Assumptions

“I honestly think that common understanding of words like “existence” stretches far enough that people with different positions on the existence of something important can discuss and debate it in a way which is at least meaningful to them.”

Question from Cody:
When Christians and atheists argue, they seem to assume they mean the same thing when they say words like “existence,” “being,” “is,” and “truth.”

I find that they usually do not. Some speak from the modernist/rationalist mindset, some from the classical metaphysical mindset, and others from the post-modern, phenomenological POV.

What do you, and other atheists you know, assume as definitions for these seminal terms. What is the arbiter of truth? What is being and existence? Or, more realistically, what are your working assumptions about these things?

I’m afraid without clarity about our basic assumptions, any attempt to real dialogue is doomed. Help a devout Catholic understand atheist fundamental philosophy.

Answer by SmartLX:
I don’t think there is any fundamental atheist philosophy, Cody. That’s like asking for the common political views of everyone who isn’t a libertarian. Different people may have come to reject it by different routes.

That’s not to deny that many atheists think about this stuff in similar ways. For many or most atheists, questions of existence are rooted in the material. If something exists as anything more than a manmade abstract concept like love or justice (though of course those can be quite powerful in their own way), then it either has a material presence or some practical effect on something in the world. If something were to exist but have no effect on us, we might be strictly wrong but who cares?

The other assumption I think is near-universal is the idea that existence is universal. If an entity exists, again as anything more than a hypothetical construct, it exists for you as it does for me, and if it doesn’t then it doesn’t exist for anyone. “What’s true for me is true for me” is only meaningful when applied to interpretations of the abstract.

Let’s be explicit here: when atheists and Christians or any other believers clash over words like “existence” and “being”, they’re usually talking about God, or a god. This makes the issue a bit simpler. The Christian God and many others share certain qualities: they watch over us, they are capable of intervening in the natural world and they have complete power over whatever’s left of our personhood (our “souls”) after we die. If a god doesn’t do any of these things, then even if it still “exists” in some sense it might as well not.

I honestly think that common understanding of words like “existence” stretches far enough that people with different positions on the existence of something important can discuss and debate it in a way which is at least meaningful to them.

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