The Meaning of Meaning & Why Theism Can’t Make Life Matter

It comes up constantly.  Without a god, without an afterlife, how can life have any meaning? Atheists and agnostics have traditionally responded with impassioned, often simply fantastic essays about the meaning they do find in their lives.  You would think that would be answer enough: a brute reality that defies all the accusations.

And yet, hostile theists are rarely convinced by this: they paint such expressions as, at best, their fellow human beings illicitly “stealing” the fruits of their own supposedly special ideology. They want to know, they demand to know how this meaning can be “justified,” implying that they possess the one unique answer themselves.

How can folks find meaning without God?  Instead of another appeal to empathy with my own story, I want to strike at the heart of the argument itself.

Meaning without God?  The question itself is both backwards and premature.  To see why, we must ask how one supposedly finds meaning with God.  I won’t, in fact, be arguing that one cannot. Rather, my contention is that any believer that seriously tries to answer this question will be forced to admit that the philosophical liberties and assumptions they make to reach their sense of meaning are no more or less justified than those they ridicule as insufficient or unjustified in non-believers. We are all inescapably in the same boat when it comes to meaning and purpose.

The Incoherently Incompetent Thought

First, we need to examine “meaning” itself, and expose a mistake, a very basic mistake, in how many people think about it.

To say that some event means something without at least some implicit understanding of who it means something to is to express an incomplete idea, no different than sentence fragments declaring that “Went to the bank” or “Exploded.” Without first specifying a particular subject and/or object, the very idea of meaning is incoherent. 

Yet too often people still try to think of meaning in a disconnected and abstract sense, ending up at bizarre and nonsensical conclusions.  They ask questions like: What is the meaning of my life? What does it matter if I love my children when I and they and everyone that remembers us will one day not exist?  But these are not simply deep questions without answers: they are incomplete questions, incoherent riddles missing key lines and clues.  Whose life?  Meaningful to whom?  Matters to whom? Who are you talking about?

Once those clarifying questions are asked and answered, the seeming impossibility of the original question evaporates, its flaws exposed. We are then left with many more manageable questions: What is the meaning of my/your/their life to myself/my parents/my children?  These different questions may have different answers: your parents may see you as a disappointment for becoming a fireman instead of a doctor, and yet your children see you as a hero. 

But the one fact that becomes abundantly clear is that no one can ultimately judge the meaning of your own life other than yourself.  Your parents can have purposes in mind for you: find meaning in, say, a dream that you will become the professional baseball star that your father could not.  But these purposes are their purposes: they are not fundamentally your own: not inherently meaningful to you unless you decide to take them up yourself, or even just find meaning in understanding their hopes even if you cannot agree with them. 

This, then, is the existential heart of the matter, the reason that theism as a doctrine cannot provide any extra or unique route to meaning that is not already present in any being capable of experiencing it.

An Eternity of Nihilism, a Second of Truth

I’ll come back to that last point in a second, but we also need to do away with another common sticking point: the issue of permanence. Many sincere searching souls have fretted about eternity, worrying that without their own everlasting experience or even an eternally unbroken chain of memories, their acts cannot have meaning. This worry is, of course, profoundly human: we are such obsessively social beings that we cannot help but frame everything we are and do in terms of what others think and remember about us (including what we think and remember about ourselves). Without this reference point, without other people judging and approving, we struggle to comprehend anything at all. This is core to our identity.

But as an understanding of meaning and how it works, these fears are not only deeply flawed logically, but self-refuting emotionally.

The flaw in logic comes with the idea that a life lived or an experience and memory that ends has no meaning but one preserved for eternity does. But the math here simply doesn’t work.  Either even the briefest span of thoughts and actions can be meaningful all on their own, or an eternity of them can never add up to anything. Zero multiplied by infinity is still zero: a life without meaning on its own terms, meaning moment to moment, does not gain meaning from eternity. It simply becomes an eternity of meaninglessness: a nihilistic pursuit of mere length rather than quality.

The flaw in emotion is simply that only a caring being could ever care so deeply about caring. Beings who find no meaning in their existence cannot fret about the question to begin with: the very act of worrying itself answers the question more powerfully than any argument I could make.  Would you carelessly torture a person because they would not have any memory of it later?  Could you really deny the existence of the suffering you would inflict in the here and now because it would be one day forgotten? 

Every act done, every second of time, is unique.  It may not be remembered for eternity any particular person (indeed, many of your daily acts will not be specifically remembered by you even in your own lifetime, yet you still found meaning in them at the time), but it is once and forever a inextricable part of eternity.  This concept was best expressed in the fable of eternal recurrence. This is the imagination of all existence replaying itself over and over: that every choice and action you make you will make again and again each time through (so you’d better make them good ones, something worthy of eternity!). The idea is purely an emotional exercise, not a claim about what actually happens, but meaning is an emotion. And imagining eternity in this way provides a compelling insight into how moments can resonate eternally, even if they pass and are forgotten.

The God Ruse

So now we come back to the claims of theists: that only with their picture of reality can “meaning” mean anything. Few theists who make this claim will actually explain how that works: as with most things asserted to be supernatural, the claim is meant to quietly avoid any burden of explanation rather than meet it. God does this and God does that because God can do anything, but we are never told what the process is, what the specific capacity is and used in what specific way.  Without the functional specifics, any case that it is impossible without God falters.

The supernatural’s disappointing and systematic failure to explain is really a matter for another time. Luckily, on this subject we already know the claim to be unfounded in any case.  Nothing about the situation of a God existing can alter the position that individuals are in with regard to finding meaning in their lives.  No fact about the external world, no matter how weird and supernatural, can alter the situation we find ourselves in internally as thinking beings making value judgements.

As I explained before, speaking about the “meaning” of one’s life is insufficient: whose meaning are we talking about?  The original question was about you finding meaning in your own life.  And thus we see that even the knowledge of a God existing and having a purpose for your life is not enough: for this to be meaningful, it still requires you to find it so.  We can imagine that it might not, just as we can imagine a child who finds its parents’ purposes for it uncompelling and without meaning.

Now of course, theists may well declare it wrong that someone would not find God’s meaning compelling, but in that accusation they have changed the topic of discussion, which was about the process of an individual finding meaning in the first place, not someone else’s judgement about the end result.  Many theist apologists will likewise paint the idea of individuals having to judge what is meaningful as usurping God’s authority (failing, I suppose, to successfully hypothesize the position of a non-believer, who sees no God around to usurp).

They’ve all missed the point. Even were there no question of a God existing, one must still first assume/choose to believe/judge that the perceived God is indeed a good and trustworthy being and that it’s purposes are worth caring about.  This is simply an unavoidable step before accepting God as a guide to morality and meaning, deciding that a life living for God is what’s meaningful.  I certainly don’t want to begrudge believers that meaning, or even assert that, in a world with a good God, that a good God’s purposes couldn’t be a compelling choice for meaning.  I’m simply arguing that the process of getting there is the same with or without God as the end result.

Apologists are generally convinced of the superiority of their doctrine on this score simply because they neglect to mention or consider the role an individual plays in judging what is meaningful. They pretend that they can get a free ride on unspoken arguments about a creator God’s overarching authority. They cannot: those arguments, when made explicit, expose the exact same weakness they claim to find in non-theistic explanations of value.  Instead, there is no free ride for anyone, no shifting the original and foundational duty of judgement off of oneself. Power and authority can only be meaningful to you if you first judge power and authority compelling and important.

The best I think that the doctrine of theism could attempt in response is to argue that their God forced us by our very design to find meaning in this or that… but this then would admit that our particular design is the key to experiencing value and meaning, and so if that design existed in a world without God, it would still be sufficient.

As I said at the start, we are all on the same boat when it comes to finding meaning the world.  To me, that idea is humbling and unifying: a source of empathy, rather than emnity. 

Addendum on “Justification”

I realize, of course, that I haven’t really answered the challenge as to whether meaning is “justified.” My purpose here was merely to argue that meaning, whatever it is, is not explained or rationalized any better by theism than without it: theist and non-theist meaning come from the same functional foundation either way. With or without a God, if their basis is weak and unjustified, then they are both so, equally.

The other part of the reason I haven’t even attempted to answer the question about “justification: is that I’m not entirely certain it makes sense to speak about meaning that way in the first place. It’s an experience, an emotion, not an assertion of fact. You either find your life meaningful or you do not, but it’s not even clear to me how one would even attempt to show that someone’s experience of meaning or lack of it was a mis-perception, let alone be outright false. What standard would you compare it against? If someone were to claim that your life isn’t meaningful to you, how would they prove it? How would you prove it to them, beyond merely expressing it? What would an argument even look like?

If anyone can answer those questions, then perhaps we could have an argument about whether subjective meaning can be somehow objectively justified.  In the meantime, I remain skeptical.

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38 Responses to The Meaning of Meaning & Why Theism Can’t Make Life Matter

  1. Shirley says:

    I am a devout Christian, by which I mean, I believe in God and strive to live a holy life. By saying I am a Christian, I do not wish to imply I am in any way perfect, or that I consider myself superior to others.

    It may not be politically correct for one such as I to say so, but I believe a person who does not believe in God can have a meaningful life on this earth. For instance, should an agnostic or an atheist be involved in medical research that resulted in a life-saving procedure or medication, would not that person have lived a meaningful life?

    Taken a step further, though, looking into eternity where all will stand before God and give an account of the living of one’s life, it is thought that a life meaningful only on this earth, with no eternal preparation, will suffer ultimate damnation. Separated from the presence of God, I strongly suspect there will be no memory of a meaningful life anywhere.

    I believe in God and the hereafter, but I don’t believe it is easily understood, or that any person has a full and complete grasp of God’s eternal plan. And yes, it does require faith. And no, one can’t explain that accepted by faith.

    A fascinating post.

    Shirley Buxton
    http://www.shirleybuxton.wordpress.com

  2. Bad says:

    While I don’t think faith is rationally supportable, I generally don’t have quarrel with the idea that people believe certain things and that’s that: I mostly just have arguement with truth claims people make based on those belief, not their right or personal justification to believe itself.

    And as to your point about what might happen after death, I don’t disagree per se, that if that were really the situation we faced, we might likely be motivated to care and/or prepare for it, because we value that existence. My point was really more just that no set of facts can itself make life meaningful: people have to judge it so. And in the situation you describe, I have to admit that personally, if I found out that the universe were one that included eternal damnation for anyone as part of the grand design of a grand designer, I would be profoundly disappointed. To find out that existence itself is intentionally bent on its most fundamental level towards what I see as an immorality of such incomprable scale… I think that, for me, would suck meaning right out of the world. Even if I wasn’t damned myself (if I believed and was saved), I’m still not sure I could find anymeaning in that overall state of affairs aside from horror.

  3. brahnamin says:

    first, very good post. excellent in fact.

    regarding faith (here in the comments, not from the post) i kinda view it on the same level as animal instinct.

    on the surface, perhaps it looks like easy, easy make believe, but i’ve found more often than not it is based heavily on evidence. little microscopic bits of life experience that we don’t even think about gathered together to form a composite belief that we can neither explain or prove, but which is very real for us nevertheless.

    instinct for eternity, perhaps.

    let me clarify, here, that i mean faith, not dogma.

    not everything that is believed and relied on is faith. but that’s a whole other can of worms

    the point you made that i particularly like is the one about design.

    many a pastor will insist that each of us has a *god shaped hole* in our lives that only – dur – god can fill. it’s a great emotional tactic, but implicit within those words is the notion that god somehow made us incomplete.

    and that i don’t believe.

    even if it is explained away by the notion of a *universal fall* because even that implies we have power apart from god. the power to change ourselves (the very notion of a fall says we separated ourselves from god)

    me, i think god made us complete, and that we remain complete.

    i think he gave us the tools to find him (in little ways) but not the perspective to define him.

    in short, whether we believe in god or not i think we are all on our own in this life . . . and of course that none of us are alone.

    but i’ll stop babbling all over your lawn

    excellent post. thanks for the link

  4. Jon Eccles says:

    If you ask me, the answer to the question ‘what is the meaning of life?’ is ‘shut up you tart’.

    Meaning is a property of language. Asking about the meaning of life is like asking how many dots per inch there are in Germany. And yet religious people persist in talking about meaning as if it somehow spread through the universe like hydrogen.

    If you’re diligent and lucky, the words you assemble to ascribe meaning to the external world may map onto that world well enough to enable you to make predictions, and then you have science. It’s also possible to assemble them into pretty patterns, and then you have art.

    Etc. Thanks for putting me on your blogroll, by the way. I put a little something about you on mine.

  5. religionprof says:

    What you’ve uncovered is the selfishness of the faith of many religious believers: the only existence that they can think of as meaningful is one in which their ego (in the Greek sense, although also presumably in the modern English one as well) exists forever. The thinking is that if life continues and meaningful things keep on happening forever but I personally am not a part of it, then it isn’t meaningful to me personally, and so it isn’t meaningful period.

    Not all religions are focused on an afterlife, and even in those that are, not all religious believers are so egocentrical. I never cease to find the prayer of the Sufi mystic Rabi’a challenging:

    O my Lord, if I worship you from fear of hell, burn me in hell. If I worship
    you from hope of Paradise, bar me from its gates. But if I worship you for
    yourself alone, grant me then the beauty of your Face.

    My own thoughts on the subject (in dialogue with Bertrand Russell as well as Rabi’a) can be found on my own blog at http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2007/09/being-good-without-god.html

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

  6. Irishman says:

    Excellent article.

    My own thoughts on “The Meaning of Life”, one must look to the psychology of the human mind and why we ask this question. Humans have a tendency to be “intent projectors” – we project intent upon the world. This manifests in early childhood, around the age of 3 to 5.

    As we age we grow out of this intent projection to some extent as we learn about the world. But some of this intent projection remains buried in our mind structure, and when we approach the big mysteries, our brains fall back on these patterns.

    Asking the question, “What is the Meaning of Life?” is to project intent upon the universe as a whole. As you state, meaning is an intent word, and requires an intender. The question that is typically being pondered is not, “What should I do with my life?” or “Why is my life valuable?” but rather “Where did life come from?” and “Why is there life at all?” “What is the purpose for life?” But to ask the question is to assert there is a purpose, which assumes a super-intent to the universe. The Universe had an intent for us, so we came into existence. This is deification, projection of intent upon the universe.

    The question really is a nonsense question, only asked because of our inherent intent projection upon the universe. Try rephrasing the question as “What should I do with my life?” or “Why is my life valuable?”, and that should redirect the conversation in the direction you take it.

  7. Bad says:

    And as I tried to point out, even if the universe DID have a purpose for you, that would be its meaning for you, not necessarily your meaning. You could of course find the universe’s purpose for you meaningful, but the bottom line is that each “intender” unavoidably has to pick the intent they want. It can’t be picked for them.

  8. Josh Caleb says:

    Irishman had it nearly right, then surprisingly dodged the conclusion altogether for “nonsense”??
    Folks, when we use “meaning” or “purpose” in our daily lives, what is our usage like? A simple dictionary will tell us that it DOES involve intent; some teleological implication. For example, the purpose of a car is to transport people. A car can function in many other ways, roll it on some paper: its a very large paper weight, run over a person: it’s a weapon , let a dog live in it: a dog kennel. But even though it can do all those things it is not achieving its purpose; its “intended” function: to transport people. Very much the same when we use “meaning” it is to point to the intent of the use of a specific thing, many times applied to words. Example: the “meaning” of the word “red” is only as an adjective to describe something that produces a color of a wavelength roughly 625-750nm, if I said “the barn was red”, the “meaning” of the word is to indicate a specific thing by virtue of the person who made the statement. That’s why the drivel that people like Jon Eccles spout about linguistic deconstructionism is so inane and self-refuting. (btw Jon, when you wrote “meaning is a property of language” the way I interpreted that was: “mud is a pickle of larvae”, tell me, was that the “meaning” you intended?? haha)
    So when we apply these terms “purpose” and “meaning” to ourselves, our lives, it only makes sense in light of our relationship to our Creator, that transcendent thing that brought us into being, because only the creator or designer can impart purpose or intent into that which He creates.

    So Mr. Bad, I find your explanation quite lacking in light of every other usage of the terms. The car does not determine and tell itself that it feels good to be a dog kennel, it can if it wants to, but it will ultimately not achieve fulfillment because its intended purpose has not been realized.

    Therefore, our purpose as humans, created in the image of God, (forgive my Christian worldview spilling out here) is to be reconciled to God and bring glory to Him; that is what the Bible indicates we were created to do. We were also created with unique gifts and talents; whether they are analytical, aesthetic, physical, or communicative skills; that we do those things because God has specially equipped each of us. We were also created in specific relationships to other humans: mom, dad, spouse, kids, friends, employers, etc. and our proper relationships and duties to each of them is also expected and part of our purpose.
    So if we zoom out, we see a 2×2 grid of man’s purpose in life encompassing A) Relationships and B) Vocations in relation to 1) God and 2) fellow man: establishing and maintaining healthy relationships with God and with our family/friends/employer/employees while implementing our gifts/skills for God’s glory and man’s betterment.

    So according to the Christian worldview, I half-way agree with Shirley: an atheist can find some meaning in life because of the use of his gifts for the betterment of mankind and relationships with loved ones. However, the ultimate fullness of that meaning will not be realized until relationship to God is found.
    Cheers. (sorry for the length, although i think it was warranted)

  9. Josh Caleb says:

    Sorry, I can’t fail to mention the alternative: if we are not created by God or any other “prime mover”, then by definition, we have no intended purpose, we are products of undermined forces, not designed and thus we are forced to manufacture our own meaning …as Bad implies.
    However, it is strange then, that so many of us persist in asking this fundamental question… and it not have a a real answer… hmm

  10. Bad says:

    I don’t think your argument holds up Josh. All you are doing is sneakily forgetting, just as I noted, to specify whose intent you are talking about at any given moment. You start out talking about the intent of the car’s maker, but then somehow inexplicably decide that this is the purpose of the car, as if purpose were a thing that could exist independent of the maker. It can’t. The fact that some people think of it that way is precisely my point: they are confused, and this confusion is what has led to the problem.

    This is where your analogy falls down when you then try to take it over to a God. All you are really doing is trying to dodge the issue I laid out. And then you follow this up with the sort of empty word-salad I was talking about when it comes to “supernatural” explanations for things. Like this:

    because only the creator or designer can impart purpose or intent into that which He creates.

    Really? I don’t suppose you are going to tell us how this is done, are you? Explain the actual functional process by which meaning or purpose is “imparted”?

    If not, then this “explanation” doesn’t really mean anything.

    I quite understand that you believe in a certain story, and you then think that playing a particular part in this story makes your life meaningful. I haven’t taken issue with that. I’m just asking you to recognize that this is you that’s doing it: finding it meaningful (not to mention believing that it’s real in the first place). I don’t really see how that impacts my argument at all, though. I never said that you couldn’t believe something and find it meaningful. I just pointed out that since you have done so, your ability to find meaning doesn’t really depend in any way on whether the story you are telling is actually true. You could find just as much meaning and fulfillment even if no God existed. And so can I, utterly regardless of whether one exists or not.

    Again, yes, I get that in your story, I’m missing out on some ultimate super-duper fulfillment that is only available if I believe your beliefs. And if a God exists, maybe that’s true. But if one does or doesn’t, that still doesn’t change what I pointed out about meaning. All you are offering is another set of facts, and if I had any reason to believe those facts were correct, I might alter my perceptions of what is meaningful.

    Or not. And there’s really very little you, or even a God, could say either way.

  11. Bad says:

    Sorry, I can’t fail to mention the alternative: if we are not created by God or any other “prime mover”, then by definition, we have no intended purpose, we are products of undermined forces, not designed and thus we are forced to manufacture our own meaning …as Bad implies.

    My implication is that we determine what is meaningful, and our purpose, for ourselves either way. Again, if there is a God, and it has a purpose for you or I, we still either are free to find that meaningful or not, as well as finding other things meaningful. Or we are not free, and finding purpose in whatever is built into us as a function of our being… in which case whether or not God exists and built us that way is, again, irrelevant.

    However, it is strange then, that so many of us persist in asking this fundamental question… and it not have a a real answer… hmm

    As I noted, the “fundamental” question is a mistake. We ask what the “meaning” of life is because we are confusing the idea of meaning and treating it as if it were a material fact instead of a judgment of some being about some thing.

  12. Josh Caleb says:

    gosh your thick!

    you state: “as if purpose were a thing that could exist independant of its maker”
    Can’t you see??? this is the very point i made!!! Purpose is DEPENDENT upon the CREATOR, not the created.

    Furthermore you state:
    “Explain the actual functional process by which meaning or purpose is “imparted”?”
    Using the analogy I described: Just EXACTLY the way a car designer/engineer would DESIGN and ultimately BUILD a car for the purpose of transporting people: with, quess what? wheels and an engine and seats… !!
    And so we, designed in God’s image, have the inherent capacity because of this image bearing nature to worship God, be in relationship with Him and worship Him.
    You sure know how to miss the point! My whole argument is based upon the fact that “meaning” and “purpose” are BY DEFINITION used with teleological intent! Teleological intent ASSUMES an INTENDER. The fact that we ask ourselves the question is “sign post of transcendance” as William Lane Craig puts it. To inquire about our own purpose points to our inherent created nature.
    (my appologies for the excess use of caps, but hopefully it aids your carefull reading this time)

  13. Bad says:

    Can’t you see??? this is the very point i made!!! Purpose is DEPENDENT upon the CREATOR, not the created.

    I don’t see how not agreeing with your bold, unsubstantiated assertions: not finding them very compelling, is being “thick.” I’ve offered a pretty clear reason why what you say cannot be fundamentally true. You, on the other hand, have failed to explain how things can have some absolute purpose that is “dependent” on anything other than whomever is subjectively considering the matter at the moment, as I said. You’ve simply outlined a particular judgment of meaning for a thing from one particular being: not demonstrated that it is somehow more “correct” than any other.

    Using the analogy I described: Just EXACTLY the way a car designer/engineer would DESIGN and ultimately BUILD a car for the purpose of transporting people: with, quess what? wheels and an engine and seats… !!

    Again, if that’s all you meant, then I’m afraid that’s wholly insufficient to refute the point I made. Just because someone built something for a purpose doesn’t mean that the construction itself has to find that intent to be meaningful TO IT, or that anyone else has to care about the creator’s intent for it. One analogy I used is when parents have a child for an explicit purpose of, say, hoping that it will care for them in their old age, or becoming a doctor. But if the child has it’s own mind, then no particular logic compels it to find that purpose meaningful.

    And since we cannot determine whether or not anyone created human beings in the first place, any assertion that you make that we are designed in such a way that we will find purpose in that design, works out just as well utterly regardless of whether there is a designer or not.

    And so we, designed in God’s image, have the inherent capacity because of this image bearing nature to worship God, be in relationship with Him and worship Him.

    Again, I didn’t say that you couldn’t tell stories and then decide that they are meaningful to you. I said that I don’t believe your stories, and I also do not agree that they would be inherently meaningful to someone even if they were true. They would be meaningful to the creator… but not necessarily to his creations. The fundamental judgment of meaning is still something that each individual unavoidably makes, GIVEN the “facts on the ground” which may or may not include a designer. This is no different for you than it is for me, whatever your belief about the facts as they are (i.e. a God existing and having created you and intended you to be for something it wants).

    To put it another way, to each subject, the judgments that other beings make are just more facts (i.e. the fact that those beings made those judgments). The subject in question, however, still has to judge for themselves what is meaningful to them.

    You sure know how to miss the point! My whole argument is based upon the fact that “meaning” and “purpose” are BY DEFINITION used with teleological intent!

    I haven’t missed you point at all: your point is what I refuted at the outset, and you still don’t seem to have dealt with that. The intent, even of a creator, just isn’t the same thing as the meaning an individual judges about themselves. To speak of purposes without specifying whose purposes you are talking about at any given moment is both incoherent nonsense and an attempt to conceal what you are actually talking about. To claim that there is one and only one meaning that a thing can have, or that the creators’ opinion is paramount, has no basis.

    The fact that we ask ourselves the question is “sign post of transcendance” as William Lane Craig puts it. To inquire about our own purpose points to our inherent created nature.

    If that’s an argument for the existence of God, it’s an incredibly weak one (one might as well just note that to inquire about our created purpose is to simply assume that there is a creator, not to “point” to it).

    I’ve already explained one possible alternative why people would ask those sorts of questions that has nothing to do with pointing to a “created nature”: namely, that people are confused about how to think and talk about “meaning,” treating it as if it were a fact and not a judgment. And again, as I already explained (did you even read what I wrote, by the way? I’ve already covered most of this…) there are also plenty of other perfectly conventional possible reasons why humans might envision a creator or someone having a purpose for their lives: namely that we are obsessively social beings who instinctively see personality and intent in virtually everything, even inanimate objects.

  14. Josh Caleb says:

    (shaking head…)
    “bold, unsubstantiated assertions” ??? please consult Merriam-Webster on these two words: “meaning”, “purpose”, giving special heed to the word “intent”.
    Then please examine all the blather and non sequiturs you have just spewed to see if “determining your own meaning” makes any sense. If we were able to self-create ourselves (?) then it might make sense, but even that is untennable.

    The argument begins with a definition, then is applied to present case, this is called deductive reasoning, (from the greater to the lesser) please try to follow along.
    Meaning or purpose is conferred upon a thing or person by its “intender” or creator, by definition.
    If we have no creator and are the products of unguided forces, we have no right to say we have meaning or purpose because by definition we have no “intender”. Existence is inherently purposeless in such a worldview, by definition.
    If we do have a creator (God) we do not determine our own meaning, by definition.
    Your position is that we make our own judgements about our meaning, which does not follow the definition, making it false. We are not our own “intenders” or creators, we did not predict our own births, we do not control our future. Otherwise childhood accidents or car crashes would be forseen and prevented. That leaves either “fate” or chance or …God.

    (are you getting the “by definition” part of my argument?)

    “the fundamental judgement of meaning is still something that each individual unavoidably makes”
    This is your biggest hurdle you have yet to clear, it is a false statement. Individuals don’t make meaning for themselves, they discover their meaning conferred to by thier Creator. Otherwise we don’t ask the question in the first place.

    This ends my dialogue. I tire of your incomprehension of basic definitions and failure to accurately apply them to the current arguments. It has made it clear to me that you will never concede any point i make, no matter how clear i try to make it. You are certainly a bright individual, and I respect your right to your opinions, but would hope they would be and will be in the future, swayed by reasoned thinking and truth. Maybe i have not been so for you, despite my honest opinion to the contrary, but hopefully we have learned something in the process. cheers.

  15. Caduceus says:

    Um. Wow. Josh, you almost reached the goal with that horseshoe you lobbed there, despite aiming in entirely the wrong direction.

    First of all, we’ll touch on definitions. I’m afraid I don’t have a Merriam-Webster available, but I do have a perfectly good American Heritage, which tells me that “meaning” is a noun with the following possible definitions: “1. Something that is conveyed or signified; sense or significance. 2. Something that one wishes to convey, especially by language: The writer’s meaning was obscured by his convoluted prose. 3. An interpreted goal, intent, or end: “ The central meaning of his pontificate is to restore papal authority ” Conor Cruise O’Brien 4. Inner significance”

    I do not see how, as you put it, “we have no right to say we have meaning or purpose because by definition we have no ‘intender.’” In fact, if you’ll excuse me for saying so, I’m not even sure what you mean when you say “by definition.” From my perspective, by definition, we are perfectly capable of saying we (and by “we,” here, I mean “our own individual lives”) have meaning, based on both definition 3–an interpreted goal, intent, or end (the meaning/goal/intent/end which I am devoting my life to is to help alleviate suffering in the world and to spend as little time as possible being bored)– and definition 4–inner significance (these goals give to my self-image an inner significance). By both those definitions, there is no need for an “intender” or a “creator,” and as Bad mentioned, even if there is a creator, he isn’t necessary for someone to determine for themselves either an interpreted goal, intent, or end, or an inner significance. And if you really want to argue about it, I can make the case that the first definition doesn’t require one, either.

    So, when I say you almost hit the nail, I’m referring to your statement “If we have no creator and are the products of unguided forces… Existence is inherently purposeless in such a worldview, by definition.” I totally agree with that admittedly tampered with statement. We are the products of unguided forces in a universe without a creator, and thus existence is inherently purposeless. (inherent: adj. Existing as an essential constituent or characteristic; intrinsic.) Nothing outside of the universe is giving it a purpose, and there is in fact no inherent purpose to the universe. There is no grand goal that it’s striving toward, no ultimate end, except perhaps either heat death or contraction into a single super-massive blackhole. However, that doesn’t stop any of us from finding our own individual meanings in our own lives, particularly, and in the survival and advancement of the human species in general.

    Some of us, like you, need to devote ourselves to believing in an entity that is unsupportable and incomprehensible in order to convince ourselves that our lives have meaning. What I’ve learned from reading your posts is that you are completely incapable of imagining a person who does not need to believe in this entity in order to be content with his life (content 2, adj. 1. Desiring no more than what one has; satisfied. 2. Ready to accept or acquiesce; willing).

    Finally, I want to take note of something you said in your first post.

    Therefore, our purpose as humans, created in the image of God, (forgive my Christian worldview spilling out here) is to be reconciled to God and bring glory to Him; that is what the Bible indicates we were created to do.

    That sounds… awful. You really believe that our purpose for existence is to be eternal suck ups to some entity who has never even bothered to conclusively prove his own existence? And that the entity that created the entire universe, in all its glory, is so lame and insecure that he wants an entire species of sentient beings to spend all their time telling said entity how cool they think He is? You really find joy and contentment in that sort of world view? I’d much rather believe that we just happen to be here, and that we can get on with doing our own thing and working to improve everyone’s lot in life. If it’s all the same to you.

  16. Bad says:

    There are no non-sequiturs Josh. The intent is that of whatever subject is doing the intending: and intent is likewise a judgment about something, not an objective feature of something.

    I’m not convinced yet that you understand how a dictionary works, but just pointing at one of various definitions (which may not even be universally applicable or relevant) is not the same thing as making any sort of philosophical argument about what it means. And in this case, your usage is bizarrely, almost desperately, wrong. The dictionary definition that includes “intent” uses it as an explanation of one sort of thing that can be conveyed by the word meaning of something. That sense of the word DOES indeed imply an intender… but this intender is simply whomever is doing the intending in the sentence the word is used in… just as in the sentence that MW uses. I haven’t suggested any differently. That you think so is your mistake.

    You seem to have simply seen the word “intent,” somehow convinced yourself that this word can only mean the intent of a creator, and then somehow concluded that this is the only sort of meaning that can exist or that matters (didn’t you notice all the other definitions listed? DO you understand what those other definitions are, and that, for instance, they are not always fully consistent with each other?). Suffice to say, I don’t think the dictionary agrees with you, and that is a rather embarrassing raft of mistakes and faulty assumptions.

    Then please examine all the blather and non sequiturs you have just spewed to see if “determining your own meaning” makes any sense. If we were able to self-create ourselves (?) then it might make sense, but even that is untennable.

    I have no idea what you think you are saying. I haven’t said anything about “self-creating” anything. All I’ve said is that meaning is inherently a judgment made by a particular subject about something. You’ve so far not said even one thing that demonstrates the contrary.

    A creator might have a purpose for you. But it makes perfect semantic, dictionary-perfect sense to still ask whether or not YOU find that fact meaningful or not. And hence, my argument, which I don’t really see that you’ve ever tried to sensibly address.

    Meaning or purpose is conferred upon a thing or person by its “intender” or creator, by definition.

    You’re rather missing the point: I do not disagree that if there is an intender, that this intender might find meaning in a creation or have purposes for creating it. The problem is that this is quite irrelevant to the question of whether another person finds that particular fact meaningful or not.

    To put it another way: yes, a creator confers upon a creation a purpose… its purpose. That does not, however, exhaust all possibilities for the meanings that can be conferred upon the creation by others, or, if it is a person, override the meaning or purpose it can judge for itself.

    If we have no creator and are the products of unguided forces, we have no right to say we have meaning or purpose because by definition we have no “intender”. Existence is inherently purposeless in such a worldview, by definition.

    Again, you are just using “purpose” in the nonsensically incomplete form I explained earlier. It makes no sense to say something like “existence is purposeless” without specifying whose opinion you are talking about.

    I guess since no one created God, god is objectively purposeless and meaningless? Is that really where you want your logic to lead? Because that’s exactly where it does lead.

    We are not our own “intenders” or creators, we did not predict our own births, we do not control our future.

    So? What does that have to do with anything? I don’t need to have had anything to do with causing an event to find it meaningful. Nor does an event need to be intended by ANYONE for me to find it meaningful. Where, again, is any of that inconsistent with the dictionary?

    Individuals don’t make meaning for themselves, they discover their meaning conferred to by their Creator.

    So you say. But why should anyone believe you? And why must anyone inherently have to care about what their Creator cares about? The mere fact that I can talk intelligibly about not finding the purposes of God meaningful undermines the idea that one must.

    I tire of your incomprehension of basic definitions and failure to accurately apply them to the current arguments. It has made it clear to me that you will never concede any point i make, no matter how clear i try to make it.

    That’s one possibility. The other is that your argument is mistaken and your understanding of dictionary usage and semantics in general is fatally flawed. Are you simply not willing to even consider that latter possibility, so convinced of your own infaliability? I’ve certainly been willing to entertain your criticisms, but merely because you can put together sentences that argue against me does not mean that your arguments are successful or coherent.

  17. [...] Differences: Non-Belief isn’t Non-Being Remember how I mentioned that atheists often refute the “life has no meaning without my particular ideology” [...]

  18. coathangrrr says:

    So when we apply these terms “purpose” and “meaning” to ourselves, our lives, it only makes sense in light of our relationship to our Creator, that transcendent thing that brought us into being, because only the creator or designer can impart purpose or intent into that which He creates.

    So I get my meaning from my parents?

  19. coathangrrr says:

    Yet too often people still try to think of meaning in a disconnected and abstract sense, ending up at bizarre and nonsensical conclusions.

    Um, you can’t just wave your hand and say that what people have used meaning to mean for a thousand years is wrong for no reason other than you don’t like the semantic structure of their language. You are right that it doesn’t make sense, if there is no God, but that’s begging the question; or at least making assumptions. I don’t believe there is a God, so I think that it doesn’t really work to say that someone’s life has such and such meaning, or that I’m meant to do such and such. Really I think the word doesn’t mean much when applied to people or their lives, but that is prior to the fact that I don’t believe in God. If there were a God, in the Christian sense, then there totally could be meaning.

  20. Bad says:

    There is a big difference between using a concept and having that concept having cognitive content. It isn’t just hand-waving to point out that this usage is an incoherent fragment: the fact that people have used it this way is as irrelevant as saying that people have thought the earth was flat.

    Talking about meaning in the way I described is like saying that you believe in square circles: you can SAY that you do, but since you cannot imagine what a square circle looks like, there isn’t any actual thought that matches the word. It’s the same with talking about meaning without any specification of what is meaningful to who. The concept is incomplete and doesn’t, well mean anything. That people think it does is a sign of confusion, not enlightenment.

    And it either makes sense of not utterly regardless of whether there is a God or not. The fact of a God’s existence cannot itself make anything more or less meaningful. Someone has to judge it to be so.

    If you disagree, then you are going to have to explain how things can be “made” objectively meaningful, and by what specific acts.

  21. coathangrrr says:

    If you disagree, then you are going to have to explain how things can be “made” objectively meaningful, and by what specific acts.

    To clarify, I don’t think there is objective meaning, and I can’t explain how it would be made. My point is that if there were an omnipotent God, which is what the Christians believe, she/he/it would be able to create objective meaning by the fact of its omnipotence. It is different from a square circle in that a square circle consists, or would consist, of two mutually exclusive forms unified. This is categorically different than calling the use of meaning without an intentional agent incoherent.

    The other problem, depending on your viewpoint, is that Atheism, or “New Atheism,” does in fact get rid of objective meaning and objective morality because objectivity necessitates a God’s eye view which, as Nietzsche pointed out, doesn’t exist.

  22. Bad says:

    To clarify, I don’t think there is objective meaning, and I can’t explain how it would be made. My point is that if there were an omnipotent God, which is what the Christians believe, she/he/it would be able to create objective meaning by the fact of its omnipotence.

    Why would you think that? If you admit you don’t know how such a thing could be done, then how can you agree with others that claim it just can, even though they cannot explain it either? I think the difference between us is that you don’t think objective meaning exists. My position is that the very concept makes no sense in the first place: we can’t talk about whether or not it exists because there is no corresponding mental concept that would allow us to “know it when we see it.”

    What that means, though, is that even if you don’t believe that it’s in fact the case, but you still disagree with me that the concept is incoherent, then you are still obligated to answer those questions I asked. If you can’t answer them, then how can you claim that the concept is meaningful or that a God could even in theory do what you suggest it would be able to do… if it existed.

    It is different from a square circle in that a square circle consists, or would consist, of two mutually exclusive forms unified. This is categorically different than calling the use of meaning without an intentional agent incoherent.

    Not at all. The usage of “meaning” without specifying what is meaningful as judged by whom is like saying. (sic – incomplete sentence) :) It doesn’t matter if you’re all powerful: you still need to finish your sentences in order for them to make any sense. Trying to combine “objective” and “meaning” is just as nonsensical as trying to combine “square” and “circle.” I mean, what are you trying to describe there? A judgement that is non-judgmental? A point of view that isn’t a point of view?

    The other problem, depending on your viewpoint, is that Atheism, or “New Atheism,” does in fact get rid of objective meaning and objective morality because objectivity necessitates a God’s eye view which, as Nietzsche pointed out, doesn’t exist.

    Again, you can’t say things like “objectivity necessitates a God’s eye view” when you can’t explain how it necessitates it, or even what sort of view you mean. Objectivity seems a perfectly reasonable idea: stating the facts without judgment. The whole point of objectivity is that it describes things that are so utterly regardless of anyone’s view. A “God’s eye view” is just another way of saying “God’s opinion on things” not “objective.”

  23. coathangrrr says:

    Why would you think that? If you admit you don’t know how such a thing could be done, then how can you agree with others that claim it just can, even though they cannot explain it either? I think the difference between us is that you don’t think objective meaning exists. My position is that the very concept makes no sense in the first place: we can’t talk about whether or not it exists because there is no corresponding mental concept that would allow us to “know it when we see it.”

    I think that you misunderstand what omnipotent means. It means able to do anything. Moreover, if someone claims that they can create something, or that someone else can create the thing, it is not the case that my understanding of the thing has any effect on the ability of said person to create said thing.

    Not at all. The usage of “meaning” without specifying what is meaningful as judged by whom is like saying. (sic – incomplete sentence) :) It doesn’t matter if you’re all powerful: you still need to finish your sentences in order for them to make any sense. Trying to combine “objective” and “meaning” is just as nonsensical as trying to combine “square” and “circle.” I mean, what are you trying to describe there? A judgement that is non-judgmental? A point of view that isn’t a point of view?

    So it is a transitive verb rather than an intransitive verb, that is the extent of you argument. Or rather it is a transitive verb that requires an indirect object as opposed to being a transitive verb that doesn’t require an indirect object. I really don’t put much stock in language arguments as language itself has huge problems picking out real things. See Quine’s Ontological Relativity for part of the argument against making claims about the world based on language. And really, that’s what you’re doing, arguing from language about the possibility of some world which we both agree doesn’t really exist.

    Objectivity seems a perfectly reasonable idea: stating the facts without judgment. The whole point of objectivity is that it describes things that are so utterly regardless of anyone’s view.

    Sorry, I thought you were aware that this was a pretty well covered subject. Objectivity is not that simple. In fact, it seems that you should bear the burden of showing that you claim is so, given that it is a positive claim about the existence of something.

  24. Bad says:

    I think that you misunderstand what omnipotent means. It means able to do anything.

    Even the nuttiest of theologians generally agree that it means able to do anything within the bounds of logic. You yourself implied that an omnipotent being couldn’t create a square circle in normal three-dimensional space. The reason is not because this is a bound on its power: the reason is that even expressing the idea that it could do that in theory makes no sense, because we don’t really have any clue what it is we are expressing. Nor does the concept make any sense.

    Moreover, if someone claims that they can create something, or that someone else can create the thing, it is not the case that my understanding of the thing has any effect on the ability of said person to create said thing.

    But it IS a requirement of justifying the claim being made.

    And again, if you or believers cannot explain what it is that is required to “create morality,” or what is involved, then what is to stop me from claiming that I have this capacity as well. I just created all morality, by the way. Oops, no now I made it vanish again! Heh, and now I’ve re-created it: rape is now immoral again!

    That may sound silly, but unless people are willing to explain what it takes to “create morality” then they have no way to argue that I don’t “have what it takes.” How could you refute my claim when you know neither what capacity you’re looking for? And if we want to play supernatural games, I can of course claim to have all manner of supernatural powers myself just as easily. How are you going to demonstrate that I don’t, and keep the whole thing out of absurdity?

    That’s why the “well this being I imagine can do anything, so he must be able to do this” excuse doesn’t work when it comes to specific disputes.

    And really, that’s what you’re doing, arguing from language about the possibility of some world which we both agree doesn’t really exist.

    No, my argument is not merely semantic. You seem to be avoiding providing any justification for your claims by just characterizing mine as this or that. But this is just not the same thing as responding to my arguments.

    Sorry, I thought you were aware that this was a pretty well covered subject. Objectivity is not that simple.

    So says you. Apparently, in your opinion, it requires some sort of special Jesus-glasses and magic powers… which you won’t explain how they work or even what they do. If your idea of “covering a subject” involves this sort of hand-waving avoidance, or citing folks that endorse it, then I’m afraid I can’t count that as covering it.

    In fact, it seems that you should bear the burden of showing that you claim is so, given that it is a positive claim about the existence of something.

    Objectivity is a concept, not a thing. And this IS a semantic issue, though not one you can avoid by complaining that you don’t like using language. How else are you going to express or debate what we mean when we talk about “objectivity”? I can meet the burden of objectivity being what I say it is by citing a dictionary. Really, I have to wonder what the heck you are arguing over in this case. If you think there is more to it than what it is defined as and commonly described as, then apparently you are the one using a different and more obscure understanding of the concept, and it is your burden to explain what the heck you are talking about.

  25. Hugo says:

    “..but this then would admit that our particular design is the key to experiencing value and meaning, and so if that design existed in a world without God, it would still be sufficient.”

    Very powerful, thanks for writing this post!

  26. [...] lives “have no value.” (A common Catholic claim of philosophical superiority which I do not think he or any theologian can actually back up, for all its grand pomposity.) And, of course, this comes after also implying that rationalism [...]

  27. October Mermaid says:

    WOW! I just happened to chance on this site tonight and clicked on a link there not knowing it would lead me to this…

    I don’t know if anyone will see this comment, but I’ll post it anyway. This is EXACTLY what I’ve been in a state of almost constant anguish about. I’ve been so terrified by the idea that there is nothing after death.

    I admit I haven’t read the whole article yet (but I will), I just wanted to get this out before I forgot. I’ve been feeling very, I suppose nihilistic, as a result. I’ve started feeling like there’s no reason to make more memories when the memories I have will eventually dissapear. Things that meant something to me will be unseen or cared about by anyone but me and they will dissapear as though they were never there. Events in my life that felt great or hurt me or that I hoped to find some meaning in at some point would just vanish.

    I’ve started to feel like humans are just etch-a-sketches: when we die, we’re shaken, broken and thrown in the garbage. It makes no difference whether you had a simple, ugly picture or a complex, beautiful picture. No one sees it and no one cares.

    I really hope the rest of this article has the answers I’m looking for. It’s been an issue I’m having extreme difficulty dealing with. I almost wish I could go back to religion, but I simply can’t. I would need evidence or proof and there is none forthcoming.

  28. Bad says:

    I’m not sure my article is really directly what you’re looking for: it’s less an explanation of meaning as it is pointing out how people go wrong when thinking about it, and why theists go wrong in thinking that they have a better angle on the problem than the rest of us.

    So here’s my more tailored response to what you’re talking about:

    I suppose nihilistic, as a result. I’ve started feeling like there’s no reason to make more memories when the memories I have will eventually dissapear.

    Ever seen the film Memento? This feeling sounds eerily like the situation of the main character. :)

    Here’s the thing though: unless you really do receive a brain injury like the character in that film, you are going to make memories are care about them… whether you like it or not.

    And, in fact, you are going to continue to care about life whether you like it or not (Interesting side note: a lot of people seem to think that suicidal people don’t care about life: but in fact, they are often self-destructive because they care too much and feel trapped and stressed: which is something an actual nihilist would have no reason to feel or care about). The very fact that your feel anguished about meaning is sort of a tell tale sign that you have it already, because people who have no meaning their lives don’t fret about whether or not they do. Etch-a-sketches don’t have feelings.

    Which sort of puts the lie to statements like “It makes no difference whether…” Of course it makes a difference: if to no one else but you (and its rare that that’s the case anyway: what affects you will affect others). It’s making a difference right now: if you didn’t care so much about your actions, you wouldn’t be worrying about them not being preserved in memory.

    But the fact that this or that moment may not be remembered by you or anyone at some future point in time doesn’t negate the fact that it was meaningful and important when it happened. It’s as if you were arguing that because you’ll just be hungry again in a few hours, you shouldn’t ever eat. Or because you’ll just have to wake up in a few hours that you shouldn’t ever sleep. First of all, you’re going to end up doing those things by your very nature. Second of all, the argument against doing them is silly: the fact that they are not permanent one-time solutions doesn’t mean that they are without value or point as they happen: as you consider them in the present. So too with meaningful actions in your life. The fact that they may not be remembered doesn’t mean that they are without value for as long as anyone is around to value them. There may come a time when no one is around to value anything, but so what? How does that negate the meaning of those actions and choices anymore than it negates the events themselves? If no one is around to remember, then no one is around to care that no one remembers. The problem exists only so long as there really is someone around to care… in which case there isn’t, at that point, a problem!

    There’s also a more poetic matter of perspective here. You can look upon an action as something that is gone and is unnoticed. But in another sense, everything you do is it: set in stone for eternity, remembered or not. There was only ever one moment like the present one, just one chance to make your mark on that moment, and this is it. And every moment is like that. What I mean by eternity here is perhaps best captured by the Nietzschian idea of eternal reoccurrence: that this life will play out over and over and over again eternally. So this really is it, from that perspective: you are choosing, every moment, how you’ll spend eternity (whether it really reoccurs or no). From that perspective, you’d better made darn sure that every moment is something worthy of eternity.

    I also think part of the reason you, and many people, feel as you do about imagining a future time where all is forgotten, is because of the sort of beings we are as humans. We are an intensely, almost obsessively, social species. We see everything through the lens of observers, judgers, social norms, and so on. And that’s probably why the idea of things gone unseen and unrecorded by some abstract other or bunch of others seems so creepy to us. The idea of an observing God or an afterlife provides that continuity with what we are much more familiar with: it feels more correct.

    We aren’t the only social animal of course, but the reason we get so troubled by this is that we are probably the only social animal capable of imagining existence outside of that society: and its as shocking to us as a fish imagining walking around on dry land.

  29. October Mermaid says:

    I think I agree with most of what you’re saying, it’s just so hard to think that way. It feels like my mind is a train and I’m trying to physically lift it off of its current track and set it on another one. I really appreciate the reply and explanation and I certainly don’t want to take up more of your time with my ranting, so I definitely don’t mind if you don’t reply again or simply don’t have the time to.

    I definitely agree about how it feels better to imagine someone watching when we’re alone. Almost like imagining we’re on a television show, since in those, even when a character is alone, the audience is watching. And then we get character development we might not otherwise get. On a TV show, a closed, introverted character is fascinating and deep because we learn about them when they’re alone. In real life, when you’re alone, you really ARE, so nobody is learning about you. Heck, I went through a time where no matter how upset I was, I wouldn’t cry becuase i would be the only one to know, so what was the point? That sounds strange now that I type it out, of course!

    I’m trying really hard to understand the point of view you’re offering and one I’ve heard from many athiests. I know it makes sense, I just can’t seem to make it “click” for me. Of course things are important in the moment, but at the back of my mind, that terrifying reminder that I will cease to exist someday and will forget all of this. Maybe it’s just something I’ve got to either learn to deal with or just, um.. I’m not sure what the alternative is. It’s very confusing!

    But I appreciate the thoughtful reply and I’m definitely going to take your advice on the matter as best as I can.

  30. Bad says:

    I think I agree with most of what you’re saying, it’s just so hard to think that way.

    The weird thing though, is that you and pretty much everyone else just lives that way naturally, without having to think about it. Even believers don’t run around every moment measuring the meaning of life from the perspective of an afterlife or a God watching over things. They just do, care, feel, all of that naturally.

    Almost certainly, it’s already “clicked” for you, and what’s happening is that you are intellectually psyching yourself out afterwards. You’ve come to associate the clicking with afterlife beliefs like a Pavlovian dog accustomed to getting fed when it hears a bell. But you don’t need the bell in order to be hungry or get fed. It’s just that the association is so habitualized that it’s hard to break (and, to be honest, it might never fully break: a lot of people cannot escape reflexive reactions and tics they’ve developed in their lifetimes. They just have to learn to live with them and laugh at them, understanding them for what they are.)

    In real life, when you’re alone, you really ARE, so nobody is learning about you.

    You are still learning about you though. When there’s a question of meaning and importance, there’s always someone around meaning things and finding import in things. When there’s no one around at all, there’s no one to worry about it.

  31. Pietro says:

    Excellent post. It’s really quite rare to hear something *new* on this sort of topic, but you’ve pulled it off. The hypothetical question about torture is priceless.

    The emphasis on “what does that even mean / how would you ever argue that”-type questions, which you ask in your addendum, is very dear to me: they tend to bring actual content into a discussion, whenever it threatens to fall into the simple making of strong claims (as it often does with the theists).

    Keep up the good work!

  32. [...] Carrier on Atheist Morality & Theist Fears of Depravity I’ve argued that theism cannot provide any demonstrable advantage over the lack of it in regards to justifying “meaning,” including moral meaning. More recently, I’ve [...]

  33. sinaisthimata,arnitika sinaisthimata,συναισθήματα,αρνητκά συναισθήματα…

    [...]The Meaning of Meaning & Why Theism Can’t Make Life Matter « The Bad Idea Blog[...]…

  34. L says:

    L…

    [...]The Meaning of Meaning & Why Theism Can’t Make Life Matter « The Bad Idea Blog[...]…

  35. Pat Lewinski says:

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  36. Mike Gantt says:

    To say that some event means something without at least some implicit understanding of who it means something to is to express an incomplete idea, no different than sentence fragments declaring that “Went to the bank” or “Exploded.” Without first specifying a particular subject and/or object, the very idea of meaning is incoherent.

    You spoke well on this point.  It is essential to any discussion of meaning.

    Your logic was weak, however, when you tried to address eternity.  You rightly pointed out that eternity cannot give something meaning.  However, you missed the more relevant point about eternity, which is that without it there can be no lasting meaning.

    The dilemma for the atheist therefore is that while he can properly say, “My life has meaning for me,” he cannot say, “My life has lasting meaning for me.”  For by his own stipulation, neither he nor his life will last.

    Those of us who proclaim Christ would be wiser if we would simply be more precise in our speech.  It’s ultimate meaning that matters.  Momentary meaning is easy to come by.

     

  37. cung cap cua chong muoi…

    [...]The Meaning of Meaning & Why Theism Can’t Make Life Matter « The Bad Idea Blog[...]…

  38. Actually, if you don’t believe in a unitary consciousness, not all of one’s momentary actions even had meaning to oneself at the time. They may have been done subconsciously by a less than fully conscious subself.

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