Finding the Point


Despite the Snow Day, the Society gathered for the ninth debate this semester to consider: Resolved: Atheism misses the point. Two “star-crossed lovers” keynoted the debate, with Ms. Katherine Landau (SFS ’17) of New York on the affirmation and Mr. Alejandro Perez-Reyes (SFS ’17) of Virginia on the negation.

Hesitating to call herself an atheist, Ms. Landau framed atheism as the disbelief in a higher being and “the point” as threefold: identity, metaphysics and transcendence. While Taoism, as a religion, answers all three questions, atheism fails to provide any answer. It has no substance in itself to show what our beliefs are and can only supplement an existing identity. It also fails to carry us beyond the point where there is no answer, both in our thought experiment and in the example of Ross’ insistence on evolution as a fact.  Lastly, it fails in human connection because atheists do not ask for more — the “rush in emotion” in the context of “you and the song and the open road” and the interpersonal connection with strangers. In short, we have to “find a way to find the point” outside of atheism.

Mr. Perez-Reyes defined the concept of missing the point as failing the basic criteria of a belief and identified atheism’ answers to all three questions aforementioned. By saying “I’m not that religion over there,” atheists make a statement contrary to traditions and form a community. By asserting “there’s nothing, it’s just us,” atheists find true transcendence all along within themselves in contemplation. Facing the cold and empty world, atheists realize that “it just is” and that “all you have is you.” But they still pick up their experience and run with it, asking the “you” question. Thus, Mr. Perez-Reyes urge the floor to use religion as a lens to see atheism and ask “Is atheism doing what it should do?

Mr. Mazzara questioned self-definition through rejection, analogizing atheism to a disbelief in giant scorpion. He further accused atheism as Machiavellian and endorsed religion for its comforting presence because “there are no atheists in foxholes.” Finding a home in SSA, Ms. Hu responded that atheism provides a social community for those uncomfortable with their society’s religious atmosphere. Following the tradition to dispute his mentee (Thanks Jeff!), Mr. Naft could not accept the idea that “this is it” and that “our lives do not matter.” He valued love and personal relationship – the point that atheism misses. Vice President Thanki reminded the floor that atheism is not nihilism because it embraces community as well as “here,” “the moment,” and “now.” She defined the point as “finding the point” and asking “what points are you leading your life towards?

Mr. Schafer, the third white Catholic male on the affirmation, acknowledged the discrimination against atheists but saw atheism as “[eliminating] the possibility of God” and irreconcilable with theism. Thus, he recommended agnosticism to build relationship on common ground. Ms. Egan pointed to the distinction between fact and opinion but noted that atheists are “not without opinions, not without beliefs” — Atheism offers us the attitude that “I’m so happy to be alive.” Ms. Hernick rebuked that “Atheism tells you nothing about what someone’s beliefs are” while religion confronted us with something bigger than ourselves, something beyond. Mr. Hinck rejected this definition of atheism as “a lack” and introduced the multiple viewpoints within atheism itself. He further challenged religions’ higher being to offer an answer to suffering. Calling this challenge “so immature,” Ms. Kurek considered atheism too short-sighted because faith is not a logical system.

Mr. Fletcher defined the point as coming to terms with our inevitable death. Atheism, by “[removing] second chances in the equation,” forces us to take the suffering and solve problems on our own while theism and agnosticism are missteps. Acknowledging atheism as a worthy ways to live life, Ms. Cuppari asserted that it misses the point of “one being, one source and one plan out there” to provide a mission and instill optimism. But according to Mr. Harden, Atheism addresses the question of after-life by answering “the point is there is no point.” Atheists look at an abyss, recognize it as an abyss and move on. Ms. Ludtke, however, argued that humans cannot accept a lack of explanation. She also realized from her own experience that atheism misses connection – “something beyond me and Mr. Hinck.”

Mr. Shuman (rightly) observed that we would have been burnt at the stake for this debate hundreds of years ago. Citing the first atheist Descartes who said “maybe there isn’t,” he considered the atheism that asks why similar with a third party in politics. Mr. Hughes, in his “snow day business attire”, traced the root of atheism far ahead to the ancient Greek philosopher who asked “what are the Gods made of?” But atheism concluded that “there is no god and stops,” without establishing a philosophy to explain love. Mr. Grocki thought it more important to continue positing the question because we are intellectually growing people. By this standard, atheism is still in the game.

Mr. Musa Bassey (COL ’18) claimed that humans need moral code to refrain from animal instincts. But while atheists can be moral, morality fundamentally comes from theistic beliefs. Mr. Ben Saundeos (SFS ’15) redefined the point of religion as explaining unexplainable phenomenon by the statement “God knows.” In contrast, atheism affirms human self-definition and “makes the intrinsic extrinsic.” Mr. Alex Barnes (SFS ’16) cited the teapot example to argue that atheism as a disbelief cannot form identity but it “doesn’t have to be a positive belief”. Ms. Jessica Scoratow (SFS ’18) contested that “the point here is hope” with the example of Holocaust victims who just wanted to “believe in something … can be anything.”

Mr. Edgar told the story of Tolstoy’s spiritual crisis that centered around his quest for meaning. With the same quest for meaning, Mr. Edgar questioned what is special about human relationships and answered: “Beauty or self.” Since the human self is merely bones and molecules, the answer can only lie in beauty, the divine in the traditional sense. Asking for evidence, Mr. Kendrick brought atheism back to the simple belief that there is no God. In a world with no author, we can function according to reason and follow secular objective values because “we are the author of our own lives.”

Mr. Ma reminded us that the lack of an afterlife is not restricted to atheism. He saw atheism as a way to getting to the point of meaning and love but “not sufficient in itself.” Ms. Coccia rebuked that “nothing gets us there” and told the story of her grandfather, who found the answer to morality in his PHD dissertation instead of seminary. Atheism’s answer “This is it, right now and me” absolutely gets to the point. Furthermore, the process of “falling backwards” is a necessary step to answer the identity question because “in failure, we find ourselves.”

Mr. Gonzalez countered that atheism never aims at the point and atheists find the point outside of atheism itself. A confused Mr. Young gave an abstention speech. He posited that the point of theism, transcendent truth, is a fixed target, but the point of atheism is a moving target. Thus, “atheists get to pick the point” and can never miss the point.

Mr. Wilson directed us back to the traditional meaning of metaphysics, “beyond being,” and asserted that “we live transcendentally” since neither values nor beliefs are present objects. Atheists, so long as they are humans, are transcendent as well, but both atheism and supernatural theism miss the point of transcendence. Chancellor DiMisa then lightened up the floor with a rather atheist religious joke. He introduced the concept of ultimate concern as what motivates us to move and argued that atheists find their ultimate concern without God. Mr. Mouch accused contemporary religion in American society as exclusive and argued that “atheism has a point because religion misses the point.” But atheism ultimately should orient religion to its purpose.

Delivering his closing keynote on the floor, Mr. Perez-Reyes reiterated that the world is empty and cold because we have no answer to those unanswerable questions. Atheists recognize that “this is all we have” and that “this, not beyond, is what matters.” Even though there is no reason, they are still here to “embrace the lack of meaning” and “live the life.” Overall, atheism is a logical world view. Ms. Landau opened with her story witnessing transcendental love on a funeral. She argued that atheism cannot stand on its own because it does not answer the question “what is love?” Love is the reason we go on with our lives and love is transcendental.

The Society then voted to award Merrick points to the five most eloquent speakers that night:

  • Ms. Landau – 1 point
  • Mr. Young – 2 points
  • Mr. Wilson – 3 points
  • Mr. Edgar – 4 points
  • Ms. Coccia – 5 points

And this brings the Merrick totals to:

  1. Ms. Coccia – 29 points
  2. Mr. Wilson  – 17 points
  3. Mr. Edgar – 15 points
  4. Ms. Christensen – 10 points
  5. Ms. Egan and Mr. Young – 8 points
  6. Mr. Dinneen& Mr. Mouch – 5 points
  7. Mr. Kendrick & Mr. Mazzara & Mr. Perez-Reyes & Mr. Vishwanathan – 3 points
  8. Mr. Patrick Musgrave & Ms. Spira – 2 points
  9. Ms. Landau – 1 point

With a vote of 26-2-21, the resolution was negated. Huzzah for the two keynoters and for the fantastic floor speeches given by new members!


Xinlan Hu

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