says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless.'” – Ecclesiastes 1:2
My most recent post on the problem of evil granting empirical atheism generated some thoughtful discussion. Most importantly, it lead me to the following argument:
1) On materialistic [I use materialism and physicalism interchangeably, as is common in philosophy today] atheism, all we are is matter in motion.
2) There is no objective reason to value matter moving in way A over matter moving in way B
3) Therefore, on materialistic atheism, there is no value or meaning
Premise 1 seems self-evident. Materialistic atheism, by definition, says that “everything is physical, or as contemporary philosophers sometimes put it, that everything supervenes on, or is necessitated by, the physical” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). The physical world is matter.
Premise 2 also seems like it should need little defense, yet atheists continually come up with ideas to try to get around it. For example, one may argue that the subjective suffering of persons should matter. Yet I fail to see how this argument succeeds. Pain and suffering, on materialism, at most supervenes upon neurons firing in the brain (along with chemical reactions and other physical phenomenon). My question for the materialist is: What reason can be provided for favoring matter moving in way A (call it, the way neurons fire when someone is in a state of bliss) over matter moving in way B (neurons firing in the way which causes pain)?
One answer which may be forthcoming is that creatures and persons tend to try to get away from things which cause B. This argument fails to provide an answer to the question, because all it does is push the question back to a higher level. It would change to: Why should we favor physical observable phenomenon which don’t cause avoidance over those that do? Again, the avoidance of B would simply be matter moving in a different way. In order to make a judgment between them, one would have to reach beyond the material world and into the world of objective meaning and value; this is, necessarily, a world which is nonexistent on materialism. Even if one could provide an answer to this second question, say “We tend to not like B. Things we don’t like are bad”, then we would have a purely subjective reality. What of the serial killer who delights in torturing himself, causing things to B? What reason do we have for saying what he is doing is wrong, because, after all, he likes B?
Ultimately, on materialism, everything boils down to matter in motion. Making value judgments about matter in motion is meaningless.
But if everything is matter in motion, then there doesn’t seem to be any way to make value judgments. How does one value a rock over a stick? They’re both just stuff. But then, on materialism, people are just stuff too; albeit more complex. However, if you were to break us down into our ultimately realities, we are no different than the rock. We are matter organized in a different way. Why value us?
There is no objective reason to do so. Therefore, there is no objective meaning or value. Life is purposeless, meaningless, valueless. Atheistic materialism demands this bleak view of the universe. I’m not saying it’s a good reason to abandon that [un]belief. I’m merely saying that those who hold such a view must be consistent.
“Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.” -Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
[In the comments, I have suggested that on materialism, there is no such thing as a subject. The claim has proven highly contentious, so I have created a post to clarify my position: https://jwwartick.com/2011/12/05/subjects-materialism/.]
Check out my post on the Ontology of Morality: Some Problems for Humanists and their friends
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“Why value us?
There is no objective reason to do so. Therefore, there is no objective meaning or value. Life is purposeless, meaningless, valueless. Atheistic materialism demands this bleak view of the universe.”
It only demands that bleak view if you find it necessary to demand objectivity when dealing with things like purpose, meaning and values.
I’m quite happy to leave those things subjective.
Indeed, if you are happy to leave those things subjective, that is fine. But then they are entirely baseless.
They aren’t baseless. They’re subjective. To say something is subjective does not make it baseless. It just means the things you are basing it on are subjective.
And they therefore pass away with the subject. All value, therefore, dies. All goodness (understood subjectively) fades into nothing. All such values, are without meaning. They have no reality. One person’s subjective value can be totally opposite another’s, and there is no basis for judging between them. And, all such statements are ultimately dreams; atheism’s wish fulfillment. All is matter; and it does not matter.
NAS: “It only demands that bleak view if you find it necessary to demand objectivity when dealing with things like purpose, meaning and values.
I’m quite happy to leave those things subjective.”
This is the default atheist answer. I have heard it over and ad nauseum. I compliment you JWW for holding their feet to the fire and not letting them off the hook.
Your comment doesn’t really add to this discussion. You haven’t even stated your reason for demanding objectivity in these areas as opposed to accepting that one’s values are subjective and living accordingly. I would suggest that your condescension is unwarranted, unproductive, and tiresome.
I’ve already argued many times that if there is no objective reason to show that matter A is more valuable than matter B, then it is simply fictitious to hold that it is. It’s tantamount to saying “Reality is x, because I say it’s x.”
I think it’s also noteworthy that on a purely practical level even if we grant that some divine source is necessary for morality, belief in that source is totally irrelevant to the morality of one’s behaviour. The least religious countries have the lowest crime rates, and the atheist population of the US is dramatically underrepresented in its prisons.
So it would seem that the origin of this morality, presuming for the moment that it must be divine, is a purely academic concern. People are capable of acting morally whether they believe in the “right” god, one of the numerous “wrong” ones, or none at all.
Interesting argument, but are you actually saying that the existence of a God does not matter?
A built in assumption of your response is that the purpose of life is a moral life. That is not the belief of many theists. Certainly, Christianity is founded on the belief that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. There is a moral aspect to this belief; but it is not central. Your argument tries to reduce the existence of God to a question of morality–human action. The argument is a category mistake.
Hopefully no one minds me butting in here, I just stumbled across this blog a few weeks ago.
This isn’t the argument JW was making, but the typical moral argument for God’s existence has in its premise that objective moral values and duties exist. However, it’s not a question about whether or not one can be moral without god, but is there such a thing as objective moral values and duties? If so, what does the atheist ground them in? That’s the difficulty the atheist finds his or herself in.
But I also wanted to ask – what standard are you basing morality on? If we’re just comparing ourselves, then so what? But if there is such a thing as objective moral values and duties that we’re all discovering and moving towards, then they are most plausibly grounded in a transcendent, perfectly moral God and seem less plausible an atheistic alternatives. Not one person has lived up to God’s standards, thus man has the need of redemption. It’s not a question of whether or not are you more moral than the theist, the point is it’s that we’ve all morally failed and are in need of forgiveness.
Addressing your other point – Non-religious countries in Europe, may have low-crime rates, but it does necessarily follow they have a higher moral standard than Americans. Europe may be less violent than America, but they are very permissive in their attitudes towards say, sexual morality (which is another debate) or in some nations, addictive drugs. Or you also have the French’s intolerance towards Muslims, as another example.
Erik, I definitely don’t mind you stopping by! However, did you mean to say that “but I don’t think the typical moral argument for God’s existence has in its premise that objective moral values and duties exist”? The typical moral argument does have that as a premise. I think you may have meant it doesn’t entail that people are moral if they believe in God.
I agree with your points about morality, however. Thanks for the comment.
Bah! I should have re-read before I hit “post comment”. Of course it has it as it’s premise. Ha! Feel free to edit my comment, if you can.
Crime does not show immorality, unless you are presupposing that being in jail=immoral. Does this mean that the Jews during Nazi German were immoral, since they were in a jail? Does this mean that Martin Luther King Jr. was immoral because he was in jail? Does this mean that Nelson Mandela is immoral because he was in jail? Point of fact, being in jail has nothing to do with a sign of being moral, unless you define morals as involving following the law. That is just absurd.
Because jails have been abused both here and abroad to varying degrees doesn’t contraindicate a present-day correlation between U.S. prisons and what is generally deemed ‘morality’. Implying there is no such correlation is ludicrous.
I’m honestly not sure what you’re trying to argue here. Could you clarify?
Can’t reply to the response, so replying here. I’m simply saying that Gondoliere’s defense of the correlation between religiosity and crime is invalid. His implication is that there is no correlation between what is considered immoral behavior and prisoners. Of course there are historical exceptions, including present-day persecution of questionable crimes such as drug use, but this in no way creates an umbrella of innocence for the murderers, robbers, etc.
“And they therefore pass away with the subject. All value, therefore, dies.”
Except that we have culture, and society, and family, which we use to pass on our subjective values, morals, etc. It’s rare that they’re exactly the same when passed on, but it’s pretty consistent.
“One person’s subjective value can be totally opposite another’s, and there is no basis for judging between them.”
There is plenty of basis. Each person has their own basis. The fact that a massive percentage of the planet have quite similar values is a consequence of our shared biological and social evolution.
I judge your morals based on my values. And you judge my morals based on yours. Strangely, most peoples’ values end up the same, though often changed based on to whom they project them. For example, nearly 100% of people share the value that people shouldn’t be hurt. What they presently disagree on is who should be included in that ‘people’ category. I prefer to include all of humanity. Others prefer their own in-groups. But the core value is the same.
“All is matter; and it does not matter.”
It might not matter to you. Or to some sort of deity. But it matters to me. Because I choose to have it matter.
So your contention is that in order to judge between conflicting values, we should fall back on majority? Or is the view that what is true for you is true for you, and the same for me?
I make no contention. I’m merely talking about what we do. I’m describing our actions, not proscribing them.
Values are not a matter of true and false. Hitting someone’s bone with a baseball bat will cause a certain amount of damage: this is a fact. Whether or not one values not damaging someone in that way is a matter of personal opinion mixed with how they were raised and taught.
Happily, most people most of the time happen to value not harming people with baseball bats. And it is my opinion that it it should be this way, because I value not causing harm. If you (the general ‘you’) don’t share that value, I can’t force you to value it. But I can join together with other people who share my values to protect us from those who don’t.
Which is what humans have traditionally done throughout history.
And it is my argument that, on materialistic atheism, all of these people are positively irrational. By holding the subjective values they do–indeed, any values–whether they explicitly make the claim or not, they are asserting that matter moving in one way is better (or worse) than matter moving in another way. They do not have grounds from which to do this. Claiming that “I value something, therefore it has subjective value” is false, because, on materialistic atheism, there are no “subjects”; there is only matter (or energy, depending who you ask). Therefore, to even hold that things have subjective value is irrational.
“By holding the subjective values they do–indeed, any values–whether they explicitly make the claim or not, they are asserting that matter moving in one way is better (or worse) than matter moving in another way.”
Correct. Subjectively based on a combination of personal preference, cultural acclimatization to certain norms, and evidence.
“because, on materialistic atheism, there are no “subjects”; there is only matter (or energy, depending who you ask).”
Incorrect. We, being conscious and sapient, are subjects that can be subjective. Sorry to ruin it for you.
“Therefore, to even hold that things have subjective value is irrational.”
I don’t think that term means what you think it means. Something being non-absolute doesn’t automatically make it irrational. It just makes it non-absolute.
“Incorrect. We, being conscious and sapient, are subjects that can be subjective. Sorry to ruin it for you.”
The argument is based on materialistic atheism, such as that of Jaegwon Kim, who deny that mental states are real (cf. “Mind in a Physical World”, chapter 4). Specifically, he writes that mental properties, on physicalism (used interchangeably with materialism), are either causally “impotent” or “eliminated” (p. 119).
So no, we aren’t conscious beings. Or, if we are, our consciousness is acausal, therefore, we are not actually subjects. So you are actually incorrect here. There are no subjects, on materialistic atheism. It is up to you to show otherwise, and from the works of materialists like Jaegwon Kim.
“I don’t think that term means what you think it means. Something being non-absolute doesn’t automatically make it irrational. It just makes it non-absolute.”
Indeed, were that my argument, I would be incorrect. However, even in the section you quoted that is not my argument. As I said, in the part you quoted, “even hold that things have subjective value is irrational”. Note that there is nowhere in this sentence where I make the argument that “something being non-absolute makes it irrational.” Your portrayal of my argument is a straw man. The reason I argued that, on the view in discussion, to even have subjective value is irrational is because there are no such things as subjects, as demonstrated by materialists like Jaegwon Kim.
Perhaps if atheists adopted some kind of substance dualism, they could preserve subjects, but then materialistic atheism would be false.
Finally, jabs at me like “Sorry to ruin it for you” would best be kept for schoolyard arguments, not intellectual debate.
I believe you are not seeing the forest for the trees. If you can’t (or won’t) understand JWW, maybe this pithy quote from Roger Scruton will make it a little more clear, “There has arisen among modernist philosophers a certain paradoxism which has served to put them out of communication with those of their contemporaries who are merely modern. “A writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is `merely relative’, is asking you not to believe him. So don’t”.—-Roger Scruton
Hello, my name is Chad and I have a slightly related comment to make if you do not mind. I can’t exactly issue any coherent evaluation of your argument regarding a very specific form of material atheism, however as an atheist I might be able to shed some light on a source for morals that hasn’t been rooted in the supernatural and is the result of material interactions within the brain rather than substance dualism. The two words that represent, in my opinion, the material source for morality explicable by means of “intelligent social selection” that started with the consumption of meat and use of thumbs are: “empathy” and “sympathy”. As a necessary condition of our degree of intelligence, there must be some element that allows multiple autonomous subjects to act heteronomously (to use Kant’s language) but without a common principle or virtuous rule system present in all human history. There weren’t always religions, there weren’t always governments but yet there was always a heteronomous code present that is inherent within the typical and healthy-minded human person (we’re not speaking a bout Dahmer here). Empathy and sympathy explain the practical products of intelligent beings seeing their kind and relating their kind as their own subject and following is a socially-interactive moral code. Even the Nazis treated each other with moral respect within their own identity; within any social dynamic there will be morals and these morals are reflective of the same grains of intelligence and that’s why they all appear to be so similar and independently arisen.
Empathy and sympathy require a subject-object relationship and so while I can’t speak for J. Kim or any other materialist atheist I can say that it is easily and clearly observable without contradiction that a strictly material set of causal determinants can explain for the presence of morality without referring to something sui generis to give rise to it.
I have one question for you: Are all of these things material?
Another response is just this. I don’t think I’m attacking a “very specific form” of atheism. I think that the only coherent atheistic view is materialism. And materialism must reduce all consciousness to matter, without remainder.
There is not time to lay out an argument for the idea that the only coherent (I use the word loosely, because I believe atheism is incoherent) atheism is materialism; but the main argument would focus on this: How is there anything but matter (or energy, depending who you ask) on atheism? In other words, how would atheism coherently hold to a dualistic account of the universe?
So I don’t know what your beliefs are, but I think that ultimately, if there is no God, then all there is is matter. And matter moving in one way is never any better than matter moving in another.
How is the concept of two material? What about the proposition of the law of non-contradiction? These are non-material and yet they exist. Empathy and sympathy are similar in that each of them is preceded necessarily by a certain degree of intelligence like any arithmetical example: think Platonic.
Indeed, abstract objects would pose a serious problem for materialism. But materialism would simply reduce them to superveniency upon the material world as well. That, or they would be, as is the case of consciousness, illusory.
I don’t see how an atheist could rationally hold realism about things like the existence of numbers. Even more problematic would be the platonic forms which you reference. What suggests, on atheism, that such things exist? Furthermore, even if the platonic forms were real, it would not save morality for the atheist, for there would be no reason to value objective, platonic goodness over objective, platonic evil; there would be no reason to value love over hatred; etc. Selecting moral codes would be like picking a favorite flavor of ice cream.
This is a great post. However, it seems that the naturalist can easily concede everything that you have stated (I believe Richard Dawkins would). Yet, they could then ask, “why is it better to prefer objective purpose, meaning, etc. to subjective purpose, meaning, etc.?” How would you respond to that?
Thanks for the comment Luke.
My first response would be that, again, on naturalism, “subjective purpose” doesn’t exist. Therefore, the question is meaningless. It’s asking me to choose between two things which can’t exist if matter is all there is. As I argued before, on materialism, there is no such thing as subjects, because all is matter. It is preposterous to say that matter = subject, as people like Kim acknowledge.
Second, and related: My argument doesn’t hinge upon valuing objective meaning over subjective. My argument has been that atheism’s universe is meaningless. There are, however, some reasons to value objective over subjective:
1) that which is objective doesn’t changed based on someone’s opinion. Suppose I think it is wrong to kill someone one day, and perfectly okay the next. On subjectivism, such things are possible. But on objectivism, there are things which are right and wrong no matter what anyone thinks.
2) on subjectivism, there is no meaningful way to judge between values. “NotAScientist” demonstrates this wonderfully above: “Values are not a matter of true and false. Hitting someone’s bone with a baseball bat will cause a certain amount of damage: this is a fact. Whether or not one values not damaging someone in that way is a matter of personal opinion mixed with how they were raised and taught.” If values are neither true nor false, to “hold values” or “hold subjectively that x is valuable” is meaningless. Things which are neither true nor false simply have no meaning.
Of course, such a view is incoherent anyway, for, necessarily, any proposition is true or false. If I say “murder is wrong” then it is, necessarily either true or false. Either murder is wrong, in fact, or it is not. Take an analogy: I say that “Penguins exist.” I furthermore assert that “The previous statement is neither true nor false.” I am obviously being irrational. Of course, many would object that we can clearly demonstrate that penguins exist, but not values. This response subtly assumes scientism and begs the question. Furthermore, it ignores the issue, which is, again, that any proposition is either true or false (law of the excluded middle, law of bivalance, depending which way you want to take that statement). Therefore, any view which asserts, as “NotAScientist” does, that “values are not a matter of true and false” is, in fact, irrational.
3) Objectivism is the only basis for culpability. Suppose subjectivism is true. How is it, then, that one can be culpable for some action? If subject A believes that stealing iPods is okay, and subject B does not, how can we fault subject A for stealing B’s iPod? How would A be culpable for A’s action?
Subjectivism would have to rely on some kind of principle that interfering with other subjects should not be done; but this principle would have to be objectively true in order to be meaningful. Telling other subjects what they should believe is right and wrong, on subjectivism, is ludicrous.
Therefore, the actions of any subject, on subjectivism, are permissible. This seems obviously wrong, based on the very ideas subjectivists generally press (again, using NotAScientist for an example, “Happily, most people most of the time happen to value not harming people with baseball bats. And it is my opinion that it it should be this way, because I value not causing harm. If you (the general ‘you’) don’t share that value, I can’t force you to value it. But I can join together with other people who share my values to protect us from those who don’t… Which is what humans have traditionally done throughout history.”) This idea that “most people have thought x is wrong” doesn’t serve subjectivism any purpose, unless subjectivists try to lean on utilitarianism (more on that in 4, following). However, that “most people have thought x is wrong” serves objectivism, because it points to a kind of innate sense that some actions are wrong no matter what. But that can only be true on objectivism.
4) Subjectivism almost always falls into utilitarianism. The problems with utilitarianism are vast, but the main problem I point out is that on utilitarianism, if the majority wants to do something which seems obviously wrong (i.e. murdering someone), then that action is permissible, provided people on the majority feel strongly enough about it.
So I do think there are plenty of reasons for valuing subjectivism. I think the biggest one is that subjectivism lacks culpability. But any (I generalize, perhaps some would not) subjectivist would object to being brutally tortured by a subject who thought such a thing was the greatest good.
Thanks for the reply. It seems to me that you have responded given two possible atheist positions: one that wishes to remain consistent among beliefs, and one that is tolerant of inconsistency among beliefs. Let me make sure I understand your arguments correctly.
1. Purpose requires a purposer
2. Purposers require self-consciousness and intelligence
3. Naturalistic evolution does not allow for either self-consciousness or intelligence
4. Atheism is dependent on naturalistic evolution
5. Therefore, atheism does not allow for either self-consciousness or intelligence
6. Therefore, atheism does not have purposers
7. Therefore, atheism does not allow for purpose
I’m not sure exactly how to formulate the argument in a step-wise fashion, but it can be summed up in conversational language like this:
Let’s go back to the beginning of humanity. Let’s assume that they accepted subjective purpose instead of objective purpose. Since subjective purposes tend to be in conflict with one another, human civilization might not have survived and certainly would not have reached the level that it is today. The survival of human civilization is evidence that the earliest humans held objective purpose instead of subjective purpose. Belief of objective purpose should be preferred because it not only supports survival of a species, but the thriving of that species.
Am I understanding you properly?
Mostly, you have understood my points. However, I don’t think step 4. of your argument is absolutely necessary. I would put the point instead that:
4*: Atheism is dependent on there being no transcendent existence; whether souls, demons, or gods.
Which would boil down to
5* All there is; is matter
And then on my view inconsistent atheism would be any atheistic view which denied 4* or 5*.
My bad. I used the wrong language to communicate. In Step 4, change “is dependent upon” to “requires”. Does that make better sense for why I included it in the line of reasoning?
Indeed, though I am not sure atheism is dependent upon naturalistic evolution. I could conceive of many theories of origins upon which atheism could alternatively depend. Perhaps, were naturalistic evolution shown to be false–or at least inconsistent–atheism could rest upon spontaneous generation of organisms (not much different from how atheists believe the universe came into being). So I don’t think atheism is necessarily even dependent upon evolution–what it is dependent on is a denial of anything transcendent.
Hmmmm, if Step 4 can be shown false, then Step 3 is unnecessary. We could change Step 4 as you proposed. But prior to that, Step 3 needs to state that self-consciousness and intelligence are necessarily non-material.
Indeed, that is true. That is a complex argument, but I think it is telling that many atheists such as Jaegwon Kim who specialize in that very area agree that consciousness, on materialism, is illusory.
So, if consciousness is illusory, then anything that depends on its existence is also illusory. Such as: meaning, value, purpose (you have already covered these). But also intelligence, information, comprehension, understanding, are illusory. Keeping with the path, anything that is dependent on those are also illusory- such as design, engineering, architecture, advice, and counseling.
It seems that I’m taking this awfully far. Is it too far?
Perhaps you’ve taken a bit too far in the last part “that design/engineering/etc.” are illusory… unless what you mean is that we believe some kind of purpose lies behind those things. Semantically, the words, on atheism, would be devoid of meaning. An analogy is the usage within naturalistic atheist’s descriptions of evolution. Atheistic naturalists do often make statements about evolution which point towards purpose or intelligence, but that is merely a semantical issue. They aren’t actually claiming that such things have purpose. It’s just that they don’t have different words to use without those secondary meanings. Similarly, to say that a building was “designed” would be merely a semantical issue. The word “design” was used because we don’t have a better word.
In any case, intelligence, information, and comprehension would definitely be illusory. This ties into the argument from reason for the existence of God–which basically claims that there can’t be rationality without theism. While the premises for that argument often differ from my own, the idea that all there is is matter would undercut things like intelligence, because that is a statement which entails purpose in a purposeless universe.
Cool. Thanks for the thought-provoking discussion. I have a lot on my mind that I might bounce around later. They seem like they would be going way off the topic here.
Do you mind if I jump in on some of the other discussions?
Definitely not! Thanks for stopping by, and feel free to jump in wherever and whenever you like.
And feel free to bounce whatever ideas off me you wish, either via comments or e-mail.
Does God do things because they are good? Or is something good because God commands it?
In the first case, goodness doesn’t come from God.
In the second, God could command us to kill people for working on Saturday and it would be good. This perverts morality, making bad things good. Such a morality is at odds with human morality and it is necessary for us to reject it.
Notascientist is right to defend subjective morality. It is the only kind. You are mistaken in thinking you have an objective morality. You have simply taken one of the subjective moralities and slapped a sticker on it.
Even if you are satisfied that your morality has a sticker on it, it is only one of thousands of ‘objective’ moralities. It’s trivial to declare something to be objective. Lots of religions claim that.
I do not believe that subjective morality is the only kind. In fact I don’t think the statement that it is can fully express the simplicity of the subject-object relationship. A subject is an object and vice versa, there is no difference other than which one occupies which space and subsequently how we speak of each. Any religion is both subjective and objective depending on which role is which in the subject-predicate relationship of a statement or proposition. That being said, morality exists objectively even without the supernatural if and only if it also exists subjectively. It does, so it is also objective. In other words, if a particular moral system produced specific results under specific conditions, it would always work that way given the same set of variables.
One thing I’d like to point out on all of this is to reiterate what has already been mentioned. None of this is an argument against atheism. Its simply an argument that finding na objective morailty is really, really hard. Not impossible, but hard. We can establish certain things subjectively that we can agree are “good” and strive to work towards them with objective action. Thats fair, we do that all the time. However, none of this tells us that we should subscribe to any other morality than the one outlined above.
I think you are also falling into the fallacy of majority rule defines non-theist morality. I don’t care what large groups of people think in terms of morality for myself. We all know that majority does not equal correctness and so we shouldn’t base our morality off of just that one issue. Now, most people do TEND to think alike in many certain aspects and that is important, but that is not the basis on which to build a moral philosophy.
Good examples are those crazy people that like to torture themselves. If they truly enjoy it, they arn’t forcing someone else to do it (causing them harm for causing others harm for most people) and its not affecting others…then I’m going to have a hard time saying its immoral. Now, we might want to make a world where less people like that exist through counseling, outlets, and community, but that doesn’t make the act itself objectively immoral if he truly wants it.
I never said it was an argument against atheism, only an argument against meaning on atheism. And, the argument presses that it is indeed impossible.
You wrote “We can establish certain things subjectively that we can agree are “good” and strive to work towards them with objective action. ”
I have denied this premise, based on the fact that on atheism, there is no such thing as a “subject,” which of course entails there is no such thing as subjectivism.
I believe when Chad mentioned empathy and sympathy, he was referring to a biological tendency developed through evolutionary means that leads a person to act “morally.” Your argument that material atheists would have no basis for judging morality is intellectually challenging precisely because you make the assumption that matter in motion has no value in comparison to other matter in motion. However, it seems to me that if all we are is matter in motion, then all that matters is what we are (living beings). Life is observable and objective; we can definitively tell when something is alive. Therefore, we can objectively say that life has value. When you ask why we should favor one physical observable phenomenon over another, the answer could very well be that some phenomenon increases the likelihood of continuing life. Evolution may have pre-programmed us for morality.
There is no ontological difference between living and non-living if all is matter, however. Atheists must establish that there is an ontological difference between matter we decide to label “living” and that which we decide to label “nonliving.” The problem is that the only way to do this would be sui generis, and therefore would be excluded from the materialistic universe.
Your response is thought-provoking, but subtly question begging in that you assume that “living” things are actually different in kind (sui generis). My argument has been that all things are ultimately, matter.
I think there are many ontological differences, though I’m not certain how you’re using the word in this context. Being living matter adds a multitude of “beings” that non-living matter cannot claim, such as living. Contained within that predicate of being are three other predicates necessary for the title of life: such matter creates negative entropy, it metabolizes energy and it reproduces autonomously. Autonomy is a major difference that automatically makes the living matter more valuable. Yet another predicate that adds to the value of living matter is rarity: the ration of atoms from one to another is massively skewed on behalf of the non living matter.
Living matter has degrees of consciousness and some is unconscious, yet the potential or presence for consciousness makes living matter more meaningful. Meaning itself is only present in living matter, so really the entire idea that atheists cannot find meaning in one form of matter versus another is somewhat contrived imo. Good post though, cheers.
I’m using ontological as “objective.” Living and non-living matter are both reducible to matter. Each is made up of quarks or perhaps more basic components. Neither has any ontological difference.
” such matter creates negative entropy”
Impossible, if the second law of thermodynamics is true.
” it metabolizes energy and it reproduces autonomously”
Yet in its most basic form, it is reducible to the same “stuff” as everything else. There is no reason to value one collection of quarks over another collection of quarks. One could do so “subjectively”, but then one would have to demonstrate that “subject” is a meaningful term if all is made up of matter. I don’t see any reason to think so, as consciousness is, as argued by Jaegwon Kim, illusory or acausal.
I’m think the idea of empirical atheism is that we can only logically infer the existence of that which is measurable in some scientific way. There is, without a doubt, a ontological or objective difference between living and non-living matter and this difference is observable, testable and repeatable in experimentation (taking a living thing and objectively measuring when it is non-living or when it dies). I’m not seeing where the sui generis argument holds when these are objectively observable things.
As far as your assertion that the empirical atheist’s universe is fundamentally meaningless or valueless, it holds true that, to the empiricist, there is no definite good or evil, no indisputable good/bad in the world. But this also holds true for theists, as most theists can condone the Old Testament God’s acts of brutal violence while still maintaining the commandment “thou shall not kill” is an absolute moral code.
For the empirical atheist, the existence of human suffering (via means described in Harris’ book) is both measurable and testable. So, where the theory of good/bad is entirely subjective in the mind of the empiricist, the theory is testable and quantifiable in the scientific sense. You’ll have to forgive me if I have made any philosophical mistakes in my comment, I have no formal training in philosophy or debate. That being said, I do enjoy looking up and learning the terminology you use when debunking or refuting claims, so please do feel free to enlighten me further.
Your argument is this: “There is, without a doubt, a ontological or objective difference between living and non-living matter and this difference is observable, testable and repeatable in experimentation (taking a living thing and objectively measuring when it is non-living or when it dies). I’m not seeing where the sui generis argument holds when these are objectively observable things.”
My argument has been that “living” things are just matter moving in one way, as opposed to another. Furthermore, I have contended that, on atheism, there is no reason to value one way over another.
“For the empirical atheist, the existence of human suffering (via means described in Harris’ book) is both measurable and testable. So, where the theory of good/bad is entirely subjective in the mind of the empiricist, the theory is testable and quantifiable in the scientific sense.”
Right, yet even if I grant that empiricism can detect human suffering, that doesn’t show that human suffering is actually bad or wrong. Furthermore, I have denied that there are subjects, on materialism.
So you have yet to demonstrate that there is a reason to value matter moving in way A over way B. Furthermore, you have yet to demonstrate that there are actually subjects.
>the argument presses that it is indeed impossible.
This denies the manifest. Millions of atheists self-report that they have meaning. There is no question about whether there is meaning on atheism; that is a brute fact. The question is how they do it, and there are many answers. But to deny that atheists have meaning is to deny that they have arms or legs.
Question begged. Just saying something is a “brute fact” is a great example of the taxicab fallacy.
I’m an atheists. I have meaning. It’s possible.
Please explain the fallacy in this.
As I have argued throughout this post, atheism (and specifically materialistic atheism) claims that all the universe is is matter. It is therefore up to the atheist to demonstrate how matter arranged in one way is better or more valuable than matter arranged in another. I don’t deny that atheists can delude themselves into believing there is such a thing as meaning–my argument only asserts that such a belief is, in fact, false. All there is is matter, and therefore there are no subjects (no subjective value) and no objective way to value one arrangement of matter over another.
>up to the atheist to demonstrate how matter arranged in one way is better or more valuable than matter arranged in another.
A new hammer is better than a broken hammer. The arrangement of matter really matters.
Where did you ever get the idea it doesn’t? Can you name one arena in which the arrangement of matter doesn’t matter?
It’s astounding to me that you could miss my point so widely. Just because all(?) people tend to think a new hammer is better than a broken hammer doesn’t make it the case. Pragmatism =/= truth. My contention would be that the idea that “a new hammer > broken hammer” is itself illusory. It is an ungrounded assumption. All is matter, and it, as I said before, does not matter.
Or maybe you didn’t miss my point and you’re saying that, objectively, a new hammer is better than a broken hammer. I’d like to see an argument for this assertion, because the burden of proof is clearly on the positive here.
My view is Quinean, that there is no objective view to be had. Even if you claim to have one, others can make the same claim for theirs.
Where do you get a privileged viewpoint from which to objectively declare anything? I admit I don’t have such a view, so the only judgments we can make are subjective ones. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make them or that they have no meaning.
All meaning is subjective, even when you declare otherwise.
Again, this argument bears examination. It’s easy to make statements, but harder to analyze them. It is analysis that let’s us draw out the assumptions and problems in the reasoning, so to that we shall turn.
Don has argued that:
“there is no objective view to be had”
This is the conclusion to an argument. How does this argument go?
“Where do you get a privileged viewpoint from which to objectively declare anything? I admit I don’t have such a view, so the only judgments we can make are subjective ones.”
So Don’s argument that “there is no objective view to be had” is that
1) My view is subjective, therefore the only judgments we can make are subjective ones
Note how clearly question begging this argument is. Let x be “objectivity”; let “S” be “a subject”. This argument is employed to prove ~x (x being objectivity). But the argument is that:
2) S’s view is ~x
3) Therefore, ~x.
The only argument Don has provided for ~x is that he admits his view is ~x. That doesn’t warrant a conclusion that ~x, and astoundingly, in order to do so, it would have to be an objective claim that ~x based on a subjective belief that ~x.
The problem is that Don is arguing for a universal negative, which can only be shown to be true if x contains a logical contradiction. Don could weaken his conclusion, and say that it is instead “Possibly, ~x”, and therefore use an inductive argument. But even if possibly ~x, that means possibly x. And I could counter Don’s argument with the modal claim that objective values are necessary. Then, by S5 modal logic, it would follow that “necessarily, x.” So either Don is forced to beg the question by assuming not possibly x; or Don is forced to conclude, “necessarily, x.” I leave it to Don to come up with a valid argument to circumvent this.
So Don’s argument that possibly, not x, would lead to the conclusion that x is necessarily existent–the very thing he wishes to deny. So he is left with the dilemma:
Either Don must argue that “not x,” which is a universal negative, which he cannot prove (impossible to inductively determine this, and there doesn’t seem to be a clear non-question begging way to argue for this notion deductively); or Don must argue that, “possibly, not x”, which would lead to the conclusion that x is necessarily existent.
Appendix: Symbolic proof of my argument for necessarily x
Don’s argument reduced to
2) ◊x (disjunction)
3) ◊x⊃□x (objectivity is necessary because it would be the same in all possible worlds)
4) ◊□x (2, 3)
5) □x (S5 theorem–see Hughes & Cresswell, “A New Introduction to Modal Logic” p. 58)
I’m confused. You are saying atheists don’t have meaning because you don’t think they have meaning based on your preconceived notion of atheism? This seems to be a little circular reasoning here.
To refute your claim that “there is no reason matter is better one way than another in atheism” all we need is this: I am an atheist. I exist. I would rather exist than not exist. There is meaning in my matter.
Not preconceived. I have argued that the only consistent atheism is materialism. Furthermore, I have argued that materialism entails that there is no meaning. Furthermore, my argument takes your objection into account, by arguing that materialism entails that there are no subjects. Therefore, the statement “I would rather exist than not exist” is, on the whole, meaningless.
It seems that the only preconceived notion(s) is traditional logic. From traditional logic it follows that only consistent worldviews can accurately reflect reality (be true). J.W. has argued that materialism is the only consistent version of atheism, and on that, the rest of his argument stands.
There are three strategies that can be pursued to defeat the argument:
1. Demonstrate that another form of atheism is logically consistent.
2. Make an argument that traditional logic allows for an inconsistent worldview to accurately reflect reality.
3. Make an argument that a contradiction-tolerant form of logic should be used
In order for such an argument as 3 to stand, it must assume traditional logic (intolerance of contradictions), otherwise it does not rise to its own requirements (self-defeating).
In order for such an argument as 2 to stand, it must be internally consistent. However, if that is accomplished, then its conclusion is self-defeating. If the argument is internally inconsistent, then a form of “question-begging” has taken place.
In the end, the only viable option is 1. Demonstrate that J.W. is wrong in his conclusion that materialistic atheism is the only consistent form of atheism. This can be done by simply demonstrating another form of atheism to be consistent. If that can be done, the J.W. will be forced to engage the perspective. But until then, the ball is in the court of those stating that they hold a non-materialist form of atheism that is consistent.
I know you have argued that materialism entails no meaning, but that is simply not the case. Same with subjects. I am a material being. I can interact with you and my external world. I am made up of atoms, amino acids, carbon, organs, physical things. Everything found in my body is found naturally in our world. It does not follow that there is no meaning in this, nor does it follow that if there IS more to human beings than material substance that this some how provides more meaning. Since I, as a material “thing”, have wants and desires, can feel pain or pleasure, and can make claims and interactions in our universe that in itself provides meaning. The key is being able to understand that I have meaning, not simply existing. I mean, I would not want to live in your
world of materialism, it sounds like a pretty horrible place-which is exactly why you frame it that way.
“I know you have argued that materialism entails no meaning, but that is simply not the case.”
Saying it is not the case does not make it not the case.
“Since I, as a material ‘thing,’ have wants and desires, can feel pain or pleasure, and can make claims and interactions in our universe that in itself provides meaning.”
Right. I see we’re talking past each other, I’ll use an analogy to bring this into focus (below, in discussion of theist’s argument for rationality in God). First, however, I reiterate that on materialism these wants and desires/pains and pleasures/claims and interactions are illusory.
The argument from both Jason and Don so far has been that “I have subjective values, therefore, there are subjective values.” I’m not framing their argument incorrectly, see the quote above: “since I… have wants and desires… that in itself provides meaning.” Or Don’s comment, “I’m an atheists [sic]. I have meaning.”
This argument is very obviously begging the question, as I’ve pointed out repeatedly. In Jason’s case, the argument
1) is I possess x, therefore, x
In Don’s case it is
2) doesn’t really warrant discussion. Note that 1) would need a lot of development, but could be made into some kind of argument using a kind of principle of credulity. Perhaps 1) could change to
1′) If there is an experience of x, then in the absence of defeaters, someone is rational to believe x exists. I, Jason, x. Therefore, in the absence of defeaters, it is rational to believe x.
1′) has some potential for argument, but there are two problems which quickly become evident. First, it must have the clause “in the absence of defeaters”, because it would otherwise allow for anyone to be rational believing anything. If the first premise were instead that “If there is an experience of x, then it is rational to believe x” it could be applied to say that “I experienced a dozen flying saucers last night, therefore I am rational to believe I experienced a dozen flying saucers last night.” So the defeater clause is needed. But I have argued there is a defeater for believing x was observed; namely, that all x is is neurons firing in the brain, which are reducible to matter in the abstract, but quarks in the specific. Then the argument goes:
3) If all things are reducible to quarks, then there is no reason to suppose quarks of one type/motion/etc. are better than another. On materialism, all things are reducible to quarks. Therefore, there is no reason to suppose that things have different values.
So it still remains up to Jason to show that this defeater is defeated. His most recent attempt has been, “I possess x, therefore, x”. But this doesn’t actually counter 3), it merely sets up the argument 1′). And arguing 1′) to prove 1′) is question begging.
The second problem with the atheist taking 1′) as his or her line of reasoning is that the theist can use it to show that belief in God is rational. For many theists throughout time have argued that they have experienced God. Then, if the theist can defeat any defeaters, it is rational to believe God exists. So the atheist’s line of reasoning provides the theists a proof for the rational belief in God. If the atheist is willing to grant this, then he or she can use 1′) as an argument, but he or she still needs to provide a defeater for my defeater, namely, 3). None has done so, therefore, I conclude that atheism’s universe is meaningless.
Thats an interesting point. If you think you experience god, then yes, it is rational to accept a belief in god. That makes sense to me. The difference is what are you really experiencing and what you think you are experiencing. Remember, we want to base our real world experience on evidence like we do everything else in this situation. If you experienced flying saucers, then how? Describe it to me. Does it sound like something that could realistically happen in our universe? Yes? Then great, lets test it some more. If not, then its irrational because you have no evidence for such a beleif. I guess you could say evidence is your defeater (if I follow your argument correctly)
I think you still make a jump when you say “all things are reducible to quarks so we shouldn’t need to differentiate between them”. That doesn’t seem to follow for me. If a carbon quark is just chillin there being, I don’t know, a bone, that has a lot different meaning than if that same carbon quark (i know quarks aren’t like elements or atoms in this way, but I think you get what I mean) is acting as my retina it has a lot different value judgement if you were to say, step on it. I mean, I think we’d agree that a human being is worth more in material terms than a stick of wood in most situations.
To keep attacking pure materialism as completely meaningless is, I think, wrong. I just don’t see a case made for that in anything you’ve said. I do see a case against it since we are material beings (i.e. no souls to speak of) and we have values and subjective thoughts and emotions and actions.
As for the god thing, we have to go back to our defeater. Where is our evidence?
It seems you’ve confused the concept of “defeater” with the concept of “warrant.” The “evidence” is the experience itself. But I don’t want to digress down this tangent, as it was merely presented to show that in order to justify values, the atheist would have to accept the rationality of an argument which provides theists with rational belief in God; which itself may (or may not) be acceptable to the atheist.
In any case, you’ve still failed to provide any positive reason for thinking that quarks arranged in one way are more valuable than quarks arranged in another. Again, let’s examine your examples:
” If a carbon quark is just chillin there being, I don’t know, a bone, that has a lot different meaning than if that same carbon quark… is acting as my retina it has a lot different value judgement if you were to say, step on it.”
Again, this is question begging. I have argued that, on atheism, there are no values. Your counter is that “there are different meanings.” If someone is arguing that ~x, a counter argument cannot simply state x. You don’t believe God exists. Imagine my counterargument were “God exists.” I doubt you’d take that as an effective argument, yet that is exactly what you’re doing here. I am arguing that “If all there is is matter, then there is no meaning.” Your counter is “there is meaning.”
“I mean, I think we’d agree that a human being is worth more in material terms than a stick of wood in most situations.”
Again, this is question begging. In order to argue effectively against my notion that “on materialism, human beings are no more valuable than rocks”, you argue that “we… agree that a human being is worth more in material terms than a stick of wood…”
Well no, we actually don’t. That’s exactly what I the notion I am arguing against. And the burden of proof is upon you to make the argument that it is the case that a human being is worth more.
So your response is just a pair of contentions which beg the question.
My argument is that I will straight up ask you, do you value a human more than a piece of wood? If you tell me you do then that is really the proof. you say the burden of proof is on me to make the argument that a human is worth “something” in a purely materialistic world. The fact that I only accept materialism doesn’t mean that I lose all subjectivity.
I’ll admit, I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around this one. Its like asking me why I like blue better than red or why I don’t like tuna. I mean, I have likes and dislikes. It may be arbitrary but it doesn’t mean a choice isn’t made. You seem to be saying that there is no reason to have a choice at all because it seems arbitrary. However, it isn’t entirely arbitrary because certain things are pleasing to us as beings no matter what it is. I mean the way you put the argument there is literally no way to approach it when you say “human beings are never worth more because its arbitrary”. Why can’t I see human beings as worth more becuase of their value as sentient beings with properties very similiar to my own? Or rather, to make it more on target, why can’t a human being as simply material be worth something to me because I myself am a human being of simple material?
I don’t see this as begging the question. We’re made up of materiel, quarks and what not. We talk, laugh, have ideas, we exist and make choices. What is there to beg? This is all true. I hold beings that talk laugh, have ideas and can emote in higher regard than beings (and furthermore-quarks) that can not do any of these things. I hold them in higher regard because I myself know what it is to exist in such a state of quarks. Therefor, I value other “states of quarks” in the same capacity as I do myself. Sounds a lot like the golden rule, doesn’t it?
Back to you rpoint, you “argue that on atheism there are no values”. Well, that is correct. Atheism is not a value system. It is a simple non belief in a theism. I do not subscribe to materialism simply because I’m an atheist. i subscribe to materialism because its the only rational course of action when we apply evidence based reasoning. It isn’t that I’m so opposed to theism (i am but that isnt’ the driving force behind this philosophy) it’s that it simply isn’t necessery for me to develop a moral philosophy or for me to describe my world.
To put it shortly, specific atheism has nothing to do with a moral values system. That is a red herring. Your beef is with the ommission of non-material explanation which also happens to include atheistic understandings of the world. Its not atheism that drives it, but rather, evidence based reasoning (which leads to atheism).
“My argument is that I will straight up ask you, do you value a human more than a piece of wood? If you tell me you do then that is really the proof.”
So you’re saying that if I value a human more than a piece of wood, then a human actually has more value than a piece of wood?
As I’ve repeatedly stated, even if this were the case, it would not prove anything, because it begs the question. I’ve argued there are no subjects on materialism, so “I” am not actually anything ontologically different than the stick. Of course, if answer my question above in the affirmative, then I could equally say
“I value the existence of God, therefore, God actually exists.”
It’s a parallel argument, which results in a reductio of your position. Both arguments (I hesitate to call any statement that simply says “x, therefore x,” an argument, but I’ll allow the misnomer) are question begging. You haven’t proven anything.
“you say the burden of proof is on me to make the argument that a human is worth “something” in a purely materialistic world”
And I am correct. The burden of proof is on the positive. Another basic principle.
“You seem to be saying that there is no reason to have a choice at all because it seems arbitrary. ”
Wrong. I’m saying there are no such thing as choices. On materialism, they are illusory.
“I don’t see this as begging the question. ”
Your argument has been “I value things, therefore they have value”
If you can’t see how that is question begging, I don’t see any reason to continue the discussion.
“Atheism is not a value system. It is a simple non belief in a theism. I do not subscribe to materialism simply because I’m an atheist. i subscribe to materialism because its the only rational course of action when we apply evidence based reasoning. ”
I’ve already argued that the only coherent atheism is materialism. I feel like my sentences are being ignored.
Here are my arguments. I want to lay them out (again) so that people stop saying “It seems you’re saying… (insert statement”
1) If all there is is matter, then all things are reducible to physical processes
2) On materialism, all there is is matter
3) On materialism, all things are reducible to a physical process (Modus ponens)
Lack of subjects
4) Physical processes describe matter moving in certain ways.
5) It is unclear how matter moving in a certain way can be a “subject” in a meaningful sense–namely , with the capacity to have subjective values that are anything but illusory
6) If all things are simply matter moving in certain ways, then there is no non-illusory way to give them meaning
7) All things are simply matter moving in certain ways (3, 4)
8 ) There is no non-illusory way to give them meaning
Therefore, there is no meaning, on materialism
Note that in the case of 5) and 6-8, the burden of proof is on the atheist. The atheist can’t simply come along and say “I think something has value/meaning, therefore it does” because I have argued that there is no such thing as “I” (5). The atheist must provide arguments which show, first, that there is such a thing as “I”, and second, how “I” can coherently be said to have conscious states which are not illusory.
To the first sentence, yes that is exactly what I’m saying. In our universe if you value a human more than a piece of wood, then in thisuniverse you value a human more than a piece of wood. You are basically asking me to prove outside of human experience that there is some kind of objective morality, right? Thats impossible. I see how it seems circular, but I’m not really trying to make some crazy argument. I’m describing the world as it is. Its like ”
I need air to breathe and only air to breathe.
I am able to breathe
Therefore, there must be air present.
Then you’re asking me to prove that air actually exists. Well it does becuase otherwise we could not breathe. Its self evident because we see the result of air’s presence. Same thing with value of human beings.
I want to get at why you assume in a materialistic world everything is an illusion. On what basis do you assume that? The only alternative that I can think of is that you would argue in order for your illusion to be dispelled there has to be more than just material, correct? This is where you need to make the case that this is true. Your entire argument rests no the assumption that in a purely material universe everythign is just an illusion. I’m just having a hard time accepting that premise that if things are matter moving a certain way any value we give to them is just an illusion. Because really, if what you say is true, anyone that has no understanding of a non-material world should/would just kill themselves. Obviously this is not the case.
Furthermore, i’d argue that if what you say is true, then there is no way for our lives to have any meaning ever because we are all slaves to our sense perceptions. Whether there is more to the universe than materialism or not, we can only register and record materialistic inputs, so life is an illusion in either case.
Also defining “meaningful sense”
“To the first sentence, yes that is exactly what I’m saying… I see how it seems circular…”
Indeed, and I’ve charged it is viciously circular (question begging), it is up to you to show otherwise.
“You are basically asking me to prove outside of human experience that there is some kind of objective morality, right?”
Wrong, I’ve been asking you to show that there is meaning in the universe, on materialism.
“I want to get at why you assume in a materialistic world everything is an illusion. On what basis do you assume that?”
I’ve not assumed this, I’ve actually argued that meaning is illusory (not everything). On materialism, that everything is matter is not an illusion. What I’ve argued is illusory (and I’ve done so in agreement with some prominent atheistic materialists like Jaegwon Kim) is the idea that there is a conscious “self.” To say that there is subjective value requires subjects. I’ve been denying that there are actually subjects. You’ve yet to address this argument other than by saying “There are subjects.” That is begging the question.
“…you would argue in order for your illusion to be dispelled there has to be more than just material, correct? ”
We’ve not been debating other theories here. This is not just a tu quoque but also a red herring. It’s an attempt to shift the burden of proof onto the substance dualist. The burden of proof is upon you to show that there is meaning in the universe on materialism, it isn’t on me to show that there is not.
“Your entire argument rests no the assumption that in a purely material universe everythign [sic] is just an illusion. ”
Wrong, as I’ve clarified several times. Reread my arguments. I’m saying that the idea that there are “subjects” is an illusion–not that everything is an illusion.
“Because really, if what you say is true, anyone that has no understanding of a non-material world should/would just kill themselves. Obviously this is not the case.”
How does this follow? Regardless, several prominent atheistic philosophers have considered this very question. For example, Albert Camus argued that the only philosophical question is “Why don’t we commit suicide?” Bertrand Russell pointed out that our lives are built upon “the firm foundation of unyielding despair.”
So you may have touched upon something there. I’ve asserted above that “All is matter, and it doesn’t matter.” I continue to do so. The burden of proof remains firmly upon you to show that there is such a thing as meaning and value on atheistic materialism. To try to subtly shift that burden is disingenuous.
“Furthermore, i’d argue that if what you say is true, then there is no way for our lives to have any meaning ever because we are all slaves to our sense perceptions. ”
Indeed, if all there is is the material, there is no meaning and we are slaves to sense perceptions. That is what I’ve argued. It remains up to you to show otherwise.
“Whether there is more to the universe than materialism or not, we can only register and record materialistic inputs, so life is an illusion in either case.”
Actually, that is patently false on substance dualism. If there is more to the world than that which can be detected by sensory perception, there could be other ways to detect reality, as well as discern meaning. Substance dualism affirms this, and from that it follows that there can be meaning on [theistic] substance dualism [I am not prepared to argue for substance dualism in the abstract, only the theistic variety, but again, that would be a red herring].
Note that this last part of your argument amounts to nothing more than a tu quoque, yet another logical fallacy. Even were I to grant your conclusion [which I don’t], you haven’t suddenly succeeded in showing that life does have meaning. Rather, you would have succeeded in showing that life is even more futile than we can possibly imagine. You’re making my argument easier.
Therefore, so far, we’ve seen that you’ve yet to provide a reason for believing there is meaning on materialistic atheism. Your arguments are, by your own admission, circular. Your other argument is nothing more than a tu quoque which grants my argument and even strengthens it. Therefore, I have yet to find any rational reason to hold your position.
“Also defining [sic] ‘meaningful sense'”
Meaning is what we’ve been debating. Is there any ontological basis for saying that existence in state A is better than existence in state B. I’ve charged that on materialism there is not. You’ve yet to show that there is.
Ok I think I understand when you say this:
“Indeed, if all there is is the material, there is no meaning and we are slaves to sense perceptions. That is what I’ve argued. It remains up to you to show otherwise.”
The answer to this is yes, we are slaves to our sense perceptions. You are saying that if we are slaves to our sense preceptions then we can’t “know” that there are better things out there outside of the material we can sense. Am i right on that? Therefor, if we’re slaves to material then we can’t say one form of material is better because we’re only able to sense so much.
If that is what your argument is, then I get it and I don’t really have a problem with that. The real problem I have with the whole argument that you level is that you are saying the onus is on me to show how there is meaning–but meaning is defined by you and only you. No matter what I say gives us meaning you’ll just move the goal posts a bit further each time to show how I have not satisfied your definition.
It started with subjectivity not existing becuase there are no subjects. I am claiming that I myself am a subject. You say no, no you aren’t thats begging the question. So I say, OK, then whats a subject. And then you say that its up to me to prove that the question can even be asked within the realm of materialism. This makes no sense to me, the whole subjectivity thing. That is why I ask you to define what a subject is so that I may then be able to form an idea of what you mean. You say this is tu quoque, when really its an appeal to find out what you are talking about. If my idea of subjectivity is not “good enoguh” then you need to explain what you mean and show how my idea is not good enough.
As far as meaning in the universe I’ve thought about that one. There does not have to be meaning in the universe for the universe to exist. I don’t think I’d charge that or that any other atheists would charge that. I WOULD charge that the subjects in said universe i.e. humans, emotions, “good things” have meaning in and of themselves. There does not need to be a universal meaning in a material universe for me to get enjoyment out of life. I can have my own subjective meaning because I’m subjective being. See what I’m getting at here? You will probably say that saying i’m subjective because i’m subjective is circular reasoning. Its not. its the definition of subjective- i have my own viewpoint and existence and that is literally all I know. To make any claim beyond that is where it becomes disingeniuous, like dualist claims.
I never argued that there has to be meaning for the universe to exist. I’ve clearly and cohesively outlined my argument more than once. I repeat (I edited my argument about subjects for clarity):
1) If all there is is matter, then all things are reducible to physical processes
2) On materialism, all there is is matter
3) On materialism, all things are reducible to a physical process (Modus ponens)
Lack of subjects
4) Physical processes describe matter moving in certain ways.
5) It is unclear how matter moving in a certain way can be a “subject”–namely, an “I” with the capacity to have subjective values that are anything but illusory. Materialism routinely denies that there is such a thing as consciousness (or reduces it to being acausal), so the burden of proof is on the materialist to show that there are subjects. Clearly, if there aren’t subjects, there cannot even be subjective meaning.
6) If all things are simply matter moving in certain ways, then there is no non-illusory way to give them meaning
7) All things are simply matter moving in certain ways (3, 4)
8 ) There is no non-illusory way to give them meaning
Therefore, there is no meaning, on materialism
“3) On materialism, all things are reducible to a physical process (Modus ponens)”
“5) It is unclear how matter moving in a certain way can be a “subject” in a meaningful sense–namely , with the capacity to have subjective values that are anything but illusory”
This is called the Fallacy of Composition. Self-organizing patterns of matter obey different sets of rules than singular particles. I also note that cognitive scientists have already proposed that “I” exists as a self-modifying sensory feedback loop between the thalamus and the prefrontal cortex. Thus matter, when composing the proper structure, can conduct internal representations of the external world and reason about them. The ponens assumption fails here.
“Materialism routinely denies that there is such a thing as consciousness (or reduces it to being acausal)”
This is a straw man. Cognitive Science and Neurology propose that consciousness exists as a manifestation of particular neocortical processes. They do not propose that it is acausal, but that it represents a complex structure
capable of self-modification on both the basis of input and other internal processes predefined by genetics.
You’re also making a big assumption about meaning in element 6. What is meaning? If meaning is an interpretative paradigm imposed by a combination of a material, conscious being’s perceptual and analytical faculties, then meaning can exist from a material, conscious being. What is your definition of “meaning”?
Thank you for your well-thought out response.
You wrote that the conjunction of 3 and 5 leads to the fallacy of composition. I think you are mistaken, because I do not move from the parts to the hwole in there. The way you’ve framed it is a bit disingenuous because I do not make that as a conjunction, rather they are two separate statements, and deserve to be treated as such in your rebuttal. In particular, once you don’t conjoin them they definitely do not commit the fallacy of composition. Secondly, point 5 is a challenge to the materialist to demonstrate their claim: that there are subjects. I’ve yet to see a response to this other than simply an assumption. See my longer discussion of this particular argument here.
Your own response did, however, attempt a way to construct a subject on the materialistic world. The way you did this was by asserting that “‘I’ exists as a self modifying sensory feedback loop…” This seems to be the notion written about in “I am a strange loop” by Hofstadter, which I admittedly am mostly unfamiliar with. I have little to say about this other than that I don’t see how this is anything but an assertion. As you say, “cognitive scientists have proposed…” but you have offered no proof or argument to back this proposition. I thus take it as fairly innocuous to my case.
You claim that I’ve created a straw man by saying that “materialism routinely denies… consciousness…” but it is not a straw man when I can cite sources, as I have. People like Jaegwon Kim literally deny the existence of consciousness. I hate to say it, but on this point (saying I made a straw man), you’re simply mistaken.
Meaning can be redefined into materialistic terms in order to make it compatible with one’s own worldview. I’d like to focus not on semantical arguments which are frequently useless but rather on the claims at hand. I have claimed materialism cannot ground subjects, and still remain unchallenged by anything with an argument.
You are confusing atheism with nihilism, bud.
Atheism is simply a disbelief of a God.
The burden of proof is upon you to show how the universe has meaning on atheism. Further, your definition is wrong. Atheism is not “a disbelief of a God”. It is the assertion that there is no God.
I met an atheist once, she volunteer to help the victims of war, women who have been raped among others in very poor countries. Her love for life and others was amazing. She did not believe in God because she grew up in a family of scientist.
Now, you are going to tell me that God is going to chose someone who does not help anyone and all they do is pray and try to convince everyone to have the same belief as theirs over her???. Uhm…I don’t think God is blind. I think people worry to much about what says in the bible, Torah, Quran and they forget the most basic things about human life, to respect and love each other.
Humanity has fought and died for religion for years, doesn’t it seem so wrong??? and still for this long and humanity can’t get along because of religion??
To me is amazing that after all these hundred of years and humanity does not change, we are still in the same thing over and over….fighting and discriminating over religion. Somehow hate, discrimination and killing to defend a religion is justified.
The only society that was able to get along and respect each other regardless of their different beliefs was the Incas. They were 100 different cultures and beliefs under the same empire. However, they were all murder by the spaniards because they didn’t share the same beliefs as theirs. Of course they will argue or present to the world that the Incas were savages to justify the killing but if someone could head to South America and see it for themselves you will see what a pacifist and advanced society they were. How else do you think 5 spaniards were able to kill a whole empire?? The Incas were honest and trusting people and they didn’t have God to tell them so. They didn’t believe in killing or fighting, hence the reason why it was so easy to take over them. When they found out they were lied to (something foreing to them) they try to hide and run but it was too late.
So what I find odd if that non God believers are able to get along, love and trust others, why can’t God believers do the same instead of going out there fighting with the people who don’t believe the same. I don’t think that was God’s intention at all. God teaches love not hate.
Im confused as to how any of this applies to the argument at hand. I never argued atheists cannot be good people. Nor did I argue they can’t pretend their lives have meaning. I’ve argued that, on atheism, there is no meaning. Period.
This is a great post and I really enjoyed reading all the interactions above.
Thanks! I enjoyed the discussions. I wish some had gotten responses.
I enjoy your work, my good friend Mark Thomas directed me to your site. I appreciate the information posted, it helps me better engage people of other worldviews. Keep contending for the gospel my brother.
Much Love from a Church Planter,
Keep us in prayer! Thanks!
Thanks for stopping by and the kind comments! I’ll check out your site as well. Continue stopping by! Do God’s work out there, while I pursue it on this front :).
Will do my brother!
I’ve read through most of these posts, and I hate to say it, you all are wasting your time on this God/No God dichotomy, or I believe in God/I don’t believe in God dichotomy.
First off, if you believe in God, then live your life in a fashion in which your actions glorify them. Your words do not glorify God. Don’t kid yourself. Actions speak louder than words, and words change with time like their meaning, while actions have big impacts.
Those of you that don’t believe in God, quite wasting your breath arguing with people that hold a belief that you don’t. I don’t argue with people that believe in stamp collecting when I don’t believe in stamp collecting.
All this stuff is a form of mental [roller coasters][edited by J.W.], and the universe is not set in stone in only allowing one point of view. We live in a plural universe in which it allows for an infinity of different views. Think I am lying? I’m not, from a logical point of view, or a coherence point of view.
Take a conditional statement, If X then Y. X are things beyond our experience, and Y is those things that are within the realm of our experience. We know Y, but it is not logical to affirm X because of Y. Why? Because the negation of X, ~X, also leads to Y. ~X contains an infinity of things that leads to what is observable. You all are wasting your time in arguing about this stuff. I’m not even talking about theory laden observation as well, since people are seeing as the universe affirms God or seeing as the universe does not affirm God.
But I will point out that J.W. Wartick is right about materialism having no meaning. It states that there is no meaning to the world, even though human beings have a subjective feeling, materialist, that their life has meaning. It has meaning because they act *as if* it has meaning, and try to live like their life has meaning. It doesn’t, if you are affirming that you are a materialist. It goes against the basic tenet of materialism, and Jean Paul Statre and Camus pointed this stuff out as well. If you want to take your existential point of view that it does, that is fine. It’s just the way that you act, not how your basic position of materialism says.
Meaning to ourselves is the only meaning that means anything. You don’t, as a creation of god, instantly inherit this meaning as your own. In the same way If you made a hammer, the hammer has no objective purpus, only a subjective purpose you project onto it. In the same way, that an object’s purpose isn’t a part of the object, if god created the Universe, the Universe itself would not have any objective purpose.
It’s immaterial whether or not god created the world or not. It has no objective meaning in ether case, because all meaning is subjective.
To suggest, by defining objective as meaningful to god, suggests not that it matters to the creation. But instead is a statement of what the person defining it that way, values.
The only meaning that’s meaningful to any concious being in the Universe, are ones it values. It might chose to value the position god put it in (or thinks he has), or it might be to enjoy life; falling in love, saving someone’s life, working on a project, ect.
This post specifically argues against the idea that, on atheism, we are capable of even having subjective meaning. All you’ve done is say “We have subjective meaning.” I don’t think that really works. My argument in this post is that on atheism all we are is matter in motion, and so there is no possible way to distinguish between movement in way A or movement in way B. There is no rational reason to have meaning, therefore, there is none (on atheism).
I’ve yet to see one response to this post attempt to challenge this argument.
My point wasn’t “we have subjective meaning”, it was that objective meaning can’t possibly exist, and that the argument’s power to convince entirely depends on accepting another premise; objective meaning is better to have than subjective meaning, or none at all. Or in some other way valuing objectiveness over that of the subjective. To accept your argument has any meaning to us at all as subjective beings, we have to subjectively agree that that it is the objective we value. Because of this ultimate grounding of our values in the subjective, it’s just pointless to attack subjectivity as not objective.
So it’s true that you can make similar arguments against any position, including theism, and also that it doesn’t matter that you can make the argument, it no problem whatsoever.
Now you’ve conflated subjectivity with objectivity. Objective meaning does not rely upon subjects knowing the meaning or not. Whether you agree or not, objective meaning remains the same. Yet in your comment, you’ve clearly outlined the belief that objective meaning relies upon subjects. That is simply false.
I’m not saying the two are the same thing, rather I’m saying we have two different concepts. An important question is, “Why should we prefer objective purposes over and above our subjective ones?”. I don’t think there is any way answer that, other than to say that YOU value the objectiveness of them.
The logical argument might be correct in stating that Objective purpose doesn’t exist. I’d say the words “objective purpose” doesn’t really mean anything. But until we accept that objectivity is something we value, it doesn’t matter that it doesn’t matter. Is creating a purpose of one’s self in a meaningless universe – say to help the needy, live a contented life with their partner, become a doctor – “bleak”? Materialism doesn’t say anything about what to value in life; it doesn’t matter that a rock is made of the same stuff as a human body, the way a body is structured allows it to do really cool stuff; fall in love, do calculus, enjoy music, ect. Wouldn’t you agree?
Why should we prefer objective knowledge over subjective knowledge? Someone could make the same type of argument about knowledge that you did.
I’m not sure I follow your reasoning. My argument points out that, on atheism, there can be no grounds for meaning. People keep reinterpreting my argument and saying we have subjective meaning on atheism. I deny this as well, because–and I’ve yet to see anyone argue to the contrary–on atheism there are no actual subjects. A ‘subject’ is just ‘matter moving in way x.’ Yet, supposedly, this ‘x’ movement is said to interject meaning into the universe.
I’ve yet to see any argument to support this claim.
You’re trying to redirect my argument. I have here argued that on atheism, there simply is no meaning. I deny that there is even subjective meaning on atheism, because I deny that atheism allows for subjects in a meaningful sense.
Ultimately, your argument really just helps show what I am trying to prove. You seem to be making the point that we, as ‘subjects’ must decide that objective meaning is ‘better’ than subjective meaning. Yet, for the current topic, I have no reason to make an argument that objective meaning is better. Rather, I am here contending that atheism’s universe is devoid of meaning. Period.
Now, let me grant for a moment that the atheist’s universe can have subjective meaning. Here we get to the point I made in the post. Namely, the meaning on atheism ultimately boils down to “I like that” or “I don’t like that.” (Again, granting subjectivity.) Well then your words are perfectly true: “Materialism doesn’t say anything about what to value in life; it doesn’t matter that a rock is made of the same stuff as a human body…” That is exactly my point. It doesn’t matter, because nothing matters. And the only way to say it matters is by self-delusion. The only way to say it matters is to say things like “the way a body is structured allows it to do really cool stuff; fall in love, do calculus, enjoy music, ect. Wouldn’t you agree?” and pair it with the implication that ‘really cool stuff’ means ‘really meaningful stuff.’ I deny this. If our bodies are, ultimately, just matter moving in differing ways, then there is no non-arbitrary way to judge the movement. All we can say is “wow, that’s cool! It must be meaningful! Don’t you agree with me!?” in a kind of desperate grabbing for meaning.
Subjective meaning exists inside your mind, the same way files exist in your computer.
Yes, a computer is entirely materialistic, as I’d argue the brain is – or at least it’s defiantly possible it is. They both hold abstract concepts in a material form, the computer in it’s hard drive as a series of magnetic polarizations and in the brain as an intricate neural network.
There are definitely 2 different prospectives we can take – even on a materialistic standpoint. We can look at the hard disk and observe the very material of it, or the brains neurons. And if that’s the only way your looking at it then yeah, it doesn’t seem all that meaningful. There is however, another prospective, that of the program, or, you or I. Where we can form folders, and meanings, these are very real things from this prospective. And the neuron pathways, and magnetisms that correspond to these really do exist in the material.
I find it a little odd to point to matter in motion, and say “this is how materialists view the world”. We see it exactly as you do, with people, dogs, and trees – but we acknowledge the fact that it is all made out of material. Your argument is a confusion of prospectives, I think.
I’m a bit confused about how any of this counters my argument. Subjective meaning would be ‘inside our minds’ so to speak, but my argument has been that the meaning “inside our minds” on materialism is either delusional, illusory, or nonexistant. To reiterate, on materialism all that happens when someone dies (for example) is that their matter moves in a different way. Subjectively, on materialism, I may not want to die, and so I feel it is wrong if someone murders me. But really all that happens when someone does murder me is they have rearranged my matter.
The point that I have yet to see any response to so far is: how are we to justify the choice of matter moving in one way over another? If materialists can’t justify their choice, even subjective meaning is illusory.
My original response set out to say that; we don’t need an objective reason to have subjective value.
Then you said that your point was that even subjective value doesn’t exist on materialism.
I then tried to give a counter-example to that claim, with an analogy to computer files – value isn’t in conflict with entirely materialistic beings.
You then ask me justify why I prefer a particular pattern of matter movement than another.
I feel perfectly justified in claiming my preference in an entirely abstract and subjective way – since that is compatible with materialism. And it’s not at all a problem for me, for the reasons I gave in my first couple replies. My preference for some arrangement over another is because it better fits the values I hold. I value being alive, and so when confronted with that choice, it’d chose “being alive” and “not being murdered”. I care about the arrangement of the particular atoms and molecules that makes me up, because of my higher value of being alive. I don’t have to be aware of the particular magnifications of my matter to care about me.
I’d ask you, “Are the files on your computer delusional, illusory, or nonexistant?”, my intuition is to say “of course not!”. Maybe you’d disagree, the point is that computer files are analogous to human values – so if you say “Subject values are delusional, illusory, or nonexistant”, your also saying that the files on your computer are too. Computer files, at least to me, exist in anyway it’s meaningful to talk about existence. So even if I’m wrong, it hardly seems to be particularly damning thing to say about my values.
Your analogy of computer files has been stretched to far. The way you put it is “I’d ask you, ‘Are the files on your computer delusional, illusory, or nonexistant?'” That’s wrong. My question would instead be “Is any [abstract] file on your computer better than any other [abstract] file? By what basis do you judge?”
Not only that, but the analogy of thoughts/brainwaves to computer files also fails when you think about its application to values: if all our thoughts are really acausal (i.e. they are caused by the input and output–which leads to the creation of files) then our thoughts are really just determined, and so the illusion of “choosing” a preference is totally false. Not only that, but it seems like you’re leaning towards epiphenomenalism, in which case you have even less of a case to make for subjective values. If our thoughts are equivalent to computer files and that analogy holds, then they are epiphenomenal–they aren’t even contingent upon what is actually happening. The only thing they are contingent upon is the input, which could cause random thoughts to appear to us as certain “files.”
So when you write as though our meaning is analogous to computer files, what you’ve done is undermined them even more deeply than I have–by reducing our thoughts to products of input, our thoughts lose causal power.
Well my response to your question would be fairly simple; it would be incredibly easy to program a computer with a hierarchy of processes – my computer prioritises certain core tasks over my web browsing, if it’s under pressure it’ll do these things and not do other things. And of course similarly, I can prioritise my own tasks, and prefer certain things for myself and others. Because I value these things in differing degrees.
Computer files wouldn’t have objective worth, but they do “subjectively” value. And that’s all we’d need to be justified.
Slightly off topic is the accusation that I’m a determinist. I don’t believe that we could fully understand the future with a complete information on every particles current position and velocity. If certain interpretations of quantum mechanics are true then the future is really undetermined. But I wouldn’t say that the pure will of a concious being is sufficient to divert the electron, if that’s what you mean by free will. It’s enough to me that it’s my brain transforming all these inputs to outputs, I’d be temped to say that in that way it’s “me” making the decisions. If this isn’t free will, and we do have it, then I see a problem with that claim. It would feel exactly the same without it as with it.
You wrote, “it would be incredibly easy to program a computer with a hierarchy of processes.”
And why are we justified in thinking that our thoughts are programmed?
Further there is still the question over why I should think that, even were I to grant that subjects can have values without objectivity, these values would be anything but vacuous.
This is really interesting. I’m going to assume that no one here is holding to determinism. If you are, then what you will read from this point forward is ultimately pointless to argue against.
The computer analogy actually proves the opposite of what it was intended to prove. The fact that a computer can do a lot of the things that a human brain can do is beside the point. We are not dealing with functionality here, but essence. Computers don’t make meaning. They handle information based on what they’re given from the outside. To say that a computer can handle ‘choices’ the same way a human mind can is erroneous. The semantic content is given to it from a mind outside of it. John Searle’s Chinese Room thought experiment helps to elucidate this. Artificial intelligence is precisely that – artificial.
Unless value is intrinsically available, it must be artificially generated, and I see no reason to think that merely evolved creatures within a naturalistic reality should have intrinsic value. In this sense, sure, one can hold to a merely subjective meaning, but it is only something merely manufactured for the sake of sustenance and nothing more. In other words, it is not a true meaning.
Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Arthur. This is basically the point I was getting at. If the computer analogy is true, then there is no meaning, only programming from input.
You say atheist can pretend their lives have meaning because meaning is illusionary, yet that is exactly what theists do. As you well know, theists BELIEVING a god created the universe with purpose does not dismiss the real fact that we are all still composed of matter. A theist, TOO, value matter arranged in one way as better or more valuable than matter arranged in another, they simply believe a god allows this, then call it objective. Yet they have no objective grounds or evidence to justify this argument. There is no reason not to think the theist’s argument is also “illusionary”.
There are objective facts in the materialistic world. They are observable and confirmable. What separates humans within the natural world is the level of intelligence. We’ve built our knowledge and human reasoning on these observable objective facts that continue regardless of our particular views. It is intelligence that create meaning. Without it, there is none. It would do no good if we don’t have the mental capacity to even understand the concept of the word. Meaning can be grounded in the objective facts of reality which our minds are able to rationalize from with the aid of intelligence. That doesn’t dismiss the fact that the mind is composed of matter.
You can argue there is no meaning in existence, but also that we create meaning out of it through the process of an evolving intelligent mind responding to real life factual observations.
On a Christian worldview the universe is more than matter. Human persons are not just matter, but matter + a soul. The objective meaning in the universe is derived from God.
Objective facts about material entities do not imbue them with meaning. You’ve subtly sneaked in the premise that empirical facts can include meaning. You must support this claim.
Further, there is no objective reason, on materialism, to value intelligence more than anything else.
“On a Christian worldview the universe is more than matter”…according to….a christian? Not much of an argument. How is that an objective fact? How do we know this to be true besides the christian making the claim? “The objective meaning in the universe is derived from God.”- because….god says so?…which would be considered a circular argument. What you have are….assertions, not facts.
“Further, there is no objective reason, on materialism, to value intelligence more than anything else.”- I said intelligence create meaning. That is the reason why we are having this conversation and ants are not. Actions have effects. We observe them. They happen in causality and context. It is an inescapably fact. There are objective- physical causal facts, social causal facts, psychological causal facts. From these facts, we create values using our…intelligence..reason. All of this is understood because of the mind. I didn’t say material entities have meaning. The dollar is simply a piece of paper with ink on it. We create value for it. It is no more important than the tree it came from.
When we’re discussing worldviews, there are many presuppositions built in. On materialism, all there is to the universe is matter. This is a highly contentious claim that is being debated throughout the philosophical and scientific community. But I grant that presupposition because we are talking about worldviews here. So your failure to grant presuppositions seems, to me, to miss the point of the discussion. If we’re weighing meaning, materialism has no grounds, theism does.
Moving on, you wrote ” intelligence create [sic] meaning. That is the reason why we are having this conversation and ants are not. Actions have effects. We observe them. They happen in causality and context. It is an inescapably fact. There are objective- physical causal facts, social causal facts, psychological causal facts.”
I’ll grant that there are many empirical facts about the universe. So far, so good (except for the first part).
Then you wrote, ” From these facts, we create values using our…intelligence..reason.”
Here’s the problem. Our intelligence is ultimately derived from matter, our consciousness is ultimately just matter. What reason do we have for thinking that our intelligence can create meaning?
I typed a reply but I don’t think it posted, so I guess I’ll retype.
On worldview- I’m not talking about a collection of beliefs or interpretations. I’m talking about factual data. We do know matter is factual. The material world can be tested and observed to produce facts. An unfair or premeditated form of presupposition can be defined as that used by a speaker to get the listener to presuppose (i.e. assume to be true, as a matter of fact) spurious assertions. So I’ll grant presuppositions that are accurate, factual, and reasonable. Theism does not fall within that realm.
You said: “Our intelligence is ultimately derived from matter, our consciousness is ultimately just matter. What reason do we have for thinking that our intelligence can create meaning?”- we’ve seen examples of it. Ancient cultures building monuments and empires for events that have no inherent meaning. Matter forming a brain can do different things as opposed to matter forming a rock. Meaning exists only in the mind, not in the world. It stops when the brain dies. So we see matter can come together to form meaning. It doesn’t mean matter itself has any. Our brains can create meaning, but it doesn’t mean it extends outside our minds.
Take our milky way- set in a direct face-on collision course with the Andromeda galaxy, about twice as big as the milky way. We observe Colliding galaxies regularly. Each one contain over a billion stars. Theses collisions cause strong mutual gravitational tides that throw off stars, with gas in these merging galaxies igniting violently in a starburst creating stars at rates hundreds of times greater than normal to form elliptical galaxies. There is no apparent meaning for our galaxy to exist only to be ripped apart in such a collision, or even the many other galaxies that have already collided.
Another example: Extinct species- what was the meaning for their existence at all only to later go extinct? Meaning exist only inside the mind capable of forming it.
You wrote, “We do know matter is factual. ”
Actually, we don’t. People like idealists or immaterialists (George Berkeley, for example) deny the existence of matter. Not only that, but we can’t prove that matter does exist in any way other than by taking it as a “properly basic” belief–just like belief in other minds.
You wrote, “On worldview- I’m not talking about a collection of beliefs or interpretations. I’m talking about factual data. ”
Again, it seems like you’re using this to set up a presupposition of materialism from which to judge all other worldviews. If we’re talking about worldviews, we simply are talking about a collection of beliefs or interpretations. You are redefining the terms in order to balance them in your favor.
You wrote, “we’ve seen examples of it. Ancient cultures building monuments and empires for events that have no inherent meaning.”
Again, all this is is a rearrangement of matter. I’ve continued to ask you to demonstrate that this is actually meaningful. You’ve failed to do so.
You wrote, “Meaning exists only in the mind, not in the world. It stops when the brain dies. So we see matter can come together to form meaning. It doesn’t mean matter itself has any. Our brains can create meaning, but it doesn’t mean it extends outside our minds.”
This is exactly my point. Meaning, on atheism/materialism is, ultimately delusional. You’ve literally just admitted that.
What does worldviews have to do with objective facts? That would merely make them subjective views. There is a difference between presuppositions that are true, accurate and factual and those that aren’t. We do know the universe is matter. That is an objective fact that can be proven regardless of your “view”. “If we’re weighing meaning, materialism has no grounds, theism does.”- on what basis? You need materialism to get meaning. You need matter for the mind to exist, which in turn generate the meaning.
“What reason do we have for thinking that our intelligence can create meaning?”- we see examples of it. Ancient cultures build monuments and complex empires. We have history for creating a meaning for events that have no inherent meaning. You seem to think this impossible. Meaning exist only in the mind. If you you don’t have the intelligence to comprehend, then there is no meaning. Giving an infant an expensive mobile device has no meaning to that infant. And the adult create meaning out of it. It’s merely machinery with electrical devices and metallic parts put together. Without human intelligence, it would not have been constructed in the first place.
We create meaning for ourselves and intelligence is the mechanism that allow this to happen. There is a significant difference between different states of matter. Matter composed to make a brick does not form a thought process. Matter composed to make a brain can, allowing this collection of matter to do things that a brick cannot. This shows us that if matter can form consciousness of the brain, then it can form meaning out of that consciousness. Does this suggest the universe has meaning because that particular collection of matter formed a thinking organism? No. Our own galaxy is set on a direct collision course with the andromeda galaxy. We observe that galaxies collide all the time. There is no meaning for star systems to exist only to be obliterated and form new clusters of galaxies. But it doesn’t mean meaning can’t arise out of matter. Our existence does not have to have an ultimate meaning for the brain to form meaning for itself. That meaning vanishes when the brain dies.
You’ve been making a great deal of assumptions. The first is that the mind is only matter. The second is that creating buildings is meaningful. You wrote, “we see examples of [creating meaning]. Ancient cultures build monuments and complex empires. We have history for creating a meaning for events that have no inherent meaning.”
It has been my argument this entire time that such ‘meaning’ is delusional, on materialism. In other words, just by rearranging the material world, we have not somehow injected it with meaning. We may think so, but that doesn’t save us from the meaningless nature of matter being rearranged.
As I’ve pointed out to others, I have yet to seen one person actually argue positively for the presumption that the rearrangement of matter can be meaningful. Your entire post goes back to my very argument: on materialism, the meaning we have is illusory, or worse, delusional. We think we create meaning, but as you said, “That meaning vanishes when the brain dies.” And, as I’ve argued, that meaning isn’t really meaning at all. It’s an overlay of values we’ve super-imposed upon a purely mechanistic, materialistic world, which has no basis for meaning whatsoever.
So again, we’re back to the beginning. I have issued the challenge to every person so far: Make the argument that rearrangements of matter are meaningful on a materialistic worldview.
Thus far, your counter (and that of those before you) has been: “It’s meaningful because we think it’s meaningful.”
I need not point out how viciously circular that is.
I reposted my previous comment, but I just now see it posted, sorry.
“the first is that the mind is only matter”- And? Theism certainly hasn’t provided any sufficient factual evidence to suggest otherwise.
“the second is that creating buildings is meaningful.”- meaningful to an intelligent mind that made it, not that meaning extends outside the mind.
“the meaning we have is illusory, or worse, delusional”- the same could be said for theism, because it is not grounded in reality, simply a product of…the material mind. Meaning, to include theistic “beliefs”, come from the mind.
“I have issued the challenge to every person so far: Make the argument that rearrangements of matter are meaningful on a materialistic worldview.”- a materialist worldview simply isn’t a collection of “beliefs” assumed to be fact. It is based on factual evidence since the material world can be observed and tested. Theism is a worldview of “beliefs” not factual data. Its core consist of unproven assumptions, which are also no basis for meaning. It still has not proven there is meaning outside the mind.
You keep saying things like “factual evidence.” Could you provide a definition for “factual evidence”?
You wrote, regarding my assertion that meaning on materialism is delusional, “the same could be said for theism, because it is not grounded in reality, simply a product of…the material mind. ”
Two difficulties arise from that counter. First, it’s a tu quoque. You’ve essentially admitted that materialism’s meaning is delusional. Second, you’ve begged the question against theism. Again you’re showing confusion when you try to compare worldviews. You’ve pigeon-holed theism into a materialistic framework. That is the definition of question begging. On theism, there is objective meaning, which finds its grounds in God. Throughout your comments you’ve continued to try to analyze theism through materialism. Again, that is begging the question. You’re assuming materialism is reality, and then forcing other worldviews through those lenses.
“You’ve essentially admitted that materialism’s meaning is delusional.”- never said meaning extended outside a thinking mind. Theism make that claim. I said an intelligent brain can form meaning. Whether it’s delusional or not, is of course left to perception. But it doesn’t prove the entire universe operate on meaning or ultimate purpose.
You said-“You’ve pigeon-holed theism into a materialistic framework.” or rather theism has done that itself. It gives no proof to show differently, and the main problem is that it CAN be explained through materialism, as part of a “delusional” attempt to create meaning in materialism, as you put it.
You said-“on theism, there is objective meaning, which finds its grounds in God.” How can meaning be objective through a god when there is no evidence to justify this? That is not objective. Objective reality is the world outside your mind, unfiltered. Objective reality is not altered by ones perceptions and thoughts. Saying a person look tall is not objective, simply based on the observer’s opinion and not true to all observers. But reading a measurement that shows a person to be taller than the average observed height, is an objective fact. If we say gamma-rays aren’t real, yet get struck by a gamma ray burst, we will die. Even though we can’t physically see gamma rays, we can observe & detect their effects. That objective reality won’t change simply because a person think otherwise. So saying that god provide objective meaning through theism does not make it an objective reality, just an opinion.
There is no objective proof concerning theism to show:
1st- that any one particular god exists among the many gods of ancient man
2nd- that such a god actually affect our reality in an absolute or objective manner.
If there is no proof in our reality at all, then there is no difference from the existence of a god to the non-existence of a god, since both ways wouldn’t affect us. Your left with ASSERTIONS of an imposed meaning. Reality does not prove this, so it isn’t an objective fact. Again, there is no reason not to think theism is merely a collection of subjective opinions inside the mind.
You said-“You’re assuming materialism is reality”. Uh, well we know this reality affect us. This reality can be observed. The world is a hard, tangible, material, objective reality that we DO know exist.
We’re discussing entire worldviews lined up against each other. Further, to be fair, you wrote “well we know this [material] reality affect us.” Again, there are many throughout history who have been immaterialists, not to mention gnostics, Zen Buddhists, etc, etc… all of whom deny the existence or objective reality of the material world. I haven’t called you out on this yet, because we’re discussing worldviews, which means that the beliefs therein are granted. But you’re still insisting on begging the question, so I’m going to point out that materialism is not as well grounded as you believe.
“We’re discussing entire worldviews lined up against each other.”- Going by that, there is no reason to accept your belief of an absolute deity over someone who claims it was not god but ancient aliens who created mankind with technology. Both are assumptions built on beliefs. One could simply accept every single mythos and legend down through history.
“Again, there are many throughout history who have been immaterialists, not to mention gnostics, Zen Buddhists, etc, etc”- all of which do not prove we are not material objects. And I also fail to see how bringing up other cults and religions will prove there is an immaterial reality. This reality does not change based on our perception, rather we suffer the effects of this reality. We do not control the universe. We do not stop stars from becoming supernovas or prevent galaxies from colliding through thoughts in our minds. I fail to see how we could “think” these things into reality, especially when we differently. Like the universe was static, but later observed it to be expanding. Or that we thought the expansion would decrease when we found it to be increasing. Or by discovering the effects of dark matter and dark energy in the 90s when we knew no better before then. We thought up all this materialism, yet lack knowledge of it at the same time? Material things continue to exist when we are not perceiving them, we can record these effects without personally perceiving them.
And isn’t immaterialism now considered subjective idealism today anyway? What basis is there to support the belief of an immaterial reality? If there is no such thing as a material reality, how can you know of an immaterial one? If immaterialism suggest we can’t really know something exist by just observing primary and secondary qualities of the “false materialistic world”, how can we know of anything about an immaterialistic world? What senses then exist to affirm a “real reality”? If immaterialism suggest that the universe is based on our thoughts, then how can you know god is also not based on human thought? So still, Immaterialism does not prove that a god exist outside a thinking mind or collection of thoughts. It also would suggest many possible realities- it could simply be elusive seas of consciousness or abstraction or nothing at all in illusion based on another illusion. The list could go on rather than limiting it to the concept of one monotheistic deity arising much later in human history after polytheism and henotheism. If we are to accept immaterialism, then anyone of the many deities or entities with their different realms outside this reality then become a possibility, and you wouldn’t know any better with no proof to prove differently.
Immaterialism certainly isn’t well grounded for the simple fact that you can’t disprove it to be anything beyond a conceptual idea, a matter of perception. Choosing to believe in the “matrix” still does not prove it to be “the” real reality. And if you did, I fail to see how you would be able to know what reality that would be.
R3, I can see you are quite unwilling to fairly discuss this issue. You are not allowing the theistic worldview to stand on its own–rather, you insist upon filtering it through materialism, and only then do you analyze it. That clearly begs the question against theism.
Regarding immaterialism, I’m pointing out that just assuming the material world is “real” or “basic” does not work. You haven’t presented any arguments for your position other than simply assuming it. Immaterialists point out that ultimately, all evidence used to support the existence of a material/sensory world is itself sensory–and the arguments are therefore circular. You may disagree, but that doesn’t mean you’ve supported your claim.
J.W. Wartick wrote;
“You wrote, “it would be incredibly easy to program a computer with a hierarchy of processes.”
And why are we justified in thinking that our thoughts are programmed?
Further there is still the question over why I should think that, even were I to grant that subjects can have values without objectivity, these values would be anything but vacuous.”
I don’t have to show how exactly a mind “program” would work, all I really needed to do was show that material things can have subjective meaning – which I think I’ve done.
There are some things about the brain that point towards some kind of program. We know that a mind program would be very different from a computer one; it’s programming would have to be organic. Hebbian theory gives us such a way it could be possible which states in it’s simplest form “Cells that fire together, wire together”. This gives us a way natural programming could work.
The brain also has areas of speciality, we can correlate certain functions to it’s different parts. When areas of the brain are damaged – through accident, stroke, or surgery – the functionality is lost, or diminished. Such as in the case of unilateral neglect in some stoke patients – where one half of the visual field is ignored – there is nothing wrong with their eyes, but when you give them a task like copying a picture, they’ll only draw one side. They can see their mistake if it’s pointed out to them. What this example sets out to show is that the brain can be shown to act as a machine with many parts, and when one part of it is removed the functionality of that part is removed along with it.
So we can see that we’re justified in stating that the brain is analogous to a machine, and the mind as a program running on it.
I’m not sure why you think subjective meaning is “vacuous”. If anything we can be more sure of it’s existence than we can be of the external world, using the same logic as Descarte’s famous “I think therefore I am”. And we’ve already talked about whether or not subjective meaning is meaningful, when I also suggested that to care for an objective meaning, we must first subjectively value objective meaning . So your argument then becomes an attempt to devalueate subjective value, by subjectively evaluating objectivity over subjectivity. Which is odd.
Your argument was that our brain is analogous to a computer. Computers are programmed. They receive input and are programmed to put out certain outputs. This eliminates free will and meaning anyway, because at most you would have to lean towards epiphenomenalism. Our thoughts are just there, miraculously lined up with the material reality.
So let’s look at this “machine” of the brain/mind. You say that it allows for subjective meaning. I ask “How, given that all that is happening is that it is giving the outputs it is programmed to do given the inputs it receives?”
So I gave a pretty good account of how subjective meaning could exist in a materialist universe, and felt that I’ve done enough to offer an objection to the argument presented in this article.
When I first saw the argument, I noticed there was a mistake in the structure of the argument. The conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises; the conclusion states makes a blanket statement on value and meaning, disregarding the careful use of the word “Objective” in the second premise. I thought it was just a typing mistake, and you knew it was wrong. Then when I continued reading I noticed the same mistake; “Therefore, there is no objective meaning or value. Life is purposeless, meaningless, valueless. Atheistic materialism demands this bleak view of the universe.”, you start off good but then the use of “objective” tales off.
I think it’s fairly obvious why the argument needs to remove the word “objective”, how else could you make materialism seem “bleak”, if they are able justify their own existence to themselves, and to find things valuable? The third premise that is missing here would need to state something to the effect of “Subjective value does not exist”.
I’ve done a fair deal to reject this hidden premise, it’s false as a universal. It’s really up to you support the premise “Humans cannot have subjective values”, or try and support the “subjective value does not exist” and also argue against my analogy to a computer’s files. All you’ve done is ask me the specifics of how exactly this process happens in the human brain, I’m not sure about all the details, but I’ve gone beyond much more than I needed to in saying that the brain and a computer have qualities in common that would lead us to the conclusion that if a computer can hold values subjectively then most likely we can too.
It’s your time to support your premises, I don’t have to support the opposite (however, I feel the evidence against you, which makes your task harder).
Here’s the difficulty: You’ve built my argument into a straw man, having argued against the wrong hidden premise.
You assert the hidden premise is that “Subjective value does not exist.”
Wrong, the hidden premise is “Subjective meaning, on materialism, is illusory/delusional (and therefore should be rejected, unless the person who wishes to hold values chooses to be delusional).”
That’s a very different premise from the one you’ve been trying to falsify. Perhaps that’s why you are frustrated. I could have stated this better within my post, but that is the reason I get to the conclusion: “Therefore, on materialistic atheism, there is no value or meaning.”
The only avenue atheistic materialism has to “create” meaning is to hold that there is, in fact meaning, despite the fact that there is not. This is patently self-deception. Perhaps the materialist would like to hold that delusions and/or illusions can qualify for meaning. More power to them. Perhaps my argument contains the additional premise “Illusory or delusional meaning does not meet the qualifications for meaning.” I don’t think that would be a very hard premise to establish. So let’s look back at the argument with these hidden premises:
1) On materialistic [I use materialism and physicalism interchangeably, as is common in philosophy today] atheism, all we are is matter in motion.
2) There is no objective reason to value matter moving in way A over matter moving in way B
3) Therefore, there is no objective meaning.
4) Subjective value, on materialism, is either delusional or illusory.
5) Delusional or illusory “meaning” does not qualify for “meaning” in a meaningful way.
6) Therefore, on materialistic atheism, there is no value or meaning.
Thus modified, the argument is valid. The difficulty the atheistic/materialists would have is that against this argument they’d have to show that the so-called “subjective meaning” is not delusional.
…or they’d have to argue that delusional/illusory meaning is, in fact, meaningful.
I feel much the same objections can be made against that position.
It doesn’t seem a fair division of meaning into ether; Objective, or illusory/delusional. It’s not as if the values are contained “outside” the mind, in the objects themselves. And it’s not as if the mind is delusional in it’s beliefs that the values it holds exist.I would say that the values do exist and are not illusionary, they are not objective, and are positioned in the brain.
Like a hard disk, you can’t peer into the brain and find the number 7. Although for the mind this is a very real concept and I’d say it is worthy of the description “meaningful”. (The argument also is strange at premise 5; it involves evaluating the state of value to determine it’s value.). A lot is caught up in the semantics here.
What grounds are there for subjective meaning on atheism? It appears as though the only way to hold subjective meaning would be for a mind (matter moving in way A) to hold that matter moving in way B is worth more than matter moving in way C, for no reason whatsoever, other than that matter moving in way A holds that B > C. This is self-delusion.
We don’t see the world through the eye’s of partials. We see it through the eye’s of humans, who value things for human reasons. We don’t “see” the partials flying round the room, we see objects, people, faces.
It’s a mistake to think that just because these smaller frames of reference exist, that they are the “correct” way to view the universe, and we should aim to view things in that magnification. My experience is that of a human’s, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that my values don’t make much reference to a magnified view of the world. Describing this view as a “self-delusion” doesn’t make too much sense to me, since it implies that there is a better view point than my own, or that I’m not in touch with reality (material world). Nether of these seems true of my position.
Humans are material, whether you divide them into the component molecules or not. Ultimately, material beings projecting meaning into other material entities is delusional. Whether it makes sense to you or not, you’ve failed to establish a basis for meaning.
It doesn’t seem delusional to me; just because these things we value are made of matter it doesn’t follow that because of that knowledge we should give up caring about these things. Your wallet is made entirely of matter, does that knowledge make you apathetic towards it? Should you care if you were to accidentally place a potato in your pocket instead?
Whether or not you describe it as delusional or not, is mere semantics. Seems the goal of the argument is to equate subjective value with delusional value. And because we’ve described it as delusional, we can say it’s not worth calling “meaning”.
The argument makes claims certain things about the word “meaning”, that the only things that can be be described as “meaningful” are those that can be justified non-arbitrarily with respect to material world itself. If that’s the type of thing you intended by “meaning”, then it’s obvious that nothing has any “meaning” and we’d all still live exciting, interesting, happy lives. I feel that it’s a bizarre way to define meaning. When I say that some thing is meaningful, I mean to say that “It is meaningful to me”. Justifying the value of something, in my understanding of what that means, doesn’t have to make a statement about the material of the object itself. Instead it’s use to me a human; the concept of the object, it’s uses. If that’s not he use of the word “meaning” here, then I struggle to see how the lack of meaning would be a hindrance a fulfilling life.
Your argument boils down to exactly the point I’m trying to make. The only recourse one would have when I ask “Why is that meaningful?” would be to answer “Because I say so.”
We don’t accept such reasoning in other realms, why accept it for meaning?
Because value isn’t some objective fact hidden somewhere in Universe. It’s subjective in the respect that it isn’t a propriety of the universe.
When we desire to learn about Universe, we use tools like science and logic. We already have that desire, the will to use these processes, ‘meaning’ would exist in the same sort of category. But because of the nature of meaning, it’s not a material something observed in the universe, science and logic aren’t particularly useful at discovering meaning (they can however inform us of things that might become meaningful to us). There is some logic that can be used in the interaction you give:
“Why do you find that meaningful?”
“Because I do”
One can appeal to commonly held values. I feel the wording you used was a little off, I’ve made it clear that on materialism objective value doesn’t exist (however subjective values do exist) if you want to claim that “on materialism there is no meaning”, then you should debate it on it’s own terms. Asking why something is meaningful is like asking which Popstar is “the best” one; there is no answer when you don’t direct the question to a concious being.
You wrote: “R3, I can see you are quite unwilling to fairly discuss this issue”- So….I’m supposed to accept your belief of a all-controlling deity that have no rational logic to support it,due to the fact it is based on claims of hersay, in order…to…be…fair? What about simple logic? I’m asking you what is the basis for the assertion? How is that claim anymore valid than other religious or supernatural claims? You have none because they all fall within the same group.
You wrote- “Regarding immaterialism, I’m pointing out that just assuming the material world is “real” or “basic” does not work.”- and assuming we are false projections of an illusion does? There is no evidence to support the existence of an immaterial world accept empty claims. Since there is no evidence or way to observe an immaterial world, it beg the question- how the claims could even have been made in the first place? If you can’t even decide if the material world is real, with what can you decide an immaterial one is?
R3, You seem to be misunderstanding what I’m saying. When you initially started your argument, you stated, and I quote, “You say atheist can pretend their lives have meaning because meaning is illusionary, yet that is exactly what theists do. As you well know, theists BELIEVING a god created the universe with purpose does not dismiss the real fact that we are all still composed of matter.”
The difficulty with this, as I pointed out, is that theists disagree about the idea that all we are is matter. You have come in, charging theism with a tu quoque (which is fallacious in itself), by saying that theism has no meaning either. But then, you refuse to allow theism all of the resources at its disposal to counter your arguments. In other words, you’re saying that theism cannot support values, but then not allowing theism to utilize its resources. That is the definition of begging the question.
As far as immaterialism, you clearly misunderstand what imaterialism means. It’s not the positing of an immaterial world. It’s the denial of the material world.
(J.W.) “You have come in, charging theism with a tu quoque (which is fallacious in itself), by saying that theism has no meaning either.”
– How can you prove theism isn’t a perception within the mind? It’s not an off-limits question. The many religions and belief practices in this world make that claim valid. Unfortunately for you, christianity isn’t the only form of theism. It validate my point, that theism (from polytheism, henotheism, monotheism, pantheism, deism) all progress out of the mind of evolutionary man.
(J,W.)”But then, you refuse to allow theism all of the resources at its disposal” – Where are the resources if you deny the material world? Theism is faith based. The reason why is because it is not based on verifiable proof, but built from assertions, claims, and hearsay. If its resources consist of that, then it is no more prominent than all other theistic belief systems dependent on the same thing, all in the same form. There is no reason to accept your particular one over theirs. You don’t accept hearsay from those who say materialism can have meaning, yet they are to bow to theism’s baseless “resources” to support its claim? I think not.
(J.W.)”As far as immaterialism, you clearly misunderstand what imaterialism means. It’s not the positing of an immaterial world. It’s the denial of the material world.”
– Which is exactly why I posted my response about theists…..who DO assert an immaterial realm. How would they know any better and with what senses to detect it with?
I see I’m not getting through to you. The point of my arguments and this post has not been to establish theism, as I explicitly state, ” I’m not saying it’s a good reason to abandon that [un]belief.” You have yet to show there is meaning on materialism, so I see that we’re getting nowhere. If you’d like to discuss the existence of God, check out some of my relevant posts by clicking “God Exists” up at the top.
“The point of my arguments and this post has not been to establish theism”- Right…even though your point is driven by…theism…as suggested in the title which you also indicated this post was made based on another post on atheism, as if to suggest meaning can only come from something to which you can’t even establish.
“You have yet to show there is meaning on materialism”- what for? There’s no reason why a functioning developed intelligent brain can’t create meaning. We do it with money, we do it with various activities, personal or not. If your trying to show whether nature itself has meaning or purpose, simply look out into the universe. If galaxies are destroyed by dying stars, colliding galaxies, and black-holes, why should our own galaxy have any more meaning than the others when we will eventually suffer the same fate? Our sun will burn out. We are on a direct collision course with a galaxy twice our size. Simply a recurring process within the universe. Those two scenarios alone spell the certain end of our planet, if not galaxy. An intelligent creature self aware can create meaning for itself using what it learns within its surroundings and interactions, but a materialistic reality does not have to have meaning for this to happen.
Food has meaning to us because we can’t survive without it. A simple obvious physical causal fact. Food IS just matter, that will eventually change form into different matter over time as food is temporal. But we learn to develop meaning out of it from our experiences. Its the same way we develop meaning for other things, be it physical, social, psychological. Actions happen in context along with causality, and we use a rational mind capable of understanding. Do you think birds contemplate whether this material universe has meaning? You need a considerable amount of intelligence capable of understanding the concept. In that sense, whether the material universe has meaning is unnecessary for a mind to create meaning for the duration of its existence.
I don’t think that athiests completely grasp the import of defending the existence of meaning or purpose as a subjective experience. To say that meaning exists purely subjectively leads to interesting observations like, “a few thousand years after the big bang, before matter had time to collect into self aware things, there was no meaning.” Obviously, meaning and purpose must have suddenly popped into existence only after conscious beings emerged.
In this vein, suppose someone decided to destroy the earth and all conscious entities therein. Will not meaning and purpose be extinguished? With nothing capable of subjective experience left, does all meaning die as well? Isn’t this the course the universe is on? Why bother learning or protecting my or anyone else’s subjective experience when each one will inevitably disappear? Do our lives REALLY have meaning?
Your primary argument depends upon an undefined concept of value/meaning.
In order to assign value to something, there must be an entity capable of discerning the various accumulations of matter from each other and determining their relative importance. This presupposes the entity to have goals in order to establish the idea of ‘importance’, and defines ‘subjectivity’.
So, within the context of materialistic atheism, we can clearly demonstrate that matter has evolved into self-perpetuating groups (we’ll call them entities) capable of discerning groups of matter from one another. The matter that composes these entities has also evolved to maximize self-replication and minimize what the entity perceives as pain. So clearly the necessities for ‘valuing’ something have been met.
An argument that was made earlier also illustrates the invalidity of solving this [incorrectly supposed] problem with a god: Does God do things because they are good? Or is something good because God commands it?
In the first case, goodness clearly does not originate with god(s).
In the latter case, you are simply defining god as an entity with objective values. This is analogous to defining God as that which needs no cause, and clearly fallacious.
And to clarify, I am saying that the words ‘value’ and ‘meaning’ only have significance within the subjective context created by the emergence of entities with self-awareness (the ability to distinguish between themselves and the surrounding matter)
I’ve denied that such entities exist on materialism. I have left the burden of proof to the materialist to demonstrate that there are, in fact, subjects.
My argument does not depend on semantics. The argument hinges mostly upon whether there can be an objective basis for valuing matter moving in one way over matter moving in another.
You wrote, “This is analogous to defining God as that which needs no cause, and clearly fallacious.”
How is it fallacious? You’ve made the claim, I challenge you to support it. The principle of sufficient reason actually contradicts what you say, and I think that an established principle of logic is more credible. The principle says, in essence, that everything which exists has an explanation either of its own necessity or of contingence upon another entity. God is, of course, of the former type, whereas the universe/matter/etc. are of the latter. I leave it to you to undermine this principle in order to establish your assertion.
Someone’s been watching too much WLC 🙂
1) Define “objective value”. This term is rhetorical nonsense. In order for something to be objective, it would have to be removed completely from all motivations. Since value is based on effectiveness in attaining a goal (motivation), if it is removed completely from all motivations, it is impossible for one thing to have value over another.
2) “There are no subjects”. Define subject. I have stated above, that subjects are only possible when an entity is able to distinguish itself from other accumulations of matter (this would even be necessary of a god). These distinctions might be illusory, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist from the perspective of the entity. The ability to assign value to things arises when those self-aware entities develop motivations. Humans clearly have this capability. If this definition is not satisfactory, tell me what is and justify it.
3) The cosmological argument has been thoroughly dissected (despite William Lane Craig’s stubborn adherence), but I will summarize here: special pleading. You are creating a dubious axiom (everything needs a cause). This is not established, and dependent on our SUBJECTIVE understanding of the universe given the way we experience time. The kicker, is that you then proceed to break this axiom in your conclusion. The nonsensical addition of ‘by its own necessity’ is a clumsy attempt to circumvent this problem, and has no meaning. It is equivalent to the “brute” that PSR explicitly denies.
If something can exist without a cause, why can’t it be the universe? Adding the existence of a magic fairy who CAN exist without cause does nothing to solve the problem.
Further, if we accept this special pleading, it gives us absolutely no indication of the nature of this ‘god’. Doesn’t establish a personal god, doesn’t establish that there aren’t multiple gods, or maybe it was the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Perhaps in creating the universe, this being was destroyed. It tells us nothing.
And again to clarify my first point: I use the term entity so that it is inclusive of your concept of god that might exist outside of matter as well as accumulations of matter such as humans. In other words, yes I understand your argument, so no need to tell me that “entities” don’t exist. Replace it with “accumulations of matter” when considering the materialistic world view.
J.W. Wartick wrote, “I’ve denied that such entities exist on materialism. I have left the burden of proof to the materialist to demonstrate that there are, in fact, subjects.”
I deny that values exist on your world-view . It is your burden of proof to demonstrate that there are, in fact, subjects.
I feel the exact same attacks could be made on your, or pretty much anyone’s view.
I would just like to say that I have no objections whatsoever to the arguments made in the article, and find them entirely consistent.
It also seems that several commenters are jumping ahead of the arguments and disputing points that are not part of the article. There is a repeated refrain of:
“Ok, so objective goodness/morality/meaning is out, but that’s cool because I believe that all goodness/morality/meaning is subjective anyway, refute that if you can!”
As I understand it, JWW’s post does not hinge on the objective/subjective distinction at all, but rather that goodness/morality/meaning themselves do not exist in a consistent atheist worldview.
In the comments, he attempts to deny the existence of subjectivity in a materialistic worldview. I believe I have adequately refuted this notion by providing grounds for the existence of subjectivity and showing they have been met. I believe I have also established that the term ‘objective value’ is an oxymoron, and attempting to solve the problem with ‘god’ only abstracts the problem of subjectivity one layer.
Further, his logical structure is fallacious. His conclusion is simply a restatement of his 2nd assertion that removes the qualifying “objectivity”. He proceeds from various matter accumulations having no **objective** value to the complete nonexistence of
objectivevalue and meaning.
No, there has been no refutation. In a purely materialistic worldview, there is no subject, as JWW points out repeatedly. There’s no “you” that is more or less important than any other random arrangement of molecules.
If we are arbitrary evolutionary byproducts of a materialistic universe then we are no more special than the coal that we use to heat our homes or the rocks that we crush to make roads. Being alive has no value in such a mindset – how can it? Life is just a temporary arrangement of some chemical elements which displays certain unusual properties.
A dead human and a living human are of identical value and meaning: they are both, as Qohelet says, “meaningless”.
“Important” is a word that has no meaning in an objective context. In order for something to be “important”, it must be important to some entity capable of discerning value. Further, introducing a god does not create an ‘objective’ basis for anything, but abstracts the subjectivity one more layer.
I have defined a subject as an arrangement of molecules that perceives itself as distinct from its environment. This perception may be illusory, but that is irrelevant to the point. If you disagree with this definition, feel free to offer a better one. Having failed to do so, you are left with void assertions about an undefined term at the moment.
“I have defined a subject as an arrangement of molecules that perceives itself as distinct from its environment.”
You’ve defined it that way, but it contradicts that molecules don’t perceive anything because they’re not conscious. Only conscious things cna perceieve, which means you seem to imply that all molecules perceive things, or have subjective experiences.
I never said individual molecules perceive things, that would be ludicrous. That’s like if I said “Computers can perform calculations” and you countered with “That contradicts that electrons don’t perform calculations because they’re not computers”
Okay, since you now admit that you never said that individual molecules don’t perceive things, then your definition of of “a subject as an arrangement of molecues that perceives itself as distinctint from its envirooment” has no meaning at all. Your definition is void. You’ll have to come up with something that actually holds and isn’t just a string of meaningless words put together.
Allzermalmer: “Okay, since you now admit that you never said that individual molecules don’t perceive things, then your definition of of “a subject as an arrangement of molecues that perceives itself as distinctint from its envirooment” has no meaning at all. Your definition is void. You’ll have to come up with something that actually holds and isn’t just a string of meaningless words put together.”
Garrett: A subject is an arrangement of molecules that perceives itself as distinct from its environment.
Allzermalmer: That implies that the molecules themselves perceive things.
Garrett: No it doesn’t, in the same way when a computer does a calculation the individual electrons aren’t themselves calculating.
Allzermalmer: That doesn’t make any sense.
There’s nothing particularly difficult to understand there. Garrett is just stating that conciousness is an emergent property of certain complex flows and arrangements of molecules, not that conciousness is a property of the individual molecules. He gives a good example of this, with an analogy to a computer calculating. Calculation isn’t a property of an atom, yet computers are made entirely of molecules and as a whole are capable of calculating.
This discussion reminds me a lot of a short story I read in “The Mind’s I”, called “Prelude… Ant Fugue” by Douglas Hofstadter, which touches on much the same issues talked about here. I’d recommend reading it. Garret would play the role of the Anteater, and Allzermalmer, Achilles in the story.
The Anteater tells Achilles of his discussions with an ant colony called “Hillary”, naturally Achilles is very sceptical, “ants are dumb, how can all the ants in Hillary be unintelligent if she can entertain you for hours!?”. “Ants just roam around at will, completely randomly!”. The Anteater goes on to explains the intricacies and details of the whole thing to Achillies.
What is it about an arrangement of molecules that allows it to be a subject? It seems like the question has just been begged. The very question is: can matter alone compose a subject? To answer that with “A subject is an arrangement of molecules…” isn’t very enlightening.
No one is all too sure about exactly how. But two things in combination that seem to say that Subjects must be compatible with materialism: There are subjects, or in the very least I am a subject, “I think therefore I am”. And as far as we can tell the the brain is an entirely material object. Plus to that there doesn’t seem to be any reason to think that they are incompatible.
Thus we’ve gone from implicit to explicit question begging. From:
1) There are subjects
2) The Brain is entirely material
It doesn’t follow that
3) Subjects are material/the brain is the center of subject/etc.
The only reason to think 3) is true is to assume materialism to begin with.
Not only that, but what I’ve been disputing is, simply, premise 1. I have yet to see anything to show that, if all there is is the material world, there are, in fact, subjects. I’ve been denying this throughout, and so far the only response has been “there are subjects.”
As Philip said, these aren’t difficult points to follow. He aptly states “consciousness is an emergent property of certain complex flows and arrangements of molecules, not that consciousness is a property of the individual molecules”.
You are refusing to define ‘subject’. ‘Subjective’ is simply a word we have constructed to communicate an idea. Your refusal to agree on a definition and subsequent insistence that it therefore does not exist (because you won’t define it) is ridiculous.
“Garrett is just stating that conciousness is an emergent property of certain complex flows and arrangements of molecules, not that conciousness is a property of the individual molecules.”
The serious flaw with this is that consciousness isn’t emergent, because it’s the very foundation. The foundation doesn’t emerge, but is just there from which other things are built from or founded on. And calculating is rule based, but it’s based on rules using something that is there. And computers aren’t very good analogies, because that analogy between humans and computers have been defunct for a while now. Everything comes after the fact of consciousness, and that’s really all we’re going to know. That which we’re conscious of.
“Consciousness isn’t emergent”
How do you know that?
What exact reasons do you have to say that on materialism there can not be any subjects? Your article contains no support for that assertion, you only argue against “objective” meaning and value, and that has nothing to do with the possibility of SUBJECTIVE meaning or a subject to posses that meaning.
It’s actually quite hard to pin you down on exactly what you’re arguing. Is it that there are subjects, subjects are incompatible with materialism, therefore materialism is untrue?
Then all I can really say is you’ve not given anyone any reason to think that they are incompatible.
Belief that materialism seems fair, since every time anyone has proposed immaterial explanation for things, and that thing has been investigated – the explanation is always materialist, never immaterial. And we find our immaterial explanations to have been irrelevant. The proponents of the immaterial, have a 0 success tract record, backing up their own side by pointing to some hitherto unexplained phenomena and stating that it can’t possibly have a material explanation. My assumption that materialism is true is entirely justified because you’ve not given any good reason to think there’s not.
There are people trying to work the material basis for mind. I’ve already suggested a book that does a good job of it – “The Minds I” by Douglas R. Hofstader, and Daniel C. Dennett.
“How do you know that?” (i.e. Consciousness isn’t emergent)
Wait, you’re the one, or someone else was, who made the claim that consciousness is emergent. Positive claims require those people to show that’s how things are. Thus, my claim wasn’t a positive claim, and I don’t have to show anything.
But that aside, the thing I loved was how you didn’t show how we know that consciousness is emergent. Besides the very fact that no one can know this, for the simple fact that you need consciousness to talk about consciousness, and all of science is founded on consciousness. Science is empirical, which means all things have to come back to the senses.
My point has been that assuming it had a naturalistic explanation is justified. Since supernaturalism has a consistent record of failures and no successes. After that there are really only two possible options; ether it is emergent, or it is not. It is thought to be emergent because a rock isn’t concious. And it seems that it is the structure of the brain that gives it’s functionality, we can change the way you perceive conciousness though drugs that change the ebbs and flows of neuron firing. What seems almost inevitable from this is the conclusion that conciousness is dependent on structure, arrangements, and activations of neurons.
Also your claim is undoubtedly positive; you entered the conversation affirming that on materialism, arrangements of matter that are concious, must be all the way down. That is only the case if conciousness isn’t emergent.
Your belligerent tone combined with nonsensical arguments are beginning to grow tiresome.
” emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. ” How can one argue against emergent consciousness? This would require consciousness forming ex nihilo, which most definitely is a positive assertion.
Further, Wartick is making his entire argument *assuming* materialism. Emergent consciousness is the context in which we are arguing, so by denying it you are removing the argument from its original scope and topic.
That said, Philip is quite correct to say that there is absolutely no evidence for the supernatural, and every supernatural hypothesis we have been able to test has been dismissed. Even if something were seemingly supernatural, I would argue it simply indicates a realm of the natural that we do not understand.
“My point has been that assuming it had a naturalistic explanation is justified.”
Assuming it had a naturalistic explanation (which is actually a meaningless term btw), doesn’t say anything about consciousness being emergent. For consciousness could be the foundation of everything, and thus not emergent, and still be a naturalistic explanation. Nothing about a naturalistic explanation says that consciousness can’t be non-emergent.
“It is thought to be emergent because a rock isn’t concious. And it seems that it is the structure of the brain that gives it’s functionality, we can change the way you perceive conciousness though drugs that change the ebbs and flows of neuron firing. What seems almost inevitable from this is the conclusion that conciousness is dependent on structure, arrangements, and activations of neurons.”
First, science, or anything, can show who’s conscious and who’s not. This isn’t a scientific idea itself, because it’s not testable. Can’t verify that other people are conscious, or falsify that other people are conscious. Thus, you can only assume that people are or aren’t. But when you try to study consciousness, you’re using consciousness. And correlations only show what things are found together *in* consciousness. But what’s actually obvious, but different from the indoctrination that went on, was that structure, arrangements, and activation of neurons is *in* consciousness. Doctors are actually conscious of seeing those things on a computer screen.
“How can one argue against emergent consciousness? This would require consciousness forming ex nihilo, which most definitely is a positive assertion.”
Easy, by pointing out that there’s no evidence for such an assertion. Not really hard to do it. An it doesn’t require consciousness forming ex nihilo, because you’re already assuming that it was formed, which indicates that something formed it. But then you’re either going to have to assume that the thing that formed it was either created ex nihilo or something else created that. But what ever that something else that created it would be ex nihilo or something else created that something else. And so on ad infinitum, which means it was either ex nihilo or something else. Looks like you’re stuck with the positive assertion of ex nihilo.
“Your belligerent tone combined with nonsensical arguments are beginning to grow tiresome.”
Worlds smallest violin is playing “Hearts and Flowers” for you, and try to present some serious arguments sometime and not weak arguments. And I understand the arguments grow tiresome, because you have nothing to stand on.
“no evidence for emergent consciousness”: I suggest you learn a bit about neuroscience before you make such a blatantly false assertion. We know a great deal about the biology that forms our personalities. Google Scholar/PubMed are your friends; perhaps start with learning about the limbic system, and how it affects reward seeking behavior. Or maybe learn about dopamine, serotonin, and GABA. There is plenty of evidence that what we perceive as consciousness is the end result of a large number of simpler processes.
“But then you’re either going to have to assume that the thing that formed it was either created ex nihilo or something else created that.” This shows me you do not understand the concept of emergence. Consciousness is a word for an abstract process (or system of processes), not matter. You just said the equivalent of “Well, you assumed that movement was formed, but what formed movement?”
“Consciousness could be the foundation of everything” — so could fairy dust.
“Assuming it had a naturalistic explanation (which is actually a meaningless term btw), doesn’t say anything about consciousness being emergent. For consciousness could be the foundation of everything, and thus not emergent, and still be a naturalistic explanation. Nothing about a naturalistic explanation says that consciousness can’t be non-emergent.
First, science, or anything, can show who’s conscious and who’s not. This isn’t a scientific idea itself, because it’s not testable. Can’t verify that other people are conscious, or falsify that other people are conscious. Thus, you can only assume that people are or aren’t. But when you try to study consciousness, you’re using consciousness. And correlations only show what things are found together *in* consciousness. But what’s actually obvious, but different from the indoctrination that went on, was that structure, arrangements, and activation of neurons is *in* consciousness. Doctors are actually conscious of seeing those things on a computer screen.”
You’ve haven’t said anything that makes me think there is any reason take seriously the idea that conciousness is to be found in all things. Remember why we began to talk about this anyway?
You: “The serious flaw with this is that consciousness isn’t emergent”
Me: “How do you know that?”
You: “I don’t have to back it up, it’s not a positive case”
Me: “You are, and you do.”
You: “Well you can’t prove me wrong”
Part of the reason I think it’s a kinda dodgy concept, what would it be like to be a photon? What would the concious experience be? A photon has no way to ‘sense’ it’s environment, it can’t see, or feel. A thought requires concepts, where are they stored on a photon? The only conclusion I can reach from that is there is literally nothing it would be like to be a photon. And if there is nothing experientially there, I’d deny that thing is concious.
But even if it’s for some reason not impossible, you still haven’t met your burden of proof for your original objection to Garrett; to show that conciousness is in fact a property of matter/energy, and not emergent.
“Part of the reason I think it’s a kinda dodgy concept, what would it be like to be a photon? What would the concious experience be? A photon has no way to ‘sense’ it’s environment, it can’t see, or feel. A thought requires concepts, where are they stored on a photon? The only conclusion I can reach from that is there is literally nothing it would be like to be a photon. And if there is nothing experientially there, I’d deny that thing is concious.”
First, photons are mathematical constructs, and you’d rely on the fallacy of reification to think that these abstract things exist in the first place. So your question of “what would it be like to be a photon?” is meaningless. Photons don’t exist except for in mathematical equations. Mathematical equations don’t think or sense, because they only exist in human beings heads. And consciousness doesn’t require thought, just that you have some sort of datum, or just experience.
“But even if it’s for some reason not impossible, you still haven’t met your burden of proof for your original objection to Garrett; to show that conciousness is in fact a property of matter/energy, and not emergent.”
I don’t have any Burden of Proof, because I didn’t make any positive claim. And matter/energy are themselves abstract concepts as well not found in experience. They too are mathematical equations that are abstract concepts. Abstract concepts, unless your a Platonist, don’t exist except for in human beings heads.
“I suggest you learn a bit about neuroscience before you make such a blatantly false assertion. We know a great deal about the biology that forms our personalities. Google Scholar/PubMed are your friends; perhaps start with learning about the limbic system, and how it affects reward seeking behavior. Or maybe learn about dopamine, serotonin, and GABA. There is plenty of evidence that what we perceive as consciousness is the end result of a large number of simpler processes.”
You need to learn about science first. Science is based on being empirical, which means making observations of the senses. And we know that people have certain personalities, and that we find that there’s a conjunction between seeing people with certain personalities and having their limbic system in certain configurations. These are found to be correlated. And these observations are found *in* conscious experience. No one has an experience of consciousness being emergent, because they require consciousness to even make that observation. Thus, you’re argument has no weight. Learn about science before you spout nonsense arguments.
“You’ve haven’t said anything that makes me think there is any reason take seriously the idea that conciousness is to be found in all things. Remember why we began to talk about this anyway?”
Yet, I remember how this talk began. You making positive claims that you haven’t backed up with experience. I’m still waiting for you to back up your positive assertion.
“This shows me you do not understand the concept of emergence.”
Nice red herring, because you said that if consciousness isn’t emergent, then someone is saying consciousness was created ex nihilo. But that doesn’t follow and is an illogical argument. I just pointed out that even if we accept what you say without experience to back it up, then you’re still left with an ex nihilo argument or infinite regress. Even if consciousness is emergent, then it emerged from something. But either this something that consciousness emerged from was created by something else or wasn’t created from something and was thus created ex nihilo. Thus, you come to an infinite regress or ex nihilo. this shows me that you hold either to ex nihilo yourself or infinite regress.
“Consciousness is a word for an abstract process (or system of processes), not matter.”
You have the strangest notion of consciousness. Consciousness is a word for experience. You can’t have experience without consciousness, and you seem to be saying that experience is an abstract process. What’s worse, you think that consciousness is an abstract process, while it’s matter that’s an abstract process.
““Consciousness could be the foundation of everything” — so could fairy dust.”
Well, you’re right. This fairy dust, which is emergent consciousness, could be as well. But no one has any experience to back that up. But fell free to believe in this fairy dust. Just means you’ll believe in a ton of things with no experience to back it up.
“I don’t have any Burden of Proof, because I didn’t make any positive claim.”
You claimed that conciousness isn’t emergent. That is a proposition, a positive claim. Stop pretending you never said it. It’s there, in black and white.
Your claim that all matter and energy are only mathematical is nonsense. There is matter/energy, and we also have mathematical models/estimates that describe their interactions. I’m not claiming that the models are exact representative of reality, but that things really do exist. It’s interesting that to defend non-emergency, you’d have sink into a kind of solipsism.
I think your being deliberately ridiculous.
“You claimed that conciousness isn’t emergent. That is a proposition, a positive claim.”
Yes, saying that “consciousness isn’t emergent” is a proposition, and it’s negative. It’s not a positive claim. A positive claim has no negations like “isn’t” or “not” or “no”. This is a positive assertion, which is what you said, “consciousness is emergent”. Those who make positive assertions, like “God exists”, has the burden of proof. those who make negative assertions, like “God doesn’t exist”, have no burden of proof.
You’ve made the positive assertion, not me. You can’t defend your assertion, which is why you’ve moved into this logical fallacy.
“Your claim that all matter and energy are only mathematical is nonsense. There is matter/energy, and we also have mathematical models/estimates that describe their interactions.”
You’re making a positive assertion, again. So back it up. All you have are mathematical models, which are just numbers/symbols and nothing actually exiting. Having mathematical models to describe how things interact in the models doesn’t equate to anything existing.
“I’m not claiming that the models are exact representative of reality, but that things really do exist. It’s interesting that to defend non-emergency, you’d have sink into a kind of solipsism. ”
You keep making these religious claims like “they really do exist”, but you can never back up these positive assertions. And I’ve never sinked into solipsism. I’m just an empiricist, which means that all matters of fact are derived from experience. But you believe in things that aren’t derived from experience. You have not, at any time, defended your positive assertions and keep switching the burden of proof. This is evidence that you can’t defend your faith with actual experience.
“Science is the process of creating predictive models of the universe that converge on accuracy over time. Our ability to make these models is dependent upon our consciousness, yes, and their scope is limited by our perception, yes, but these statements don’t suddenly nullify all evidence that contradicts your argument. We have the ability to observe and manipulate cognitive function experimentally, and we do so all the time.”
Except you forget that all evidence is perceptual, which means it’s *in* consciousness. So there’s no evidence that “contradicts (my) argument”. We do observe and manipulate some of those things that we observe *in* consciousness, but it doesn’t show consciousness emerging from something else other than consciousnesses. They observe how someone behaves, or images on a computer screen and what people say they’re experiencing. That’s observing their behavior.
“I’ve already explained that we have plenty of evidence showing that consciousness is at least in part dependent upon the physiological processes of the brain, many of which we understand very well. To claim that the aspects of personality/consciousness we don’t understand are not also dependent on biology is just an argument from ignorance.”
You don’t have any evidence showing that consciousness is dependent on anything. All you’ve said is that certain people have perceptions of other people doing certain things in certain conditions, or observing certain things in certain conditions. All these observation happens *in* consciousness, which means you have no empirical support for anything outside of consciousness. And I’ve made no argument from ignorance. I’ve just pointed out that you rely on claims that you don’t support with experience or observation.
“”matter is an abstract process” — what?”
It should be obvious what it means.
Science is the process of creating predictive models of the universe that converge on accuracy over time. Our ability to make these models is dependent upon our consciousness, yes, and their scope is limited by our perception, yes, but these statements don’t suddenly nullify all evidence that contradicts your argument. We have the ability to observe and manipulate cognitive function experimentally, and we do so all the time.
“fairy dust..emergent consciousness” — I’ve already explained that we have plenty of evidence showing that consciousness is at least in part dependent upon the physiological processes of the brain, many of which we understand very well. To claim that the aspects of personality/consciousness we don’t understand are not also dependent on biology is just an argument from ignorance.
“matter is an abstract process” — what?
Philip…I keep trying to “like” your comment 🙂
I have created a post to clarify my position that materialism cannot even account for the existence of subjects: https://jwwartick.com/2011/12/05/subjects-materialism/
I got a long way through (but not through all) of the posts here. Just want to say:
I’m an atheist. I have a sort of a meaning right now to me in my own being. It doesn’t go any farther than that. I suppose I could say I will have meaning after I’m dead for as long as I’m remembered in some way or other – by other individuals who have their own meaning for as long as they’re alive.
After that, nope, I have no meaning.
And my molecules don’t mean anything more than any others.
And the bone and the stick and you and my cat and the distant galaxy, and the pieces of the true cross are all equal.
Does that make me a consistent atheist? Do I get a prize?
Does this mean you’ll change your mind in the face of consistent atheism and say, gosh, you’re right, I’ll have to become an atheist?
Interesting thread! I must say that as an atheist, I agree in general that there is no objective meaning in the universe. In a cosmic sense, we really do not matter. All that does matter is how we, as beings, experience this universe. Who cares if we are “subjects” or if there is anything objective at all?
Also, please stop saying that atheism says “there is no god”. The proper definition is that we do not “believe” there is a god. I see this mistakenly used everywhere, particularily Amon theists.
Thank you for your generous comment!
I would like to point out that if the definition of atheism is “lack of belief in god” then it would be proper to refer to cats, rocks, trees, and television sets as atheists. This leads to absurd conclusions.
Sometimes definitions are weird like that, but are still useful. The term “bachelor” refers to any unmarried man, which includes the pope, although we don’t tend to think of the Arch Bishop of Rome as a bachelor.
I think we all get that when we say the word atheist, we are talking about the null value where theism is an option. Although I think most atheists, as the term is usually applied maintain the belief that all claims to the existence of god(s) are unsubstantiated.
Actually yes, the Pope is a bachelor. He satisfies the criterion for the definition of bachelor: being an unmarried man. Similarly, if we were to define atheist as outlined by “nth_dimension,” cats, rocks, etc. are atheists simply because they lack belief. The problem is that some atheists have redefined terms and made them meaningless. I recall an interesting discussion in C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” in which he laments the change of definition for gentleman. It used to mean something objective–a man who held land, but by Lewis’ day it had changed to mean simply a nice man. Of course this as a definition is almost vacuous.
But even moreso is this proposed definition of “atheist.” If one offers a definition of a word like atheist which suddenly opens the range of definiens to inanimate objects, there is something seriously wrong with their definition.
Atheists are sentient beings that lack belief in deities. Happy? Do we really have to spell that out for you? The ability to hold beliefs is implied, since we don’t talk about beliefs in terms of inanimate objects. Stop being ridiculously obtuse.
Rather than pointing out that your definition is overly broad (i.e. belief in deities implies only a rejection of polytheism), I would like to once more point out that this definition, “Atheists are sentient beings that lack belief in [any god–to avoid the oversimplification]” is overly broad. On this view, simply lacking belief is enough to make one an atheist. But then what is an agnostic? An agnostic is one who actively withholds belief about the existence of any god [at least if we’re referring to agnosticism about the existence of God]. But then in that case, agnostics are, in fact, more skeptical than atheists! For atheists merely lack belief, while agnostics withhold belief! And surely this is not the correct distinction.
Really, the definition game going on here is that atheists are trying to distance themselves from a burden of proof. Rather than making a claim, “God does not exist,” they prefer to hide behind a phrase like “I lack belief in God.” Now, once that has been finessed into “I am a sentient being that lacks belief in any god which makes me an atheist,” we find that this means agnostics are more atheistic than atheists. So I would, in response to the charge that I’m being “ridiculously obtuse” ask atheists to stop being ridiculously dodgy. Do you believe God exists? If not, then you’re not merely lacking belief, you are saying “There is no God.” However, if you merely want to claim “I lack belief in God” you’re making a claim about lacking a property, namely, belief in God. And if that is what atheism is, then once more we have the problem that rocks also lack this property.
I am not being obtuse. I am asking people to be precise. When we’re talking about the particulars of propositional knowledge, we absolutely must be precise. So I would ask you to stop being spurious. Define your terms in meaningful ways or stop using them.
Atheism and agnosticism are orthogonal, not mutually exclusive. I don’t believe that you’re a transvestite hooker from Thailand. That doesn’t mean I’m claiming you’re not, it means I have no evidence to verify such a claim.
This is not a difficult concept. I suggest you actually try to learn what your opponents believe and argue against it, rather than constructing straw men by telling us what we believe (” you are saying ‘There is no God.'”).
Assuming you take that link you posted to explain your position, I take it you’re claiming to be either an “atheist agnostic” or an “atheist gnostic.” In any case, we’re still not using the term “atheist,” but “atheist+.” I think it’s fair to say that I can grant your position without conceding my own. You may freely be one of those positions, while I may point out that you’re not holding the position of “atheism” but rather a position that is “atheism plus a distinction.” Fine! Feel free to hold that position, but don’t make it identical with atheism broadly. If you’re going to distinguish between forms of atheism, you must provide an argument for why your specific form of atheism is the one which should be identified as “atheism” simplicter, whilst the others are not.
There is no broad definition for atheism. Some are actually theists who are angry at their lot in life. Some are apathetic and haven’t really thought about it. Then there are the categories in the link I posted. So it’s invalid to argue against atheism broadly unless you are providing evidence for the existence of a god. Atheism is a conclusion, not a world-view or methodology.
I have met only 1 or 2 atheists (online) who have ever claimed “God doesn’t exist”, and everyone else has been agnostic atheists who simply see no evidence to support a supernatural conclusion. So in that sense, if you use the majority perspective to define atheism, then yes agnostic theism is the best fit. That’s why you will get angry atheists correcting you when you make assertions about “atheism”, which don’t align with the majority. Gnostic atheism is an obvious fallacy to most thinking people, and when you argue against it, it makes it appear like you’re disingenuously deconstructing a straw man.
I am merely asking people to back their claims. If the claim of an agnostic theist is “we can’t know if God exists” then they need to support that claim. But if they support it merely by arguing against 100% certainty of belief in God, their arguments work against knowledge of anything.
But you actually wrote, “A better way of explaining it is I assign probabilities that any of my beliefs are true. It can range from VERY improbable, ie. adoption/cheating to very probable.”
If this is in fact what you think, then, being an atheist, I suspect you’re saying that the probability of God is phenomenally low. But in that case, by your own definition, you “believe” with a certain amount of certainty (whatever probability you assign) that God does not exist. This is of course not a lack of belief in God, but itself a belief. So it seems like you actually agree with me that you’re making a claim: namely, the probability of God’s existence is quite low and/or the belief that God does not exist to degree of certainty x. We therefore have arrived at my original point, and it has essentially been granted by the quote I provided.
Thus, I can’t help but think by your own words that you actually do have a belief about God, that God does not exist to degree of certainty x.
There’s a very long video by an atheist about this topic who basically points out the same things.
You are absolutely correct that I believe the probability of a god to be very low, but this belief is not really anything more than my fundamental worldview that ascertaining the existence of something requires evidence and the perpetual lack of evidence for something yields a very low probability it exists.
More explicitly, for a person to believe something exists, I think they should require evidence. (Obviously the _actual_ existence of something does not depend on a person’s gathering of evidence)
So if you want to argue against my atheism, you have to either show there is a better method for reaching conclusions about existence, or meet the criteria.
P.S. Since this is the worldview intrinsic to scientific pursuit, this is why we equate atheism with the null hypothesis.
I did not intend to argue against your criteria. I’m merely pointing out that, especially with this comment, we are now in agreement that atheists are committed to a positive claim.
Only insofar as a person’s atheism is aligned with empirical skepticism.
But in the skeptics view, if you consider the “positive claim” to be that evidence should be necessary to inform belief, then sure.
I was referencing the positive claim that “The probability of a god is very low.”
And empirical skepticism does not reduce to the view that “evidence should be necessary to inform belief”- a survey of epistemology would show that that position is evidentialism. “Empirical skepticism” is much more akin to positivism, which is itself bankrupt and has been almost universally acknowledged as such since the fall of the positivist Vienna Circle due to the realization that their position was self refuting.
“Empirical skepticism” can be used interchangeably with “scientific skepticism”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skepticism#Scientific_skepticism
Regardless, the “low probability” aspect is totally dependent upon the definition of “god”. For instance, if we are talking about a god that is completely outside the realm of human perception, a statement of probability can’t really be made. Such a god would be irrelevant, however, and not of too much interest.
The more general “positive claim” is that scientific skepticism (I’ll use ‘scientific’ here rather than ’empirical’ for your benefit) is the most reliable and useful method for the formation of beliefs.
Again, this view is little different than logical positivism. Are you claiming that science is the only way to discover truth?
Truth is slippery. The real question is what should we be willing to base our beliefs on. And since we can not all be experts in every subject, what is the best system for finding truth as a collective?
I very much think the combination of the scientific method with peer review is the best tool humans have for this task.
“So I would, in response to the charge that I’m being “ridiculously obtuse” ask atheists to stop being ridiculously dodgy. Do you believe God exists? If not, then you’re not merely lacking belief, you are saying “There is no God.” ”
Here’s the thing. You can “believe” something does not exist because there is lack of evidence or for whatever other reason, but that is not the same as saying “it does not exist”.
Most people who call themselves atheists or humanists, or whatever, are not trying to prove anything, or make any positive claim. It really is simply that so far, because there is not enough reason to, they do not believe in God.
And yes if you want to ascribe human attributes like the capacity to think about and believe something to cats and rocks etc, then yes, they too would be atheist…
“Do you believe God exists? If not, then you’re not merely lacking belief, you are saying “There is no God.” ”
If you believe the two are the same, try adding “but he may exist” to the end of each sentence. One remains a coherent statement, the other becomes self-contradictory.
“I don’t believe aliens exist, but they may do” (ie, I hold this position, but accept the possibility that I could be wrong)
“Aliens don’t exist but they may exist” – that just makes no sense.
Thus we see that “I don’t believe x exists” is not the same as asserting “X doesn’t exist”. Thus, atheism is not a positive claim about God’s non-existence, merely a statement about one’s own beliefs.
I don’t believe Kambucha cures stomach cancer, psychodynamic therapy is effective, that I was actually adopted, that my wife cheats on me, etc etc. There are a million things I don’t believe that I do not claim the negative with 100% certitude. So yes, ridiculously obtuse, especially for assuming we are being “dodgy” and trying to hide our true beliefs.
So you’re saying you wouldn’t make the claim “My wife doesn’t cheat on me” or “I am not adopted”? I find that remarkable.
I have a lot of evidence my wife doesn’t cheat on me, and a lot of evidence I am my parent’s child. My level of certainty is very high, but I am a set of pictures or a DNA test away from changing that belief. A better way of explaining it is I assign probabilities that any of my beliefs are true. It can range from VERY improbable, ie. adoption/cheating to very probable.
I think the research examples I gave are more analogous to theism. Some people claim that Kambucha (sp?) / buckwheat / all manner of things can cure cancer. I allow for the possibility those claims are true, but I will never believe them unless I see empirical evidence.
Garrett, sorry I trailed off. Let me offer a brief response. It seems to me then that you aren’t granting the theist believes they have evidence for their beliefs as well, while also being unwilling to defend or make any claims. That’s what I’m finding so hard to follow right now. Are you making claims or not? Are you saying your wife may or may not cheat on you or are would you say she does not?
I am saying my certainty of “belief” about any given subject lies on a spectrum. For a rational person, that certainty level should be determined by the amount/quality of evidence for the particular belief. Science and peer review provide the most reliable basis for a belief.
Now obviously we could not function if we had to provide scientific evidence for every belief, and so we categorize beliefs by the kinds of evidence we are willing to accept so that we can function on a daily basis. These categorizations are largely based on the perceived utility of pursuing better evidence.
As an example, I do not demand empirical evidence and peer review to believe that my wife is not cheating on me. I could hire a few private investigators or follow her around constantly myself to increase this certainty, but I perceive these actions as having a net negative consequence. And so I rely on my admittedly biased judgement, including observations of her behavior patterns, body language, etc. I could also constantly be on the lookout for clues she is cheating on me, but I perceive this would also have a net negative outcome and so I suspend disbelief, being satisfied with my imperfect knowledge.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, I have my medical health. This falls into the category of “I will never accept anything less than peer reviewed research showing it’s efficacy.” No amount of anecdotal evidence will ever convince me to substitute buckwheat for chemotherapy. I am also constantly aware that I should not accept my own personal experiences as evidence in the medical realm, given the placebo effect and confirmation bias.
For things that do not affect me personally, and I do not need to make judgements about to function, I might tentatively speculate but will always defer to science and peer review.
I think this is where we differ. I certainly accept that theists believe they have evidence. But theism falls under the last category I mentioned, and so I am not willing to accept anecdotal evidence (including my own), or anything that is unverifiable. Now if a theist believes they require their beliefs to function, and have sufficient non-scientific evidence to support their beliefs (as I do in my wife’s case), then fine. I have no problem with that, as long as they understand the nature of their belief. It is completely different, however, to deny science in favor of those beliefs (e.g. evolution). That would be like me maintaining my belief about spousal loyalty in the face of video proving otherwise.
That was long-winded, but I think I answered your question. Make sense?
Thanks for the clarification! It does make sense, but I definitely think it is inherently flawed. If it’s not outright positivism, it’s right next to it.
Garrett: Science and peer review provide the most reliable basis for a belief.
That’s a pretty strong statement of belief right there. Since you can’t possibly have any scientific and peer-reviewed evidence for it (since that would be question-begging), I guess you are happy to just take that one on faith.
Garrett: It is completely different, however, to deny science in favor of those beliefs (e.g. evolution).
This is not a necessary feature of theism, so I’m not sure that it really belongs in this discussion.
1) Yes, @sentinel. That is a personal belief, as I was explaining how I form personal beliefs. Axiomatic to my system is that requiring repeatability and having your experimental procedure/data analysis critiqued by other scientists is the most reliable system we have for advancing knowledge as a society. And yes, that axiom is subject to debate and not absolute, which is why I asked JW if he had a better solution. As of right now, I would say the increasing rapidity and accuracy of scientific results associated with the scientific method and peer review is evidence of its efficacy.
2) See the forest for the trees. That post was about my perspective on belief formation. I never claimed denying evolution was required for theism.
J.W. I still seem to have a comment pending.
Garrett… perhaps you could repost the comment? I don’t seem to have any pending ones. I double checked the spam folder and couldn’t see any there either.
I was basically just asking for your alternative to my suggested methodology of belief formation, keeping in mind that beliefs are a statement of utility and not “truth”.
For instance, I can accept there might be an imperceptible spectrum of reality outside of the material realm, but unless it affects our reality there is no utility in holding such a belief.
Just a comment from the sidelines here: this conversation is just going in circles.
Garrett is sidestepping any points that he isn’t comfortable with, and JW is doggedly trying to get a philosophically definitive statement from someone who is unwilling to state anything in concrete terms.
At this point, it’s starting to look like JW is being trolled.
(And please note that I’m not presuming to know Garrett’s actual motivations, just saying what it looks like to an outside observer).
Oh please do tell me which points I’m uncomfortable with.
Or are you just afraid the casual reader won’t be able to come to their own conclusions without your gloriously unbiased assessment?
“In particular, once you don’t conjoin them they definitely do not commit the fallacy of composition.
I apologize, I did forget to quote 4. However, I also explained, in high-level language, the part of your argument that gave me trouble (fallacies can describe any sort of conceptual non-sequitur, not merely a rigorously formalized one). It seems to me that you were legalistic in your response as part of an attempt to avoid the issue. I hope that I am wrong, and that this is merely a miscommunication.
“Secondly, point 5 is a challenge to the materialist to demonstrate their claim: that there are subjects”
I also think that it is disingenuous of you to take a subset of a materialist argument (“everything is made of matter”), accept the assertion as an axiom without demanding demonstration, then demand a demonstration when materialists assert that a material brain can produce a subject. The only alternative allowed by your argument is to declare that because the material existence of subjects is unproven, we must assume by default that humans in a material universe are philosophical zombies. I believe this to be an untenable position (see Minsky’s objection to p-zombies). The only fallback is to *also* take the materialist’s position on the existence of subjects as being axiomatic (although we can still quibble over what sorts of subjects they’ll be- certainly acausal free will is out in the window in a materialist universe). I’ll enumerate this issue about subjectivity when I delve into the “subject” blog post that you linked me to.
It is also disingenuous to impose your idea of “proof” on a scientific philosophy, which recognizes no such “proof”. Scientific proof is, in some sense, a contradiction in terms. You must either accept scientific conceptions about burden of proof or else CLEARLY DEFINE what *you* think would constitute “proof” of cognitive scientists’ claims. Since you appear to have done neither as of yet, it seems like you’re floating the goal posts in that regard.
At any rate, the modern “materialist” consensus is that subjects exist, but not as atomic entities. I will address some misunderstandings from your “subjects” blog post.
We cannot directly “demonstrate” the existence of a subject in the way that you seem to be demanding it. You can’t either. Likewise, I cannot “demonstrate” the existence of a computer program; it is an abstract entity resulting from the underlying physical processes of the computer. Essentially, you are demanding a reification of subjectivity, which is a fallacious demand (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reification_(fallacy)). It is not possible to prove the empirical physicality of an abstraction.
You incorrectly use the Churchland quote to attempt to refute something along the lines of the following: “I could argue that it is merely sufficient to claim, in the absence of *proven* philosophical zombies, that I am a subject. Absent any sort of zombiehood or parrot-like mimicry, my claim to sentience is valid, because the concept of sentience was invented by humans to describe the feeling of self-recognition, which is the very circumstance I find myself in.” However, the Paul Churchland quote that you use to dispel this notion does NOT dispute the folk assertion of consciousness experience- in the context of his book, it describes the likelihood that folk notions of consciousness (things like qualia) will be abandoned in favor of more discrete neurological descriptions. Also, Paul Churchland is an Eliminative Materialist- he is representative of relatively few materialists.
We can, however, scientifically infer the *necessary* constituent components of consciousness. By “necessary”, I mean constituents that conscious beings cannot be conscious without. If we identify these components by correlating their function, we can use our neurological findings to eventually build computer models which themselves assert that they have phenomenological experiences (learned; without being programmed to state such a thing). In the world of cognitive science, this achievement is considered the burden of proof necessary to show that consciousness is a material process. IMPORTANT: To this date, we have never identified any possible nonmaterial component of consciousness, while demonstrations indicate that material components exist in abundance.
Continuing, from your post:
“But why suppose this? Ultimately, that conscious experience is reducible to the brain, which is reducible to matter, which is everything. On materialism, there really is just one “thing”: the material universe as a whole. The “parts” of this “thing” are ultimately reducible to smaller and smaller particles which comprise all the “things” themselves. Ultimately, all is matter, merely arranged in different ways at different times. I’m not suggesting that matter is some kind of single entity. It is particulate. But matter is also one kind of thing. Ultimately, on materialism, all things are just this kind of thing: material. The only way to differentiate between them is by time and place, but even then every individual thing is itself composed of particles of matter. All things are reducible to the same thing.”
This is almost the very definition of what a fallacy of composition is. Matter is a broad classification of several types of “things”, which behave in different ways when combined to form higher-level structures. The fact that conscious experience is reducible to matter does not mean that conscious experience inherits only the low-level characteristics of matter.
“The difficulty with this scenario is that it only serves to underscore the problems with materialism. Imagine a mad scientist, who, over the course of a day, cuts my brain into 24 pieces. Each hour, he removes one piece of my brain and places it into another body, which has no brain. He simultaneously replaces the piece of brain with an exact molecular copy. After the day, there is a body which has my brain in it, and my body, which has a copy of my brain in it. Which is me? And, if that question can be answered on materialism (which I doubt), when did my body/brain cease being me and transfer to the other body/brain?”
This actually a conundrum taught in introductory cognitive science courses. While parts of this question are still open, we do have a cogent answer. Consciousness is a *process* which can decline or be disrupted by interfering with its constituent components (this has been empirically demonstrated by examinations of severely epileptic and sleeping patients). There are numerous components (the thalamus, the prefrontal cortex, the whole limbic system, the thalamo-cortico-thalamic circuits) which would be disrupted by such an operation as you suggest, which in turn would inhibit the conscious process. The “original brain” in the new body would most certainly have decohered [be dead] after a day- brain regions would no longer function in concert after having operated in a different environment with different stimuli. In plain english, the parts removed from your brain will remain static (presumably you cryogenically freeze them or something) in the empty body’s skull, and will slowly be added to other parts which have progressed beyond the point that the earlier parts had. And the original body will only have remained “you” if critical conscious processes weren’t disrupted by the transition (surgery by instant teleportation rather than by cutting)- if disruption occurs, then there are grounds to say that you “wake up” a different person.
“There are at least five features of mental states which materialism cannot take into account. They are:
The feeling of “‘what-it-is-like’ to have a mental state such as a pain”
Inner, private, and immediate access to the subject
Subjective ontology which is irreducible to the third person
They lack spatial extension, location, etc. (Adapted from Moreland, 20, cited below)”
There are plenty of possible ways that materialism can take the above into account. Most of them are similar. Here is one: http://www.scholarpedia.org/article/Self_Models. I would highly recommend you also take a look at the citations there as well.
I have one more objection.
You have constructed this argument from very specific premises (not all of which reflect Materialist consensus). You have demonstrated a grave naivety about the sorts of claims you are trying to refute. You have tried to place the burden of proof on materialists, who assume an axiom of physicality that has been shown to repeatedly dispel nonmaterial explanations. Nonmaterialists have never made a repeatable, testable demonstration of their claims. From a purely pragmatic standpoint, your support for the premises of your argument against materialist claims is a series of “I don’t really think so” statements combined with both incorrect assertions that materialists “can’t explain [x]” and movement of the materialist burden-of-proof goal posts.
I am going to follow up to my post on a couple of things I didn’t concentrate on, but should have.
“People like Jaegwon Kim literally deny the existence of consciousness. I hate to say it, but on this point (saying I made a straw man), you’re simply mistaken.”
Ok. You said
“Materialism routinely denies that there is such a thing as consciousness (or reduces it to being acausal), so the burden of proof is on the materialist to show that there are subjects.”
First of all, Jaegwon Kim is not a materialist. He stated that “phenomenal mental properties are not functionally definable and hence functionally irreducible”, and has repeatedly rejected materialism on the grounds that qualia are not reducible. He has written several papers to this effect.
Second of all, even if Jaegwon Kim was a materialist, his position does not necessarily represent Materialism. You have a nasty habit of pretending like Materialism is defined by the individuals you prefer, rather than a set of common, majority-endorsed positions.
Third, no consensus materialist position (with the exception of one nearly universally-rejected QM theory of consciousness) would ever state that consciousness was acausal. Even probabilistic systems still obey particular causal rules.
In conclusion, your assertion is most certainly a straw man.
“I have claimed materialism cannot ground subjects, and still remain unchallenged by anything with an argument.”
There are myriad good theories which propose methods by which materialism can ground subjects. What are you demanding? Or is this just some form of bizarre chest-thumping?
Not sure if anyone pointed this out yet, but:
The OP’s argument is incoherent, since the term “value” in the premise: “2) There is no objective reason to value matter moving in way A over matter moving in way B” is being used as an absolute term, when in fact, in correct language usage, it only makes sense when used in a subject/object clause: as in “Fred values happiness over money”.
You can see this by saying for instance: “There is no objective reason to value God over the Devil”, which is similarly meaningless or just a trivial truism depending on which way you look at it.
Of course, you can define God as the ground of all value, but then any contention that something has value that isn’t grounded in god is false, just by definition. Similarly one could define being material as what imparts value, in which case god would by definition have no value (assuming she isn’t material).
1) On materialistic [I use materialism and physicalism interchangeably, as is common in philosophy today] atheism, all we are is matter in motion.
2) There is no objective reason to value matter moving in way A over matter moving in way B
But you just said that’s all there is, and if that’s all there is, then we HAVE to value that!
3) Therefore, on materialistic atheism, there is no value or meaning
Interesting. It’s not often a Theist gets things wrong on the premis AND the middle. Usually they’re wrong because of the premis, but this got 2 things wrong.
Saying “wrong” does not make it true. Moreover, saying that “x is all there is” doesn’t mean x is is valuable. Suppose that the entire universe was a septic tank. All there is in that septic tank is sewage. Therefore, sewage is valuable? “if [sewage] is all there is, then we HAVE to value that!” is your point? Doubtful. So, no, I don’t think either point is wrong, and no argument was really levied against the points other than an argument that is clearly mistaken.
Dung beetles can value sewage. If there are no life forms to value it, then no, it’s not valuable. If there are, then it is. Simple. And in thus universe? I value the sausage next to me right now, so it is valuable. After I’ve eaten it it may or may not have value to some other creatures in another form. Ultimately it may cease to have any value at all, but so what? Why does its value need to be eternal before you can acknowledge it.
TL;DR: It’s demonstrably false to say an atheist universe lacks values – it contains things people value, regardless of whether you call that value ‘subjective’.
Right so basically, at core, all you’ve got is subjectivism and established my point that, ultimately the atheist has no objectivity.
You’re welcome to call it subjective, but I note you don’t reject that it’s false to say values don’t exist under atheism. And of course you’ve not shown that values would be any more objective under theism. How would the world look any different if a God existed and all our values suddenly became objective?
Well I’ve also argued that on atheism there can’t really be subjects, but that’s a different path. What I argued in this post is that atheism’s universe cannot have ultimate meaning. You’ve effectively granted that, so your initial claims that my argument was mistaken are wrong. Moreover, what you’ve done now is put forward a tu quoque argument. I made a claim in this post. That claim appears to have been established and even granted. On atheism, ultimately, we have a meaningless universe.
Can you quote where I granted that? I don’t recall advancing a Tu Quoque argument either. Can you explain also the difference between something having meaning and having ultimate meaning? If something means something, what extra is added by that meaning being ‘ultimate’?
Ok, I get what you mean by putting forward a Tu Quoque argument. I don’t think I was, but I get which bit you meant. I was just trying to work out what extra meaning would be added if a God existed. We all live our lives, things have meaning to us. You’re saying that if a God existed then an extra ‘ultimate’ meaning would be added, but I don’t get what actual difference this would make, either in a way we could detect, or even just in how we see things. What would be the difference between you in a theistic universe believing ultimate meaning existed and being right, and you in an atheist universe mistakenly believing ultimate meaning existed? Everything would look and feel exactly the same to you, as far as I can work out. So this all seems a pretty academic argument.
Ps, I just read your subjects argument. As you say, a different path.
You ask what difference it would make if God existed, specifically “in a way we could detect.” Well, if we are discussing what difference God would make, then we can take into account the resources Christianity has for explaining meaning, the question of detection is a bit nonsensical. After all, if God exists, God could very easily communicate with us, making “detection” not a difficulty at all, and on the Christian worldview God has done exactly that with the Scriptures. So detection isn’t a problem. Moreover, you say that “everything would look and feel exactly the same to you.” I don’t think that is true at all. Indeed, I think it is definitely false. For example, if God exists, I can look at something like the death of a relative not as just another rearrangement of matter, but rather as something to hope for–the eventual resurrection of that relative and living with that relative in the New Creation. That is certainly a very different “look” at the universe and its meaning? But on an atheistic perspective, what grounding is there for putting any meaning to that death beyond just a different arrangement of matter? The only answer could be that I want it to mean something else, but that doesn’t really do anything in the long scheme of things. After all, I and all humans will just be matter rearranged differently at some point. Looks like a very different universe to me. I don’t see how it couldn’t be. That’s not “exactly the same” at all.
What I’ve argued in this post is that the universe, on atheism, has no ultimate meaning. So far, I haven’t been given any reason to think otherwise.
That’s not what I mean at all. I asked what the difference would be between you a) being in a theistic universe as a Christian, and b) you being a Christian in an atheistic universe. You say that in the former you could look at the death of a relative and hope for their eventual resurrection. Well you can hope for that as a Christian in an atheistic universe too. You’d be wrong, but you wouldn’t know that. The universe looks the same either way. You seem to be saying that we couldn’t have the scriptures unless God existed. They don’t strike me as impossible objects to appear in an atheistic universe. Plenty of other supposedly holy documents exist for other religions that you reject as evidence for their deities.
If you were in a ‘meaningless’ atheistic universe but thought you were in a meaningful Christian one, there’s nothing that I can see that would give the game away. How would you tell? What would be the tale-tell sign that things were actually meaningless?
And I still don’t get what you think an atheist universe where things simply ‘mean things’ is lacking compared to a theistic universe where things have ‘ultimate meaning’. How much more meaning do things need to have?
The question you’re asking is epistemic whereas the point I’m making is ontic.
It’s a pretty simple question, JW, and so far you’ve not addressed it. Running out of different ways to phrase it.
It’s a question that confuses ontology, which is my argument, with epistemology. So it’s not germane to the argument I’m making. I’m talking about ontological grounding, not whether we can know about it. Your question addresses the latter but not the former, so it doesn’t address my argument.
To put it differently, I could grant that there is no way to know the difference and it wouldn’t impact my argument in any way. Perhaps a reexamination of the original post is in order? Or maybe just exploring the differences between ontology and epistemology.
No problem, I’m happy to wait for you to re-examine your original post and explore those differences if you feel you need to. [To clarify, I’m well aware of the difference myself]
Seems to me that any extra meaning you see in a situation under a theistic perspective is meaning you bring to it yourself. The most you can say is that believing in a God makes things more meaningful for YOU. And perhaps if you lost your faith, life would become meaningless for YOU. But it’s a big stretch to say that there is no meaning for atheists – that’s for them to say, not you. If life has meaning for me then it has meaning for me. I don’t get how this is distinct from the ‘ultimate meaning’ you feel your own life has, but if believing it has this ‘extra’ meaning makes you feel good then that’s great. If I found out that a God had created me, I don’t see what extra meaning it would create. Sure it might change my views on matters eschatological, but not how much meaning my life has.
Your comment again shows an epistemic objection against an argument about ontology. Sorry, but I think you’re just confused.
You keep saying that without addressing my argument, so I think it’s just that you don’t get my point. Which is a shame, because I’d like to know how you’d answer it.
To clarify, I’m not saying that, epistomologically, you are failing to provide evidence for an ontological position. I’m saying no tangible or effective difference exists between the two possible scenarios – Godless and theistic – with regard to meaning. The only difference is the personal perspective you bring to it. If believing in an afterlife makes a difference to how you see your life, then sure, that makes a difference. But that’s entirely personal to you. The extra meaning your life has is just the extra meaning you FEEL it has – it’s unaffected by whether or not you’re right about God.
You can disagree with that (I’m sure you do) but either way, I don’t think my argument is based on a misunderstanding of epistemology and ontology.
” I’m saying no tangible or effective difference exists between the two possible scenarios – Godless and theistic – with regard to meaning.”
If that’s the point you’re making, then we’ve come full circle back to the conclusion that the point you’re trying to make is, effectively, a tu quoque argument. My argument has been that atheism has no ontological basis for meaning. Full stop. What you’re saying by your own words has nothing to do with that argument.
Moreover, the point itself seems a bit nonsensical. Granting God exists, it seems, you’re saying that would make no difference for ontology? That’s a truly remarkable claim. I’d love to see some kind of support for it.
“The extra meaning your life has is just the extra meaning you FEEL it has – it’s unaffected by whether or not you’re right about God.”
Here’s where you once again show that you may be a little confused, because the way you’ve worded this objection is clearly epistemic. Your argument has once more come around to being an epistemic one rather than an ontic one, and that is to confuse the categories. The fact that you do this within your explanation here–within the same paragraph, even–shows that it is a little confused.
I thought I’d already explained why I didn’t think it was tu quoque. I figure that to be when, rather than answer an accusation, I just say you’re as guilty as me. Here, I’ve not said ‘Hey, sure everything’s meaningless but it is for you too’. Rather, I’ve argued there IS meaning, and I’ve asked you to explain what extra meaning you think a God would bring, because there’s no extra meaning that I can see.
When you say the difference I’m asking for is epistemological, I’ve already said that I’m not asking how would we TELL if there was a difference, I’m asking what difference there actually IS. In what respect is there any difference? How does this actually effect us. It’s not like things are meaningless in the sense that people can’t have reasoned discussions, can’t find out things about the world, can’t lead lives that have meaning for them and can’t find meaning in other people’s lives. I really don’t think I’m just asking an epistemological question, rather it suits you to class me as confused rather than address my difficult questions.
“That’s a truly remarkable claim”
If you’re claiming that a God would make a difference to ultimate meaning, morality, etc, then that’s your claim to support, surely, not mine? That’s not to say that it would make no difference at all to anything, of course. But I’m interested in what way things would gain a greater meaning. How are we quantifying how meaningful something even is? And again, what is this ‘ultimate meaning’?
“Rather, I’ve argued there IS meaning, and I’ve asked you to explain what extra meaning you think a God would bring, because there’s no extra meaning that I can see.”
Your argument has consistently been about subjective meaning and, as we will see in the next quote, it remains an epistemic argument. A few comments back, you wrote:
“If you were in a ‘meaningless’ atheistic universe but thought you were in a meaningful Christian one, there’s nothing that I can see that would give the game away. How would you tell? What would be the tale-tell sign that things were actually meaningless?”
This is very explicitly an epistemological question. I’m not really sure what else I can do other than repeatedly point that out. My argument is about the way things are, not about the way we experience them or whether we can know about them.
“If you’re claiming that a God would make a difference to ultimate meaning, morality, etc, then that’s your claim to support, surely, not mine?”
I do make that claim, but not in this post and not here. My argument in this post has simply been that if atheism is true, objective meaning does not–and indeed cannot–exist. You’re the one who made the following claim: ” The extra meaning your life has is just the extra meaning you FEEL it has – it’s unaffected by whether or not you’re right about God.”
Such a claim would entail that should God exist, it would make no ontological difference. Because you made that claim–not me–I am wondering what you can bring forward to support that claim.
“How are we quantifying how meaningful something even is? And again, what is this ‘ultimate meaning’?”
I don’t really have the time to launch into a primer on the meaning of objective vs. subjective meaning. At the most basic level, what is objectively/ultimately true is that which is true no matter what people/conscious beings think of it. Subjective meaning is meaning relative to the subject. My argument has consistently been about the former. You keep asking questions about the latter. Saying you may be confused is not a way to punt the argument: it is an observation based on the questions your asking. Time and again, you’ve conflated epistemic questions with ontic ones; and now you’re asking me to clarify the meaning of objective/subjective. To me, that signifies that you may be confused about the argument, and indeed about these basic philosophical concepts.
To reiterate, my argument is that on a universe without God, there is no objective meaning. <= That is my argument. Nothing else is my argument in this post. If you then ask how we may know the difference between universe x and universe y, that is not a germane question, though you have repeated it often enough. As I've said in answer–supposing we could not tell the difference, it would make no difference whatsoever to my actual argument. So you say I haven't answered your question when I've repeatedly done so: I can grant your point and it makes no difference to the argument at hand. I don't grant that point, but that's a debate for a different topic.
Hopefully that helps clarify things.
I was always told to give the other person in the discussion the most charitable interpretation of their argument. When you say: “you’re asking me to clarify the meaning of objective/subjective. To me, that signifies that you may be confused about the argument”, you are being about as uncharitable as it’s possible to be. At no point was I asking you to define terms that I can easily look up in a dictionary.
JW: “Such a claim would entail that should God exist, it would make no ontological difference. Because you made that claim–not me–I am wondering what you can bring forward to support that claim.”
Again, if you want to claim it DOES make a difference, that’s your claim to support. I’ve said that already and you disagree, so on that point we’re at an impasse. I’d need to know what difference someone thinks it should make in order for me to explain why I disagree. Again, I’ve said I don’t think it would make no difference to any question at all, but rather what difference it would make to meaning. For example:
JW: “At the most basic level, what is objectively/ultimately true is that which is true no matter what people/conscious beings think of it.”
The value of pi existed before humans had worked it out. And I don’t see how you can argue that the value of pi requires a God to exist. In fact for your definition of objective to make sense it would have to be so that the value of pi is objectively/ultimately true regardless of what a God thought of it. If calling something ‘necessarily true’ has any meaning at all then it’s that its truth is so regardless of ANY variables, including the existence of God. If you make it subject to a God’s existence then it ceases to be ‘ultimately true’ anyway – you’re suggesting that the value of pi could be something else. It also wanders into the wearying sphere of presuppositionalism, where even the laws of logic are supposedly dependent on a God. Again, if the laws mean anything then they are true independently of ANY variable, including questions of God’s existence.
JW: “To reiterate, my argument is that on a universe without God, there is no objective meaning. <= That is my argument."
I gave examples of things I see meaning in. They don't require a God to have meaning. I've further asked what extra meaning they would have if a God existed and you've not answered.
JW: "My argument is about the way things are, not about the way we experience them or whether we can know about them."
And I already said: "I’m not asking how would we TELL if there was a difference, I’m asking what difference there actually IS. In what respect is there any difference?" I don't see how I could have made that any clearer.
You seem more interested in calling the other person confused than addressing their points. It feels like I'm trying to explain my point and you're doing your best not to understand it so that you can pat yourself on the back that you're the smarter guy. Given that, I think further discussion is probably pointless.
Andy, your perseverance is admirable, but I discovered many years ago that JW is often interested only in “winning” the argument via evasive rhetorical tactics rather than finding truth.
As far as I can tell from all this:
“At the most basic level, what is objectively/ultimately true is that which is true no matter what people/conscious beings think of it….on a universe without God, there is no objective meaning”
implies J.W. believes his version of god to be a non-conscious being that doesn’t count as a “subject” yet provides meaning merely by existing.
If you read his clarification post on subjects in a materialistic worldview, you’ll see that he misunderstands materialism on a fundamental level that would have to be corrected for any productive conversation to be had. Namely, conflation of language constructs with immutable arrangements of matter seems to pervade the arguments. Also demanding unnecessary requirements to be true for the position to hold (e.g. a subject experiencing continuity of self must also actually be the same matter).
Just because I’m not a theistic voluntarist, that does not mean I think God is non-conscious.
As I responded to Garrett, I am not a theistic voluntarist. There are more options for grounding objective meaning in God then “God thinks up x; therefore x.” If you’re interested in those options, the book “Beyond the Control of God?” from Bloomberg.
“I gave examples of things I see meaning in. They don’t require a God to have meaning.”
The fact that you word your response this way is revealing, because it shows you remain squarely in the realm of subjective rather than objective meaning, and therefore are still not engaging my argument. You say “I see meaning in”; yes, that is true, but that doesn’t ground those things with objective meaning. Indeed, the way you’ve worded it is clearly subjective in scope. Let’s look at the examples you used earlier:
“If there are no life forms to value it, then no, it’s not valuable. If there are, then it is. Simple. And in thus universe? I value the sausage next to me right now, so it is valuable. After I’ve eaten it it may or may not have value to some other creatures in another form. Ultimately it may cease to have any value at all, but so what? Why does its value need to be eternal before you can acknowledge it.”
Note that you said here that “if there are no life forms to value it [x]… it’s not valuable.”
That is subjectivism. I am not sure how much more clearly it could be subjective. You acknowledge that, on what you’re saying, what makes something valuable is that a life form values it. But my argument has been about objective value, not subjective value. You go on to say that something “may cease to have any value at all” on your view. But that is, again, an example of acknowledged subjective meaning. You say that I shouldn’t note your confusion about your argument, but I cannot help but conclude that because you have only used subjective meaning to ground your argument, you have misunderstood me. My argument has been, throughout, about objective meaning. The examples you gave are subjective. So, again, we have come full circle. I’ve already restated my argument more than once, but the examples you used, which you defer to in your most recent comment, are about subjective value.
I conclude that my argument has not been engaged with, given that it is about objective value.
“My argument has been, throughout, about objective meaning. The examples you gave are subjective.”
The problem is that you make the leap from ‘doesn’t have objective meaning’ to ‘has no meaning at all’, even if we grant you the concept of ‘objective meaning’, which you seem to define as something that means something even if no conscious minds exist to understand that meaning or read meaning into it. Even if such a thing makes sense, an ‘objectively meaningful’ thing would, by your own definition, be objectively meaningful with or without a God.
“You say “I see meaning in” yes, that is true, but that doesn’t ground those things with objective meaning”
Why should it have to? I’m debunking the notion that ‘atheism’s universe is meaningless’. If you want to argue that it lacks ‘objective meaning’ then go ahead. The concept as you describe it doesn’t make any sense, so I’m happy to say that as far as I can see, atheism’s universe lacks it. If you want to call it a ‘tu quoque’ for me to add that theism’s universe lacks it too, then go ahead.
“But my argument has been about objective value”
Value is by definition subjective. Even if you’re talking about the value something has because of God, it’s still subjective. You might as well make an argument about a married bachelor.
And I think Garrett got you right in his post.
Again, examples of misunderstanding. Denying theistic voluntarism is not the same as denying objective values are grounded in God. But so far, there has been little effort to engage the things I’ve actually said, or to understand theism at all, so I’m not surprised that my points are being misrepresented once more.
Saying “value is by definition subjective” gets us to close an even wider circle we’ve traveled, in which you grant the central point of my post, that on an atheistic worldview, objective meaning cannot exist. Thanks for the conversation!
No one ever claimed objective meaning/value existed, because it’s a completely nonsensical concept that you have not shown exists in any way even in a god-containing universe. It’s an oxymoron. Your last resort is to direct us to a book so we can grasp your contorted understanding of these words, which is yet another timeless rhetorical device to avoid defending your point here and now. In response, I suggest a smaller reading assignment: google the definition of “value” or “meaning”.
Falling back to dictionary definitions for a semantic argument doesn’t really do much for talking about philosophical topics. If you’re willing to say that objective meaning is “nonsensical,” then I’m perfectly happy to take that as a granting of my argument: that, on atheism, everything is ultimately meaningless. I’m glad we made it to this point.
Good luck in your search for meaning, I’m out.
You’ve nailed it, Garrett – JW is taking a subjective notion – Value – and saying that it cannot exist objectively under atheism. I grant that it cannot, given that it cannot exist anywhere, being a contradiction in terms. JW takes it as a concession when I grant that the nonsensical concept that HE defended cannot exist. If that’s his victory then I’ll allow him to have it!
“If you’re willing to say that objective meaning is “nonsensical,” then I’m perfectly happy to take that as a granting of my argument: that, on atheism, everything is ultimately meaningless.”
This is further dishonesty – Garrett and I said that objective value is nonsensical and you parse that as ‘everything is ultimately meaningless’. It’s a non sequitur. You might as well say that because I grant that ‘square circle’ is nonsensical, there’s no such thing as a shape. Like Garrett, I’m out.