Can Life Have Meaning without God?
This is a review of Michael Martin’s Atheism, Morality, and Meaning (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2002). “Michael Martin is an eminent atheist philosopher, and he gives us a hard-hitting critique of those theistic arguments which claim that all is futile in the realms of morality and meaning if there is no God. However, although Martin does well in exposing some common mistakes of theistic moral arguments, he is less convincing when he argues for objective morality in a godless world.”
This essay considers whether life is inherently meaningless if death is the permanent end of our conscious existence and our lives are not part of a higher purpose.
In this contribution to an American Philosophical Association symposium on “God, Death, and the Meaning of Life,” Evan Fales considers three responses to loss of faith in the Christian God: despair, optimism, and rebellion. Western culture is permeated by belief in an afterlife on religious grounds, shaping these responses in particularly anxious ways. Fales considers both how atheists can respond to the question of the meaning of life, and, in what is surely a surprising direction for some, whether Christianity even has the resources to provide meaning through doctrines as problematic as requiring another to pay for your own sins.
Lowder refutes Ravi Zacharias’s claim that life is meaningless without God by showing that life can have nonultimate meaning even if there is no God.
Is God needed for life to be meaningful? Is it even conceivable that the meaning of life could be found in God? Would the existence of God, one way or the other, have any implications for the meaning of life at all? And what exactly do we mean by the meaning of life, anyway? Ryan Stringer touches on these and related questions in order to elucidate the relationship between the existence of God and the meaning of life.
The Meaning of Life (1997) (Off Site) by Adrian Barnett
“Atheists can, and often do, lead a full and enjoyable life. We know that this is all we get, and all that everybody else gets, so we do the best that we can for ourselves and others.”
Morality, Ethical Behavior & Atheism (1998) (Real Audio) (Off Site)
Timothy Gorski, Margaret Downey, and David Silverman talk about ethical behavior and atheism.
Many people hold on to supernatural beliefs because they feel that certain psychological needs could not be met without them—in particular, they feel that they would not be able to have any hope without such beliefs. However, nonbelief need not be the “recipe for despair” that it is often assumed to be; in fact, not only can it leave ample room for hope, but it can help people hope in a realistic, psychologically healthy way when it comes to important things in life. Because nonbelievers can hope for most of the things that people generally hope for, dispelling the myth that nonbelief is a recipe for despair can go a long way toward making nonbelief psychologically acceptable to those who might otherwise resist it.
Is life pointless? Why should the atheist bother? It’s all just going to end anyway, right? Answers enclosed.
In this review of Michael Martin’s Atheism, Morality, and Meaning, John L. Perkins outlines Martin’s responses to the theistic charge that atheists lack the motivation to be moral (in virtue of denying that rewards and punishments for earthly behavior exist after death), and the charge that atheists’ lives are devoid of meaning. Martin first formulates and defends a version of secular ethics based on ideal observer theory, then turns to a critical analysis of religious ethics based on divine command theory. Martin further argues that, contrary to popular belief, it is theists–not atheists–whose lives lack real meaning. Christians in particular, Martin argues, ground meaning in a doctrine of atonement which actually undermines accountability for one’s own actions. After noting a significant weakness of the book, Perkins suggests that the Golden Rule underlies an effective motivational constraint on undesirable social behavior.
Robbins refutes J.P. Moreland’s claim that, so far as the meaning of life is concerned, the best way to live one’s life is in terms of Christian theism.
Parsons refutes seven common misconceptions about atheism, including two that are relevant to the relationship between morality and atheism. The first misconception is the claim that atheism implies that life is absurd or meaningless.” The other is the notion that atheists, since they lack a conception of heaven or hell, have no motivation to be good.”
Graham Oppy explains the ways in which his reasons for rejecting Christianity differ from those offered by Bertrand Russell in his famous paper of the same title. In section I, Oppy considers how Christianity should be characterized, the best way to build a case against theism, and the nonrational reasons why people believe in God, among other things. In section II, he offers an account of his journey to unbelief and the philosophy of religion. By section III, Oppy explains why he is not a Christian, as well as some of the things that he does believe. Here he pines in on appeals to contingency and causality in theistic arguments, the problem of evil, free will, the mind-body problem, the history of the universe, human history, and the historicity of the Gospels–outlining his “supervenient naturalism” along the way. Oppy wraps up by considering the meaning of life and whether virtuous behavior relates to Christian belief.
Jeffery Jay Lowder maintains this page.