atheism, philosophy

Ozymandias and the Plight of Atheism


by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

The poem has struck me every time I read it. I am filled with senses of longing, wonder, and terror. Longing, because I want to see the legs of Ozymandias, to know of his Empire, to know how he got to the point of writing the infamous words “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” Wonder, because he surely must have known his works would pass, as do all things. But maybe he didn’t think they would, maybe he thought he could preserve himself through all time by making a statue… but all that remains is a placard and part of his legs. His works may have been great enough to despair the Mighty, but they’ve passed, and they are nothing but a memory. Terror, because I realize that without God, this is the plight of mankind. We build ourselves up, but we shall pass. In the fullness of time, the world will fade away, the sun will burn out, and our works–which we may think mighty or great–shall pass away.

The poem of Ozymandias describes atheism. Without God, we are each our own Ozymandias–building futile works for a futile purpose. Our writings, our words, our lives all pass away. The best we can hope for is a saying written in rock which may be discovered somewhere by someone, but even then our futility will only be felt with the sting having passed. No matter how great we become, we die, and we pass into nothing. Each one of us is futile, living a meaningless life in a universe without purpose, without a plan. Travelers may come by Earth one day and see the abandoned wreckage of our cities, and make their own poem about the futility of the human race, who thought it had achieved something, but aspired for greatness in a universe without meaning.

So what are we to do? I’m not suggesting that just because the universe is meaningless, we should become adherents to a religion. I’m suggesting two things: first, atheists should think long and hard about their lives. If atheists are living as though there is meaning, they have imported something from a rival worldview. On atheism, the best we can hope for is a poem dedicated to our memory, which will have long since passed away. And that poem will itself have no meaning, for it to shall pass. And it’s not the passage which makes the universe meaningless–it’s the utter meaninglessness of time now, then, and forever. For what does it matter if I am a Mother Theresa or a Hitler? What does it matter if I am a sinner or a saint? If the world remembers me as a tyrant or a benevolent ruler? Here and now, the only meaning we can construct is our own–and that is a facade, an illusion. For our meaning is contradicted by others, and our meaning is self-created. How can one make meaning? Only by believing it is meaning. So it is a fideism, an atheistic faith in meaning.

Second, I’m suggesting people should be open to examining other worldviews. Suppose atheists are wrong, and there is meaning. To continue living life as an Ozymandias is then the greatest tragedy which could befall one’s life. If one is worth something, then to live as though one is worthless is the worst thing that could happen. So I’m suggesting atheists should examine views which don’t imply a universe void of meaning. Why? Not out of fear–but out of hope. It seems as though the entirety of the human experience is based upon the idea that there is meaning. To deny this is to deny part of what it means to be human. Therefore, it seems intuitively possible that there actually is meaning in the universe. Our experience leads us to believe there is. But that meaning cannot be found on atheism, so atheism has intuitive implausibility. Perhaps we should abandon the (un)belief.

Related post: Atheism’s Universe is Meaningless and Valueless.



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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


38 thoughts on “Ozymandias and the Plight of Atheism

  1. >building futile works for a futile purpose.

    Why is eternality necessary for meaning? This just doesn’t follow.

    I think a plastic grocery bag is meaningful. It weighs a few grams and will be thrown away after one use, but it plays a role in something larger than itself.

    People are meaningful to me. Simply because I say so.

    Believers can define meaning any way they wish. I’ve encountered this particular strain many times now: that only things that never fade away have meaning. What is the basis for saying that things that do fade away never had meaning?

    Regardless of this line of thinking, temporal meaning exists. I have it. It may not fit your definition of meaning, but it fits mine. I could never tell a kid, dying of cancer, that his life has no meaning simply because it will end. And I won’t tell him that it has meaning only if theism is true.

    To hold your position, you have be willing to tell a kid that his life only has meaning because theism is true. I’m not willing to do that, but not for sentimental reasons. It is manifestly false. Meaning exists when and where humans experience meaning.

    Theists seem to need a (dubious) cosmic imprimatur to experience meaning. Atheists just don’t need that. We experience meaning in temporal things. We just do.

    Posted by Donald Severs | March 28, 2011, 11:23 AM
    • I agree you do have meaning, weather eternal or not, but it does end as memory of you fades away, and it does fade away (tell me your great, great, great, great grandfathers name and life accomplishments if you want to see what I mean). However, J.W. brings up that to have eternal meaning, your life has to be eternal, and only through Jesus’ sacrifice and gift of salvation can we have eternal life.

      Posted by Paul S | March 28, 2011, 11:37 AM
      • It strikes me as ungrateful that, having been given one life, believers want another one, and one that never ends.

        All things pass. Why should an exception be made for me? And why should eternal life be limited to followers of Christ? A loving God could have set things up any way he liked.

        Posted by Donald Severs | March 28, 2011, 11:43 AM
      • Well, I definitely think for eternal meaning you need theism, but also for temporal meaning. Without God, there is no meaning. All meaning is illusory. It is reducible to people like Don saying “There just is meaning!” It’s as meaningless as a theist saying “There just is a God!”

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | March 28, 2011, 11:49 AM
    • “I think a plastic grocery bag is meaningful. It weighs a few grams and will be thrown away after one use, but it plays a role in something larger than itself.’

      According to you, it has meaning. But as I’ve argued elsewhere, your meaning can only be subjective, and, on materialistic atheism (which I’ve argued is the only logically consistent atheism), there are no subjects. So even the meaning “you” assign to something is illusory because the “self” is illusory.

      “We experience meaning in temporal things. We just do.”

      As usual, the best the atheists can do to justify holding that there is meaning is just to say “There is meaning! There just is!” or, “Regardless of this line of thinking, temporal meaning exists. I have it.”

      Of course, this is no way to make an argument. Making an axiomatic claim that “there is meaning” does not make it the case. You can assert that there is meaning as many times as you want, but you can’t get away from the fact that it is utterly illusory. Atheistic “meaning” is groundless. I’ve continually pressed you to provide some grounds of meaning, and you’ve never done so. Your only response has been “there just is” or “I have it” or “we just do.” This is the kind of wild inconsistency within atheism I see all the time. They charge that theists have no reasons to believe what they do, but then when their own position is challenged they assert that “Our view is correct. It just is.”

      I mean honestly, Don, consider the link you sent me of the debate flow chart. I’d say at this point you’re failing at step one: you aren’t even willing to change your mind. Your only response is “There is meaning!” Obviously, such a declaration doesn’t make something true.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | March 28, 2011, 11:46 AM
      • >you aren’t even willing to change your mind.

        Untrue. There are any number of things that would change my mind.

        >such a declaration doesn’t make something true.

        Neither do the declarations of Christians.

        Here’s the source of our confusion:

        I have never been arguing for objective meaning. I have argued for subjective meaning. Thus, when I say, “There is meaning”, I am stating a manifest truth, since subjective meaning simply is what humans report. Since some atheists report they have meaning, then they do. It’s trivial but true.

        You can say that, on theism, objective meaning exists. But then you have the religious diversity problem: there are many theisms that provide objective meaning and there is no way to show that one foundational claim is true over the others. It’s a tie with an infinite number of contenders.

        So, it boils down to values. If you are a person who demands that the cosmos give you eternal, unchanging meaning, then you have to buy into one of the world’s theisms. Or invent one. Or wait for the one true one to be revealed to mankind.

        If, however, if you can accept that everything passes and be grateful for your one, temporal life, then you are free to abstain from unprovable theistic systems that bring with them a host of social, moral, scientific and logical problems.

        Posted by Donald Severs | March 28, 2011, 2:26 PM
      • Suppose I grant for the sake of argument that you’re right and atheism has subjects and therefore has subjective value. I still charge that atheism’s universe is ultimately meaningless, and therefore the “plight of atheism” I’ve outlined endures, in a very real and harsh level. Atheism’s universe may have subjective value–something I’m willing to grant only for the sake of argument, as I don’t think atheism’s universe actually has subjects–but even that does not save it from the plight of ultimate meaning. I may declare “My life has meaning.” But that meaning is only meaningful to me or any others who agree that my life has meaning. Eventually, they all pass, and so my statement is shown to be as vacuous as it seems. It should be revised to say “I think I have meaning” or “I choose to believe in meaning” because ultimately there is none. So I could weaken my claim and still charge that atheism’s universe is utterly inept at explaining why it is that we tend to believe there is ultimate meaning, ultimate right and wrong, and ultimate means and ends. All of these are illusory on atheism. There is no purpose, no design, no (ultimate) meaning. So the best someone can do is live their ultimately meaningless life while telling themselves the lie that “I have meaning.” It may be true in flighty passing, but ultimately, it is a great lie. Such is the plight of atheism, a delusional worldview.

        Also, I’ve noticed that almost every time you write on here or through e-mails, you tend to bring up the problem of religious diversity. It seems to me that fails on the flow chart you linked me to as well–“Do not introduce new arguments while another argument has yet to be resolved.” I think your continual use of religious diversity as a red herring demonstrates a segway on the flowchart here in almost every discussion we’ve had.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | March 28, 2011, 2:37 PM
    • For some reason I cant reply below to your reply…

      Who or what am I being ungrateful to? I am being eternally grateful that not only does God give me eternal life, but he lets me choose whether to accept the gift.

      Your refusal of the gift could be looked at as ungrateful, but I believe that you have good reasons for your choice. Your statements about meaning are the same, I understand that you must have a reason, but what meaning does something have if it has no meaning to another. The plastic bag you carry your groceries in has no meaning to me, does that mean it has meaning or it doesn’t? The love my wife and I share has meaning to us, but doesn’t matter at all to you. Since you assign meaning to the plastic bag, does that mean that my wife and my love is meaningless, as it has no meaning to you? meaning is subjective unless there is an objective being to give it meaning, and God is that objective being…

      Posted by Paul S | March 28, 2011, 11:56 AM
  2. Great thoughts. It makes me think of the classic saying, “If you are living your life as if there is no God, you better hope you’re right.” Check us out over at Hardcore Christian Men (, Chris wrote about putting God first and I think it’s a perfect following to this one. Let us know what you think.

    Posted by Paul S | March 28, 2011, 11:34 AM
  3. >“If you are living your life as if there is no God, you better hope you’re right.”

    This is a false choice. Consider this:

    “If you are living your life as if there is no Thor, you better hope you’re right.”

    There is no safe bet. You could believe in God and still be wrong. The only reason Yahweh seems more reasonable than Thor is ethnocentrism. The time and place of our birth don’t mean a particular god is true or not, but it does determine what gods we hear about and seem believable to us.

    Posted by Donald Severs | March 28, 2011, 11:38 AM
  4. Actually. If I was to go with ethnocentrism, a cultural Christianity while rejecting all things of Christianity would make sense. That’s not what I do. I turn aside from society and choose to follow God, often at the expense of myself.

    I do agree with what you said about my comment. It was more a repeat of a joke than anything else. One thing to consider, no other faith shows that God sacrificed His own life so that you would be saved. All the others say that you can be worthy of Him, but Christianity clearly shows that we never can be worthy, only forgiven.

    Posted by Paul S | March 28, 2011, 11:48 AM
  5. >no other faith shows that God sacrificed His own life so that you would be saved.

    First, there could be an unknown religion, the one true one, which provides this. Christianity could be the work of a devil and you would never know.

    Second, atonement is a brutal, unforgiving concept. Why can’t God just forgive us? Accepting Jesus’ sacrifice means assenting to the system it represents.

    Posted by Donald Severs | March 28, 2011, 2:18 PM
  6. There is an irony here. To receive the objective meaning that Christian theism offers, we have to enter into faith claims that are inherently subjective.

    Foundational claims, like those of Christianity are unprovable. In this article, JW makes a Pascal-like plea that, if we want objective meaning, we ought to at least take a hard look at theism. Two problems arise:

    1. Not all of us demand objective meaning. We’re fulfilled without it.
    2. There is no way to home in on Christianity as the correct theism.

    So, JW is asking us to throw in with Christianity, assuring us that as long as we accept its tenets, we will have objective meaning. But that very act places us outside the human community that is not Christian, which is 2/3 of humanity. That kind of objectivity is an illusion.

    This points to the basic selfishness and anti-social quality of all religion. The only way humanity could be united religiously is if everyone belonged to the same religion. This shows the autocratic and fascist nature of religion. You’re either inside or outside. Then, they say “it’s your choice”.

    Christianity: Love Me. Or else.

    Posted by Donald Severs | March 28, 2011, 2:35 PM
    • Again, for someone who would link me to that flowchart, you show an ironic tendency to go against it.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | March 28, 2011, 2:40 PM
    • He is telling us that because of God we have objective meaning. Not if we do or don’t believe. We have meaning because we mean something to Him. That said, one argument I always find fault with is this: It can’t be proven that Christianity is true… Jesus was seen by many, including unbelievers after his resurrection. His miracles are attested to, by believers and unbelievers alike (Look at Jewish antiquities about this time). Why would unbelievers admit that they saw Him if it wasn’t true?

      Now for the next one. You believe many things that you do not know as truth through your own experimentation. We all do. You believe that air is ~20% oxygen and that that is what it takes for man to survive in this atmosphere, but have you done the chemical analysis yourself? You believe that the heart uses electricity to carry signals across it, but can you explain why you don’t feel this same shock throughout you body? You accept the scientific experiments done by others.

      Above, you say that 2/3 of the population is not Christian. It’s actually a little higher than that, but say for a moment you are right. Not believing something doesn’t make it false, does it? The world has always been round, but until the oceangoing explorers of the 1400s and later, it was believed by the vast majority to be flat. That doesn’t mean it was or is flat, only that the majority don’t know the truth.

      One last thing and then I’m out of here for a bit. To use Satan as an argument why Christianity could be false, is like using genetics to prove evolution false. It’s using part of the thing to say that the rest of the thing could be false because that part made it up. Seems a bit circular. This is the biggest issue I have with most people who argue atheism.

      You challenge Christians to prove there is a God, God has proven Himself. I challenge atheists to prove there is not a God.

      Posted by Paul S | March 28, 2011, 2:54 PM
  7. You challenge Thorists to prove there is a Thor, Thor has proven Himself. I challenge Christians to prove there is not a Thor.

    Posted by Donald Severs | March 28, 2011, 3:01 PM
  8. >To use Satan as an argument why Christianity could be false,

    I didn’t use Satan, I said ‘devil’. There could be a devil-like character in other religions, one of which has fooled you into thinking Christianity is true.

    Posted by Donald Severs | March 28, 2011, 3:02 PM
  9. >Jesus was seen by many, including unbelievers after his resurrection. His miracles are attested to, by believers and unbelievers alike (Look at Jewish antiquities about this time). Why would unbelievers admit that they saw Him if it wasn’t true?

    This kind of ‘evidence’ is only persuasive to people who need no persuading: people who are already Christians. You can easily see this by looking at the evidence for Mohammed’s or Joseph Smith’s inspirations.

    Christians are skeptical of the claims of other religions, but then make an exception for their own. You can’t have things both ways. If you want to say there is good evidence for Jesus’ resurrection and miracles, then you have to grant the same charity to the beliefs of other faiths.

    Moreover, the ‘resurrection’ or ‘miracles’ are not the things that are in evidence in what you cited. (Hector Avalos has pointed this out.) What are in evidence are ‘stories of a resurrection’ and ‘stories of miracles’. Thus, instead of having to explain a ‘resurrection’ or ‘miracles’, we only have to explain why stories about them exist. The stories are the proper objects of investigation.

    Is the resurrection what is at issue? No, that’s not the fact. The empty tomb is not the fact. What can we verify exists? The stories. Everyone agrees the stories exist. The facts that need explaining are the stories, not the resurrection or the miracles.

    What are likely explanations for stories? Hallucinations, deductive error, political/economic motives and literary phenomena all explain stories. What is more likely? Why use an extraordinary cause like a ‘resurrection’ to explain something prosaic like the existence of stories when we have many prosaic explanations that are far more likely?

    What are the most likely reasons that stories about resurrections and miracles exist? It’s not because rising from the dead and suspending the laws of nature occurred. Even if those explanations had comparable likelihood to other explanations, we would still need repeatability to lend them credence.

    Fantastic stories have arisen in all cultures in all times. If you want to say they are evidence for Jesus’ divinity, you have to play fair and allow for the fantastic claims of other religions. Second, the only reason to interpret the stories of Christianity the way Christianity does is if you already believe the claims of Christianity. There are far more plausible and likely explanations for the existence of the stories in the scriptures.

    Posted by Donald Severs | March 28, 2011, 3:55 PM
    • Don, the problem with your reasoning is that you assume that the claims about the resurrection are on par with Joseph Smith/Mohammed. They are not. For example, Gary Habermas compiled a list of several facts which the majority of NT scholars, including atheistic or anti-Christian scholars, agreed upon and then proceeded to argue for Christianity only from those facts. You dismiss the evidence as being only within Christianity, but that is simply false. As in the section you quoted, some of this evidence comes from Josephus, who was not himself Christian. There are others but that would take me too far afield. My main point is that your criticism is misplaced, perhaps due to unfamiliarity with the literature.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | March 28, 2011, 4:05 PM
  10. Hi JW,

    You are aware that Shelley is also the author of The Necessity of Atheism?

    Posted by Chris Lawrence | March 29, 2011, 1:58 PM
    • Indeed. I fail to see the relevance. My point is only that the poem clearly shows the plight of atheism–that if it is true, the universe has no meaning.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | March 29, 2011, 11:35 PM
      • Well, it’s relevant (or at least interesting) to me, because if you are right then the plight the poem describes applies to Shelley himself. The question then is whether this was intentional or unintentional on Shelley’s part. If it was intentional then it’s a particularly subtle example of Romantic irony!

        Posted by Chris Lawrence | March 31, 2011, 10:49 AM
      • I think if he realized it, then it is indeed ironic. I don’t think we can answer that, but my guess is that he did intend it to show the plight of atheism. There are few atheists, in my opinion, who honestly examine their condition based upon their worldview, but those who do often realize that “There is only one really serious philosophical question, and that is suicide” (Camus).

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | April 1, 2011, 12:30 AM
    • I tend to think it was unintentional, and tells us more about Shelley that he might intend.

      Posted by Paul S | March 31, 2011, 11:20 AM
  11. >shows the plight of atheism–that if it is true, the universe has no meaning.

    No. If atheism is true, then the universe has no objective meaning.

    However, saying that, on theism, the universe has objective meaning, is trivial. I can invent a theism right now that endows the universe with objective meaning. Let’s call it Theism No. 323.

    “If Theism No. 323 is true, then the universe has objective meaning.”


    Atheists simply operate under a different psychology and values from theists. We have adapted ourselves to living in the world without objective meaning. We prefer that effort to the effort required to make sense of a theistic world that claims to have objective meaning. We’re not persuaded it is possible or true, so we have accepted what, to us, strongly appears to be the case.

    Posted by Donald Severs | March 31, 2011, 12:49 PM
    • I’m not surprised you keep bringing up the problem of religious diversity, because it is much harder to build a positive case than it is to bash the other side. But as I’ve pointed out, the tendency to go on tangents is a mere distraction. Using the argument from religious diversity–which, I may point out, is a rather ill-formed version of the argument; by your reasoning, the possibility of inventing new religions undermines all religions, so I could similarly undermine any truth claim by inventing possible alternatives–is nothing but a red herring. Why do you constantly (I could make extensive links here) use that as your back up plan? Rather than arguing the point at hand, it’s “But what about other religions!?” It’s disingenuous.

      Now, to the point at hand. I have granted only for the sake of argument that atheism has subjective meaning (I actually deny that atheism has subjective meaning because, as I’ve argued elsewhere, on consistent [materialist] atheism, there really are no subjects). I will continue to grant that there is subjective meaning.

      Why does subjective meaning matter, at all (other than to the subject)?

      I think that intuitively, humans believe there is meaning (hence the question “What is the meaning of life?”). Atheism must stand against this intuition and reduce it to subjective meaning only. Rather than saying “Good question, the meaning is x”, atheists must say “Bad question, there’s no ultimate meaning. Meaning is what you make it.” Why then, should this meaning, which I make up, matter?

      And we can see from Don’s own argument how ludicrous the position is. Don, you assert that there is subjective meaning. So everyone makes his or her own meaning. Yet your reductio against theism is to say that “I can invent a theism right now that endows… objective meaning.” Somehow this is supposed to undermine objective meaning due to the possibility of plurality. However, subjectivism clearly falls victim to a much worse plight. At least if I “invent a theism” and hold that it has objective meaning, I am asserting that there is actual meaning in the universe, and it is x, y, and z. But if I “invent my own meaning” I can’t make a similar claim. I can’t claim that it actually means anything. It only means something because I say so. And that is another plight of atheism–that it reduces itself to grasping at meaning when it can only have a vacuous concept of meaning. Meaning is what I make it, because I say so, and it’s true.

      We’ve seen that kind of reasoning before, “I’m an atheists [sic]. I have meaning. It’s possible.” (Comments here.) That is exactly what atheists are reduced to: “Hey guys, I have meaning, seriously, I do! It’s possible” Response: “How’s that?” Answer: “Because I say so! I say it’s possible. I say I have meaning. I say the meaning is x.”

      I mean imagine a Christian was using this kind of reasoning, imagine the Christian really was doing the kind of caricature Don frequently points of theism: imagine the Christian just made up his religion. “I’m a theist. I have meaning. It’s possible.” “Why?” “Well, I said so!” The ridicule that would follow that statement does not even need to be considered–it would be profound. Yet that is exactly the kind of reasoning that atheists must use to infuse meaning into their lives. Meaning is what they make of it. It’s only ground is that they say that’s what it is. “What I say goes!” is apparently the creed of atheistic meaning.

      So even were I to grant that atheists can have subjective meaning, that doesn’t save the sinking ship. It only fills it with jesters. They make a sick joke: “I declare purpose. Therefore, there is purpose.”

      I’ll have to be pardoned for asking for a better grounds for belief than that.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | April 1, 2011, 12:50 AM
  12. I’m going to frame this in an unusual way:

    OK, on atheism the universe has no meaning. So what? What has been lost? What should we do differently? My shoot from the hip response is we should pursue things which feel meaningful, because that’s what meaning is, a feeling. It reminds me of a quote:

    ‘did you love her?’
    ‘I thought I did.’
    ‘If you think you love someone, you love them. That’s what love is, thoughts.’

    So I don’t see that meaning being subjective or temporal invalidates it as ‘meaningful.’ Granted it doesn’t matter to an asteroid on the other side of the universe, but I don’t see that as a problem.

    Posted by JWW | April 19, 2011, 6:50 PM
    • On such a view, all belief is groundless. It is reducible to mere feelings. These feelings themselves are dependent wholly upon physical events. These physical events are dependent upon physical processes, which in turn can be traced back to the origin of the cosmos through physical means. As such, there would be no freedom of will, so subjectivity is merely illusory. On atheism, not only is objective meaning non-existent; subjective meaning is also a mere illusion to comfort the masses. The “myth” of atheism is subjective meaning. It is atheism’s religion, and the sustenance for her adherents.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | April 19, 2011, 10:52 PM
      • What is meant by ‘subjectivity is illusory?’ Subjectivity just means the way things seem to you… and ‘you’ just means the sum of your parts that form beliefs and opinions and decisions. Whether they have their basis in physical events or ectoplasm or souls, that’s what the words mean.

        also, if you grant subjective meaning (which you apparently don’t), you can also bootstrap your way to objective meaning with Harris’s Landscape (which I know you also don’t like and which is another thread… haha).

        Posted by JWW | April 20, 2011, 8:03 AM
  13. >So what?

    This is exactly the right attitude. Giving up objective meaning is like giving up the afterlife or a soul. We never had it in the first place.

    Hume didn’t exactly demolish cause and effect and the regularity of nature. He transformed our understanding of them. He showed that they didn’t rest on the foundation we thought they did. But disaster didn’t follow. Disaster needn’t follow disillusionment. It’s often liberating.

    Illusions are just things that never were what we thought they were.

    As Thomas Nagel said in “The Absurd”:

    “Our absurdity warrants neither that much distress nor that much defiance… Absurdity is one of the most human things about us: a manifestation of our most advanced and interesting characteristics. … what reason can
    we have to resent or escape it? … It need not be a matter for agony unless we make it so. Nor need it evoke a defiant contempt of fate that allows us to feel brave or proud. Such dramatics…betray a failure to appreciate the
    cosmic unimportance of the situation.”

    Posted by Don Severs | April 19, 2011, 7:44 PM
    • Don,

      I’m still struggling to keep your comments in perspective. You say that we have no objective meaning, yet you critique views of morality. For example, you wrote elsewhere (see comments here) “It pains me to hear good, loving Christians defend any god that could stop the suffering of children, but doesn’t. No ‘long view’ of suffering erases the present terror and torture of our children. To set up a world where such things occur is sadistic no matter what the end of the story is, and no matter how limited our perceptions are.”

      And then, later in the same string of comments, I wrote

      “Whether the child is buried under rubble or happily playing soccer with her friends doesn’t matter.” I was saying this granting atheism. That is, on atheism there is no difference which can matter objectively. You responded:

      “You can make this argument, but not remain loving yourself. Does your wife read this blog? If you have kids, you should delete this comment.”

      Further, you went on to say, “Here’s the problem. I’m not saying suffering is wrong. I’m saying it exists. Whether suffering is ‘wrong’ or ‘permissible’ is another issue… As long as suffering exists, and God could reduce it, then he isn’t worthy of our devotion.”

      So how is it that you can say “We never had [objective meaning]” and then go on to criticize my view? What entitles you to make judgments like “You can make this argument, but not remain loving yourself”?

      You clearly make objective judgments. Any time evil is brought up, you reduce it to suffering, and then make objective claims about suffering. Not only that, but you don’t just do this to argue against theism on its own grounds. On your atheistic perspective you clearly make objective judgments. You tell me “You can make this argument, but not remain loving yourself.” Such is an objective claim. It says “If x, then y.”

      As much as you decry objectivity, Don, you affirm it in almost every comment you’ve made on my blog. I think it is a kind of cognitive dissonance. You believe things are objectively right and wrong, but realize you have no grounds on which this can stand, so you pander to the view that there is no objective meaning, all the while still making objective statements about moral actions.

      But consider the argument you make in just this post: you literally hold that there is no objective meaning. Therefore, your view is not objective. There is no reason for me to not hold my view (on your view) because (on your view) our views are both subjective. Yet you come along and constantly criticize my view as if yours is superior. By what standard is your view superior? Your own? That’s laughable. Go ahead and affirm that “I say my view is better, so there!” I would be totally unphased by it were it not so preposterous.

      You affirm objectivity while condemning it. I continue to be perplexed by this. Again, say what you will, but your own words condemn you. You are incapable of accepting any view which holds that torturing children is okay, atheism or not. Not only that, but you clearly think your view is preferable to mine. There must be some epistemic standard to which you hold, then, which allows you to make such judgments. But if it is merely subjective, then your view is reducible to “I like my view more, therefore you should hold my view.” Unless there is objective meaning, there is nothing worth discussing. Yet you can’t seem to hold that, you keep coming back for more. You recommend your view on my blog, you argue against my view. But on your view, there is nothing to recommend your view other than the fact that you prefer it.

      It’s just a charade. Every time you say ‘there is no evil’; ‘there is no objective truth’; you’re lying to yourself and me. You clearly don’t hold these views by your own words. You merely make these phrases a facade behind which you hide your objectivity.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | April 19, 2011, 10:41 PM
  14. Here’s the issue. You said:

    “There is no reason for me to not hold my view (on your view) because (on your view) our views are both subjective.”

    Subjective reasons are valid. You seem to have your theistic glasses on. You’re a serious enough philosopher with enough skills that you should be able to entertain this view:

    That subjective reasons are valid reasons in some systems. In a universe without so-called objective morality, we can, and do, still make judgments.

    I gave you the engine example. Given that we want the engine to perform well, we will change the oil regularly. Likewise, humans are biological machines. In a godless, purposeless universe, there are still ways that humans can thrive and ways we can suffer.

    If you can’t comprehend this view, I can’t help you further. God help you when you read Nietzsche. “There are no facts, only interpretations.”

    Posted by Donald Severs | April 19, 2011, 11:37 PM
    • “That subjective reasons are valid reasons in some systems”

      Again, this statement is objective. Smuggling objectivity into an argument for subjectivity undermines subjectivity. I see no reason to accept this. Nor do I find a reason to accept the mere assertion that “Subjective reasons are valid.” Further, the statement “Subjective reasons are valid” smacks of objectivity. “Objectively, subjective reasons are valid.” Why?

      Also, why do you assume I haven’t read Nietzche? I have read him (not all of his works), and rejected it as merely ungrounded assertions and/or nonsense.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | April 20, 2011, 12:01 AM
  15. You can reject Nietzsche, but we still have to take him seriously. If we don’t get his meaning, our rejection means nothing.

    >objectively, subjective reasons are valid.” Why?

    Perhaps I don’t understand your position, but it seems to me that you have a vision problem. You can’t see the world other than objectively. Much of philosophy reduces to psychology. We can only entertain those ideas that our minds allow. We all have limitations of cognition. From where I stand, you seem unable to envision a subjective world where we can still make claims.

    Perhaps, somewhere in your development, you got imprinted with the idea that “objectivity is the only valid source of meaning, judgment or preference.” That’s why, early in this discussion, I said, “Atheists have meaning. Deal with it.” You can reply, “No, they don’t, they only think they do.” In this case, it may be that you and I mean different things by “meaning”.

    If meaning just means “objective meaning”, then of course it is necessary. This is probably the best resolution to our problem. I just don’t require objective meaning to feel that I have meaning. You do. It’s a psychological issue.

    Posted by Donald Severs | April 20, 2011, 7:28 AM
    • Yet you claim that your subjectivity is objective. You literally said “Subjective reasons are valid.” Unless you’re saying that “I think subjective reasons are valid” you are claiming an objective truth, subjectively. But if you are literally saying that “Subjective meaning is okay with me” then you’re living a delusion. As JWW wrote “If you think you love someone, you love them.” Similarly, “If you think something is pleasurable, it is pleasurable.” “If you like torturing children, it’s pleasurable.” etc.

      You want to talk about psychology of belief; it is clear that this view is self-deceptive or delusional. The one who lives in this fashion literally thinks he or she creates meaning. Solipsism is perhaps the best way to describe it. “I think, therefore what I think becomes truth.”

      Further, you wrote (paraphrasing yourself), “Atheists have meaning. Deal with it.” You continually make claims like this without argument. You say things like “Subjective reasons are valid” without providing any argument for it. I could similarly say “God exists. Deal with it.” and then claim to have won the debate, or say something like “Maybe we mean different things by exist.” Clearly, if I haven’t argued to support my assertion, all I’ve done is stated axiomatically that I win. You need to provide some kind of reasons to believe your statements. Too often, you just state something and assume you’re right. That’s not how it works, Don, and you should know it. Provide an argument for yourself, for once. Rather than resorting to appealing to psychosis; why not construct an argument?

      I suspect the reason is because you can’t, to be honest. And you know that too. Hence this red herring of “psychological issue”. All you’ve been able to do is say “My view is right! Ha!” That’s unacceptable. Provide a reason you are correct. Or admit that your view literally boils down to “I say so” because that’s the only way you’ve argued for your view thus far. The burden of proof is in your corner. You’ve made a claim “Subjective reasons are valid” now support it with an argument.

      Thus far your argument has been, “You disagree with me, therefore you have obviously been imprinted with the idea that ‘objectivity is the only valid source of meaning.'” I could grant that. Perhaps I have a psychological issue. Yet this does not establish your position. Nor does it undermine my own. It’s called an ad hominem.

      But again, I suspect the reason you resort to this is because you simply can’t bear the burden of proof. You have no arguments other than “I say so.”

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | April 20, 2011, 8:32 AM
  16. I have given arguments and reasons. You have rejected them or said they weren’t arguments or reasons. Enough ink has been spilled. There is no requirement that you understand me or for me to convince you of my reasons.

    Posted by Donald Severs | April 20, 2011, 8:37 AM

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