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Reviewed by John Cottingham, University of Reading Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews


Wielenberg's book is a conditional apologia for naturalism. It is conditional in so far as he explicitly states that he will not argue for the truth of naturalism, but rather, on the assumption that it is true, will endeavour to acquit it of the damaging implications it is often taken to have.

A common charge is that without God human life is meaningless. Wielenberg, to his credit, rejects a number of over-easy rebuttals to this charge -- for example that if there were no God, mere preference for certain activities would be enough to endow them with meaning. This won't do, argues Wielenberg, because the excrement eater, even if endowed with a strong desire to pursue his chosen activity, does not qualify as having a meaningful life. What one might call an 'internalist' account of meaningfulness cannot rely merely on the brute fact that we like to do certain things. What is needed, in addition, is that our activities have some kind of intrinsic value: "Even if there is no supernatural commander to assign purposes to our lives or a suitably Significant Deity to care about our lives, the existence of intrinsically good activities would make it possible for us to bring internal meaning to our lives." (p. 34).

...Even those, however, who are out of sympathy with Wielenberg's approach, and his worldview, will find much that is worthwhile in this book. It is written with verve and clarity, and is for the most part highly accessible, yet densely packed with thoughtful and often provocative ideas and arguments. It bears the hallmark of having been forged in the lecture-room through vigorous debate, and it should provoke equally vigorous discussion among students and others. Altogether, it is a useful addition to the new and exciting wave of philosophical writing that is turning the skills of analytic philosophy back upon ancient and central questions about the meaning of human existence.

Edited by: Dissident Heart at: 12/24/05 1:05 pm



Sat Dec 24, 2005 11:47 am
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Post Re: Reviews
A review by Ronald Aronson in BOOKFORUM

Like Baggini, Erik J. Wielenberg in Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe and Daniel Harbour in An Intelligent Person's Guide to Atheism respond to the current malaise in atheism by engaging in respectful and serious debate with their opponents. Wielenberg presents an analytical philosopher's argument, beautifully restrained and precise. He is responding to a major theme in contemporary thinking about religion, namely, that in a naturalistic universe



Sat Dec 24, 2005 1:07 pm
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Post Re: Reviews
I ran a search for reviews and came across a Blog that you all ought to check out.

A Dusty Life

And here is the Review of Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe




Sat Dec 24, 2005 2:01 pm
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Post Re: Reviews
I sent these reviews to my friend Dr. Van Swaay. Here are his comments:

About the Wielenberg discussion:

Obviously I have not (yet) read Wielenberg's book. But from what he writes in the discussion one can get a taste of how he thinks. From that I get the impression that he thinks cogently.

But few of the commenters seem to think cogently; most seem to be unaware that a given belief that answers life's unanswerables - for one person, or maybe for a group sharing that belief - cannot be brought as argument that all other beliefs must be wrong. Those who believe that ethics pre-exists, before religion, cannot thereby claim that religion cannot exist, or be accepted as bedrock. And those who speak from some religious conviction cannot claim that their religion must preclude ethics as bedrock for all others.

I get the impression that Wielenberg does recognize all that.
Moreover, I get the impression that he does not present his insight
(belief?) as unchallenged and unchallengeable truth. I did not read him saying anything beyond the observation that he has not found an argument to disprove his belief. He does raise some nontrivial questions about the difficulty of reconciling an all-powerful god with both imperfect people and observably indispensable moral precepts.

I don't think the argument of imperfection and imperfect respect for ethical precepts can serve to disprove the existence of god in some form. After all, the very notion of 'god' grew from the need to construct a model of what cannot be constructed from logic.

I would say that one could argue for ethical precepts, maybe not as absolute pre-existing axiom, but as absolutely necessary to make human (sympathetic) life possible. Given that logically one cannot start an argument without a starting point, then I would say that taking the existence of sympathetic humanity as the starting point is not all that different from taking a necessary precondition of such existence as starting point.
Maybe that is the ultimate chicken-and-egg question. No matter which way one might answer that question, there remains the bedrock
- logically unanswerable - question how humanity came to be human.

Ultimately, I would argue that all faith (and religion) develops as a construction of man, as a way to make peace with life's unanswerables. And that construction has to answer why humanity is sympathetic. That would lead to the proposition that 'ethics comes before religion', though maybe not before faith. But it does not lead to any argument that would speak against the possibility - and reality - that ethics and religion can and do co-exist, and that they can and do support each other.

I find the hard part in all this the challenge of capturing in words what may well be beyond words. Maybe that will serve as the last word ....




Sat Jan 21, 2006 7:14 pm
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Here's the review I wrote in my blog.
www.mindspring.com/~teler...verse.html

Erik Wielenberg's Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe is mainly a rebuttal of arguments by Christian theologians. He attempts to demonstrate the philosophical foundations of ethics in a naturalistic (godless) worldview. He frames the question as someone who has shifted from Christianity to naturalism, making his arguments less relevant to someone from a different religious background or who has never accepted religion.

Wielenberg starts by considering how one can find meaning in life in the absence of supernatural forces. He then searches for a basis for morality, countering theist claims that ethics is in some dependent on God. Then he explores why one should act morally if no divine judge makes you account for your actions. Another chapter examines traditional Christian virtues such as humility and charity.

Though Wielenberg makes some good points, I didn't get that much out of the book. In part, elaborate philosophical discussions about ethics are less convincing than my visceral feeling that, for example, murder is wrong. He didn't cover my ethical ponderings: ambiguous ethical trade-offs and the variation in ethical beliefs among different people and cultures. The book would probably be a lot more pertinent to present or former Christians contemplating ethical concerns.




Sun Feb 26, 2006 3:23 pm
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