To give my readers some context I have a well respected Theist friend that I enjoy debating with to a fault. Some of our debates have been pretty heated in the past especially shortly after I renounced my former faith. I was admittedly pretty upset and disappointed as I did not anticipate that I would ever become an Atheist. As the dust has settled over this past year and a half my hope is that many of my Christian friends will see the seriousness with which I approach Theistic arguments and perspectives. I will always be genuinely interested in this discussion and the path that I am on today is one in which I intend to best acknowledge what I know and do not know in life. Not only for me but I am also deeply interested in the knowledge of others within and outside of religion. How do we best represent the human condition? How do we most effectively speak from what can be known in all areas of life?

Without further ado I am keeping my friend’s identity anonymous but he knows who he is! The other day he presented me with a logical challenge regarding the existence of objective meaning. Objective meaning and morality is rather intimately connected so I have tried to address both of these matters simultaneously. His argument on behalf of Theism goes like this:

1) subjective “meaning to life” (that is “meaning” that is self decided) is wholly delusional.

2) An objective ground is needed for there to possibly be any objective meaning to one’s life.

3) Atheism does not, and can not, provide an objective ground for the meaning of life.

4) Theism can, and in fact is the only worldview that, provides this objective ground.

1) subjective “meaning to life” (that is “meaning” that is self decided) is wholly delusional.

I suppose I should clarify my view for you then. Meaning appears to be derived both individually and collectively. There is a level of self derived meaning that we create simply from existing and interacting within the world. As an example of self derived meaning the color yellow and its association with a feeling of warmth and peace for one person may not translate to another person. For another person the color yellow may be an annoyance. If there’s too much of it in the room it feels overwhelming and kind of weird. That is meaning on an individual level that has different subjective implications.

Then there is meaning that is transferred from one’s family and cultural experiences. Religion is a big staple here. I call this a combination of collective and individual meaning. With this comes a set of preconceived feelings and attitudes. In other words, the values or lens through which we were raised to see the world.

As a provocative illustration let us consider the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In the minds of the terrorists and those who agree with such a perspective, to fly that plane into a skyscraper was a victory cry for the advancement of radical Islam. It was a joyous self sacrifice against what they perceived to be the forces of evil and rebellion against Allah. It was an opportunity for paradise and celebration beyond the grave.

The perspective of most Americans is quite different for reasons I am quite empathetic about. Now, I know what you want to say. “See, this is why subjective meaning fails and calls for Theism to provide an objective standard!” The only problem here is that epistemically you will still be hard pressed to ground your own argument in reality. Reason being that we lack any viable means through which we can walk up to heaven’s gates and confirm the source of objective meaning and values.

You are free to make a philosophical argument that builds the tension or perceived need for objective moral values and meaning but it is quite another thing to claim definitive knowledge in this regard. Neither you or myself has this definitive knowledge and this creates a problem for your argument. This is the problem with metaphysical argumentation! We can inflate the idea of objective moral values and meaning all we want, but can we actually demonstrate it? Can we actually speak from knowledge in this regard? If we cannot then it seems to me that Theists, Atheists, and Agnostics are all in the same lifeboat. Yes, we are all trying to escape the sinking ship of moral chaos but at the same time we must be painstakingly honest about what is actually known by anyone in this regard!

Here is what I advocate in the midst of moral confusion and the lack of clear objective grounds relating to God. I advocate all religions and cultures to come clean about not being able to demonstrate that God necessitates objective meaning in the world. You can have your religion but what must be done now within Theism is to at least be willing to create a backup morality just in case the metaphysical claims of your religion become unconvincing over time. We all have the capacity to change our minds, right?

So let’s strive to create a morality that must shift from the metaphysical and acknowledge the things that are clear within the world. What is clear within the world is natural cause and effect. There are natural consequences and there are reactionary social consequences among humans and other animals. Nobody is arguing that gravity doesn’t exist. Nobody is arguing that fire doesn’t burn. Nobody is arguing that certain actions and choices don’t affect people physically and emotionally.

Now that we have that in mind let us then consider the value of empathy and compassion. I’m talking about the natural reaction that the majority of people can appear to exude when they see suffering and injustice at face value. We are adept as people to feel the strain in these cases. I abhor father’s raping their daughters just as much as the next guy. I despise the Jeffrey Dahmers and the Hitlers of this world just as much. What makes these kinds of atrocities the most disgusting to us? Arguably it is the cause and effect that unfolds! The wake of these events have scarred us all and it is because we possess such a strong inward feeling of empathy. Objectively we can recognize such clear threats to our survival and wellbeing. To simply let such monsters roam free is by default our own death wish and lack of concern.

Empathy paired with the recognition of natural and social consequences within the world is going to take our species a long way in the area of moral ethics and meaning. It already has! Hence the value of democracy and a secular society. Those who deviate from evaluating the consequences of their actions are either going to have to live far off of the grid or they will be induced with social pressures to conform and/or face corrective punishment. Now don’t get me wrong. If there could exist an overarching standard that intervenes and implements justice similar in the way you are advocating a God to do it could potentially tighten up justice into something that is evenly applied across the board.

If we want to get into the specifics of why I think the Biblical God is not the way to go, we’ll save that for another time. The main thrust of my argument is that you will be hard pressed to demonstrate both the necessity and reality of objective meaning stemming from an inaccessible divine source. We need a viable bridge between faith and knowledge! Until then it is most realistic to join your non believing friends in creating a morality that stems from evaluating the consequences of our actions.

2) An objective ground is needed for there to possibly be any objective meaning to one’s life.

You may or may not find this response to be annoying but I must ask you, “how do you actually know that an objective ground is needed for there to possibly be any objective meaning?” Do you know this or do you just feel this deep down? For you to know would mean that you can reasonably demonstrate to anyone right now that God exists. If you cannot do this then neither can you necessitate objective meaning and its being grounded in God. It would be best for you to argue from what you know and not from the metaphysical.

3) Atheism does not, and can not, provide an objective ground for the meaning of life.

I am personally agnostic as to whether Atheism sufficiently provides objective grounds but my short response to you is that neither can Theism based upon my argument above. On a separate note I do not view Atheism as a worldview or set of beliefs. It is the answer to one question. Does God exist? I don’t think so, but if viable means can convince me otherwise I’m open to it. I’m interested in knowledge that I can take to the bank.

4) Theism can, and in fact is the only worldview that, provides this objective ground.

If God was an objective and undisputed reality that we could access at this time I would be inclined to agree with you. In that world God would at least be a clear reality to fear and acknowledge. In such a case I would have to take into consideration everything that this being commands. If human beings are unable to verify the source (God’s existence) in the present then your whole argument loses its flavor. It simply floats in the realm of Philosophical possibilities but it isn’t moving and manipulating matter in my world. It isn’t intersecting with my humanity and the present set of conditions that I find myself in. My present conditions indicate that God is either silent and utterly inactive within my conscious experiences, or there is likely no God that I am able to confirm within this existence.

Thank you for considering my counter-arguments! Take care my friend!

As a further clarification to my whole argument what I am attempting to demonstrate is a measure of objectivity that can be gained through evaluating and acknowledging cause and effect. In other words, via understanding the consequences of our actions within the world as well as with other conscious human beings. I told you that I am agnostic as to whether sufficient grounds have been established but I would consider an objectivity about the natural world to be a more reliable place to start this endeavor. Theism is unable to bridge the gap between faith and knowledge which leaves you with a metaphysical claim only. This does not illustrate the necessity of objective meaning having to stem from a God. I hope this makes sense. Thanks again!

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