Friday, January 02, 2015

Thomas Nagel on absurdity

Thomas Nagel is an atheist philosopher who is well known for developing an understanding of the world that is critically different from the usual varieties of philosophical naturalism and materialism which are more are less standard in secular philosophy.  His intellectual independence has made him an interesting figure, but also one who has received more than his share of harsh criticism from fellow secularists.

Lest one should regard Nagel as simply a religious apologist in disguise, it is important to point out an early essay he wrote called “The Absurd.” Christian apologists often argue that apart from belief in God life us absurd, and that this provides at least a pragmatic reason for accepting theism over atheism.   In this they often quote philosophers like Sartre and Camus to the effect that in a godless universe, life is without meaning and purpose. Nagel argues that such absurdity as we find in human life is necessary, and cannot be changed regardless of how we view the world. Since it isn’t a removable feature of our lives, it isn’t cause for defiance or scorn, nor would there be, from the standpoint of Nagel’s essay, a reason to adopt some alternative world-view, such as Christianity, to overcome the absurdity of life without God. 

6 comments:

John Moore said...

After all, if you postulate a God to give meaning to our human lives, then who gives meaning to God? Maybe theists would say God embodies his own meaning within himself, or God creates his own meaning, or something like that. But this sounds exactly like what the atheist existentialists say we humans must do for ourselves.

If we don't face up to life's absurdity, then God must do it for us. We're just passing the buck. If our life isn't absurd, then God's is absurd.

B. Prokop said...

All of John Moore's concerns are answered in God's reply to Moses from the burning bush: "I am who am." (Douay-Rheims Translation, "ego sum qui sum" in the Vulgate) This one statement torpedoes and sinks all the "Who made God?" questions. It serves well in this instance also.

Papalinton said...

That's not an answer, Bob. That's a riddle. And from a talking burning bush no less.
Contrary to your imagining "[t]his one statement torpedoes and sinks all the "Who made God?" questions", it does nothing of a sort.

Indeed such a statement pales into obfuscatory oblivion in comparison to : "I think therefore God isn't."

B. Prokop said...

The bush wasn't talking, Linton. God was. ("God called to him out of the bush" Exodus 3:4)

Ya know, if you can't get the small stuff right, there's no reason for anyone to take you seriously on larger matters.

And yes, the Divine Name does annihilate all such ignorant questioning. By identifying Himself as "I am", God tells us that He is not "a" being, but rather Being Itself. As the source of all existence, He requires no maker, no cause - He is Himself those things. Asking "Who made God?" therefore has no more meaning than "How high is up?"

Papalinton said...

And you don't find anything odd or strange about a man talking to a burning bush?

Contemporary rendering of Exodus 3:4 etc, "Yoohoo! Yes you. I'm talking to you. Of course you can't see me. I'm deliberately hiding as a burning bush so that you can't see me. What's my name? I am who I am. That's what I just said; my name is IamwhoIam. You want to know how you can convince others you talked to me? Oh ye of little faith! Toss that rod you're carrying into the dirt. Well? What do you think? Of course it's a bloody snake! Now, pick up the snake by the tale. Be careful now. Look, just pick up the damn snake. Amazing isn't it? And I'm no amateur. The snake is now your staff again. I'm not so perverse like those silly Pentecostalists in the US who think picking up snakes is a sign from me. What schmucks!. Still not convinced? OK. Stick your hand in your coat pocket. Pull it out and have a look. Of course its leprosy, you dumbass, Do you think I would give you some fake disease? Now stick your hand back into your pocket before it falls off."

Boy! Bob. Have you got your work cut out in peddling this story as if it actually happened. Good luck with that one.

B. Prokop said...

"as if it actually happened"

It's Old Testament, Linton. I am on record (several times, actually) as saying on this website that I do not believe the OT needs to be taken literally in all places. It matters not to me in the least whether or not there was an actual burning bush, or even whether there was an historical Moses (although I do happen to believe there was a real Moses, and he did speak with God, whom he encountered in a burning bush). What counts is the meaning of the story.

Now as for the New Testament, as they say, that's a whole 'nother story. I am convinced by the evidence that it is a faithful account of actual events.