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Does the belief that a life is significant require theism?

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• Is the world eternal? YES
• Do humans have contra-causal free will (i.e., can humans do otherwise)? NO
• Is beauty in the eye of the beholder? YES
• Do humans have souls? YES
• Are there natural rights? YES
• Is it morally permissible to eat meat? NO
• Is the unexamined life worth living? NO
• Is truth subjectivity? YES
• Is virtue necessary for happiness? YES
• Can a computer have a mind? YES
• Can humans know reality as it is in itself? YES
• Is hell other people? YES
• Can art be created accidentally? NO
• Can we change the past? NO
• Are numbers real? NO
• Is it always better to know the truth? YES

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William Lane Craig (“Yes”) and Shelly Kagan (“No”) debated the question. There is a link to their debate and a good, on-going discussion of it over on Prosblogion. The blog’s discussion is really quite impressive; my experience is that very often, after the first eight posts or so, comments on blogs usually lose track of the topic or become childishly snippy. (Not on any of my blogs, of course!) But this one maintains a decent level of focus and civility.



  1. Mike says:

    These sorts of debates beg for a robust explication/defense of the varieties of theistic fatalism, pessimism. But who would create such a work?


  2. After reading the post linked to and information offered in the comments. I guess I remain unconvinced that an Atheist who has a coherent vision of the value of human life and a theist who has a coherent vision of the value of human life could disagree in any fashion other than semantically.

    I have often thought that for academics immortality is 40,000 citations to your principle work, or 100 papers cited more than 100 times.

    Shakespeare said it best in the mouth of Mark Anthony, “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones; So let it be with Caesar.” — what then is life other than to fight against this observation?

    How one finds coherence within your theories of the good has less to do with the particular subjective preference and habit for finding the good than the consistent application of a coherent theory.

    Ultimately there should be convergence between coherent visions of the good, or no meaningful objective statements about morality can be made.


  3. Huenemann says:

    I’ve never really understood the equation of “X is significant” with “X is long-lasting/eternal”, at least in the domain of whether a human life is meaningful. Nor do I see why X couldn’t be significant unless it were judged to be significant by an omniscient, eternal being. I hold my son’s hand, and that feels pretty valuable, and that’s so even if neither the moon nor the Lord has any awareness of it. I haven’t a clue whether there’s any “objective” fact as to an event’s significance, but that too seems to me entirely irrelevant to my judgment of whether I value an event. Let “objective significance” go hang, I say.


  4. I think we agree. I want to stress, in addition to this agreement, that the correct process to an objective conclusion is exactly the same as one that embraces the subjective merit you describe so well in your last comment.

    The existence of disembodied truth cannot refute the existence of your example of embodied truth. Regardless of the “noumenon” the coherent collection of “phenomenon” should never invalidate that kernel of truth which we hold as disembodied and objective. In fact, for the disembodied truth to have any meaning there has to be an embodied subject capable of perceiving that truth, an embodied phenomena.

    I think it likely that all coherent theories of disembodied truth converge as they eliminate the limitations of language and refute the phenomenon that are proven to be inconsistent. Ergo, the union of coherence of embodied phenomena and correspondence to the noumenon requires convergence of all theories to an objective standard, should one exist.

    If not, if the disembodied truth does not exist, coherence and correspondence also matter, but convergence is not required.


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