Felder's Wager depends in part on the assumption that meaning and purpose cannot be found in a purely material world. So let's run a thought experiment to test that assumption.
Assume for a moment that you came to the firm, unshakeable conclusion that materialism is true: there is nothing in the universe but matter and energy, all mental phenomena are emergent properties of matter and energy, and when you die, "the mind doth perish with the house that hoards it." (Let's not worry about how you come to that conclusion; that's not relevant to the argument.)
So, now that you're a materialist: how does that change your life? Specifically, what do you do differently? How does your notion of a good, meaningful, worthwhile life change?
I had initially expected (like Kenny) that losing spiritual reality would change everything. If life is just a random swirl of order passing through an ocean of chaos, and the universe has no purpose or direction or grand design, then of course life is meaningless. Logically, rationally, that is the inevitable conclusion.
Yet, when I run this experiment, for my own self and my own life, I find that things don't change nearly as much as I expected. In a totally material world, my desires for my own life are pretty much the same: I want to do work I enjoy and find interesting, enjoy the company of my peers and my family, be a respected and valued member of a community, and enjoy a moderate level of physical comfort and security. My notion of goodness doesn't change much, either, nor my desire to be a good person: I still want to be kind, generous, thoughtful person whose life has a positive effect on his fellow human beings. And I still recoil at the notion of being a bad person: murder, theft, selfishness, thoughtfulness are still just as bad. A shallow existence (watching reruns of Friends and eating lots of potato chips) still looks shallow and unsatisfying to me. A deep life, full of contemplation, conversation, and challenging tasks still looks appealing.
True, things are not exactly the same. I can't deny that my sense of confidence would be shaken. Without some spiritual plan or order, some eternal framework to hold existence, I would feel forced out into the open, exposed to the horrors of tragedy with no refuge. I would feel the overwhelming bitterness of being robbed of an enormous fortune. And yet . . . goodness is still good, and evil still evil. I would still "love that which is worthy of love." My rational calculations about the nature of the cosmos do not seem to put a dent in my convictions here on the ground.
So . . . if my notion of goodness doesn't change much, and my idea of a good life doesn't change much, and my actions don't change that much, once I become a materialist, in what sense can I say that meaning is dependent on a non-material, spiritual reality? If my instinctive, core sense of what is good and right is unchanged, even when all hope of spirituality is removed, then I can't say that there is no meaning without spirituality. The meaning might be different, but it's still there.
[Even if you're skeptical of the argument, go ahead and run the thought experiment for your own life. What would you change about your life, in a totally material world? Be as specific as possible, and as honest as possible. Ask yourself: would you still love your children? Would you still admire people who were generous and kind? Would you still have the same job you have now? Would you vote the same way in the next election? Would you try to be a different kind of person?]
One could explain these results away, and many an apologist does. "There, you see? Your moral convictions persist, in spite of your rational beliefs, so there must be a God somewhere, putting those moral ideas in your head!" Or, "You say you don't believe in a non-material reality, but you've just buried it beneath some abstractions. I bet if we dig deep enough we'll find out you still believe in something transcendent." Or perhaps the Ernest Becker, Denial of Death answer: "You still act like there is still meaning in the universe because you are in abject denial. Your mind simply refuses to acknowledge meaninglessness, because if it did, it would totally crush you. So you pretend there is meaning, even when there isn't."
Perhaps. Perhaps I'm just not that imaginative, and I would become a hopeless, helpless, despairing, despicable wreck without the hope of spiritual reality. But somehow I doubt it. I know lots of good people -- people more virtuous than I, by any measure -- whose virtue and meaning is not impeded by their materialism.
Felder's Wager attempts to use reason to overturn meaning, but in the end the contradictions can flip the other way: the persistence of meaning and morality invalidate reason. You can never argue away our sense of meaning, because it was never rational to begin with.
I think Becker hits it head on. You would still act and feel as if there were meaning, but the truth would be, providing food for your family would be no more or less meaningful than killing them. Not that there would be such a thing as "truth."
I would stop meditating, stop wasting time on spiritual stuff, spend more time playing chess or watching movies. Beyond that, I'm not sure what I do. The fact that we have no idea right now is not an incidental part of my philosophy; it's right at the heart of it.
I don't think much would change for me, because I'm essentially living as a materialist (though I'm not sure if I am one). For me the question is what would change if I felt more sure there was real meaning. Would I change my life to do more than I do now?
It seems that the experience of meaning can be enough to keep me from collapsing in despair at least, even if it is only complex biology that drives and governs it.
It's that experience of meaning, which we may or may not be able to trust, that I find so maddening. I suspect most people pursue the experience of meaning rather than really thinking hard about the relative reality of that meaning. The more I analyze meaning and try to pin down what it is, the less I feel moved to action. Meanwhile, I spend the most time and energy working on whatever yields the highest number of people telling me I'm significant and important and meaningful: at my job, at my kids' school, and with my family.