Show

Atheism and the Well-Lived Life

Week of: 
July 10, 2011
What is it: 

Atheists don't believe in God – does that mean they don't find life meaningful?  Are atheists doomed to be grouchy nihilists, finding meaning only in criticizing theists?  Or does a world without God offer its own meanings and values to structure a well-lived life?  John and Ken search for a meaningful atheism with Louise Antony from UMass Amherst, editor of Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life.  This program was recorded in front of a live audience at the Engaging Philosophy conference at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts.  

Listening Notes: 

In this episode, Ken and John explore if they’d rather be ‘pagans’, or even worse, Strong Atheists—that is, those who reject any concept of divinity. What do atheists believe? How do they live with themselves? Could it be that a universe without a God is not as depressing and pointless as all that?

Ken and John are joined by Professor Louise Antony and the students of Mount Holyoke College. Professor Antony was raised as a devout Catholic but gave up her faith when, during an undergraduate philosophy course, she became disillusioned with a God whose existence seemed to have no logical basis and who let such evil befall the world. Ever since, she has become fascinated with the study of morality and especially its application to ethical systems. There is objective morality, she says, but its foundation is not divine. For her it is not a question of what you believe, but how it affects others.

However, this is not enough to satisfy our tenacious philosophers: What is there to stop atheists from doing ‘immoral’ things if there is no God to punish you, asks Ken. If someone enjoys torturing and killing people then surely being an atheist will allow them to, in a sense, ‘get away with it.’ Do we not need more than Hume’s notion of natural human sympathy—some sort of formal contract perhaps?

Is Ken right? Does being an atheist make you amoral, or worse, immoral? Do atheists miss out on experiencing the sublime Truth of the world or is there something courageous and noble in accepting the Void of Nothingness? Listen in and find out the answer to these and more questions!

  • The Roving Philosophical Reporter interviews Taylor Meyers — a young American who was raised an atheist.  Sometimes, she says, atheists feel like a minority and they can get jealous of the comfort and happiness of ‘believers.’ Is atheism a curse? Should there be Atheist Anonymous meetings? Tune in and tell us what you think. 
  • The Sixty Second Philosopher talks about his hate for Steve Jobs, preachers, hippies, ex-girlfriends, Charlie Sheen, meanderings, large egos, people who think banning Planned Parenthood is somehow a fight against atheism, and atheists who go to church.

Louise Antony, Professor of Philosophy, UMass Amherst

Bonus Content: 

 

Extended Q&A session after the show

Merle Kessler, God of the Spoons

Merle Kessler, Satan's Little Helpers

Extended interview with Taylor Meyers and Sam Mitchell 

Related Resources: 

 

Books

Louise Antony (ed.), Philosophers Without Gods. (Oxford University Press, 2007)

David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals

Bertrand Russell, Why I am Not a Christian

Web Resources

Atheism on The Secular Web

http://www.atheists.org/

The Quarrel (1991) - a movie about religious faith. 

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