In retrospect, this primer should have come before I started my series on God or Godless. But better late than never, right?
So why write the primer now? I realized I needed it after writing the third installment in the series which is based on the first chapter and was itself titled: “If there is no God, then life has no meaning: A Reader’s Journey Through God or Godless (Part 3)“. One could read that chapter and draw the reasonable conclusion that I am defending the robust claim that there are no plausible atheistic accounts of objective meaning. However, that is not, in fact, my position. The reality is far more nuanced and, I think, interesting.
Here’s the thing you have to keep in mind. God or Godless seeks to compare two worldviews, (Christian) theism and (atheistic) naturalism. But there is no one version of (Christian) theism. Nor is there one version of (atheistic) naturalism. Thus, when we are developing our arguments, Loftus and I each need to attend to the beliefs particular to our interlocutor. Some my arguments will have relevance to all versions of atheism (or atheistic naturalism), but others will be specific to Loftus’ version of the position. Likewise when Loftus presents arguments, some will be applicable to all versions of theism (or Christian theism) but others will be specific to my views.
For example, there are Christians who have a very low view of scripture according to which they believe the Bible is simply a human document that reflects human religious experience and can provide inspiration and direction for the Christian community. I don’t accept that position. Instead, I accept what is called the plenary inspiration of scripture according to which the Holy Spirit superintended the formation and recognition of the biblical canon so that it might have a unique authority in revealing God’s nature and will.
Since he knew that I accept plenary inspiration, Loftus wisely chose his debate topics so that some of them would specifically target this commitment (still less to the theist simpliciter). But that doesn’t mean these are not good or important arguments. It just means that they have a limited application to folks like myself who accept plenary inspiration or something like it.
I likewise fine-tuned my debate topics and arguments to Loftus’ specific form of (atheistic) naturalism. Loftus’ views express a commitment to new atheism including what I take to be a rather crude form of scientism and evidentialism. So when I chose a debate topic like meaning, my intent was to target Loftus’ specific expression of atheistic naturalism in the same way that his chosen topics target my specific expression of Christian theism.
Now we can return to meaning. This leaves open the possibility that one can develop forms of atheism (or atheistic naturalism) that do have a workable understanding of objective meaning. Indeed, next week I intend to review the late, great atheistic philosopher Ronald Dworkin’s provocative treatise Religion without God as one example of an atheist who invokes a richer metaphysic than naturalists have historically considered.
To conclude, the reader should keep in mind as we go through the arguments that some will be directed toward Loftus’ form of atheistic naturalism while others will have a broader purchase against atheism simpliciter. Likewise, some of Loftus’ arguments will be directly relevant to my specific doctrinal commitments while others will target Christianity or theism simpliciter.