Thursday, September 24, 2009

Imaginary Beings and Imaginary Meaning

In my morning browsings of the internet this morning, Planet Atheism pointed me to an article from Daniel Fincke, And They Say Atheists Are Angry, about a Richard Dawkins interviewer in which:

The mixture of incredulity and contempt with which [the interviewer] keeps asking questions that are to the effect of, "Seriously, you want to say that the God that gives all these people meaning isn’t there??? How can you dare say that???"

Which represents a common sentiment, against which I give a frustrated sigh and silently respond:

Religion has never given anybody's life meaning. Religion has only given people the illusion of meaning, but real meaning can never come from an imaginary God.

In response to this one might say, But there is no meaning without God. If God is imaginary, and the meaning that comes from God is imaginary, then meaning itself does not exist.


Have you ever been in love? I have. The happiness and well-being of my spouse has a great deal of meaning to me.

Writing this blog, and all that goes in it, has meaning, I hope. I can only hope because the meaning to be found in writing this blog is in its contribution to making the world a better place than it would have otherwise been. I must acknowledge the possibility that my claims are wrong and my writings do more harm than good. However, there is a difference between the possibility of real meaning and the near certainty of imaginary meaning that religion provides.

We do not have children. However, to say that, to the parent of a child that the welfare of the child has no meaning is an absurdity.

Now, imagine, if you will, a set of parents devoted to raising an imaginary child. They shout for the child to get out of bed first thing in the morning and they set breakfast on the table. They clean the child’s bedroom – though this is such a well-behaved child that he keeps his own room very clean. They do his laundry, though they have not been able to figure out why the child must be folding his dirty laundry back up and putting it in the drawer. They meet with their child’s teachers. The child, of course, goes to a special school – a school whose administrators have found is profit in 'teaching' these imaginary children.

One of the things about these parents is that they do an amazingly good job of covering up for the fact that this child is not real.

They come up with excuses for everything.

Why is it that the child does not eat breakfast? Well, he must be eating at school.

Why is it that you have never seen this child? Come now. Of course I have seen my child. I feel his presence right now. Just this afternoon I caught a glimpse of him as he ran in the back door and up to his room. In fact, I heard him up there just a few minutes ago.

And if you take the parent up to the room, open the door, and see that the child is not there and the room is exactly as it was left that morning, then, He must have gone out again when I wasn't looking, and he has always been a very neat little boy.

What amazes many atheists who are not caught up in this delusion is that talking to a person who insists on the presence of God is just like talking to the parent of the imaginary child above.

Of course, part of the reason for this is that the imaginary child has been made the most important thing in the world to these parents. There is nothing that these parents will not do – no sacrifice that is too great – for their imaginary child. This is why they cannot give up the idea that their child exists, and this is why they grab so tenaciously to the rationalizations and excuses to get around the evidence that there is no child.

The ultimate argument being, of course, that, "You cannot prove that my child does not exist."

Which is true. All I can provide is that there is no evidence to show that the child does exist.

Then, when the author of a book called, The Child Delusion goes on the air to talk about his new book (a different book), the interviewer asks with a mixture of incredulity and contempt, "Seriously, you want to say that the children that gives all these people meaning aren't there??? How can you dare say that???"

Not only is it the case that the children in this example do not exist, the meaning and purpose are just as imaginary as the children. Insofar as these parents are finding meaning and purpose in their imaginary children, they are not finding any real meaning or purpose at all.

Some of them may also have real children or other real-world concerns. Many have real spouses in which they have really fallen in love, and real friends and family with which they have shared their real lives. Some have real-world concerns to feel real people who are really hungry, and to provide real medical care to people who are really sick or injured.

In these cases, the time and effort they devote to their imaginary children are even more of a waste, because that is time and effort that they could otherwise spend doing something of real importance.

However, all the real meaning and purpose is to be found in the real-world. Nothing ever done for the sake of an imaginary child or an imaginary God has ever provided anything but imaginary meaning and imaginary purpose.


Dermot said...

You use the word love in your blog, but what do you you mean by it? Is it just the effect of some chemical reaction in your brain whenever you think about or see your wife? If so then I do not think that this has any higher meaning than hunger does.

Eneasz said...

Dermot - then you'd be wrong.

If, to you, love doesn't have any meaning unless it refers to some magical process then, sadly, love doesn't have any real meaning to you, since magic isn't real.

laBiscuitnapper said...

Egad, it's so tiresome to hear the 'God exists therefore life has meaning' statement. It's not only flimsy (I write because I like to write, not because I have some purporse for it. Even if I do, it's usually with moneetary reward in mind... why should any other creator, even a divine one, be any different?), but it also doesn't hold up to well to their God. It basically means we've gone through billions of years of stuff happening, and even the comparatively insignificant yet appalling messes in human history and some of the most joyful discoveries possible for sentient beings to make... for some grand experiment?

Now, call me a cnic, but that sounds like bad PR to me...

NAL said...

Children often have imaginary friends to keep them company and to play with. God is a socially acceptable imaginary friend for adults.

Capt'n John said...

And yet I wonder, imaginary friends are just that and we are supposed to outgrow them. I am not sure that keeping an imaginary friend into adulthood is a good thing, even if the individual calls him god (with either a small or a capital D) Mankind in theory is achieving at least some semblance of its adulthood and as such childish things should be left behind. I found real meaning in my life in teaching young children, others have found it elsewhere in their professions or occupations. The only ones who seem to need a god (imaginary or otherwise) to provide them with a meaning in life are those unfortunate beings who have managed to place themselves in life in a career or occupation which does not give them satisfaction and fulfillment. In my opinion Alonzo Fyfe is being unnecessarily modest in suggesting that "I can only hope because the meaning to be found in writing this blog is in its contribution to making the world a better place than it would have otherwise been." His additions to his blog inspire us to add to the debate, and that alone is sufficient reason to grant that he is making a positive difference.

anton said...

When you "boil it down to its bones", the only contribution that religion has made to man is the promise of an illussionary afterlife. Everything else can be attained or is achievable by man without the "help" from imaginary "booga booga". This fact is so simple and yet the debates go on and on and on.

Want to believe that you have an afterlife? Join a religion.

Want to get everything you can out of life on earth, including adopting a true and measurable "love thy neighbor" approach, forget religion, witchcraft, voo doo and all the other CULTS! Get on with living!!!

Tom: said...

Respectfully, I have never met (experienced, perceived) your wife, and therefore I have not had the opportunity to observe that about her, or you for that matter, which inspires in you the sensation and conviction of meaning.
It is possible that I might encounter her, and gain insight into your experience of meaning.
Given the expanse of time, physical space, and human experience it may be possible, even probably, that I could do an exhaustive search and still not encounter her, especially in a manner similar to your encounter/experience. Just as likely I may pass her on the street or see some work she has produced and, not taking notice of this, still not appreciate that about her which imparts to you meaning. On the other hand, I may meet someone who has had this encounter and hear form them about your experience of meaning...they may even do so with great insight, clarity of thought, and enthusiasm.

Indulge me this line of is equally plausable that you may have heretofore not encountered God, or have failed to recognize evidence of God directly, or by inference from his works, or by reports from those who have had such an encounter. It seems the absence of your experience is what you use as the basis of your premise that God is therefore imaginary.

I challenge you to scrutinize your motives, predispositions, and assumptions in the matter of God. The universe appears to be a large place...I think it is a bit hasty of anyone to promote such a vigorous and dogmatic assertion that God and any meaning others may derive from an encounter with him exists only as an illusion in the mind/heart/soul/biochemsitry using only the absence of information/experience to derive such a strong belief.

Eneasz said...

Hi Tom. If "god" is defined as "another human in the world" then sure, I'd be more than happy to accept your word for it that s/he exists and I simply haven't met him/her.

However if, as most people do, you define god as something that is nearly infinite in power, knowledge, and lifespan, and moreover that this thing cares a great deal about humans and interacts with them, then I have to say your analogy is a load of crap. All the evidence points to the NON-existance of such a being, and it is in no way analogous to another human on earth.

Tom said...

Eneasz, the point I was trying to make is that living atheist appear to adopt a self-imposed obstruction that presupposes that anything that cannot be directly observed with the tools of science or physical sensation cannot exist. Given the apparent vast expanse of the universe this seems like a narrow approach. This would be like denying the possibility that dark matter exists because we have not, to date, directly observed it. Thanks for wading through the crap!

Doug S. said...

I haven't indirectly observed the God of Abraham either, and I've got many reasons to believe that he doesn't exist.

You haven't accepted Zeus into your heart, so why should I accept Jesus?

Eneasz said...

Hi Tom. First, I completely love Doug S.'s link, please read it when you have a chance. Secondly, I don't know any atheists that deny dark matter, but even if they did, it wouldn't have any effect on the way anyone lives their lives or is supposed to live their lives.

And finally:
atheist appear to adopt a self-imposed obstruction that presupposes that anything that cannot be directly observed with the tools of science or physical sensation cannot exist.

Please forgive me if I treat something that is indistinguishable from NOTHING AT ALL as equivilant to nothing at all. I admit it's a bias, but I'm baised toward believing that things that actually exist should have some effect on reality.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


I had decided at the start of this blog that this is not a place for debating the existence of God. There are a thousand other blog sites devoted to that question.

This site is devoted to the question of morality under the assumption that no God exists.

Be that as it may, spent 12 years in college studying philosophy, and spent hundreds of hours on the issue of whether a God exists, looking at the arguments of professional thinkers. I can say that my opinion is not as shallow as you would want to believe.