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Chapter 12 - Finding Purpose in a Godless World - by Ralph Lewis 
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 Chapter 12 - Finding Purpose in a Godless World - by Ralph Lewis
Chapter 12
Finding Purpose in a Godless World
by Ralph Lewis



Please discuss Chapter 12 of Finding Purpose in a Godless World by Ralph Lewis in this thread.



Wed Aug 01, 2018 11:49 pm
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Post Re: Chapter 12 - Finding Purpose in a Godless World - by Ralph Lewis
The final chapter is rather short. In typical fashion, Ralph Lewis would rather visit a new angle on the subject than make a solid argument that one can take away and apply. The new angle is that death and sex are biologically needed for evolutionary "progress". Okay, that's interesting, but as Stephen Jay Gould never tired of pointing out, it implies nothing about purpose.

And how do we transcend death? I was disappointed to the point of being scandalized by Lewis' casual declarations of valid, helpful insights with almost no exploration of how they fit with the many issues he has raised. We transcend death by passing on helpful ideas and understanding, and by being helpful in ordinary ways to the people who mean something to us. Or maybe, to be frank, we don't. People have to reflect on these kinds of observations, in the process of living their lives through good times and bad. It would have been a good place for a case study, but normally people who are doing a good job of being helpful don't go see a psychiatrist.

In what I take as a real stumble, he argues that this is not challenged by death since "the way to value life . . . is to realize these experiences are destined to be lost" (quoting Irvin Yalom). This is just a pep talk. The realization that the universe doesn't care about us, and whatever good or bad we do will be irrelevant to us when we are dead, can as easily turn into the nihilism of the main character in Woody Allen's "Crimes and Misdemeanors", who has an inconvenient former lover killed, as it can be peptalked into grabbing all the meaning you can.

Why is passing on understanding "meaningful"? That is, why should we care, other than that we just do? Well, his answer is typically alienated from ordinary life, but also typically on point. He interprets our goodness, our choice to live for things that are good, as part of a gradual improvement in the world, as explained by Stephen Pinker. He further quotes Shermer's "The Moral Arc" to the effect that greater success by science has improved morality by improving thinking, which has some credibility but is a seriously problematic thesis.

Lewis even offers (brief) reassurance that the election as U.S. president of a con man arguing for greater selfishness and a rollback of the institutions that overcame communism is just a temporary setback in the long march of people choosing meaningful improvements. No guarantee of further progress, but a sound basis for thinking the meaningful choices still matter.

My point would be that this grand vision of the arc of history is grossly inadequate to the task of giving life meaning. So is religion, frankly, but the point with religion is that we do it together. So Lewis really should have had some discussion about the processes of acting in concert, and of sharing a narrative, that people can reasonably feel creates connection with others. I mean really, agreeing that we believe Pinker is right is not a rich, layered process of connecting actions to understanding with other people. There needs to be consistent testing of the propositions about finding goodness meaningful, and there needs to be a common intellectual enterprise of solving the problems of community.



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Sat Oct 20, 2018 4:00 pm
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Post Re: Chapter 12 - Finding Purpose in a Godless World - by Ralph Lewis
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Ask yourself: Which worldview is ultimately more awesome, beautiful, meaningful, and humbling? That we and the rest of nature (in all its beauty and indifferent cruelty) were created in a top-down manner according to some blueprint by a conscious, self-aware, purposeful, intelligent, supernatural creator? Or that we are products of a fully natural process of gradual, spontaneous, unguided, unpredictable, bottom-up emergence in boundless gradations of increasing complexity, all this the result of the self-organizing properties of the most elemental forms of matter and energy? Add to this the wonder that we have become conscious, self-aware, purposeful, creative, intelligent beings who can ponder how we got here, who can consciously and intentionally regulate our own behavior (within some limits)—in a sense, act back “down” on ourselves.

Mr. Tulip and others have said that agnostics need to come up with myths or inspiring stories that support our position. I think this is a good one. However I don't know how well it can compete with supernatural magic or how to make the story more widely known and accepted.



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Post Re: Chapter 12 - Finding Purpose in a Godless World - by Ralph Lewis
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Here, on the edge of what we know, in contact with the ocean of the unknown, shines the mystery and beauty of the world. And it's breathtaking.
- Carlo Rovelli
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

One can find meaning / purpose in current mysteries and curiosity about what the next scientific discovery will be. That is part of what motivates me to stay healthy, perhaps live longer, and be around for the next world shaking Eureka! My fear is four hours after I die, we will detect an inter-galactic communication link between 12,000 advanced civilizations. :thmmm:



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Sun Oct 21, 2018 3:48 pm
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Post Re: Chapter 12 - Finding Purpose in a Godless World - by Ralph Lewis
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And it is here that we arrive at one of the central ironies of human existence. Which is that our sentient brains are uniquely capable of experiencing deep regret at the prospect of our own death, yet it was the invention of death, the invention of the gene/soma dichotomy, that made possible the existence of our brains….

True, but not exactly an inspiring meme. We need to keep working on more uplifting themes or admit this stuff just ain't for everyone...



Sun Oct 21, 2018 4:44 pm
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Post Re: Chapter 12 - Finding Purpose in a Godless World - by Ralph Lewis
LanDroid wrote:
Quote:
And it is here that we arrive at one of the central ironies of human existence. Which is that our sentient brains are uniquely capable of experiencing deep regret at the prospect of our own death, yet it was the invention of death, the invention of the gene/soma dichotomy, that made possible the existence of our brains….

True, but not exactly an inspiring meme. We need to keep working on more uplifting themes or admit this stuff just ain't for everyone...
Funny, but I found myself thinking about this one in church. For some reason I don't find death intimidating. A lifetime ahead of meaningless repetition has always seemed much more daunting to me. My family seems to be divided into two groups: one group is difficult to get along with and detests the thought of death, while the other group is easy-going and regards death as no big deal. Not sure what it means, but it's a clear pattern.

I thought Lewis did a poor job of explaining this specialization into the functional, "soma," part of our biology and the part creating new life, the "gonadal" part. Intriguing enough to be worth presenting, and explained fairly clearly, but half-baked in terms of what it means. Maybe that's okay. Like good mythos, because that's what it deals in, it allows the listener to take things off in different directions, depending on what seems vital about it.

The scriptures this week concerned Jesus' sacrifice: the great "suffering servant" passage in Isaiah 53 (he was wounded for our transgressions, etc.), and Jesus rebuking James and John for seeking to be the greatest in the Kingdom, which was their response to his announcement that he would be killed and rise again.

I found myself reflecting on this biological conundrum that if organisms were essentially immortal, perhaps with asexual reproduction, there would be much less progress to better adapted forms of life. Sexual reproduction means we don't just pass on our own genes, we pass on someone else's also. Cooperation of a sort is knitted into one of the lowest aspects of biology. And it makes possible the discarding of our "soma", our mere bodily functions, once a reasonable amount of reproduction has been accomplished.

The sermon illustration was about a woman who killed her husband, and while waiting on death row experienced a conversion. She helped many women in prison, and corresponded with theologian Jurgen Moltmann. My take on that was that our participation in the larger social interaction of figuring out how to encounter life is the "legacy" that makes our life human, and it leaves biology in the dust in terms of giving meaning to life.

Science is quite capable of generating stuff for mythos. But it has to be done in a proper literary manner: not telling people "what it means" but letting it evoke deep feelings and provide a thread to allow us to find our way out of the labyrinth.



Mon Oct 22, 2018 2:29 am
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Post Re: Chapter 12 - Finding Purpose in a Godless World - by Ralph Lewis
We are so tied up in words and language aren’t we?

We want everything to be explained in words that our brain can process, but some things are spiritually discerned.


_________________
Only those become weary of angling who bring nothing to it but the idea of catching fish.

He was born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world is mad....

Rafael Sabatini


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