Up@dawn 2.0

Monday, January 18, 2016


Let's introduce ourselves, Spring 2016 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:
  • Do you subscribe to belief in an "afterlife"? 
  • What does that mean, to you? 
  • Do you think people who believe in the possibility of continued personal existence after physical death are happier, kinder, or likely to lead more "meaningful" lives than those who reject or suspend such belief?
[These are questions we posed last time this course was offered, two years ago: 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 do peruse the site and syllabus (linked in the right margin) and let me know what's unclear.

I'm Dr. Oliver. I live in Nashville with my wife, younger daughter, dog (Angel), and cat (Zeus). Older Daughter is a film student in another state.

My office is in James Union Building 300. Office hours are TTh 11:15-12:45 & by appointment.

I've been at MTSU since the early '00s, teaching philosophy courses on diverse subjects including atheism, childhood, happiness, the environment, the future, and bioethics.

My Ph.D. is from Vanderbilt. I'm originally from Missouri, near St. Louis. I was indoctrinated as a Cardinals fan in early childhood, so I do understand the nature of religious zeal. 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. I'll also continue experimenting with podcasting as a course tool this semester. 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. Starting these things is the hardest part sometimes, you know? I decided to use a rhetorical device to start mine.

    Anyway, my name is Benjamin Richards. You can call me Ben. Or Benjamin. Or Mr. Richards. I don't have a preference, to be honest. One of the few, apparently, not to be concerned with what name I will answer to. To what I will answer. Whichever.

    I moved to Nashville from Ohio a few years ago because I was chasing a woman. We got married last September, so it was at least worth it as far as that goes. As a big music fan, it has turned out pretty well beyond that.

    I originally started college fifteen years ago in biomedical engineering. As it turns out, I kind of hate engineering, so I stopped going to class. (I didn't stop enrolling in them, though, so that didn't work out very well). I decided to finally go after a degree and eventually realized that what I love is mathematics, so there you go. I actually listened and picked what I loved. Same reason I came to Tennessee, actually.....

    As for the afterlife, I argued in class that there were negative results for the belief in such, but never really stated my views on its existence or nonexistence. I don't personally believe in an afterlife. There is no compelling evidence for it. Personally, even without believing that it exists, I feel like I'm doing a pretty bang-up job living a fulfilling and happy life; I don't think believing would make me happier or more fulfilled.

    As for intrinsic or voluntary meaning for my existence, I vote voluntary. I just haven't decided what it is yet.

    Long-winded enough, I suppose, for a comment on a blog post, even if it is required for class. For those who read this far (both of you, I'm guessing) let me just continue the wise words of Mr. Cohen:
    "You've got to think for yourselves! You're all individuals!"

  2. My name is Steven Sheffey. I was born in from Florida, and have lived in Tennessee for much of my life, although I hold no personal attachments to the state. I'm at MTSU for the scholarships, mostly, and I've so far been pleased with the education. I'm in this class because I'm interested in expanding my worldview academically.

    I don't believe my existence will continue after I die. To me, this means that it is imperative that I make a contribution to the human race before I cease to exist. I don't believe people who belief in an afterlife can be generalized as happier or kinder than those who do not. I do believe that people who believe good deeds are rewarded and/or bad deeds are punished in the afterlife and act accordingly are essentially moral egoists. If someone's only reason for acting with morality is the metaphorical carrot on a stick that one's morality will affect their afterlife, then they are moral for what I believe to be the wrong reasons. My personal alternative to this is to act according to humanistic values which emphasize the importance of human life.

    As for the meaningfulness of a life lived with a belief in an afterlife, I believe that because the entire concept of meaningfulness was created by humans, a person's life's meaning is entirely determined by what they believe the meaning of their life to be. However, I believe that life can be spent much more meaningfully by contributing to the overall knowledge of humanity or improving worldly conditions for fellow humans.

  3. My name is Jonathan McCaffrie, I was born in Los Angeles, California and raised in Nashville. I do not have nearly as much to say as Steven or Ben, but I cannot say that I believe in an afterlife either. While it would certainly be nice, I have seen no evidence to convince me that it exists. I absolutely do not think believing in an afterlife makes people kinder or more moral, some of the worst, uncaring people I have met were devout as can be, and some of the kindest have been the most secular.

  4. Hi. I'm Alexandria. I'm here ("here" currently being my couch), because we have had our first snow day of the semester. As for the afterlife, I'm interested in attempting the "veil of ignorance." So I'm challenging myself to discuss from as many different angles as possible this semester.

    1. I'm gong to have to agree with Alexandria about attempting the "view of ignorance' also this semester. My name is Caroline. Originally from all around (military family), moved here about three years ago from the New England area. As for the "after-life" sometimes I feel as if we are already in it (if that makes sense). Excited for this class..been looking forward to it all winter break.

  5. Howdy folks, my name is Evan but you can call me Evan if you so prefer. I'm a junior majoring in Multimedia Journalism with a minor in International Media Studies. I'm a brother of the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity and a former student DJ on 88.3 WMTS.

    Why am I here?
    Why am I here in this course? I needed to fill some elective space on my schedule, and a few buddies suggested that I take this class with them. I figured it would be pretty nifty. Simple enough.
    Why am I here on this earth? One fateful, starlit night, Mom and Dad decided to do some things that Moms and Dads do, and here I am.

    Do I subscribe to the idea of an afterlife? I suppose I'm fairly indifferent to the notion of continuing my existence after I take my last breath. If by magic or some crazy molecular science, my conscience continues to exist, I think that would be pretty dandy. The ability to think is nice, and to continue to do so would also be swell. But if I die and cease to exist, then I will do just that. I'm not too bothered by what might or might not wait for me. I'm more concerned with what I can do for other people as well as myself right now, because I perceive this reality as tangible and guaranteed.

    I don't think that I can make a statement about whether or not people with beliefs in an afterlife live a more meaningful life. A "meaningful" life has a different meaning for each individual person. It's a subjective thing. So if believing in an afterlife provides more meaning to your life, then you live a meaningful life. That doesn't make your life more or less meaningful, it just gives it a different meaning than those who don't subscribe to that set of beliefs.

  6. My name is Sean Martin and I am originally from Illinois but was raised in St. Louis where I came back to for some time after my active service in the USMC.

    I think the reason I am "here" is something beyond my grasp of concepts but not without a sense of interconnections. My only hope is that I am able to learn new means of understanding in any discourse, including this course and extending into life choices. Taking In Death and Dying in theology at Saint Louis University, I have tried to learn more about how social constructions of religion, death, and deification and I think this course will further my knowledge on the matters. Stoked for the discussions.

  7. As you can see, my name is Abigail Jones. I am a twenty-one year old sophomore double majoring in Psychology and Philosophy with minors in Mental Health Services and Sociology. In the Fall of 2014, I dropped out of the University of Mississippi due to a medical diagnosis and the treatment that came along with it, which was causing me complications to continue on in school at the time. I enjoyed my year out of school by reevaluating my life and making sure the route that I was currently taking was where I really wanted to be heading. Entering school with what I thought was a fresh mind this past Fall semester, I found myself experiencing complications and going through more treatment, but instead, I decided to fight through and continue on instead of cowering away and giving up as I had previously done the year before. Living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for eight years now has been a journey (emotionally, mentally, and spiritually) all within itself, but I found who I am because of the complications that gave me strength to shape me into the woman I now am, except, I am still confused on where I stand in politics and religion, because I’ve never really cared. I’ve considered myself to just be gliding through life, enjoying the ride while I am here on this Earth, and I think about things in depth at times, but I cannot decide on a set viewpoint to believe in, but I will say that it has crossed my mind that The Bible was probably just written by a bunch of people on shrooms who hallucinated the events that we have come to believe as a society that supposedly occurred just because some possibly crazy man wrote a book so many years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I am open to all kinds of ideas and possibilities, that is just one that just so happens to cross my mind at times as well. On the topic of where I am from and where I have been, I am originally from Georgia but moved to Tennessee at a young age. I am already who I want to be, except I hope to gain more knowledge and grow spiritually as I age. I just know that personally, I love who I am, for the balance of the good and the evil within. I am here in this course though to help broaden my horizons in understanding different types of religions, even though I do not believe in having to truly place a label on my spirituality, I still think it is better to understand others from their points of view than to be closed minded to other individual’s unique views. It is something I truly strive to understand, especially for the pursuit of my career in Mental Health Counseling, because I do not believe in the ideas of judgment, but instead to embrace a human being’s individuality of who they are, where they come from, and what they believe in. I believe that my existence has voluntary meaning, which I make my own decisions based off of what I feel is right and wrong and not based on a sense of it being someone’s Will for it to happen that way. I believe that everything happens for a reason in order to help us shape and grow into who we are, but I do not believe that someone has a power over us to make us act a certain way or for certain things to happen to us. I want to take this life that I have and the freedom of will that comes with it in order to help reshape the way society sees itself, in order to help others find and accept the balance within themselves, in order to promote a more happy way of living and less of an offended and entitled society. At the current moment, I do not have a real belief to explain about what I think of the ideas of the afterlife. I just live my life to the fullest just in case anyways. However, the majority of the people that I know that believe in a sense of the afterlife seem to live their lives with false pretenses. “God will take care of me, so I do not have to take care of myself.” “God will figure my life out for me, so I will wait patiently for Him to give me the signs.” These are the kinds of attitudes I have been surrounded by in my lifetime, and that is all I really have to contribute to the topic for the time being.

  8. I’m Victor Smith. I was born in England, but I grew up in New Mexico. After taking a year off from college, I decided to finish my degree at MTSU and this is my first philosophy class.

    At this point, I believe that what we do, the ways in which our existence influences other people and the Earth, and whatever legacy we leave, is the closest thing we have to an afterlife in reality. I do not believe in a supernatural afterlife and I would agree that “meaningfulness” is subjective.

  9. Hello! My name is Jesse Brandon. I am a lifelong resident of Tennessee -24 years to be exact- and a soon-to-be graduate of MTSU; I’m majoring in integrated studies and minoring in fine art.
    Moreover, why am i here; enrolled in Atheism and philosophy this semester? In light of this, pleasantly, perturbing query, I'd initially attribute much of my reasoning to the renewed avidity i felt in my first official philosophy course last semester; which subsequently led me to enroll in more this semester. More to the point, I chose to take atheism & philosophy for the purpose of expanding my understanding of others’ views, as well as, my own, concerning religion and the afterlife; in due time, vindicating stagnating on the fence I’m currently positioned or discovering I’d opt for one unforeseen extreme or another.
    With this being said, -im on the fence/I don’t know what to believe- my views surrounding the concept of an afterlife are, probably, much less concrete than others’ in the class. Initially, and logically/rationally, -due to a lack of empirical or concrete evidence- I find the possibility of a “heaven” and/or “hell” to be more akin to a fairy tale. Yet, when I take a step back and look at our reality/world, it is pretty easy to see many things one comes into contact with as magical or fairy tale-esque. To elucidate, when I look at all the various rock formations, flora and fauna, or ponder on things, such as, Fibonacci sequence, fractals or golden ratios, I can’t help but feel that the design of most (natural) things I encounter to be too complex to be nothing but the result chance. However, that alone doesn’t prove or disprove an afterlife; ergo, leading to my inability to make a cohesive polarization for my personal beliefs. Nonetheless, I feel that I can say this/ this might be worth mentioning, about my views on an afterlife. Given that afterlife means life after death, I feel it’s not too far out of the realm of reason to view the recycling and transference of matter from one complex structure to another –the same that accumulated from various sources to make me, that will, in turn, disseminate into other structures/beings/things once I collectively and consciously cease to be- as, in some sense or another, a kind of afterlife or hereafter.

  10. Greetings my name is Lee Gish as I said in class I'm a biology major with a philosophy minor aiming at teaching at the high school level. I live in Spring Hill TN so I commute to MTSU. If I was pressed to describe my religious views I would say agnostic. Although truth be told my views fluctuate from belief in some sort of diety to "we are here because of the coincidences of colliding atoms" and everything between.As to an afterlife I would like it if there is one but I could accept it if there is not one.

  11. My name is Nick Strukov. Originally from the Russian speaking part of Ukraine (which is now actually part of Russia).
    I'm a Political Science/Pre-Law major and am planning on going to law school after graduation this semester. I moved to Nashville from Sevastopol',Ukraine about 13 years ago, and have been here ever since. Hiking and traveling would definitely be my favorite hobbies.

    When it comes to a view on the afterlife, I don't believe there really is one, but I'm kind of on the fence about whether the idea of one is beneficial for society or not; I view it as a necessary belief for certain people who, for one reason or another (for example a long prison sentence, or a traumatic life event) don't see a reason to behave in a socially acceptable manner, to have a possible reason outside of this life to behave in a way that is socially acceptable because of a possible Heaven scenario, thus creating a more pleasant society for those around them.

    On the flip side of things, I feel that if the idea of the afterlife wasn't so widely accepted, society would be more so focused on advancing different fields of study such as environmental preservation, life expectancy and general health, as I think that people would be more psychologically motivated to progress in those fields if they did not have a single doubt that this is the only life we live.

    So while I may not be divided on the idea of there not being an afterlife, the societal benefit aspect of it I am definitely divided over.

  12. Hello my name is Jay Patton and I am a Pre-Nursing student (very hopeful to become an actual Nursing student). I am taking this course because as a christian I believe it is important to not only fully understand what it is that I believe, but also understand the other side of it. I love to challenge my thinking and explore new questions. I am also enrolled in this class because my brother is a philosophy major at Princeton and strongly encouraged me to at least take one. I believe that there is indeed an afterlife, but doing good or bad things is not what gets us into either Heaven or Hell. The Bible does not teach that doing good or bad things is the source of our eternal destiny, and if that were true it would also pose the impossible to answer question of "Well how good is good enough?". I also do not believe Hell to be a pit of fire and darkness, the Bible teaches that Hell is simply the complete absence of God, and Heaven to be the fullness of God. I do not land on a particular belief as to what the realms physically look like. I am looking forward to exploring and discussing the many questions of this class with everyone.

  13. Hi everyone. My name is Philip Grand and I am a media management major. I do believe that something happens after death. I am not so sure that the afterlife will have anything to do my my present life. I feel that my spirit and energy does have to go somewhere.

    I believe that people who believe in a life after death are usually decent humans because they make good decisions. I have a positive outlook on those who really think about their decisions because they think it helps their odds to get to the after life. I don't personally feel I have to do those things to make a better case for myself, but I think the world needs those types of people. I wouldn't say that those people are generally happier, but it does make them a good person.

  14. My name is Andrew Heim and I'm a Psychology and Philosophy major at MTSU. I am here because I really enjoy philosophy as a whole and wanted to get more perspectives on atheism and religious belief in general. I don't think an afterlife exists, but I'm open to hearing what people have to say about it. In my opinion a lot of versions of the afterlife, especially heaven and hell, have been used as a sort of carrot and stick to shape people's behaviors to what the prevailing religious institution of the time wanted. It seems like the beliefs of today are mostly just the remnants of their former use.

  15. Hello, my name is Jason Mendez.

    I was born in The Bronx, New York and was raised in a town an hour north called Warwick. In the middle of 64th grade (2008ish), I moved to Dickson, Tennessee. That is the short story of how I got here.

    Through my upbringing, religion was never much of an issue. I didn't go to church, and I didn't hear about the bible. I was taught evolution in schools, and the only exposure to God I received was through my mother and her family. Growing up in a Hispanic family taught me that as long I believed in God, I would go to heaven.

    Now, that leads to the issue at hand: Do I believe in that God, let alone heaven. Do I condemn those who do? No. I just can't make myself believe. I do not subscribe to the idea of an afterlife. I can not make myself believe in any form. The one theory I could possibly get behind is reincarnation, but without anything to see, I just can't believe.

  16. Hello, my name is Elizabeth Cullum. I am a Psychology major, and I am in this class because I wanted to be surrounded by fellow atheists in real life (as opposed to online) for a change. I grew up in a strict Church of Christ Christian family, and as I still live with them I continue to be surrounded by religious people aside from a few of my friends.
    I do not believe in an afterlife. I would love to believe that after I die I would get to explore the universe and all of the alien worlds that I desperately hope exist, but because of the lack of evidence for any afterlife, I do not believe that that will happen. I do, however, plan on giving myself one form of continuing life by investing in an urn that has a tree seed in it (your ashes feed the seed, and in turn you somewhat become a tree). So there are definitely some forms of afterlife, just not any that involve being conscious.

  17. Hello. My name is Tyler Wren and I am currently pursuing my degree in PrePharmacy Microbiology.

    On the topic of my beliefs of the afterlife, I'm stuck in the middle on what I truly believe. I'm accepting that there might be an actual life after death, but I also feel that there might not be as well. Which is fine because I still live a decent life and stand by each decision I make.

    As a scientist, I try to approach life practically. Knowing that millions of organisms "live and die" for no reason other to exist within their lifespans has led me to believe that humanity is no different, and the only reason we think we are is to find solace in the unknown. That being said, I do think that the idea of an afterlife is comforting to some, so I'm not the one to bash someone else's beliefs if they are different from my own.

    Ultimately, I don't think the presence of religion in ones life makes a difference on personal happiness and general attitude. I know plenty of devote Christians who are miserable and treat others awfully, while at the same time knowing plenty of people with no religion in their lives whatsoever who are just living day by day and truly enjoying life.


  18. Hello! My name is Austin Gober. I am from Old Hickory, Tennessee and I am currently a psychology major with minors in mental health services and philosophy; however, when I graduate I am planning on attending seminary to pursue ministry in some form.

    I am in this class because I have a profound interest in apologetics. I am a big believer in not putting my mind on a shelf and I am constantly evaluating, pondering philosophical and religious questions. As a believer, I think there is a definite value in this course as it will force me to learn more about other perspectives and challenge me to defend or refine my own perspectives. Therefore, I took this class to challenge myself and to learn more.

    On the more philosophical side of the question, I like to think of things in terms of causality. I am here because my parents made me, they are here because their parents made them, etc. When that is traced back to the beginning so to speak one must believe in an uncaused cause of one form or another. My belief is in what I believe to be the best explanation and that comes with implications of being a believer in Christ.

    Without going into too much depth about my faith, I believe in Heaven and Hell in terms of the afterlife.

    A person's view of the afterlife ideally affects the way they live out their life on a day to day basis. Ideally, I would like to believe that fellow Christians are as kind as Christ and so on; however, I know that we all fall short. I also know some very happy and kind atheists. I do not think that one's kindness and happiness is necessarily dependent on their view of the afterlife. As far as meaningful lives go, one can live a very meaningful life both in terms of how they view their own meaning and how they affect others no matter their beliefs in religion or afterlife.

  19. Hi, I'm Jenna. I'm a Psychology major and an intersectional feminist. I am here because I am Philosophy minor and an atheist. I don't believe in an afterlife. I think that I exist by miracles of science and that I'll cease to exist when my time comes. I look forward to learning more views of atheism and having great discussions in class!