Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

God and the Meaning of Life

Stephen J. Sullivan.

In this paper I explore the question whether the meaningfulness of human lives depends--as Judeo-Christian theists such as Leo Tolstoy, and apparently even some atheists, have often contended--on the existence of God. I begin by distinguishing three versions of the question 'What (if anything) is the meaning of life?': 'What makes my life worth living?', 'What can or does give my life a zestful or fulfilling direction?', and 'What is the higher (cosmic, transcendent, or superhuman) significance of human life?' Next I examine the Tolstoyan position, developing a critique that is influenced by the work of Kurt Baier, Antony Flew, A.J. Ayer, Paul Edwards, Thomas Nagel, Robert Nozick, and Owen Flanagan, but going beyond it by formulating a pair of dilemmas that bear a structural resemblance to Plato's famous Euthyphro Question. Finally, I defend the following conclusion: (i) our lives can be and often are worth living even if there is no God, (ii) our lives can and often do have a zestful direction even if there is no God (and even if we do not believe in God), and (iii) in a godless universe our lives may well lack a higher significance.


Stephen J. Sullivan  (United States)
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Department of Philosophy
University of Southern Indiana

Born 1956 in New York, New York. Ph.D in Philosophy, Cornell University, 1990. Specialties: Ethics and Philosophy of Religion.

  • God
  • the Meaning of Life

(Virtual Presentation, English)