Happy Fourth of July!

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1776 is among my favorite movie-musicals (small wonder a Javert fangirl also fell hard for stubborn John Adams).  Of course, if you watched it, or had history teachers for parents, you know that July 2nd, the date the Declaration was approved but not signed, might be a more appropriate day for celebration.  John Adams wrote to Abigail:

The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more. You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.

And obviously I cannot resist:

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About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as a statistician for a school in Washington D.C. by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • TheodoreSeeber

    I for one can no longer see the dream- the gloom has returned.

  • G

    I agree with Theodore. The DOMA decision is the beginning of the end. Five appointed justices are representative of a broader cultural malaise, heralding this society’s doom.

    To quote an In Flames lyric:

    I see the nursing all-mother
    spitting out a trail of termites
    in the mouth of her first-born hope
    breast ripe with smog-filled rebellion

    • Randy Gritter

      I don’t see it as the beginning of anything. You might call Roe v Wade the beginning of a decline. That is when Christians were declared to be bad Americans. GK Chesterton said America is a country founded on a creed. When that creed includes something that contradicts Christianity then Christians become aliens in their own land. DOMA is another chapter in that story but it is not the beginning.

      I don’t think it is the end either. I think human history is full of the cycles of sin and repentance. We are still falling deeper and deeper into sin. Where will it stop? Will we reach the martyrdom stage? Hard to know. But it will stop. God wins. The country may not survive but the Catholic Church will.

  • grok87

    John Adams, what a great guy, the true “father” of our country.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Adams
    The reference to Enthusiasm is interesting. I think that that is basically code for methodism.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Great_Awakening

    Apparently Adams was a Christian unlike many of the other founding fathers who were essentially Deists.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Adams#Religious_views

    “In 1796, Adams denounced political opponent Thomas Paine’s criticisms of Christianity in his Deist book The Age of Reason, saying, “The Christian religion is, above all the religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of wisdom, virtue, equity and humanity, let the Blackguard Paine say what he will.”[126]

  • Convergence

    This is the most appropriate place that I’ve found to talk to you. But really this comment is about your blog in general, and most specifically what I found in the “about” section.

    First, a little about me:

    My life’s path is pretty much the opposite of yours. My background is very religious. I was never knew any atheists (other than myself) until I was an adult (I still don’t know many, and I’m the only person I know that dwells on this kind of stuff). I started having my doubts at a young age, but had occasional relapses into Christianity.

    Once I left home, I embraced my atheism for good. At first things were pretty bad. I saw everything as meaningless, and was essentially nihilistic, years of dogma had taught that all meaning and value was derived from God, so without god, there was no meaning or value. Then someone told me that all I need for meaning was to be able to appreciate certain things: family, friends, health, happiness, etc. From these things I can build up a meaningful system of ethics. (in hindsight this is very obvious)

    Anyway, it’s been a long and hard road. I was essentially doing this in a vacuum for years, then I realized that it was OK to use wisdom that was already out there. First I looked to Buddhism. I found some valuable stuff there, but it didn’t quite fit. I took a few philosophy classes, read a few books, and now I’m looking into stoicism (which is how I found your blog). It’s not a religion, it doesn’t answer all of life’s questions, it’s just an aid, and something to build on. (It’s also not infallible, and I can pick and choose rather than rather than blindly swallowing it whole).

    So it’s disconcerting to see someone that’s been down my chosen path, and going in the direction that I just came from. It reminds me of people in movies and books that are fleeing something terrible in their home town, seeking refuge in a distant land of milk and honey, only to realize that people from that distant land are fleeing to my home town.

    But, for the most part, I’m confident that I’m moving in the right direction.

    You are obviously intelligent, educated, and thoughtful (probably more so than me). But I think that in spite of these qualities, something has gone horribly awry in your thought process.

    It sounds like the is-ought problem played an important role in your conversion; You couldn’t reconcile your ethics with a naturalistic view of the world, so you solved this conflict by getting rid of your atheism. I’m an obsessive thinker, including about philosophy, but I am not all that well versed in it. However, I’ve read a little about the is-ought problem. Maybe I’m under-thinking this, but it seems simple to me. Ought only applies when there are beings with preferences, desires, or needs. If a being is hungry, it “ought” to eat, if there is a creature that is capable of suffering, then we “ought” not needlessly torment it, etc. If there were no living beings with needs, preferences, or desires, then there would be no ought. Imagine a universe similar to ours, but in this universe there are no living beings, or any form of intelligence. Would “ought” ever apply to this universe? I don’t think so. Who cares what condition this universe is in? You can only apply “is” to this imaginary universe. Therefore ought is not inherent to substance, or the universe, but is a result of our subjective experience. Am I saying that there are no objective truths about how humans should behave? No. I believe that there are. (Because we have preferences, needs and desires)

    You chose Christianity because it seemed to fit your ethics better than anything else out there. Then you chose Catholicism because it seemed the most “trustworthy”. WHAT?! To me that reads like this: “I hired the former big-wigs at Enron to handle all of my finances because they seemed the most trustworthy.” (This was actually the nicest comparison I came up with). The Catholic church is a massive, overly complicated, organization with a history of abuse of power that goes back centuries and continues to this day. I understand that most of the Catholic people are good people, even most of their staff, however, to say that the Catholic church seemed to most trustworthy is just bizarre. What on earth are your criteria for trustworthiness?

    It sounds like you are intrigued by non-fundamentalist Christians. You call them “interesting”. They are in general much more thoughtful than the fundamentalists. (I’ve actually known some very intelligent fundamentalists, they just don’t dare question certain things). I’ve listened to a little of what these people say, but for the most part it seems to me that they believe because they want to. They don’t have all of the answers about why things are the way that they are, so for some reason they conclude that God made everything the way that it is. But that does not follow.

    You specifically mentioned Christians that thought that the beauty of mathematics was evidence of god. They might be fascinated by how mathematics is able to model the real world, or are fascinated by pure mathematics itself. But, lets flip that upside down. Think about how POORLY mathematics models the real world when we are enumerating or measuring non-fungible things. (Most REAL things in the world are non-fungible.) There are apples of greater worth than others, there are oranges of greater worth than others, there are diamonds of greater worth than others. People are also non-fungible. We frequently use mathematics to measure, or enumerate people, but if someone were to take away two of your children, and then give you two more, you’d probably be unhappy about that. Think about how ugly pi is. What if all of the universe’s important constants were integers? What if they were all prime numbers? That would be suspicious (suggestive of intelligent creation)! But they are not. Very disappointing, and I daresay, not suggestive of an intelligent creator. The fact is that we invented mathematics. It’s a product of our habit of symbolic thinking. In the imaginary universe I mentioned above (with no living creatures), math would not even exist. There would be things that could be counted or measured, but there would by no system of symbols to represent them, or logical operators to manipulate them.

    Anyway, I’m sorry that this went on so long. I’m not even sure I’m going to be able to post all of this (I ended up using a text editor). If I can’t post this to your comments section, I’ll try to email it to you or something.

    Thanks for reading, I’m looking forward your response.

    • Convergence

      I apologize for the typos and unnecessary words. I should have proof read this.

      Edit: Apparently I can edit these comments. I corrected a few mistakes that I made. There will likely be more. :)

    • KG

      Very thoughtful questions, I hope they get a response.

      Although I sympathize with most of your post, I fear you might be barking up the wrong tree in your last lengthy paragraph when you try to bring up the messiness of math as an argument against an intelligent creator – my guess is that Leah would say math is plenty beautiful and suggestive of some great divine meaning.

      In fact, I think that many Catholics are mathematicians because they love investigating what happens when certain choices of axioms lead complicated and beautiful structure – simplicity is the enemy. There are plenty of (meta)physical axioms one can choose that lead to a complicated and beautiful structure for reality, including those that allow for the miracles underpinning Christianity.

      The problem is whether someone can feel confident enough in making such a grandiose choice of (meta)physical axioms for the purely subjective reason that they *want* their ethics to be most secure. I think that’s what Leah has done. And it seems to me that this is certainly well-motivated from the point of view of seeking peace of mind and confidence in moral convictions – I just think it is sloppy thinking about physical reality. It allows for too many miracles and a huge degree in arbitrariness when choosing between the validity of alleged miracles.

      Anyway, I hope we both get responses one day.

      • Convergence

        Thanks! I hope you get your answer too.

        I admit that math is not my strongest subject. My point is that if you think that the beauty of math has to do with it’s ability to model the real world, then keep in mind that a) we are very selective of what kinds of problems we use math to solve, and b) we developed math, it’s not a part of nature. If the beauty of math lies in pure mathematics, then, again, remember that math is not natural. There may be some aspect of math that I am completely ignorant of, and I’m making a fool of myself here though.

        I fully agree with your “The problem is…” paragraph.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      I think you have overlooked the councilor method which is the predecessor to the scientific method. Unlike Enron, the Catholic Church makes final decisions in total transparency- some would say painful transparency. Every single infallible statement (and there are very few indeed) is debated for centuries.

      I can’t speak for Leah, but that is what eventually led me back to Catholicism after rejecting atheism and stoicism and Zen Buddhism- unlike those other religions, the Catholic Church, should you choose to ask, will expound upon any moral topic until you are overwhelmed with evidence for their position.

      The hard part for any modern American is having the patience to put up with it. There are no truly simple answers in Catholicism.

    • Randy Gritter

      Then someone told me that all I need for meaning was to be able to appreciate certain things: family, friends, health, happiness, etc. From these things I can build up a meaningful system of ethics. (in hindsight this is very obvious)

      This is hardly a solution to nihilism. Things seem to matter in my mind. So what? Do they matter outside my mind? If I didn’t exist would my family and friends matter? Why? They are just a small number of the 7 billion humans on the planet. Why would any humans matter?

      Nihilism does not deny that you can convince yourself of meaning. It just asserts that such meaning is an illusion. An atheist should reject it for the same reason she rejects God. If a theist said he could build up a meaningful theology based on these things an atheist would say he is being irrational. If it can’t serve as a basis for God why can it serve as a basis for ethics?

      • Convergence

        I’m asserting that meaning exists because of the conscious mind. Why would “meaning” have to exist apart from a conscious mind to be real? That’s nonsense. If I did not exist but my family did, they would still mean something to each other. Should they despair that the universe outside of themselves doesn’t necessarily care about them? Of course not. I think that what you are really saying is that meaning can only matter if it matters to God. I used to think that way too.

        Just think about the word “meaning”. It implies a conscious mind, and I think that you would agree that it can’t exist apart from a conscious mind. (Although I think for some reason you don’t think it counts unless that mind is all powerful)

        “If a theist could build up a meaningful theology…” I didn’t understand that part.

        • Randy Gritter

          So you believe in a conscious mind? So brain activity is not just a series of chemical reactions? There is somebody there and not just physics? Would you call it a soul? It is something many atheists would reject.

          Jean Paul Satre said no finite point has any meaning without an infinite reference point.

          http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/j/jeanpauls383321.html

          Is he right? I think his logic is bang on.

          • Convergence

            To Leah: Randy and I are getting off topic. Feel free to ignore this if you like.

            On Sartre: I admit, that’s a little over my head. I don’t know what that quote means, and I don’t see how it is connected to our conversation. It sounds like an a priori argument for the existence of God, but I’d have to spend some time studying to answer that one (assuming that I’m bright enough).

            On the Self: Wow! You’re expecting a lot out of this conversation. LOL! People have been debating that one for a very long time. You have to remember that even the most educated atheists haven’t had access to even pedestrian neuroscience for very long. I’ve actually studied a bit of neuro, (that only touched on consciousness, and only in the context of disease). I’ve also spent some time discussing the self with philosophy professors (in a student philosophy club), but again, I’m no expert.

            By way of analogy, do you believe this web page exists? What exactly is it? Is it a bunch of text and formatting, that contain correspondence between several people? Is it a bunch of HTML (and whatever net languages are used these days)? Is it on your computer? Is it on my computer? Is it a pattern of light that is being emitted by your monitor and being interpreted by your eyes and brain? Is it a pattern of an movement of a series of electrons that travels through metal wires? Is it a collection of light impulses traveling through fiber optic cables? It most likely doesn’t even exist on any single hard drive as it is probably an assemblage of automatically generated stuff (ads and formatting) and the text, a series of binary magnetic polarities which are probably spread out across a redundant array of inexpensive disks. The truth is that it is all of these things. It doesn’t have to be just one. The self is both electrochemical impulses, and a coherent conscious being.

            The brain is a computer. It’s very different from the computers that we have built, but it does the same type of thing: process information. My explanation of the self is that is just one of the processes that my brain is currently involved in. Some non-conscious activities that my brain are involved with right now are regulating my pulse and blood pressure, controlling digestion, etc. The consciousness isn’t quite as simple as some other processes in the brain though. It is really an assembly line of MANY processes that occur in different regions of the brain. Does the fact that you can’t point to a single segment of the brain and say “the self is here” mean that it does not exist? No. The brain works through electrochemical impulses. Does that mean that the processes that it performs do not exist? Of course not. Just like the fact that at some point this web page is a series of electrical impulses through a semiconductive material does not mean that it does not exist.

            One of the many important differences between the brain and human-built computers is that brains degenerate very quickly once they are cut off from their power source (blood, to make things simple). A brain starts to deteriorate just minutes after it stops receiving support (I don’t know the exact time-line, but it happens pretty quickly. By analogy, imagine that every computer was equipped with a device that melted the hard drive, the CPU, the Ram, (the whole shebang) as soon as the power was cut? Would the information that was contained on the computer somehow survive? (assuming that it wasn’t backed up) Of course not. There is also a great deal of evidence to support that the self does not survive the destruction of the brain.

            I can go on for pages on this topic. Does the self exist? Yes. Is it a series of electrochemical impulses? Yes. Is it a constantly evolving pattern of neuronal connections? Yes. Is it hard to define? Yes. Would some say that the fact that it is hard to define suggests that it does not exist? Yes. Does it survive the body? No. Is it supernatural? No.

          • Randy Gritter

            I was just talking about consciousness in relation to meaning. If meaning comes from consciousness then does that mean you reject those who say it is merely an illusion? It is a big topic but it seems most atheists land in a place where consciousness is defined in a way that it can’t give anything meaning.

            The Sartre just is what it is. If we die and are therefore finite does that imply life is meaningless? If we deny an infinite reference point it does. Again nihilism follows trivially from atheism. That is all.

            Sorry if I got off topic. I actually hope Leah answers you too but it does not happen that often so I tend not to wait.

          • Convergence

            About getting off topic: I don’t mind. I enjoy this kind of discussion.

            About meaning, consciousness, and illusion. My last post explained that I do believe that consciousness is real, if hard to define. So I do disagree with atheists that claim that the mind does not exist. By the way, where are you getting this information? It is certainly not true of the atheists that I have met (and read) over the years. I strongly believe that the VAST majority of atheists are not nihilistic (or “the self” deniers). AND that their reasons for not being “self”-denying nihilists are logically sound.

            The fact is that I lost my faith, and I DID have some kind of _temporary_ crisis of meaning. Then I thought it through a little. When I lost my faith, and therefore my (mistaken) concept of value, for some reason I didn’t do terrible things. I still loved my family. I still enjoyed spending time with my friends. I knew that if I behaved badly enough, I would not be able to spend time with my friends and family. I didn’t like the prospect of losing my relationship with my friends and family, and therefore that relationship had REAL value to me. Is my bond to my family eternal? No… we’ll all die, and will be forgotten eventually. But in the meantime, does that mean that I don’t love my family? That doesn’t follow!

            The problem is that you’ve been taught a false dichotomy. You believe that it is either eternal, or meaningless. You believe that it is either infinite, or nothing. The truth is somewhere in the middle.

            Your concept of value is so strongly tied to god that it is very hard to imagine meaning without god. I was like this at one point. I’ve encountered this before in others (they were believers). I fully understand your position. I’m telling you that it is wrong. (This might sound overly aggressive and rude. I apologize for that, I’m not trying to sound like that, it’s just hard to make this point without using strong language)

          • Convergence

            Let me add that I am confident that most scientifically educated atheists would acknowledge that the self is the product of chemistry and physics (in the same way that this web page is the product of physics), but would also agree that it is also real. That was the point of my lengthy post on the self. Maybe I made it too long.

          • Randy Gritter

            You said

            Just think about the word “meaning”. It implies a conscious mind, and I think that you would agree that it can’t exist apart from a conscious mind.

            But if consciousness is just chemistry then it can’t add any meaning either.

          • Convergence

            Where did I say that a conscious mind was _Just_ chemistry?

            Let me show you how this conversation about the mind seems to me. I’ll use pizza as a metaphor for the mind:

            Randy: Atheists don’t believe in pizza. They think that pizza is really just cheese, bread, sauce and a bunch of toppings. You’re unusual for thinking that pizza exists.

            Steve: Pizza does exist. Pizza is wonderful. Pizza is cheese bread, sauce and toppings.

            Randy: How can you love pizza if you just said it didn’t exist?

            Steve: What are you talking about?

            Randy: you just said, “pizza is cheese, bread, sauce and toppings”.

            I think that you would agree that just because pizza is “made out of stuff”, doesn’t mean that pizza doesn’t exist, or that it doesn’t taste good. Likewise, just because the mind is “made out of” electrochemical processes does not mean that it does not exist, or that it doesn’t have meaning.

            There really is no doubt about it. The mind really is “made out of” electrochemical processes. That said, I’m sure that there are neurologists that understand that the mind is made out of electrochemical processes, but still believe in an afterlife.

          • Convergence

            I just realized that the above post might seem condescending. That is not my intention. Although it is obvious that pizza is made from bread, sauce, etc., it really isn’t obvious that the mind is made out of chemical processes. My analogy was simplified not to insult you, but to reframe things so that you could see it from my perspective.

            The mind doesn’t have to be made out of magical stuff to have meaning and value, or to be real. It can be made out of ordinary stuff and be just as meaningful and valuable.

          • Randy Gritter

            Don’t worry, you analogy is not offensive. It is not that helpful but not offensive.

            The thing is, Catholics believe the mind is chemistry. We believe something more is going on. There is a connection between body and soul. It is what makes human capable of acting rather than just being ruled by the chemistry of their brains. It also makes humans responsible for their actions.

            I still have no idea what you believe about this. You seem to go back and forth. I am not really trying to go into depth here. I am just wondering about meaning. All that is relevant to the meaning question is whether this human action and responsibility exists. If it does that seems to be a step of faith on your part.

            I know atheists see that as an insult but I actually think that is good. I see believing something is meaningful because it feels meaningful as an act of faith as well. We know things can feel meaningful when they are not. A movie can feel very meaningful when you are watching it and then fade into insignificance quite quickly. Saying family and friends are meaningful is saying they are not like that. You don’t have evidence. You just have faith. Good for you.

            It is truly good for you but it is bad for atheism. Can you see that it leads to nihilism unless you inconsistently take meaning from something as an act of faith?

          • Convergence

            Is this heading toward free will vs determinism?

            How does it require faith to know that I still enjoy pizza, love my family, like writing posts on the internet, don’t want to go to jail, etc.?

            When I lost my faith in god, I did not stop VALUING these things. It requires no faith to know that.

          • Convergence

            It just struck me. Maybe this will be helpful. I believe that it is theoretically possible to build something very similar to the human mind with electronic computers. We are decades if not centuries from doing so, but theoretically, it is possible to build a mind out of ordinary stuff that is capable of having preferences, creativity, desires, etc. It is theoretically possible to build a computer that has moral agency out of ordinary stuff.

            Read “Kinds of Minds” by Daniel Dennett. It’s about what minds are made of.

          • Randy Gritter

            Computer don’t have preferences, creativity or desires. You could fake them. But it would be a simulation. A machine cannot desire anything. Could it create? Not really. But it could randomly generate things and have some algorithm for evaluating beauty. It might be able to fool people.

            Moral agency? That cannot happen. Computers never choose which instructions to execute. They do 100% what the are told. You can program in a nice guy or program in a jerk. The computer is not being moral when it follows the nice guy program and immoral when it follows the jerk program. It is just executing code. Like the surgeons knife is not more moral than the murderers knife. It is just a knife.

          • Convergence

            Computers do not have preferences, do not have moral agency, and for the most part simply execute code. There are learning programs that go beyond executing code, but not far.

            However to say “that cannot happen” I strongly believe is wrong. The brain IS a computer. It’s a very strange, advanced and exotic computer, but it is a computer. I am confident that if the human race lasts long enough, we will be able to make machines that function in ways similar to the human brain, (have moral agency, preferences, etc.) I am FAR from alone in this belief.

            You seem to think that the brain is some kind of bridge between the natural and the supernatural worlds, but there is literally no evidence for this, and a great deal of evidence to the contrary.

            I think that at the core of this disagreement is that you (and most people who believe in an afterlife) believe that the material world does not really matter. (Which is ironic if you look at the etymology) We will never agree as long as you have this assumption. You will think that I am blind in not being able to see that value and meaning can’t exist in a strictly material world. I will continue to see this assumption as irrational.

            If we ever do build one of these machines, and you and I are both around to see it, I think that you will still not be able to accept what you are seeing. You will see this machine’s preferences, feelings, desires, creativity, etc. as being fake, simply because it is not in some way tied to the supernatural world.

            slightly off topic:
            Did you know that scientists have taken dead parts of dead cells, placed them into a cell membrane, then injected this Frankenstein cell with a genome that has never existed in nature, and gotten it to reproduce? Essentially, they took non-living stuff, and brought it to life… a new life that has never existed before. I’m saying this because life is one of the many things that people used to think required the spark of the supernatural. This list of things is ever-growing. I think that one day it will include the mind (or soul).

          • Randy Gritter

            It is not a matter of valuing things. It is a matter of meaning. Do you not distinguish between simple fun and really doing something worthwhile? The “really worthwhile” thing connects with something bigger and better. Then you need something bigger and better. It might not require faith. Some try and get meaning from doing great art. Still they believe something about great art that is mystical. Again, not something most atheists would agree with.

          • Convergence

            I was using mostly simple pleasures for the sake of simplicity, although “love of family” might fall into what you call “meaningful”. Yes, deeper more “meaningful” desires can be derived just understanding that I am not alone in my experience as a human.

            I experience joy, love, sorrow, pain, and I know that there are billions of other people who also experience these things. I exist in a universe vast and old beyond comprehension full of wonders that are constantly being discovered. I am tied to all of these people, and am a part of a vast universe. I am a part of something much larger than myself, and choose to act accordingly (or at least I try to, I often fall short, but I suspect that we all do).

            Is that what you mean by meaning?

            I suspect that at the heart of this disagreement is that your definition of “meaning” contains “eternity”, and if it is not eternal, it is not meaningful to you, no matter what. By that definition, I would have to agree with you; nothing has meaning because I doubt that anything is eternal.

            However, I disagree that meaningful has to have the connotation of eternal. Therefore, life is full of meaning.

          • Randy Gritter

            Eternal is kind of needed. If I have meaning that extends 1 million years then what about a time 2 million years from now? The meaning will be gone. So there will come a day when the total impact of all your life’s choices will be zero. That is the definition of meaningless.

            You mention interesting things. “I am tied to all these people.” How so? Just because you are the same species? Are all mosquitoes tied together in the same way? I like your intuition. We are all tied together. I just don’t think atheism can give you any foundation for believing that is true.

            Then there is the universe “full of wonders.” Again, I like what you are thinking but what is the foundation? With no creator and no purpose why should the mysteries of the universe be deeply meaningful?

          • Convergence

            paragraph 1: Eternity is not needed. I am fully aware that 500 years from now, this conversation’s impact will be just about zero. For now though, it is meaningful to both you and I. It might not be the most important thing in the world, but if it meant nothing, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation. The fact that it will mean nothing 500 years from now means nothing to me, since I will be long gone. The here and now matters.

            p2: I explained how I am tied to all of those people. We share a common experience, that is that each one of us has thoughts, preferences, desires, etc. That’s all I meant. The fact that there are 7 billion people that have the same kinds of capacities that I do means that I am part of something larger than myself. If I am capable of feelings, then so are they, and I need to act accordingly.

            p3: The fact that there is no creator makes it all that much more fascinating. The fact that no one is going to come along and fix all of our problems makes it that much more important to behave as part of a larger whole. (Otherwise we are doomed)

            Like I said in the response below, I think that you have been taught that only the supernatural world has meaning, and only the eternal matters. I think that if you really examine these beliefs, they won’t stand up to reason. For example, my understanding of the Christian concept of marriage is that it is strictly temporal. Unlike the Mormons, Christians are not married for “time and all eternity”. Does that mean that marriage is meaningless? The love that you share with your wife will not be special in heaven. Is it then a waste of time? Or perhaps it’s only significance is obedience to an eternal creator?

            We keep talking about lofty things. The fact is that if you are hungry enough, food will start to seem pretty meaningful. Once you are fed, and healthy, you take the time to realize that there are other hungry people, with the same kinds of experiences, and that to them, food is meaningful. Now there is a subset of individuals that will take it no farther. There are sociopaths that are completely indifferent to the fact that other people are capable of hunger. For the rest of us, it has real meaning.

          • KG

            Randy,

            Convergence speaks well for me here, but I want to go one step further and explain how atheists can establish some connection with the eternal. That’s from observing the physical regularities governing nature.

            For example, today we can heat up a piece of coal and observe that the spectral energy distribution of its emitted radiation follows a nontrivial functional form called Planck’s law. Then, we can observe the cosmic microwave background, light that was emitted over 13 billion years ago, and see that it follows exactly the same functional form! That’s pretty cool.

            And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Using the mathematical notion of gauge symmetry, we can construct a model of particle physics that has several times now predicted the existence of particles before they’ve shown up in particle accelerators. And so on.

            For me, by studying phenomena such as these I feel in a small way connected to a universe much larger than myself. You can call this a connection to God if you wish, although I wouldn’t use that language myself.

            But then, claiming that these remarkable physical laws are “secondarily causal” with respect to a personified God who so loved the world that He sent his one begotten son etc…. that just seems to cheapen the picture with human storytelling, something that is much more transient.

            There are plenty of questions that physics leaves unanswered, not least among them consciousness, qualia, and free will. I’m not going to make the claim that science will necessarily explain all these things one day. They may forever remain mysterious. But I will not claim to be in touch with far more specific answers to these questions based on a connection to that personified God and his one begotten son etc, for which the evidence is simply not compelling enough in my judgement. I’m far happier to accept some mysteries than to postulate the answers to those questions *right now* in allegorical terms because of a longing for certainty.

            Note: I edited the last sentence a few times to better express my thoughts.

          • Randy Gritter

            Thanks for the sharing KG. It is pretty cool stuff. Makes me want to learn more about it. You won’t use religious language but you seem to have a hint of something mystical about the universe. Something that is more beautiful than your mind can really comprehend. Whatever language you use it does not sound like atheism.

            The story of Jesus is not yours or mine. The claim is it comes from God. It is His story written in history. He wants us to be part of it. I agree that human storytelling would cheapen it.

            Anyway, I shall pray for you as you contemplate your mysteries in whatever terms make sense to you. Be thankful for the glimpse of glory you seen.

          • Randy Gritter

            I did not say all atheists are nihilistic. their reasons for not being so are unsound. It is like they don’t really follow atheism to it’s logical conclusion. I can understand that.

            It is not a question of do you still love your family. It is a question of meaning. What matters in life and what does not. If you love your family and you also love to drink does either of those things matter? Does one matter more? Is it just a matter of which you enjoy more?

            Does infinity matter? Do you want anything to matter on your death bed? At that point it is not a false dichotomy.

      • Convergence

        “Do they matter outside my mind”?

        Do you think that should matter to me? If I’m hungry, I’ll eat, I won’t sit there and worry about if the universe is indifferent to my hunger (because it is, and I don’t care) If I think my wife is beautiful, I will appreciate her beauty, I won’t concern myself about whether or not the universe thinks she’s beautiful.

        I know that the universe does not care about me. If an asteroid were to wipe out the human race, I believe that no one would be around to mourn us. Should I worry about that, or go about loving, and living my life?

        I can understand if you are done with this conversation, but I’d like to see what you have to say about that.

  • Roonwit

    “You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not.”

    This is a fascinating line – in that time period, “enthusiasm” was any type of purportedly religious experience that did not fit within the old guard’s definition of proper decorum, such as the things that would often happen at revivals: babbling, fainting, falling down on the ground. What Adams is saying is that he is rationally, justifiably, properly excited, and not that he’s simply not carried away in his excitement. Interesting…


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