The Black Hole of Atheism

I’ve claimed several times (on Victor Reppert’s “Dangerous Idea” blog, as Ilion can attest to, and most recently on John C. Wright’s blog) that an intellectually honest atheism implies belief in a meaningless universe. Mr. Wright challenged me on this point.

This is an interesting one because I think, for once, a lot of people there may actually agree with me, though they’ll probably be quiet about it.

In any case, Wright’s initial argument:

I moreover submit it is as easy to deduce the existence of an objective moral code, even absent the supernatural, as it is to deduce the existence of logic itself.

The argument in both cases is the same. In order to deduce whether or not logic is useful, one must use logic. Hence, it is inescapable, part of the human condition outside of which no human can step, not even for the brief moment it takes to ask a hypothetical question. Likewise, in order to deduce whether or not morality is objective, one must face the question with the honesty, humility, and perfect integrity of a philosopher, that is, one must adhere to at least these moral imperatives. Again, it is inescapable.

Nothing in the above argument presupposes the existence of a god or gods. Hence I submit that it is possible to deduce the existence of rules of logic and rule of morality that govern all men, all life. And if rules of morality exist, virtue and vice exist, are meaningful terms, and apply to real objects and events.

A meaningful life is one lived according to virtue. Hence, if virtue exists, life can be meaningful, even for an atheist.

My response:

I appreciate that Mr. Wright has enough respect for me to take the statement seriously. Here is my response:

I’m not sure why a meaningful life is one lived according to virtue. I decide I want to live my life as a career criminal, the dramatic Flambeau from the Fr. Brown stories (which I started reading yesterday, and for those who don’t know he is a world class criminal on the run for many years). I know there is a right and wrong, I just don’t care. Why should I?

I’m just not getting how the existence of objective morality means it matters in any meaningful way in an atheistic universe. Ultimately we’re all going to stop existing anyway, right? So I kill a few men on the way there. I’m not caught, so who cares?

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13 Responses to The Black Hole of Atheism

  1. Hmmm… I would initially agree that atheism ==> nihilism but Wright is smart enough that I’m interested in seeing his response (as I prepare to reconsider) and eagerly await the blog debate.

  2. Sparky says:

    I actually do agree with you and about everyone there, but I’m very eager to see Mr. Wright back up his assertions. Mostly because I don’t see what he’s getting at.

    As someone who was an agnostic for a long time and who always takes things to their logical conclusion, I saw only darkness continuing down that path. If there is no objective moral order then . . . there is no objective moral order. No matter what law or feeling I want to slap on it, well, it doesn’t change the fact that I’m making something up.

    If I continue down this path I eventually have to admit people like Ted Bundy were just as moral as me. After all, how do I say he wasn’t a moral man? His rules were no more arbitrary than my own. I would be lying to myself to say otherwise.

    The universe is either pointless, cruel, and barren, or it is not. If it is not, there has to be something far above and beyond me to say there is something more.

    Theism and Nihilism are really the only choices for anyone who follows things to the logical end point.

  3. Ilíon says:

    Mr. Wright challenged me on this point.

    Mr Wright cannot abide when someone *actually* calls out so-called atheists … nor, apparently, atheism. For this reason (and having experienced his wrath in this regard), even though I read his blog from time to time, I have little respect for him. On this point, he’s not intellectually honest, and I just can’t get past that flaw.

  4. Ilíon says:

    … that an intellectually honest atheism implies belief in a meaningless universe.

    Of course, when you think about it, the phrase “intellectually honest atheism” is … hmm, curious. It’s not exactly a contradiction in terms, even if it may feel like it (especialy after encountering internet atheists). Call it a non sequitur.

    My point is that under atheism, the God-denier has no more and no other motivation (*) to be honest with himself than he with does to be honest with you, the ‘theist’ who is trying to reason him out of his God-denial. And, since in this circumstance, what he wants is to protect his God-denial from rational critical evaluation, he has a great incentive to be intellectually dishonest not only with you, but with himself.

    (*) i.e. “does it get me closer to getting what I want to get”

  5. Ilíon says:

    John C. Wright:I moreover submit it is as easy to deduce the existence of an objective moral code, even absent the supernatural, …

    Oh, sure, one can “deduce the existence of an objective moral code” without reference to “the supernatural” … but if atheism is the truth about the nature of reality, then it doesn’t matter whether or not one comports oneself in accord with that “objective moral code”. And if it doesn’t matter whether or not one comports oneself in accord with that “objective moral code”, then neither that “objective moral code”, nor its deduction, matters in the least.

    If atheism is indeed the truth about the nature of reality, then *everything* will cease to exist: it will be as though nothing, and no one, had ever been. And, for each of us individually, this non-state of non-being as-though-we-had-never-been comes far sooner than later.

    If atheism is indeed the truth about the nature of reality, then Mother Teresa and Jack the Ripper are both equally dead: they neither of them exist, equally. All the “moral” acts of Mother Teresa are equal to the “immoral” acts of Jack the Ripper: they do not exist, and they do not matter.

    ===
    The man who wants to appeal to “the existence of an objective moral code” while denying, or even merely ignoring, the ground of that “objective moral code”, which is the eternally necessary reality of God and the eternal consequences of human acts, is really just looking for yet one more way to manipulate others to serve his purposes. Such a stance is merely another way to be a hypocrite; and humans are already so good at that.

    • Oh, sure, one can “deduce the existence of an objective moral code” without reference to “the supernatural” … but if atheism is the truth about the nature of reality, then it doesn’t matter whether or not one comports oneself in accord with that “objective moral code”. And if it doesn’t matter whether or not one comports oneself in accord with that “objective moral code”, then neither that “objective moral code”, nor its deduction, matters in the least.

      Yeah, pretty much. At least, that’s where I’m going with this.

  6. vishmehr24 says:

    CS Lewis commences Mere Christianity with the Argument from Morality–the moral order implies supernatural. CS Lewis explicity says that morality is not merely “a standard of behavior” as Wright puts it but has a necessary obligatoiry force.

    As I see it, Wright feels the need to justify Ayn Rand and his own atheist phase. Otherwise he would be obliged to accept his failure as a atheist philosopher and thus all his claims to be a philosopher.

  7. Ilíon says:

    As I see it, Wright feels the need to justify Ayn Rand and his own atheist phase.

    Exactly (*). And if one pushes him too far (**) in this, he will turn vicious.

    (*) It’s “Objectivists” who comment on his blog toward whom he most turns the blind eye.

    (**) By which I mean, if one logically “boxes him in”, such that logic and reason dictate assent to an unwelcome proposition (such as, say, that *all* God-denial is built on intellectual dishonesty)

  8. The problem I’m wrestling with here is the *ought*.

    • Ilíon says:

      I think what you’re wrestling with is the practical ramifications of our society-wide revolt against authority and duty.

      The critique-and-condemnation is “divine command ethics” is almost entirely grounded in The Great Sez-Who? “argument”.

      I suspect that Mr Wright is trying to sky-hook that *ought* because the only answer the The Great Sez-Who? “argument” is “God says, that’s Who“, which, of course, gains no traction with anyone who deploys The Great Sez-Who?, even if that person claims to be a Christian.

      • That kind of makes sense.

        I don’t so much believe divine command ethics as much as divine grounded ethics, if that makes sense. As in, “God says, that’s who”, but God set up rules.

        Hopefully that doesn’t sound too nonsensical!

      • Ilíon says:

        Of course, God set up rules. Or to be more precise, the “rules” follow from the very nature of God.

        But, The Great Sez-Who? doesn’t care about that, for The Great Sez-Who? asserts superiority to God.

  9. Pingback: Lightning Round – 2015/05/13 | Free Northerner

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