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July 08, 2011

Atheism and the Well-Lived Life.

Posted by JP 


An atheist is someone who not only doesn't believe in God, but believes, with some confidence, that there isn’t a God.  But ambiguity remains.  Does that simply mean rejecting the classical Judeo-Christian all-perfect God?  Or does it mean rejecting Hume’s much weaker criterion: that the world was created by some thing or things bearing some remote analogy to human intelligence?

I’ll call the more radical view “strong atheism”.  It says the world was not created by, and is not controlled by, any intelligence, or anything having any remote analogy to intelligence whatsoever.  There is not one all-perfect God, nor are there several less than perfect gods.  Not even the Great Pumpkin.  To be a strong atheist is to reject supernatural deities of all forms and kinds. 

Ken and Louise Anthony, our guest, both are, or are in the neighborhood of, being atheists of tis kind.  The more interesting point for this show is that they find it a rewarding, sustaining, and even inspiring point of view.  Let’s pose some questions, and imagine their answers. 

At first glance, it seems odd to find inspiration in the non-existence of something.  What’s it like to be converted to atheism?  We have many accounts of conversions to religion.  The world suddenly takes on new meaning; your sorrows are lifted when you learn that there is someone up there who cares.    But when you’re converted to atheism, the world goes from meaningful to meaningless, from caring to uncaring, from hopeful to hopeless.  It really sounds depressing -- the source of despair, not inspiration.  If Richard Dawkins are Christopher Hitchens set up a traveling revival show, to convert people to atheism, would the converts appear revived?  Or sort of depressed by their new-found belief in the  meaningless of everything?

But, our enthusiastic atheists will reply, conversion to atheism is not usually a sudden event.  It’s a more gradual process, and it comes in two parts.  First, it becomes clear to you that there’s no evidence whatsoever for God, and considerable evidence against anything like the Christian God, or any lesser version of God.  That can be depressing, we all must admit.  

But with more thought it becomes clearer that not as much depends on God as you might have thought.  You still have fun.  You still have friends.  Certain things still are valuable, others less so.  And, unlike what Ivan Karamazov thinks, not everything is permitted. 

 What about the afterlife?  Isn’t it depressing to give up that belief?

 Well, admittedly, there is no afterlife without some miracle worker like God to provide it.  But as Hume said, all the years before I existed weren’t so bad for me.  Why think the years after I die will be so bad?

But what about the question Dostoyevsky’s Ivan poses:  Why isn’t everything permitted for the atheist?  What sort of fact is it that something is wrong --- say that torturing innocent children is wrong?  It doesn’t seem like a fact of nature; nature seems all in favor of all sorts of undeserved pain.  It doesn’t seem like a rule of etiquette.  It seems like an objective fact about the world.  Who could the fact-maker be, if not God?

But what’s implicit in this question is the Divine Command theory of right and wrong.  Something is wrong because God says it was wrong.  But that’s not the only theory of objective right and wrong.  You might think there are just moral facts -- like mathematical facts -- without God having anything to do with it.  You might think that morality derives from perfectly objective facts about pleasure and pain, life and death, human nature, reason, logic, cooperation and the like.  The atheist has no shortage of answers to Ivan’s claim.

Granted all of that, doesn’t it still seem strange to define one’s life by a negative claim, by the non-existence of something.   You can become the village atheist, and make it your mission in life to tell religious people what idiots they are.  But that doesn’t seem very fulfilling.

To which Ken and  Louise Antony will reply, no doubt, that they don’t define their goal in life to rag on the religious, but rather to explore the joys of positive atheism.   I find atheism difficult to resist, but I'm not quite so sure I should be joyful unto the non-existence of the Lord.  We shall see.



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Your drivel can be summed up in two words:
fucking bullshit.

Do you "not believe in purple elephants"? No. Purple elephants don't exist. If someone said, "You're just an unbeliever in the reality of purple elephants," you'd call them nuts.

Guess which one you are in that analogy? That's right, you're the nut who believes in non-existent things. Your mythical "god" is the purple elephant.

An atheist is a person without belief in gods, plural. You dishonestly speak, and display your bias, as if one specific mythical "god" actually existed and atheists denied that one.

In reality, atheists view ALL mythologies as equally false: the jew/christian/muslim "god" of the Old Testicles is as false as Zeus or Quetzalcoatl. Until you prove even one of them exists, not just yours it doesn't exist. Books of myths and allegations written by people are not proof. And thus far throughout history, religion has failed to prove itself. Feces Christ is a myth, no such person ever existed. There is no Roman record of such a person, nor in the writings of anyone else who existed at that time.

As for a well lived life, since your "god" does not exist, you are no more influenced by the supernatural than I am (i.e. not at all). Religion is nothing more than a form of political ideology with "god" at its centre instead of "the workers". Extremist religions are no different than communism, both falsely claiming an absolute "right" to impose their will on others, criminalizing, exiling, imprisoning and killing those who don't agree. There is no difference between the actions or views of human rights in christian extremism (the crusades, inquisition, Nazis and todays imperialist wars for oil), islamist extremism, or communist states like the USSR and PRC.

Most atheists are ethical, a few are unethical. Most cultists are ethical, a few are unethical. Bottom line: religion has nothing to do with morality. What cultists religion like yours does do, however, is make blind allegiance much easier and criminal behaviour in the name of "god" possible.

Or as Steven Weinberg put it:

"With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil—that takes religion."

Posted by: P Smith | Jul 8, 2011 8:24:20 PM

God is just another name for everything,
And nothing greater than that.


Posted by: Michael J Ahles | Jul 9, 2011 6:35:21 AM

Studies show that believers are happier than atheists.

My guess is that there is a God and a belief in him is good for the soul.

My saying this will no doubt, along with many other things, make atheists very, very unhappy...

Posted by: Dave | Jul 9, 2011 7:32:47 AM

State a vague fact + state what you believe + state something inflamatory = Fox News loves this formula.

But, negativity aside, the concept of religion is a wonderful debate, especially when our emotions are tied to a concept, then that is wonderful subjective fodder.

Posted by: Dave | Jul 9, 2011 10:59:27 AM

Atheism is not a definition of anybody's life. Atheism is simply an answer to "Do you believe?" or "Are you saved?"
Atheists get their meaning, purpose, morals and ethics the same place God does. From the tribe they belong to. Modern tribes are more diffused and amorphous than traditional tribes, but we know who we are.
The afterlife is a con game that has no meaning for most atheists, even a theist like Forrest Church recognizes that the best we can do is live a life worth dying for. After that, who knows, and who cares. Any afterlife mediator that doesn't look at that life that was worth dying for isn't worth worrying about.

Posted by: J'Carlin | Jul 9, 2011 2:54:27 PM

See? Yes, perhaps some of us shall see---before taking the "big dirt nap." We are 10 percent who we are and 90 percent what we are taught. Over time, the proportion changes, given reality and our individual growth (consciousness and such.)I have no issues with faith, until it affects my life in some economic way. That is happening, more and more, today.

Many people have implied, or stated explicitly, that religion is undermining the welfare of those whom it claims to champion. This is not news to anyone who has followed history. And paid attention. Atheists are likely to be happy enough, other opinions notwithstanding. There has been a campaign, in my home town. The atheists have posted billboards. The churches have protested, and, intolerantly, sought legal recourse. If your foundations are challenged, you fight back. All of this over an either/or proposition.

Posted by: Harold G. Neuman | Jul 9, 2011 5:21:58 PM

Where does God get his morals? From tribes?

This theory fails to account for the life of the most famous human of all - Jesus, whose morals and insight I can only assume were light years away from the 'tribal' beliefs he was exposed to in upbringing. (And no, I am not religious, but I am also not willing to toss out the history books because I find them 'inconvenient' or at odds with what I have pre-determined to be true).

Is life after death really just a 'con game'?

Is there evidence that supports life after death? There seems to be - and in an overwhelming manner as well. Even if one were to ignore the 'Godly' insight offered by Jesus, the seeminly extremely common accounts of Near Death experiences ought to be enough to make people shake their heads in disbelief and questions what is real and what is not. The atheist's blanket response of 'the mind playing tricks' is just not good enough and far from being a very believable or credible explanation for what actually happened.

Atheists contend to know more than the person who has had the experience of the NDe. Atheists seem to be ok with looking an NDE'r in the eye and assume a position of authority by telling them they know what their experience was and what their experience was not.

I take a different approach. I assume that the NDE'r is the best candidate to determine what their experience was, and whether it was real or not. My role is not to 'overule', but to respectfully listen and 'learn' from what they have to say, for what they have experienced by anyone's standard is absoulutely astonishing.

I would be doing the NDE'r and myself a grave injustice if I could not get past denail to the point where listening actually took priority. The NDE'r has had in my opinion and in the opinion of many, a 1st hand glimpse of a greater reality that awaits. It is up to us if we put that information to good use or not. I choose to do so.

Posted by: Dave | Jul 10, 2011 9:04:19 AM

There is an old southern gospel song that goes:

Be not dismayed, what ere betide;
God will take care of you.
Beneath his wings of love abide;
God will take care of you.

Take a moment to think this verse over… Ninety nine point nine percent of all people who are, or have ever been, alive, believe this, or some form of this, and believe in a god-controlled or defined existence after death. If you don’t believe the above, in a statistical sense, your numbers are non-significant.

Now, let’s take God out of the whole proposition. Posit God doesn’t exist. What is left of the song:

Be not dismayed, what ere betide;
[Somehow, someway, you will be OK]
[You, an individual, are part of a system, acknowledged by all your fellow humans, to have LOVE as its motivation and guiding idea]

If we have taken God out, and this is what is left, what is it? Some kind of universal human principal? Fine. That is “God” enough!


Most of the stuff we explore as philosophers, no one really does or uses. Belief is one exception, which statistically (see above) everyone does.

The dominant movement in philosophy today is determinism, with the search for the NCC (neurobiological correlate of consciousness) at the center. This is not a valid study for philosophers because it ends the discussion of the nature of consciousness, whose methodology IS philosophy.

Reliance on scientific proof (for instance, of God’s existence) does not address the philosophical issues of belief, which is by definition non-scientific. Again, I propose an end to the misleading mind/body duality, and replace it with matter/consciousness dualism in philosophical inquiry.

Posted by: Mirugai | Jul 10, 2011 12:42:38 PM

"At first glance, it seems odd to find inspiration in the non-existence of something. "

It's not really inspiration form the non-existence of something. It's inspiration from things existing in the world. Having gone through two major life crises, one while Christian, the other while Atheist. I wouldn't say that I drew inspiration from atheism, instead I drew inspiration from other people overcoming the obstacles and from finding creative solutions to my problem. In fact, it was because I didn't have a theistic belief that I looked so ardently for creative solutions in the first place. Before, I accepted the idea that there was god's plan for me, but that wasn't inspiring, it was consoling.

And that's another distinction that I think one can find between the two. Christians find inspiration and consolation through their belief in God, while atheists find inspiration and consolation in solutions and other people (not their lack of belief); and christians also find consolation and inspiration in other people, so don't knock it down too hard.

As for the "revived" part. Some atheists (as well as myself) felt a different appreciation for the people around us after deconversion. Each moment and individual is very precious since this life is all they get. That can be depressing, but it can also be invigorating because you get to savor your experiences with other human beings. And I think that your post misses that. Theists draw a fair amount of inspiration from a god, while atheists reject that as a place to draw any inspiration, so they don't draw anything from their non belief. Your post assumes that the relation between atheists and their religious beliefs is the same relation as theists and their religious beliefs. This is a faulty analogy since atheism often entails that one rejects that relation along with their theistic beliefs.

Posted by: James Claims | Jul 10, 2011 12:48:18 PM

And just so; it is as it has always and in all ways been: there is nothing that fires neurons and nudges ventricles quite as much as issues of religion. Politics may claim a certain share of all the attention and kerfuffle, but were it not for religion, there would be no compelling interest in politics. Indeed, without religion, like it or not,there would be little of our current socio-economic dynamic. This, in and of itself,is the reason for our stoic adherence to all things supranatural. The sacred work ethic and the yearning for the betterment of mankind were outgrowths of commandments and other religious tenets and dogmas.

And so, God is here among us, real or otherwise, like it or not. Pere Teilhard du Chardin knew this, but his brotherhood would not hear of it because he just did not play by the right rules. And yes, rules are a big part of everything, too.

Love it or disdain it, religion matters. We, collectively through the ages, have made it so. This is not rocket science---but it helped. As the great broadcast journalist, Paul Harvey used to say: and now, for the rest of the story. I doubt that any of us have the foggiest notion of what that story may be.

Posted by: Harold G. Neuman | Jul 10, 2011 4:11:00 PM

If your looking for the truth of God
Study nature,
God is nature,
Truth is absolute,
The lion as is his tail,
Beautifully and simply,
Just or equitably One.
Be One too,


Posted by: Michael J Ahles | Jul 11, 2011 9:10:07 AM

I believe purely that there is only science, there is evidence of it, and if there is a god then why make people suffer? I'm athiest and I'm only unhappy in life because my family is falling apart. Analysis I don't see hoe believing that there is someone out there watching me suffer should make me happier.

Posted by: s.s. | Jul 12, 2011 9:13:23 AM

Humans also didn't believe in viruses or bacteria
or photons for a long time because they could not see them,
and thought they had no evidence of their existence.
Perhaps we lack the spiritual "technology" to "prove" God's.

And perhaps too, "The proof of God's omnipotence is that
He doesn't need to exist in order to save us."

Perhaps, finally, logic and empiricism are but two
of many many ways of knowing. Perhaps applied not
universally by the Almighty Whatever.

Posted by: Harmonia | Jul 12, 2011 1:44:17 PM

All the proof I personally require of the absence of proposed gods exists in the incoherence of their representative bibliographies and the shifting responsibilities of authorship (the innerant word of god, god inspired, the work of imperfect man). Then, of course, there is the aberrant/abhorrent behavior of the historical and contemporary accolytes.
The concept of god recedes where mankind succeeds, and has done so throughout our historical path out of the dark mists of superstition. It's only a matter of time.

Posted by: Pat | Jul 14, 2011 8:05:29 AM

Many atheists have a better understanding of religion than many theists, which would be why they are atheists.

Posted by: relationship problems | Jul 14, 2011 7:10:23 PM

The joy of athiesm is not unto the non existence of the lord. The joy is coming to your truth in the face on overwhelming social opposition and what you have been taught since birth.

Posted by: Michael G | Jul 16, 2011 2:05:17 AM

I sat back. And waited. And waited. But no one has approached Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion." I think that Dawkins would welcome a God, if only there were substantive proof(s) upon which to rely. Science is not anti-God, you see---even though religion is often anti-science. Faith is counter-intuitive: it posits the existence of certain benefits, most of which must be taken, on faith, which brings us back to the untenablity of faith. Dawkins dispels this circularity in his brilliant book. But, everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion. Sure.

Posted by: Harold G. Neuman | Jul 16, 2011 4:58:06 PM

If scientific theories and religious faiths were true,
They would be called truth.

I only know One truth,
Just me.


Posted by: Michael J Ahles | Jul 18, 2011 8:36:00 PM

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