Up@dawn 2.0

Monday, January 13, 2014


Let's introduce ourselves, Spring 2014 Atheism & Philosophy collaborators.

I invite you all to hit "comment" and reply by posting your own introductions telling us who you are and why you're here, and to ruminate as well in response to any or all of these questions:
What problems of "meaning" do you and your fellow humans encounter? Do you think they're harder problems for atheists, humanists, secularists and other god-deniers? Do atheists (etc.) miss out on something valuable? (As Steve Martin and his bluegrass band sing, "Atheists Ain't Got No Hymns"...) Is "reality" an objective phenomenon? What is "religious experience"? What is "scientific experience"? Are either, or both, legitimate and respectable instances of human experience? Can an atheist live a good life AND die a good death?
Our first class meeting will consist mainly of introductions. We'll not spend much time going over the syllabus or talking course mechanics, there's plenty of time for that later. But I do invite you to peruse the Quick Start GuideDaily Participation Scorecard, and Syllabus page links on our course blogsite (in the right margin). Let me know what's especially unclear.

I'm Dr. Oliver, aka James P., aka Phil, aka (despite my best efforts to discourage it) "Dr. Phil." I live in Nashville with my wife, younger daughter, two dogs (Angel and Lilli), and a cat named Zeus. Older Daughter is a college freshman a couple hundred miles away.

My office is in James Union Building 307-B. Office hours are MW 1-2,TTh 4-5, & by appointment.. On nice days, office hours will be outdoors (my door will direct you). 

I've been at MTSU for over a decade, teaching philosophy courses on diverse subjects including atheism, childhood, happiness, the environment, the future, and bioethics.

My birthday is Feb.14, we'll observe it on the 13th: bring cake and candy to class that day. Also a cure for aging if you've got it. (Last year someone brought biscuits and jam from the Loveless. That helped.)

My Ph.D. is from Vanderbilt. I'm originally from Missouri, near St. Louis. I was indoctrinated as a Cardinals fan in early childhood. My undergrad degree is from Mizzou, in Columbia MO. (I wish my schools weren't in the SEC-I don't approve of major collegiate sports culture or of violence in football, but don't get me started.)

My philosophical expertise, such as it is, centers on the American philosophical tradition of William James. Last year a student asked me to respond to a questionnaire. I did, and have continued to reflect on its excellent questions. "It was an honor..."

I post my thoughts regularly to my blogs Up@dawn and Delight Springs, among others, and toTwitter. Follow me if you want to. But of course, as Brian Cohen said, you don't have to follow anyone. (Extra credit if you get that reference... and real extra credit if you realize that my "extra credit" is usually rhetorical.)

Enough about me. Who are you? (Where are you from, where have you been, what do you like, who do you want to become,...?) Why are you here? (On Earth, in Tennessee, at MTSU, in philosophy class)? What intrinsic or voluntary meaning does your existence entail or imply? What are your thoughts on the other questions posed at the beginning of this post?

Hit "comments" below and post your introduction, then read your classmates'... and bear in mind that this is an open site. The world can read it. (The world's probably busy with other stuff, of course.)


  1. Happy to be the first (the first student, anyway) to post my introduction. Well...

    My name is Jon Gill, I am a third-year sophomore and the president of the MTSU Philosophy Club, and I'm exactly the type of guy to say stuff he's already written to answer a new question. So let's get straight to that, shall we?

    In terms of the first 2 questions (who are you, why are you here) I think I've answered the first two questions elsewhere—namely, at http://cophilosophy.blogspot.com/2013/02/midterm-poston-issues-of-personal.html

    In short, I'm a Philosophy major at MTSU born and raised in Southern Louisiana. I came to MTSU for the Recording Industry program but found my way into Dr. Oliver's Intro course and fell in love with the act of philosophizing.

    So now that general niceties are out of the way, I guess I should put my philosophical alignments here. I'll start by explaining my position relevant to this class. I'm an atheist. Well, technically I'm an agnostic atheist (we'll surely talk about why I don't find those two terms mutually exclusive some other time) and a recovering Southern Baptist (more on that later as well). But I don't really like identifying as an atheist. It has nothing to do with some moral or ethical objection to "the A word," it's just that it's so narrow a term as to be useless. I prefer (and will mostly use) the labels Naturalist, Skeptic, and [Secular] Humanist, because they really tell you much more about my philosophy than just whether or not I believe in (a) god(s). So that's that.

    Also, I feel it's only fair to warn you that I will be quoting 3 people relentlessly over the course of this class (those who know me can vouch for me) and they are Christopher Hitchens, George Carlin, and Penn Jillette. I'll probably also quote Rush, Bob Dylan, and Rent a few times. Get over it.

    ---I had to break here as my post was too long to post in full---

    1. As for the questions at the top...

      -What problems of "meaning" do you and your fellow humans encounter?
      Well that's the big question, isn't it? Maybe if I have enough time someday I can hash this one out clearly, but it'll probably involve the consumption and metabolization of ethanol. Or something else.

      -Do you think they're harder problems for atheists, humanists, secularists and other god-deniers?
      Honestly? Yeah, maybe.

      -Do atheists (etc.) miss out on something valuable? (As Steve Martin and his bluegrass band sing, "Atheists Ain't Got No Hymns"...)
      Again, I say, yeah, maybe. But then, I think that the things that we might miss out on are completely replaced by the fact that we've made every day meaningful--we have but one life to live, and it is short, and I think that makes us more mindful of how we live every moment of it. I don't believe in an afterlife, and maybe for some people that's depressing, but for me it's so beautiful. I honestly think that this is what makes life meaningful. So we have no hymns. So what?! We've got Rush, and that's even better.

      -Is "reality" an objective phenomenon?
      The epistemologist in me says "that's an unknowable question," but the rest of me says the epistemologist in me can fuck off. Yes. Reality is really real. The perception of reality is subjective by definition, but reality doesn't rely on perception.

      -What is "religious experience"?
      That feeling you get when you look out on the Grand Canyon and are amazed.

      -What is "scientific experience"?
      That feeling you get when you look out on the Grand Canyon and realize it's millions and millions of years old, and feel even more amazed.

      -Are either, or both, legitimate and respectable instances of human experience?
      I'm really not sure how to answer this question. So I won't.

      -Can an atheist live a good life AND die a good death?
      If I could live and die as one-millionth the man Christopher Hitchens was, I'd say I lived a good life and died a good death. But then "good" implies morality, and God knows it's too early to get into the subjective vs. objective morality debate.

      Okay that's enough rambling for now. I suppose I’ll see you all on Thursday. Until then,

      Peace, Love, & Music


  2. Hello, my name is Devin Phipps. I am a graduate of MTSU returning to pick up a minor in philosophy and my teaching certification. I was raised in an old baptist church where they still sing Dr. Watts songs.( For those that don't know, these are extremely old negro spirituals sung at the pace molasses runs down a tree.) I am interested in atheism because like Jon I believe that it a quite a narrow term and I too have a number of different beliefs that don't gel well with my background. The first class has definitely upped my curiosity and I hope to meet and talk with everyone.

    I only want to answer this one question from above for now. I thoroughly believe that atheist can live good lives and die good deaths. Although religion has inspired experiences and countless good, it has also been a source of evil. Sunday morning, whether we realize it or not, is the most segregated hour of the week. This quote came from Malcom X, whom himself became a reformed Muslim after taking his Hajj and seeing Muslims with white skin. My point in saying that is that religion seems to marginalize and condemn large groups of people, I have not seen people who were atheist behave in like manner

  3. Hey everybody. My name is, Jamey Howell, and I'm a fourth year MTSU student. I am majoring in Political Science with a PACE minor and a Philosophy minor. I was born and raised in Hendersonville, TN. I was raised Catholic, as my mom's side of the family are all devout Catholics. I even got confirmed up through the eighth grade. In high school I decided I preferred the Baptist church. I started attending a local church's youth group and fell in love. By my senior year I was a leader in the youth group and the president of my high school's FCA chapter. (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) I was devoutly christian and read my bible everyday. The spring of my senior year when the flood hit Nashville my girlfriend and I were driving along the road when water swept my car off into the creek bed with us still in it.(I have pictures if anybody is interested) We were able to call out to 911 but they said it would be 15 minutes before they could get to us. At that time the water was already over the top of my car and the cabin was halfway full. I busted the window out and my girlfriend and I climbed out of the window to hold onto the luggage rack up top. Emergency services got there but they couldn't reach us. We eventually had to let go after an hour and half of holding on.
    -I got cut off here-

  4. We let the water carry us down the river until we could get to dry land. We then walked a couple of miles to a developed area and called for help from there. We were very lucky to be alive. I tell you all of this to better explain my divergence of my beliefs as a result of this event. After it happened everybody kept telling me that God must have big plans for me to have saved me from such a bad situation. I probably heard that line a hundred times. It led to me think about the morality of God. Why would God choose to save me and not the other people who died? What makes me so special that I was worthy of saving? To this most people just said, "Well, God works in mysterious ways." I got sick of that answer and decided to question everything I believed. Sure enough once I started looking outside of the church for answers I found so many resources for furthering my knowledge. I can't exactly say I'm an Atheist though. I don't believe in the Judeo-Christian God or any other for that matter. The best description for my beliefs would probably be pantheistic. I believe there is a sort of collective life force or a collective energy that all living things share. I dont think it has a set of rules, I think it just is. I tell you all of these things so you can better grasp my perspective and where I am coming from. With my political science degree I hope to change something. I hope to help change a corrupt system or at the very least make the world around me better. As a kid there is a saying that my father used to say to me. I have found that it applies to a lot more than picking up after yourself. He would always say, "Leave things better than you found them." It is a very simple phrase but to me it carries a lot of weight. I want to leave the world better than I found it or it found me. I wouldn't say that is why I'm here, but I have taken it as my purpose. I'm really looking forward to this class and everybodies input. If I have learned anything from my countless hours of reading about different perspectives and different religions it is to investigate things with an open mind and an open heart. Not to be cheesy but if I had to declare a religion for myself I would have to copy Ziggy Marley and say that Love is my religion. If we all loved each other regardless of race, gender, religion, socio-economic status, skin color the world would be a better place. Treat everybody with the respect that you would wanted to be treated with. I'm not the first person to think this way, I just think it is very important to profess this belief whenever I can. Im not trying to proselytize anybody, but sharing your opinions is part of the class right? I've probably gone on too long already, but any comments or questions anybody wants to ask me about anything, please feel free to. I love conversation. Especially meaningful conversation. I look forward to getting to know you all.

    1. Loved your post! There's no cheese in love. Carry on!

  5. You guys are setting the Intros bar high, this is gonna be a fun class!

  6. Jamey I fully agree with you. Again, this is Devin Phipps. I agree that it is best to approach matters with an open mind, especially those of religion. We need more love and less of the doctrine that encourages the separation of people simply based on beliefs.I believe that it is equally hard for atheist and believers to find meaning in life simply because none of us knows whether there is a God or not. Where believers tend to insert religion,many atheist I know tend to insert science. While I do believe science and religion can coexist, I feel like we are all searching for answers, but just with different means

  7. Hey everybody. My name is Kyle Bunton and I'm originally from the Chicago area. I have lived in Murfreesboro for 5 years. I would like to become a significant figure in the media via radio, news, magazine, etc.

    As for why I'm here, I feel that I'm here to help people on their journey through life. I've been nonreligious my whole life and have always been interested in science and people like Bill Nye and Neil DeGrasse Tyson. I want to show people that being atheist doesn't make us bad people and we have a spot in this world.

    I personally don't find it hard to find a "meaning" in this life. I've told plenty of people my story and how I find meaning every day in this life, especially since I believe this is the only chance I have at living.

    I do believe there are harder problems for atheist, nonbelievers, etc. For example, let's say I want to run for office in Tennessee, I can't because I don't believe in god. We aren't as accepted in a "Christian" nation as those who do believe.

    I don't believe that atheists and nonbelievers miss out on anything valuable. I know what is right and wrong without religion. I don't need the bible to give me inspiration. I think atheists actually live a more valuable life because we feel this is our only chance at living.

    I just look at reality as something we try to perceive as real yet something we cannot reach. Just live life, don't try and reach too far to make your life a "reality."

    An atheist can live a good life AND die a good death. Can't really add more than just saying from my own experiences, I live life one day at a time, yeah we have ups and downs, but I love this life given to me and never take it for granted. When I die, I want to remembered for being the best friend, husband (when and if that happens) and father (when and if that happens) and that is the best death I could have.

    "It's a strange myth that atheists have nothing to live for. It's the opposite. We have nothing to die for. We have everything to live for." - Ricky Gervais

  8. Hello,

    I am Carlos Paredes and I spent the first half of my life in Ft. Worth, Texas. (I appear to have been oblivious to the rest of the state, because when I meet people from Texas I almost never recognize their city) I was raised with a Pentecostal grandmother (Lorenza)(the type that tells her grandchildren at the ages of 3-4 that there is no santa and that Jesus is the reason for the season) and a Roman Catholic grandmother (Dolores).

    I have been baptized Catholic, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Methodist, and Southern Baptist (Those are the ones I remember)

    I was confirmed by All Saints Catholic Church in my youth and have found that it may have been a bigger mistake than some of my tattoos. From what I've read, I am stuck a Catholic Atheist. I understand it's nothing to cry about, but I hate that I was allowed to do so when I was so young. I missed a lot of X-Men because of Catechism.

    My fall from grace started in Junior High when a couple of youth ministers and pastors couldn't agree on the age of accountability when applied to my severely Autistic aunt. It led to wondering why a merciful god would allow people to not only be ignorant of it, but in some cases never be able to understand the concept. Fell in love with the answers given by teachers and never looked back.

    Like Jamey, I've been afforded the chance to tell death that my dance card was full. Lorenza gets angry when I refuse to thank the clouds or close my eyes and let her mumble over my grandfather's thanks to the great voyeur.

    I attempt to blaspheme the Holy Spirit as often as possible and see it as a means of doing the one thing I was told I shouldn't. Something like deleting an ex's phone number from my phone.

    I'm here. My parents did something really gross and I'm here. There are some people I really enjoy and some of them have told me that I made their stay here better by just showing up. I'm a glutton for information/experience and do the best I can to help people I love rearrange theirs in a way that makes them not unhappy.

    I need to be needed and see little fault in it.

    Complete and total narcissist.

    uhhh, questions above

    Meaning is overrated and looking for it is a waste of time.

    Biggest problem for non-theists is having to explain why we aren't using some single perfect thing to fill all of our holes.

    If anything Atheists miss out on delusion, it looks kind of fun.

    Reality, psh

    Religious experience is a fun way to play with the fight or flight response.

    Scientific experience is that same thing, but with less mess.

    Respectable, ehhh

    Everyone lives a good life until they suffer a good death.

    -I'm a visual artist and not a writer.. I apologize for my inability to properly express myself with words-

  9. Hello all,

    My name is Lauren Mandrell and I am a fifth year senior journalism major with minors in global studies and philosophy. They made me have two, not sure why. But anyways. I was the assistant arts and entertainment editor at Sidelines but stepped down from that positition because I had about five jobs at the moment in time.
    I currently work at Whole Foods and will not answer any questions you have about the benefits of juicing or random vitamins or mushrooms or what is good for baby eczema. You should probably ask a doctor about all the benefits and not a cashier.
    I grew up in Franklin, Tenn. but spent high school in Kentucky after my parents' divorce but my blood really does not run blue.
    I really love photography but I am terrible at digital work and couldn't work a dslr to save my life. I mostly just love the hands on work of the film and darkroom.

    I decided to take this class because I truly love hearing other people talk about their beliefs. I think there is no better freedom than that and I can respect every single person for what they choose to believe or not to believe. I think it is a great thing to be able to sit down with someone and discuss certain aspects of life but I have a large problem being told that I am wrong in my beliefs because someone is not accepting of the freedom of others.
    Often times I chose to not talk about my feelings because I have seen how worked up people get over them. Although, I have recently discovered my grandmother, who is very religious, to be interested in Buddhism when I discuss it with her.

    I often times think too much about morality and existance and think about how I don't actually know if any of it is real. I try not to do this too often because I find myself with the worst headaches and feeling weird in a way.
    I'm sure I will talk about that more in the future. Or not. We will see.

  10. I'm maiya, I am not originally from Tennesse but have live most of my life in West Tennessee. At a young age i questions the meaning of my life: Whys is my name "maiya"? Why am I the race i am? Why am I here? Is this all a coincidence or is this all predetermined by some being ive never seen and have no viable proof of even existing. Living in the bible belt and going to public school definitely muffled my curiosity and eventually peer pressure led me to a non denominational church.

    Once i spent some time in Canada with family and explored being around people who didn't believe in God i really realized that its easier to find meaning if you actually look, in stead of just settling and giving your heart to the first thing people sell you. I don't feel like i miss out on anything because I don't have the fear of going to hell. I sometimes go back to church just to practice harmonizing with the worship team. when the sermon comes on i just listen and relate whatever the message is to what i would read in a self help magazine.

    I don't like that atheism in the south is associated with being a bad person and not having morals. I am way too accepting to not be accepted by others but then again as with anything you can only speak for your self

  11. Answer to Atheism's Introductory Questions
    Presuppositional Paradoxica

    These two links lead to downloads of Word documents where my responses sit.

    The first is a more simplified answer to each question, with references to the second, which is a discourse of the logic of Presuppositional Apology and metaphysics that I wrote this morning after mulling over some of the questions, and thinking about things that were brought up during our last Philosophy Club meeting.

    The latter, due to me not being god and all, could always use suggestions and refutation. I double dare ya.

    1. "A glancing gallop through the graveyards of naively supposed solutions unveil that one does not have to lividly loiter inside a retired racetrack to beat a dead horse."

      Okay, you had me at the alliteration. Impressive!

  12. Hello everyone. My name is Shelby Toosi, and I am a senior at MTSU. My major is English with a Writing concentration, and my minor is Writing. I am taking this class as an elective, because when I saw it on the available courses page it caught my eye. I have been an atheist for at least 4 years now, although I never truly believed in any religion throughout my life. I have two catholic parents, but they don’t often practice their religion.

    I believe that the Bible was written in an attempt to prevent the world’s population from doing things that are “morally wrong.” One should not live life according to a book, and count on it to teach them morals. They be morally right simply because it is the right thing to do.

    I’ve always considered myself a nihilist, but I really like The Good Book so far. The concept of humanism is interesting to me, because it is essentially the opposite of what I believe. I like Grayling’s use of language despite not agreeing with all of his views. It is poetic in a way, and that’s what I enjoy about it.

  13. Hello, my name is Connar Johnson. I'm a Philosophy major but also an English major with a writing concentration like Shelby. I was raised as a Methodist though I have been intrigued by other religions going so far as to sit in on Islamic and Jewish services. Regardless of if you are a theist or an atheist, or if you believe religion is this big conspiracy to sedate and control the masses, you can find lots of good things in each religion. The stories that make up religious texts, when read as literature, are definitely worth studying and are so terrible to believe if you so choose. I can't say I subscribe to any religion even though I enjoy them, but I can with full confidence say I am a theist, convinced by Charles Peirce. Peirce (the father of American Pragmatism) is one of my favorite philosophers and you will see me quote him quite a bit in this class. Anyway, he gave us the neglected argument which is basically there is stuff rather than there not being stuff, the reason the stuff is here (regardless of the actual cause) can and ought to be called God. He of course puts it more elegantly so excuse me for paraphrasing.
    As for why I'm here, I write quite a bit (hence the writing concentration). This includes short stories, scripts for television and comic books, poetry, and music compositions. Everything I attempt seems to run a similar theme of attempting to find God. It explains my interest in religion and my appreciation for science. Scientists won't classify themselves as a religion, but if we are to take Peirce's idea of what God is, we have to admit that science is simply trying to corner God by learning exactly who he, the natural laws and forces of the universe, is and how he works. I don't expect any of this to convert you to this way of thinking, but now you can understand the mindset I have going into the class. If I'm trying to corner God, and one of the goals of this class is to understand how atheists can find meaning in this world, well that just may tell me quite a bit about God to help me in my search.

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  16. Hello Everyone! I am Dustin Wells. I am a Senior here at MTSU. I am currently studying music. I plan on also majoring in philosophy. I find the metaphysics to be very interesting. I was raised in a Baptist family. My father's side of the family was the more religious. I went to church every week I went there and usually people would jump around and scream a lot. I actually got really involved with everything and almost went to study as a minister. My life would have been completely different if that had happened.
    Luckily I found Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam harris, and Neil Degrasse Tyson. These people changed my life, most of all Richard Dawkins with his book, "The God Delusion." Since then I would call myself an Agnostic Athiest. I find great interest in religion still and I am not as rude to people as I was with religion. I would say I am even happier now that all of the praying and worshiping has went away. I was not the best Christian. I remember preaching at people from middle school all the way to my freshmen year in high school. I was such a rude person to other people and constantly looked for their flaws. I justified all of this rudeness with the Bible. My bible would come out and condemn passing peers. I went to a great school though, so my friends brought me down to earth. I would say college threw me completely to the other side in terms of now being liberal and non religious. I'm glad that old part of my life is over now. Since my freshmen year of high school I have completely changed. It's nice just letting people be themselves.

  17. Hey, this is Adam Gadomski. This is a little late, I know, but I put my intro on last week and it hasn't shown up. So, here goes another one!

    I'm a Philosophy major and Religious Studies minor Senior here at good ol' MTSU. I grew up Independent Fundamental Baptist (King James Only, women shouldn't wear pants, only Baptists are going to Heaven, Chic Tracts, the whole 9 yards...), and got away from that. For about a year or so, I was functionally an atheist. Then, through various experiences that I can only call miraculous, I came back to Christianity.

    For a while I became Southern Baptist (most of my IFB friends considered Southern Baptists to be "liberal Christians"), then decided that that wasn't for me, either. At this point, I met someone who was in a similar situation (he grew up Roman Catholic, then left the faith, and decided to come back and find his faith anew).

    Every Sunday for a bit less than a year, my friend and I went what we called "church clubbing"; we'd go to various denominations and see what they were all about. As well, we would study their claims and theology. He found his church (Eastern Orthodox) almost immediately. It took me about a year longer to find mine (I almost became Orthodox at this point, but too many theological and historical problems blocked me from doing so).

    Early last year, I visited, for the first time, St. Patrick's Anglican Church, and immediately fell in love with it. It had been pretty much exactly the type of church I was looking for: a church with a long tradition, but a willingness to admit and even change imperfections in its theology. I found that I could, in good conscience, hold to many of the beliefs I found true that the church did not officially advocate, and still be considered a member in good standing. This was not so with many of the liturgical churches I had previously visited.

    I should say this part up front: I've met FAR too many a-hole atheists in my life, and because of that have a love-hate relationship towards them. Please be patient with me, as most of the atheists I've encountered in my life are the worst that the New Atheists have had to offer. Quite literally, 24-7 pot-smoking conspiracy theorists who live in their mom's house and think they're so edgy because they read the back cover of "The God Delusion" and can say "Flying Spaghetti Monster" in the same sentence as "God". Just WAY too much edge for me to handle, there.

    So please, bear with me if I come across as annoyed or impatient: I'm likely recalling a particularly annoying argument from one of them and getting mad at you all for it, which would not be the right thing to do.

    Forgive me, a sinner.

    God bless! ^_^

    1. FYI, this is an example of the types of atheists I'm accustomed to dealing with, both on social media and in real life (this video was made by an atheist):


  18. Hi all (I know this is very late but I registered late, pardons)

    I'm Chris Weaver, a Senior majoring in Journalism with a dual minor in German and Psychology. Originally from east TN, I traveled quite a bit while serving in the Army. I was deployed for 15 months to Iraq and was stationed in Germany for nearly 2 years. During my stay in Europe, I was able to see several famous/historic cities and landmarks in DE, as well as visiting the Netherlands and Switzerland.

    Since I was young, I've disagreed with the conventional "wisdom" pushed on me by my family and society. I don't believe that any truly relevant philosophical question can be answered (to my satisfaction, anyway) by religion or its adherents. Having said that, I also needed credit hours for my student loans to go through and Atheism & Philosophy seemed a good fit for me.

    As far as life purpose goes, I just want to live a fulfilling life. As a human when we stop growing (changing) we start dying, so any more specific answer I give may be obsolete by the time its read.

    I don't know that these questions/issues are fundamentally that different from religious to non-religious persons. Some will always choose to filter their reality to suit themselves. To quote a surprisingly insightful comic book I read years ago "Reality is a direct result of our perspective to see it." If atheists, humanists, etc. miss out on anything its due to isolating themselves from the community for protection (note: this is of course, coming from my experiences here in TN; in Germany, for example, this level of defense doesn't seem as necessary).