Monday, January 28, 2019

God Bestows Meaning

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Jason Thibodeau writes a long article, "Can Humans Create Meaning? Can God?" [1] I will concern myself  with only a  small part of the article, the argument that God cannot create meaning. Jason argues: "The conception of meaning is not altered by whether God, or any other supernatural entity, exists. Whether life is meaningful depends on whether there are, in our lives, things that matter." [2]
He sets up a dichotomy in arguing that God bestowing meaning is an ambiguous claim:
The claim that God makes life meaningful is ambiguous. There are two different things that it might mean:
(A) God creates the things in life that are valuable and worthwhile (and that, in virtue of being valuable and worthwhile, give our lives meaning).
(B) God makes it the case that the things in life that are valuable and worthwhile are valuable and worthwhile. Thus, by making these things valuable and worthwhile, God makes it the case that our lives are meaningful.
This is a false dichotomy and it is created to impose a sense of ambiguity where none exists. Notice that the only real difference in A and B is that A avoids naming the authority by which God says a thing is meaningful, B explicitly asserts that God makes it so. If we understand B as a further elaboration of A it makes perfect since given the nature of God. In other words both can be the case. Of course Jason is not attributing the value to God that a believer would do. That's the real issue left hidden,
Those who, like Carroll, think that our conception of meaning and purpose must change when we abandon theism are assuming (B). Any atheist who thinks either that humans can create their own meaning even in the absence of God or that, in the absence of God, life is objectively empty of meaning, are implicitly assuming (B) as well. And I think that many theists also believe that (B) is the case.

He's almost arguing what Sartre argued but no  reference is made to Sartre or any from of  existentialism. But I must also find fault with his
If you believe that God is the creator of Heaven and Earth, then you believe that (A) is true. In creating things like human beings, and the planets and stars, and natural landscapes, and plants and animals, and happiness and love, God creates things that have value. God, if he exists, creates the things that are worthy of pursuit, preservation, and appreciation; and, in doing so, he makes it possible for human lives to be meaningful. If God exists, then, because of God and his activity, there exists things such that we have object-given reasons to care about them. However, if (A) is true, God does not make any of these things valuable; he does not make it the case that these things are worthy of pursuit, preservation, and appreciation....
The reason for that is not hard to seek. It is because as I say above God is the basis of reality, he created all that is and serves as the source of the Good. We love,we find fault with and value things because we are made in God's image and God gave us the ability. Yet I think Jason equivocates on this point:
If life is meaningful, if there are object-given reasons to care about things, then, even on theism, the things that are valuable and worthwhile (the things that make life meaningful and worth living) must be valuable and worthwhile even if God does not exist. Now, it is always open for a theist to claim that, on her worldview, nothing can exist in the absence of God. Well, in that case, if God did not exist, life would not be meaningful but for the trivial reason that life would not be. I am not here trying to rule out or defeat the claim that all concrete things (including the things, like people, and nature, and happiness, and joy, that make life meaningful) depend for their existence on God. What I am trying to rule out is the claim that the value of these things depends on God.
Borrowing meaning from supposed Godless nature of our world. The world I live in is meaningful to me,I don't believe in God,  therefor, I don't need God to have meaning. The fallacy here is that one minds this meaning in a world where  one has ceased to recognized God because one is coasting upon God born memories of meaning. We don't have a control universe that we know was not inhabited by God that we can live and see if we  still find it meaningful. 

One problem with Jason's article is he doesn't seem  to distinguish between levels of meaning, He is clearly aware that there are different levels of meaning. There's private personal meaning,there's universal moral meaning. There are different modes of meaning. When he makes statements such that "God cannot create value and meaning" he does not say what type of meaning is being nixed.

(B) is false. And everyone, theist and atheist alike, should be able to agree that it is false. We know that God cannot create value and meaning because we know that there are some things that God cannot make valuable, worthwhile, or meaningful. And if there are some things such that God cannot make them valuable (etc.)
This is not because we lack the power to do so. It is not because humans are small and weak; even God cannot make things matter. God can make things that matter (but so can humans) but God cannot make the things that he makes matter. In the same way, humans can produce some of the things that matter in life (though not all of them and maybe not even the most important of them), but we cannot make these things matter.[5]

What he seems to be saying in all of this is that God can create things that we will find meaningful but he cannot infuse with intrinsic metaphysical meaning things that are not in them selves meaningful."God can provide humans with the opportunity to have a meaningful relationship with a perfect being. If God does not exist, then such a relationship may not be possible. So, God can add meaning to our lives by creating or making possible things that matter a great deal, but God cannot create meaning."  He gives an  example of two planets one with God one with no God, The no God universe still finds things meaningful  but would they? How does he know? He doesn't have such a planet to do his test in, he's basing it on a planet in  which most everyone was raised with God ordained values,

I think he';s accepting that God can arrange for all kinds  of meaning except what one might call "Magic mushroom menacing." intrinsic cosmic meaning. That is conjecture. Jason is aware that God can do all other kinds:

He can also provide states of affairs and experience that are of significant value and such that, in the absence of God, would not be possible. For example, God can provide humans with the opportunity to have a meaningful relationship with a perfect being. If God does not exist, then such a relationship may not be possible. So, God can add meaning to our lives by creating or making possible things that matter a great deal, but God cannot create meaning
First why is that not enough? Why do we need magic mushroom meaning? Secondly why can 't God supply it? He calls creation Good,who is to say it  is not good? The creature?  What does he know? Can God create a context in  which X is meaningful? What else is meaningful? There is no  private language, one cannot say "'boo boo boo' and have it mean 'I will go for a walk after dinner if it doesn't rain,'" Two guys go the pub after class. One says to the other "I say old chap what are you doing after dinner?" The other one says "boo boo boo." In creating all things God creates a context in which all things have meaning in relation to God and fulfilling his purpose,

In the comment section I made a similar point in that meaning is bestowed by function. Here I equate meaning with "point"  or purpose. The meaning of an ash try is to hold ashes.It can be used for other things but the nature of the implement is to hold ashes. Paul uses the metaphor of a pot. I said to Jason:
So Jason In his essay "Existentialism is a Humanism" Sartre talks about the difference in existentialism and essentially he uses the analogy of a created object, I think he uses a paper cutter,but an ash try or whatever... Some object is made for a given reason the meaning of the object is the function for which it was meant. Now Sartre asserts there' s no God we exist first then we decide the meaning of our lives. But if there is a God why would meaning not be bestowed by the purpose for which we were created?[3][4]
Jason answers:
Suppose, contrary to what you and I take to be fact, that the creator of the universe is an evil supernatural being (let's call him 'Asura'). Suppose that Asura created human beings for the purpose of suffering; he created us so that we we would suffer because he is amused by our suffering. I maintain that it would not follow that the meaning of our loves would be bestowed by the fact that we were created to suffer.The point generalizes. Since, in this possibility, the meaning of life is not provided by the purpose for which we were created, in general the meaning of life is not provided by the purpose for which we were created.
Sorry but to me this just looks like shear truth by stipulation. I don't see how his point is proven by his example. I guess we are suppose to think I don't want my life defined by suffering so it must not be, but how so? In the context of creaturehood it would be meaningful either way. It would just be horrible in one case and great in the other but how does that change the meaning?

recommended Reading:

This is a job for Kierkegaard. This is exactly what he was talking  about. The best source I found was Copeleston, his take on SK. We seek God to become truly ourselves,We find the path for which God created us we have meaning, [5]This source is truly outdated speaking of complementary  philosophy  and it has logical positivism. it's well worth reading, or the understanding of Kierkegaard.

[1] Jason Thibodeau "Can Humans create Meaning? Can God?" Secular Outpost blog. (June 11, 2018)
(accessed 6/13/18)

[2] Ibid. All quotes from this source unless otherwise noted
[3]  Jason Thibodeau, comment section, op cit
[4] Joan Paul Sartre, "Existentialism is a Humanism"First Published: World Publishing Company in 1956;Translator: Philip Mairet; published under Fair use Poloicy ass intermnet aritcle.

From a lecture  given in 1946.

[5] Frederick Coplesdton, Contemporary Philosophy:  Studies of Logical Positivism and Existentialism.London and New York City:Continuum  2003.

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