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sustainablephilosopher's picture

In class on Thursday, Paul

In class on Thursday, Paul asked whether the fact that something created us, such as God, mind, intelligent design, what have you, gives us meaning. This drew a distinction in my mind between knowing something created us and therefore having meaning, and believing something created us as a route for obtaining a personal sense of meaning/ cohesive narrative/ inspiring worldview. Why isn't it possible to ascribe to a creation story with full knowledge that it is a fantasy, never intending or thinking it to be literally true? Nietzsche writes that "truths are illusions which have forgotten that they are illusions." I think it is fully possible to believe in an inspiring story and live by it while openly acknowledging that it is not or cannot be proven to be empirically true. Science has seeped into the culture to the point where even something like religion has to prove itself, which misses the point entirely. Religion is metaphorical.

I think the problem that Dennett is addressing is people who believe the creation story as literally true, to the point where it becomes a harmful idea because wars are fought and people are killed over a story. The problem with Dennett, however, is that he doesn't see evolution, too, as a story that isn't literally true. He certainly acknowledges that evolution can be useful or harmful, but he never really considers that it might be a false or at least not a completely accurate way of looking at the world - indeed, for him, people who are of this opinion are woefully ignorant and hopeless. Thus, it seems he is trying to set out with a heavy agenda - to prove evolution, to get people to believe in it rather than promoting it as a helpful new paradigm that can shed light on everything it examines.

I think it is possible for people to see evolution as an accurate narrative for describing events in natural history, while still creating their own inspiring stories or assembling their own meaning for life. Why does meaning have to depend on something 'true'? We can, and must, have useful or inspiring illusions - this is probably the best our species will ever be able to do. To think, like Dennett does, that we know the limits of what is possible is purely arrogant and entirely refutable - no human knows what life will look like in 100 years.

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