Agnosticism, Atheism, Christianity, Faith, God, Purpose, Religion, Truth

Purpose without Religion

I know I said that my next post would be on the evidence for evolution — it’s just taking longer on that one than I anticipated. There’s so much information to go through! I’ve also been pretty behind on my reading. There are a number of blogs that I like to follow, but I don’t always have time to read their posts. So I’ve been playing a little catch-up lately.

I finally had time to read a lengthy post over at Left Christianity. Brenda had received the following comment from someone:

Brenda, if atheism is true, then regardless of what pleasure and satisfaction you may find in your life there is no rational grounds for believing that your existence and choices have any objective meaning, value, or purpose. Do you agree? I get the impression, judging from the rather blithe tone of your writing throughout much of this blog, that you don’t.

Many prominent atheist thinkers have agreed on the point that to behave as though one’s life has meaning in the absence of an infinite-personal creator God is fundamentally absurd. It’s necessary for survival, but nonetheless delusional. Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Russell, Sartre, Camus, and even Richard Dawkins have said this.

It seems to me, based on what I’ve seen on this blog, that you have a double-standard when it comes to thinking logically about atheism. On one hand you defend it as a rational position. And maybe it is. But on the other, you seem to believe that your life is intrinsically valuable and meaningful. Maybe to you it is, but what objective basis is there for such a belief? I challenge you to think on this, to consider whether you’re willing to stare the logical consequences of atheism fully in the face.

I think this is something that many believers wonder about. Brenda’s response is superb. Please go read it! And if you’d like to see a similar conversation that we’ve had on this blog before, you can find that here.

24 thoughts on “Purpose without Religion”

  1. Brenda’s antagonist is a dingbat of the highest order, a la William Lane Craig.
    Religious types like these, and especially those with an evangelical bent, always seem to approach dialogue with atheists from the perspective that we are merely denying their god, like some sort of naughty child.
    Hasn’t every small kid put their hands over their face and announced “You can’t see me!”
    They go to great lengths to remind us that their god will always love us ( Oh, joy!) and providing we repent in time, beg forgiveness and accept the ‘Lord’ (where’s my barf bag) there is still a chance we may be allowed back into church and also….the BIG plus, we might avoid being sent to Hell. Cor blimey…what a BONUS.

    I wonder, if any of your christian visitors can explain – exactly- what are the benefits on offer by subscribing to the ‘God Club’ ?

    What were you promised, Nate?


  2. For me the issue is not so much purpose (I can go with Brenda there in large part), but freedom. Can freedom of action and thought be established in a materialistic world? This is one of the most appealing things to me about there being a god in general and Christianity in particular. It is one of the main ideas keeping me bound to my views. I realize it is subjective. I’m not going for a proof or evidence here. I”m just saying if there is a god this is one of the best things about there being one. My two cents for what its worth.


  3. Hi Ben,

    Thanks for the comment! But could you elaborate a little on what you mean by “freedom of action and thought… in a materialistic world”? I didn’t quite follow it.



  4. I think what I’m trying to say is that I like the idea of having a created soul apart from the natural forces of the physical world. It seems from my view that if we are the result of random, impersonal processes then we are not really capable of free thought but are just reacting to an environment. I hope that’s a little more clear. Thanks for the post from Brenda. Very interesting.


  5. bburleson, so it makes more sense to have free will if we were created, than it does if we just materialized or evolved from natural events?

    If i’m understanding you correctly, how’s is it that free thought would be better associated with one over the other?


  6. Thanks for the clarification, Ben. I see what you’re saying.

    William, there are many non-religious scientists that don’t really believe in free will in the way that we normally think about it. I think this is what Ben is referring to. I know the idea might sound bizarre, but it goes something like this:

    Our decisions are made through a complicated process. We don’t usually decide between a set of equally viable options; our education, preferences, intelligence, past experiences, culture, and economic circumstances all factor in to how we make our decisions. Not to mention our physiology. The physical and chemical makeup of our brain has a lot to do with how we formulate decisions.

    Of course, that’s stuff you already know. But when you really think about it, you can see that the vast bulk of our decisions actually come as a result of all these things. So when you were faced with a past decision, what’s the real likelihood that you’d choose a different option than the one you actually chose? Given the amount of information you had at the time, and the level of experiences, etc, that you had to work with, you probably would have done nothing different. So from that standpoint, do you really have free will?

    It’s a tough question, and I’m not sure where I stand on it. Certainly, this doesn’t mean that no one has personal responsibility. But it would also be silly to ignore the mountain of factors that obviously effect how we make decisions.

    As a last point, you may not have needed this explanation at all. I know you were kind of asking Ben something different — why is free will more believable in one scenario vs another? — but I thought I’d provide this anyway, in case anyone was interested. 🙂


  7. It is a question that will eventually be resolved by scientific inquiry, not by religion, which is little more that posturing and lies.
    Until then, is it really worth the millions upon millions of words of philosophical discussion merely to argue a point?
    Methinks not, but merely another religious raison d’etre.


  8. if you’re simply trying to argue a point, then i guess not. But if you’re goal is to educate or enlighten loved ones, I think every bit of energy is worth it.


  9. @ William
    The sentiment is worthy, however, as Nate will tell you, no atheist is likely to convert a christian based on their say so or ‘superior’ knowledge’.
    The individual has to find out for themselves.
    All a deconvertee can hope for is by telling his story (such as a blog) that some may read and wonder.


  10. @William, the difference is in the theism scenario is that you have a personal Creator endowing humanity with personal souls and moral agency. Each person is a unique creation with freedom to choose love, good, loyalty, beauty or the nefarious opposites of those attributes. In the materialist scenario we are to put it clumsily and crassly swirling masses of chemical reactions.

    Certainly just because I would like to have a personal soul independent of natural determinism given to me from a personal Creator doesn’t make it true. If indeed we are swirling masses then so be it. I’m just saying that it is one of the appealing aspects of the Christian view if Christianity is true.


  11. bburleson,

    I also like the idea of human beings having a created soul apart from the natural forces of the physical world.

    However, I don’t think human beings are merely random processes if God were not to exist. Random is a word we ascribe to processes in whose outcome we don’t completely understand in real time.

    For example, like rolling dice (I know this might be obvious to point out) if human beings could somehow know all the interactions with the surface areas, the force applied when a die is rolled then punters couldn’t really gamble, since there would be no “luck” involved with the process. It’s only through our lack of understanding that we have a concept of chance. We only ascribe luck to a process because we can only predict the probability of a roll but not the outcome in real-time. If human beings had the time and capacity understand all the interactions that cause an outcome then it would no longer be “random” to us, not random in a true sense anyway.

    Even if God doesn’t exist I don’t think we are the result of random process. Adaptation is not a random process, we respond to the environment we live in. This still rings true in the materialist scenario. I don’t think we are merely random swirling masses of chemical reactions whether or not God exists. Nature may be then Impersonal and wasteful even, but not random.

    Have a great day 🙂


  12. ….and even if we were all the result of some random process, why would that mean that we have no free will? …especially when god knows all future, like who will go heaven and who will go to hell before they’re even born? If i were an arguer, i might say that if there were such a god then that would really mean the absence of free will. But I wont say that. It’s making an absolute statement and pretending it must be true even though there is little to no supporting evidence.

    I think we should avoid doing that.

    Like saying that without god we have no free will… and since we have free will then there must be a god. That’s all well and good except that you completely made up the first point and without it your argument fails.


  13. @bburlson
    “I’m just saying that it is one of the appealing aspects of the Christian view if Christianity is true.”

    And fortunately, Christianity is not true, and only myopic believers consider it has any appealing aspects because they care not to investigate its other attributes.


  14. It does resonate in me that each human being is a masterpiece of God, truly valuable and unique in their shaping and form.

    This seems to be more than a notion; going beyond just feelings and intuition this just seems to resound in me as true. Every human being should be treated like they are strokes of light, colour and shades in a precious Rembrandt. These strokes form unique faces, lovingly painted by the hand of God, and that to be perceived and cared for from this angle and in this way is the natural order of the world. Yet the world is opposed to this order. To me it seems more right and true to see and treat people as masterpieces of God than anything else.


  15. and only myopic believers consider [Christianity] has any appealing aspects because they care not to investigate its other attributes.

    I don’t really agree with that. Certainly, it’s true of some believers, but it’s true of some people in any group you encounter. But I don’t think guys like bburleson, unklee, or Kent fit into that category. It’s just not fair to paint with such a broad brush, and we would be offended if someone made the same kinds of accusations against atheists.

    No offense intended against you, Ark — I really value your comments and often find them funny. I just happen to disagree with you on this one.


  16. “I don’t really agree with that. Certainly, it’s true of some believers, but it’s true of some people in any group you encounter. But I don’t think guys like bburleson, unklee, or Kent fit into that category. It’s just not fair to paint with such a broad brush, and we would be offended if someone made the same kinds of accusations against atheists.”

    No problem Nate. Really.
    Yet my take is that none of those you list, and any other Christian, is really interested in discovering the truth behind what they believe. As you can attest. It began with indoctrination and continues.
    Unklee is not really interested in what you believe as he has no intention of following your path. If he was his comments would not tacitly harbour a rebuttal of every point you make in favour of deconversion.
    They are really not willing to even try to understand.
    bburlson, is like most Christians, justify the horrors of the bible by not dealing with them, by suggesting that Jesus somehow whitewashed all that went before.
    And I would feel no offense if anyone leveled similar accusations towards me. For it would be difficult for such to stick. I have investigated, just like you, and in the end there really is only one conclusion that can be drawn.
    You know this and so do I.
    Your posts are a lot more gentle and diplomatic than I would ever write. Thus you don’t alienate those that would love to bring you back into the fold 🙂
    I respect your approach. I certainly admire your patience. But believe me, your average Christian does not have respect for your BELIEF. No matter how ‘nice’ they come across as and when push comes to shove they will pick their ‘god’ every time.
    Post one highly controversial post that casts aspersions on Jesus and his divinity for instance, and see the response you get from the Christians.


  17. Ark,
    A lot of what you say is probably true. But I can’t go so far as to say that no Christian is interested in discovering truth. I have come out of it, but it took a long time. Prior to that, I was a very sincere, out-to-convert-you kind of Christian. But even during that period, I look back and consider myself a “free-thinker.” I always wanted to know the truth — I was just sincerely wrong about what that was.

    Like you, I have difficulty understanding why some of these guys I admire so much are still Christians despite all the problems with the Bible. Honestly, to me, it seems as though they’ve concluded God and Jesus are true before they’ve really critically examined the evidence. I know they would disagree, and I don’t mean to offend them — that’s just how it seems to me. At the same time, I recognize that I could be totally wrong about that.

    One thing I’ve learned from my deconversion is that different people have different processes for examining evidence. I was really struck by the fact that even though Ezekiel prophesied Tyre would be destroyed and never rebuilt, Tyre is still around today. That was huge for me. But other people aren’t as bothered by it. That’s hard for me to understand, but it’s also hard for them to understand why I don’t believe in Jesus.

    In the end, I truly believe that the Christians we interact with are very sincere. And they’re also very knowledgeable. All I can figure is that guys like you and I require much more evidence for belief than they do.

    As far as our tone when we interact with them, I think it’s easier to gain more ground by treating people politely and respectfully. Their religion teaches that you and I are fools, evil, or misguided at the least. And there are plenty of Christians who treat atheists with fear and revulsion. But these guys don’t. I admire that, and I plan to return the favor. We need the rest of society to see us as the normal, decent people that we are. I think unklee, bburleson, Kent, etc, see us that way, and I imagine that they would say so to their Christian friends who might not otherwise be so charitable.

    I just find lots of reasons to continue treating these guys with kindness and respect. And while I don’t agree with their positions on religion, I’m not going to say they’re insincere about their search for truth when they tell me otherwise. I’ve had people do that to me, and it’s really frustrating (like “all atheists believe in God, even if they won’t admit it”).


  18. I have no doubt that they truly believe they are sincere. As you have stated that you were too….back in the day.
    Yet if this sincerity is initially based of the premise of faith then irrespective of the evidence the answers t this truth they seek will only register if it concurs with their initial belief.
    The instant you began to question, the house of cards began to fall.
    You were honest and open to the type of investigation the likes of Unklee will never conduct.
    He sides with his so -called consensus and will unwittingly stack the deck. And this goes for most Christians. Faith does not require evidence.

    Look at like this.
    No Christian alive will countenance the story that Mohammed rode on a winged horse. To even consider it as valid would be anathema.
    But millions upon millions of Muslims will swear it is the truth, and actually happened. Muslims that live in the 21st century where space travel is commonplace.

    Yet these same Christians who deny this story and also live in the 21st century and claim they seek truth will argue until the cows come home that Jesus changed water into wine, walked on water and came back to life after being crucified, defying every known law of nature.

    Go figure?
    Are they truly sincere? You be the judge.
    It is in your nature to be kind to these people as you were in a similar situation. I can relate.

    For now I’ll play the ‘bad cop foil’ Smile….

    Oh, and thanks for the visit and the ‘follow
    I shall try to live up to expectations. the gods willing. 😉


  19. Oh, and thanks for the visit and the ‘follow
    I shall try to live up to expectations. the gods willing. 😉

    Oh, I’m sure I won’t be disappointed. 🙂 Btw, I never told you how much I enjoyed the poem you left as a comment at Don’s blog. Brilliant!


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