Observations

Most atheists that I know aren’t nihilists, and atheism doesn’t invariably lead to nihilism, but on the road to nihilism atheism is a critical first step.

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8 Responses to Observations

  1. Justin says:

    I admittedly have not read a large number of coherent atheist works, but I’ve not really seen any coherent atheistic philosophies that successfully dodge the nihilistic conclusion. Who am I missing?

  2. jackhudson says:

    The answer I most consistently see is “We can come up with our own meaning or purpose, we don’t need there to be an objective one”.

    Personally, i am not sure why this is any different than pretending certain things are true when they are not.

  3. Mike D says:

    “Personally, i am not sure why this is any different than pretending certain things are true when they are not.”

    Uh. Really?

    “My life is meaningful to me” can be a true statement without needing to imply “My life has objective meaning which exists independent of my own thoughts, values, and desires.”

    To support the position implicit in your statement above, you have to argue that meaning, by definition, must be objective and that subjective meaning cannot actually exist. I’m dying to see you tackle that. Even better, I’d love to see you prove not only that objective meaning exists, but demonstrate how you can evidentially discern what that meaning precisely is, in a manner that (being objective, of course) can be independently verified.

    I say that because even if you want to claim that objective meaning exists, unless there’s an objective way of knowing what that meaning is then you’re just going to ascribe your own subjective judgment to what constitutes the meaning of your existence… making your argument self-defeating.

  4. jackhudson says:

    For me, the deeper question is always why, as biological organisms humans can’t just live. Eat. Sleep. Reproduce. Avoid death, at least during one’s reproductive years.

    The minute we begin to consider life having ‘meaning’ in any sense of the word, whether we claim such meaning exists outside ourselves or merely within our own minds, is the minute one must ask why we as organisms seek meaning to our lives at all. Given that such an effort appears to be universal from the first ritualistic paintings on cave walls to the most glorious European cathedrals, it would seem the need for meaning is itself indicative of aspects of humanity that go beyond the merely physical.

    So when you argue that “My life is meaningful to me”, you have already given away the game. You are acknowledging that as a human you desire something beyond mere survival even if you have to come up with that meaning yourself.

    And when you do that, you prove yourself a spiritual creature, that is one who must exist beyond the merely physical.

  5. Justin says:

    It seems to me that even the claim of self-determined, subjective meaning does not escape an ultimately nihilistic conclusion. Similar to the view that it is better to live as if you had free will while believing things to be deterministic, it is living a lie. When you remove all of the illusory aspects of trying to live a subjectively moral and subjectively meaningful life, in relation to others, it is still nihilistic, or so it seems to me. You have to pile so much of this illusory meaning and morality and conflicting views of choice into one’s worldview that it seems rather childish to me.

  6. Mike D says:

    So when you argue that “My life is meaningful to me”, you have already given away the game. You are acknowledging that as a human you desire something beyond mere survival even if you have to come up with that meaning yourself.

    I want to say two things in response here. First, you didn’t address the fundamental problem epistemic obstacles with objective meaning. That’s important. From your response, though, it looks like you’re backing away from that original assertion.

    But in any case, your conclusion here simply does not follow from the premise. “Meaning” is an abstraction which categorizes various powerful emotional states – feelings of worth, virtue, love, etc. It’s not a coincidence that people tend to find the birth of their children meaningful, and driving to work or sipping a cup of coffee a fair bit less so. There’s nothing mystical about it, and it surely doesn’t prove that we’re “spiritual” creatures or more than our material selves. It just proves that we have evolved the intellect to abstract certain states of mind into meta-categories.

  7. Mike D says:

    Justin – I’m not sure how you get from “subjective” to “illusory”. Is anything that ‘exists’ abstractly, rather than ontologically, an illusion?

  8. Justin says:

    Mike

    With regard to free will, those are Jerry Coyne’s words, actually. And, if the world is anything like what Jerry Coyne describes, morality as it relates to choice of action, and meaning, are illusory as well.

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