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What Has Been Your Experiences Explaining Purpose in Life Without God? 
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Post What Has Been Your Experiences Explaining Purpose in Life Without God?
I think I am a little late joining the fray, but this book title caught my attention because the first question my father asked me after he found out I was an atheist was "How can you live your life without a purpose?" (One of my younger sisters is a tattle tale. I admitted to her after a discussion of homosexuality that I was an atheist and she told my dad.)

Have the rest of you had experiences like this? Have you been asked what is your purpose in life is if you don't serve some sort of god figure? My life goal is to make someone smile every day, but is that a life purpose? My father seemed really worried about this, so I plan to read this book even though I'm a bit late for discussion. But...that is the joy of the internet...the discussion is still there so I can still read it and ya'll can still respond to it.



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Thu Sep 06, 2018 12:41 am
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Post Re: What Has Been Your Experiences Explaining Purpose in Life Without God?
Australia is a more secular country than the USA, so belief in God is less socially prominent and more humble and accepting here. I rarely encounter people who challenge me on my beliefs, except occasional Americans on the internet. It is good to have this as a side thread to this book, because there are general questions about purpose that can be explored here. Maybe Lewis will address them in the book maybe not.

The history of the philosophical debate about purpose is centrally tied to the nineteenth century debate about the theory of evolution. When Charles Darwin proved that an interventionist God is not needed to explain the diversity of life on earth, the old theory, known as teleology, which held that God made everything for a purpose, became obsolete.

The problem is that Darwinian evolution has still not provided a moral theory that is superior to Christianity. Efforts such as communism have spectacularly failed, leading to justified scepticism about the merits of scientific morality. As the theory of evolution states, things only change due to selective pressure and the emergence of more adaptive traits. As yet, science is not more adaptive than religion in providing a theory of the meaning of life.

The meaning of purpose is complex. We all have goals in life, with intentions and direction that give us a sense of purpose. My view is that religious language can be very helpful for people to define their goals, including through prayer and worship, and that faith can help us to achieve our goals. I don’t think that means we should posit a personal God with attributes that conflict with scientific knowledge. It means that language about God stands for real natural forces and energies, and for the importance psychologically of constructing systematic stories about reality.

My view is that the meaning of life is the good of the future, and the purpose of life is to enhance the flourishing of life on earth. I see those ideas as only enhanced by the story of Jesus Christ, who to me represents the effort to implement these ideas against strong worldly resistance. I see these ideas as even further enhanced by the observation that Jesus was fictional, since analysing the invention of Jesus in the Bible helps us to see just how deluded and depraved our worldly psychology really is. The fact that humans could invent the Son of God and then forget what they had done is quite remarkable.

In a lost and fallen culture we desperately need to invent comforting myths that will give us a strong sense of hope, meaning, purpose, direction and goals. Human culture needs myths that appear to give us a stable and durable connection to ideals that transcend our changing circumstances. This sense of connection to the eternal is psychologically more powerful for conventional Christianity than any evidence based claims about the actual truth of the Bible.

It illustrates that a flawed vision can only be replaced by a better vision, not by someone pointing out the flaws. That is why I think the debate on purpose should be framed in terms of reforming Christianity to make it compatible with reason, as I have discussed fairly extensively here at booktalk. Opposition to faith fails to engage with the Darwinian method of building on precedent. Seeking to reform what now exists is a far more productive strategy than proposing something entirely new.


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Thu Sep 06, 2018 1:45 am
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Post Re: What Has Been Your Experiences Explaining Purpose in Life Without God?
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When Charles Darwin proved that an interventionist God is not needed to explain the diversity of life on earth, the old theory, known as teleology, which held that God made everything for a purpose, became obsolete.


I do not believe Charles Darwin himself either spoke or wrote anything which indicated he believed because life evolved, God, or a god and "purpose" within nature does not exist and is therefore "obsolete"

That would be misrepresenting Darwin's body of work and his thoughts.



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Thu Sep 06, 2018 10:17 am
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Post Re: What Has Been Your Experiences Explaining Purpose in Life Without God?
Great responses! I have read that Darwin delayed publishing because he was worried about the effect on religion. Other people will know more about that.

I want to address Robert's comment about AU being more secular than US. That is so true, but also, it is so different state by state here in the US. I have lived in 2 of the most secular states, Washington and Oregon, and no one ever asked about my religion. I moved back to my home state, North Dakota, which is the second most religious state (Utah is #1) and some co-workers who were protestant were criticizing the Catholicism of the big boss and they suddenly thought to ask me what denomination I was. Not whether or not I was a Christian...which version of Christian I was. It did not even occur to them that I might not be a Christian. In all my years living in other states it was never an issue and no one cared. Are there areas in AU that bend one way or the other?



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Post Re: What Has Been Your Experiences Explaining Purpose in Life Without God?
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In a letter to a correspondent at the University of Utrecht in 1873, Darwin expressed agnosticism:

I may say that the impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for the existence of God; but whether this is an argument of real value, I have never been able to decide. I am aware that if we admit a first cause, the mind still craves to know whence it came from and how it arose. Nor can I overlook the difficulty from the immense amount of suffering through the world. I am, also, induced to defer to a certain extent to the judgment of many able men who have fully believed in God; but here again I see how poor an argument this is. The safest conclusion seems to me to be that the whole subject is beyond the scope of man's intellect; but man can do his duty.[79]



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In 1879 John Fordyce wrote asking if Darwin believed in God, and if theism and evolution were compatible. Darwin replied that "a man may be an ardent Theist and an evolutionist", citing Charles Kingsley and Asa Gray as examples, and for himself, "In my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God.— I think that generally (& more and more so as I grow older) but not always, that an agnostic would be the most correct description of my state of mind."



https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious ... gnosticism



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Post Re: What Has Been Your Experiences Explaining Purpose in Life Without God?
Darwin was apparently expressing agnosticism there but agnosticism and atheism are not mutually exclusive positions. Darwin was agnostic about God and therefore, by virtue of being a man that relies upon reason, an atheist too. If you admit to not knowing then you should by default also lack the belief. I mean... to believe something without evidence and knowledge is not very rational. So he was expressing agnosticism and also probably atheism. I hope that made sense.

I'm agnostic about whether life exists on Mars and therefore, because I admit to not knowing, I also lack the belief that life exists on Mars. I'm an agnostic atheist with regards to life on Mars. This is the weak atheism position.

I am NOT a strong atheist about life on Mars. I don't claim to know that life does not exist on Mars. The jury is out. I'm without knowledge AND belief.

But I sure do hope we eventually find life on Mars and on several of the moons of the larger planets in our solar system.



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Thu Sep 06, 2018 10:39 pm
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Post Re: What Has Been Your Experiences Explaining Purpose in Life Without God?
I believe that it is important for a person to understand their purpose as part of the overall business of human flourishing. No matter how humble (or exalted) the role, if we are contributing to the welfare of others, we know ourselves to be of value beyond our own personal comfort and safety.

The language of religion was the old way of talking about that. Maybe there is a new way of talking about it: human flourishing, or humanitarian values, something like that. I am a Christian, but I don't think it matters that someone use Christian concepts to think about the matter or to explain values.

What matters is that we take on board the welfare of humanity in general, and understand it as a proper goal for myself to pursue. Not because the community is grumpy and wants not to be infringed on, but because the things we do together give a satisfaction that lasts beyond the flow of pain and pleasure of our small individual selves.

It seems to me that helping people see the humor in life can be a meaningful part of that process. Scrumfish, making people smile every day seems like a metric for something positive for all of us together. That strikes me as a meaningful sense of purpose.

Of course, if you make people smile by helping them to feel superior to someone else, that raises some questions about it.



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Post Re: What Has Been Your Experiences Explaining Purpose in Life Without God?
This is all great, but my question was:

Have the rest of you had experiences like this? Have you been asked what is your purpose in life is if you don't serve some sort of god figure?

None of you have addressed that question. I don't need reassurance about my atheism. I was just curious about other people's experiences.



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Wed Sep 12, 2018 1:06 am
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Post Re: What Has Been Your Experiences Explaining Purpose in Life Without God?
People....this is all about YOU. How have YOU experienced people questioning your life and purpose?



Wed Sep 12, 2018 1:11 am
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Post Re: What Has Been Your Experiences Explaining Purpose in Life Without God?
scrumfish wrote:
my question was:
Have the rest of you had experiences like this? Have you been asked what is your purpose in life is if you don't serve some sort of god figure?
It might be that's the sort of question that only a parent would ask a child. I have never heard a discussion on the subject get so direct.

When I have gotten into real-life (i.e. not internet) discussions about purpose in life, I have not presented my views in terms of God. If a person finds it easier to explain their purpose in terms of God, I don't give them a hard time about it, but I usually try to shift the discussion onto secular terms. People don't seem to have trouble following that.

But honestly, such big questions don't usually seem to come up. Rather people get talking about something specific on the news, or if they are close, about something important that happened to them, and then maybe, now and then, the conversation will drift onto how a person reasons about purpose.



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Post Re: What Has Been Your Experiences Explaining Purpose in Life Without God?
I don't know that many atheists have defined or discovered their purpose with great clarity. I think some have, of course, but mainly because it's a point that's central to the god debate. I think I'm in that camp, and I've thought long and hard about what "purpose" a purpose serves, and whether or not I'm following a compass without realizing it.

I have a couple core purposes that I've discovered drive me, and I'm still exploring them. One is to raise my kids to be the happiest and most productive people they can be. The second is to promote human flourishing in a sustainable way. The second is more of an umbrella, but I see this one poking through in all aspects of my life. I also see that where my behavior deviates, that behavior always seems to belong to a person I dislike, when I analyze it introspectively. The key to the second purpose is sustainability. There's a lot of hidden danger in taking short term gain and being blind to what comes after.


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