Saturday, March 8, 2008

Oh, Atheist, Your Life Must Be So Empty and Depressing

I hear this all the time from theists and “spiritual” people alike. And I get really sick of it. Apparently, PZ Myers doesn’t like hearing it either. Well, theistic or “spiritual” people, my life is not empty or depressing. A lack of theistic belief does not take any beauty out of the world, or any meaning from my life. In fact, one of the most liberating aspects of recognizing that there is no god is the realization that the world is so incredible, that it is all here as the result of a slow and painful process of development out of itself. That is incredible. That is awesome. I don’t need to add a conscious superbeing to nature to make it beautiful or incredible. It’s that way already. I don’t need to think of certain beautiful places as sources of “healing energy” or “power” in order to see them as beautiful. I can have a phenomenological experience that changes my understanding of myself or the world without thinking something supernatural made it happen.

Another of the liberating aspects of abandoning theism is the realization that I am not dependent on something wholly external to myself for the “meaning” of my life. I give meaning to my life, and I am responsible for my life. I strive to be the ubermensch – to “give style to my live”. And this allows me to feel much more powerful, meaningful, and alive. I know what the meaning of my life is because I am the one who determines it. And I would think not knowing what meaning or purpose your life has, along with knowing that you have no control over the purpose of your own life, would be very depressing.


Josh said...

Of course you are confident. You have no need to not be confident. A person who has never heard an instrument properly played feels no shame in attempting to play it his/herself. In the same way, finding one's own meaning must be quite fulfilling when the only substitution would be no meaning at all.

I don't expect you to be empty or alone, any more than I would expect a blind person to describe color for me.

It works like this. You can only appreciate sleepiness, when you're awake. You can only understand death, while yet living. I wouldn't expect you to understand emptiness because fulfillment is not a concept that can be grasped other than you simply assigning an emotion to a term.

It is this assigning of an emotion to a term that has blinded you from understanding what the term "fulfillment" implies. When true fulfillment is felt, it is the word that is fitted to the experience, and emotion fitted to the word.

Artemis311 said...


Thanks for the comment.

I might have been willing to accept your argument had I not once been a theist. Your point seems to be that I do not view my life as unfulfilled because I have never experienced true fulfullment, which, I'm assuming given the context of the post, you take to come from a relationship with god. Well, I was raised in a very religious household. I went to Sunday school and service, sang in front of the congregation, went to AWANA meetings as a youngster, went to Wednesday night prayer meetings. I believed in god. I believed he loved me and was watching over me and heard my prayers. I was "saved". So, if I'm interpreting you right, and if you're right, then I should have experienced fulfilment then.

But the universe holds so much more wonder and beauty for me now than it did then. My life seems so much more precious to me now that I know it's the only time I've got.

Of course, you'll likely reply that I must not have really had a deep and truly meaningful relationship with god. But such a reply would seem to be a "No True Scotsman" fallacy. All I can say is that I was a devout believer. It took years of questioning, thinking, and learning to shake my faith. If the strict religious adherence that I participated in wasn't enough, then I don't see what would be.

Josh said...

Since you predict that I would next reply that you had not really had a true relationship with God, that saves us most the trouble of going down that road. I am unfamiliar with the No True Scotsman fallacy, if you want to elaborate that's fine, if not, just as well.

I'd like to go into doctrine about how devotion bears no relevance to relationship. But I'll simply state that what humans consider to be devotion quite often does little to please God at all. Just because I do something in the name of God, does not mean God approves of that thing at all. A relationship is first needed in order to be devout. Simply, relationship and devotion are independent of another.

As to all the wonder in the Universe, I have a question. Now I've never asked an atheist this question but I've wondered the atheist response for quite a while. Please don't read too much accusation into my curiosity, but the question is this.

If all life must come from pre-existing life, how could origin be spontaneous? Why was life determined by nature, when it is so impractical?

I have to go, but I will look to the continuing of this conversation.

Artemis311 said...


Wikipedia has a nice short explanation of the No True Scotsman fallacy. If you're interested, you can find it here:

Your distinction between devotion and relationship seems very plausible. I would be very interested to hear what you take a relationship with God to consist in, though. Would you be willing to say more? Independently of the question of fulfullment, I am quite interested in the notion of a relationiship with god.

With regard to fulfillment and our discussion of the fulfillment that a relationship with god brings, though, I'm worried about the fact that fulfillment is, as you've noted, an experience - a purely subjective phenomenon. Because they are subjective, an individual can compare his own experiences using himself as a standard of comparison, but since you cannot have my experiences and I cannot have your experiences, and no one else can have our experiences, there is no way to judge who is more fulfilled, or who is really fulfilled and who is not. There is no objective standard via which to compare. I have no doubt that you feel "true fulfillment". And that's wonderful. But there really is no way to demonstrate that I don't feel it also.

As for your questions, they are such that I cannot answer them directly, for I take both to rest on mistaken assumptions. But perhaps my view of those assumptions will serve as an answer. First, I'm not sure why one must accept that life can only come from life. I'll grant you that now-a-days we only see life coming from life, but that doesn't rule out the possibility of life coming out of non-life. And that point is made more salient by the knowledge that the conditions on the earth have not always been what they are now, and hence may have been more amenable to processes that could not occur now given the current conditions on the planet, like the spontaneous formation of life's building blocks - amino acids (which has occurred in lab experiments under atmospheric conditions different from those we live under today).

However, while I'll be the first to admit that I don't know exactly how life first came about, I'm doubtful that it was "spontaneous" - that is, something just popped up that happened to possess the four qualities of life (growth, metabolism, reproduction, and adaptation to environment). It's much more likely that these qualities appeared slowly as the result of environmental factors in combination with the laws of chemistry, physics, electrodynamics, etc. This seems even more likely to me given that there are inorganic objects, even today, that possess one or more of the qualities of life or something very much like them (like self-replication, which is an awful lot like asexual reproduction). I'm no scientist, though, so take my speculations as such. Nonetheless, it does not seem implausible to claim that it is possible for life to come from non-life.

With regard to your second question, you seem to be assigning to nature a feature it does not possess - namely, that the goings on of nature are somehow bound to a principle of practicality. I'll admit, I'm really not sure what you mean when you say that life is impractical, but nature is bound only by what constitutes it. What results from nature (or rather, what nature becomes) is limited only by, to put it very crudely, what stuff is available and the laws that govern how that stuff behaves.

I'm sorry I couldn't answer your questions directly, but I hope I've given you a better idea of where I'm coming from. A special note, though: since atheism is nothing more than a lack of belief in a deity, different atheists might respond to your questions differently. While I happen to be skeptical of more... mum... "mystical" explanations of the world, there are atheists who are more open to that sort of thing.

I'm sorry that this comment is so long. I'm enjoying our discussion, though, and I hope it can continue. And please feel free to ask any questions you've got

Josh said...

When discussing terms, I feel we should mutually attempt to stick to the definitions generally accepted as a culture, dictionary definitions if possible. The dictionary definition for relationship is (1)The condition or fact of being related; connection or association. (2) Connection by blood or marriage; kinship. (3) A particular type of connection existing between people related to or having dealings with each other: has a close relationship with his siblings. (4) A romantic or sexual involvement.
The definition I feel that most closely follows what I’m trying to mention is the third listed.
As for the no true Scotsman fallacy, I fall directly into such. Here I will try to offer more than simple opinion in qualifying the statement with some other statements. In order to have a ‘true’ relationship with someone or something, that thing must either exist, or something must lead us to believe it exists. Belief in its existence is not enough for relationship.
I.e., I believe there is a place called New York. However I have no relationship with that place, that is to say I have no dealings with the place. If I were to pick up a copy of the New York times every day, then I would then have a relationship. Now either this relationship is genuine, or someone is printing one in order to make me feel it is genuine. Nonetheless the relation with the thing exists, or a believed relation exists.
If one was to have a relationship with God, either that person must be having dealings with God, or dealings with his/her own psyche while believing that to be God, but belief alone is not enough for relationship.
Relationship requires belief, but belief does not require relationship. Relationship can establish belief, but not vise versa. One’s gift receiving relationship with Santa Clause establishes one’s belief in such a fanciful notion.
The ‘no true Christian’ philosophy comes in. If you claim to have had a relationship with God, and now do not believe in his existence, then there are two ways to describe this relationship you had. (1) It was the Santa Clause kind of relationship that you realized to be nothing more your parents sticking presents under the tree, in which case the relationship with God himself never actually existed. Or (2) there was a relationship with God himself, that is to say you had actual dealings with God, and you have since then walked away from that, in turn denying he ever existed.

Artemis311 said...

I'm not sure I'm reading your comment right, because as I read it, it seems to have consequences that I suspect you would find unsavory.

You are 100% correct that you can only have a relationship with something that exists. As the Santa Claus case demonstrates, however, you can take yourself to have a relationship with something that does not exist, what you refer to as a "believed relationship". Whether you have a real relationship or a believed relationship seems to depend on whether the thing related to actually exists or not, as you seem to note in your final paragraph.

The reason I'm confused about this is that it seems to me that the two possibilities that you ascribe to my relationship with God apply equally to anyone's relationship (or perceived relationship) to god. Either God exists, and those who interact with him in the right way have a relationship with him, and those who don't do not, or god does not exist, and those who think they are interacting with god are just like the child who, still believing in santa, writes him letters and leaves him cookies. If god exists, and the relationship is real (given the proper "dealings")or god does not exist, and the relationship is only believed.

I feel as though you must have had something else in mind in your comment, but I'm not sure what I'm missing.

Oh, and while I'm thinking about it, I did want to weigh in on something you said in your first comment. You suggested that "finding one's own meaning must be quite fulfilling when the only substitution would be no meaning at all." I feel at pains to point out that no meaning at all is not the only alternative to determining one's own meaning for an atheist. One might turn to various non-religious philosophies (really, that's sort of what I'm doing when I say "I determine my own meaning". That's very Nieztchean). One can even turn to religions that lack a deity - like various forms of Buddhism, Daoism, or even (on some of its more metaphorical interpretations) Wicca. Those are some of the better ways of finding meaning without belief in god. There are a number of really silly ways too - like turning to some sort of group identity (seeing the meaning of your life in terms of nationality, etc), or, sheesh, putting the meaning of your life in the hands of fiction writer. I don't think those are fruitful ways of finding meaning, but the point is that there are options.

Josh said...

The primary thing I was trying to chime in on, was the No True Scotsman thing. There was a very qualified reason for me saying the No True Christian statement that you predicted in your first quote. I had hoped to avoid that mumbo jumbo but it seems the journey required it.

All we’ve said so far is that your first reply does not discount my first post. God can exist, or perhaps He doesn’t. But alas, we are brought full circle to my first comment. Perhaps you know not what true fulfillment is, and perhaps you never had a relationship with God. So as my first post stands, it would be hard to prove God doesn’t exist by simply claiming, to not have firsthand experience of His existence.

But we have made progress after all. God either exists or doesn’t exist. There are only the two views. He cannot both exist and not exist. Attached to this is the experience that you mention to be subjective.

It is true as you say, experiences can change from person to person and so there is no real way to compare them. However the experienced feeling of fire to the skin is infinitely more unpleasant than cheesecake to the taste buds. If this were not so, we can probably safely conclude there is something wrong with the nervous system. Suffice it to say, experience is very objective, and in some cases it is safe to compare experiences from one person to another. If a person were to be greeted with pain and another with pleasure, and afterward the two were allowed to compare would not they both agree that one of them had a more pleasurable experience? The only way that this might not occur is if either or both individuals had some outside reason to not agree, something to gain or something to lose. Then an individual can feign any kind of experience he/she wanted.

The purpose of this particular blog was you stating that even though you don’t have God, what you have is equal to if not better than what you would have if you had God. You can only make such a claim if you have experienced God. You can’t compare an experience to some other experience that you have never had. If you have experienced Him then there is no sense in denying His existence. The only people qualified to say this, wouldn’t say it because they would know that this experience surpasses life itself.

This will perhaps be my last post unless there is some major hole left untouched. Praise God, Jesus Christ is who He says He is. If not he was either crazy, or a con-artist.

Anonymous said...

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