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Posted by on Nov 16, 2012 in philosophy, secularism, skepticism | 8 comments

DJ Grothe: Meaning and purpose without God

James Randi Educational Foundation(JREF) president D.J. Grothe has recently contributed to a wonderful book project called A Better Life 100 atheists speak out on joy & meaninfg in a world without god.  In this short video, D.J. talks about meaning without god.

I strongly agree that we should concede the point that there is no “ultimate meaning”. Not only is it a useless errand searching, but it is even more foolish to claim to have found it. The popular religions answer no real meaning questions, they just hide them behind other questions which are unanswerable by definition, and also by repackaging proximate meaning, such as family.

Let us suppose that you are a Christian because you want to feel a sense of ultimate purpose. What is the ultimate meaning of  your existence? To serve a god? Why? Is it because s/he created you or the universe? Even if true, that would merely be an observation of power, not wisdom, purpose or intent. Few would defend the claim we should listen to people merely because they have power (take for example, the Pope, Kim Jong Il, etc..,). Is it because the creator made you? This seems like an extension of the meaning we all get from family, except that relationships with human family members entail shared experiences and cannot be denied to exist.

Is it the promise of heaven? But what is good about heaven, but seeing and being around loved ones? You might say, an escape from the pains and sufferings of mortal life. Sure, but such a goal only exists because you have a body and sensation to begin with. With them comes the drawbacks, but also the pleasures. They’re a package deal. You lose one, you lose them both.

It seems to me, everything identifiably good about religion’s ultimate meanings are ordinary proximate meanings available to us already. Pascal’s wager is a fool’s bet: why trade wonderful things you know for sure are good and that you possess, for promised invisible ones no one is sure exist? Is that not the pitch of every snake-oil salesman in history?

  • http://www.skepticblogs.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

    Yes, on the meaning thing, he is definitely right, and most realise this, but are sometimes afraid to admit ti to Christians.

  • Ingrate

    I’m happy to see this making the rounds, Friendly Atheist also blogged it. This is something atheists don’t talk about enough and I think it is the real important thing about the scientific worldview. Thanks to Mr Grothe for so eloquently raising awareness!

  • http://www.facebook.com/kwame.afari1 Kwame Afari

    As we journey through the muck and mire of irrationality, it is refreshing to note that some in the free-thought genre have not lost sight of the bigger picture: being a beacon of hope for the dissilusioned.

  • http://www.skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

    The Christian quest for ultimate meaning assumes that we can find our highest purpose in endless servility. Even if that were a real thing, I’d find myself craving oblivion.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NZMJ7JRYKH7WR6YTXJGG3PU65E John Grove

    This is the same distinction Professor Shelly Kagan made to WLC in his debate ‘Is God Necessary for Morality’. He noted that ‘deeper meaning’ of which WLC was advancing has to be on a cosmic scale or not at all. Shelly said this is wrong. We can have meaning, we can have purpose without it being on a cosmic scale and to suggest that it has to be on a cosmic scale or not at all is simply irrational.

  • http://www.skepticblogs.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

    Ed, I am posting an essay on the meaning of life tomorrow. I was wondering if afterwards I could repost this video? I know you don’t have rights to it, and all, but thought I’d check since we’d be posting the same stimulus!