Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Thoughtful Response from a Theist

I frequently browse articles that came up on Google News for "atheist"; judging by the comment sections of these articles, I'm not the only atheist who does so. Recently I ran across Randal Rauser's Christian-viewpoint cost-benefit analysis of atheism.

I can't say Rauser hits any new points, though he presents them from a new angle. I offered a response, included here with all its hastily-typed mistakes:

Mr. Rauser,

Your cost-benefit analysis of religion and atheism is absolutely an appropriate and clear-headed way to approach these important questions - but you must not have talked to many atheists. This vacuum of purpose that you think we all exist in is just not there. You could either assume that I (and the other atheist respondents on here) are telling the truth and try to figure out how this could be, or you could assume that we're all hateful and lying just so we can drag you down into the abyss along with us.

I'm sure that you wrote this column out of a sincere attempt to live your life better and make the world a better place. That's great, but of course we disagree on the details, which is why we it's great that we live in a country where we can have these discussions. So to use your same terminology: I am "for" doing a good job at my career (soon-to-be doctor), making the world a better place, and enjoying myself while I do it (with a nice Hefeweizen or a long run in the hills near where I live). This level of fulfillment is common to atheists. We get to pick what we're "for". On the other hand, I have to agree with you that Treadwell was a little "off" going and hanging out with grizzlies. I think he would've been better off staying in Southern California and volunteering to do beach cleanup or work in a battered women's shelter. I think you might even agree with me! But where does that agreement come from? Your innate moral sense? Or the Bible? Where in the Bible does it mention meaning?

In closing Mr. Rauser, maybe for you have trouble understanding that your wife, or your kids, or your job, are reasons enough for you to go on living, and unlike the rest of us, you need someone else to explain to you why they're important. But you know what? I don't really believe that's true. You've just been told since you were young that you can't love your family and lead a good and moral and purposeful life without the stories in the Bible, but take it from me, you can. I'll be out for a nice long run on Sunday morning - and I'd love to see you out there on the trails!

I was surprised by pleased to see a well-intentioned and thoughtful answer from Rauser not only to my posts, but to most, even if I don't agree with them:


Let me repeat, I am not denying that you can lead a happy and fulfilled life as a non-theist. (While we're on the topic, that old adage about there being no atheists in foxholes is not quite true. Watch the great documentary "Touching the Void" for an example of an atheist who stared death in the face and had no inkling to become a theist.)

The point is not that you cannot lead a fulfilled life. The point, rather, is that your worldview lacks the metaphysical ground for the absolute value and meaning that makes your life worthwhile. I'm pointing out an inconsistency. And all the attempts to ground moral value and meaning in biological adaptation merely reinforce my point.
--RD Rauser

Have thoughts to add? Feel free to visit the article, but do Rauser and the rest of us the favor of having a quality exchange and entering the discussion with positive intentions.

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