It seems to me, that for the atheist – the strident philosophical naturalist (i.e. “nature” reveals itself to be unguided and purposeless) – they must believe that the personal realities of life are fundamentally false. After all, reality is, at bottom, fundamentally impersonal. Therefore, the idea of the personal – that we are persons, entitled to all the dignity that hallowed word implies, who meaningfully relate to other persons – can be nothing other than a useful fiction.
But if this is the case, this would mean, that in some sense, all of our experiences are false – even if, shunning solipsism, we take comfort in the fact we are all deceived together. After all, would this not mean that all of our ideas about life: what we theorize in this or that case – as well as what we “know” to be true – could be nothing other than “useful fictions”? How could anything other than useful fictions arise from useful fictions? All ideas – including “personhood” and everything else – could only be used pragmatically, which means they can only be used with cynicism. In other words, the philosophical naturalist must give up on the ideas of truth that philosophers have traditionally explored.
And as goes the person, so goes philosophy.
Really, if the personal arises from the impersonal, as some might argue, what does this mean? How can the personal be real, unless the impersonal is fundamentally changed into the personal? But how would this happen? How would an atheist define person – over and against “human being” (the definition which would have to include, at some level: “…a complex aggregation of fundamental particles, arranged through unguided and purposeless [i.e. “impersonal”] processes”) that is? And what would be the point – other than creating a useful fiction that allows one to sound sensible around people who really do believe in “personhood” and “human dignity” that is – of even trying to define such a [useless?] word (but then again, are not even all useful words ultimately useless, as life is ultimately meaningless)?
If the atheist says: we create our own meaning together, for some this is clearly too great a burden to bear. After all, it is a shallow meaning and purpose created by those who have derived from meaninglessness and purposelessness. What is truth indeed?
Of course, this is getting very far away from the thoughts of children. I suggest that for them, reality is fundamentally personal.
From the very beginning – from our first cries upon entering this temporal world – we discover that life is personal. Interaction with others is constant: we smile and look at one another, we make each other laugh, and we observe, study, and imitate those we admire and look up to. Through one another, we receive joy. And as Paul argued in Acts 14, seamlessly making the connection between the personal and the physical (or material): “Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” Gladness is no doubt created in part through the awe and wonder the created world around us produces – but it is even more so a product of the loving relationships that we have been blessed to know.
How odd it would be if we were to discover that the closer we would examine this thing we call life, that it would reveal itself to be fundamentally made up of that which is impersonal.