Advanced Search

Why do so many atheists think that other atheists "ought" to be a humanist, or

Why do so many atheists think that other atheists "ought" to be a humanist, or at least care about animal rights, environmental protection, left-wing politics, and so on? Isn't this both a psychological cognitive dissonance and a philosophical naturalistic fallacy? I think even David Hume would consider a religious person be more inclined to support those causes since they have sacred and textual norms to follow whereas the atheist has none.

I am far from convinced that a particularly large number of atheists think that other atheists "ought" to be a humanist, or at least care about animal rights, environmental protection, left-wing politics, and so on. Do you have any evidence for this idea? I am also puzzled by the suggestion of a naturalistic fallacy. You seem to be attributing to this possibly imaginary large number of atheists some kind of argument that they are supposed to put forward. But you do not say what it is. There are many religions and many religious people and many different sacred and textual norms saying or implying completely different things about animal rights etc., many inconsistent with others. And these are followed in many different ways by different people. Atheists do not tend to follow sacred texts. But there are large numbers of texts about about animal rights, environmental protection, left-wing politics, and so on that have nothing whatever to do with religion.

Is it a contradiction to believe in God and also in science? I believe in

Is it a contradiction to believe in God and also in science? I believe in evolution and look at the Big Bang theory skeptically, but I also believe in God as the creator of everything. Many have often told me that you can't really accept these theories and also believe in God without causing a contradiction, but I always thought of it as science answering how things happen, whereas my faith in God answers why things happen. What do you think?

A wonderful, rich, and controversial question -- and there are lots of people out there thinking about it. (I happen to like Paul Davies on this subject -- but see also very recent books by Thomas Nagel and Alvin Plantinga ...) Just a quick thought for here. If someone says there's a contradiction they have to be able to state explicitly what it is. You get quick contradictions if perhaps you read the bible very literally and then listen to scientific theories of the creation of the universe, and/or the development of human beings. But lots of deeply religious people do not think the bible is to be read entirely literally, including such famous thinkers as Maimonides, Aquinas, and others. Given what you say it sounds like you're in the 'non-literal' camp ... but then to be sure you're NOT accepting contradictions you need to spell out as explicitly as you can just what science says about creation and what the Bible says, and satisfy yourself they are consistent ... As for your latter point, well -- the line between 'how' and 'why' really is not clear at all. Some read scientific claims as describing 'necessities,' laws which necessarily govern what happens -- and if something 'necessarily' happens that may well be to explain 'why' it happens. Or if you want to reserve for God (say) the explanation of 'why' things happen in the sense of 'to what end or purpose' -- well you need to look quite carefully at what science suggests about purposes and then, separately, really consider whether the empirical evidence, i.e. the course of events in the world, really does support the view that things, everything, the whole package, occurs for some purpose. (Can you say what that purpose is? If not, then why believe there is one?) Anyway this is all just the tip of the iceberg -- have a look at the authors I mentioned, and maybe my own introductory volume "The God Question: what famous thinkers have said about the divine"...)

best,

ap

During a discussion with a friend about God, a thought I found puzzling but

During a discussion with a friend about God, a thought I found puzzling but provocative came to mind. I have discussed it with friends, and most seem to think it is contradictory. The thought was more of an argument, and it goes soemthing like this: if it is true that God in some sense is the greatest being that can be conceived, it seems to follow that God is somehow the maximum of all things (e.g. if goodness exists, God is maximum goodness). If this is true then God possesses all qualities; and if God possesses all qualities, it also seems to follow that all beliefs about God, even if they are contradictory, are true (e.g. God is a aupernatural being, God is a natural being). Put perhaps in simpler terms: if God is in some sense all things, then all beliefs about God, even those that contradict each other, are true. Is this even remotely anything that theologians/philosophers have ever discussed?

I can't speak for the theologians, but it does seem to me that we don't need to go down this path.

Suppose that God, if there is one, is the greatest conceivable being. That might mean that God possesses the maximum of all kinds of goodness (though even that is tricker than it seems), but it doesn't mean that God possesses the maximum of all characteristics whatever. After all, the greatest conceivable being presumably wouldn't be a sadist, let alone the greatest possible sadist. The slide in the argument seems to be from "God is maximum goodness" to "God possesses all qualities." However, many qualities have nothing to do with goodness.

There's a somewhat different argument hinted at in your suggestion: that God is all things, hence must embody all qualities. Apart from wondering about the relationship to perfection, one obvious question is what would it mean to say that God is all things. If it means that God is literally identical to each thing, then the doctrine would have nothing to recommend it. For example, if there's a God, God is not my left big toe. That seems safe to say even though on some views might left big toe might be included in or part of or an aspect of or an emanation of... God. Closer to your own suggestion, there might be a natural aspect of God and a supernatural aspect, but once again, no contradiction.

The phrase "greatest conceivable being" is short for a subtle idea. People who want to say that God is the greatest conceivable being don't mean that anything one says about God is true. Reading the phrase as though it had that implication would pretty clearly be a misreading. Just how best to interpret the phrase is not a simple question, but if an answer leads almost immediately to incoherent consequences, that's a pretty good clue that the answer needs some rethinking.

An atheist friend and I (I am a theist) had a long series of discussions about

An atheist friend and I (I am a theist) had a long series of discussions about the existence of god, and his comments made quite an impression on me. I found what he said so stimulating, in fact, that I beagn to read more philosophy of religion to help me better understand the nature of the issues raised. One question, however, is a bit puzzling, and I have not read much about it, though I have seen it raised in atheist/theist debates about the existence of god. The issue is simply falsifiabilty: how can we know if some occurrence of anything is an act of god and therefore, say, the result of prayer, or the result or effect of natural processes? For example, if I pray for a sick relative and she recovers, I can say god healed her; but I can also rightly argue that medical science healed her; or, even more precisely, physicians using medical knowledge stabilized her body so that it could heal itself. I know many theists regularly thank god for certain acts (many of which they pray for) that could easily be...

Charles Taliaferro's reply is very helpful. For me the two things that have the most importance for your question are the Wittgensteinian approach, in which the one who wants evidence that the good that happens is, indeed, the result of prayer, is slipping in and then out of the way of the religious attitude to the world. When you have that attitude towards the world, you will not ask the question, or you cannot . . . This is similar to the approach given in John Wisdom's "Gods", in the parable of the gardener. The replies that were made to this piece are equally interesting. I also wonder why one wants to know whether an outcome is indeed the result of prayer. I personally do not have your question, though I am not sure why not, unless it is what I have said above, and so it occurs to me to ask whether the question itself might need a kind of justification, and, if so, what form it would take.

Can you call an atheist a spiritual person in any kind of context?

Can you call an atheist a spiritual person in any kind of context?

Yes! While I am not myself an atheist, the idea of "spirituality" or "being spiritual" can describe someone who approaches life with reverence and reflective care regardless of whether they recognize the reality of God. While the idea of "spirituality" emerged with the idea of "spirit" and thus conjures up a background of the supernatural (as in the idea of there being a "Holy Spirit" as part of the Trinity in Christian theology), someone may engage in many of the better or ideal practices we associate with religious tradition (meditation, compassion...) without belonging to any religion. On philosophers who are what I would call spiritual and atheists, you might look at the volume Louise Antony edited: Philosophers without God. Also, see work by Owen Flannagen and Robert Solomon. Keep in mind, too, that most forms of Buddhism are readily recognized as "spiritual" and yet are non-theistic. If you are open to the theistic side of the fence, you might check out Stewart Goetz's latest book with Continuum Press on the purpose of life or a book I just published with the University of Notre Dame Press called The Golden Cord; A short book on the secular and the sacred. Please forgive the shameless self-promotion but none of us are paid to be a panelist and if even one reader buys one book, I will at least get 25 cents in royalties! But, as you might guess, none of us are engaged in this project for the money! I suppose that insofar as being "spiritual" involves seeking to encourage reflection, respect, and reverence for what is truly valuable, our whole exchange on this website might be thought of as contributing to what is spiritual in life. It is definitely a non-commercial, non-elitist context for the sharing and caring about ideas that matter. I wish you all good things and thank you for your inquiry! CT

As an atheist, I am often asked the question, "What is the meaning of life for

As an atheist, I am often asked the question, "What is the meaning of life for an atheist?" I am myself sometime confused whether as an atheist do have a purpose in life or I am just living and waiting for an end to my life? Mirza A.

I think the meaning of life is to give life meaning.

I find helpful the idea of being in the now .. the past is all gone, forever, period, it no longer matters. The future is not yet. Be here now!

Here are some quotes I find helpful:

“Human life is founded on kindness and concord, and is bound into an alliance for common help, not by terror, but by mutual love.”

Seneca

“Courtesy, kindness, justice and love are the keynotes by which we may come into harmony with practically anybody.”

Bill Wilson

“The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit.

The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.”

“You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

“When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love ...”

“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”

Marcus Aurelius

"You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection."

" The thought manifests as the word. The word manifests as the deed. The deed develops into habit. And the habit hardens into character. So watch the thought and its ways with care. And let it spring from love, born out of concern for all beings."

"Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared."

" Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule."

Buddha

If you are depressed you are living in the past.If you are fearful and anxious you are living in the future. If you are atpeace, you are living in the present moment.

-Lao Tzu

One of the biggest problems I have found in my struggles understanding common

One of the biggest problems I have found in my struggles understanding common religions is the idea that we as humans always give God praise for his feats of glory, humanity, and miracles, however, it is dispicable or even pure heracy to suggest that he is at fault in something not having your desired outcome. I know this is a broad topic with many ways to go but i'm completely stuck. For instance, If a mass murder were attempted and all were spared due to someone performing a heroic act. The press, the public, our Govt. would immediately flood our country with "praise God", "our prayers were answered", "I told you he performs miracles" etc. On the other hand, if the complete opposite happened and many were murdered, first of all, most people would quietly try not to mention him, but the more bold person would respond like "God has everything happen for a reason", "only God knows" or "pray for the victims". Aren't these completely opposite outcomes to this tragic situation that result in...

Good question and set of concerns. I gather you are dismayed by how some persons' faith may seem irresistible to counter-evidence. I suppose an analogy would be a case when I continue to trust my husband is a good man on the grounds that he sometimes demonstrably cares for me and I explain the times that he neglects or seems to injure me on the grounds that he must be so very wise that his action or inaction is actually good for me. That's a problem. When it comes to reflecting on God in response to your concerns, perhaps three points are worth considering.

First, according to the major theistic traditions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, God is a reality that is omnipresent and immanent to creation, but also the transcendent creator and sustainer of the cosmos. So the concept of God seems vastly to outstrip any ordinary, finite agent. So, when reflecting on God we should think not of the ethical ways of finite creatures but, as it were, the values that would be in play if there is a Creator God. More on this below.

Second, prayer as a practice is much more than a matter of petitions and answers (or non-answers). Prayer is (I think for most practicing Christians and others) a constituitive part of one's relationship with God (I am writing as though this is a matter of 'one person' but obviously in these religions, there are whole communities who pray and see themselves in relation to God). So, in prayers of praise (that you reference) or meditative contemplation, the person places themselves intentionally before the presence of what (he or she believes to be) God. Some philosophers (such as myself and Richard Swinburne, Keith Yandell, William Alston, Caroline Franks, Kai Man Kwam) believe that such experience can count as bona fide evidence that God exists. There are many ways to develop "the argument from religious experience" and you might check out the Philosophy of Religion entry in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy to get an overview.

Third, and this is a point that the entry also speaks to, is the problem of evil. If God is all good, all powerful, all knowing, why is there so much evil? Or, more specifically, why is it that when one prays (as I am praying these days) that a good friend does not die of cancer, does the person die? This is too big of a concern to solve (!!!) in this response. But one way to see matters is that through prayerfuul experiences, some of us believe that there is an evident divine, good reality. And yet the evidence is not always apparent experientially. Here one must come to terms with a question such as: When does the absence of evidence of some reality (my husband, God, weapons of mass destruction, whatever) count as evidence that the reality does not exist? I am probably like some of your friends; while I think evil and unanswered prayers count as an impediment to faith, there is a reasonable case that can be made that there is a living, good God. Although one of the books I wrote, Philosophy of Religion: A Beginner's Guide, is not apologetics and I bring to bear reasons for and against belief in God's reality, and explore non-theistic Hinduism and Buddhism, you can see there an overview of how the reasonability of religious belief can be deep, comprehensive, and not rest on, say, "successful" petitionary prayer. In that book I explicitly take on the difference between thinking about the problem of evil as when one compares God with what we expect of a husband or created agent versus when one takes seriously God as a creator and sustainer of the cosmos. And also, for those of us who are Christians, God became incarnate as the Christ who prayed to the Father, and some requests were granted and some not (in the New Testament on the eve before crucifixion Jesus asks the Father for a means of escaping the passion and death) and there is no escape, at least at first, and Jesus has to pass through passion and death to get to resurrection.

Sorry if I sound more like a homilist than a philosopher per se, but I think that when you look at your friends and the broader set of evidence and reasons that may be in play, their trust and practice may seem more reasonable to you. Actually, the perfect book on such matters may be Robert Audi's most recent book Religion and Rationality. It is non-dogmatic, well argued, and balanced (in my view) and will speak to you of how to assess the reasonability (or unreasonability) of religious faith.

Why would any one think this question is meaningful? (below)

Why would any one think this question is meaningful? (below) Surely morality is only objective when your current language community agree on its precepts; I don't know any atheists that would claim an "objective morality" is a viable claim beyond this, and most lean towards accepting that moral systems are contingent upon cultural norms, as such they are relative. "In conversations with Christians (and members of other religious groups), more often than not I'm asked on what grounds atheism can claim to have an objective morality. This isn't a new question, but it is one I don't feel properly equipped to answer well. I think reason and our intuitions can aid us in finding objective moral truths, but I often find myself at a loss articulating a good defense. I do not find the theist's claim that morality depends on God's existence a good one, but I want to advance a better argument for why secular morality works out, and not just knock down their view. What's the general consensus among philosophers? Is...

Your question concerns Question 4929, which you quoted. Have a look at the Morriston and Wielenberg articles that I linked to in my answer there. In the case of Wielenberg, you have an atheist who emphatically rejects the idea that "morality is only objective when your current language community agree on its precepts." Another example is Russ Shafer-Landau (Whatever Happened to Good and Evil?, 2004; Moral Realism: A Defence, 2004). A great many atheist philosophers think that truth in ethics isn't relative to culture or community. It's a topic of much contemporary debate, as you'll see if you search the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy under "moral realism" and "moral anti-realism."

In conversations with Christians (and members of other religious groups), more

In conversations with Christians (and members of other religious groups), more often than not I'm asked on what grounds atheism can claim to have an objective morality. This isn't a new question, but it is one I don't feel properly equipped to answer well. I think reason and our intuitions can aid us in finding objective moral truths, but I often find myself at a loss articulating a good defense. I do not find the theist's claim that morality depends on God's existence a good one, but I want to advance a better argument for why secular morality works out, and not just knock down their view. What's the general consensus among philosophers? Is there a firm foundation for morality without God?

The literature on this topic is huge. Much of the work in theoretical ethics and metaethics in the last 200 years has been an attempt to provide a non-theistic foundation for morality, whether a foundation within ethics or a foundation outside ethics. If you look under "ethics," "metaethics," and "moral" in the table of contents of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (linked in the right sidebar of this site), you'll find dozens of entries that give non-theistic treatments of ethics and ethical issues. Two good recent journal articles on the non-theistic grounding of ethics are this one by Wes Morriston and this one by Erik Wielenberg. You might also find this forthcoming paper of mine to be relevant. Best of luck in your research!

Are there any professional philosophers that find the traditional arguments for

Are there any professional philosophers that find the traditional arguments for God convincing? In my intro class, we basically blitzed all of them (like Aquinas' cosmological one, and the Kalaam one, etc.), and the class consensus was that none of these arguments worked out to guarantee a personal creator god like the one many Christians, Muslims, and Jews believe in or really any deity/supernatural force. But I'm very interested to hear what the pros think about the matter!

I don't think there are many contemporary philosophers who find that traditional completely unrefined, unnuanced versions of the arguments for God's existence 'guarantee the existence of a personal creator God.' But, this should not be too discouraging since there are few historical, non-revised, philosophical arguments that are judged to be so thoroughly convincing that on their own they 'guarantee' their conclusions. Instead, contemporary philosophers usually judge arguments to be plausible or implausible; to provide a lot, some, little, or no evidence for their conclusions.

I certainly hope your professor didn't rip the traditional arguments for God's existence out of their historic context and act as if they represented the pinnacle of contemporary religious thought. Take Aquinas's five arguments for example: unless your teacher took time to explain Aristotle's four types of causes and how Aquinas's arguments presuppose something like Aristotelian physics (the height of the science of his day), I would suggest you 'blitzed' through the arguments far too quickly. These were great arguments in historic context. And with some revisions for the discoveries in the 700+ years since Aquinas (such as those of Newton and Einstein) they might be plausible.

Of course, there are revised versions of each of the arguments that are still offered to this day. Probably the most interesting contemporary argument is The Existence of God written by Oxford Philosopher of Science Richard Swineburne. Other interesting contemporary arguments include Alvin Plantinga's version of the ontological argument (which seems to prove that either God exists or that God must not be a real possibility at all). You can find it in God, Freedom, and Evil. Yale professor John Hare investigates a contemporary version of the moral argument in Why Bother Being Good? Robert Adams (of Yale and Oxford) also touches on the moral argument in Finite and Infinite Goods. Alexander Pruss has a Cambridge Press book defending The Principle of Sufficient Reason undergirding many contemporary versions of the cosmological argument. Jeff Jordan offers a defense of a 'Pascal's Wager' type argument in an Oxford University Press book on Pascal's Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God. Of course, those are just a few examples off the top of my head. So, there are versions of the traditional arguments that are still endorsed by a significant minority of philosophers today.

Pages