We finish Baggini’s Atheism today in A&P. I need to order a crate of it, so I can hand copies to Gideon Bible peddlers et al. It is a very good little book indeed.
Chapter four considers the question of meaning and purpose, and whether it would really be good to have been given a purpose by a Creator rather than have to fashion one for ourselves. I think I’d rather roll my own. This may be the most distinctive difference between theists and atheists, that the latter are typically not consoled or comforted by the thought that meanings and purposes have been created for us. Not that there’s anything wrong with being so consoled and comforted. Or is there?
“Evolution doesn’t provide life with any meaning either.” Well, it does if we find it meaningful to be links in a very long self-replicating chain of DNA and ideational mimicry, the “continuous human community” of John Dewey‘s Common Faith.
And in fact I do, not because evolution is in service of some specific “further aim or goal” but because it opens time and expands possibility. I’m really curious about what kind of world the 10,000 Year Clock will chime in. Contemplating that world and those people of the far future, who (one imagines) will either have overcome the worst tendencies of our nature and advanced to unimaginable heights, or regressed to a more primitive stage of bare survival. It means something to me. It expands my own sense of possibility, and responsibility. We should not break the chain.
But the dizzying prospect of 10 millenia is too rich for most of our radars, and Baggini is right to pull us back to the quotidian world of tomorrow and tomorrow…
Does it really make sense to ask, ‘Why would you want to do a job you enjoy all day and then go home to someone you love and fill your leisure time as you please?’
No, it doesn’t. Day-to-day satisfaction in life is crucial. But speaking just for me, the pace of it creeps less pettily when I lengthen my now to include the hypothetical future whose fate is (in part) in present hands.
A question for the theists among us: do you agree that seeing this world as preparatory for eternity compromises its intrinsic value?
How about Ray Bradbury’s Martians, for whom the question of life’s worth only arises when times are bad? Is it so obvious that “life is its own answer?” Is an expiration date crucial? Is death “the final full stop that makes life meaningful?”
We spent some time in the Future of Life class wondering how much life-extension would be too much. I’m with Baggini on this: 80 doesn’t quite reach the point of diminishing returns, so long as I can literally continue to lay tracks. On the other hand, it would be much too long in a state of immobility or pain or senescence. Ray Kurzweil, I note, is hawking another book on this subject: Abundance. The future may be better than I think, but I’m not interested in “the life of a disembodied something” either – no matter how blissfully or how long.
Don’t you love the Terry Pratchett quote about being an atheist but still “angry with God for not existing”? Julian Barnes said “I don’t believe in God but I miss him.” Some do, some don’t. I mostly don’t, but I empathize with those (like William James) who do. I don’t sneer at those who believe in believing. On the other hand, I think Baggini is right to challenge those who say they just can’t imagine living without God to try a little harder. If I’m going to try hard to grasp their neediness it seems only right and fair that they reciprocate.
40% of Czechs are atheist? Isn’t that low? Aren’t there places where it’s higher, and where people lead meaningful lives anyway?
On the matter of religion (and temples) for atheists: “sacralization is utterly foreign to mainstream rational atheism.” And that’s also why a certain brand of militant, fundamentalist atheism makes Baggini uncomfortable. “Fundamentalism is a danger in any belief system… the main danger we need to guard against is not religion but fundamentalism.” So if Alain de Botton builds his temples he’d best let the Unitarians run ’em.
Again, the call to worship here is for atheists to be pro-naturalist, not anti-religious. I think many in our class, and in our culture lately, are both. That is, they not only (for instance) “object to the religious monopoly on values education” but reject as well the suggestion that they might actually share a range of values with the religious. But believing that religion is false does not entail the belief that religious people are from Mars, or Vogon. Is this something we all need to pray about? Just kidding.
And to give myself another reality check: Baggini’s not making this up, plenty of believers say they “know God exists” because that’s how they feel. I agree with the spirit of James’s defense of feeling, to a point.
Individuality is founded in feeling… It is only in feeling that we directly perceive how events happen, and how work is actually done.
But, c’mon: the feeling of faith ain’t knowing, no how.
We dispatched the classic god arguments along with Goldstein’s 30-something others last week, finding them unimpressive. Baggini is more emphatic, especially about the cosmological (“utterly awful, a disgrace”), teleological (“terrible”), and ontological (“weak” and “banal”) arguments. So it comes down finally to “inner conviction” and the futility of debate. It’s hard to sustain faith in civility sometimes, but we’ve managed so far in A&P. Too bad we’re not a microcosm.
Next: Louise Antony’s Philosophers Without Gods.