space friend.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Jeff @ 41 – I think your straining the definition of “emotional preference” here. His is a pragmatic preference.

    It is entirely possible to use the pragmatic approach, even if you do not like it, solely because it works, as per definition.

    Furthermore, you go from stating that since we cannot know if we are a brain in a vat / processor in a matrix etc etc, we accept it by faith and carry on.

    Let me respond thus: I’ma resource geologist. I look at geological data, analyze it, model it, perform geostatistics on it, including simulations, and then tell the client that based on the data, they have so many tons of a commodity, at this grade, with those other characteristics etc etc. The more data I have, the better my model and predictions become. Of course, how good I was will only become apparent once the deposit has been mined out.

    That being said, I have had some pretty intense arguments with various professionals in this regard. One that stands out particular was with a metallurgical engineer / plant designer over some or the other rock characteristic. She wanted to know what the mean was, which I could giver her. Then she wanted to know what the highest values were that she could expect – and I said based on my data, it is the highest known sample value. She said that there could be higher ones. I said sure, but I have no grounds for saying anything about that. She said all my work is therefore wrong. I came back to say that I am obliged to stick with the data which I do have. It got quite tense.

    You see, often people want an answer beyond that which we know. That answer could be possible, likely, unlikely, extreme unlikely, or simply wishful thinking. This is were emotion enters – desire etc. But operating within the data which we have, testing the hypotheses we make and the axioms we have to accept (Like poor old Godel and his Incompleteness Theorems), that is the method.

    But to presuppose an outcome which we want based on emotional needs is invalid (1). To demonstrate that that outcome is a fundamental axiom with which the system is entirely consistent, and without which it falls apart, is something else (2). You appear to be doing (2) with these posts, which is fine, but when pressed, you jump back to (1). An infallible escape clause does nothing for an argument.

  • Morbert

    Jeff (41)

    You are again falling back on the axiomatic nature of arguments. We are saying a consequence of this is your arguments no more compelling than

    (P1) God exists
    (C1) God exists

    If you want to do that, go ahead. It is logically sound, yes, but entirely uninteresting and in no way compelling. To 99% of people, the argument you are tendering amounts to “Materialism is false because it would be totally lame if it were true.”

  • http://www.everything.org Jeff Cook

    Klassie (46). You wrote, “I think your straining the definition of “emotional preference” here. His is a pragmatic preference.”

    All preferences are the result of emotions. How can one have a “rational” preference? It seems to me, preferring pragmatism is itself a non-cognitive selection.

    You wrote, “It is entirely possible to use the pragmatic approach, even if you do not like it, solely because it works, as per definition”

    Here you are disliking the results, not the approach, ya?
    How do you imagine someone selects pragmatism over a correspondance theory of truth?

    You wrote, “Furthermore, you go from stating that since we cannot know if we are a brain in a vat / processor in a matrix etc etc, we accept it by faith and carry on. Let me respond thus: I’ma resource geologist. I look at geological data, analyze it, model it, perform geostatistics on it, including simulations, and then tell the client that based on the data, they have so many tons of a commodity, at this grade, with those other characteristics etc etc. The more data I have, the better my model and predictions become. Of course, how good I was will only become apparent once the deposit has been mined out. That being said, I have had some pretty intense arguments with various professionals in this regard. One that stands out particular was with a metallurgical engineer / plant designer over some or the other rock characteristic. She wanted to know what the mean was, which I could giver her. Then she wanted to know what the highest values were that she could expect – and I said based on my data, it is the highest known sample value. She said that there could be higher ones. I said sure, but I have no grounds for saying anything about that. She said all my work is therefore wrong. I came back to say that I am obliged to stick with the data which I do have. It got quite tense.”

    What counts as “data” is theory dependent.

    How will you then select your theory, if you cannot use data (for that would result in a circular argument). I suggest you should embrace the fact that we cannot begin the search for truth with what is proven, only with what is believed, and our initial beliefs are either given to us by others or selected by ourselves through our preferences.

    You wrote, “You see, often people want an answer beyond that which we know. That answer could be possible, likely, unlikely, extreme unlikely, or simply wishful thinking. This is were emotion enters – desire etc. But operating within the data which we have, testing the hypotheses we make and the axioms we have to accept (Like poor old Godel and his Incompleteness Theorems), that is the method.”

    Do you know this is “the method” through empirical analysis or by other means. If its the former, your argument is circular. If its the latter, then what are those means?

    You wropte, “But to presuppose an outcome which we want based on emotional needs is invalid (1).”

    Of course, but that’s not my argument. I am arguing that presuppositions are unavoidable at the theory level and we select our presuppositions based on preference.

    You wrote, “(2). You appear to be doing (2) with these posts, which is fine, but when pressed, you jump back to (1). An infallible escape clause does nothing for an argument.”

    Not sure what you are saying here.

    Peace.

  • Phil Miller

    Much of this conversation reminds me of Dallas Willard’s book, Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge. The one thing that Willard talks about is the post-Enlightenment notion that the only thing we can possess true knowledge about are those in the material realm, and because of that we relegate spiritual knowledge to the realm of pure belief or fantasy.

    So from an epistemological perspective it does seem that atheists and theists will always come to an impasse. A theist will insist that it is possible that spiritual knowledge can be known, can be revealed, and can be understood, meanwhile atheists insist that only material knowledge – that which can be perceived through our senses or other instrument means anything.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Jeff, what I was getting at is that “the method” is Bayesian in nature. Define belief. Test. Add outcome. Test. Add outcome. Test. New data arrives. Test. Add outcome test………

    The method is self-corrective. Whereas your presuppositional approach never allows itself to be tested – because the presupposition is always a a condition of the outcome.

    You keep on throwing out the data depends on theory. If that were true in the way you are using it, no data will ever contradict a theory. But is simply not true. Refer Bayes.

    What I was saying there in the last paragraph is that you want to show that “reality as we view it is consistent” if and only if God exists. But when we demonstrate that your argument either does not contain the “…and only if”, or that it rests on an emotional need for God to exists (“the world is ugly otherwise”), you fall back on – “But I presuppose that..”. Which is, as others have said repeatedly now, no argument beyond the trivial (God exists, therefore God exists).

  • EricG

    Jeff (43) -

    I don’t think you are really responding to my point that your argument plays on cognitive bias. You say “We also have “cognitive biases” for truth ya? Would your reflection undercut favoring truth over untruth?” But the point with cognitive biases is that they tend to lead us away from the truth – that has been demonstrated many times in fact with the particular cognitive bias you are playing on. People really, really want there to be a loving God and heaven, which affects their decision-making in a negative way (this has been shown).

    You also acknowledge subjective meaning in the context of materialism, which undercuts p5′s statement that events are “irredeemably tragic.” Some objective meaning may be better, but subjective meaning is still powerful. Take my case, I am dying at age 40 with young kids at home, and experience significant suffering from cancer, but find meaning every day, even those days I seriously question the existence of a loving God.

    My biggest concern here is that attempting to pass off the serious problem of suffering using these philosophical arguments, which ring hollow for many (myself included), isn’t a fair treatment of the very deep and serious problem of suffering that has plagued us for ages.

  • Ruth Chipperfield

    The bloggers trundle round and round, spinning words. Jeff says ‘Peace!’ What does that mean to the atheist? Freedom from fear, from anxiety, from ecstasy? Not a reference to the future, which to an atheist is random, literally meaningless, without meaning. Peace for her can be attained only in the present, by turning inward (being ‘mindful’, as is the current escape route), by dissociation from fellow-humans, by indifference to their lives, in fact by being scrupulously selfish. The theist can safely look outward at the broad picture, past and future as well as ‘now’, connecting with fellow-humans, because their lives are morally and ethically intertwined.
    Phil says we are human, and he refers to human life being valuable or meaningful. That this is so can be inferred from the intertwining of our lives. Otherwise our relationships would be at best driven by self-interest. Love, empathy, compassion, envy, rage, would be our response to others’ actions toward us. Altruism would not be part of the true atheist’s vocabulary. Where would the necessary empathy come from in an individual who is a collection of cells without a soul?
    Where, for the atheist, do the concepts of truth, honour and integrity come from? Pragmatism would become the overriding principle, as people work to their own advantage; why do otherwise? Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we cease being. For ever.
    The theist’s conviction that there is a benevolent God gives him confidence that there is a future. To research that future, to declare an interest in it, is what begins to make life worth living.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Ruth, you are indulging in ever so many straw men and caricatures.

  • EricG

    Following up on my comment about this post playing on cognitive biases, there is another important aspect of this. If psychologist Richard Beck is correct in The Authenticity of Faith, the group of people who respond to this sort of play on existential anxiety are more likely to have a less authentic faith – they believe because they really really want it to be true. God becomes an idol they can control to satisfy their fears. There is another group in his research who appear to have faith despite their deep existential anxiety – Mother Theresa is a prime example. Because they can maintain faith despite their fears their faith appears more authentic.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Klasie (50) Jeff, what I was getting at is that “the method” is Bayesian in nature. Define belief. Test. Add outcome. Test. Add outcome. Test. New data arrives. Test. Add outcome test………The method is self-corrective. Whereas your presuppositional approach never allows itself to be tested – because the presupposition is always a a condition of the outcome.”

    You’re approach above is no different from mine. You define “belief” (and other paradigmatically important starting points). But these cannot be proven, they must be selected and we must see where they lead.

    And of course, Paradigmatic starting points can be corrected. Some people value consistency, so when a worldview cannot consistently explain phenomenon for example, one ought to trade up presuppositions. See Thomas Kuhn “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.”

    You wrote, “You keep on throwing out the data depends on theory. If that were true in the way you are using it, no data will ever contradict a theory. But is simply not true. Refer Bayes.”

    What counts as “data” is certainly debatable, don’t you think? Eventually you will have a philosophy that gives the term “data” meaning. The verbal/symbolic word “data” itself lacks meaning until we give it one. The word “data” is gibberish for those who only speak Japanese. All words/concepts, it seems to me, lack meaning until we give them meaning. Such meaning is not written in the heavens. The meaning we give terms and the value we give such terms cannot help but come from the philosophies we hold. And as such, all “data” (what counts as “data” and the value of said “data”) is theory dependent.

    And yes of course, “data” (given certain definitions) can critique theory. See again Thomas Kuhn’s “Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” I hold that we often experience “anomalies” that object to the theory we have been employing, and such anomalies give us good reason (if we value consistency) to change our theory/paradigm/.presuppositions.

    One anomaly/piece of data, for materialists to wrestle with is the massive amount of suffering, that on materialism is clearly purposeless. How one wrestles with this observation has paradigmatic value for some.

    You wrote, “What I was saying there in the last paragraph is that you want to show that “reality as we view it is consistent” if and only if God exists. But when we demonstrate that your argument either does not contain the “…and only if”, or that it rests on an emotional need for God to exists (“the world is ugly otherwise”), you fall back on – “But I presuppose that..”. Which is, as others have said repeatedly now, no argument beyond the trivial (God exists, therefore God exists).”

    My argument has been “if you think there is lasting purpose in suffering” (which one can honestly believe going into this argument for a variety of reasons), then Materialism is false. You can deny premise 5 of course, and the argument fails. And that’s just fine. Embrace the fact that there is no good that will come from the 10,000 kids who will starve to death today, and say, “Ya life isn’t fair some times.”

    Klasie, I’m not being inconsistent here. I am pitching an argument that is compelling to some agnostics (namely me). If you don’t buy in, blessings on you. I’m not forcing you to believe anything. I’m posting reflections that are important to me and my encounter with reality. I am exceedingly aware of the fact, and said so above, that one can honestly object to P5 and the argument fails.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    EricG (51). You wrote, “I don’t think you are really responding to my point that your argument plays on cognitive bias.”

    I am granting that. And likewise state that “cognitive bias” are absolutely inescapable. It is everyone else here who thinks we can be “neutral” and I’m suggesting one can’t be.

    You wrote, “the point with cognitive biases is that they tend to lead us away from the truth – that has been demonstrated many times in fact with the particular cognitive bias you are playing on. People really, really want there to be a loving God and heaven, which affects their decision-making in a negative way (this has been shown).”

    Granted. The most important question then is what philosophy do we employee to understand reality best. Your comments are arguing, it seems, that our theories/presuppositions/etc do not matter at all. I’m arguing that that position is epistemologically naive (not meant as an insult) as has been shown by Kuhn, William James, Wittgenstein and others.

    You wrote, “You also acknowledge subjective meaning in the context of materialism, which undercuts p5′s statement that events are “irredeemably tragic.” Some objective meaning may be better, but subjective meaning is still powerful. Take my case, I am dying at age 40 with young kids at home, and experience significant suffering from cancer, but find meaning every day, even those days I seriously question the existence of a loving God.”

    I would still hold that at the end of the day you won’t remember nor will anyone else the suffering you experience and as such they do not lead to a good. If there is a God the suffering you are experiencing may lead to some good and that’s worth embracing. (Much love to you again on this front!)

    You wrote, “My biggest concern here is that attempting to pass off the serious problem of suffering using these philosophical arguments, which ring hollow for many (myself included), isn’t a fair treatment of the very deep and serious problem of suffering that has plagued us for ages.”

    Of course not. Reality is far more real than descriptions of reality. The real God is a far better source of treatment than descriptions of God. I’m simply pitching reasons to seek such a God.

    Grace and Peace!

  • Morbert

    Jeff (55)

    You wrote: “One anomaly/piece of data, for materialists to wrestle with is the massive amount of suffering, that on materialism is clearly purposeless. How one wrestles with this observation has paradigmatic value for some.”

    This is not an anomaly materialists have to tackle. Just as the fact that radiation can cause cancer is not an anomaly that nuclear physicists have to tackle. It is not nice, but it is entirely consistent with the paradigms. That is what is relevant when discussing arguments for the existence of God. It is not sufficient to argue that it would not be very nice if atheism were true. You must argue that we atheism is inconsistent with reality, or at least inconsistent with what is evidenced.

    You also wrote: “I’m simply pitching reasons to seek such a God.” Does this mean the above argument is not an argument for the existence of God, but rather an argument for why we should seek God. If that is the case, then the argument does become more substantial.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Morbert (57). You wrote, “[Purposeless suffering] is not an anomaly materialists have to tackle … it is entirely consistent with the paradigms.”

    True.

    You wrote, “It is not sufficient to argue that it would not be very nice if atheism were true. You must argue that atheism is inconsistent with reality, or at least inconsistent with what is evidenced.”

    If one holds P5, then it is an argument for God’s existence. Yes you can deny P5 (as you do above). Many will not. I myself began believing in God because of this argument. I held to P5. I have argued that our presuppositions are selected by preferences, that that is unavoidable philosophically (there are no cartesian clear and distinct ideas), and it seems to me that pain (the problem of evil for both theists and atheists) legitimately affects the paradigm we embrace.

    I wrote “I’m simply pitching reasons to seek such a God.”
    You commented, “Does this mean the above argument is not an argument for the existence of God, but rather an argument for why we should seek God. If that is the case, then the argument does become more substantial.”

    I think it can be both.

    Peace!

  • EricG

    Jeff,

    I am in full agreement that presuppositions are important, and am quite familiar with Kuhn, James, etc. in fact, James was very concerned with the very point I am making – that some people base religious faith on existential anxiety, and the deep desire that God is in their favor, and that such faith is troubling and often not authentic – it is an “instinctual weapon for self protection” and is “congenital anesthesia,” he said. Presuppositions are important, but that does not mean we can or should throw up our hands and ignore the problem that your initial argument appears to be based on a well-recognized cognitive bias. There are better reasons for faith, IMO.

    Your most recent comment says that you are just looking for reasons to seek God. If that is the case, I am not as concerned as if you were seeking to use philosophical arguments to resolve (or even use affirmatively) the problem of suffering. The latter is troubling to me – as Moltmann has suggested, “the person who believes will not rest content with any slickly explanatory answer to the theodicy question. And he will also resist any attempts to soften the question down. The more a person believes, the more deeply he experiences pain over the suffering in the world.”

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    EricG (59). You wrote, “Presuppositions are important, but that does not mean we can or should throw up our hands and ignore the problem that your initial argument appears to be based on a well-recognized cognitive bias. There are better reasons for faith, IMO.”

    I make a case in Everything New on this front and perhaps I should point everyone there since these posts are short. But again my argument is you cannot possibly escape cognitive bias (especially on materialism–all my thoughts are determined any way…). At the end of the day our preference choose our metaphysical/epistemological commitments–whether we are materialists or theists. No one is immune to this.

    Are there emotion driven reasons that are well-established for selecting theistic presuppositions–yes of course.

    Are there emotion driven reasons that are well-established for selecting materialistic presuppositions–yes of course. (social/academic pressures, the need to not have “big brother” watching, a dislike of “the after life”, a hatred of the idea of a divine father, etc)

    I understand your claim.

    You haven’t hurt my argument. If one holds P5, the argument is sound. I understand that you can easily bite the bullet and deny P5. I suggest in so doing we lose a world that is worthy of our affection.

    You wrote, “Your most recent comment says that you are just looking for reasons to seek God.”

    The argument works both as a motive and as a proof.

    You wrote, “If that is the case, I am not as concerned as if you were seeking to use philosophical arguments to resolve (or even use affirmatively) the problem of suffering. The latter is troubling to me – as Moltmann has suggested, “the person who believes will not rest content with any slickly explanatory answer to the theodicy question. And he will also resist any attempts to soften the question down. The more a person believes, the more deeply he experiences pain over the suffering in the world.””

    I have said on this blog frequently that I don;t think the arguments for God’s existence are fully convincing. My position is best outlined here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2012/08/15/jeff-cook-could-believing-in-god-harm-your-soul/

    May all good things be yours!

  • Morbert

    Jeff (58+60)

    Perhaps all is needed is clarification. It is not an argument for God in the usual sense of an argument that attempts to highlight a contradiction between atheism and the world we observe and experience. Rather it is an argument that all tragedies are fundamentally irredeemable if Materialism is true.

  • EricG

    Jeff,

    Thanks for the conversation.

    You seem to be suggesting that our preferences are determinative. I think it is more accurate to say preferences are influential. Desires and reasoning form a complex, iterative web that arrives at views. Yes, there are biases that come into play for and against materialism, but you have based your argument on what is thought to be the granddaddy of all biases, the motivating factor behind all other motivations (according to Tillich, Becker) – the existential fear of death and meaninglessness.

    Also, earlier I think I showed P4 is pretty overstated – for the materialist events can be meaningful (even if not as meaningful as under some notions of theism).

    Moreover, this is an argument that, if accepted, has been understood to call the authenticity of faith into doubt (Freud, Becker, James, Beck). Is faith based on avoidance of existential anxiety really faith? I much prefer the arguments in your next post, which I think are helpful.


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