Sunday, January 22, 2012

Atheists and meaningful lives

Interesting article in Think by someone called Tim Miles which puts forward and discusses "the argument from absurdity"
  1. If God does not exist then the World and human life are meaningless and absurd
  2. the World and human life are not meaningless and absurd.
  3. Therefore God exists
This is clearly a formally valid argument and so atheists have to deny either (1) or (2).  Interesting to read in conjunction with this review in the FT of three books:
  • Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion by Alain de Botton
  • The Importance of Religion: Meaning and Action in our Strange World, by Gavin Flood
  • The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions, by Alex Rosenberg
The reviewer (Steven Cave who seems to be an atheist himself) accepts the (ridiculous) idea that science has disproved religion but seems to recognise that the idiotic reductionism espoused by Alex Rosenberg leaves a lot to be desired.  Only someone who had no real understanding of physics or mathematics could come up with a statement like "the physical facts fix all the facts" and it seems that Rosenberg is a philosopher of economics and biology and evidently lacks a hard-science background. He (or the reviewer) even seems to imagine that the world is made of "electrons and protons".  The poor man did his undergrad in the 1960s and seems to be stuck in the 1920s as far as physics is concerned. How such ignorant stuff gets published in really depressing.  Rosenberg seems to cheerfully admit to nihilism, but it's "nice nihilism" (presumably because he is tenured faculty and hasn't yet faced any real crises).  And  if nihilism starts to get you down, Rosenberg suggests you simply “take two of whatever neuropharmacology prescribes”.

Cave accepts that Rosenberg is absurdly OTT (he is of course espousing the extreme Left Brain fallacy) but thinks that Flood goes to far in claiming internal coherence for religions in the face of eg the problem of evil.  Again this fails to grasp the fundamental point that any deep understanding of reality has to be paradoxical: and of course modern physics which Rosenberg & al claim to espouse is deeply paradoxical, with no agreed solution to almost all the fundamental problems (eg interpretation of QM, reconciliation of GR and QM, nature of dark matter/energy).

Cave is very sympathetic to de Botton who realises that religions provide much necessary food for the soul, and that de Botton "desperately misses its comforts and consolations."  Cave describes the book as "a timely and perceptive appreciation of how much wisdom is embodied in religious traditions and how we godless moderns might learn from it."

Of course atheists don't have meaningless lives because everyone is made in God's image and is of such infinite value that the Son of God was willing to die in agony for them.  But I think it is very hard indeed for atheists to find a real meaning for their lives within their sadly misguided atheistic worldview. Indeed the deep human need for meaning tends to result in many atheists being over-committed to disastrous political ideologies because they desperately need something to Believe In. And by a rather poignant irony, atheists generally have very small numbers of children and so the very people who consider (supposedly) Evolution to be the supreme principle of life are condemned to evolutionary oblivion.

1 comment:

gavagai said...

The Argument from absurdity by Miles is only valid if you keep the meaning constant: "the World and human life are meaningless and absurd per se". Most people I spoke to drop the "per se" in permise 1 or 2. Therefore they think the argument is sound, too. With the "per se" premise 2 is false to my mind. These two premises go well together:
1. If God does not exist then the World and human life are meaningless and absurd per se.
2. the World and human life are not meaningless and absurd. (Because we humans can give it meaning)
Here the conclusion does not follow.