"Does Accepting Evolution Mean There is No Meaning of Life?" Why? Radio Episode with Guest Michael Ruse
3:32PM Apr 2, 2020
Jack Russell Weinstein
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Hi, I'm jack Russell Weinstein, host of why philosophical discussions but everyday life. On today's episode we'll be asking you about the meaning of life with guests Michael Bruce. When people hear the word philosophy, they tend to think of two things. First, they consider whether a tree falling in the forest makes a sound. For many who don't know the questions context. This is an example of how silly the subject can be. for them. Philosophy is navel gazing and self indulgence at its worst, it fails because it's questions are irrelevant. The second thing people tend to associate with philosophy is questioning the meaning of life. This deeply important exploration is supposed to reveal the most hidden secrets of the universe. Its discovery will cooperate Anxiety and give us direction. Just being aware of it is enough to turn us into good people allegedly anyway, following Plato, the secret see knowing and acting as the same thing. The problem is that there is such a chaotic diversity of meanings of life, that there isn't even a consensus as how to start asking. This time philosophy fails, not because the question is too small, but because it's too big. Bertrand Russell puts it this way. The question is only philosophy when it can't be answered. The moment it is, it becomes the purview of physics, or biology or some other discipline, philosophy for him is to be loved for the questions, not the answers. In other words, the search for the meaning of life is not really about the meaning at all. It's about the life. The search is about something to do. We can see this resignation best by looking at one of Russell's most famous conversations in 1948. on BBC Radio, he debated Frederick cobblestone about whether one could prove the existence of God cobblestone was a celebrated historian of philosophy and a Jesuit priest. He believed in both God and God's proof ability. Russell was a philosopher of mathematics and science, a public intellectual, either an agnostic or an atheist, depending on who you asked. During the debate, topless, argued that one could offer an adequate explanation for the existence of God. Russell asked for more detail wondering whether rubbing a match on the box explained the flame. This is the scientist in action. He didn't need to know who was doing it or why physics was enough. Surely Russell thought this is what cobblestone was looking for. To explain God's existence is what Aristotle called an efficient cause. But cobblestone wants more explains that Russell's account is only a partial explanation, and that quote, an adequate explanation must ultimately be a total explanation to which nothing further can be added. To prove god he's claiming, we have to explain God and to explain God we have to be complete, all inclusive and not leave anything thing out. But this is just too much for Russell, who retorts, the cobblestone is looking for something which can't be got, and which one ought not to expect to get stalemate. To put it another way, the Jesuit priest believes that we can have a full pictures of God's existence that brings with it the meaning of life, but the agnostic thinks the most we can have our scientific reasons without meaning. Any cause has to be narrow and immediate. There is no reconciling these two positions, either a total explanation is possible, or it's not. Today, we're going to continue the search for the meaning of life once again mired in the debate between science and religion. To do so we'll go back even farther than Russell koston. to that moment, our guest suggests we first saw the irreconcilable stalemate. The moment when Charles Darwin postulates his theory of natural selection, our guests will argue that evolution takes away the meaning of life that religion gives us. I'll let him explain why. He'll also try to overcome this loss, suggesting that religion doesn't have a mandate. nopalea on the answers we seek, again, I'll leave that bit for later. What's important for our purposes is not to accept Russell's defeat. Philosophy does not have to resign itself to just asking questions and outsourcing the answers it finds. This is not navel gazing. The search for an explanation is interwoven into our DNA. Does God reflect on past actions, reconsider them and hope to do better? Not if God is perfect outside space and time and complete for all eternity. The human search for meaning is a grasping for betterment, morality and fulfillment. It doesn't make us good, but it nudges us to alternatives and motivates us to move forward. How can such a quest be either too big or too small? To me, it seems the perfect fit. Obviously, I can't promise we'll discover the meaning of life here today on the radio, but I can say we'll give it our best shot. And we're glad you're joining us. Because like the wasted noise once caused by that tree lying on its side in the forest, it would be a measurable shame. If we uncovered a great truth, and no one was around to hear it happen.
And now our guest, Michael Russo is the Lucile t webmaster professor and director of the history and philosophy of science program at Florida State University. He taught at the University of Guelph for 35 years he has written or edited close to 50 books. His most recent one is aptly titled, a meaning to life. Michael, thanks for joining us on why?
Well, it's a great pleasure to be here. Thank
you very much. If you'd like to comment on the show, you can find us on twitter instagram and facebook all at at wire radio show one word or email us at ask firstname.lastname@example.org you can listen to all of our previous episodes for free and find information about our future shows at why Radio show.org So, Michael, given everything I said so far, writing a book on the meaning of life seems like quite a burden. It's such a large endeavor, how do you start How do you attack something that's so overwhelming and ambiguous?
Well, you're though when I was listening to you, as you gave you a sort of introductory spiel, I was very much reminded, as you were talking about Russell and cobblestone, of the old joke about a philosopher is a blind man in a dark room looking for a black hat, which isn't really there. And a theologian is someone who finds it. That's a joke. But I think it's got a little bit of above, because almost that's almost the sort of starting point for where I am. I'm out, I think, up until Well, certainly, until the scientific revolution, or later, I think that obviously, one wanted to put things in, in the West in a Christian context. I mean, other other societies like Islam had their way of doing it. But I think anybody for instance, in the medieval times, who didn't try to make some sense of life through the meaning in the West through the Catholicism, which was all surrounding, which, you know, was just ignorant and not doing their job or or Whatever. But I think what happened was during the scientific revolution I'm talking about from Copernicus in the early 16th century through to Newton, in England at the end of the 17th century. I think that things started to fall apart, not because these people intended that perhaps, I mean, Copernicus wasn't ordained, but he was a minor cleric. We know that Newton was, was certainly a deist, if not more than that. So these people were almost doing it malko Louis in the sense that they started something which they weren't quite able to control. But I do think that by the time we get to the 18th century, things are starting to fall apart.
There's so much that you just said, and I want to back up just a little bit. When we talk about the meaning when we're talking about making sense of life, what do we mean by that? It's it I find the phrase itself to be so many different things, when we're looking for at all, what do we mean?
Well, that's a good question, isn't it? And I mean, that's basically where we're at. I think the whole point about being humans is that we do ask these questions as Socrates said, The unexamined life is not worth living. And although I love my Ken terriers very much, I don't think they sit down and worry about the meaning of dull code or anything like that. Whereas obviously, for better or for worse weed people, we humans do. We want to find some sort of meaning to our life, we want to find some purpose to it over and above, just as it were getting through the day, you know, you get up, you have breakfast, you go to work, you come home, the kids are there. And you know, you end up with a good romp in bed at the end of the day, if you're lucky. But somehow, I think most of us, or many of us, let's put it that way. Tried to say, Well, is there some purpose to this is Does it make sense or am I just as it were going through the motions, and, you know, now I'm doing it before I didn't And after it's all over, I won't be doing it anymore, or is there some meaning to this? And of course, as we know, Christianity, particularly and you mentioned cobblestone, says, Yes, we've got an answer to this, where the creation of a good God, where we humans are special. You know, we're made in the image of God, he has a purpose for us. We felt the original sin. But thanks to the sacrifice on the cross, it's made possible for us to hope for some sort of eternal, what shall I say bliss with our Creator? I'm not quite sure what the bliss would be. I mean, for me, it would be it would be a new Mozart opera every night and fish and chips in the intermission, you tell I'm an Englishman, and no papers tomorrow when I get home until I'm a professor. But you know what, I'm just joking at one level, but not really. And the whole point is, if things fall apart as seemed to happen after the scientific revolution, then what the hell I mean Where do we go from here? Is it is it as cam you said, purely, you know, absurd. Shakespeare put it you know life is but it all falls at the struts and frets it out upon the stage. And that is no more I mean is, is this all there is to it. And what I want to argue and I don't think I'm not alone in this is I think that the 19th century, which showed Darwin's theory of evolution, as it were kind of revolutionize things he didn't bring God back in. I'd been darling wasn't an atheist. But I think it gave us some kind of way of trying to find a new direction, as it were post, post scientific revolution, post enlightenment, which doesn't rely on the old Christian God. I mean, I say the old Christian God, the traditional conception.
I'm stuck between two different things you've said the first thing you mentioned that life is for eternal bliss. And you have this great moment in the book, where you talk about how boring the conceptual Eternal Bliss must be if you're there for eternities do you change jobs every year just for variety? And it makes me think of Mark Twain and letters on earth when the devil letters from earth when the devil is talking and he says, The the Christian conception of Heaven is so weird. What is it that people love the most? They love having sex. What don't you do in heaven? You have sex? What do they hate the most practicing their instrument? What do they do play hardball? Does that make any sense? Right? So, so on the one sense, I'm stuck on this eternal bliss idea that if the purpose of life is to reach eternal bliss than the life we live, the only meaning is instrumental. There's nothing innately good about it right? And that seems problematic at the same time. I'm also struck with this question that someone could come along like Darwin, and have a new idea which of course we'll talk about in a minute, and it'll just pull the carpet out from under everyone. So is part of the issue that, that the idea is so fanciful and and and and unappealing that people are looking for another reason that someone can come along because, well, the first answer wasn't that great to begin with.
Well, you know, when you're talking about eternal bliss, it sounds rather like a Gary Larson cartoon from the far side. Okay, routes, you've just finished 1000 years of being a professor. Now you've got 1000 years of being a laboratory attendant. Again, I mean, I'm not quite sure whether one has laboratory attendance in in half, and whether they're whether they're needed, but I'll leave that to theologians to discover. I think what I want to say and I don't think I'm alone in this is even if Christianity let's say, is true, is life truly meaningful, nevertheless, or are we as it we're just following the rules, rather like a jigsaw puzzle? That's somebody else, namely the great jigsaw puzzle in the sky has set up for us. And basically, we've got to follow their rules. And we have no choice but to do this ourselves and I almost at times asked myself is this really a meaningful life is quite apart from the fact that I don't think we should be spending life down here spending all our time worrying about what's going to happen in the future. I mean, that's like a little bit like scotch Presbyterians, isn't it? You know, don't have any fun now, because if you do, you certainly won't have any fun in the future well and save
your money at the same time.
By the way, I know I'm an English but I did not mean to be that rude but the Scots I mean, after all, David Hume, the greatest English speaking philosopher ever was a Scots
and I am an Adam Smith scholar. So I think we've earned the right to make fun of our neighbors in the north. Oh, but But um, but But before we get to that moment, in the book, you talk about something that I find utterly fascinating. And that is that, in the classical and medieval world, there is this notion of the universe as an organism that is a sort of life in itself that has a kind of meaning. And then around the Renaissance and and leading to the Enlightenment, this route metaphor of what we think the universe says, changes to a machine metaphor that it is that it isn't, you know, a clockwork that there's all these other things, and that that takes meaning away, because organisms have a life of their own and a purpose of their own, but the machine is just a tool for other people. Why is that shift important? And why and what do we lose when we start thinking of the universe in mechanistic terms as opposed to organic terms?
Well, let me begin by stressing the idea. I've changed it from a, an organism to a machine. It's certainly not mine. I mean, this is something, I think, pretty standard beliefs now, by historians of science and up through the Middle Ages, there's no question that there was a tendency to think, in organic terms. And the world itself and maybe us, at some level are part of it's almost like the guy hypothesis in a way that we're all part of this organic whole. I mean, it's certainly there in Plato, in the tomatoes, for instance, which was the one dialogue of Plato that was known for many years. So it all made sense. Because, after all, I mean, you know, you've got winter wear it, and then you get spring, which is life and then you get the summer, which is the flowering and then as it were, it gets old, through the autumn and then finally, you come to death and winter, you, you particularly know where you live, what I'm talking about.
There's no way
I'll be Let's face up to it, in a way, it wasn't silly. I mean, far from being silly, it made a hell of a lot of sense. And also, it gave people a real as it were a way to guide their lives, because then it meant that when the river came in the spring and and flooded the fields, this wasn't just chance. And it wasn't just something, if I might say, we could just pollute our own ends, because we were, we were messing up Mother Earth, and again, you know, digging for minerals and that sort of thing. We, it, it's ours, but it's ours to to use, not to exploit. And then what happened in the, in the scientific revolution was I again, to a certain extent, I think this was external factors because by the 16th 17th century, people were starting to make fairly intricate machines, and then the obvious one, of course with the clock, and so many of the metaphors are done in in terms of the clock, but people started to be very impressed with machines. So they started to think of the world machine light. Now, the thing about machines is they do have purposes a clock is for seeing an automobile is for driving a vibrator as well, you know, we'll leave that one as an exercise for the reader. But the point is they do have ends, but scientists found it wasn't very helpful, talking about ends much better just to focus on the laws themselves and how it works. And so by the 16th and 17th 18th century, I saw a great historian once said, that God becomes a retired engineer. It doesn't mean to say that you don't believe in God, but it's not bound up in your scientific thinking. And I think that this, as I as I was talking about, is where we find ourselves in a lightened moment in the 18th. And going into the 19th century. It's not that people don't believe in God, but increasingly at some sort of level. he she it is starting to seem redundant. And distant. And, of course, this gives you all sorts of issues about how then how do you relate to your life? I mean, that we stress that, as always, and of course, I'm not of a historian to notice. There's always cultural factors involved, too. And I'll be you take France, I mean, Christianity was bound up with the ancient regime, and with the powers that be. And so in many respects, so often, Christianity was seen as something reactionary, as well, that it was something which was, dare I say, almost anti life. And so there was as we go into the 19th century, almost like a boil, if you will. I'm not quite sure that's the metaphor I want to use, but it was waiting to be launched. And what I want to argue is that Charles Darwin was the guy who came along with a scalpel or whatever it is, and and launched it and, but the point is, he didn't just launch it. I think he gave us what we say direction For thinking in other ways, I'm not saying it was all thought out by Darwin himself, but I think he did start this. So what I want to say is, where we've got to start is with the fact that we're modified monkeys rather than modified dirt, or modified mud. And that's not my joke. That's Thomas Henry Huxley's joke. So if I can put in a negative plug about my fellow philosophers, and you mentioned Bertrand Russell, I want to argue that in the last century, I think that Anglophone philosophy, by a large has been completely off track because people like Russell said, it's all mathematics and that sort of thing. And they were really rather condescending about biology, and about evolutionary biology. I mean, when I was at high school, in the 1950s, the bright kids did Latin and Greek, the middle kids did math, physics, chemistry and German, and that the late developers did Spanish and woodwork and biology. So biology always had as it were, a rather down level, you know other like sociology and in universities today. And so I think we've been completely miss off off the track. And what we need to do is go back to Darwin and say, Okay, we're modified bunkers. Now, what the hell does that mean? And what does it mean for the the really important philosophical questions like, Is there any meaning to life? Or is it does come you said just absurd.
You know, it strikes me, it strikes me you you talk about biology being denigrated. And this shift from an organismic view or an organic view of the universe to a mechanic mechanical view, suggests that, when we talk about the meaning of life, we're only talking about human life. We've left behind the meaning of a dog's life, the meanings of a tree's life. The organic point of view has room for that, but the mechanistic view doesn't and so maybe And you can tell me what you think about this. Maybe one of the reasons why biology becomes denigrated is that the great shift in values just highlights humanity to such an extent that there's not any interesting meta questions or larger questions about life anymore.
Well, yeah, I'm an Englishman. And I'm not the type that about dogs. As far as I'm concerned, if dogs aren't in heaven, if I don't get up there a God doesn't have you know, I don't lying at his feet, or whatever it is, or if he isn't holding a terrier or something. I don't want anything to do with have Thank you very much. So I've never had a world where you didn't try to bring dogs into the meaning of it, but because more serious, but you can't get more serious than dogs. But alternatively, let me put it that way. I think you're absolutely right. And I think part of the problems has been with Christianity and I don't just knocking Christianity I'd knock Anglophone philosophy as well. I think part of the problem is justice focus on human beings, not a sufficient thinking about the rest of the world. And of course, you know, today we're suddenly waking up to this, and realizing what a mess we've made of things. And so we've got things like global warming, and the destruction of the rainforest in the Amazon, and God knows what else, you know, all these species going extinct. And suddenly we're saying, Oh, my God, have we ever messed that one up? So I would agree with you, I really, I really think that a lot of the fault would, I would lay First of all, obviously, at Christianity, even though Jesus said, you know, God knows when to sparrows for, but I'd also lay it at the, at the feet of, of philosophers, too. It's only in recent years that philosophers have really started to take seriously issues like animal rights, and those sorts of things. So you don't I mean, with all due respect, you don't find this in Plato. You don't find this in dating. Caught on I'm damned if you find it in can't, I don't know, can't even had a cat, let alone a dog.
He never lived in one place long enough.
So I think you put your finger on a very important point that if you don't, at some level, have a philosophy, which tries to incorporate the living world in some way. And I don't mean that you have to go back to Gaia and think the world is living. But I think if you don't have a philosophy, which at some level doesn't respond to that, then you know, you're on the wrong track.
We have to take a break. I'll start by reminding all of the longtime listeners that I am a dog lover extraordinaire, and if I could bring Oscar into the studio, I would but he chew on the cables. But when we get back we're going to dive into the Darwin question we're going to look at what Darwin is saying and see the consequences and then follow Michael's train of thought to try to find meaning in an evolutionary universe rather than a religious one, but for the moment you're listening to Michael Ruse and jack Russell Weinstein on why philosophical discussions about everyday life We'll be back right after this.
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you're back with why philosophical discussions but everyday life From your host, jack Russell Weinstein, we're talking with Michael Bruce, about the meaning of life and how we find that in the evolutionary age. Before we start the conversation again, I want to make an observation that listening to Michael involves doing one of my favorite things. And the best minds do this, I think, and that is they take the great brushstrokes, and they talk about history in a way that connects everything and that is on levels of eons and centuries. So the 16th century, the 19th century and all of these things happen, and we have these grand historical themes. And then they zoom in to something something very particular something very minute like the route metaphor or as we shall see the the theory of natural selection. And the greatest questions and the greatest examination goes back and forth from this bird's eye view on the highest level, to the most detailed work and how those two things relate. Now there's something similar going on in evolutionary theory, right? evolutionary theory makes no sense. If you look at it moment to moment, evolutionary theory only makes sense when you look at it beyond millennia and the level of millions of years. But that only has noteworthy ness. If you look at the individual mutations, the individual changes the individual characteristics that affect people and animals and life in general, the whole world. And so what's fascinating to me is how the philosophical approach that we're taking is, in some sense, analogous to the scientific theory that we want to talk about. So Michael, with that said, Can you give us a very basic primer and your English so I will say primmer, not primer. Can you give us a very basic primer on what natural selection is and why it creates such a problem for Religious meaning.
Well, let me just sort of start with another aside which is sparked by what you just said is I'm, I'm 79 years old. I've been a philosopher now for over 50 years. Here I am in a studio in in Florida. I'm having more fun, but I've had it a long time I'm saying, I'm, you know, I'm like you, I'm a hell of a lucky guy, because I'm doing what I love to do. But I think that that's not just a sort of a personal reflection about you and me jack. I think that that says something it says, Okay, I you are people that just like what was it asked your dog and scruffy my dog? I think that what I'm interested in is very much Well, why why am I like I am? Why am I not a dog? Why is scruffy, not a human? All of these things and of course, the thing is Christianity to be quite fair, but Christianity tries to answer those sorts of questions now. I'm a non believer, I'm, I think Darwinism is tremendously important. So I want to pick up from there. I mean, I knew and our dogs are the problem I want to solve, though, how am I gonna solve this? Well, of course, I'm going to go to Darwin's theory, as you said, and I'm going to say, Well, what does Darwin say? And I think it's fair to divide. The question is to, first of all, the overall picture, we call it evolution. Now, it used to be called development or descent with modification. First of all, the question is, where do we come from? Not just we, but Oscar and scruffy. And, you know, the eggs we ate this morning, and the trees and whatever, where do they all come from? And so, the evolutionist says, well, they weren't created in six days. 6000 years ago, that they are the end product of a long process of natural that means non miraculous development from as dry as people say from just a few blobs or whatever it is the the old phrase used to be from Moana to man, or something like that from the primitive to the present. So that's, that's the idea of evolution. And it's not a new idea with Darwin, it was certainly there in the 18th centuries, is his grandfather Erasmus, for instance, was was a Darwinian and so are others. So that's the one thing but then the question is what makes it all tick? What makes it work and you go back to the scientific revolution on this, I mean, it wasn't Newton, who put the sun at the center. That was Copernicus, it wasn't Newton, who made the planets go in ellipses rather than circles. That was Kepler. It wasn't Newton, who said, cannonballs go in parabolas rather than Loop The Loop that was Galileo. But what Newton did was come up with a cause a mech mechanism. If you like. And they got this gravitational attraction. And what Newton said is with my cause, I can explain all of this. And this is exactly and deliberately what Darwin is trying to do in his work, particularly in his classic work, the origin of species published in 1859. And Darwin, I always say Darwin's a great revolutionary, but he's not a rebel, because what he did was draw on ideas in his own culture. And as it were, rather like a kaleidoscope, he brought them all in, twisted them around and made a new story. So on the one hand, Darwin points to the fact that organisms aren't just thrown together, they work they function, what Aristotle called final causes. Of course, this is the basis for one of the classic proofs for the existence of God, the teleological argument or the argument from design. The hand, or the eye looks like a telescope. telescopes have telescope designers. Therefore, the eye has an eye designer, namely the great optician in the sky. And by the way, Darwin didn't Want to get into the great optician, but he accepted the problem completely, that organisms aren't just random. They work they function but how? Well Darwin came from agricultural England. And don't forget he he's growing up in the first part of the 19th century, we've got an industrial revolution going flat out by the 1830s. When Darwin was working, the Industrial Revolution was mainly the railway, they were putting rails down everywhere. But if you're going to have an industrial revolution, that means you've got a lot of people living in the cities, and very few people living in rural England. And so you've got to have an agricultural revolution in order to produce food for more people with less people doing it. And they learned pretty early on that selection is the is the key if you want bigger and fatter cows, then breed from bigger and fatter carbs and eat the skinny ones early. If you want, whatever it is. Let's say shaggy or sheep, then breed from the shaggy RAMs, and the shaggy us and eat the, you know the skimpy ones early. And so doormen realize that the secret to getting the design if you like was going to be through selection but how on earth could he get it to work in in nature that he read a book by rather conservative another Anglican priest Incidentally, Thomas Robert Malthus, who was worried about the population explosion which had happened in a very big way in the industrial revolution by the end of the 18th century. And Malthus was trying to put it all in context and Malthus said, Why do we have this population explosion? When there's not enough food not enough space, it leads to what Malthus called struggles for existence. Malthus put it all in religious context, Malthus said, Well, you know, God had to have some way of getting us up off our bums and prepared to do things. We can't all be philosophy undergraduates all our lives and depend on others to do everything for us. It won't work. So what God did was make it so that we've got to scribe there's going to be this population explosion. And if you want to succeed, you've got to work and come out top. Darwin read this and said, Oh, my goodness, yeah, there's going to be this constant pressure to be the successful one, or what? The fitter one. And so this LED Darwin to the idea of a natural selection, which would be analogous to artificial selection. But the great thing about natural selection was just like artificial selection, it was going to lead to design those organisms, which had bigger and better eyes tended to do better in the struggle for existence and struggle for reproduction than those organisms which were blind those organisms, which you know, was speedy or fast or whatever it is, tended to do better. And so what we get is a is an evolution of development through natural selection over time, it's relative. Because sometimes having eyes is not a good thing, if you're living in a cave, eyes are just going to be irritants. But so Darwin recognized that it was relative that there was no absolute, but at the same time, it it, as I say it lead to design. Now when I say relative, what about humans? Well, Darwin was a Victorian a bit he knew that humans were superior. He didn't know know that humans were superior. He knew English was superior. No question about that. But so he was torn a bit that way. But the whole point about Darwinism is that it is relative. And this takes us back to Oscar and scruffy yellow dogs is a successful dog is you know, from a biological from a Darwinian point of view, a hell of a lot more successful than an unsuccessful human. If you spend all your life in a gallery Doing philosophy without reproducing from a Darwinian point of view, you're not very good. But if you're Oscar, or or scruffy, and you haven't had that unfortunate visit to the bets where you'd be neutered, then let the ball go out and reproduce. So so so to
summarize, what's happening is we have these great principles of explanation. And then perhaps the most famous one is Newton's notion of gravity. And what gravity does is explain all of the things we knew before tie it all in with one sort of explanatory principle. What Darwin does is the same thing by giving us natural selection. He explains what people knew already. But what natural selection does is put the selection ahead of the designer, that the selection becomes, how things evolve and how things change. And that, as I understand it, takes God out of the mix, because God isn't giving the creatures bigger or smaller eyes depending on where they live. That's just the competition, the selection. And so the great shift is the role of God in the system because the system operates on itself without relative to itself without an external mover, is that the move? You know,
you put your finger right on the point. I said earlier, the whole thing about the scientific revolution was the move to machine thinking. And God became a retired engineer. But the problem was organisms, because organisms seem as if they're designed to hand in the eye, or not just random, and so nobody could see how to get God out of the picture. And you're quite right. I mean, Darwin's genius, if we can put it that way, is to show how we can get God out of the picture that in other words, to show that we can get organisms by natural laws, machine light laws, just as much As we can get a comment and I'd rather have planets going in ellipses around the sun, it's, you know, it's the same sort of thing. So that's Darwin's genius, but do notice that retired engineers don't necessarily not exist. And it's very important to note that Darwin's theory was not atheistic. In this sense. Darwin's theory did not, as it were, on the final page, say, therefore, we see that God is dead. Darwin was not in nature. For instance, what he did was take it out of the picture. In fact, we know in the origin that Darwin believed in God that passages which are clearly godlike, but Darwin took God out of the picture. what's what's interesting and important is towards the end of his life, Darwin did become an agnostic, he never became an atheist. And why did he become an agnostic, not because of his sons, his sons made it possible. But like every other good Victorian, I'm thinking of people like George Eliot and the novelist, for instance, They couldn't hack the theology of Christianity in particular, Darwin took great exception to the, to the idea of justification by faith, you know, which is central to some Paul's vision of Christianity. Only through faith, can you be saved? A Darwin said my father and my older brother, were both non believers. Does this mean that they're, you know, that they're destined forever? everlasting hell far. My father, he said particularly was who was a physician, he said, My father was just the best man I ever knew. And if you tell me that because he didn't believe in God, that means he's going to hell. I don't want any part of that religion. So very interesting. And Darwin wasn't alone in this. It's very interesting. Darwinism does not just prove God doesn't even disprove Christianity. It makes as Richard Dawkins said, it makes it possible to be a fulfilled atheist. You don't have to be Joe pope john. Paul a second was was an evolution as he was even a Darwinian, but clearly he, you know, he believed in God. Otherwise, he's the biggest, biggest hypocrite we've ever known until certain people became president united states of america. But I won't get into that one. And I know you're gonna cut that one out of the talk. But anyhow, so what I'm saying is, it's it's complex, but it's not that complex. Darwin is tremendously important. And I think that Darwin now, once you've got this tool in your hand, you can turn to the sorts of things I was talking about just a few minutes earlier, why is it that old men like us are having so much I hope you are having so much fun having this kind of discussion.
So this brings us actually to your project, right? So God is out of the system. And are we in this deep dark void, right? If there is no God, anything is possible. Are we without meaning? Our Are we alone in the universe, the way that that sort tells us full of despair, or with the Darwinian project? Can we find meaning in life? Still? That's what the book is about. That's what you're working on. How do we begin asking that question?
Well, let's be. I mean, Sartre may have talked about despair. But if you look at Sartre's life, and I'm not, I think this is pertinent. His life was anything but despair, wasn't it? Right. But all his time life on the left bank of the same, you know, smoking and drinking and talking nonstop when he wasn't having sex with Siemens de Beauvoir. So, you know, with all due respect, it's one thing to talk about existential despair. It's another thing to actually live it. And I think this is tremendously important. The point I want to make Actually, I call myself an existentialist, but I don't despair is absolutely the last point. I'm Because I want to say, yeah, if it's despair, if you've got to have a God, if the only answer you're prepared to accept is God and the meaning of life through eternal bliss, then I can offer you nothing or the Darwinian, my kind of Darwinian can offer you nothing. And there are people I know who feel exactly that sort of thing I imagine the philosopher, Alvin plantinga is one who feels that sort of way. And I imagine there are others too. But the point is, what I want to say is, if you take that out of the equation, are you then just stuck with life split a shadow, you know, the struts and frets that are upon the stage and then is no more? Are you stuck with life being absurd? And the simple fact of the matter is, we are not. I mean, the point is jack, you and I are having a vigorous conversation at 12 o'clock on a Wednesday, and I don't know about you, but I'm having a hell of a lot of fun doing this. So, what I want to say is, okay, let's pull back a moment. Let's leave the despairs, stuff out of it.
I want to interrupt a second because then they're going to be people who say, Aha, that's the problem. When you take God away from the equation, what what meaning becomes is just pleasure, that the fact that we are experiencing pleasure makes us like animals. It makes us egoistic, it takes the value away from the project, because the value has to be more than just even joy. Although joy is more complicated than pleasure, that that the evidence you're using for value is actually the evidence for why the deeply religious folks don't want to abandon God. How does one respond to that?
Well, jack, let's start with this. I said, I'm enjoying myself. I didn't say I was having pleasure. You think I'm talking to somebody in North Dakota is the philosopher is having pleasure? Think again Buster brown think again? No, I mean, let's be, let's be more serious about it. I am serious about it. I think that the Christian who says that, I mean, I agree with the Christian who says, life is more than just pleasure if life is just filling your face with McDonald's hamburgers, and that sort of thing, and so on and so forth, then I don't think that life is worthy, and I don't want to keep coming back to the President. But that he seems to me to be a man who epitomizes having pleasure playing golf, you know, girlfriends, or making money, these sorts of things. powertrip I mean, to me, that's pleasure. And I would agree with the christian right down the line, that if life is that, that it's it's simply not meaningful, but what I want to say is that, I think Life is more than that. Or that I think that part of our evolutionary evolved nature is such that we become, you know, more than just pleasure, that we have to think about things. And that getting joy out of things is a motivation. I mean, Malthus was right about this. How does God how does natural selection, get us off of Up Up, up off our butts? and get us to do things? Well, we don't do it. Just because there's more McDonald's hamburgers at the end of it. We do it because it's fun, because it's exciting. Why do you play games? Often playing games isn't the hell of a lot of fun. But somehow, it's damned exciting. Because you're in there, you're working with others you hope to win. I mean, that's what it's all about. And so what I want to say is our evolved nature is such that we can we do get what was the word you used enjoyment. Let's use the word enjoyment out of out of life, and I would want to say this is very much part and parcel of the evolutionary package that organisms who who have that kind of life are going to be more innovative, more, work harder, more, think more carefully, all of these sorts of things than somebody who you know, is happy to have a Hugh hamburgers, watch, you know, watch Fox News, and then, you know, a good romp at the end of the day. I mean, okay, we all need that once in a while. But it gets awfully awfully boring awfully awfully quickly. And I think you see this in the development of your children. And particularly, I would like to say for us as teachers, we see this in the development of our students as we try to engage our students and to show them that life is more particularly we philosophers, that life is more than just making money, that life is in fact, something which is exciting, worthwhile and all of these things. I don't see this As anti evolution, I don't see this as anti natural selection, I would say precisely those people who work like that and think like that are precisely the people who leave their mark on society, and who, as it were, make for a better society or make for a more successful Darwinian society and Darwinian societies are just nature red in tooth and claw. They're well functioning societies.
A couple seasons ago, we had a guest who you may know named hilarious Geist, and we had a conversation called Why did homosapiens evolve into artists? And one of the things that he was suggesting is that creative intellectual artistic thinking is the product of what we get when we're not under crisis when we have a moment to think of alternatives. And I think about that because this conversation about pleasure enjoyment, again, all joking aside if we get pleasure from this It's not an animalistic, sensational pleasure. It's the pleasure from from imaginative, creative intellectual thinking and that the fact that we have evolved into creatures that get enjoyment from mental activity is itself some sort of evolutionary product. So, you talk a little bit about this in the book. How do you get from this natural selection to the idea that human beings that one of the values of life, and one of the reasons why why we enjoy such things, is that creative thinking is an evolutionary value that we can hold on to when we want to have life's meaning?
Well, I think the answer is it is at least partially this. Humans have taken a certain let's call it reproductive strategy. Say lions, for instance, have taken a certain reproductive strategy to They're big, they're strong. They're ferocious. I mean, they females, particularly hunting packs, and all of these sorts of things. And I don't know, lions are particularly successful at the moment, but they, they certainly have been. And let's say the same is true of elephants in their way. And so on, so forth. I mean, other other organisms which are successful, let's say rats, they have their reproductive strategy to, I mean, rats, for instance, are very good at foraging and all of these sorts of things, also very good at reading. Well, I would want to say that humans particularly have taken their reproductive strategy or it's not involved being big and strong and ferocious like that by and large, even, you know, considering Muhammad Ali, we really are passes when it comes to the loo. You know, your local gorilla. I mean, you know, even Mohammed Ali taking on a silverback. We know who's going to win. We're not that fast already. My little town terriers are a year old can run a hell of a lot faster than any human Being could ever run. So So what is our reproductive strategy? Well, clearly it's cooperation. And and it's also being able to think and to be able to plan ahead so that when you reach a situation, and it doesn't look very good, you don't give up and say, Oh, well try something else. You say, Well, what can we do to to make it better? and that sort of thing. I know whether or not creative activity is directly related immediately to reproduction, or whether it's what Steve Gould would call the next application. It's something which comes out of it. Clearly, creative activity, you know, feeds back into our success. And one of the things and of course, this is in my book, and I imagine we're going to get to this is I want to say, what I find fat fascinating about creative activity is how much of it is so very, very human. Its social, its involves other human beings. And of course, this, you and I know as teachers that Often the way that you're going to teach children or your students, or this sort of thing is through creative works or been through fiction, and these sorts of things. Even philosophers know this, that if you want to, you know, convince somebody of, let's say, sexual relationships and how you should treat each other Read, read some of the great works of fiction. I mean, and this will start to give you much, you know, really deep insights into human nature. Romeo and Juliet, even even the sopranos. Let's take the sopranos. Well, I don't say even the supply, especially the sopranos, isn't that hugely informative about human nature? Doesn't it tell you an awful lot about people and doesn't take for instance, tell you about the insecurities of even the most successful people? So that I think that I mean, I think we can all learn a hell of a lot from the sopranos. When we see how You know, the dawn is clearly a man who's deeply insecure at certain sorts of ways. And I think that this could be awfully helpful for us to wrestle with these problems and to be successful. So without one thing to say, every last, you know, every copy of Playboy, well, playboy is perhaps a bad example because it does seem to be a reproductive, but let's take something which is, you know, like, first things that conservative Catholic thing. I don't want to say that every issue of first things is something which is going to lead to reproduction. But I do think very much that our culture understood broadly is a you know, by this, I would go all the way from art from theater, to, you know, menus, all of these things. I think that this is part of what being human and I think at a at a biological level. It's not a surprise that we
are this way do you end up concluding There is basically three categories of meaning that come from the Darwinian model. You got family, life and others and creative activity. Why is that? Meaning? What, what does that do? That that fills the holes that we lost when we move to the Darwinian model?
Well, I think it's a two part thing, isn't it? I, what I'm not saying is that it justifies it in the sense of, like, approve, what I want to say is, we have evolved as family beings, if I mean, the kind of organisms we are, we've evolved that sort of way. The Ranga Tang, for instance, is not I mean, the Ranga Tang is like that Dean Martin song, you know, wham bam, Thank you, ma'am. I mean, the Ranga Tang, you know, male comes in, does his business and then the females left to raise the kid, whereas it costs humans a bit because we have so much development. You've got to have males involved, just like the birds have to have males in So, I see our family nature as something which is comes about through evolution. Now you might want to say yes, but does it have any meaning? Does it have any meaning in the Christian sense? Clearly not? Clearly not. But I know what meaning is. And I can distinguish within as it were, my my my life, meaningful life and non meaningful life, I think meaningful is working to come home to look after you. I mean, to give you an example, I was writing about just this morning. My I'm an Englishman, so I like to buy loose tea. I like found I can fight by loose tea here in Tallahassee from a little Indian store. The Indians who run it are immigrants. They work. I mean, they work seven days a week, all the time, but their lives are made meaningful because their children are doing very well at school and one is about to go off to Georgia Tech. To do study engineering. So now you say, say to me, Well, what's the meaning? I don't want to put this in meaning in the sense of God is pleased, or they don't whether they Hindus that whatever it is, are they going to have a better incarnation? I want to say who we are right now. And I can distinguish between those people who I think are having a meaningful life. And somebody who, you know, is just a dick off, who does their bit and then watches fox news or, or their God in Tallahassee, you know, is obsessed by the football team. And that, I mean, boy, if you want something which is non meaningful talk about the FSU football team. But what I'm saying is, I think we can make those sorts of distinctions. Now, if you turn to me and say, Ah, yes, but that's not and of course they will are people who'd say that Alvin plantinga would say that. All I can say is, well, you're right, but I think you'll Trouble is, I think you're looking for meaning in false premises or for a false false picture you can find meaning in this, but it ain't true. So, a meaning which is based on something which a true is, to me is is a lot less worthy than saying, Okay, here we are. This is what I mean by being an existentialist. Here we are, we're thrown into this world with thrown into existence. I didn't ask to be exist, but I am. So where do I go from here? Can I find some sense of meaning, which within this world? And the answer is absolutely I can. I want to say that, let's say, for me opera. I mean, I don't mean it's for everybody. But I want to say that going to a great performance, let's say of Don Giovanni has meaning for me in a way that watching Fox News does not. So I think we can find meaning at that level. You say to me, Yes, but that's not worth the meeting. Well, sorry, friend, that's all I can ask of you. But the thing is, I'm offering you a system, which is based on a true world picture. And you if you're a Christian or whatever it is, are offering me a a sense of meaning, which is based on their I have to say this a false well picture, and I know which one I prefer,
you know, this is this is tremendously both I think profound and, and, and moving to me I'm sitting here in the studio, right we're in we're in other places. I'm sitting here and I'm wearing a sweatshirt or what the kids now call hoodies, right. I'm wearing a hoodie of a band named 21 pilots, there is a rock pop alternative band that my daughter absolutely loves. And I took her to a concert a couple weeks ago of this band and an arena and it was one of the most intimate, wonderful performances and experiences I've ever had because I got to share it with my Daughter, I like their music. I think they're sophisticated. I think they're interesting. But as I was actually talking to her about last night, my experience of the band is intertwined with my emotions for her. And there's nothing in this world that has more meaning and is more important to me than my relationship with my daughter other than I guess my daughter's health and survival and happiness. So the idea that someone would look at the relationship that I have with this music and with this band and with my daughter, and say that it has no meaning is perverse. But all of those explanations are explanations that don't involve God or God's love or anything you can create. You can say, Well, God created the universe that created 21 pilots or whatever. But what you seem to be arguing and what I find tremendously moving, is that because we evolved into family, animals, that the meaning that we find in our family is both real and true and the product of natural selection, and we don't need external validation for that because the meaning that we feel for it is enough.
Well, you know, you're learning very well. I'm going to give you a on this, I think that be my first thesis that may need correction for you to get an A plus, but you're getting you know, you're getting very good. I do think you bring up one thing, I might sound like the most god awful snob who, and they may say, Well, that's already okay for English Englishman, but I live in North Dakota. Well, you know, we were people, practical people, blah, blah, blah. I'm not I mean, you said about your daughter and the music. I'm certainly not saying that your daughter or for you or for anybody that these things can't be meaningful. I mean, I'm not a jazz fan. But I know people whom I respect hugely, who are just firms for whom this sort of jazz can be deeply meaningful. I mean, I, you know, I happen to like reading detective stories. Are they meaningful or not? Well, some of them aren't. But every now and then, of course, you do hit on a detective story. And you, I mean, and you say, Boy, this is this is bought by Raymond Chandler would be a case in point where you say, Boy, this man has really deep insights into human nature. And it's, it transcends just as it were finding the lowest common denominator and doing that. So, please understand, I am a snob, but I'm not a total snob.
But I actually don't think anyone would have thought that I don't think anyone use the opera example as normative or as as what everyone else should do. I mean, you're talking about Raymond Chandler. I'm a huge fan of Robert Parker, who's the inheritor of the Chandler legacy. And his early work there's there's a book called early autumn, which is As far as I'm concerned, right, it's a detective. It's a sort of it's a genre piece. And it is one of the best works of an existential ism I've ever read and has had a profound effect on my life. So I think what everyone understands you're saying is that there is a subjectivity in the choices that we make, and we can value and find meaning in the things that we choose or that appeal to us. But here's the philosophical move, the fact that we are choosing to find the meaning in it does not make the meaning subjective and worthless. It just may make it I don't know, idiosyncratic, relative, right, as the word you used earlier, is that is this fair, that that part of what you're trying to do is to preserve the objectivity of meaning, even if we get to choose that that was such a
good, good way of putting it. I wonder, though, whether it's not a question of so much of objective versus subjective Relative versus non relative? I mean, I don't know what your position is on ethics, but I'm certainly an i'm in favor of moral non realist. I mean, I don't believe in platonic forms or God's will. I think that ethics at some level is does not have that kind of met what we philosophers call that kind of meta ethical foundation. But I am about as far from being a relativist as a human being could possibly be. I mean, yeah, I'm really a stuffy old fart, honestly. I mean, I really, I don't even cheat on my income tax for God's sakes. I mean, really, I really don't. And I you know, so I'm anything but a relativist. If it feels good, that it is okay. You know, that sort of stuff. We were supposed to believe in the 60s although I lived through the 60s. And I happen to know that kids then were about as far from being relativists as it's possible to be we spent all our time arguing about sex, and how you should treat each other, and about the Vietnam War. And that's all that we were about as far from being relativist as possible for human beings to be. So the distinction I want to draw is not so much objective subjective, but relative non relative, whether or not your emotion that you've got, you know, with your, with your daughter, whether it exists in some sense, you know, like the tree which makes a sound when it falls when there's no one around in the forest. I don't know, and I don't really care. What I do care is I think that the kind of emotion that you talked about is something of great value of huge value. And it's worthwhile in the sense that, let's say, a pedophile if their emotions would not be so I want to say, Yes, I can draw these distinctions. But Mike, my distinction is less objective subjective, more relative, non relative But I want to say that there are that you could be a subjectivist or a moral non realist or whatever you want to call us, and yet be about as far from relativism. I mean, let's face up to it can't It is funny way it was a moral non realist. And boy, if ever somebody was not a relativist, it was Emmanuel Kant with his categorical imperative. So that's how I would put it. So I want to preserve completely and utterly the worth of your, your experience with your daughter. I mean, you know, it brings tears to my eyes, because if we're lucky, we've all had that. And it because it makes it even more worthwhile, because we know what hard work it can be raising children, otherwise, whether they're small kids whose diapers have to be changed, or whether they're teenagers, you know, who rebel against you, or whether they kids of my children's age who ring up and say, Dad, I can't make ends meet this week or this month. So we all know that The costs, but the point is what makes it so worthwhile? Are those transcendent moments and they're not. If you're lucky, they're not that rare, where I will say they have great words. But in, they're not relativistic, they, they really do have meaning, even if there's, if there's no God, if there's, you know, we're all known realists that that sort of level.
So there were a whole bunch of technical terms in there that I think a lot of our listeners
Yeah, I was
put out. And and I think that and I think that, you know, we have listeners of various different philosophical experiences. And if you didn't know what those terms were at home, don't worry about it too much. Here's the gist of of the distinction, the subjective objective, relative non relative distinction. Here's the basic point, at least as I understand it, then you can tell me if I've gone astray, that even though meaning is my choice, and relative to me, my experience with my daughter is relative to me becoming Because it's not she's not someone else's daughter, and someone else isn't going to have that same connection to her. So it's Jack's world, Jack's universe, Jack's mind that wouldn't be Sally's or or Ahmed's or someone like that. Right. So it's relative to me, but it's not. But But that doesn't mean it's worthless, because it's not connected to the world. It is powerful and meaningful and real in all of the senses of the world. And so even though it comes from my perspective, in my universe, it still has all the moral power of, Thou shalt not kill, or God is great, because my universe and my meaning has as much power as anything else because it's meaningful for me. And all of the other stuff. The external routing cannot apply to the great principles of philosophy. All of that is secondary justification to the expense variants of being in the world and the meanings that I have. Is that a fair?
Absolutely right jack, I must say, when I use the word ethical, I thought to myself, Oh my god, I'm doing everything that jack in a long letter to me started. So, what you do not do is mention meta ethical or eschatological, or Donald Trump is not certain things we do not talk about of this book. I said, Oh my god, I'm talking about meta ethics. So you're absolutely right. What I want to say, I mean, I think it's the it's a tree falling in the forest, it does the tree make objective noise in the forest when there's no one around? I don't know. I don't think you can answer that question. I don't know. If you as we philosophers like to say whether it's even a meaningful question, but so that to me, is what I'm, I'm saying I don't want any part of but the point is, if the tree falls on me if I have a tree, then of course it, it may be subjective or relative to me, I hear the tree and somebody whose death does not hear the tree. But it doesn't mean to say, my hearing the tree is, you know, it's if you hear the tree, it's okay. I mean, there are certain rules within my subjective world, that tree falling makes and certain sounds that that are indicative of what's happening.
I wanna, um, we don't have too much more time. But I want to ask a question that I think relates to this that helps us see this debate in a different context. And it's as follows and it's something you talk about in the book, and it's this idea of progress. When we look at evolution, we see a movement from single celled organisms to complex creatures, we have a sense of the superiority of human beings over Dogs and power Mercia and other such things that at one point was part of what what some philosophers would call the great chain of being. And there was an inherent, a, not just betterness about the complexity, but also a moral betterness of value betterness just a superiority in general and we call that after the 18th century. We call that progress. And so the question I have that I think helps sort of explain the the the more subtle debate that we're discussion that we're having is, when you talk about evolutionary movement, forward movement, and even the word forward is problematic evolutionary change. Can you use the word progress? And does evolution tell us that what comes later is better, or as progress, a moral term that we impose on it and misleads us into thinking there is a reason a designer, what, again, a technical term a teleology, a purpose, a goal to all of this is how does the word progress relate to evolution? And is that a way to find meaning in the system? Or is that a red herring? Well,
again, you've asked a really good question. And of course, I tried to deal with it in the book. The fact is that evolutionists up to Darwin were all progression lists. They all thought that evolution was a progresses I say, from the blob up to the human, I use the phrase mon out to man, but it's not mine. And then after that Darwin theory seems to be relativistic. I mean, what works is what works. Is it better to be, I mean, take human skin color. Is it better to be white or is it better to be black? Well, it's pretty clear that it depends. Nobody's quite sure why that in certain parts of the world, it's better. I mean, biologically, it's better to be white in other parts of the world. Biologically, it's better to be black. I mean,
and this is not social, political. This is no, I'm not dealing with the sun and environemnt and things like that.
No, yeah. So the point is it is relativistic. Nevertheless, the tug of progress is very, very strong. And not only did Darwin believe in progress, but a lot of today's evolutionists do I mean, Edward O. Wilson, who's probably the, you know, the most distinguished of them all is committed to progress of all people. Richard Dawkins believes in progress, but because he's an Englishman, he would, but you know what I mean? I mean, so I want to say it's, it's, it's there. And it's very difficult not to think in terms of progress. But I honestly think that if you're going to try to ferret out the right way of thinking, you should let me just put it this way. I think you should be very wary about progress. I mean, I'm not against progress. Such. I mean, clearly, I think, for instance, that today's motorcars automobiles are better than automobiles, even when I was young, for instance, I mean, you've got automatic gears and all of those things. I mean, when I was young, you didn't have heating inside cars. Boy, that makes a big difference. So I mean, I, I do believe in socio economic progress, whether there's biological progress, clearly, at some level, certain organisms are better at doing certain things than others. And so if you're talking in that kind of relativistic way, I don't think there's any doubt that you can talk in terms of progress at that sort of level. But I'd be I'm very uncomfortable about talking in progress in absolute terms, because the trouble is, then you start, you get into the game of justifying what's going on by being the most advanced and, you know, you get right into what we don't want to talk about and say, Oh, well, you know, Europeans have progressed Beyond Africans, and therefore, they're superior, or words to that effect. I mean, I want to say, that's the kind of discussion I don't want to get into. Or conversely, we now know that Europeans carry Neanderthal genes and Africans don't. I mean, it's a joke. But I don't want to say, Oh, well, that shows that human. Europeans aren't superior to blacks, or African America, Africa, no, Africans don't talk about Africa. After all, I don't even get into that kind of conversation at that sort of level. I think that that's, that's not where we're at. And you'll notice that they kind of meaning to life that I'm after, is not one that depends on progress in that way. I want to say the kind of meaning to life I'm after is one that deals with the here and now. I don't care jack, whether you've got an IQ of 180 as opposed to an IQ of 120. I mean, either way, I think the relationship That experience with your daughter was something which was deeply meaningful in its own right. And I just don't want to say that therefore, you know, because you're a superior being that justifies it. I'm not justifying it, at least not in that way. I'm much more of a naturalist. I'm saying,
this is the way it is. So so so that that leads to a question that I didn't know I had, but I think is a really important one, which is for the Christians, meaning as a synonym for good. But there are people who will impose the idea of progress on evolution, who will claim European superiority, who will look at the history of colonialism in England and say, Oh, this this is this is why England is special, or American exceptionalism is an analogous version of that and find meaning in all of this, and it's what many of us would consider both false and immoral meaning so the question is, is the term mean? As you use it a synonym for the term good? Or is it? Or can you have bad meaning immoral, meaning destructive meaning is meaning neutral in some sense, that is relative to the context and the moral value is a separate question.
Well, clearly, that's a good that is a good point. And interesting with describing this is what makes philosophy so great, is you come in with a set of ideas, and you leave the discussion with, with more questions than you came in with. No, I mean, I'm quite serious about that. I mean, I always say that good philosophy, you solve the problem by lunchtime except you don't. And you've got two more problems by the end of the day. But I mean, I obviously, I'm using meaning at some sense. With synonymous with being good. I'm clearly saying that your kind of experience with your daughter is worth way more than just sitting at home with a couple of beers are watching what Fox News or something like that, I'd say it might, you know, every now and then everybody wants to relax. I'm not saying it's a bad thing as such, but it shows hell doesn't have the meaning that your experience with your daughter had. And obviously, at some level, for me, that's a loaded, that's, at least as I'm using meaning in this sentence, that's a loaded sort of thing. I'm talking about meaning with a capital with a capital M. I mean, obviously, if I talk about what does this word mean, what if I use this word? What do I mean? I'm not necessarily got any value component in it at all? I mean, I do if I'm using a word, like a word like fortnight, which North Americans don't use, but the Brits do
a video game now, so kids use it all the time.
Yeah, well, yeah. If you say to me, what's the meaning of fortnight? And I say, well, it's two weeks. There's no value thing of that. But obviously, I'm using the word meaning, as I say, with a capital M. And I want to say your religion. ship with your daughter that experience was meaningful. And what I want to say, ultimately as a Darwinian existentialist is, I think it is possible to have meaningful lives with a capital M. Without God with and without trying to slip it in surreptitiously. With sort of what I would say is false hopes or beliefs in progress. I think it you've got to deal with it, as we've evolved as we are.
I think this is a great place to stop in part because we have to, but also, in part because it leaves a lot of questions on the table. And I hope that you'll be willing to come back and continue this conversation, including just about the nature of meaning separate from evolution. And of course, you've got 50 plus books, and we'll find other things. So, Michael, thank you so much for joining us on why this was a fascinating and really compelling conversation.
Well, thank you very much to I mean, yeah, I mean, This has been meaningful. I mean, we've, I've had a lot of fun and you too, and it's been enjoyable. It's not just pleasure because I really think we've been functioning as as human beings as I say, we capital M. Okay.
You have been listening to jack Russell Weinstein and Michael Reese on why philosophical discussions about everyday life and I will be back with a few closing thoughts right after this.
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You're back with wide philosophical discussion about everyday life. I'm your host, jack Russell Weinstein, we were talking with Michael Russo about evolution. You know, evolution is such a loaded term right now there's all this politics about should it be taught and to the candidates believe in evolution. And this idea that Darwin was a Boogey Man is fairly old. Right, the Scopes Monkey Trial comes to mind. evolution has always been a symbol for the loss of religion, the loss of God, the loss of meaning. And certainly, as Michael tells us, we lose a bunch of those things. But is life under an evolutionary model still meaningful? Well, Michael's second answer is look at your own life. We're evolutionary creatures. It's true does your life have meaning? Clearly it does. The first answer, the philosophical answer is, well, let's follow the path. And let's see that evolutionary we become people who value life, who value family, friends and others and creative activities. And these sorts of things that can be explained purely in evolutionary terms and purely internally within the system, absolutely, positively have meaning. What do we mean by meaning? It means that life is worth living when we do those things, that life is better, that we are happier, healthier, more important creatures, when we engage in those things. There are people as Michael points out who say, without God, none of that makes any sense. But except for those people, I think the rest of us can say, That's not a bad answer. Family, friends and others and creativity activity. If in the end, that is what I did, I think I can say I made the world a better place. And if I made the world a better place, and I had a good time doing it, and I loved to use the Christian term doing it, and loved while doing it, that's not a bad thing. And I'd be happy with that kind of meaning in my life. This has been jack Russell Weinstein on we philosophical discussions about everyday life. Thank you for listening. As always, it's an honor to be with you.
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