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Existentialism

Existentialism

Paul Tillich on Doubt as an Element of Faith

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The affirmation that Jesus is the Christ is an act of faith and consequently of daring courage. It is not an arbitrary leap into darkness but a decision in which elements of immediate participation and therefore certitude are mixed with elements of strangeness and therefore incertitude and doubt. But doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith. Therefore, there is no faith without risk . The risk of faith is that it could affirm a wrong symbol of ultimate concern, a symbol which does not really express ultimacy (as, e.g., Dionysus or one’s nation). But this risk lies in quite a different dimension from the risk of accepting uncertain historical facts. It is wrong, therefore, to consider the risk concerning uncertain historical facts as part of the risk of faith. The risk of faith is existential; it concerns the totaliy of our being, while the risk of historical judgments is theoretical and open to permanent scientific correction. Here are two different dimensions which should never be confused. A wrong faith can destroy the meaning of one’s life; a wrong historical judgment cannot. It is misleading, therefore, to use the word “risk” for both dimensions in the same sense.

Brandon Ambrosino on the Difference Between Sex and Color

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One of the reasons I think our activism is so insistent on sexual rigidity is because, in our push to make gay rights the new black rights, we’ve conflated the two issues. The result is that we’ve decided that skin color is the same thing as sexual behavior. I don’t think this is true. When we conflate race and sexuality, we overlook how fluid we are learning our sexualities truly are. To say it rather crassly: I’ve convinced a few men to try out my sexuality, but I’ve never managed to get them to try on my skin color. In other words, one’s sexuality isn’t as biologically determined as race. Many people do feel as if their sexuality is something they were born with, and I have no reason to disbelieve them. But as I and other queer persons will readily confirm, there are other factors informing our sexualities than simply our genetic codes. ¶ Part of what it means to be human is to be adaptable and elastic, to try on new identities, to try new experiences, to play with the paradigm, to bend the norm to its snapping point and see if it cracks under the pressure of its own linguistic limitations. The re-inventiveness of our human condition is one of our greatest traits, and it’s worth protecting both legally and philosophically.

Dennis R. Danielson on Copernicus and Scientific Superiority

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In the hands of some, the myth of earth’s dethronement appears more than a mere anachronism or disinterested misunderstanding. For when Fontanelle and his successors tell the tale, they are openly “very well pleased” with the demotion they read into the accomplishment of Copernicus. But a trick of this supposed dethronement is that, while purportedly rendering “Man” less cosmically and metaphysically important, it actually enthrones us modern “scientific” humans in all our enlightened superiority. And often it insinuates, without warrant, that scientific advance is inevitably accompanied by an abandonment of the quest — a quest that may encompass what is sometimes called religion — to grasp humankind’s possible purpose or significance within the universe as a whole. By equating anthropocentrism with the now plainly untenable geocentrism, such modern ideology dismisses as nugatory or naïve the legitimate and still-open question about the role that earth and its inhabitants may play in the dance of the stars. Instead it offers, if anything at all, a role that is cast in exclusively existential or Promethean terms, with humankind lifting itself up by its own bootstraps and heroically, though in the end pointlessly, defying the universal silence.

Stephen Jay Gould on the Meaning of Life

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We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures; because comets struck the earth and wiped out dinosaurs, thereby giving mammals a chance not otherwise available (so thank your lucky stars in a literal sense); because the earth never froze entirely during an ice age; because a small and tenuous species, arising in Africa a quarter of a million years ago, has managed, so far, to survive by hook and by crook. We may yearn for a “higher” answer — but none exists. This explanation, though superficially troubling, if not terrifying, is ultimately liberating and exhilarating. We cannot read the meaning of life passively in the facts of nature. We must construct these answers for ourselves…

The Improbability of God

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A growing number of powerful arguments have been formulated by philosophers and logicians in recent years demonstrating that the existence of God is improbable. These arguments assume that God’s existence is possible but argue that the weight of the empirical evidence is against God’s actual existence. This unique anthology collects most of the important arguments for the improbability of God that have been published since the mid-1900s. The editors make each argument clear and accessible by providing a helpful summary. In addition, they arrange this diverse collection of arguments for the improbability of God into four thematic groups: Part 1 contains cosmological arguments based on the weight of the evidence relative to the origin of the universe; Part 2 presents teleological arguments based on the weight of the evidence relative to the order in the universe; Part 3 deals with inductive evil arguments based on the weight of the evidence relative to the widespread and horrendous evil in the world; and Part 4 contains nonbelief arguments based on the weight of the evidence relative to the widespread nonbelief or the reasonable nonbelief in the world. The list of distinguished authors includes William Rowe, Theodore Drange, Quentin Smith, Victor Stenger, J. L. Schellenberg, and Michael Martin, among others. With this new anthology as a companion to their earlier anthology, The Impossibility of God (2003), Martin and Monnier have created an indispensable resource in the philosophy of religion.

Christian Faith and the Problem of Evil

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The problem of evil has challenged religious minds and hearts throughout the ages. Just how can the presence of suffering, tragedy, and wrongdoing be squared with the all-powerful, all-loving God of faith? This book gathers some of the best, most meaningful recent reflections on the problem of evil, with contributions by shrewd thinkers in the areas of philosophy, theology, literature, linguistics, and sociology. In addition to bringing new insights to the old problem of evil, Christian Faith and the Problem of Evil is set apart from similar volumes by the often-novel approaches its authors take to the subject. Many of the essays pursue classic lines in speculative philosophy, but others address the problem of evil through biblical criticism, the thought of Simone Weil, and the faith of battered women and African American slaves. As a result, this book will interest a wide range of readers. Contributors: Paul Draper, Eduardo J. Echeverria, Laura Waddell Ekstrom, Stephen Griffith, Del Kiernan-Lewis, Richard T. McClelland, Barbara Omolade, Richard Otte, Alvin Plantinga, John R. Schneider, Robert Stanley, Peter van Inwagen, Carol Winkelmann, and Keith D. Wyma.

Richard Dawkins on Pitiless Indifference

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The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousand of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so… In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.

Albert Camus on Suicide and Absurdity

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In a sense, and as in melodrama, killing yourself amounts to confessing. It is confessing that life is too much for you or that you do not understand it. Let’s not go too far in such analogies, however, but rather return to everyday words. It is merely confessing that that “is not worth the trouble.” Living, naturally, is never easy. You continue making the gestures commanded by existence for many reasons, the first of which is habit. Dying voluntarily implies that you have recognized, even instinctively, the ridiculous character of that habit, the absence of any profound reason for living, the insane character of that daily agitation, and the uselessness of suffering. ¶ What, then, is that incalculable feeling that deprives the mind of the sleep necessary to life? A world that can be explained even with bad reasons is a familiar world. But, on the other hand, in a universe suddenly divested of illusions and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger. His exile is without remedy since he is deprived of the memory of a lost home or the hope of a promised land. This divorce between man and his life, the actor and his setting, is properly the feeling of absurdity.

Horrendous Evil and the Goodness of God

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In an earlier article on the problem of evil, Adams argued: "Where the internal coherence of a system of religious beliefs is at stake, successful arguments for its inconsistency must draw on premises … internal to that system or obviously acceptable to its adherents; likewise for successful rebuttals or explanations of consistency. The thrust of my argument is to push both sides of the debate towards more detailed attention to and subtle understanding of the religious system in question." Here Adams considers an especially thorny kind of evil, what she calls "horrendous evil". A horrendous evil is one that instinctively causes us to doubt whether the life of the victim in such a case could possibly be worth living. The magnitude of the evil and suffering is so great that it overwhelms any good in the participant’s life. Adams believes that none of the standard responses to the argument from evil adequately address evils of this sort. Building on her previous argument ? that solutions to the argument of evil are only possible within a particular religious framework ? Adams suggests that horrendous evils can only be defeated by being overwhelmed by something far greater in its goodness than is the evil in its horror. For the Christian, intimacy with a good and infinite God in life after death promises the hope that such evils will in fact be defeated, and that the lives of victims in such cases can be deemed worth living by the victims themselves. ~ Afterall

Charles Bukowski on Being One’s Own God

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For those who believe in God, most of the big questions are answered. But for those of us who can’t readily accept the God formula, the big answers don’t remain stone-written. We adjust to new conditions and discoveries. We are pliable. Love need not be a command or faith a dictum. I am my own God. ¶ We are here to unlearn the teachings of the church, state and our educational system. ¶ We are here to drink beer. ¶ We are here to kill war. ¶ We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us. ¶ We are here to read these words from all these wise men and women who will tell us that we are here for different reasons and the same reason.

The God Beyond Belief

Go Why would a loving God who is all-powerful and all-knowing create a world like ours which is marred by all manner of evil, suffering and injustice? This question has come to be known as ‘the problem of evil’ and has troubled both ordinary folk and specialist philosophers and theologians for centuries, with no answer seemingly in sight. However, in a series of publications from the late 1970s onwards, Professor William Rowe – one of the leading philosophers of religion today – has put forward a powerful case in support of the view that the horrors littering our planet constitute strong evidence against the existence of God. In this book, the first extended study of Rowe’s defense of atheism on the basis of evil, Nick Trakakis comprehensively assesses the large body of literature that has developed in response to Rowe’s work, paying particular attention to two strategies employed by critics: firstly, the appeal to mystery – the idea that God may well have reasons for permitting evil that lie beyond our comprehension; and secondly, the appeal to theodicies, where this involves offering explanations as to why God allows evil to abound in his creation (free will theodicies, for example, argue that God could not prevent us from acting wrongly without at the same time curtailing or removing our free will). Trakakis unearths significant difficulties in both strategies, and concludes that – absent any evidence in support of theism – the God of theism must be judged to be "beyond belief". ~ Product Description

The Problem of Pain

Go The Problem of Pain answers the universal question, "Why would an all-loving, all-knowing God allow people to experience pain and suffering?" Master Christian apologist C.S. Lewis asserts that pain is a problem because our finite, human minds selfishly believe that pain-free lives would prove that God loves us. In truth, by asking for this, we want God to love us less, not more than he does. "Love, in its own nature, demands the perfecting of the beloved; that the mere 'kindness' which tolerates anything except suffering in its object is, in that respect at the opposite pole from Love." In addressing "Divine Omnipotence," "Human Wickedness," "Human Pain," and "Heaven," Lewis succeeds in lifting the reader from his frame of reference by artfully capitulating these topics into a conversational tone, which makes his assertions easy to swallow and even easier to digest. Lewis is straightforward in aim as well as honest about his impediments, saying, "I am not arguing that pain is not painful. Pain hurts. I am only trying to show that the old Christian doctrine that being made perfect through suffering is not incredible. To prove it palatable is beyond my design."

The Best of All Possible Worlds

Go In the spring of 1672, the German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz arrived in Paris on a furtive diplomatic mission. That project was abandoned quickly, but Leibniz remained in Paris with a singular goal: to get the most out of the city’s intellectual and cultural riches. He benefited, above all, from his friendships with France’s two greatest philosopher-theologians of the period, Antoine Arnauld and Nicolas de Malebranche. The interactions of these three men would prove of great consequence not only for Leibniz’s own philosophy but for the development of modern philosophical and religious thought.  Despite their wildly different views and personalities, the three philosophers shared a single, passionate concern: resolving the problem of evil. Why is it that, in a world created by an allpowerful, all-wise, and infinitely just God, there is sin and suffering? Why do bad things happen to good people, and good things to bad people?  This is the story of a clash between radically divergent worldviews. But it is also a very personal story. At its heart are the dramatic—and often turbulent—relationships between three brilliant and resolute individuals. In this lively and engaging book, Steven Nadler brings to life a debate that obsessed its participants, captivated European intellectuals, and continues to inform our ways of thinking about God, morality, and the world.

Saul Bellow on Death As God

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But what is the philosophy of this generation? Not God is dead, that point was passed long ago. Perhaps it should be stated Death is God. This generation thinks — and this is its thought of thoughts — that nothing faithful, vulnerable, fragile can be durable or have any true power. Death waits for these things as a cement floor waits for a dropping light bulb. The brittle shell of glass loses its tiny vacuum with a burst, and that is that.

Victor Frankl on the Meaning of Life

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Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.

Bertrand Russell on Lonely Humanity

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[W]e see, surrounding the narrow raft illumined by the flickering light of human comradeship, the dark ocean on whose rolling waves we toss for a brief hour; from the great night without, a chill blast breaks in upon our refuge; all the loneliness of humanity amid hostile forces is concentrated upon the individual soul, which must struggle alone, with what of courage it can command, against the whole weight of a universe that cares nothing for its hopes and fears. Victory, in this struggle with the powers of darkness, is the true baptism into the glorious company of heroes, the true initiation into the overmastering beauty of human existence. From that awful encounter of the soul with the outer world, enunciation, wisdom, and charity are born; and with their birth a new life begins. To take into the inmost shrine of the soul the irresistible forces whose puppets we seem to be — Death and change, the irrevocableness of the past, and the powerlessness of Man before the blind hurry of the universe from vanity to vanity — to feel these things and know them is to conquer them.

Albert Camus on Suffering and an Afterlife

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His interest quickened when, in a more emphatic tone, the preacher said that there were some things we could grasp as touching God, and others we could not. There was not doubt as to the existence of good and evil and, as a rule, it was easy to see the difference between them. The difficulty began when we looked into the nature of evil, and among things evil he included human suffering. Thus we had apparently needful pain, and apparently needless pain; we had right that a libertine should be struck down, we see no reason for a child’s suffering. And, truth to tell, nothing was more important on earth than a child’s suffering, the horror it inspires in us, and the reason we must find to account for it. [H]e might easily have assured them that the child’s sufferings would be compensated for by an eternity of bliss awaiting him. But how could he give that assurance when, to tell the truth, he knew nothing about it? For who would dare to assert that eternal happiness can compensate for a single moment’s human suffering? He who asserted that would not be a true Christian, a follower of the Master who knew all the pangs of suffering in his body and his soul. No, he, Father Paneloux, would keep faith with that great symbol of all suffering, the tortured body on the Cross; he would stand fast, his back to the wall and face honestly the terrible problem of a child’s agony. And he would boldly say to those who listened to his words today, “My brother, a time of testing has come for us all. We must believe everything or deny everything. And who among you, I ask, would dare to deny everything?”

Betrand Russell on the Existentialist Revolt

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Brief and powerless is Man’s life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way; for Man, condemned today to lose his dearest, tomorrow himself to pass through the gate of darkness, it remains only to cherish, ere yet the blow falls, the lofty thoughts that ennoble his little day; disdaining the coward terrors of the slave of Fate, to worship at the shrine that his own hands have built; undismayed by the empire of chance, to preserve a mind free from the wanton tyranny that rules his outward life; proudly defiant of the irresistible forces that tolerate, for a moment, his knowledge and his condemnation, to sustain alone, a weary but unyielding Atlas, the world that his own ideals have fashioned despite the trampling march of unconscious power.

Betrand Russell on Creating Heaven

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But passive renunciation is not the whole of wisdom; for not by renunciation alone can we build a temple for the worship of our own ideals. Haunting foreshadowings of the temple appear in the realm of imagination, in music, in architecture, in the untroubled kingdom of reason, and in the golden sunset magic of lyrics, where beauty shines and glows, remote from the touch of sorrow, remote from the fear of change, remote from the failures and disenchantments of the world of fact. In the contemplation of these things the vision of heaven will shape itself in our hearts, giving at once a touchstone to judge the world about us, and an inspiration by which to fashion to our needs to whatever is not incapable of serving as a stone in the sacred temple.

Betrand Russell on Human Freedom and Ideals as God

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In this lies Man’s true freedom: in determination to worship only the God created by our own love of the good, to respect only the heaven which inspires the insight of our best moments. In action, in desire, we must submit perpetually to the tyranny of outside forces; but in thought, in aspiration, we are free, free from our fellow-men, free from the petty planet on which our bodies impotently crawl, free even, while we live, from the tyranny of death. Let us learn, then, that energy of faith which enables us to live constantly in the vision of the good; and let us descend, in action, into the world of fact, with that vision always before us.

Miguel de Unamuno on an Ethic of Doubt

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Several times in the devious course of these essays I have defined, in spite of my horror of definitions, my own position with regard to the problem that I have been examining; but I know there will always be some dissatisfied reader, educated in some dogmatism or other, who will say: “This man comes to no conclusion, he vacillates — now he seems to affirm one thing and then its contrary — he is full of contradictions — I can’t label him. What is he?” Just this — one who affirms contraries, a man of contradiction and strife, as Jeremiah said of himself; one who says one thing with his heart and the contrary with his head, and for whom this conflict is the very stuff of life. And that is as clear as the water that flows from the melted snow upon the mountain tops.

Miguel de Unamuno on Nietzsche and Immortality

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There you have that “thief of energies,” as he [Nietzsche] so obtusely called Christ who sought to wed nihilism with the struggle for existence, and he talks to you about courage. His heart craved the eternal All while his head convinced him of nothingness, and, desperate and mad to defend himself from himself, he cursed that which he most loved. Because he could not be Christ, he blasphemed against Christ. Bursting with his own self, he wished himself unending and dreamed his theory of eternal recurrence, a sorry counterfeit of immortality, and, full of pity for himself, he abominated all pity. And there are some who say that his is the philosophy of strong men! No, it is not. My health and my strength urge me to perpetuate myself. His is the doctrine of weaklings who aspire to be strong, but not of the strong who are strong. Only the feeble resign themselves to final death and substitute some other desire for the longing for personal immortality. In the strong the zeal for perpetuity overrides the doubt of realizing it, and their superabundance of life overflows upon the other side of death.

Unknown on Pessimism and Despair

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If there were in the world a sincere and total pessimism, it would of necessity be silent. The despair which finds a voice is a social mood, it is the cry of misery which brother utters to brother when both are stumbling though a valley of shadows which is peopled with — comrades. In its anguish it bears witness to something that is good in life, for it presupposes sympathy. … The real gloom, the sincere despair, is dumb and blind; it writes no books, and feels no impulse to burden an intolerable universe with a monument more lasting than brass.

Betrand Russell on a Foundation of Unyielding Despair

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That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins — all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.