This week’s question: “What do atheists think love is?”

It’s interesting to me how often the word “love” comes up in conversations about belief in God. To many theists, it seems to be the ultimate counter to any skeptical argument. After all, love is immaterial, timeless, perfect, all-good and all-giving. What is God, if not perfect love? What is perfect love, if not God?
Even though they can’t explain what God is and lack evidence or justification for belief in God, they reason that if I can’t be justified in believing in God, then I can’t be justified in believing in love, for love lacks explanations and evidence.

[media-credit id=20135 align=”alignleft” width=”250″][/media-credit]To them, I would ask: Do you believe in the love between you and your parents, siblings, friends and spouses? Because I can believe in that love. It is as tangible to me as the chair I sit on or the paper you read. But is that love that you know perfect, timeless, all-good, all-giving or without condition? No. See, we both know that our love is not perfect — it is human after all — and it has its shortcomings. And perhaps only a god is capable of perfect love.
But I am here to tell you that just because I don’t believe in the perfect man, that does not mean I don’t believe in perfecting man. Though perfect love may not exist in this reality, it is the love here on Earth which we should really be striving to perfect.

David Urzua is a fifth-year philosophy major.

The naturalistic worldview that many atheists share receives heavy criticism for its apparent bleakness and lack of meaning. Some extreme critics even claim that a Darwinistic view of biology leads to a socially Darwinistic worldview, citing the actions of people like Stalin and Pol Pot as evidence. These claims are absurd, as there are millions of non-believers on this planet who manage to get through each day without filling a mass grave. How is this possible? Simply put, the removal of God from one’s life does not constitute the removal of love.

Love is extremely important in the daily life of a naturalist. The implications of being just one branch on an ever-adapting tree of life, riding around on a speck of dust in an unfathomable void can seem depressing to some. It is easy to understand the attractiveness of being someone’s special creation. However, for many of us non-believers, it is the love we share and receive in our daily lives that staves off the icy grip of fatalism. We choose to invest our love and compassion in relationships with people here on Earth, where there is evidence that our love is being reciprocated, or not. Non-theists even find empathy in their hearts for strangers, and in most cases, treat them with respect without textual instruction. It is foolish to equate love with something divine or beyond human comprehension when its effects are seen worldwide, regardless of creed (or lack thereof).

Mark Belko is a fourth-year film and media studies and French major.

Love is a biological and psychological response — a result of electrical and chemical processes in one’s brain. But that’s not the real question we’re being asked, of course.

The core of the query is whether I believe that love is different than other biological processes and that it is inherently more valuable, beautiful or special. After all, if it is as mundanely electrical and chemical as, say, digestion of food or the adrenaline fight-or-flight response, doesn’t that diminish love somehow, relegating it to an animalistic behavior? Doesn’t a chemical basis for an emotion make that emotion transient, unimportant or basic? The short answer is no. While there is nothing magical, spiritual or even inherently valuable about love in the same way that there is nothing inherently more valuable about a sunset than about the midday sun, most people would say that one is beautiful and the other unpleasant. Love may be a biological, evolutionary construct, a self-manufactured sensation and an emotional state that evolutionarily serves to make social animals more likely to stick around and care for each other and their offspring, but none of these facts have any bearing on whether love is awesome, important, special, beautiful and valuable. The people viewing a sunset give it its beauty; the people in love give love its value. Love is not diminished by its electrical and chemical origins any more than Shakespeare is diminished by its ink and paper origins.

Connor Oakes is a third-year political science major.

Love takes the standard classic approach of saying “I can’t explain something, so here’s an explanation for it.” It is an affront to the mind and the English language, discarding any attempts at eloquence and clinging to a hopeless, childish romantic mindset.

I have never had two believers in love give me the same definition of love of it. The concept is even vaguer when expressed than the concept of God. Granted, the response is typically that love manifests itself differently in each person, but even this presents a whole new level of problems. The logic here is simpler than people are making it. If love is different for every single person, why even bother trying to form a consistent word or a unifying concept for it? A name for it (and I hesitate to even use the word “it”) does not make it any more solid or consistent than it is without one.

A profound attachment to someone or something does not imply anything beyond its face value (or that the feeling is even positive for that matter). I have heard many times that “love is eternal” and “love is fleeting.” The word has such a level of absurdity that it has become nothing more than meaningless nonsense. Words are powerful. Let’s not dilute them with things like love.

Cameron Moody is a second-year computational biology major.

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