Jordan Peterson vs Susan Blackmore – Do we need God to make sense of life?

Do we need God to make sense of life?

Jordan Peterson and Susan Blackmore debated whether God was necessary for meaning to exist.

They first discuss the nature of memes and archetypes. Susan Blackmore subscribes to Dawkins’ idea of memes as being separate from genes in that they are not biological, but that they are culturally determined. Peterson disagrees. He believes that memes are really archetypes (that Dawkins is wrong) – and that archetypes are biological. Peterson affirms that nature selects the best traits, and that these are traits are “right” in some fundamental way. Susan says that’s a big jump.

Susan then criticizes 12 Rules for Life and then cites an example she didn’t like. The book contains a discussion about the evolutionary arms race between the baby’s head and the mother’s pelvis – and the pain that results from labor. Later in the book, Peterson suggests that God intended for things to be that way by mentioning the Genesis account of Adam and Eve.

Peterson explains that he has been looking deeply into the Bible recently, and that the idea of “God is dead” is wrongfully taken as a triumphant slogan by atheists. Nietzsche didn’t mean it as a reason to rejoice. He was lamenting it – as it was a catastrophe, and he predicted (correctly) that humans would fall into nihilism. He predicted the rise of the Soviet empire – and the deaths that would follow. Nietzsche knew that killing God meant removing our ethical foundations from beneath us.

Susan replies by saying that secular societies are doing great. And that the absence of God has done nothing to affect them. Peterson notes that even “secular” societies are built on top of Christian foundations such as true speech and the sovereignty of the individual – another thing Nietzsche noted.

Peterson claims that most people who think they’re atheists don’t act it out. When you write a book, you act out the logos (Susan is an author), you aim to illuminate the world. The Judaeo-Christian culture is the culture of the book, the revelation of the true mode of being through written form. You are acting it out – you are contributing to the Christian mission, but Susan denies being a Christian.

(“Logos” is “The Word”, It is True speech that brings forth habitable and good order from the chaos. It is the updating of knowledge structures, and the communication of revealed truth to others. In Greek philosophy, the Logos was divine reason. In Christianity, Jesus is the Logos (The Word). He is truth incarnate)

Other notable exchanges that took place…


SB: You criticize the idea of happiness being an ultimate value?

JP: No, I criticized it as the ultimate goal – there’s a difference.

SB: But we are all predispositioned to wanting to be happy.

JP: It’s not a worthy goal. A better goal is to be resilient in the face of suffering.

SB: When I see the tragedies going on around the world, I remind myself how meaningless everything is. And I just say to myself, get on with it girl!

JP: But that’s contradictory. The first part is nihilistic, and the second part is hopeful.

SB: But what else are we supposed to do? It’s not like we have a choice but to do something, so we might as well.


SB: I feel gratitude.

JP: Towards what?

SB: Just gratitude.

JP: Well, even your diffuse nothingness is “something” – and that’s your God.

SB: I feel gratitude towards the universe

JP: The universe doesn’t care about you, you just said life was meaningless. Why do you feel grateful towards it?

SB: I don’t know


SB: Is Jesus a Mortal? Did he really create miracles?

JP: “Render unto Ceasar, the things that are Ceasar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” That’s the greatest example of a miracle (contrary to walking on water etc…) In one sentence “separation of church and state”, Jesus changed the course of history, and maintained/preserved the sovereign individual’s relationship with God.

Interviewer: Do you need God for meaning?

SB: Absolutely not.

JP: I learned from Jung that we act according to our hierarchy of values. Our highest values determine our actions; therefore, our highest values are our Gods – even if we don’t recognize them as such.

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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