Post-mortem Response and Eulogy for Oscar


In my last response to SomeMusician (Oscar), I left the door open for a more direct post that addressed Oscar’s assault on the concept of an eternal life as my initial one instead attempted to redirect the conversation.  Oscar, in the comments of my prior post, has requested I do just that.  And now that he is gone, I feel obligated to fulfill his last wish before, and pardon the pun, rigor-mortis sets in.

But first, a few words need to be written for such a somber occasion, though I confess, I’m not eloquent for this sort of thing, although this blog might suggest otherwise.  I feel awkward and unsure of how I should I proceed.  I fear I might come off like this:

The Eugoogly

With my anxieties flushed out, here goes nothing.

It saddens me to read of your indefinite departure from this medium, Oscar.  I indeed hope you will come back.  I’ve enjoyed our brief exchanges together discussing the “big questions” of life.  You were always polite, thoughtful and articulate.  I also became fond of your voice in your writing early on when I read your posts.  You’re a pretty polished, writer, Oscar, and that is a skill I hold in lofty regard.  Although it sucks—to put it bluntly—that you’re leaving, I wish you the best of luck on whatever endeavor you choose to pursue, whether it be music, philosophy, vlogging on YouTube or blogging either on this site or Tuesday Afternoon.  Overall, it has been a pleasure.  If you ever do return, however, you will be welcomed back with open arms by multiple people, myself included.  Until that fateful day, though, you will be sorely missed, Oscar.  =(

The Response

Now that the “nice words” have been written and due to the fact funerals are said to be for the living, I guess I can dance and defecate on your decaying corpse-of-a-post, Oscar, you heathen, nihilist, amoral, God-hating, person-who-thinks-when-you-die-you’re-just- a-banquet-for-maggots…but that wouldn’t be too Christian of me, now would it?

Hyperbole aside, Oscar begins his post by acknowledging that under metaphysical naturalism, life has no supreme purpose, a statement I would whole-heartedly agree with.  He continues and writes that in spite of this, our life still can have meaning.  I agree in a limited sense.  Life can be meaningful subjectively, but beyond the value we impose on our day-to-day affairs, it still is cosmically meaningless given naturalism.  And this isn’t an unpopular implication of the naturalist’s worldview among atheist intellectuals.

Interestingly enough, Oscar mentions atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel at the start of his next paragraph.  Now, I haven’t had the honor of reading Nagel, hence I’ll have to take Oscar’s summary of his view as sufficiently accurate.

“In the naturalistic world view of death, according to Nagel, life is good and death is bad [paraphrasing]. However, this conception of life and death fails if we suppose an eternal life”

This conception of life and death fails instead for another reason.  Despite the fact Oscar’s description of Nagel’s view seems contradictory to the quote in the video—I will give him the benefit of the doubt—I reject Nagel’s conclusion that whatever promotes life/survival is “good” and whatever relegates toward death is “bad.”  Granted, I don’t know the exact reasoning justifying Nagel’s claim here (I would assume some empirical methodology as survivability seems to be observable).  But I fail to see how this translates into a prescriptive “good” or “bad.”

Neither Nagel nor Oscar nor any atheist, to the extent of my knowledge, has been able to successfully pull off this meta-ethical trick.  Scottish philosopher David Hume, who was as atheist as they come, mind you, recognized the futility in such an endeavor with his famous “you can’t derive an ought from an is” spiel.  Meta-ethical terms such as “good” or “bad” are oughts.  They’re normative and prescriptive in nature and not descriptive like an is.  Nagel’s survival, which is a descriptive is, defined as the “good” really misses the point of the problem and is guilty of attempting to “derive an ought from an is.”

So this assertion, as far as I can discern, of Nagel and Oscar here is false.  I admit life/survival and death appear to be closely related to what is “good” and what is “bad,” but not so close where they can used interchangeably.  Sorry for being pedantic about this, however, I feel in all fairness this fallacy of equivocation must be pointed out.

Moving on, the remainder of Oscar’s post is spent arguing how eternal life on a theist’s worldview is actually meaningless.  He writes,

“Imagine your favorite sporting event. For whatever allotted amount of time, this sport has meaning and it enthralls the spectator. It has the capacity to lift you from euphoric joy to crushing despair within a matter of moments. Now imagine if this sporting event – one game, one match – were to last forever. Would you be as interested? Would you care about the sport? This never-ending game would be pointless to play, let alone watch. As is the case with the game, so would be the case with an eternal life. Every second of the eternal life would be ever-increasing the profundity of the inanity that has become one’s existence, and thus, we would be doomed to experience an infinite amount of inanity. A crushingly depressing notion. Life would become absurd, purposeless.”

Well, first of all, soccer is my favorite sport to watch, and due to the fact it’s criminally under-broadcasted here in the United States, a perpetual soccer game sounds very enticing to me.  But I think I feel my intellectual honesty spanking my smart-ass, so I guess I have to give you a more satisfying rebuttal, huh?

In an intriguing move, Oscar’s strategy here is susceptible to a criticism levied against theism.  Hume, I believe, is justified here again.  I think—it’s been a while since I’ve read his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, so I might be off herebut Hume argues theists are guilty of anthropomorphizing God.  In other words, (Joan Osborne’s actually) we view God as if he is like one of us, “just a slob like one of us, a stranger on the bus, trying to make his way home,” but by definition, he isn’t.

Joan Osborne performing. Maybe she's anthropomorphizing here and singing "One of Us!"

See, Oscar is viewing eternal life as if it’s subject to time and framing it in a never-ending day.  Yet, eternity isn’t within time; it’s to be outside of it.  Hence, to understand something outside the realm of human temporal experience by human temporal experience is understandable, yet naive.  Oscar’s comparing apples with oranges here, and philosophically speaking, he’s committing a category error.  Check the n/a box for his argument from analogy, a style of argument whose strength is measured in its similarity to what it’s comparing, and in this case, it not even being applicable…well, is really missing the mark.

Oscar’s last argument against theism is a thrust against God’s coherence.  It’s purported God exists eternally, and Oscar reasoned previously that such an existence is meaningless.  Therefore, by definition, God existing is absurd.

“Can one imagine a “life” that is left contemplating the implications that nothing will ever be able to equal Your glory? Or that You will never be granted the amount of praise that You are so righteously deserved of? That for all eternity you will forever be, and worse still, that You would be incapable of ceasing to be? The absurd notion of forever being, and worse yet, not being able to do anything about it, is enough to render one depressingly impotent.While this may seem disconcerting to the theist, these are indeed the implications of an eternal life. Nothing will matter.”

I’m a theist, and I don’t find this charge alarming whatsoever.  Frankly, I’m more puzzled.  Theists understand God to be perfect, which includes eternal existence, but I don’t see the faintest reason why God would even reflect on these introspective insecurities that Oscar erroneously seems to think follows from always being.  They logically don’t.  Nothing of this sort is entailed in eternal existence.  As perfect, God doesn’t have psychological issues similar to that of a teenager that needs to see some cosmic shrink about them every Thursday afternoon just because he’s always been.  The only way I see how Oscar came to this conclusion is by anthropomorphizing again.  That, God, due to the fact he’s been around forever, has had all the time in the universe to consider these things, while under theism, God existed without time.  It seems entirely evident for the theist to flat-out deny these implications, and he or she won’t even be late for dinner.  So, disconcerting?  Hardly.

Last Words

I want to close by writing I appreciate your post, Oscar, but I think the issues you brought up aren’t so damning to theism as you thought.  But with that written, I wish you all the best in life.  I do sincerely hope you will return to SomeMusician sooner rather than later.  Forgive me, but I can’t help to hope you share in my belief in the possibility of a resurrection after a blogging death.

Response/Eugoogly over,

Modus Pownens

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2 thoughts on “Post-mortem Response and Eulogy for Oscar

  1. Modus,

    Despite my “retirement”, I feel compelled to respond to your post – mainly because you were so charitable in your eugoogaley. While I wholly appreciate the kerfuffle – however slight – that has been made because of my absence, I am not so sure I am quite deserving of such lofty portrayals. I can only hope to be able to, one day, live up to such generous ascriptions.

    Now, shall we get into it?

    Firstly, I’m afraid I can’t put too much stock into the video as the Nagel quote is incomplete. The video gives the impression that Nagel concluded that death is meaningless, etc., but he does not – he asserts that death is bad. So, if you don’t mind, I think we should simply proceed with my very brief synopsis of what Nagel concluded.

    I would also like to point out that I do not agree with Nagel when he asserts that life has intrinsic worth. I wholly concede that whatever value life has – if any – is purely subjective and that one cannot hope to ascribe any objective worth to one’s life. My contention is that while attributed value is subjective and wholly contingent on each individual, this should be more than satisfactory for the theist that asserts this “life would be meaningless” spiel that is given with some frequency.

    “In an intriguing move, Oscar’s strategy here is susceptible to a criticism levied against theism. Hume, I believe, is justified here again. I think—it’s been a while since I’ve read his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, so I might be off here—but Hume argues theists are guilty of anthropomorphizing God. In other words, (Joan Osborne’s actually) we view God as if he is like one of us, “just a slob like one of us, a stranger on the bus, trying to make his way home,” but by definition, he isn’t.”

    I’ll admit that I must re-read Hume in order to fully understand the point he was trying to make, but I’ll just address this concern that you brought up. It is a common danger for those with more philosophical predilections to forget that the Judeo-Christian God is a personal one. It is easy to think of God in abstract terms when thinking of arguments such as the cosmological arguments, but theists must take care to remember that God is not merely an abstract overseer, but rather a personal one that is capable of experiencing ‘human’ emotion. We read in the Scriptures that God exhibits many ‘human’ emotions that one might deign as ‘less-than-perfect’:

    Jealousy

    Yet they tempted and provoked the most high God, and kept not his testimonies: But turned back, and dealt unfaithfully like their fathers: they were turned aside like a deceitful bow. For they provoked him to anger with their high places, and moved him to jealousy with their graven images. When God heard this, he was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel

    (Psalm 78: 56-59, KJV)

    Anger

    And the LORD said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves: They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people: Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation.

    (Exodus 32: 7-10, KJV)

    Sorrow

    “And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose up from prayer, and was come to his disciples, he found them sleeping for sorrow,”

    (Luke 22: 41-45, KJV)

    I could continue, but I think you get the point. It is irrational to think God experiences ‘human’ emotions and then to further assert that he is not “like us”. One must contemplate what it means to be “made in His image”. While we cannot anthropomorphize God in terms of physiological make-up, this is not-applicable to His emotions, His characteristics, and, yes, His way of thinking. To be more accurate, it is wrong to say that we anthropomorphize God. Rather, it is we who emulate God. We do not anthropomophize because it is we who emulate the characteristics of God. If we “experience” because God “experiences”, then it is logical to conclude that whatever we have experience God has experienced. Furthermore, this experiential nature of God who would be infinitely compounded if He is indeed eternal.

    “See, Oscar is viewing eternal life as if it’s subject to time and framing it in a never-ending day. Yet, eternity isn’t within time; it’s to be outside of it. Hence, to understand something outside the realm of human temporal experience by human temporal experience is understandable, yet naive. Oscar’s comparing apples with oranges here, and philosophically speaking, he’s committing a category error. Check the n/a box for his argument from analogy, a style of argument whose strength is measured in its similarity to what it’s comparing, and in this case, it not even being applicable…well, is really missing the mark.”

    There is a lot in this one paragraph and I don’t think I want to take the time and correct everything (I hate using ‘correct’, btw). I’m not sure how much science you have studied, but this last paragraph does not make very much sense for multiple reasons. There is one thing that I wish to address that is not science-related, however. You are asserting that eternity is “outside” of time and therefore, by extension, so is God. And if we are to take this line of thinking to its logical conclusion, Heaven, Hell, and all their inhabitants must also be outside of time as they would occupy the same “space” where God is present. But time is required in such places – especially when we consider the fact that thoughts, effective actions, etc., are all said to exist in this temporal space. Time is merely a descriptor and when one exhibits any of the aforementioned traits (thoughts, effective actions, etc.), one is, by definition, existing within time – For “time” is merely describing the the length of time from point A to point B. For example, for one to have a thought, there is a beginning and end to that thought. Now, this thought may be in the milliseconds, but the length of time matters not. The point is that time exists where thoughts exists, where effective actions exists, where causality exists. And indeed, if we are to believe Scriptures, all these things exist in Heaven and Hell.

    1. Wow, you responded fast! that’s fine though. I’ll try to parry, riposte though. Good to see you’re alive and kicking, so to speak. I take it as a point of pride that you felt compelled to come out of your “retirement” and responds so promptly.

      Firstly, I’m afraid I can’t put too much stock into the video as the Nagel quote is incomplete. The video gives the impression that Nagel concluded that death is meaningless, etc., but he does not – he asserts that death is bad. So, if you don’t mind, I think we should simply proceed with my very brief synopsis of what Nagel concluded.

      I would also like to point out that I do not agree with Nagel when he asserts that life has intrinsic worth. I wholly concede that whatever value life has – if any – is purely subjective and that one cannot hope to ascribe any objective worth to one’s life. My contention is that while attributed value is subjective and wholly contingent on each individual, this should be more than satisfactory for the theist that asserts this “life would be meaningless” spiel that is given with some frequency.

      I figured as much with Nagel that the quote was taken out of context, which I thought I took such a possibility into account.

      Firstly, I’m afraid I can’t put too much stock into the video as the Nagel quote is incomplete. The video gives the impression that Nagel concluded that death is meaningless, etc., but he does not – he asserts that death is bad. So, if you don’t mind, I think we should simply proceed with my very brief synopsis of what Nagel concluded.

      I would also like to point out that I do not agree with Nagel when he asserts that life has intrinsic worth. I wholly concede that whatever value life has – if any – is purely subjective and that one cannot hope to ascribe any objective worth to one’s life. My contention is that while attributed value is subjective and wholly contingent on each individual, this should be more than satisfactory for the theist that asserts this “life would be meaningless” spiel that is given with some frequency.

      I think that’s what Hume was saying, but it’s also been a while since I’ve read the hallowed Dialogues. It’s good to see you bring up the fact the Judeo/Christian God is a personal one. But I don’t think I portrayed him as an “abstract overseer.” My point was it’s insufficient to view God’s eternal existence through human temporal lenses. God’s eternity is to mean he has been without beginning or end. He simply can’t be temporally framed like I believe you were doing with your everlasting day analogy. Theists believe God to be ontologically prior to everything including time, so he was existing even if we can’t fully understand what that means. I will concede my “outside of time” phrasing was poor, and I take fault there.

      Swinging back to God’s alleged personal relationship with man, I feel there is a fine line between that and God’s divinity. Nevertheless, there is a line. The two are not mutually exclusive like you, and many others, appear to be dichotomizing. As for those “less-than-perfect” emotions, jealousy, anger and sorrow are not negative. For instance, it’s good to be jealous over one’s spouse or kids. That’s what it means for God to be jealous of Israel being seduced by idols similar to that of a husband over his wife. There’s righteous anger and to be grieved is not an imperfection. Jesus was both fully human and God and his two natures were “grappling” so to speak there. He was still willing to give his life because of his admittance of “thy will be done. Furthermore, we don’t emulate the characteristics of God and hence “experience what he experiences” as absolutely as you suggest. I feel like your language here is vague, so I’m not quite sure what you’re trying to argue, so bare with me. I still think it’s false though, if I understand sorta what you mean. For instance, I know what’s it like to deceive for instance, while God, as perfect, does not.

      There is a lot in this one paragraph and I don’t think I want to take the time and correct everything (I hate using ‘correct’, btw). I’m not sure how much science you have studied, but this last paragraph does not make very much sense for multiple reasons. There is one thing that I wish to address that is not science-related, however. You are asserting that eternity is “outside” of time and therefore, by extension, so is God. And if we are to take this line of thinking to its logical conclusion, Heaven, Hell, and all their inhabitants must also be outside of time as they would occupy the same “space” where God is present. But time is required in such places – especially when we consider the fact that thoughts, effective actions, etc., are all said to exist in this temporal space. Time is merely a descriptor and when one exhibits any of the aforementioned traits (thoughts, effective actions, etc.), one is, by definition, existing within time – For “time” is merely describing the the length of time from point A to point B. For example, for one to have a thought, there is a beginning and end to that thought. Now, this thought may be in the milliseconds, but the length of time matters not. The point is that time exists where thoughts exists, where effective actions exists, where causality exists. And indeed, if we are to believe Scriptures, all these things exist in Heaven and Hell.

      I’m not quite sure why you allude to science here when my argument is purely philosophical unless some scientific evidence appears to be a counterexample here or whatnot. I’m not ignorant of science, but lets just say I’m much better versed in biology than temporal cosmology. Anyway, we might just have to agree to disagree here. You see, theism views God prior to creation as possibly existing as a disembodied mind, so he was “thinking” before creation. While you seem to frame things in what you can experience like any good empiricist. So of course this talk of God’s nature and existence seems absurd to you. I believe we’re at an impasse here due to our philosophical presuppositions. Again, I feel like my use of “outside” was imprecise. I meant not limited by time.
      The crux of your argument is in your alleged analytic judgement of “time exists where thoughts exists, where effective action exists, where causality exists.” But as I’ve stated earlier, many theists view God to be “thinking” prior to the universe. Also, time exists where thoughts exists is not an analytic statement, not like all bachelors are unmarried. There is no logical necessity for thought to ontologically dependent of time.

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