An atheist agrees with me

April 12, 2012

In the comments section of my previous post, one atheist commenter mostly agreed with what I wrote there—that atheism leads to nihilism, the belief that everything is meaningless. We disagree, naturally, over whether this poses a problem for the atheist side. This commenter wrote:

Most atheists, or at least most atheists who have thought about the issue, subscribe to moral nihilism insofar as they believe moral values are not fundamental truths, but instead codify our feelings/instincts/cultural trends… You can argue that such morality is ephemeral, and you would be right. But this in no way translates into an argument for God’s existence….

The axiological argument essentially boils down to “I would like it if moral values were transcendental and universal truths, therefore God exists.” It is a great big non sequitur.”

In reply, I tried to place the problem in sharp relief:

Thank you for having the courage of your convictions! When I’ve suggested on this blog that the atheist position inevitably leads to nihilism—as you say, for those who really think it through—I usually get pushback from atheists who don’t want to face up to it.

I’m hardly suggesting that “my side” proves God’s existence through the argument. I’m saying that for some reason the vast majority of humanity lives as if morality has meaning. They want to believe passionately in justice and seeing to it that justice is done. It is appalling to them to imagine that justice is meaningless and that there’s no judge standing above, for example, perpetrators of genocide saying, “This is wrong!” It doesn’t fit most people’s version of reality.

Indeed, I suspect that you don’t live your life as a completely hedonistic, self-centered animal, doing only what pleases you, looking out for only your interests. For all I know, you’re a kind and good person. Except—there I go again—”kindness” and “goodness” have no meaning. I keep forgetting. I’ll bet you do too.

And that’s the power of the argument. In my version of reality, which speaks to my deepest longings, justice has meaning. When I see something that I believe is truly evil in the world, I don’t have to fight against every fiber of my being and say, “No, Brent… This may offend you aesthetically, but it isn’t ‘wrong.’”

The question becomes, what version of reality makes the most sense of life as we live it and understand it. From my perspective, I get to keep justice and scientific inquiry. They’re not in conflict. Good for me!

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