The Instigator
Mark9570
Con (against)
Losing
0 Points
The Contender
unitedandy
Pro (for)
Winning
16 Points

What is the point of life from the atheist's perspective

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Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 3 votes the winner is...
unitedandy
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 4/1/2011 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 6 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,986 times Debate No: 15749
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (2)
Votes (3)

 

Mark9570

Con

First off I wish to thank my opponent for accepting my challenge to explain, for my edification and the audience's as well, the point of life from an atheistic perspective. For example, in Christianity, the point of life is to grow in faith and worship God through works and prayer until death or the endtimes. Another is in Buddhism the goal is to balance one's Chi both bad and good until you pass on. But I'm confused when it comes to atheism, because there is no supernatural being or power in the universe, then what is the reason for morals? In the wild we see that, in general, an animal/group of animals tends to act out of selfish desire or greed with their decisions, so why should us humans be any different?

And remember this is meant to be a philosophical discussion and not a battle between any two theological ideals, though I may ask questions about my opponent's reasoning I'm just trying to better understand a group of people and I hope the audience learns something from this as well. And again I wish to thank my opponent for their time.
unitedandy

Pro

Introduction
First off, I’d like to thank Mark9570 for hosting this debate, and hope that we can fruitfully and respectfully engage with the issue at hand - the point of life from an atheist perspective. I’m not sure how one is able to go about winning such a debate, but let me just lay out what I take to be a plausible account of the purpose of life from my own atheistic perspective, and we can interact from there.

A1 - The biological perspective

The fact that most atheists would disagree about whether the question is even a legitimate one shows in some sense the idea of an atheist meaning of life is very much dependent on the individual. But what I want to start off with is what I would call the biological purpose of human life. Here, I think that an account can be roughly sketched out which is largely uncontroversial and easily accepted among most atheists. This comes from evolution. Like all organisms, we live to propagate our genes. Humans are no different than animals in this respect. This is particularly true of a gene-centred approach to evolution (1). However, the key point here is merely that, in a very limited sense, our point to life is no different than the animals, flowers and viruses we inhabit the Earth with - to survive what Darwin termed as “the war of nature”, and live to pass on our own DNA in the process (2). Now obviously I should clear up a few things here. Such a position is not the totality of purpose in the universe, nor is it the more interesting aspect of the purpose of life, but it does give us a purpose of life from the natural world as living organisms - survival, pure and simple. Also, this view does not necessitate any sort of Universal Darwinism, and indeed (I would argue) any such move would find itself on shaky philosophical grounds. However, in a very limited sense, we see that this does answer the question of what the purpose of life is, from a purely mechanistic point of view, from the point of view of an atheist, although such an account should be in conjunction with what we are as rational moral agents, leading to argument 2.

A2 - The personal perspective

The purpose of life can also be answered on a subjective level as well. The purpose of my life in this sense is essentially whatever I choose. Notice that this says nothing about the morality of my choice, nor does it obfuscate the fact I have a biological purpose. The question simply asks what my personal raison d’etre is, and obviously this will be different for each person. So if I see the purpose of my life as trying to comprehend the most difficult questions confronting humanity, then (on a personal level), it seems to me that I have a subjective purpose for living, and it is this that gives me a reason and purpose to exist, because I myself deem it so. Essentially, on this view, these goods are not the purpose of life given to us from an eternal source (God), or an intrinsic function of ourselves as living beings (biological purpose), but are what we use to sustain and build upon our personal selves and that which sustains our existence on an emotional level.

A3 - On the relevance of morality

As Con brings morality into the picture, let's discuss this as well. Firstly, there are a great number of positions on morality from atheists (realism, nihilism and subjectivism) with a great many different moral systems used, so when Con seems to suggest in his opening statement that there is a single atheistic view on morality, this simply not true. I see my own position as somewhat of a tentative moral realist, and would therefore argue that there ARE right answers to questions of morality. Other atheists however would agree with Con’s implication (that atheism implies nihilism), but there is nothing like universal agreement here, and so the implication is just way off. Secondly, and more specifically as a moral realist, I would assert that the question of why things are morally right or wrong obviously depends on whatever system of morality the atheist holds (such as the amount of happiness in the world for utilitarianism), but that whatever criterion we accept, rationality is the primary basis for both our recognition of the existence of moral values and as the difference between us and the rest of the living world. Questions of why morality is a peculiarly human phenomenon should receive the same answer as those who ask why math or poetry is a uniquely human enterprise - because only humans have the right neurological tools to recognise, to reflect, to reason and empathise, and it is only by doing so (I contend) that morality can even be apparent.

Conclusion

Although Con seems to fuse several questions together, both in the debate topic and in his opening post, it is important to realise that purpose in meaning itself has several distinctions one should make, and that morality is perhaps out of place in a discussion about the purpose of life (especially prior to unpacking the several connotations this inevitably leads to. Despite this, I hope to have given a reasonably plausible view of what the point of life can be from an atheistic perspective, and I’m sure we can delve more into it in the coming rounds.


Sources

1. For a popular gene centred view of evolution, see Dawkins The Selfish Gene (1976) and River out of Eden (1995).
2. Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species and The Voyage of the Beagle, Vintage Books edition (2009), London, P913.
Debate Round No. 1
Mark9570

Con

I appreciate my opponent's insight on this issue, and I agree that this is a stretch to call this a debate, so let's just throw that concept out of the window, and I wish to remind everyone that this is more for my education about a group of people. Now, as a person with a love of anthropology, I would appreciate it if pro would go more in depth about the different moral outlooks of atheist's (e.g. Nihilism, etc., etc.).

But, it is my understanding that you're saying that we have a biological-moral responsibility to procreate our species, which I can agree with to a certain extent, but what then of homosexuals? Are they then in moral wrongdoing if they choose to live and only have sexual relations with those that are of the same gender? They obviously aren't propagating the species right? Now I'm not a homophobe but the question has been burning on my mind since I read your argument.

I generally agree with pro's idea of the point of life on a personal level so this argument can be terminated

Now on to morality. Though Pro has said that it should be disregarded in this discussion, I strongly disagree. Morality is, I believe anyway, very linked to the purpose and meaning of life from any perspective. No matter who you are or what you believe, moral choice and morality itself are involved in many, if not most, of the social decisions we make. A soldier probably didn't sign up to just kill people, no, that is not the point of his life, he probably believes it is his moral obligation and, to a certain degree, his purpose in life during his years of service to defend his loved ones and the country he loves.

Now I give the argument back to Pro.
unitedandy

Pro

Introduction

My thanks to Con for his quick response. While I would agree with Con that this is not a debate in the traditional sense, I still do think that there is still points to discuss and debate, and perhaps it is the merits of these points that voters can choose to decide on. Anyway, let's jump right in.


A1 - The biological perspective

The first example of disagreement is Con’s response to the biological perspective of life. The first mistake Con makes here is to conflate biological function with morality. While it is true that some humans (for whatever reason) cannot procreate, this is not a moral issue, precisely because (as I noted in my last post) morality is unique to humans with a capacity to grasp and recognise moral facts, duties and obligations, while the biological function refers to all organisms, from humans to viruses (again, as I mentioned in my last post). The confusion comes here from inserting morality into what should be a question about purpose. Only by injecting morality do we make the mistake of criticising things like homosexuality on such a basis. Note here that “purpose” is synonymous in the biological sense with function, and no one would say that a mutated gene for example is immoral, because it cannot perform the function it is supposed to. The problem here, as I predicted is the irrelevance of morality in the discussion, and Con's insistence in throwing it into the discussion, where it has no role to play.


A2 - The personal perspective

I think Con agreed with me on A2, so essentially the debate resolution has been met. However, I would like to make one final point, and that is that Con agrees with me on A2 despite the moral implications of this argument. Although I said that morality (and its consequences) doesn’t matter in the context of this discussion, if Con thinks it does (as indicated in his response to A1), then surely the subjective nature of the purpose of human life should also be as concerning to him as biological function was, as this could imply all sorts of moral consequences, including even the example that he used earlier of homophobia. In fact, I would go so far as to say that only agreement with me on the irrelevance of morality could yield a compatible acceptance of this point without a glaring double-standard. Con needs to clarify here.



A3 - On the relevance of morality

Although I have repeatedly said that I take morality to be irrelevant in this debate, I will answer Con’s points about it anyway. Firstly, on the different views of morality from the atheist community, we have a variety of positions:

Nihilism - “ Moral nihilists assert that morality does not inherently exist, and that any established moral values are abstractly contrived.” (1). Proponents of this view include atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (2).

Moral Subjectivism - “Ethical subjectivism is the meta-ethical view which claims that:
Ethical sentences express propositions.
Some such propositions are true.
Those propositions are about the attitudes of people.” (3)
An example of such a view would be atheist Michael Ruse, a philosopher of science from Birmingham (4).

Moral objectivism - is the view that questions of morality refer to something real which exists “whether anybody believes in them or not.” (5). Walter Sinnott Armstrong would be an advocate of this position, and also a committed atheist (6).

Quite clearly, all these positions are compatible with atheism (at least according to atheists themselves), and yet all are very different, which the point I made in my first post about the variety of the atheist moral viewpoint. Indeed, if we were to go in depth about the various approaches within moral realism, for example, one could quite clearly see that even those who agree on the ontological nature of morality have wildly different moral systems, which is exactly why I criticised Con's blanket statement on the moral position of atheists. They are all very different, and cannot really be generalised to such a crude extent. Lastly, on the point over Con’s stance on the relevance of morality in daily life, I completely agree that we should all care about questions of morality, as well as the actions performed as a direct consequences to these moral perceptions, and how it affects our daily lives. However, as always, what matters here is context, and morality does not really fit the context of this discussion. Even if it does however, I think I have answered all the relevant points, and would like to wish good luck to Con for his final round.

Sources

(1) (2) http://en.wikipedia.org...
(3) http://en.wikipedia.org...
(4) http://www.guardian.co.uk...
(5) (6) God? A debate between a Christian and an atheist, William Lane Craig and Walter Sinnott - Armstrong, 2004, Oxford university Press, New York. pp 17, 33.
Debate Round No. 2
Mark9570

Con

Mark9570 forfeited this round.
unitedandy

Pro

My opponent has forfeited the last round, and as I dealt with all the issues relevant (and even some which I argued were irrelevant) in my second round, there is nothing much to do in this round except to thank the readers in advance, and to thank my opponent for this debate.


Extend my arguments from the last round.
Debate Round No. 3
2 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Posted by RougeFox 6 years ago
RougeFox
This should have been a forum topic
Posted by unitedandy 6 years ago
unitedandy
Haven't debated in a wee while and thought that this would be a fun one to do. I'll answer as best I can from the point of view of my own perspective, and as you see this (I understand) as a learning curve towards atheism, I'll try and help along the way.
3 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Vote Placed by RoyLatham 6 years ago
RoyLatham
Mark9570unitedandyTied
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Total points awarded:04 
Reasons for voting decision: Should have been a forum discussion rather than a debate. The closest one can get to a debate is the implied resolution, "Life has no point without a God." Con conceded Pro's points; forfeit is bad conduct. Pro could have pointed out that Buddhists are atheists, so Con conceded in his opening statement.
Vote Placed by socialpinko 6 years ago
socialpinko
Mark9570unitedandyTied
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Total points awarded:06 
Reasons for voting decision: Conduct goes to pro as Con posted a discussion topic instead of an actual debate and then proceeded to forfeit. Sources easily go to Pro as he used numerous citations while Pro used none. Arguments is a no-brainer.
Vote Placed by Cliff.Stamp 6 years ago
Cliff.Stamp
Mark9570unitedandyTied
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Total points awarded:06 
Reasons for voting decision: Pro was essentially explaining a position to Con.