55 of 57 people found the following review helpful
on April 14, 2005
Religious believers are understandably annoyed by patronizing nontheists who ask, "How can anyone intelligent believe in God?" Likewise, nonbelievers get thoroughly tired of hearing that "if you don't believe in God, you must live in a meaningless universe" and "in a world without God, there's no distinction between good and evil". Erik Wielenberg's book could be called "secular apologetics" in the sense that he takes direct aim at those two statements, in both their simplistic form and as elaborated by profound religious thinkers like Dostoevsky and C. S. Lewis.
Wielenberg doesn't argue against the existence of God. His procedure instead is to ask what would follow *if* God did not exist. The inquiry in the first half of the book is rigorously logical. He establishes the possibility for meaning in a godless universe largely by appeal to universal human experience; the demonstration that morality does not require an omnipotent creator or commander relies on syllogistic demonstrations of the self-contradictions that ensue from making God the source of all moral judgements.
The last couple of chapters move away from defensive argumentation to exploration of the positive underpinnings of moral life available to nonbelievers. A naturalistic worldview, Wielenberg believes, is as amenable to valuing the traditional virtues of humility, charity, and bravery as a theistic one. "Naturalist and theist alike should acknowledge that one of the greatest challenges we face is the dark heart within ourselves", he concludes, and we are all on the same side in the "ethical revolution" required to confront it.
Although the primary audience for this book is academic philosophers (it's a first book by an assistant professor, ergo part of a tenure case), it's entirely accessible to an educated general reader; in fact one hears the speaking voice of an engaging classroom lecturer behind the prose.
I suspect I'm not the only agnostic, atheist, or deist who has lately been prodded out of "apatheism" (Jonathan Rauch's term for not caring strongly about one's religous beliefs) into earnest reconsideration of his or her fundamental values by debate and discussion about the Terry Schiavo case, the death of the Pope and the direction of world Christianity, and whether the United States is grounded on secular principles or is a "Christian nation". For anyone doing such rethinking--or for believers serious about understanding what nonbelief may entail--this book is a good starting place.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
This is a gem of a book. Rigorous but not rigid, brief but not incomplete, well-argued but not shrill or dismissive. Rather than constructing straw men to attack, Prof. Wielenberg respectfully quotes and exposits some of the most interesting ideas of Christian apologists such as C.S. Lewis, Plantenga, and Craig, then demonstrates with clear prose, accessible formal logic, and examples from literature how those ideas are or could be mistaken. In place of the theistic view, he constructs a cogent case that a godless life can be moral and meaningful--and not in some second-class, grudging way, but in a way that could bring real joy and satisfaction. This book is not perfect, but it's probably "best in class." As useful as some of the more strictly academic books have been to me, I have long wished there was a more popular treatment of morality and meaning from an atheist perspective, and of the current crop of such books, this is the best I've encountered. It is the hallmark of a useful book that it is quoteable--which this book is. Highly recommended.
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
In Dostoevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov" one of the characters offers the famous observation that "if God does not exist, all things are ermitted." One of the goals of Erik Wielenberg's study "Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe" (2005) is to rebut this claim. Professor Wielenberg is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at DePauw University.
Professor Wielenberg tries to do two things: first he wants to rebut claims that, without a supernatural basis, life has no meaning or purpose and that notions of right and wrong, good and bad, are untenable. The opponents he tries to rebut are for the most part contemporary Christian philosophers and theologians. Second, Professor Wielenberg tries to develop a basis and a content for a naturalistic ethics.
Professor Wielenberg adopts an analytical approach. Appropriate allusions to philosophers such as Bertrand Russell, Plato, Aristotle, and Hume,to writers such as Conrad, and to modern movies and video games help enliven his text. I was reminded at various places of Spinoza and the Buddha in reading Wielenberg's study, and his work would benefit by explicit consideration of these great figures.
In successive chapters, Professor Wielenberg tries to argue that human life may have an internal meaning based on intrinsically good activities (such as falling in love, study, helping others, creativity, or -- an activity dear to my heart -- playing the piano) even if it doesn't have theological, supernatural meaning -- such as conforming one's life to a divine plan. Similarly, he argues that a theological warrant is not required for ethical behavior or to answer Plato's question "why be good". Interestingly, he argues that the answer to that question "because it is good" or "because it is the right thing to do" requires no further justification -- just as the statement "I am doing x because it is in my interest" reuires, in its proper context, no further justification. Professor Wielenberg proceeds to develop some naturalistic standards for behavior drawing largely on the work of another contemporary philosopher, John Kekes. Kekes and Wielenberg identify three basic features of the human condition: contingency, the indifference of the order of nature to human effort, and the presence of destructiveness in human motivation" that are basic to the development of a human ethics. Professor Wielenberg recommends meditation, among other things, and increased attention to the teachings of science as useful to the development of a naturalistic ethics.
Professor Wielenberg doesn't fully develop what he understands by "naturalism" and I think this detracts from his study. His concept of naturalism excludes God, Cartesian immaterial souls, and miracles. But his concept is broader than mere bodies interacting in space under scientific, physical laws. He relies, as is apparent from my above short discussion, on an ontology broad enough to include intrinsic meaning and intrinsic goodness. I happen to agree, but I think he needs to show how and why he rejects a naturalism based upon scientism. Professor Wielenberg's naturalism, in other words, is so broad that it does some of the work otherwise done by religion (and for all his criticism of it, Professor Wielenberg seems to me deeply influenced by religion) and he needs to explain how. That is why I find Spinoza a relevant figure in his analysis. Spinoza to me is the naturalistic philosopher par excellence, but he packs a great deal of content into his naturalism that more hard-headed thinkers will, perhaps, resist and reject. Similarly, it would be interesting to know what Professor Wielenberg makes of a non-theistic religion such as Buddhism. I find his account close to Buddhism on many points, different from it on others.
Professor Wielenberg has written a challenging book that helped rekindle my love of thought and of the philosophic life.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 16, 2010
I thoroughly enjoyed and was challenged by Erik Wielenberg's book. As a committed Christian theist, I disagree with the conclusions he draws and the positions he defends, as well as some of his interpretations of what Christian theism is, but I deeply appreciate the clarity of his writing. I also think that he has chosen the proper issues, given the aims and scope of his book. This is a much better work than the widely read books by Dawkins and Hitchens.
My main criticism is that on his form of naturalism, there are some strange or perhaps recalcitrant (for the naturalist) metaphysical entities. For example, he argues that there are necessary ethical truths which are a part of the basic furniture of the universe. The problem is that this perhaps leaves us with a non-physicalist form of naturalism, with something like a Platonic realm of necessary truths that are not physical entities. Others have argued that such truths supervene on the physical, but this is not Wielenberg's view as described in the book. This is important because the theist has a ready explanation for the existence of necessary ethical truths--they are a component of God's character, a necessary ethical Being. Such truths have better metaphysical fit within a theistic universe than a naturalistic one. Even though I had many disagreements with the book, I would recommend it to people on all sides of the God issue, both because of its clarity and salience. For those interested in reading an account from the theistic side, I'd recommend The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism (Veritas)
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2008
It's telling that an academic Cambridge UP book has received seven or eight (as of early 2008) reviews; most of the time, academic books get scanty attention at best, unless a colleague (or mom!) reviews them. This is particularly true of philosophy books. Anyhow, I'm not surprised this book has an appeal. Wielenberg is a graceful and incisive writer. He seems incapable of writing turgid or indecipherable sentences. He reasons lucidly, and lucidly places his faith in reason. I would think him to be an excellent teacher, good with examples and capable of focused argumentation, but without losing sight of the big picture. His examples range from Dostoevsky to Milton, the Bible to C. S. Lewis. Of course many philosophers make an appearance too, some ancient (e.g., Aristotle) and some contemporary (e.g., Graham). And he's read neuroscientists (Damasio) too. General readers interested in big questions -- like: the naturalization of ethics, the role of faith in life, the necessity (or not as the case may be) of a higher being for the flourishing of human agents -- will find a lot to chew on. And all this in a 160 page book to boot. (NB: it is not the case that the author simply gives us some syllogisms. On the contrary, while there are some, they are embedded in as smart and clear a text as one could want.)
21 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2007
This book is a professor's expanded lecture notes for lectures that are probably both challenging and interesting (I'd enjoy auditing those courses). Previous reviews by Robin Friedman and David Sewell describe the overall form of this book well. I want to deal with one particular failing that I found critical.
I read this book in the course of a project to really understand the secular basis for morality. Wielenberg seems to make a good, although overly-cautious and tentative, argument for a secular meaning of life. And he gives an effective critique of the theistic positions of God as the creator of ethics and God as the guarantor of ultimate justice. With this out of the way I turned to Chapter Four, "Ethical Character in a Godless Universe," with high anticipation.
This chapter begins with a digression on how strongly heirarchical the Christian system is, with God at the top, then angels, humans, animals, obligation flowing down and obedience up. This illuminates some aspects of theistic morality but might better be part of a preceding, critical chapter, rather than this, supposedly constructive chapter.
At this point Wieland introduces the idea of "naturalistic humility": that the naturalist has every bit as good a reason to be humble in the face of a risky and contingent universe, as the believer has to be before the throne of God. This section also is original, convincing, and illuminating, and I was excited to see the next heading was "From Humility to Charity."
Alas, here I was disappointed. Wieland claims to bridge the gap from humility to charity: from a solid logical conclusion that we are each of us supremely lucky simply to be alive, even luckier in whatever wealth we may have, he claims to reach an equally solid conclusion that we are obligated to share that wealth with those less fortunate. But he does not! Here are the key sentences (p115):
"This obligation is grounded not in any divine command but instead in the particulars of the situation. Among the more salient features of the situation is the _lack of control_ the two [a hypothetical rich man and poor man] have over their respective fates. If the winds had blown slightly differently, their situations could have been reversed. Is it not clear that it is not morally permissible to refuse entirely to offer any help to the less fortunate who find themselves in difficult circumstances through no fault of their own and who will probably suffer and even perish if we do not help them?"
That's it; the entirety of the logical hookup he makes between humility and charity is in the phrase "Is it not clear that it is not morally permissible..." There is no further exposition of this absolutely crucial point; from here onward in the book he writes as if the point was proven. As near as I can tell, he is making an appeal to empathy (he does not use the word). And the claim is simply not convincing (I don't understand how his students have let him off the hook for this, either).
I can fully imagine a decent naturalist who replies "It is not at all clear to me. Yes, I fully agree the position of those unfortunate people is distressing to them and to me. But I have good reasons to conserve everything I have, indeed to look for more; after all, in the face of this humbling and hostile universe, how can I be sure I won't be in dire straits myself at any minute? In any case, there are so very many of the needy, and so various their needs, how much time and effort (that my family needs to survive) am I supposed to devote to studying their needs and selecting whom I should help and by how much?"
While Wieland discusses the views of virtue espoused by theists, by Aristotle, by Plato, and by Kant, he also gives only a weak and confusing (to me) exposition of how a naturalist should view virtue and why pursue it.
In short, this book is a good critique of "value and virtue in a theistic universe" but only a weak and unhelpful display of the title subject.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 14, 2011
Erik J. Wielenberg, Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe, Cambridge University Press, 2005, 193 pp., $25.99 (pbk), ISBN 0521607841.
Reviewed by Nathaniel Simmons, Lee University
Wielenberg's major claim in Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe is that naturalism does not denote any largely unfortunate ethical implications. In fact, one can deny the existence of God while easily maintaining objective moral standards. In order to accomplish this, Wielenberg must overcome some of the more common critical implications ascribed to naturalism (usually by theists). These include: nihilism, relativism, hedonism and egoism (p.4). Instead of unraveling each of these implications one by one, Wielenberg focuses on some of the overarching "big picture" concepts. Theists typically ascribe two largely detrimental implications to naturalism, the first being that, without God, life in general is meaningless. The second (and the lesser of the two theistic claims) is that without God, human beings posses no moral obligations. Wielenberg devotes the first few chapters toward rejecting these views. From here he will establish the rather modest claim that there can be at least some moral obligations that are independent of God. Then Wielenberg attempts to resolve the troublesome worry that we may have no particular reason to care about any of these obligations without the existence of God (p.11). In the last two chapters, he is finally able to safely explore the implications of naturalism as a result of his rebuttals toward these theistic critiques. He does this by assuming that naturalism is true and then examining the likely ramifications. His goal in doing this is certainly to expound upon the appeal of naturalism, but more importantly, to expose naturalism as harboring a multitude of un-mined moral gems.
In the first chapter Wielenberg introduces a series of theistic arguments that deem life without God as necessarily meaningless. One of which is known as the final outcome argument (p. 16). The claim is that, without God, life is meaningless due to the fact that the universe must unfortunately have an end. No matter what the process of life may be, it all amounts to nothing in the end. One day, all that will remain is a ruinous extinction. Wielenberg responds to this claim by appealing to a commonly held view that emphasizes internal meaning. The claim is that, a totally causal judgment of a meaningful life is inadequate and that the meaning of life is better judged by considering a desire account of morality. Such an account would entail a person's life becoming meaningful inasmuch as one's actions line up with one's desires. Certainly, one should consider such a life in which one's actions and desires constantly coincide exceptionally meaningful. The necessity of this type of meaning becomes more apparent when compared with a person who lives a life in which her desires never match up with her actions. Wielenberg argues that it is incoherent to claim that both lives are equally meaningless by simply considering the fact that both lives must ultimately end. Therefore, at least some value should be attributed to life regardless of an admittedly drab final outcome.
Once it has been established that life can possibly be meaningful without God, attention is shifted toward whether or not God really is the source of all ethics. In order to do this, he must reject a viewpoint referred to as the dependency thesis. This entails that God is responsible for every true ethical claim (p. 40). Wielenberg offers a series of suggestions against this thesis, ultimately however, he argues that the dependency thesis must give an account of certain aspects of existence that are impossible to accept. He mentions pain as one such example. In order to accept the dependency thesis, one must reject the fact that pain is intrinsically bad. This does not make a bit of sense to Wielenberg. The nature of pain presents itself to humans as an indisputable and intrinsically bad quality; therefore the dependency thesis should be rejected (p. 50).
Keeping true to his word, Wielenberg does not leave it at that, he wastes no time after rejecting the dependency thesis before he moves on to an alternative account of ethics. What he posits here is the concept that some ethical truths are not only intrinsic, but also necessary without God. In other words, there is no possible world in which pain is not intrinsically bad. A naturalist account of this may still be too strong of a claim for many theists; therefore Wielenberg is content to assert a much lesser claim. That is, certain contingent (rather than intrinsic) truths may be independent of God. Consider a promise made from one person to another, it seems that the promise keeper is simply obliged toward the receiver of the promise only. There is no apparent need to involve God in the picture. If the theist will concede to this more modest claim, a major battle has been won for the naturalist. At least some ethical truths may exist without the source of their origin being attributed directly to God.
Nonetheless, this does little in order to provide much support for naturalism in and of itself. One large obstacle remains, namely whether or not human beings would have a reason for living an ethical lifestyle without the existence of God. Traditionally, the concept of God offers along with it, the idea of perfect justice. This certainly provides motivation for the theist to strive to be moral. In the end, the moral persons will be rewarded whereas those that do not meet ultimate damnation. In order for naturalism to have merit, Wielenberg must assert that humans may desire an ethical lifestyle without this ultimate promise. Not only does he rush headlong into this bold challenge, but in section 3.5 he actually makes a convincing claim that (at least in some cases) the naturalist can accomplish virtues above and beyond that of the theist. This will be discussed in further detail. First however, he must explain whether or not this is even possible.
He does this by appealing to a number of hearty philosophers, one of which is Aristotle. Famously, Aristotle held the belief that theoretical contemplation was the highest possible good that a person could strive for. The key concept here is that this kind of good is something that does not require perfect justice to be useful. The benefits are apparent within the activity itself. In other words, morality and self-interest coincide nicely.
From here, the premise of the final chapters easily follows. Wielenberg makes the assumption that naturalism is indeed true in order to fully explore all of the virtuous benefits that may result. Here arises the concept of humility. Theists often claim that this virtue is mostly inaccessible to the naturalist. According to traditional Christian doctrine, humility is boiled down to simply giving credit where credit is due. In short, one ought to give God the full credit, no matter how great the accomplishment. The theist asserts that the only one that the naturalist is able to praise is herself; therefore, even in the smallest instance of individual accomplishment, only pride can result. Wielenberg makes short work of this claim. According to naturalism, human beings result from a random sequencing of events. If the theist must declare every accomplishment to God as a result of creation, then the naturalist is required to attribute all of her successes to dumb luck (p. 110). Surely this attitude would result in true humility.
Finally Wielenberg finds himself in a position to discuss whether or not one ought to actually accept naturalism over theism. His initial claim regarding this is that, although it is easy to become rather disconcerted with naturalism (lack of perfect justice, an afterlife, etc.) theism has its drawbacks as well. One major point against theism lies in the fact that God's commands must be followed under any circumstances. This, as evidenced by the biblical Old Testament can possibly lead to some messy scenarios. Nonetheless, Wielenberg admits that it might be psychologically impossible for a good portion of humanity to accept naturalism. This may very well be the case, although Wielenberg certainly sees himself to have leveled the playing field. His final claim is that, whether or not one is able to accept naturalism, it is impossible to deny the naturalist her virtue.
This goal of this brief summary thus far has been to expose some of the major appeal that Weilenberg has given to naturalism. Indeed, his general thesis is one of genuine significance, yet it is not entirely devoid of criticism. One of the major obstacles that Wielenberg sought to tackle is the previously mentioned notion of perfect justice. He initially focuses on this theistic ideal due to its fantastically hopeful implications. Upon consideration of this concept, the theist may approach life with a great and consistent comfort. No matter what injustices may exist on earth, the theist can rest assured that all would be accounted for eventually. In fact, God will see to it that every deed, good or bad, will be eternally accounted for. The idea is that, no matter how dreadful any atrocity may be on earth, all would pale in comparison as long as such suffering led to an eternal reward.
This concept historically lends itself to many criticisms worthy of attention, such as the problem of evil, which Wielenberg does, in fact, discuss. However, this argument is as old as it is well established, thus no criticism can be offered against him for addressing the problem of evil. Wielenberg does however make a more worrisome point against the theistic concept of perfect justice. He asserts that a belief in this concept can lead humans to commit brutal, inhumane acts. This is a rather strong claim to make, thus Wielenberg calls upon a historical event for support. The event in question occurred during the crusades. In 1209, the French city of Beziers was attacked. This was as a result of the city harboring a significant number of heretical Cathars. What was most disturbing about the attack was that the crusaders did not bother to distinguish between the heretical inhabitants of Beziers and any of the other citizens. Not only were Christian residents murdered, but women and children as well. The historical account states that everything and everyone was destroyed. The reasoning behind this lies in the crusaders concept of perfect justice. They felt justified in killing innocents because God could distinguish between the just and the unjust. God can do the sorting; the crusaders were free to slaughter as they pleased.
For the sake of argument, we will assume that the historical account, as well as the supposed theological motivation of the crusaders (as stated by Wielenberg) is correct. The quibble here is not concerned with such issues. What is so worrisome is the fact that Wielenberg points towards the concept of perfect justice as the driving force behind this event. This seems like a rather hasty judgment. Upon further inspection one may begin to wonder that the crusaders simply had a warped concept of "perfect" justice. In this account, not once did they seem to reflect upon how God would judge them according to the murder of innocents. It seems that if perfect justice were really the driving force behind the crusaders actions, they would have been quite a bit more suspicious of their actions. Perfect justice properly understood would have prevented the slaughter of the innocents at Beziers. Therefore Wielenberg falls short in this particular point.
There is another point to be made in the perfect justice debate however. Wielenberg also attempted to show that certain actions would actually be more virtuous if one were to deny the troublesome doctrine. Consider an act of total self-sacrifice - the giving of one's life for another. If one adhered to the doctrine of perfect justice, such an act would not only be virtuous, but would assuredly result in an eternal reward. However, if the same ultimately self-sacrificial act were to be accomplished by a naturalist, the results would be perceived as drastically different. Such an act as carried out by the naturalist would seem to be even more sacrificial than in the theist's example. This is because the naturalist would not have any eternal reward in mind. The sacrifice is final... the end of the line. On this point, Wielenberg deserves to be commended. Given this situation, it undoubtedly appears to be the case that the naturalist can perform a greater good than the theist. Therefore, naturalism is ethically advantageous in at least some situations.
Perhaps the most fascinating implication of naturalism results from its partnership with modern science. As previously mentioned, upon adopting naturalism, one is free of the Christian criteria for humility. Part of this "giving credit to God" mindset entails that one should be considerate of her own status in the universe. This concept rears its head in recent issues such as cloning, stem cell research etc. The fear is that mankind could possibly overstep certain boundaries by "playing God". However, if one has already granted Wielenberg's argument for naturalistic humility, mankind is now free of this moral drawback. Our rightful place in the universe has no special (or limited) status. As beneficiaries of happenstance, we may do as we see fit in order to improve the human condition.
Following this train of thought one begins to see the startling implications that a naturalistic world may realize. Certain findings in neuroscience have uncovered part of the explanation behind some of humanities more negative characteristics. In particular, an ancient part of the brain known as the amygdala is held responsible for emotions such as anger and fear. As neuroscience continues to develop, Wielenberg suggests that a sort of cure for badness may be introduced into society. Perhaps certain futuristic inhibitors could be placed upon the amygdala. Interestingly, this curiosity has already been addressed in a number of ways. Certain concepts within the science fiction genre seem to form an objection to this line of thinking. Interestingly Wielenberg acknowledges this as the Brave New World objection. The intuition claims that a world full of virtuous people that lack any strong semblance of free will would be render morality rather useless. Of course, these types of scenarios are mere speculation... food for thought most likely. Or are they? Wielenberg seems to suggest that the sky is the limit in the naturalistic universe, but rest assured, our feet remain planted on a firm moral ground. Hopefully this naturalistic morality will be a tool in order to soften the human condition as time progresses.
Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe is an indispensable text for a multitude of philosophically minded readers: theists, naturalists, wizened philosophers, and anyone that may be new to the philosophical game. The book contains a considerable amount of broad and heavy philosophical camps, yet Wielenberg displays an artful ability to expose the important concepts without bogging the reader down with superfluous jargon. His arguments were as thought provoking as they were entertaining. As to the soundness of his arguments, they were strong to say the least. Admittedly, a point or two may slip unconvincingly by the wayside, but one would be hard-pressed to deny his overall claim. Objective moral truth may exist in the absence of God.
on June 21, 2015
A very thought-provoking book and a robust attempt to develop a framework for ethics on the assumption that God does not exist. The author presents some interesting, fresh arguments. In the first part of the book, the he critiques common arguments for the existence of God. In the second part of the book, arguments are presented for a moral framework from a naturalistic perspective. I wasn't entirely convinced by some of them but, as a whole, this book is worth reading for those who already have some background in philosophical thinking - it could be a difficult read for some as it is quite scholarly. It certainly demonstrates that it is possible for atheists to develop grounds for ethics without the need for a god as the foundational starting point. It is good to see rigorous thinking being done around this topic. A good contribution to the conversation around humanist ethics.
on June 26, 2014
Erik Wielenberg forensically, succinctly and comprehensively dissects and demolishes any shred of a case for theism advanced by authors William Lane Craig, C S Lewis, John Cottingham et al. He argues convincingly that ethics must be independent of a God, even if God were to exist. Ethics are therefore valid within a naturalist account, and do not justify a theist account. On the contrary, the highest human virtue can only be demonstrated in an atheist supposition (p92). Basing ethics on religion is dangerous (pp 145-149).
He then has difficulty hypothesising how this can be so – ‘necessary ethical truths are part of the furniture of the universe’ and ‘constitute the ethical background of every possible universe’ (p52). ‘Ethical truths lie at the very bedrock of reality, created by no one, under no-one’s control, passing judgment on the actions and character of God and man alike’ (p67). This is reasonable observation and even conviction, but lacks explanation. He follows Kant’s definition of moral obligation - ‘it seems clear enough that we have some such obligation’ (p116). Virtue is objective. It is simply so. Through the example of a person delighting in a perverse action, he takes perversity to be objectively defined, and so dismisses the thesis that virtue is chosen and adopted by humanity. His scheme opts for physicalism (p135). He dismisses the existence of an extra-natural soul (p110). He does not explore the alternative interpretation that the human soul is a prevenient metaphysical extension, generated and hosted by the physical.
His dismissal of the theist claim is erudite and excellent. His construction of the naturalist claim is limited. Arbitrary human choice of virtue and a prevenient soul are valid naturalist options. His eloquent dismissal of theist ethics requires an urgent programme to define naturalist ethics beyond the examples of humility and charity he sketches. Naturalist ethics has to be more comprehensively defined and must face the dilemmas of any moral programme. André Comte-Sponville’s ‘A Short Treatise on the Great Virtues’ is a good complementary text which moves the discussion on.
Author ‘An Enlightened Philosophy – Can an Atheist Believe Anything?’
Editor ‘Atheist Spirituality’
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 29, 2007
The increased attention that the popular presses have given to atheist apologetics in recent years has allowed modern skeptics and non-believers to fill their shelves with entertaining, if sometimes imperious, arguments by such popular authors as Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, and now even Hitchins, to name just a few. This book offers entry into an under-explored, but important, question: assuming there is no God, is there a strong basis for an ethical, purposeful, and "meaningful" life?
A few other Amazon reviewers have attended to this book's arguments quite thoughtfully, so I'll restrict my comments the style and presentation. The book tries to be at once both "academic" and "popular," reading not so much like lecture notes (as one reviewer characterized it) as like a Ph.D. dissertation that the author has attempted to revise for a wider audience. (I have no idea whether this is the actual origin of the book.) It is full of reference citations and quotations not only of earlier philosophers but even of occasional examples from popular culture. Readers who have had at least an introductory course in formal logic may appreciate the disciplined style of argument, but more "general" audiences may find this to be something of an obstacle. You certainly don't need a degree in philosophy to follow this author's lines of thought, and the serious lay reader will be rewarded by the time spent with this book, but it's probably the academic reader who will find this book's style most familiar and engaging.
I hope that some future authors will take up this topic and bring it to a wider audience. It addresses an important objection often raised by theists who are defending the necessity of religion in civilized society. "How can you live a good life without God?" is a question that long-time atheists may find both curious and tiresome, but it still deserves a serious answer.