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Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe

4.1 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521607841
ISBN-10: 0521607841
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Editorial Reviews


"... written with verve and clarity ... densely packed with thoughtful and often provocative ideas and arguments ... should provoke ... vigorous discussion among students and others." --Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

"Anyone interested in the relationship between God, value, and virtue would benefit from adding this book to her collection." --International Journal for Philosophy of Religion

"The arguments contained in the book are well-crafted ... Those who wish to defend the view that objective morality and meaning require God's existence will find much to consider in this book." --Philosophia Christi

"Wielenberg has written a worthwhile book, and he has done this with verve. His arguments are often provocative." --Ethical Perspectives

"Wielenberg presents an analytical pholosopher's argument, beautifully restrained and precise." Bookforum

Book Description

Supposing there is no God might imply that human life is meaningless, and because there are no moral obligations, people can do whatever they want, since notions of virtue and vice, right and wrong, and good and evil have no place. Erik J. Wielenberg believes this view to be mistaken and in his book he explains why. He argues that even if God does not exist, human life can have meaning, we do have moral obligations, and virtue is possible.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 204 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (February 7, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521607841
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521607841
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #527,076 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David Sewell on April 14, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Paperback
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".
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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)
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