Craig, Nagel, Maitzen, and Ultimate Purpose

by Luke Muehlhauser on February 13, 2010 in General Atheism,William Lane Craig

ultimate purposeWilliam Lane Craig often asserts that life is absurd if God does not exist:

…if there is no God, then man’s life becomes absurd.

If God does not exist, then both man and the universe are inevitably doomed to death… [Man's] life is but a spark in the infinite blackness, a spark that appears, flickers, and dies forever…

And the universe, too, faces a death of its own… Eventually all the stars will burn out, and all matter will collapse into dead stars and black holes… There is no escape. There is no hope…

If each individual person passes out of existence when he dies, then what ultimate meaning can be given to his life? Does it really matter whether he ever existed at all? …

[Or] suppose the Big Bang had never occurred. Suppose the universe had never existed. What ultimate difference would it make? The universe is doomed to die anyway. In the end it makes no difference whether the universe ever existed or not. Therefore, it is without ultimate significance.

The same is true of the human race. Mankind is a doomed race in a dying universe. Because the human race will eventually cease to exist, it makes no ultimate difference whether it ever did exist. Manking is thus no more significant than a swarm of mosquitoes or a barnyard of pigs, for their end is all the same.

And the same is true of each individual person. The contributions of the scientist to the advance of human knowledge, the researches of the doctor to alleviate pain and suffering, the efforts of the diplomat to secure peace in the world… all these come to nothing. In the end they don’t make one bit of difference, not one bit. Each person’s life is therefore without ultimate significance.

…If life ends at the grave, then we have no ultimate purpose for living.1

Is Craig right? Does his argument work?

Stephen Maitzen pointed me to a 1971 article by Thomas Nagel that addresses Craig’s argument. Nagel writes:

It is often remarked that nothing we do now will matter in a million years. But if that is true, then by the same token, nothing that will be the case in a million years matters now. In particular, it does not matter now that in a million years nothing we do now will matter. Moreover, even if what we did now were going to matter in a million years, how could that keep our present concerns from being absurd? If their mattering now is not enough to accomplish that, how would it help if they mattered a million years from now?

…What we say to convey the absurdity of our lives often has to do with space or time: we are tiny specks in the infinite vastness of the universe; our lives are mere instants even on a geological time scale, let alone a cosmic one; we will all be dead any minute. But of course none of these evident facts can be what makes life absurd, if it is absurd. For suppose we lived forever; would not a life that is absurd if it lasts seventy years be infinitely absurd if it lasted through eternity? And if our lives are absurd given our present size, why would they be any less absurd if we filled the universe?

…Another inadequate argument is that because we are going to die, all chains of justification must leave off in mid-air… All of it is an elaborate journey leading nowhere…

There are several replies to this argument. First, life does not consist of a sequence of activities each of which has as its purpose some later member of the sequence… No further justification is needed to make it reasonable to take aspirin for a headache, attend an exhibit of the work a painter one admires, or stop a child from putting his hand on a hot stove…

Even if someone wishes to supply a further justification for [things], that justification would have to end somewhere too. If nothing can justify unless it is justified in terms of something outside itself, which is also justified, then an infinite regress results, and no chain of justification can be complete…

Those seeking to supply their lives with meaning usually envision a role or function in something larger than themselves. They therefore seek fulfillment in service to society, the state, the revolution, the progress of history, the advance of science, or religion and the glory of God.

But a role in some larger enterprise cannot confer significance unless that enterprise is itself significant… If we learned that we were being raised to provide food for other creatures fond of human flesh [then] even if we learned that the human race had been developed by animal breeders precisely for this purpose, that would still not give our lives meaning, for two reasons. First, we would still be in the dark as to the significance of the lives of those other beings; second, although we might acknowledge that this culinary role would make our lives meaningful to them, it is not clear how it would make them meaningful to us.

Along the same lines, I’ve suggested that what matters in seeking a purpose is not its source but its quality. Maitzen sums things up:

Craig can ask, “In the cosmic scheme of things, what’s so great about postponing the deaths of particular members of a particular terrestrial species on an insignificant planet? Nothing, unless God exists.” What Craig is evidently seeking is a purpose from which it makes no sense to step back in that way, a purpose about which it makes no sense to ask “What’s so great about that?”, a purpose that satisfies any possible quest for purpose.

But Nagel (as I read him) argues that such an ultimate purpose is in principle impossible, because the concept of such an ultimate purpose is incoherent. For as soon as we understand an alleged purpose for our lives well enough to see how it could count as our ultimate purpose, we thereby become able to question it and hence make it non-ultimate. Suppose that enjoying the Beatific Vision of God is our ultimate purpose. It’s perfectly possible to imagine someone stepping back, in the midst of such an experience, and asking, “You mean *this* is it? This is what we’re ultimately here for? This is what makes the Holocaust and everything else comprehensible and worth it?”

…So the quest for an ultimate purpose is incoherent on conceptual grounds; neither theism nor anything else can provide such a purpose.

nihilism

Update: Craig responds to a question about Nagel’s article here, and Maitzen responds to Craig here.

  1. Reasonable Faith, 3rd edition, pages 71-74. []

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{ 69 comments… read them below or add one }

Hermes February 13, 2010 at 6:50 am

Craig’s position presupposes mind-body dualism, incorporeal souls, and that this life is meaningless and that only the afterlife matters for that incorporeal soul. The evidence, though, shows that there is no such thing as mind-body dualism let alone incorporeal souls.

Separately, if there were unlimited anything, any part of it would be effectively have no value. The ideal amount can’t be infinite.

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Dan February 13, 2010 at 8:50 am

I agree.

I mean, is it not absurd to just live for eternity in heaven? While having an eternally pleasant experience sounds nice in the beginning, you have to ask a follow up which is, what’s the point of keeping the human race “alive” in heaven for eternity? What would the purpose be for each individual up there? Granted, if it’s supposed to be an eternally wonderful experience, the human will be brainwashed or something to not think thoughts like that.

But I’m not arguing if heaven is nice or not. I want to know the why, and the what. WHY will humans remain alive up there forever? And WHAT would the point be? (Though I guess those are basically the same question.)

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John D February 13, 2010 at 9:06 am

Excellent stuff. I have often stood agog at comments from religious people who claim eternal live is intrinsically meaningful (at least that what they tend to say implicitly). I highly recommend the SEP article on death. I read it some years ago, and it includes comments of Nagel’s work. It really helped me to clarify some of my thoughts on death and meaning.

Michael Martin’s book Atheism, Morality and Meaning is not half bad either.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/death/

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John D February 13, 2010 at 9:07 am

Oh and, of course, Shelly Kagan’s lectures on death, available from Yale.

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John D February 13, 2010 at 9:11 am

Last one from me for awhile.

Why haven’t I heard of Stephen Maitzen before? I just took some of his articles from his home page on skeptical theism and morality. It is exactly what I have been thinking for ages.

Fortunately, I don’t research in this area so I don’t need to feel hard done by.

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Chris February 13, 2010 at 9:22 am

Nothing makes a meaningless life significant like extending it forever.

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lukeprog February 13, 2010 at 9:39 am

Yeah, Maitzen has some great stuff.

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Jeff H February 13, 2010 at 9:59 am

Every time I hear Craig bring up this argument, I feel like he’s read the first five pages of people like Nietzsche and Camus and never gotten any further. He always seems to bring up Camus’ question of “Why not commit suicide?” without mentioning that he actually goes on to answer the question.

Anyway, I definitely like Nagel’s response. It reminds me of a thought I once had, that God must be an existentialist. Craig likes to think that we need to look outside of ourselves for meaning and purpose, yet his own God, at least at one point, was the only thing in existence. Either God must be the most bitter nihilist there is, then, or he’s an existentialist, creating meaning from within himself. Since we’re apparently made in his image, why shouldn’t we do the same?

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Justfinethanks February 13, 2010 at 10:05 am

I’m a little baffled by this argument to. It would be a lot like if someone (even if we assume eternal life) started pitching a baseball game and then became depressed and despairing.

When you asked what was wrong they said “In a mere matter of hours I and all of the players are going to go home, and the game will be over. It will be as if there was never a game at all. Without an eternal baseball game, baseball becomes absurd a meaningless.”

Of course, this is silly. There are Christian baseball players who find meaning and joy in baseball, even though it isn’t eternal.

Craig is basically arguing

P1) The universe and all life will end.
P2) ??????
C) Nothing has significance.

But until he explains the missing premise, this underpants Gnome philosophy just won’t work.

But this lousy reasoning makes more sense when you remember that Craig is a sleazy propagandist whose primary mission is to make Christianity look good and competing views seem unpleasant, not an honest inquiry into the structure of reality.

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Reginald Selkirk February 13, 2010 at 10:25 am

Is Craig right? Does his argument work?

Argument for what? Was that intended as an argument for theism? If so, it fails directly as an argument from consequences. Craig wants his life to have ultimate purpose, therefore he imagines that it does. Only if Craig could independently establish that ultimate purpose exists could he use its existence as evidence for something which he says would provide such purpose.

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Anonymous February 13, 2010 at 10:26 am

The atheist philosophy Michael Martin critiques Nagel’s “Absurd” argument in his book _Atheism: A Philosophical Justification_. His main point is that Nagel begs the question by assuming that the view from _sub specie aeternitatis_ is the view that matters. Martin thinks it isn’t this view that matters, but rather our own personal view. I think Martin has a good point here. Nowhere in his article does Nagel argue for this. Rather he just assumes it. The Christian philosopher Philip Quinn also makes the same point in his article “The Meaning of Life According to Christianity” except he thinks that it is God’s point of view that matters. In the absence of arguments against these other views being the ones that matter, Nagel’s argument doesn’t work.

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Erika February 13, 2010 at 11:12 am

I think the worst philosophical and best practical argument against “life is meaningless without God” is developing relationships with people. I have known a number of people (mostly still Christians) who use to make arguments along that line and stopped when they got married or had children and realized that their life was full of meaning, regardless of God.

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ayer February 13, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Thomas Nagel’s argument on absurdity is in support of nihilism. Is that what this post means to endorse? See http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/life-meaning/#Nih:

“The most influential rationale for nihilism is Thomas Nagel’s invocation of the external standpoint that purportedly reveals our lives to be unimportant (Nagel 1986; cf. Dworkin 2000, ch. 6). According to Nagel, we are capable of comprehending the world from a variety of standpoints that are either internal or external. The most internal perspective would be a particular human being’s desire at a given instant, with a somewhat less internal perspective being one’s interests over a life-time, and an even less internal perspective being the interests of one’s family or community. In contrast, the most external perspective, an encompassing standpoint utterly independent of one’s particularity, would be, to use Henry Sidgwick’s phrase, the “point of view of the universe,” that is, the standpoint that considers the interests of all sentient beings at all times and in all places. When one takes up this most external standpoint and views one’s finite—and even downright puny—impact on the world, little of one’s life appears to matter. What one does in a certain society on Earth over an approximately 70 year span just does not amount to much, when considering the billions of years and likely trillions of beings that are a part of space-time.”

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Rob February 13, 2010 at 1:13 pm

The spirit of many of the comments to this post recalls for me the way in which (some) compatibilists respond to pessimistic (or no-freedom) incompatibilism, as characterized by Galen Strawson. They seem to hold that the problem — of ultimately moral responsibility or ultimate purpose — dissolves upon recognition of its incoherence. Why such optimism? Given how many people believe in the sort of free will required to underwrite ultimate moral responsibility, and given how many people believe that some kind of ultimate purpose is required to invest their lives with meaning, I would think it rather likely that these beliefs express general human needs which simply cannot be dissolved upon recognition of the impossibility of their satisfaction.

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Hermes February 13, 2010 at 2:19 pm

Erika: I think the worst philosophical and best practical argument against “life is meaningless without God” is developing relationships with people. I have known a number of people (mostly still Christians) who use to make arguments along that line and stopped when they got married or had children and realized that their life was full of meaning, regardless of God.  

Well said.

I’d add to that statements like ‘life is meaningless without Yahweh/Jesus’ are in the same category as Pascal’s Wager; it’s unlikely to be very important to Christians themselves, let alone a key reason why most Christians are Christians. It just sounds clever while to non-Christians it looks like an example of group think.

To address those who advocate Christianity;

If you have any argument that you want to use to promote Christianity, but it is not one of the reasons why *_*_*you personally*_*_* are a Christian, then stop wasting your time by bothering anyone with it.

Seriously. If it didn’t do any heavy lifting for you, why do you think the next person will be less discerning and just leap into it like a free trip to Scrooge McDuck’s money bin?

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Laura February 13, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Jeff H: Every time I hear Craig bring up this argument, I feel like he’s read the first five pages of people like Nietzsche and Camus and never gotten any further. He always seems to bring up Camus’ question of “Why not commit suicide?” without mentioning that he actually goes on to answer the question.  

I might just be being an existentialist myself here by saying this, but I think Craig is really operating under the presupposition that we either must be born with inherent meaning, or we may never have any at all. Must we really choose between only those? And anyway, he doesn’t give an argument as to why it is more meaningful for us to follow a predetermined (and quite linear!) path rather than allowing ourselves to reason our own ways into a meaningful life. This doesn’t necessarily have to lead to subjectivism, either. Nagel’s argument was much better, whether being for nihilism or not.

I also agree with Dan in that I’ve always found it weird that this ubiquitous, hovering reason for living is something so pedestrian as eternal, unknowable happiness. I’m not sure I’d even want that, personally.

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Matt McCormick February 13, 2010 at 8:44 pm

Reginald Selkirk is right on this one. These sorts of arguments are ill-formed and non-believers should be careful not to fall for the bait. Suppose that the claim is right and a Godless universe is meaningless. The point that Craig and lots of others seem to be pressing is that such a universe would be really unpleasant. So apparently we should believe in God, whether there is one or not, because not believing will make us unhappy or depressed. Note that this is not a reason to think that it is true that there is a God, it’s asserting (not really arguing) that believing is emotionally or psychologically preferable. It’s actually quite cynical to exploit our emotional reactions and try to manipulate us this way. A grown should be able to face the truth and believe what’s reasonable, even if it is unpleasant.

Furthermore, I deny that someone can actually bring themselves to believe in this fashion anyway. You can’t acknowledge that some fact is unpleasant and then just start denying it with the unpleasantness as your grounds. That isn’t evidence–to believe is to take the claim to be true, and we aren’t really capable to taking our pleasant reactions to a claim to be reasons for thinking its true. I think the best we can do is to try to deceive ourselves that the evidence supports the pleasant conclusion–which is, of course, what Craig’s been doing for years.

MM

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Steven Stark February 13, 2010 at 10:30 pm

good stuff! Thanks.

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ayer February 14, 2010 at 8:45 am

Matt McCormick: That isn’t evidence–to believe is to take the claim to be true, and we aren’t really capable to taking our pleasant reactions to a claim to be reasons for thinking its true.

Actually that is not the point Craig is making. As he explicitly states:
CRAIG: “Now I want to make it clear that I have not yet shown biblical Christianity to be true. But what I have done is clearly spell out the alternatives. If God does not exist, then life is futile. If the God of the Bible does exist, then life is meaningful. Only the second of these two alternatives enables us to live happily and consistently. Therefore, it seems to me that even if the evidence for these two options were absolutely equal, a rational person ought to choose biblical Christianity. It seems to me positively irrational to prefer death, futility, and destruction to life, meaningfulness, and happiness. As Pascal said, we have nothing to lose and infinity to gain.” http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5389

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Reginald Selkirk February 14, 2010 at 10:31 am

ayer: Therefore, it seems to me that even if the evidence for these two options were absolutely equal, a rational person ought to choose biblical Christianity. It seems to me positively irrational to prefer death, futility, and destruction to life, meaningfulness, and happiness.

In other words, Craig would rather live in a happy fantasy than face an unpleasant truth. I cannot agree with, nor respect, that point of view.

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ayer February 14, 2010 at 11:00 am

Reginald Selkirk:
In other words, Craig would rather live in a happy fantasy than face an unpleasant truth. I cannot agree with, nor respect, that point of view.  

Perhaps you didn’t read this portion (even though you quoted it): “if the evidence for these two options were absolutely equal”

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Rob February 14, 2010 at 12:21 pm

ayer:
Perhaps you didn’t read this portion (even though you quoted it): “if the evidence for these two options were absolutely equal”  

But supposing (as I believe to be the case) that the evidence favored the truth of life being ultimately meaningless, and that there were a ready means of becoming a Christian theist: on what grounds would it then be preferable to avoid doing so? Why would it be (why is it) preferable to live in the light of the truth of life’s ultimate meaninglessness?

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Dave Millar-Haskell February 14, 2010 at 8:30 pm

Craig’s argument isn’t. It is simply some observations based on making anthrocentric assumptions about the universe. That the universe disapproves of futility; that we are all agreed on the meaning of “matter” in ‘what happens in a million years doesn’t “matter”‘. Once you start treating the universe as a entity that can care about the fate of humans it’s trivial to find an isomorphism with your favorite god.

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Rob February 15, 2010 at 5:01 am

The notion of the universe or its supposed creator “caring” about our fate doesn’t exhaust the possible ways in which our relationship to either might be imagined to confer some ultimately sort of meaning on our lives. So debunking Christian theism, and emancipation from the way in which it structures the problem of ultimate meaning, doesn’t extinguish the burden of the latter. To think it does strikes me, again, as suspiciously optimistic.

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Reginald Selkirk February 15, 2010 at 6:30 am

ayer: Perhaps you didn’t read this portion (even though you quoted it): “if the evidence for these two options were absolutely equal”

Perhaps you, who have openly acknowledged that you value comfort more than truth, are attempting to obscure who holds the burden of evidence.

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drj February 15, 2010 at 6:45 am

ayer: Therefore, it seems to me that even if the evidence for these two options were absolutely equal, a rational person ought to choose biblical Christianity. It seems to me positively irrational to prefer death, futility, and destruction to life, meaningfulness, and happiness. As Pascal said, we have nothing to lose and infinity to gain.

The fallacy here is assuming that Christianity is all smiles, roses, happy fun times, and great for everybody – and that atheism entails all those ominous sounding things like “futility” (whatever thats supposed to mean). But I do believe the OP here specifically argues that Christianity has no advantage there over the others.

It might be rational to prefer everlasting life over death – but one might also perhaps prefer a good moral philosophy that they feel will provide them with the best, most fulfilling possible life, in the only life that is certain to exist. Its quite rational for a person to conclude that Christian moral philosophy is NOT that philosophy. That would be an example of a good reason to reject Christianity, even if its evidence of its truth was equal to that of an alternative. And there are many more such reasons.

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Hermes February 15, 2010 at 7:19 am

Ayer, if your argument devolves into some variation of Pascal’s Wager, then you encounter all the issues with that as well.

You can presuppose your deity as having some innate parity or superiority among all possibilities if you want for yourself. We don’t, so stop acting as if your presuppositions are ones that matter here.

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ayer February 15, 2010 at 9:26 am

Hermes: You can presuppose your deity as having some innate parity or superiority among all possibilities if you want for yourself. We don’t, so stop acting as if your presuppositions are ones that matter here.  

Craig’s point here is not a presupposition, it’s a hypothetical: “IF the evidence for these two options were absolutely equal”

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Hermes February 15, 2010 at 10:08 am

“If “ifs” and “buts” were candy and nuts, wouldn’t it be a Merry Christmas?” –Don Meredith

Ayer, I point back to your previous comments and mine. You can rephrase or retract your comments and make a relevant comment anytime you want.

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Supernova February 15, 2010 at 2:00 pm

I agree with Craig’s sentiments. When we die it will be as if the universe never existed to begin with. Sure while we’re living we can do as we please and find joy in any way our cognizance will allow , but the finality of death makes our existence futile.

I really like this quote, “Either abolish your reverences or—yourselves!” – Friedrich Nietzsche

The point is without God what you value is actually meaningless. So, one can, either abolish what you value (for it truly isn’t valuable), or abolish yourselves via suicide.

Now, I know people will be quick to post that they have meaning in their life. Having hobbies, family, learning, and etc. However, mathematically, it truly makes no differences if you live selfishly or altruistically, happy or sad, strong or weak, and any other grouping of positive and negative attributes.

The math proves… that death is absolutely final and we can give the finality of death this lovely symbol ∞. So, whatever we do in this finite time, makes no difference for we can clearly see the ∞ (finality of death or the eternity of death) triumphs the finite. It’s a mathematically truth.

That’s why I respect the atheists who clearly see this simple truth and become nihilists (though they can still adopt some form of moral ethics as they, however, wish to choose). Life is inherently meaningless and it is meaningless to even try to find meaning for there is no meaning to be found. If nihilist is too strong of a word than become an absurdist, though IMO it’s the same as nihilism for what is the meaning in trying to find meaning when it, as they see it, is humanly impossible, thus making it absurd.

Though there’s nothing wrong with subjective meaning. As long as we’re not trying to fool the world and say there is such things as objective meaning and value in life.

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Hermes February 15, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Supernova, since because there is no such thing as an incorporeal soul, the next step of an afterlife realm is a pure impossibility; deity or no-deity. Living with that reality does not lead to despair anymore than not having an at the ready harem/stud-farm 24/7/365 doesn’t lead to a fulfilling life. Nihilism is respectable? What nonsense.

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Supernova February 15, 2010 at 3:12 pm

Hermes: Supernova, since because there is no such thing as an incorporeal soul, the next step of an afterlife realm is a pure impossibility; deity or no-deity.Living with that reality does not lead to despair anymore than not having an at the ready harem/stud-farm 24/7/365 doesn’t lead to a fulfilling life.Nihilism is respectable?What nonsense.  

I thought seeking truth and then applying those truths to our rational in our daily lives is what is noble. It seems when we understand that the finality of death triumphs our finite existence will, respectively, lead us to nihilism or at least absurdism.

I never said this fact makes one despair (well doesn’t have to force one to despair) nor did I say one can’t live a fulfilling life. Just as long as they are not fooling themselves and/or others that their existence is intrinsically meaningful. We are mere survival machines programmed by our genes to help foster their own selfish ends. Dawkins notes this beautifully.

In my above post, I spoke of great subjective meaning, though as I said, once again, lets not fool anyone that it’s actually meaningful other than what we give it to ourselves.

I would like for you to spell out how nihilism is not respectable and is nonsense. Many nihilists would adamantly disagree with your statement.

I stand by my above post. Nothing nonsensical about it.

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Justfinethanks February 15, 2010 at 3:15 pm

Supernova: . However, mathematically, it truly makes no differences if you live selfishly or altruistically, happy or sad, strong or weak, and any other grouping of positive and negative attributes.

This reminds me a bit of the debate between Shelly Kagan and WL Craig. In response to Craig’s claim that under Naturalism whether or not the Nazi’s tortured people doesn’t mattered, Kagan responded by saying something like

“How can you say it doesn’t matter? It mattered to them, and it matters to us.”

Craig responded, very weakly in my opinion:

“Well, sure it mattered to them in that they were in agony and pain, but it all ends up the same so it doesn’t really matter.”

Kagan kept trying to chide Craig on how he could make the connection between something not mattering on a huge, cosmic scale, and something not mattering at all, but he of course couldn’t.

Theists keep asserting, without argument, that if something doesn’t have ultimate, cosmic meaning, then it can’t have have significant or objective meaning. But I have yet to see anyone make a worthwhile effort to connect these two things. It just doesn’t follow in the slightest.

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Supernova February 15, 2010 at 4:05 pm

Justfinethanks:
This reminds me a bit of the debate between Shelly Kagan and WL Craig.In response to Craig’s claim that under Naturalism whether or not the Nazi’s tortured people doesn’t mattered, Kagan responded by saying something like“How can you say it doesn’t matter? It mattered to them, and it matters to us.”Craig responded, very weakly in my opinion:“Well, sure it mattered to them in that they were in agony and pain, but it all ends up the same so it doesn’t really matter.”Kagan kept trying to chide Craig on how he could make the connection between something not mattering on a huge, cosmic scale, and something not mattering at all, but he of course couldn’t.Theists keep asserting, without argument, that if something doesn’t have ultimate, cosmic meaning, then it can’t have have significant or objective meaning.But I have yet to see anyone make a worthwhile effort to connect these two things.It just doesn’t follow in the slightest.  

Thanks for the reply,

Let me flip the question…

See, the problem posed to the naturalist is they must succumb to specialism. The cruelty of human death and suffering is no different than when other animals kill off other species or other competitors within their own specie. So, why do we humans get this special treatment that such cruelty among humans becomes wrong. Obviously b/c of selfishness and self-interest since we wouldn’t want to suffer the same fate. But if you believe b/c such acts are objectively wrong, I would like to know where does one get these truths and are they binding, and if they are, why? Who oversees the binding of such acts?

See, when Kagan says surly it matters… he speaks as if it objectively matters, even on his naturalistic, atheistic, and compatibilism (free will and determinism) world view. Yet, he argued for the social contact theory (there is lots of criticisms for such a ethical theory), when he, himself, is a radical consequentialist (even more criticism than social contract). So, he understands there is no such things as objectively right and wrong. Shelly Kagan had to argue for something he doesn’t even believe in. See the whole flaw in consequentialism, as William Gass says, is that it is unable to adequately explain why a morally wrong action is morally wrong.

The question is how does a naturalist explain why such things truly matter? Why is human suffering and cruelty different than the rest of animal suffering and cruelty? I think the answer will come down to subjectivity. And we know how that goes.

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Hermes February 15, 2010 at 4:21 pm

Supernova: It seems when we understand that the finality of death triumphs our finite existence will, respectively, lead us to nihilism or at least absurdism.

Why?

Supernova: Just as long as they are not fooling themselves and/or others that their existence is intrinsically meaningful.

Life being limited adds meaning and value to each moment for everyone who acknowledges that as being a bare fact. Why would you say otherwise?

Supernova: I stand by my above post. Nothing nonsensical about it.

It’s thin and biased, full of assertions that I have no need to deal with. If you make a better argument, feel free to give it another try and I may find something to address.

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Hermes February 15, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Supernova, reading your reply to Justfinethanks it dawns on me that you have a wish that things were not as they are, but as you would suppose them to be.

As I’ve already shown that we humans are mortal, I don’t get how you can breeze by that fact and pretend it is not so.

I could want a mound of diamonds or gold the size of the Alps, just as you want an incorporeal soul, but there is no such thing. But, since you ignored that direct refutation, let’s deal with it in the abstract. Let’s say I got my unfocused wish and had full title to a mountain of diamonds the size of the Alps. The value of that mountain range would be a fraction of the money needed to haul it away. Better to turn it into a tourist attraction and charge for hotel rooms. An incorporeal soul in a funland afterlife would be as fulfilling.

Yet, we do have a treasure. The lives of those around us and our own lives.

So, screw the nihilists or anyone who devalues life based on some demonstratively false fantasy. Life’s too short for such nonsense.

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Supernova February 15, 2010 at 5:35 pm

Hermes:
Why?

You ask why when I’ve already told you. Finality of death or the eternity of death > Our finite existence. Not only is it greater but potentially infinite much greater thus rendering our existence quite meaningless, to say it mildly.

Also, on atheism or naturalism where do these values come from? It seems rather clear to me that we humans make such things up for our own benefit.

Hermes:
Life being limited adds meaning and value to each moment for everyone who acknowledges that as being a bare fact.Why would you say otherwise?

If you can’t see how that is a completely subjective statement than we can just say we agree to disagree here. By your statement animals who live shorter are more valuable than those who typically live longer (It seems you impact value with regards to time one has). Also, intrinsically at what level did we become valuable? Is it only when we become cognizance of the fact of value or when we developed specific body parts (eyes, brain, heart, etc), or what? If you take the cognizance approach of value, do you take the Peter Singer approach in that once we become self-unaware we then become worthless. You see, value is only in the eye of the beholder, and that’s a subjective view. As I said there’s nothing wrong with that (on the personal level subjectivity can be fine and dandy), but lets not think there’s such things as intrinsic value and meaning in life. Only subjective value and meaning that we have created.

Hermes:
It’s thin and biased, full of assertions that I have no need to deal with.If you make a better argument, feel free to give it another try and I may find something to address.  

I don’t think so. We see the grave is final and b/c so it has infinite potentiality; where as, our finite existence shows it does not matter if I typed on a computer my whole life or watch tv my whole life. In the end if I decided to type or watch my life away, it just doesn’t make a difference… as for as which one I should choose. It all comes down to my own subjective preferences and for anyone to tell me otherwise would be based on their subjective standards.

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Hermes February 15, 2010 at 6:30 pm

Supernova: You ask why when I’ve already told you. Finality of death or the eternity of death > Our finite existence. Not only is it greater but potentially infinite much greater thus rendering our existence quite meaningless, to say it mildly.

Also, on atheism or naturalism where do these values come from? It seems rather clear to me that we humans make such things up for our own benefit.

That doesn’t really address the question. You’re stating that your assessment is just the way it is, but I look at the same basic facts(?) and end up laughing at nihilism as just silly. It’s like complaining I’m not a younger version of Brad Pitt with a nuclear jet pack for transport — and that because of that lack of a fantasy I should not be friggen’ joyous and instead consider my meaningless life. Pshaw.

Supernova: I don’t think so. We see the grave is final and b/c so it has infinite potentiality; where as, our finite existence shows it does not matter if I typed on a computer my whole life or watch tv my whole life. In the end if I decided to type or watch my life away, it just doesn’t make a difference… as for as which one I should choose. It all comes down to my own subjective preferences and for anyone to tell me otherwise would be based on their subjective standards.

Well, of course not. It’s your argument. I can only tell you it ain’t so so many times.

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Supernova February 15, 2010 at 6:40 pm

Hermes: Supernova, reading your reply to Justfinethanks it dawns on me that you have a wish that things were not as they are, but as you would suppose them to be.As I’ve already shown that we humans are mortal, I don’t get how you can breeze by that fact and pretend it is not so.I could want a mound of diamonds or gold the size of the Alps, just as you want an incorporeal soul, but there is no such thing.But, since you ignored that direct refutation, let’s deal with it in the abstract.Let’s say I got my unfocused wish and had full title to a mountain of diamonds the size of the Alps.The value of that mountain range would be a fraction of the money needed to haul it away.Better to turn it into a tourist attraction and charge for hotel rooms.An incorporeal soul in a funland afterlife would be as fulfilling.

The purpose of my writing is I don’t see how on atheism and/or naturalism intrinsic values, purpose, meaning exists. It seems those things are human inventions much like the concept of God. One could argue that it, God, intrinsic value, perceived meaning, is just a meme. Not something that actually exists.

I’m not here to defend life after death or dualism or that God is the only one that can provide objective values. My point is life, on atheist naturalism, has no real intrinsic value and the only meaning in life is what we create there to be, but not that those things actually exist.

Hermes
Yet, we do have a treasure. The lives of those around us and our own lives.

Once again what you say is extremely subjective. There are many hermits and people who love personal isolation and seclusion, and find no satisfaction being among others, even family. Then you have excessive introverts and anitsocials who loathe anybody but themselves. So forth and so on. There’s no right or wrong, for they are all subjective.

Hermes
So, screw the nihilists or anyone who devalues life based on some demonstratively false fantasy.Life’s too short for such nonsense.  

Nihilists would say life is too short to say such things like values exist. They wold argue those who believe in such things are living in a fantasy, for they believe values are human inventions and not actual things.

Well, we are at the point where we just have to agree to disagree. Thanks for the chat, Hermes.

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drj February 15, 2010 at 7:09 pm

Let me flip the question…

See, the problem posed to the naturalist is they must succumb to specialism. The cruelty of human death and suffering is no different than when other animals kill off other species or other competitors within their own specie. So, why do we humans get this special treatment that such cruelty among humans becomes wrong. Obviously b/c of selfishness and self-interest since we wouldn’t want to suffer the same fate. But if you believe b/c such acts are objectively wrong, I would like to know where does one get these truths and are they binding, and if they are, why? Who oversees the binding of such acts?

Don’t mean to butt in here, but I believe the purpose of the post you were replying to was to ‘flip the question’ to the theist. These conversations proceed time and time again, with the implicit assumption that theism really can account for the meaning and purpose that theists claim it can, and in a way thats better than naturalism.

You seem to be making this assumption, so I would be interested to hear if you can account for purpose or meaning in some way that avoids the objections contained in the OP, like so:

But Nagel (as I read him) argues that such an ultimate purpose is in principle impossible, because the concept of such an ultimate purpose is incoherent. For as soon as we understand an alleged purpose for our lives well enough to see how it could count as our ultimate purpose, we thereby become able to question it and hence make it non-ultimate. Suppose that enjoying the Beatific Vision of God is our ultimate purpose. It’s perfectly possible to imagine someone stepping back, in the midst of such an experience, and asking, “You mean *this* is it? This is what we’re ultimately here for? This is what makes the Holocaust and everything else comprehensible and worth it?”

Really, does extending one’s lifespan indefinately somehow bring about purpose where there wasnt any before?

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drj February 15, 2010 at 7:17 pm

Supernova: See, when Kagan says surly it matters… he speaks as if it objectively matters, even on his naturalistic, atheistic, and compatibilism (free will and determinism) world view. Yet, he argued for the social contact theory (there is lots of criticisms for such a ethical theory), when he, himself, is a radical consequentialist (even more criticism than social contract). So, he understands there is no such things as objectively right and wrong. Shelly Kagan had to argue for something he doesn’t even believe in. See the whole flaw in consequentialism, as William Gass says, is that it is unable to adequately explain why a morally wrong action is morally wrong.

I suspect Kagan argued for a moral theory he doesnt subscribe to for a couple of reasons:

a) It was probably much less technical and easy for a neophyte audience to follow along with in a debate format.
b) Craig would have no way to anticipate that move.

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ayer February 15, 2010 at 7:33 pm

drj: I suspect Kagan argued for a moral theory he doesnt subscribe to for a couple of reasons:

a) It was probably much less technical and easy for a neophyte audience to follow along with in a debate format.
b) Craig would have no way to anticipate that move.

Neither of which have anything to do with truth. It would be disappointing if you are correct.

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drj February 15, 2010 at 7:43 pm

ayer: Neither of which have anything to do with truth. It would be disappointing if you are correct.

Why? The debate format isnt well suited for extremely complex and technical topics. Another reason also might have been to keep the audience from getting lost or mired in a sea of complex jargon thats difficult to follow along with in such a format – they are trying to stimulate interest among the audiences for the subjects of debate – they don’t have these people trapped in a classrom, where their captive audience is literally… captive.

On the other hand, many of Kagans challenges and defenses had nothing to do with the moral theory that he presented – such as the stuff about cosmic meaning.

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Hermes February 15, 2010 at 8:25 pm

Supernova: My point is life, on atheist naturalism, has no real intrinsic value and the only meaning in life is what we create there to be, but not that those things actually exist.

Who said naturalism is necessarily tied to atheism?

As for value, of course those ‘things actually exist’. I’m wondering how you could say otherwise.

If your other comments are attempting to assert that some Platonic form-ness is the real reality, I’m going to have to disagree with you adamantly on that as well. If that’s not what you mean, then you will have to flesh it out otherwise I have nothing to comment on in any detail.

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Hermes February 15, 2010 at 8:27 pm

ayer:
Neither of which have anything to do with truth.It would be disappointing if you are correct.  

Why do you think Craig is interested in the truth?

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Supernova February 15, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Hermes:
Who said naturalism is necessarily tied to atheism?As for value, of course those ‘things actually exist’.I’m wondering how you could say otherwise.If your other comments are attempting to assert that some Platonic form-ness is the real reality, I’m going to have to disagree with you adamantly on that as well.If that’s not what you mean, then you will have to flesh it out otherwise I have nothing to comment on in any detail.  

Before I could edit, the atheist naturalism was suppose to be atheism and/or naturalism. That’s why that sentence didn’t read correctly. I need more than 5 minutes to edit. LOL

Now back to values, they only exist b/c we humans created such things. Values exist no more than any other concept we humans create. So, do you think good and evil exists, and right and wrong? You believe in objective values? If so, how do you argue for such things on your world view, and where are they grounded? Are we bound to such things, and if so who oversees that we hold onto them? To me values on atheism and/or naturalism is just something we created, but don’t actually exist. This is akin to God, you agree?

You ask,” As for value, of course those ‘things actually exist’. I’m wondering how you could say otherwise.”

I, too, am curious how one goes about saying values intrinsically exist (Meaning there truly exists such things like meaning, values, and purpose). Do values only exist b/c our cognizance is finally aware of these values? If so what about people who are no longer self-aware, like people with Alzheimer? Do we take the Peter Singer approach and say they are useless? These values seem to have evolved, thus making it completely subjective. Why do other humans have different values? Most would say b/c of socio-biological evolution. You value one thing and I value another. Neither one is right or wrong. It’s mere subjective preference. Thus rendering objective value void. This is exactly what nihilism is… no objective value and only personal/subjective preference.

From wikipedia, “Nihilism (from the Latin nihil, nothing) is the philosophical doctrine suggesting the negation of one or more meaningful aspects of life. Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value. Moral nihilists assert that morality does not inherently exist, and that any established moral values are abstractly contrived.”

See, many will agree on atheism and/or naturalism we humans created, abstractly contrived, such things known as values, but thing is they don’t actually exist.

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ayer February 16, 2010 at 4:48 am

If he defended, say, the B-theory of time in debate when he actually holds to the A-theory of time because it would give him a strategic advantage, I would say he was not very interested in the truth.

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drj February 16, 2010 at 7:10 am

ayer: If he defended, say, the B-theory of time in debate when he actually holds to the A-theory of time because it would give him a strategic advantage, I would say he was not very interested in the truth.

Well, throughout the debate – even before I realized that Kagan wasn’t arguing for the moral philosophy that he endorses – I got the impression that his aims were a world apart from Craig.

I think Kagan’s aims were more humble – he wasn’t out to bravely and nobly defend his truth in the face of the enemy, or to evangelize – which are surely Craig’s overriding concerns. He seemed more genuinely interested in whetting the appetites and piquing the interest of the audience for moral philosophy. He even said as much in his closing remarks. So he gave the folk an expose` of a particular moral philosophy, that was practical for the debate format.

That philosophy happened not to be one that he subscribes to, but he surely doesnt think it obviously or trivially wrong either – and its worth noting that Craig didnt really succeed in rebutting it.

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ayer February 16, 2010 at 8:16 am

drj:
Well, throughout the debate – even before I realized that Kagan wasn’t arguing for the moral philosophy that he endorses – I got the impression that his aims were a world apart from Craig.I think Kagan’s aims were more humble – he wasn’t out to bravely and nobly defend his truth in the face of the enemy, or to evangelize – which are surely Craig’s overriding concerns.He seemed more genuinely interested in whetting the appetites and piquing the interest of the audience for moral philosophy.He even said as much in his closing remarks. So he gave the folk an expose` of a particular moral philosophy, that was practical for the debate format.That philosophy happened not to be one that he subscribes to, but he surely doesnt think it obviously or trivially wrong either – and its worth noting that Craig didnt really succeed in rebutting it.  

If that was his purpose, and he announced it as such, then it’s not a problem. I haven’t had a chance to listed to that debate yet.

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Hermes February 16, 2010 at 8:46 am

Supernova: Before I could edit, the atheist naturalism was suppose to be atheism and/or naturalism. That’s why that sentence didn’t read correctly. I need more than 5 minutes to edit. LOL

Yep. The lack of an edit button has zapped me a few times, mostly over stupid edit goofs.

Supernova: Now back to values, they only exist b/c we humans created such things. Values exist no more than any other concept we humans create. So, do you think good and evil exists, and right and wrong? You believe in objective values? If so, how do you argue for such things on your world view, and where are they grounded? Are we bound to such things, and if so who oversees that we hold onto them? To me values on atheism and/or naturalism is just something we created, but don’t actually exist. This is akin to God, you agree?

Stop right there. I think you and I are in the exact same boat. The only potential difference (?) is that I do not have to deal with such issues as what the gods do or want or think or believe or value or consider is true on any level. In short, I don’t need to understand what motivates any deity or how it makes value judgments on anything including morals but not limited to them.

Morals and values are not trivial things to drop into simple categories, nor are they formed from a perfect abstraction. That’s why I reject a priori categorizations such as subjective and objective, just as I reject Platonic forms.

Can those categories be handy in specific cases? Sure. It is not subjective that a fresh peach is sweet, or that roses are often red. Yet, to a cat with no sense of sweetness sugar is not sweet. To some color blind people, red just doesn’t exist. Yet, by properly identifying what is sweet or what is red, it is not subjective while at the same time it is.

That is why I’m not interested in that bifurcation; it is not necessary for an investigation and drags in baggage at the outset.

Supernova: See, many will agree on atheism and/or naturalism we humans created, abstractly contrived, such things known as values, but thing is they don’t actually exist.

Values are trivially demonstrable, so using that criteria alone they exist.

Did you mean to emphasize something else, such as did you intend the word “exist” to be applied in a specific way?

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Supernova February 16, 2010 at 5:47 pm

Hermes:
Yep.The lack of an edit button has zapped me a few times, mostly over stupid edit goofs.
Stop right there.I think you and I are in the exact same boat.The only potential difference (?) is that I do not have to deal with such issues as what the gods do or want or think or believe or value or consider is true on any level.In short, I don’t need to understand what motivates any deity or how it makes value judgments on anything including morals but not limited to them.Morals and values are not trivial things to drop into simple categories, nor are they formed from a perfect abstraction.That’s why I reject a priori categorizations such as subjective and objective, just as I reject Platonic forms.Can those categories be handy in specific cases?Sure.It is not subjective that a fresh peach is sweet, or that roses are often red.Yet, to a cat with no sense of sweetness sugar is not sweet.To some color blind people, red just doesn’t exist.Yet, by properly identifying what is sweet or what is red, it is not subjective while at the same time it is.That is why I’m not interested in that bifurcation; it is not necessary for an investigation and drags in baggage at the outset.
Values are trivially demonstrable, so using that criteria alone they exist.Did you mean to emphasize something else, such as did you intend the word “exist” to be applied in a specific way?  

To me when all is said and done about values (I should specify values to be things like morals, purpose, meaning, right and wrong and so forth and so on) are just like as the wikipedia excerpt I used above said, “established moral values are abstractly contrived” I would extend this statement to purpose, meaning, and not just to moral values.

Basically, they are are human inventions, but they don’t actually exist(meaning if we never evolved to say even to the point where we became self aware, values wouldn’t have existed). I guess one could argue even if they are just human creations that once we create such things they then begin to exist (It would also make the point that they are subjective).

It seems to me that values by their very nature(I’m speaking on the worldview of atheism and/or naturalism) are subjective. I guess to make the point, is it seems to me values just evolved over time. Sociobiologists would say we ‘value’ certain things b/c of sociobiological evolution. If this is true than they are subjective.

I understand your analogy about sweetness and color. Thing is we can quantitatively measure those substances and give concrete values accordingly (Things like salty, bitter, sour, and sweet can be scientifically calculated and the same goes with colors, brightness, hue, and etc., even though one person may say one is less salty than another, or one color is greener than another. Those things actually exist). With values and value statements we can’t do such things. They are subjective, by its very nature. The thought process is if we were to rewind time and go back a million years and change some environmental factor we would have evolved to value other things than what we value today. So, they are subjective and change over time.

That’s the point I’m trying to make.

Thanks for the chat, Hermes. Probably all my other replies will just be the same… values seem to have evolved thus rendering them subjective. I, myself, am already tired of it. LOL

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Hermes February 16, 2010 at 6:35 pm

Supernova, summary replies;

* Individual humans in isolation don’t think or behave like people in social environments. (see feral humans)

* Values are neither subjective nor objective. Like the peach, groups can generally agree on them even though they are not experienced directly and simultaneously. As Dan Gilbert notes (Ref: “Why are we happy?”), we have built-in experience simulators. Do they make mistakes? Sure. In general, we also learn from those mistakes.

* Quantitatively measuring things – part of my point.

* Quantitatively measuring values. We do measure many single social values and pass judgment on them unambiguously. For example, condom use or divorce. We can even discuss details that may lead to specific exceptions to those judgments. Rinse, wash, repeat.

* Group values are social constructs; neither objective nor subjective.

* Values are both abstracted and experienced.

As for the original comment I replied to, not all this other stuff, nihilism still is not a necessity or even a positive thing or respectable regardless of theistic beliefs. I’ll go with Dan Gilbert as his explanation makes more sense and is backed by actual research. Plus, as Mel Brooks might have said “Nihilism — it’s just not me!”. As Dan’s research shows, I’m not at all alone.

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Supernova February 16, 2010 at 7:37 pm

Hermes: Supernova, summary replies;* Individual humans in isolation don’t think or behave like people in social environments.(see feral humans)* Values are neither subjective nor objective.Like the peach, groups can generally agree on them even though they are not experienced directly and simultaneously.As Dan Gilbert notes (Ref: “Why are we happy?”), we have built-in experience simulators.Do they make mistakes?Sure.In general, we also learn from those mistakes.* Quantitatively measuring things – part of my point.* Quantitatively measuring values.We do measure many single social values and pass judgment on them unambiguously.For example, condom use or divorce.We can even discuss details that may lead to specific exceptions to those judgments.Rinse, wash, repeat.* Group values are social constructs; neither objective nor subjective.* Values are both abstracted and experienced.As for the original comment I replied to, not all this other stuff, nihilism still is not a necessity or even a positive thing or respectable regardless of theistic beliefs.I’ll go with Dan Gilbert as his explanation makes more sense and is backed by actual research.Plus, as Mel Brooks might have said “Nihilism — it’s just not me!”.As Dan’s research shows, I’m not at all alone.  

The thing is one can’t measure right and wrong, good and evil, love and hate, and etc. (and what measurements we can give are completely subjective). We humans through sociobiological evolution created such things as the aforementioned. That’s why some humans say incest and cannibalism (in some tribes and human civilizations they engage in this kind of behavior) is perfectly okay, while others say NO! they are not okay and should be forsaken. This is all subjective. Neither is right or wrong for there is no such thing as absolutes, not on the worldview of atheism and/or naturalism. Just those people who engage in such behavior hasn’t caught up to us more ‘civilized’ beings. So, we see morality is a mere by-product of evolution, and holds no absolute meaning, and certainly isn’t binding.

See, if we never evolved self-awareness than values would have never existed – since values are human inventions (values are dependent on self-awareness and cognitive function, thus they are not real entities that exist without us). Nihilists agree with the above statement and still find subjective meaning in life… for on their worldview that’s all there can possibly be.

I’ve seen some stuff of Dan’s on TED and on the Colbert Report… he argues religion and marriage typically make’s one more happier than other things. Also, we are pretty bad at predicting what will make us happy. Though happiness is completely subjective as well. I know those who are only happy when they are depressed… women are crazy. LOL

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Hermes February 16, 2010 at 7:59 pm

Supernova: The thing is one can’t measure right and wrong, good and evil, love and hate, and etc. (and what measurements we can give are completely subjective).

Not true. We can indeed measure those things using high tech and low tech methods. On the high tech end, try love for example. It’s getting quite a bit of attention, and while there is some healthy and furious criticism of the methods used in various studies, it’s not an issue of is it possible, but how do we do it to get the best results.

Values exist … with us as individuals and us as a group. Taking us out of the picture is really a strange consideration as we’re not discussing a human-less value space. Values are real, demonstratively so. That’s why we can talk about them.

As for dragging in naturalism, nihilism, and evolution — those are really not the focus of what I’m talking about. If any are good at describing and predicting reality, that shows that they are methods that are worthy of consideration. From my experience, I have specific reasons to agree that they are worthy for consideration. Yet, we’re left with other issues as well. The feral humans don’t act like the socialized ones. Values are learned and expanded over time if we’re doing it right. (I’m guessing you’re not advocating a hard ‘each to their own’ relativism, right?)

As for ‘wordview’, bah! Horrible word. If I could erase it from people’s brains, I’d do it in a second and we’d all be better off.

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Supernova February 16, 2010 at 8:44 pm

Hermes:
Not true.We can indeed measure those things using high tech and low tech methods.On the high tech end, try love for example.It’s getting quite a bit of attention, and while there is some healthy and furious criticism of the methods used in various studies, it’s not an issue of is it possible, but how do we do it to get the best results.Values exist … with us as individuals and us as a group.Taking us out of the picture is really a strange consideration as we’re not discussing a human-less value space.Values are real, demonstratively so.That’s why we can talk about them.As for dragging in naturalism, nihilism, and evolution — those are really not the focus of what I’m talking about.If any are good at describing and predicting reality, that shows that they are methods that are worthy of consideration.From my experience, I have specific reasons to agree that they are worthy for consideration.Yet, we’re left with other issues as well.The feral humans don’t act like the socialized ones.Values are learned and expanded over time if we’re doing it right.(I’m guessing you’re not advocating a hard ‘each to their own’ relativism, right?)As for ‘wordview’, bah!Horrible word.If I could erase it from people’s brains, I’d do it in a second and we’d all be better off.  

I know some of the methods look at the brain and can pin-point where in the brain emotions such as love, hate, aggression, and etc. come from. Scientist can also make drugs and inject it into the body to trick the brain in thinking that there is love or hate all around. But they don’t actually exist and are not real entities that can be measured.

Values exist b/c we created them. When we lose our cognitive abilities values cease to exist. Peter Singer says b/c of this truth, as he believes, those who suffer such a fate where they become self-unaware then become useless. Basically, they are dead on his view. The only value they hold is subjective value that we place on them. The closer we are to that person the more value that will be placed on them (they have no intrinsic value). Only subjective value we place upon them.

Yes, values are learned just like hunting is learned by animals. Thing is this is extremely relativistic and subjective b/c such things are indeed learned (better yet created) and have evolved over time. Nothing binding with regards to values.. like purpose and meaning in our life. I value moderation while another values hedonism. Neither is right or wrong.

Dawkins would say the attitude or belief in a worldview is just a meme that stuck. No more than believing incest is wrong, or there exists an external world.

“There is at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pointless indifference… We are machines for propagating DNA… it is every living object’s sole reason for being.” – Dawkins

What values there are – are completely subjective. relativistic, and in the end renders such a word void of any absolute meaning.

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Hermes February 16, 2010 at 9:30 pm

Supernova: I know some of the methods look at the brain and can pin-point where in the brain emotions such as love, hate, aggression, and etc. come from. Scientist can also make drugs and inject it into the body to trick the brain in thinking that there is love or hate all around. But they don’t actually exist and are not real entities that can be measured.

The last sentence contradicts the first sentence.

As for the rest, I’ve already addressed it. Not much else to say.

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Supernova February 16, 2010 at 10:16 pm

It’s not a contradiction. There are areas in the brain that store certain emotions, memories, ideas, and yes even values (let me emphasize, once again, values are human inventions).

Thing is, for example, your brain can hold a memory from long ago and often time distorts such a memory. So, we have several distorted memories stored in our brains as of this moment. Well surly it’s rational to say those things don’t actually exist. Even though they are stored in our brains. When I say exist I mean exist as actually entities. Instead of getting a blood transfusion could I get one’s love via transfusion of some corporeal property. Of course I can’t.

This is the same for things like fear, meaning, purpose, and so forth and so on. Even though our brains may store such things, those things are not actually entities that exist in and of themselves.

Another example, there’s an area of the brain (it’s called the brain’s “God Spot”) where the concept of God is stored, but we don’t actually say God exists. Though this could be a good argument for God’s existence if you believe those other things actually exist b/c they occupy some portion of the our brains.

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James A. Mayuga February 16, 2010 at 11:03 pm

Btw, Craig specifically states that to bring objective meaning into life requires more than mere immortality, but *God* and immortality. He makes this clear in his lecture “The Asurdity of Life Without God” by use of a hypothetical situation he read about in a Sci Fi short story he once read.
The lecture can be watched or listened to at the following link:
http://www.hisdefense.org/OnlineLectures/tabid/136/Default.aspx

As Ravi Zacharias has said, God is in one sense “THE perpetual novelty”. God is forever “new” and so will His plans for believers in heaven.

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Hermes February 17, 2010 at 4:10 am

Supernova, I’m a fan of neuroscience. To be clear: I’m not talking about an object you can cut out and stick in a jar. Values are integrated in us and with us as a group because we are social creatures. They are demonstrable, and as such they exist. If they did not, we could not discuss them with any specificity and unambiguously. If you require a Platonic ideal, then I know of nothing that passes that measure (besides, tentatively, mathematics) because Plato was simply wrong about the founding of reality.

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Hermes February 17, 2010 at 4:14 am

James A. Mayuga: As Ravi Zacharias has said, God is in one sense “THE perpetual novelty”. God is forever “new” and so will His plans for believers in heaven.

Ravi Zacharias is a slick speaker. That said, there is no such thing as an incorporeal soul. As such, there is no way to get to an afterlife.

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Supernova February 17, 2010 at 4:39 pm

Hermes: Supernova, I’m a fan of neuroscience.To be clear: I’m not talking about an object you can cut out and stick in a jar.Values are integrated in us and with us as a group because we are social creatures.They are demonstrable, and as such they exist.If they did not, we could not discuss them with any specificity and unambiguously.If you require a Platonic ideal, then I know of nothing that passes that measure (besides, tentatively, mathematics) because Plato was simply wrong about the founding of reality.  

Thanks for the back and forth, Hermes.

This blog is one of the few where both theist and non-theist can have a back and forth without one being bashed or ganged-up by the other side.

Yep, it all comes down to the definition of what we consider for something to exist. Often times in matters like these, we do best defining each word and going on from there.

We just have different views on ‘existing’.

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Hermes February 17, 2010 at 5:12 pm

OK. I take it as a given that there are ways things exist, and that existence is not one-size-fits-all. I’ve had detailed conversations on the phrase “God exists” with Christians and often never get out off of the word “exists”. It is useful to see if they have a coherent idea of what it is they worship. So far, they don’t.

Examples;

A cat = Exists as a living thing, exists as a mammal, exists as component parts, exists as a predator, exists as a domesticated animal, exists as a thinking entity, exists as an emotional entity, exists as an entity, exists as a being, exists as … .

Puppy love = Exists as a physiological state, exists as an emotion, … .

Schrödinger’s cat = Exists as a concept, … .

God (generic force, non-sectarian) = Does not exist as a being (Karen Armstrong), … .

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Supernova February 17, 2010 at 6:23 pm

Hermes: OK.I take it as a given that there are ways things exist, and that existence is not one-size-fits-all.I’ve had detailed conversations on the phrase “God exists” with Christians and often never get out off of the word “exists”.It is useful to see if they have a coherent idea of what it is they worship.So far, they don’t.Examples;A cat = Exists as a living thing, exists as a mammal, exists as component parts, exists as a predator, exists as a domesticated animal, exists as a thinking entity, exists as an emotional entity, exists as an entity, exists as a being, exists as … .Puppy love = Exists as a physiological state, exists as an emotion, … .Schrödinger’s cat = Exists as a concept, … .God (generic force, non-sectarian) = Does not exist as a being (Karen Armstrong), … .  

We’re pretty much on the same page, yet this all goes to prove the point. These emotions/physiological states, values, purpose, meaning, and etc. are all subjective and have evolved with cognitive function. For example, if a worldwide ‘flu’ broke out and it destroyed our brain function, those aforementioned things would cease to exist. They’re not actual entities, they are dependent on our self-awareness and dependent on our existence. This is extremely relativistic and subjective from person to person, and from group to group. There truly exists no meaning, purpose, and values in life other than what we ‘create’ and/or ‘invent’ those things to be. By no means do those things have any absolutes, and nothing that makes such things binding from person to person, or group to group. This makes things like values, purpose, and meaning in life void, since such things are so relativistic, subjective, changing, and ever evolving.

Though this is where we part ways. We just have to say we agree to disagree.

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Hermes February 17, 2010 at 9:10 pm

Yes, close, but I think you’re leaning too heavily on subjective and relativistic as the end answer. Those are abstract concepts that are overpowering but leave gaps in our observations if we leap to them too reflexively.

When we look at reality, we don’t see chaos in human activities all the time, or even most of the time, because humans don’t exist in isolation and they tend to be very similar even if the mix from person to person is different. This is not to say that people are like a lego bricks, differing only in the color used here or there. Yet, the similarities are striking and show that objective claims can be made.

Case in point: I was traveling out to a client a few years ago, and beside me on the plane was a girl who I didn’t pay much attention to for most of the flight. About half way through, she did something — a hand gesture — that reminded me of someone else that I knew. Then I looked at her face. She even looked like the other person. She wasn’t, but many of the facial features were similar. Curious, I struck up a conversation with her and asked her if she had any relatives from a specific part of the country. Long story short, she was a distant cousin of the other person.

Now, that’s an anecdote, but it was possible only because I am socialized and had experience with other people including the two ladies that I was able to identify as being related to each other. That skill as well as others that are more mundane aren’t tied to my subjectivity. Neither are they tied to some objective dimensional source of pure knowledge. They are the result of being social creatures that share a great number of traits including those coming from society at large. Those things are not subjective in the same way that they are not solipsistic.

We as a group, as a society, can look more analytically at groups of people who have specific traits and from those traits determine seemingly unrelated things about them and identify traits that may be important to examine in individuals.

So, am I saying “it’s all subjective” or “it’s all objective”? Neither. That’s the point. We are not alone. Nihilism is short sighted because it does not acknowledge that we are part of a larger whole.

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Steve Maitzen April 22, 2010 at 7:28 am

Thomas Nagel’s argument on absurdity is in support of nihilism. Is that what this post means to endorse?

ayer,

I just noticed that you never got a reply to this question. Let me clarify that the post concerns a different work of Nagel’s from the one discussed in the SEP entry. The post refers to Nagel’s 1971 article “The Absurd,” whereas the passage from the SEP that you quoted refers to Nagel’s 1986 book The View from Nowhere. (This difference may also help answer the objection in the comment by Anonymous.) In any case, Nagel’s two works are consistent: both hold that our lives are meaningless if they need an ultimate purpose in order to be meaningful, where “an ultimate purpose” means “a purpose that can’t sensibly be questioned.” So, yes, Nagel is a nihilist in that sense (me too): no purpose can be ultimate. It’s another matter whether our lives are meaningless unless they have an ultimate purpose (hence my italicized “if” above). I hope this helps clarify.

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ladystardust June 29, 2010 at 10:04 pm

OMG please call this William Lane Craig thing back home to you,
i can’t hear him any longer, in my town we call him the fallacie william.
so please lift him up into heaven. sorry you failed .

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yaddayadda October 29, 2010 at 4:10 pm

Dr. Maitzen is my Professor of Metaphysics at Acadia, a very intelligent man, with an awe inspiring grasp of logic and reasoning.

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Steve Maitzen November 26, 2010 at 4:19 am

One of my students recently found Craig’s reply to a Nagel-inspired challenge on Craig’s website at this location. For comparison, a pre-publication version of my article “On God and Our Ultimate Purpose” is available here.

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Luke Muehlhauser November 26, 2010 at 8:09 am

Thanks Steve!

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