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Is That All There Is?

 
SkepticX
 
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29 August 2011 11:50
 

Is That All There Is?
Secularism and its Discontents

 
 
robbrownsyd
 
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robbrownsyd
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29 August 2011 13:43
 

Not a bad book review, Skep.

There may be a certain malaise or ennui (for which religion is no answer) that can overtake a secularist at certain moments and (if the review is anything to go by) I like the take some of the contributors have on this ‘problem’. I like the pun in the title but I doubt that the discontents of secualrism have anything like the problems Darwinism’s discontents have to face. I’ll take the occasional worry over lack of ‘meaning’ any day rather than the cognitive dissonance and the suspension of reason I’d need to engage in in order to go back to theism.

I have enjoyed the work of some of the contributors before.  For example,  Franz De Waal’s ‘Our Inner Ape’ I especially enjoyed.

I’ll buy the book. Thanks for the link to the review.

 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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29 August 2011 22:21
 

Good review! I especially liked the conclusion:

Nagel went on to conclude, calmly, that we shouldn’t worry too much, because if, under the eye of eternity, nothing matters “then that doesn’t matter either, and we can approach our absurd lives with irony instead of heroism or despair.” This is impeccably logical, and impishly offers a kind of secular deconstruction of secularism, but it is fairly cold comfort in the middle of the night.

Irony FTW.

 
 
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30 August 2011 01:25
 

And perhaps Darwin was no great reducer himself ? A wonderful essay by the historian and philosopher Robert J. Richards convincingly argues that Darwin was very slow to abandon the language of purpose and design in discussing evolution and natural selection. While he was writing “The Origin of Species,” he seems to have persisted in the belief that “events in nature had to be understood as occurring through natural law.” In the manuscript of the “Origin,” he defined nature as “the laws ordained by God to govern the Universe.” By the eighteen-sixties, Richards asserts, Darwin had “begun to waver in his conviction that natural law required an independent designing mind to provide its force”; by the end of that decade he had withdrawn any reliance upon belief in God. And yet, Richards concludes, “what he seems never to have abandoned is the ascription to natural selection itself of those properties of discrimination, power, and moral concern previously conferred on it by divine agency. These properties allowed the law of natural selection to lead to the end Darwin foresaw as the goal of the evolutionary process . . . namely, the natural creation of man as a moral creature.”

Why is it necessary to say that evolution has no goal, that there cannot be some ultimate purpose in life? I have argued that the suffering that we see in life is necessary for humankind to evolve as a moral agent. The violence, arbitrariness and chaos that exists in the universe require natural selection to choose stronger forms of life to survive, and that very struggle is responsible for the ascent of man. I don’t think that the Christian concept of the imago dei is that far removed from the above quote: “the law of natural selection to lead to the end Darwin foresaw as the goal of the evolutionary process . . . namely, the natural creation of man as a moral creature.”

 
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30 August 2011 02:04
 
Ecurb Noselrub - 29 August 2011 11:25 PM

Why is it necessary to say that evolution has no goal, that there cannot be some ultimate purpose in life?


It depends upon if you’re self-disciplined enough and have the proper humility to weigh the evidence over your personal sentiments, I suppose.

If you feel the need to make unwarranted assumptions beyond what the evidence indicate, and you can ignore the fact that doing so requires you to at least tacitly buy into the notion that reality is obliged to comply with your personal sentiments, then you can pull off that kind of presumption. Personally I can’t do it. Of course I think trying is pretty silly, but I was raised to do that regarding my religious beliefs and pulled it off into my mid-20s (couldn’t play the game any more at that point—too obviously self-absorbed).

 
 
Dennis Campbell
 
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30 August 2011 02:09
 

Why is it necessary to say that evolution has no goal, that there cannot be some ultimate purpose in life?

Apart from adaptation to changing circumstances, or not in the case of many species, why is it necessary to posit there’s any goal?  The “necessity” is a function of the individual’s wish to be immortal and to see his or her life as having more meaning than the scant few decades we have.  OKA wishful thinking.

 
 
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30 August 2011 02:36
 
SkepticX - 30 August 2011 12:04 AM
Ecurb Noselrub - 29 August 2011 11:25 PM

Why is it necessary to say that evolution has no goal, that there cannot be some ultimate purpose in life?

It depends upon if you’re self-disciplined enough and have the proper humility to weigh the evidence over your personal sentiments, I suppose.

Who said anything about sentiments? You seem to have some a priori need to conclude that there is no purpose. We have the fact of a universe that has resulted in conscious, intelligent life. Why is it necessary to say that this was not at least one of it’s goals? Darwin himself seems to have held this position.

 
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30 August 2011 02:37
 
Dennis Campbell - 30 August 2011 12:09 AM

Why is it necessary to say that evolution has no goal, that there cannot be some ultimate purpose in life?

Apart from adaptation to changing circumstances, or not in the case of many species, why is it necessary to posit there’s any goal?  The “necessity” is a function of the individual’s wish to be immortal and to see his or her life as having more meaning than the scant few decades we have.  OKA wishful thinking.

I didn’t say that it was necessary. I’m simply inquiring about the apparent need of most atheists I encounter to affirm that there is no goal. Why is it necessary to conclude this?  Darwin didn’t seem to.

 
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30 August 2011 02:53
 
Ecurb Noselrub - 30 August 2011 12:36 AM

Who said anything about sentiments? You seem to have some a priori need to conclude that there is no purpose.


Nope.

As I said in so many words, there’s no valid reason to presume beyond the evidence. That’s what indicates an egocentric need to come to a particular conclusion ... obviously.

 
 
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30 August 2011 02:58
 
SkepticX - 30 August 2011 12:53 AM
Ecurb Noselrub - 30 August 2011 12:36 AM

Who said anything about sentiments? You seem to have some a priori need to conclude that there is no purpose.


Nope.

As I said in so many words, there’s no valid reason to presume beyond the evidence. That’s what indicates an egocentric need to come to a particular conclusion ... obviously.

The evidence is that the Big Bang has led to conscious, intelligent, moral beings. That indicates that the potential for such was present from the beginning. So, how do you conclude that this was not a goal from the beginning?

 
Brick Bungalow
 
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30 August 2011 05:12
 

Strictly speaking, presumption of either is simply irrelevant and distracting to the progress of deconstructing a process. More practically, I think its necessarily to disclaim goal/purpose language because this bias has, historically, done so much violence to the acquisition of knowledge. If one does need a presumption as a placeholder it ought to be the lack of purpose since that is the null set.

Pointing to an outcome of just history that we deduce to be the sum of billions of chaotic variables and arbitrarily nominating this as ‘purpose’ just isn’t meaningful. It sounds like the sort of sneaky non-sequitur so popular with ID proponents. At best, it isn’ helpful. At worst its deliberately misleading.

 
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30 August 2011 08:29
 

Durn…I thought this was going to be a thread about Peggy Lee

 
 
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30 August 2011 11:14
 
Brick Bungalow - 30 August 2011 03:12 AM

Strictly speaking, presumption of either is simply irrelevant and distracting to the progress of deconstructing a process. More practically, I think its necessarily to disclaim goal/purpose language because this bias has, historically, done so much violence to the acquisition of knowledge.

Exactly.

And the lack of one presumption is not equivalent to the presumption of the other, as Bruce seems to think ... well, when it suits his apologetic needs anyway—for the few points upon which his theism seems to hinge.

 

Brick Bungalow - 30 August 2011 03:12 AM

If one does need a presumption as a placeholder it ought to be the lack of purpose since that is the null set.

I’d say one needs to develop the intellectual (sound “structural”) integrity and perhaps the intestinal fortitude to not need a presumption. I think this is where one’s sense of humility shows (or one’s lack of egocentrism). But I guess there could be a need for experimental interpretation/write-up purposes ... ? Or something.

 

Brick Bungalow - 30 August 2011 03:12 AM

Pointing to an outcome of just history that we deduce to be the sum of billions of chaotic variables and arbitrarily nominating this as ‘purpose’ just isn’t meaningful. It sounds like the sort of sneaky non-sequitur so popular with ID proponents. At best, it isn’ helpful. At worst its deliberately misleading.

Exactly (again).

You could do the same with a box of matchsticks dropped onto the floor. Take the perspective of one matchstick that ended up just so, and argue that because things had to be just so in order for this matchstick to end up just so, there had to be a purpose behind the whole falling and landing on the floor process. This is why religious belief tends (tends) to seem childish and highly egocentric to me—magical/neato thinking.

 
 
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30 August 2011 12:02
 

Well, anyone who reads my posts has figured out that I can get quite forlorn without a belief in God.  It’s not the Heaven stuff, it’s the “meaning” stuff that bothers me, which is well described in the New Yorker article.  I am one of those people who are angry at God for not existing. 

I have made a decision to believe in God, even during the times when I don’t.  Fact is, no one knows if God exists, so we have to make a choice between three possibilities: Yes. No. Dunno. Unlike Ecurb, I can’t base my decision on anything experiential because nothing has ever occurred in my life that would confirm to me that God exists.  Even if I had a revelation of some sort, I would remain skeptical. Fact is, there is no definitive proof one way or the other.

So, I have decided to become an agnostic-theist. It is purely an intellectual decision, but it works for me. By that I mean that I can continue to strive for holiness (which I have felt the need to do ever since I was a little girl) and feel more serene than I would be if I drifted through life not making a commitment.

I am building my faith upon ideals within me that resonate. I find it utterly incomprehensible to love “God”, but I certainly know that I can and do love the qualities of God, such as LOVE and COMPASSION and JUSTICE and KINDNESS. I choose to believe that those aspects of God, whether or not He/She/It really exists, are worth basing my life upon.

However, I always know that it is a decision that I have the right to revoke.  In freedom, I choose on a daily basis to trust and hope that the God I
adore is real. For me, this is as it should be. Nothing else is possible.  I just don’t have the temperament or skills to be an atheist.

This sounds like a sermon.  The congregation may now be seated.

 
Dennis Campbell
 
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30 August 2011 12:16
 
Ecurb Noselrub - 30 August 2011 12:37 AM
Dennis Campbell - 30 August 2011 12:09 AM

Why is it necessary to say that evolution has no goal, that there cannot be some ultimate purpose in life?

Apart from adaptation to changing circumstances, or not in the case of many species, why is it necessary to posit there’s any goal?  The “necessity” is a function of the individual’s wish to be immortal and to see his or her life as having more meaning than the scant few decades we have.  OKA wishful thinking.

I didn’t say that it was necessary. I’m simply inquiring about the apparent need of most atheists I encounter to affirm that there is no goal. Why is it necessary to conclude this?  Darwin didn’t seem to.

Darwin, in all fairness, was as do we all reflecting the culture in which he was raised and lived; atheists were less acceptable then than they are now.  That said, I’ve personally no need to affirm there is no god. though that is my strong bet, the whole matter is of indifference to me unless and until someone advances their theistic beliefs as reason why I should do or believe something——then it is not a matter of indifference.

 
 
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30 August 2011 12:31
 
saralynn - 30 August 2011 10:02 AM

I have made a decision to believe in God, even during the times when I don’t.  Fact is, no one knows if God exists, so we have to make a choice between three possibilities: Yes. No. Dunno.

Four. Yes. No. Dunno. The concept is irrational (it’s “not even wrong” because it never even makes it out of the gate—it doesn’t produce a coherent question to answer). Your viewpoint (and that of most) depends, utterly, on the failure/refusal to rigorously consider the issue.

 

saralynn - 30 August 2011 10:02 AM

Unlike Ecurb, I can’t base my decision on anything experiential because nothing has ever occurred in my life that would confirm to me that God exists.  Even if I had a revelation of some sort, I would remain skeptical. Fact is, there is no definitive proof one way or the other.

Just as there’s technically no proof one way or the other that Dr. Manhattan doesn’t exist in some form.

 

saralynn - 30 August 2011 10:02 AM

So, I have decided to become an agnostic-theist.

I don’t think you can just choose to genuinely believe something. If you just decide, it’s pretense to believe. To genuinely believe you have to ... well, you have to actually believe it.

 

saralynn - 30 August 2011 10:02 AM

It is purely an intellectual decision, but it works for me.

I can’t pull off pretense like that, myself—can’t convince myself it’s not pretense when I know it is.

 

saralynn - 30 August 2011 10:02 AM

By that I mean that I can continue to strive for holiness (which I have felt the need to do ever since I was a little girl) and feel more serene than I would be if I drifted through life not making a commitment.

Acting ethically and honorably using Neato, the lingo of artificial awe and wonder. Good luck with that. I don’t think you’re sufficiently lacking integrity to really do it, but I guess you can pretend (but I suspect that’ll prove too shallow and meaningless to you ... to your credit).

 
 
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