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“Optimistic Nihilism” and Whistling Past God’s Graveyard

The colorful six-minute animation from the YouTube channel Kurzgesagt recently raked in millions of views with a brief history of...well, everything. The narrator offers a naturalistic view of the entire universe, but carries it to nihilistic conclusions.

 
You’ve heard the story before: In its infancy, humanity believed in God, purpose, and the centrality of human life to cope with the scariness of earth. As we got “older,” science showed us how backwards these ideas were.

The condescension toward believers and the assumed conflict between faith and reason is not surprising. What is surprising is Kurzgesagt’s conclusion about what this all means in the end. In short, we come face to face with an inconceivably enormous universe that is from nothing, for nothing, and amounts to nothing, culminating finally in its own heat death.

Knowing just how crushing a realization this is, Kurzgesagt wants to change the way we think about it, countering “existential dread” with “optimistic nihilism”:

You only get one shot at life, which is scary, but it also sets you free. If the universe ends in heat death, every humiliation you suffer in your life will be forgotten. Every mistake you made will not matter in the end. Every bad thing you did will be voided. If our life is all we get to experience, then it’s the only thing that matters. If the universe has no principles, the only principles relevant are the ones we decide on. If the universe has no purpose, then we get to dictate what its purpose is. Humans will most certainly cease to exist at some point, but before we do, we get to explore ourselves and the world around us. We get to experience feelings. We get to experience food, books, sunrises, and being with each other …
 
If this is our one shot at life, there is no reason not to have fun and live as happy as possible. Bonus points if you made the life of other people better. More bonus points if you help build a galactic human empire. Do the things that make you feel good. You get to decide whatever this means for you.

This line of thinking is not uncommon. In a Big Think video on “Hope & Optimism,” theoretical physicist and atheist Lawrence Krauss argues that the secret to living in an accidental universe headed for a “miserable future” is this: “We make our own purpose. We make our own joy.” A recent New York Times article about “poetic naturalism” (which Brandon Vogt has written extensively about here at Strange Notions) and finding meaning in the mundane argues: “Meaning begins and ends with how we talk about our own lives, such as our myths and stories.” Then there is Justice Anthony Kennedy’s famous line from the Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life …”

This might seem like a charming idea to some. It appeals to our modern sensibilities (of independence, creativity, and love of science) and to some our most basic desires (for meaning, connection, and joy). But charm is deceptive. The appeal is more a medicine show than a philosophy, and the elixir of “optimistic nihilism” so much snake oil.

In its entry on nihilism, the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes almost immediately that nihilism is “often associated with extreme pessimism.” This isn’t the result of lazy thinking or an accident of history, but of dealing honestly with nihilistic premises. If the world has no inherent purpose, and if everything ends in oblivion with no God to gather it up, then hope becomes naiveté. When Shakespeare’s Macbeth sees the nothing that life signifies, he simultaneously sees the noise and idiocy of it all. And Nietzsche’s dictum “God is dead” isn’t uttered by a heroic secularist, but by a prophetic madman running through a marketplace with a lantern. He didn’t see nihilism as a positive development. It spelled incredible trouble for man.

So we whistle past God’s graveyard. But can’t we still “transvaluate” all values? Can we still find hope and happiness in our own constructions? The intellectual quagmires of relativism – Can’t one person’s happiness easily be another’s misery? Who can value certain behaviors as deserving “bonus points” if there are no values to begin with? – are well-known. But if the only moral rule we have is “do the things that make you feel good,” there’s no good reason to think humanity should find happiness, much less avoid disaster. Just as our chaotic weather events reflect the gradual warming of the globe, our chaotic social realities seem to reflect just such a gradual narrowing of the heart.

Optimistic Nihilism acknowledges that the story of the world ultimately isn’t about us – which is true. It’s not about us. But if it’s ultimately about nothing, then the universe stares blankly back at our own freedom to go beyond good and evil.

If philosophy and history have taught us anything, it’s that this is nothing to be optimistic about.

Matthew Becklo

Written by

Matthew Becklo is a husband and father-to-be, amateur philosopher, and cultural commentator at Aleteia and Word on Fire. His writing has been featured in First Things, The Dish, and Real Clear Religion.

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  • Jim (hillclimber)

    Perhaps I have been spoiled from talking to some thoughtful atheists on these pages over the last few years, but I am stunned by how facile the argument is in that video. Couldn't they at least advert to the fact that expressivism can go horribly wrong if it is not tethered to, and constrained by -- at a very minimum -- some sort of "no harm" principle?

    It's interesting how the video pivots from a stance of (supposedly) disengaged reason to a stance of expressivism. The Romantic movement might have once been a reaction against the excessive rationalism of the Enlightenment, but now the intellectual progeny of both lineages seem to make pretty comfortable bedfellows, at least on the surface. I'm vaguely aware that various cultural commentators have commented on this irony, but I mention it because it's a very stark juxtaposition & transition in that video.

    • Perhaps I have been spoiled from talking to some thoughtful atheists on these pages over the last few years, but I am stunned by how facile the argument is in that video.

      I agree with your evaluation of the argument. However, having seen lots of atheists arguing for various positions in many other venues, I'm not the least bit surprised by it.

      I understand that some kind of purge happened here before my arrival. I can't comment on its justification, but I have noticed that the survivors on both sides engage in a level of discourse significantly better than what I have found just about anywhere else on the Internet, in terms of both quality and civility.

  • So what is a person supposed to do if he or she doesn't believe in God. End it all? I don't get the argument here. Is it that we must believe in God—whether or not he exists—because it is too disturbing to believe otherwise? If the universe is ultimately meaningless, there's really nothing to be done about it.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      Matthew would be the best one to respond to this, but I think the idea with a post like this is that we are often not fully aware of the logical implications of various assumptions that we have taken on. When we are forced to recognize that our assumptions entail conclusions that we find highly suspect or otherwise problematic (e.g. if the assumptions entail the conclusion that there is no meaning to life other than the meanings that we construct), we can either accept the problematic conclusions, or we can revisit our baseline assumptions and see if perhaps we had some false premises mixed in there.

      • When we are forced to recognize that our assumptions entail conclusions that we find highly suspect or otherwise problematic (e.g. if the assumptions entail the conclusion that there is no meaning to life other than the meanings that we construct), we can either accept the problematic conclusions, or we can revisit our baseline assumptions and see if perhaps we had some false premises mixed in there.

        You mean, if we don't like the conclusions, we should tweak our assumptions until we can get conclusions that we do like?

        I think we should always be revisiting our baseline assumptions, but I also think we need a better reason to revise them than mere discomfort with their implications.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          You mean, if we don't like the conclusions, we should tweak our assumptions until we can get conclusions that we do like?

          No, that's not what I wrote, and that's not what I mean. First of all, there can be, and there usually is, a difference between what prompts one to reconsider one's assumptions and what finally persuades one to revise his assumptions. For example, a scientist faced with a highly counterintuitive conclusion may reconsider his starting assumptions on the basis of that intuition. But he probably will not revise any given assumption unless he finds that, on reflection, that assumption was unnecessary and unwarranted all along. So likewise, the counterintuitive conclusion that there is no point to life may prompt one to reconsider an initial premise that meanings only reside in human minds, which may after all have been unwarranted and unnecessary.

          Also, on what basis did you translate "highly suspect and otherwise problematic" to mean "something we don't like"? We could probably go further in these conversations if you assume that I'm not a complete idiot, and accordingly interpret what I write with a modicum of generosity.

          • No, that's not what I wrote, and that's not what I mean.

            I assumed it wasn't what you meant, and I should have made it clearer that I was assuming so. I plead guilty to having taken a cheap shot. My apologies.

          • First of all, there can be, and there usually is, a difference between what prompts one to reconsider one's assumptions and what finally persuades one to revise his assumptions.

            Point well taken.

            So likewise, the counterintuitive conclusion that there is no point to life may prompt one to reconsider an initial premise that meanings only reside in human minds, which may after all have been unwarranted and unnecessary.

            When I found myself contemplating the proposition that life was pointless, I was unaware of any conflict with any intuition I had previously held. I probably did, up to that point, believe that life had a purpose and a meaning, but I perceived that it was only because I lived in a culture that took the notion for granted; and, for me, it had never been counterintuitive to think that a culturally prevalent belief was wrong.

            So, there was no conflict for me to resolve. The only problem I then had was avoiding a descent into nihilism, and I found its solution in the same thinking that raised it in the first place.

            It seems to have been Aristotle’s intuition, still shared by many if not most people, that for anything that has a meaning — words or whatever — the meaning exists independent of human minds and so must be somehow discovered by proper reasoning. And at least with respect to language, I thought the same thing for some years, until I learned otherwise through my studies of how the English language originated and has evolved. Then, having learned that words can mean nothing except what their users intend them to mean, I was primed to apply that understanding of meaning to other contexts. If I want my life to mean something to me, then I can decide what it will mean to me. If I want it to have a purpose, I can choose a purpose for it.

            Or, I can be a nihilist if I want to, but I don’t want to be a nihilist, and logic does not compel me to be one. There is no inherent point to life, but from that, it does not follow that life is pointless, any more than it follows, from there being no inherent meaning to any word, that all words are meaningless.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Then, having learned that words can mean nothing except what their users intend them to mean

            OK, you did say "users" (plural), which I agree with, but just to be clear, the meanings of a word are defined by its uses in a community. I don't know that much about Wittgenstein, but I believe he showed convincingly that individual users can't possibly just define private meanings of words.

            If I want my life to mean something to me, then I can decide what it will mean to me.

            But if my clarification above is correct regarding the meaning of words, then your analogy would imply that it cannot be you alone, as an isolated individual, who determines what your life means.

          • but just to be clear, the meanings of a word are defined by its uses in a community.

            Yes, if there is to be any communication within the community, which is what language is for.

            I don't know that much about Wittgenstein, but I believe he showed convincingly that individual users can't possibly just define private meanings of words.

            An individual can define words idiosyncratically, but if he uses them with such intended meanings, he won't be understood. Wittgenstein wasn't talking about that, though. He was introducing the concept of an entire language comprehensible only to its originator and then arguing that such a language could not exist. He did this because, in his opinion, many philosophical ideas that were popular in his day presupposed the existence of such a language. (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/private-language/)

            then your analogy would imply that it cannot be you alone, as an isolated individual, who determines what your life means.

            To say that A is like B is not to claim that there is no distinction ever to be made between A and B.

            It is probably better for a community's social cohesion if its members tend to agree on what their lives mean. If I decide that my life means something that nobody else thinks it means, and if I make it known that that's what I think, then I might have problems getting along with other people. That doesn't mean I can't make such a decision if I'm willing to accept the social consequences of it, but I'm more likely to decide that my community is probably right about the meaning of life. In either case, it's still my decision.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            It is probably better for a community's social cohesion if its members tend to agree on what their lives mean. If I decide that my life means something that nobody else thinks it means ...

            This isn't the sort of thing I was trying to get at. I was referring to the fact that we are born into a semantic ecosystem that we don't entirely control. To say it a slightly different way, there is a sense in which the stories of our culture choose us, rather than the other way around. This isn't a matter of what we should or shouldn't accept. I am just trying to describe things as (I think) they are.

          • I was referring to the fact that we are born into a semantic ecosystem that we don't entirely control. To say it a slightly different way, there is a sense in which the stories of our culture choose us, rather than the other way around.

            Few if any of us can choose our culture, and we can’t control it in any sense like the sense in which it controls us in certain ways, but it is not clear to me how that is inconsistent with what I have said.

            This isn't a matter of what we should or shouldn't accept. I am just trying to describe things as (I think) they are.

            The way things are includes the fact that we all accept much but not everything that our culture comprises. No matter how thoroughly assimilated any of us is, we don’t entirely lose a certain amount of autonomy. My culture can tell me as often and as loudly as it wants that my life is meaningless without a belief in God, but that doesn’t make it so.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            My culture can tell me as often and as loudly as it wants that my life is meaningless without a belief in God, but that doesn’t make it so.

            Well, for my part, I applaud your resistance on this point. And what's more, I believe that Catholic theology supports you on this point. The Catholic stance is precisely that it is neither what you do, nor what you believe, that makes your life meaningful. On Catholic teaching your life has inherent meaning not because of your belief in God, but because of God, full stop. God confers that meaning regardless of what you believe. Of course, I don't expect you to buy into this upstream reasoning, but I think it is worth pointing out the downstream point of confluence, where both you and orthodox Catholic thinkers find your life to be meaningful independent of whether you think God exists.

          • I think it is worth pointing out the downstream point of confluence, where both you and orthodox Catholic thinkers find your life to be meaningful independent of whether you think God exists.

            I'll accept whatever common ground there happens to be :-)

          • flan man

            But on what grounds do we decide which conclusion is "problematic?" You make a grievance while skipping over the basic point entirely. Other than personal preference, what is the criteria for "problematic" conclusions?

            So likewise, the counterintuitive conclusion that there is no point to life may prompt one to reconsider an initial premise that meanings only reside in human minds, which may after all have been unwarranted and unnecessary.

            Who has decided that the conclusion is "counterintuitive?" Many have intuited exactly that.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            In general, there are a lot of things that might make a conclusion problematic. For example, if it might be logically incompatible with a conclusion that one has reached through a different trajectory of inquiry. In this particular case, the type of problem I had in mind was of a more pragmatic nature: a conclusion with unlivable implications is problematic. And if I may anticipate a possible objection, let me just say that it is by no means obvious that pragmatic considerations are out of bounds on matters of epistemology.

            And regarding differences of intuition, well, of course. As I believe I already clarified, I am not saying that intuition alone confers strong epistemic warrant. I am just saying that -- for those who have such intuitions in any given situation -- it provides reasonable justification for pausing and re-evaluating one's assumptions. I don't see why it's problematic that what is convincing to one person is not convincing to another in any given situation. There's more than one path home through the woods.

    • Hey David - The argument is not that a person should believe in God simply because the alternative is too disturbing. It's that a person shouldn't believe in "optimistic nihilism" simply because nihilism is too disturbing. The philosophers who dedicated their minds to the subject found themselves in some dark spaces that could scarcely be called "optimistic" precisely because it's not an optimistic way of looking at the world. The video is colorful and engaging, and I get their desire to (to paraphrase Larry David in "Whatever Works") filch some happiness out of what they perceive as the purposelessness of life. We're hardwired for joy. But that our individual or collective well-being should naturally follow, or that we will have somehow gone beyond just distracting or deceiving ourselves from the high costs of nihilism, are enormous, unsubstantiated leaps.

      • James

        Whether a view is optimistic or pessimistic has no relation to whether it is true or false. Better a pessimistic truth than an optimistic falsehood.

        • I would totally agree with that. The only reason to be believe something is because it's true. That said, this doesn't mean we can't objectively discuss the point that if somebody accepts something as true, then their truth claim carries certain consequences.

          • The only reason to be believe something is because it's true.

            Well, yeah, but what's the point of saying so? For any proposition P, I can say, "I believe P because it's true."

  • Ye Olde Statistician

    If the universe has no principles, if the universe has no purpose, and...

    Human beings are just another component of the material universe,...

    How can we dictate what its purpose is?

    If we can dictate a purpose and we are part of the universe, the universe does have purposes.

    Now all we need is some assurance beside brute force that those pursuing their own happiness do not decide that their happiness consists of racial purity or world conquest or simply possessing lots of Stuff even if it belongs to you.

    • Now all we need is some assurance beside brute force that those pursuing their own happiness do not decide that their happiness consists of racial purity or world conquest or simply possessing lots of Stuff even if it belongs to you.

      Is this assurance fundamentally different the one that those pursuing their conception of the True Purpose of Human Existence do not decide that this end is served by racial purity or world conquest or massive property theft? What makes people happy is at least in principle open to empirical investigation.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      Now all we need is some assurance

      That's easy if you follow a common recipe: take one cup of pure atheism and add in two scoops of providential deism, whereby the universe has been designed in such a way that if everyone pursues his own enlightened self-interest, that will, by some mysterious design, conduce to everyone's mutual benefit, a la Adam Smith. If you stir those two scoops in well enough, maybe no one will notice.

    • Now all we need is some assurance beside brute force that those pursuing their own happiness do not decide that their happiness consists of racial purity or world conquest or simply possessing lots of Stuff even if it belongs to you.

      What kind of assurance do we have against people who decide, because they believe God told them so, that their happiness consists of racial purity or world conquest or etc.?

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        Well, if you have any sort of social tradition at all (doesn't need to involve a Bible or a Pope), then you can check what said "racial purity person" is saying about God and see if that conceivably squares with the way that God has been understood to act within that tradition. If it is a tradition that has stood the test of time (which, of course, is not limited to Christianity), then it probably has developed some degree of inherent safeguard against such self-serving claims.

        Of course, what many people find objectionable about traditions is that traditions inescapably have authority structures, whether in the form of a Bible, or of a Pope, or even just in the form of an accepted "secular" principle such as the "no harm" principle. It may be up to the individual to recognize the authority of a tradition, but it is not possible for any individual to be the author (or the author-ity) of a complex and long-standing tradition. But of course, this is precisely the value added.

        This is not to say that anyone should blindly submit to any authority structure either. That would be every bit as facile as the "just do what makes you happy" solution. Rather, between those two extremes, it is possible to listen to the promptings of one's own heart while also listening to "that which is outside of you" (in the form of tradition, etc). In the end, hopefully, one is elevated by the tension between those two poles, rather than being drawn to one extreme or the other.

        • This is not to say that anyone should blindly submit to any authority structure either. That would be every bit as facile as the "just do what makes you happy" solution.

          Right. And so, no matter what one thinks the ultimate source of morality is, there is no avoiding the exercise of reason to choose among competing claims that are alleged to be based on that source. That being so, I don't see where theistic morality has any advantage over naturalistic morality.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            there is no avoiding the exercise of reason to choose among competing claims that are alleged to be based on that source.

            Of course. I absolutely agree.

            The crucial distinction is between, on the one hand, using one's own resources (including one's ability to reason) to infer or recognize the validity of an external authority and, on the other hand, asserting the authority of the self. In either case, one is reliant on the resources of the self. It's a matter of whether one's ontology allows for moral authority beyond oneself.

          • The crucial distinction is between, on the one hand, using one's own resources (including one's ability to reason) to infer or recognize the validity of an external authority and, on the other hand, asserting the authority of the self.

            I'm less concerned with authority than with responsibility. While in the military, I was told on one occasion that while authority can sometimes be delegated, responsibility can never be delegated. Even a pure moral relativist, if such a person exists, cannot avoid being responsible for the consequences of their decisions, however much they might wish to be.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            You'll get no disagreement from me on that point ... but you will get a question ...

            To whom, then, is one ultimately responsible?

          • On naturalism, responsibility for one's behavior is like gratitude for good fortune. There is no being to whom it can be directed. When impersonal events conspire fortuitously to my benefit, I feel thankful in a way similar to what I feel when another human does me a favor, even though there is nobody to whom I can say "Thank you very much." I have analogous feelings when I'm confronted with ethical decisions. The sense of responsibility exists, notwithstanding that there is no being to whom that responsibility is directed.

            I suspect many naturalists would say they are responsible to themselves, but I'm not sure I can make the logic of that formulation work.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            On naturalism, responsibility for one's behavior is like gratitude for good fortune. There is no being to whom it can be directed.

            Exactly! This might actually be my biggest complaint against the naturalist framework: it is syntactically incomplete. It seems as though you are rebelling against the very structure of language.

            Despite my preference for syntactic completeness, perhaps a common way that we might both express the same sentiment is: "Our responsibility for our actions transcends our responsibility to any individual (including ourselves) or any institution". Is that phrasing that would work for you?

          • This might actually be my biggest complaint against the naturalist framework: it is syntactically incomplete.

            It seems so, in rare instances such as these. But that is not necessarily a problem for naturalism. It could be a problem for our linguistic habits.

            Syntax is a property of language, and on naturalism, language is as much a product of natural selection as our bipedalism. To facilitate our survival, its syntax had to convey, with some reliability, data about reality as it was perceived by the people among whom it evolved. Since our first ancestors, so far as we can determine, perceived agency in all events, there was no selection pressure for expressing ideas of apparent-but-not-real agency.

            Now, once language existed, it became subject to social evolution, which can, but does not always, happen fast enough to be watched in real time. Until modern times, naturalistic worldviews were not prevalent enough to exert any social pressure on our linguistic habits, but maybe that’s starting to change.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Well, I understand that reality is under no obligation to respect the syntax of our language(s). However, the syntax of language does constrain us in the ways that we can coherently conceive of reality.

            No doubt our linguistic habits are changing over time, but I'm not sure the basic syntactic structures are really up for grabs. Makes me want to learn more about Chomsky's ideas on "universal grammar".

          • Makes me want to learn more about Chomsky's ideas on "universal grammar".

            I was a kid when he first published about it, but didn't hear about it until I was in my 50s. In the years since, I haven't come across any comments that I remember on the extent, if any, to which he developed it, and I haven't gotten around to reading any of his own work. But I have read some of Steven Pinker's work, including The Language Instinct, in the same general area. In my judgment, it's a good introduction to the latest science on what we've been talking about.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Thanks for the recommendation. I read and enjoyed Pinker's The Blank Slate and How The Mind Works, but I haven't looked at The Language Instinct yet. Will check it out.

          • You're entirely welcome.

    • Peter

      All sentient life forms across the cosmos, ourselves included, have a fundamental purpose which is to seek out our maker through our in-built ability to reason and comprehend the workings of creation.

      Inasmuch as we, and all sentient life, are products of the universe, the apex of its evolution, the universe does indeed have a purpose which is to look for its creator.

      This is not rendered meaningless by the eternal heat death of the universe. The scientific consensus of a heat death has been shaken by the discovery of the Higgs particle, which raises the prospect of a much earlier and more dramatic end to the cosmos.

    • Just from my experience there is no need to dictate or even decide on a purpose. There is actually no need to have an awareness of personal purpose. People simply have meaning and value in life naturally.

      Children don't suffer or wallow in nihilism until they learn Christian theology or existentialism.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        Children don't suffer or wallow in nihilism until they learn Christian theology or existentialism.

        Children don't suffer from a lot of things for the simple reason that they haven't matured yet. The maturation process takes us though advancing conceptions of happiness: the happiness of immediate physical gratification, the happiness of accomplishment based on deferred gratification, the happiness of contributing to society, etc.

        Just for the sake of trading anecdotes, I'll offer a somewhat opposing personal reflection:

        The dominant "adult" conception of happiness in the area where I live, in the circles that I run in, is probably reasonably well characterized as the "higher selfishness" of the BoBos. It's not such a bad way to live, and I have to confess to being more than a bit of a BoBo myself. But my own sense is that this worldview is not as stable as you make it out to be. I think there is a sense that fades in and out that life must be about something more than just what we would typically call "human flourishing". Interpret this however you like, but the friends I have who have gone to AA and Narcotics Anonymous meetings are always stunned by just how many people in this wealthy and outwardly flourishing town have serious issues with drugs. I interpret this at least partly as an indicator of dissatisfaction with a life defined entirely by conventional notions of (non-transcendent) "human flourishing".

        • But neither is the theistic worldview if indeed it is based on false promises. When that house of cards collapses theists have big emotional and social problems. Something those raised atheist don't struggle with.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            When that house of cards collapses theists have big emotional and social problems.

            Sometimes true. Results vary.

            Something those raised atheist don't struggle with.

            Sometimes true. Results vary.

            As I imagine things, there have always been (many) people who have lived most or all of their lives in the so-called "immanent frame", without little or no reference to the transcendent, without any real damning consequences (as best I can tell). I think that's more or less the right spiritual "gear" for a lot people to be in, and I don't find that to be particular harmful in itself.

            On the other hand, I am all but certain that others are greatly harmed by a culture that declares that the immanent frame is all there is, that aspiring to anything beyond this is stupid, or unscientific, or a waste of time, or whatever. For many people, nothing could be more depressing or anxiety-inducing, or personally damaging, than being told that "all you need to do is focus on being happy in this life" (as the video advocates).

      • Mike

        children we are not, i hope!

        • flan man

          And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

          • Mike

            are you protestant fundie aka atheist?

          • flan man

            huh?

          • Mike

            are you an atheist?

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        People simply have meaning and value in life naturally.

        But then there is meaning and value in the universe, because people are part of the universe. If the universe has no meaning and value how did the melange of carbon, oxygen, et al. that we call "people" come up with them?

        Also, children don't get into science or mathematics, either, let alone suffer from their inability to do them right, until they are older.

        • The universe does not have inherent or objective meaning as far as I know. People come up with meaning by thinking and they develop values and assign purpose naturally. Even without thinking about it this happens naturally.

          Well yes children do get into science and mathematics. They don't practice these professionally. I don't see what this has to do with our discussion.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            a) The universe has no meaning.
            b) Humans are just another part of the universe.
            c) Humans can produce meaning by "thinking"

            These three propositions cannot all be true.

            +++

            My apologies. You may be thinking of counting as "mathematics" and being told facts by teachers as "science." Hence, my actual comment: "children don't get into science or mathematics... until they are older.

          • Sample1

            Disagree. It seems to me the mistake here is to confabulate metaphysical questions (why the universe as a whole has or does not have meaning) with components within the universe (humans).

            In other words we have a possible (and all I need is the word possible) category mistake between the universe qua universe and those within it.

            Mike

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I understand. It is more convenient to make exceptions when they suit.

            So you are claiming that humans are something Special in the universe because they can create meaning by some magical process. Gravitation, maybe? Electromagetism? Radiation? Nucleation?

          • Sample1

            Well no, I don't see exceptions here but rather distinctions. I am offering for thought that there are distinctions to be made between mammals like us living in a universe eeking out an existence with all that that entails (including morality) and the universe itself which, appearing agent-less and inanimate, is therefore necessarily devoid of any occupants' interests.

            I believe In this way one can legitimately say the universe qua universe is meaningless. The same way your cheek stubble has no meaning for a rock. On the other hand if by universe one chooses to impart the meaning humans derive for themselves to the whole, then one could make the case that the universe is not meaningless.

            Mike

          • A is not true.

            What's your point?

          • Mike

            oh COME ON DUDE! you can't say there's no meaning in the universe but there is in us then get called out on it and hide behind ok there is meaning in the universe but it is imaginary/we impose it!

            that doesn't make any sense and you know it.

          • I never said there is no meaning in the universe. I said explicitly that there is no objective or inherent meaning in it.

            Do you not appreciate the difference?

          • Mike

            yes so you agree that ALL meaning is illusory,
            'made up' in a sense by us but total bereft of actual inherent meaning?

            straight answer please.

          • I'm sorry but you cannot just demand simple obvious answers to deep philosophical questions such as "what is meaning?" It isn't far to demand that meaning is either inherent and objective or illusory. These are not the only options.

            The topic of meaning in spheres of humanity, theology, psychology, sociology varies greatly on the context you are discussing.

            Very briefly my own views in this are consistent with existentialism. This is a well developed world view that I fear you dismiss pre-emptively.

            I don't dismiss this idea of objective inherent or god-given meaning as silly and illusory. I do believe it is not the case and that this approach mistakes human subjective meaning for more than it is. We can discuss it, but please recognize that this is not a simple or easy topic!

            Short answer: I think subjective person meaning is all there is, I don't call this illusory or made up, I call real meaning. If there were no conscious beings there would be no meaning.

          • Mike

            ok a round about way of agreeing with me that the meaning we 'conjure up' is 'real' to us but 'real' in a sort of subjective way that is total bereft of inherent meaning.

            why not just say there is no meaning in the universe and our perception of meaning is illusory but nevertheless not to be ignored as it's all we have?

            anyway just from a gut check perspective doesn't it seem strange that the universe with all of its impressive order and mathematical laws would be total bereft of inherent meaning? doesn't that just seem totally wrong on a purely personal common sensical level?

          • "doesn't it seem strange that the universe with all of its impressive order and mathematical laws would be total bereft of inherent meaning? doesn't that just seem totally wrong on a purely personal common sensical level?"

            No, quite the opposite. But the universe is not just impressive laws and math that humans find fascinating. Most of it is incredibly dull. It is vast mostly vast cold emptiness. Math is filled with paradox and chaos and boring numbers and inconceivable notions like imaginary numbers and multi-dimensional strangeness.

            These mean things to me and others but I don't see why you would think they have meaning absent sapient minds.

          • Mike

            i don't know maybe we're just wired differently ;).

            Anyway cheers and congrats again on fatherhood!

          • Maybe. thanks! Less than 2 months to go!

          • flan man

            Well, if a product is wired incorrectly, I guess you would blame the manufacturer?

          • Mike

            alot of q begging here.

          • flan man

            It's funny how the theists will endlessly quibble about the finest nuance of a word or concept when it suits them, but then suddenly a not remotely simple concept like "meaning" suddenly means one clear, blunt thing, and anybody that doesn't understand the way they're using it is a dodo.

            Cue YOS: "Meaning" is a simple concept. Just beating you to the punch.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            People, in their terrified flight from teloi, have been claiming that the universe is devoid of meaning or purpose, yet claiming also that humans can give meaning. But if humans are only a part of the universe, how can they have meaning and purpose? If they do have meaning and purpose, then from what facet of the universe have they derived it? Conclusion:
            a) Either the universe has meaning and purpose, OR
            b) Humans are somehow unique and not merely a part of the universe; OR
            c) Humans no more have meaning and purpose than does Mars or sodium chloride.

          • flan man

            Nobody but nobody is better at playing dumb than YOS.

          • Kshos23

            About mathematics, I've got one question for you which might be a little bit off-topic, but I think is worth asking to someone who knows mathematics and statistics as you do:

            Do black holes actually produce an infinite redshift, at least according to the equations? Or is this some sort of reification fallacy? If the redshift really is infinite as a physical effect, then this would seem to be an instance of an actual physical infinite in nature. Either that, or the redshift is simply eternally increasing rather than actually infinite.

          • flan man

            My apologies. You may be thinking of counting as "mathematics" and being told facts by teachers as "science." Hence, my actual comment: "children don't get into science or mathematics... until they are older.

            No, nobody was thinking of that at all.

        • flan man

          how did..."people" come up with them?

          You answered your own question there. They came up with them. As they have "come up" with all sorts of wonderful things.

          Also, children don't get into science or mathematics

          Yes, they do.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            See above

          • flan man

            ditto

  • James Chilton

    Arthur James Balfour, the only British prime minister who was also a competent philosopher, said that nothing matters very much, and few things matter at all. This is probably consistent with a Christian view, I think.

    In any case, the key to happiness isn't "optimistic nihilism" but having low expectations.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      ... nothing matters very much, and few things matter at all. This is probably consistent with a Christian view

      That may be consistent with popular forms of "stoicized Christianity", but I don't think it is consistent with a Christianity in which Jesus was "moved in the gut" (splagchnizomai) by the earthly suffering of his fellow humans.

      Orthodox Christianity call for us to "offer up" the ephemeral goods of this world not through a sort of stoic detachment, but through sacrifice. The latter only makes sense if that which we are sacrificing really does matter, and is good in its own right.

      • James Chilton

        Balfour's "nothing matters very much" seems to echo the austere gospel message of giving up the baubles of this life in order to inherit the treasures of heaven in the life to come.

        In other words, nothing matters very much in this material world, and the few things that do matter are of spiritual significance.

  • Lucretius

    "Optimistic Nihilism" might be tolerable for some in a comfortable environment, but I doubt it would last in profound, habitual suffering, or even in a lifestyle lacking any kind of real leisure. Atheism is a very civilized sin.

    Christi pax.

    • Atheism is a very civilized sin.

      Atheism is not a sin.

      • Mike

        technically it is i think as it's irrational.

        • Is it always a sin to be irrational?

          • Mike

            yes.

          • James Chilton

            Is it rational to claim that it's always a sin to be irrational? Does it follow that the passions are always sinful?

          • Mike

            you judge something as rational with the intellect i would say.

          • James Chilton

            Of course, but my question was about the rationality of a declaration that it is sinful to be irrational. Human conduct is motivated by the passions perhaps more often than not. Are you saying it's inevitably wicked to allow passion to get the better of reason?

          • Mike

            well a sin is something you do/will so there's that limit. but the will ought to be subject to the intellect. so if you're not trying to at least reason your way but are only following passions then you are sinning i'd say.

            however passions can be guide posts that can help us discern. if we didn't 'feel' better when we don't sin it would be well strange.

          • flan man

            I have sex outside of marriage all the time, and I feel pretty good about it.

          • Mike

            i doubt it

          • flan man

            No reason to doubt it, I feel quite good about it.

          • Mike

            i doubt it

        • Fear of flying is irrational. Is it a sin?

          • Mike

            i wouldn't say it's exactly irrational.

          • Can reasonable people disagree about whether something is irrational?

          • Mike

            obviously.

          • flan man

            Fear of the number 13, fear of black cats, Agoraphobia, belief that people are reading your thoughts, fear of being rectally probed by aliens. All irrational. All sins?

          • Mike

            i wouldn't say these things are strictly irrational. again alot of q begging.

          • flan man

            Ok, I'll be charitable and let you back out of this one gracefully.

      • Rob Abney

        You are very good at providing reference for statements that you post, what are your references for this conclusion?

        • I am giving my own personal opinion. If you want to rely on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it says atheism is a sin, but it significantly qualifies that statement.

          2125 Since it rejects or denies the existence of God, atheism is a sin against the virtue of religion.61 The imputability of this offense can be significantly diminished in virtue of the intentions and the circumstances. "Believers can have more than a little to do with the rise of atheism. To the extent that they are careless about their instruction in the faith, or present its teaching falsely, or even fail in their religious, moral, or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than to reveal the true nature of God and of religion."62

          61 Cf. Rom 1:18.
          62 GS 19 § 3.

          I'll quote a bit more of Romans (18-21) than the footnote calls for:

          The wrath of God is indeed being revealed from heaven against every impiety and wickednessp of those who suppress the truth by their wickedness. For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made.r As a result, they have no excuse; for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened.

          And here's the quote from Gaudium et spes:

          Undeniably, those who willfully shut out God from their hearts and try to dodge religious questions are not following the dictates of their consciences, and hence are not free of blame; yet believers themselves frequently bear some responsibility for this situation. For, taken as a whole, atheism is not a spontaneous development but stems from a variety of causes, including a critical reaction against religious beliefs, and in some places against the Christian religion in particular. Hence believers can have more than a little to do with the birth of atheism. To the extent that they neglect their own training in the faith, or teach erroneous doctrine, or are deficient in their religious, moral or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than reveal the authentic face of God and religion.

          Personally, I would say that atheism is "a philosophical or religious position characterized by disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods" (Merriam-Webster Unabridged) and can exist independent of anyone actually holding that position. For example psychomorphism is the "doctrine that inanimate objects have human mentality." That is a fact, whether or not there are any "psychomorphists" alive in the world today. It may seem like splitting frog hairs, but I don't think it makes sense to say a particular philosophical position is a "sin."

          It might be argued that holding a particular philosophical position is a sin, but then you have to get into the matter of culpability. What if a person is raised by his or her parents to be an atheist? Is it sinful for that person to be an atheist? Are the atheists of, say, North Korea, who have been raised in an atheist, repressive state and indoctrinated to oppose religion guilty of the "sin" of atheism?

          I would say that holding to an atheist position in the face of ample, convincing evidence for the existence of God might be a sin depending on the psychological reasons for resisting the evidence. St. Paul's claims in Romans seem to me to be highly overstated. There is no reason to expect the Romans to have found the existence of the God of the Jews to be obvious or self-evident.

          • Rob Abney

            I would say that holding to an atheist position in the face of ample, convincing evidence for the existence of God might be a sin depending on the psychological reasons for resisting the evidence

            This is the criteria for judging all actions as sinful or not, and it shouldn't be applied to groups such as North Koreans or Romans but to individuals (by the individual). Once culpability is determined then change is needed (repentance). To avoid that same state after addressing culpability requires a change of your intellect and will; assistance/support is needed and is available.

      • Peter

        CCC36 says that without the capacity to know God from the created world by the light of human reason, mankind would not be able to welcome God's revelation.

        It follows, then, that the atheist rejects religion (revelation) because he/she fails to see God through the light of reason in the created world.

        The problem is that the God which atheists fail to see, and whose non-existence they proclaim, is a God which, according to Catholics, does not exist in the first place.

        A God who magically conjures the universe into existence, or conjures a ready-made planet and its inhabitants into being, or magically manipulates living things in order to enhance them, is not the Catholic God.

        • Really. So how was this done, according to Catholicism?

    • Mike

      i agree; if you're a rich white bored westerner it's very easy to spend one's life 'picking daisies'.

    • You have an odd namesake for that sentiment.

      • Lucretius

        Thank you for the compliment.

        Christi pax.

        • It wasn't a compliment. Nor an insult. Merely an observation. I take it that's deliberate. Why?

  • I think this is actually existentialism but I think I get it.

    The bigger issue is that both theists and these nihilistic guys are inventing purpose, meaning, value.

    People like me base these on our intuitions, my values, desires, and meaning are intuitive to me. I.e. I just value my own well being, I don't know why but I guess that my ancestors who did not evolve such intuitions, did not survive.

    Theists will of course not deny these values and purposes, though they may disagreed on many of the details. But they say this meaning is not from me but from some deity.

    Theists also create meaning and purpose, I think, from the same source but by way of culture and theology, believe this comes from a deity. I say they are mistaken it is really from evolved intuitions.

    How do we tell who is correct? Well if there is no god theists are wrong to an extent but it doesn't mean there isn't some unknown external source of ultimate meaning for humans.

    What we can do is scrutinize these claims and see if there is such a god.

    In any event, I should point out that a lack of external objective meaning is in no way depressing or discomforting to me. Maybe because I was never raised to believe in a god or anything.

    But if there is no such source of meaning, we have to deal with it and existentialism seems as good of a view as I can think of.

    It further whether or not there is some external source just never becomes an issue. I'm going to be a dad soon and this experience is full of meaning and value for me despite my firm belief that in a a couple hundred years neither of us will exist in any meaningful way and in a few billion no one will to remember us.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      I'm going to be a dad soon

      Congrats Brian!

    • Rob Abney

      I don't know why but I guess that my ancestors who did not evolve such intuitions, did not survive....
      Maybe because I was never raised to believe in a god or anything....
      I'm going to be a dad soon and this experience is full of meaning and value for me despite my firm belief that in a a couple hundred years neither of us will exist in any meaningful way and in a few billion no one will to remember us.

      This reminds me of a movie I just watched, Magnolia, "we may through with the past but the past ain't through with us".

      Congratulations!

  • Mike

    if nihilism is true, what difference will it make if i spend my life acting as though i believe in God; yet if it's false and i am right, i will have a head start over everyone else.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      I was thinking of making a similar point, especially in relation to Dr. Rauser's post on natural disasters. If it's OK to just create our own meanings (per the logic of the video), then presumably we can't complain if Jim Bakker wants to interpret various natural disasters as divine retribution. According to this reasoning, Bakker is not wrong, he has just exercised his meaning-making faculties ... differently.

      However, I didn't initially make this comment because I already know, more or less, the standard response: "Yes, you can go and believe whatever crazy stuff you want, but just be sure to keep those meanings totally private. They cannot influence your action in the public sphere in any way. For that matter, it's wrong if you even share those meanings with your own children. But as long as it all stays in your own head, go ahead, have fun, make up your own meanings! Meanings are fine ... as long as they are, well, meaningless".

      • Mike

        all very true. however what they don't point out is that all of that applies to their ideas just as much. if mine are 'crazy' well then so are yours if there is no meaning or purpose to any of this. in which case why don't i make yours illegal in the public square, with force! who's to say i am wrong and they're right afterall.

        w/o Truth there is only might makes right. but Truth requires humility which is in short supply among ppl who don't believe in virtue except as some accidental chemical reaction in the brain.

        • flan man

          No, just because there isn't some Objective Tablet of Law handed down by the Supreme Being doesn't mean all ideas are equally sane or equally crazy.

          And yes, essentially, in one way or another, what is legal or not in the public square comes down to force. You can wail all you want about your God Given Rights to your kidnapper, but it's not going to make him let you go.

          "Truth requires humility" sounds fine and dandy, but when the religious authorities have the political force to back it up, they are anything but humble. But, of course, it's not their fault, they're only "doing what God commands".

          • Mike

            alot of q begging here.

      • As an atheist, let me say that is quite hypocritical and wrong. On the other hand, I find too many believers only care when it's them who are in the dock. I seriously doubt any atheist nominee to the Court or a similar position would be handled lightly by Republicans. Many too have openly said no atheist is qualified simply due to being one.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          Agree on all counts.

          • I'm glad. You always seemed like a good sort Jim.

    • flan man

      Thanks for Pascal's Wager.

    • flan man

      alot of q begging here

  • The problem with theism is that in practice you're always going to get relativism: different people will believe different gods who say they have different purposes for them and humanity.

    It's the same alleged problem theists claim atheists have. One theist will say god wants us to do X and another will say god wants us to do Y. There's no objective way to demonstrate which one is true, if any. And so we're told you have to have a little faith in one vs the other. But that's no different from just believing a subjective purpose.

    Also, I've never understood what the appeal of an objective purpose is anyway. To illustrate the point, imagine that when you were born, you were told that your purpose in life was to carry on your grandfather’s shoe shining business. Now imagine, like most people probably would, that the idea of spending the rest of your life shining other people’s shoes makes you extremely depressed. You don’t want to spend the rest of your life shining shoes, you have other passions and interests that you would like to pursue. Then you’re told that if you don’t want to shine shoes for the rest of your life you will not be forced in any way to carry on your grandfather’s business – it’s all up to you – and you breathe a huge sigh of relief. But, there’s a catch. Of course there is. If you freely reject the purpose given to your life – the very reason why you were born, you will spend a hell in eternity being tortured after you die.

    Who would jump with joy if they found out this was their reality? Finding your own subjective purpose in life is much more exhilarating. It's just that some people find it terrifying, and prefer someone else give them their purpose.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      I think there are a few distinctions to be made there.

      I would say first: talk about "purpose" can already a bit off the mark, insofar as it implies that our lives have only instrumental meaning. If we could instead speak of our telos, that probably moves us closer to concepts in Christian eschatology and soteriology as traditionally understood.

      Secondly, this "objective purpose" (or telos, or whatever) isn't usually understood in Christian communities in the very specific sense that you are proposing. As Pope Francis put it:

      Our life is not given to us like an opera libretto, in which all is written down; but it means going, walking, doing, searching, seeing ...

      The challenges of moral epistemology at this level are maybe not quite so daunting. As it says in the SEP entry on moral epistemology:

      It would be a mistake to exaggerate the extent of moral disagreement. There is considerable psychological and anthropological evidence that a small number of core moral values are espoused universally, such as: benevolence (avoiding harm to others and offering aid when the costs are not high); fairness (reciprocating help and sharing goods); loyalty (especially to family and community); respect for authority (of one's parents and community leaders, when it is exercised responsibly); personal purity in body and mind (notably as it reflects moral character); and freedom (especially from oppressive control by others). See Haidt 2012; Haidt & Joseph 2004. Thus, when there is no conflict in moral values, as in Peter Singer's famous example of rescuing a toddler from drowning in a shallow pond by wading into it and ruining one's new suit, there is universal agreement about what a person ought to do across all cultures (Singer 1972).

      That still leaves all sorts of room for disagreement about particular moral facts in particular situations, but it anchors the discussion with certain principles. And in so doing, it allows for the possibility of principled debate, rather than just subjectively motivated conflict.

      • Even if your anchor is "god grounds moral facts and objective purpose" you're going to get wild disagreements to such an extent your anchor is meaningless.

        And that SEP quote gives us a perfectly natural basis for similarities.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          Right. That's the idea with Natural Law theories too. They propose to give us a completely natural means of reasoning to objective truth.

          • I think the whole Thomistic approach to metaphysics and ethics and everything is highly problematic and self refuting, so I don't put any weight on it.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          Even if your anchor is "god grounds moral facts and objective purpose"

          I was proposing those more-or-less universal moral principles as hinting towards criteria that could anchor our moral epistemology. Whether it makes sense to use the word "God" to refer to the ontological root of moral facts is a question that we can bracket for purposes of this discussion.

          you're going to get wild disagreements to such an extent your anchor is meaningless.

          Even if --counterfactually-- no consensus at all emerged in regard to specific moral questions, that wouldn't make the basic conceptual framework meaningless. The value of the conceptual framework is this: when people (including fairly young children, all very naturally) make distinctions between, on the one hand, discerning what one should do and, on the other hand, declaring what one wants to do, we can say: "Yes, this is a real and valid distinction. The supposed distinction is not just a childish illusion. We have a coherent metaphysical framework for thinking about this distinction."

          • You don't actually have a coherent metaphysical framework for thinking about this distinction. If you think you do, then demonstrate it.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I am not talking about anything that is highly elaborated. The general framework is simply that every "should statement" has an ontic truth status. We never know that truth status with certainty, but we can work with some reasonable moral epistemology to assign greater or lesser confidence to these "should statements". In a great many cases we will of course be left saying, "it is not clear what one should do". If this basic framework leads to inconsistencies at some level of analysis, I'm curious to know what they are. I'm sure it needs some degree of refinement. However, it at least avoids the basic incoherence in what you are proposing:

            Finding your own subjective purpose in life is much more exhilarating. It's just that some people find it terrifying, and prefer someone else give them their purpose.

            The clear implication is that we should behave like courageous adults and cast off our child-like illusions of an ontic moral landscape. You put a bit of lipstick on it and tried to present your statement as a matter of personal preference, but the intended normative impetus is very thinly veiled. So, whence your implied "should"? You have invited us in to recline on your ontic moral furniture, while at the same time denying that any such furniture exists. That is the basic incoherence that I think I am avoiding.

          • If your claimed coherent metaphysical framework for thinking about what one's purpose in life is rests in believing in a deity to give you that purpose, you don't have a coherent metaphysical framework - for many reasons. One big one being you will always get relativism since there is no possible way to objectively determine if a god exists, and if so, what god exists, and if so, what's the precise message of that particular god, and the right way to interpret it. And on top of that, such a god existing would have no more justification on giving you purpose than your parents would in "making" you for the "purpose" of shining other people’s shoes.

            Secondly, purpose in life is a little different from morality. The two overlap, but they are not the same. Many different purposes in life can be compatible with an ontic moral landscape, by which I interpret you mean objective morality. It seems to me that objective morality according to you implies god. It doesn't. God is completely irrelevant to morality, regardless of whether it is subjective or objective.

            When it comes to purpose in life, yes, I reject any notion that humans have an objective purpose. So when I say the purpose of life is subjective to the individual, there is no contradiction. It is objectively true, that purpose of life is subjective to the individual. There is no contradiction there, because there is no objective purpose. It's like saying, "it is objectively true, that everyone's weight is subjective to the individual." Clearly no contradiction.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            It seems to me that objective morality according to you implies god.

            I'm pretty sure I haven't invoked god (or God) at all in this argument, so I wonder if you could explain where this inference of yours is coming from? I'm just trying to have a conversation about what does and doesn't make sense, with no reference to God. (By the way, I don't know what to make of this, but this is a common experience for me when discussing with atheists here over the last few years: despite my best attempts to keep God out of as many conversations as possible, they are the ones who keep trying to turn the conversation to God, generally projecting all sorts of theological positions onto me that I never dreamed of.)
            If you believe in objective morality (do you?) then we have very little to argue about here. You would then, I presume, share my criticism of the video in the OP, that life is not simply a matter of "do[ing] the things that make you feel good" (to quote directly from the video)?

            Many different purposes in life can be compatible with an ontic moral landscape

            I think I agree with the essence of this, though as I said in my earlier comment, I would prefer not to talk about "purpose" at all in this context. I would prefer to say that one often has a variety of alternatives that respect the basic contours of the moral landscape, and which may also more-or-less equally respect one's proper telos.

          • I think there's a wide range of things that can make one happy that don't have any tremendous negative moral implications. Being an artist and being a chef are not morally bad. In the video the narrator spoke about doing things that benefit others. Do you think people have a telos? If so, what is that telos?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think we each have a telos of what we might generically call "fulfillment" (in fact I think I would be happy to use "telos" and "fulfillment" interchangeably). A lot of our debates center around how to conceive of this fulfillment (is it to be conceived of in this-worldly terms such as, e.g. Enlightenment-based utopia, or Nietzschean expression of the will, or is it to be conceived of in transcendent terms such as, e.g. Buddhist Nirvanna or Christian Resurrection). But everyone seems to have some general sense of fulfillment, however different the particular conceptions might be. And so I am inclined to think that "fulfillment" is an ontic reality, and our disagreements about it arise from our epistemic limitations.

            And then, to the extent that we have a "purpose", that purpose would just be to seek, and perhaps eventually arrive at, that place of fulfillment.

          • Seems like pure desire could be fulfillment.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Heh?

            If what you mean is that desire is a felt longing for fulfillment, then I agree. But desire itself is not fulfillment; in fact it can only exist in the absence of fulfillment. Hence the connection between the two meanings of "passion": passion in the sense of "passionate embrace" and passion in the sense of suffering (as in, The Passion).

          • Isn't what we want to fulfill all subjective and relative?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Our longing for fulfillment is a subjective experience, for sure.

            The distinction I am trying to make is this: we recognize (dimly) the object of our longing, but it is not up to us to determine the object of our longing. It determines us, not the other way around. We can choose to (clumsily, fallibly) pursue the object of our longing or we can choose not to, but we don't get to define what it is.

            This is a departure from what is proposed in the video: "Do the things that make you feel good. You get to decide whatever this means for you."

          • I personally don't even believe in free will, so everything everyone desires is actually imposed by the universe, by physical forces we technically have no control over. If by that you mean ontic, or objective, then sure, I guess. It would all be a matter of semantics, as is often the case.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Yes, I do think there is important overlap, as well as very important differences, between what you are proposing (a meaning that is imposed on us by an impersonal order that precedes us) and what I am proposing (a meaning that is conferred upon us by a personal logic that precedes us).

            Maybe we could leave it at that for now. At some point I'd be interested to discuss free will and personal causation with you, but that would be getting a bit far afield from the OP, and we have already gone on for a few days now. Not to mention, the work week begins.

          • I actually think free will is highly relevant for the meaning of life and for nihilism.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I agree. I'm up for discussing it a bit if you'd like.

            Would I be correct in assuming that you experience something that seems like your own free will, but you have come to the conclusion that this feeling is illusory? If so, what convinces you that it is illusory?

    • Peter

      The question of which kind of God to worship depends on whether one has a reason-based faith or a faith without reason which is known as fideism.

      The former is the Catholic approach and leads to one kind of God. The latter is a fundamentalist approach based purely on religious writings and can lead to all kinds of God.

      Arriving at the existence of God through reason leads one exclusively to the Catholic understanding of God, taught by the Church.

        • flan man

          Easy Peazy. Select the one you find "least suspect" and "least problematic" based on your cultural background, and then work backwards with Reason.

          • Exactly. Use cultural relativism to assert something objective! Never fails!

        • Peter

          None of the above options constitute the Catholic God. They are simplistic versions of God derived from a superficial appraisal of Scripture.

          • They are basically identical to the Catholic god.

          • Peter

            Even on the basis of the list of attributes you have chosen, the Catholic God does not fall into any of your categories.

            Option A would come closest, except that men and women are equal before God.

          • How do you know men and women are equal? Don't you have to have an objective standard to know that by that exists independently of god?

          • Peter

            Through Baptism we are all equal, as taught by the Church. We're all children of God, heirs of the Kingdom. There is no distinction between the sexes.

            God is the First Principle of existence Nothing is objective or independent since everything relates to God, even the laws of nature.

          • How do you know we're all equal through baptism? Can you prove it, or is this a faith claim?

            And if a man were baptized and a woman wasn't, wouldn't the man be superior to the woman?

          • flan man

            Depends on how you mean "equal". Remember "separate but equal?"

            "Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says."

            Everybody's favorite, Thomas A didn't think so, and he used philosophy to prove it:

            As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active power of the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of a woman comes from defect in the active power...." Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica,Q92, art. 1, Reply Obj. 1.

          • BCE

            Hi Peter, you are correct.
            There is perspective.
            So an ant may perceive a small crack as a deep trench, and different from a bat or an elephant; different perspectives
            because they have different sensory organs, different brains.
            A Catholic can appreciate there is perception
            however the laws governing the existence of the crack, those come from one set of governing laws.
            Those are objective and independent of the subject

        • Rob Abney

          God willed the attributes/actions of "A", then using Leibniz's PSR as Richard Morley has provided for us, He (God) also willed "not B", "not C", "not D", and "not E".....
          So other "Gods" are not possible because of His immutable eternal will.
          I don't agree that you have all the attributes correct but I assume you are just picking attributes to illustrate your point.

          • How do you know god willed A and "not B", "not C", "not D", and "not E"..... ???

          • Rob Abney

            Because if they existed they would have been willed into existence by a necessary being, and if they existed they would violate the principle of non-contradiction, so we know they can't exist. I don't think I've noticed that you deny the principle of non-contradiction yet?

          • That makes no sense. How do you know for a fact that god A above exists and not god B? I can just as easily use your logic and apply that to god A. How do you know for a fact that god A in my image above exists?

          • Rob Abney

            It could be God A or God B but not both.

          • Ok so how do you determine what objective morality is when multiple gods who are basically metaphysically identical can have different ethical natures?

          • Rob Abney

            Multiple gods do not exist, that should make it easier.

          • How do you determine what's objectively right though, since there's more than one logically possible god?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Asserting that something has an objective value is not the same as asserting that one knows what that value is. I can assert that I currently have some objective mass, even if I don't know how much I weigh. One can reasonably assert that light has some true speed even though no one has ever measured (or will ever measure) that speed exactly. And similarly, one can assert that a moral proposition has a truth status, even if one doesn't know whether that status is true or false.

          • You can't assert something is true, without knowing it actually is true. Sure you can assert it, just like you can assert anything, but you can't do so logically. We know from science nothing has objective mass. Mass is relative dependent on reference frame. We've measured the speed of light. It's the same in every reference frame. So your response makes no sense to me.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            We've measured the speed of light.

            We have measured it very precisely, but always with error. We therefore have to distinguish between the measurements and the true value. We can reasonably infer the existence of some true value, even though we do not know that true value, based on the incredible proximity of our repeated measurements. But the true value itself is, and ever will remain, unknown.

          • We've measured it accurately. Also this bears no resemblance to the original topic. You still haven't answered how anyone can determine objective morals without an objective standard that would have to exist independently of all gods, should one exist. If you agree with that that's what you'd need, then there's nothing more to discuss.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            It is highly relevant to the original topic, because it illustrates how -- even for the most hallowed constant in the hard sciences -- we are forced to infer the existence of a true value even while we do not know that value.

            If you agree with that that's what you'd need ...

            My whole point is that that most certainly is not what one would need. The argument that God grounds goodness and morality does not rely in any way on knowing the truth status of any particular moral proposition. The claim has nothing to do with moral epistemology. It has to do with having a coherent moral ontology. Just like a theory of measurement of physical constants requires an ontology with unknown true values.

          • I see no relevance at all. Science has an objective standard by which we can know objective facts. We have measured the speed of light accurately. Since 1983 we've been able to do so accurately: http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/physics/Relativity/SpeedOfLight/measure_c.html

            Your point is that whatever god grounds morality, some god does. I get that. My question relies on how can you know? You can never know unless there is a standard that exists independently of god, and once you have that, god is dethroned as the grounder of morality. In other words, moral epistemology has implications for moral ontology.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            The very definition of accuracy requires an ontology in which a true value exists. When we say that our measurements of light are accurate, we mean that the measurements are close to the true value (*). That is a nonsense statement unless: 1) a true value exists, and 2) the true value is not the same thing as the measurements. And if the true value is not the same thing as the measurements, then how do we know it exists, when all we have available to us are the measurements? And the answer is: we infer its existence, even while not knowing its value.

            This is, roughly, how I know that God grounds morality:

            ===

            I begin with the fact that my ontology has to allow that at least some moral propositions have objective truth statuses. Otherwise it wouldn't even be coherent to claim that one should try to understand the truth about reality and live accordingly. And in that case there would not be much point to any of these conversations.

            Then, having assented to an ontology with objective moral truth statuses, and considering this in light of the fact that moral value is by its very nature personal in origin, it follows that something person-like must be the determinant of those statuses. And I call that person-like determinant "God".

            That's it. I don't have to claim to know what God wants for that argument to work.

            ===

            ETA: (*) I know that if we want to be technical, proximity to the true value is a matter of both accuracy and precision, but I'm assuming you are using "accuracy" colloquially to refer to both of these things.

          • Have you considered the possibility that 1) a true value exists and 2) we've measured it accurately? Why so much insistence on us not being able to measure light accurately? Can you prove we haven't?

            Nothing about this allows you to "know" god grounds morality. Nothing you write makes sense here. Does it depend on us not having measured light accurately? If it does, where's your proof we haven't? I agree that accuracy requires an objectively true value that exists. We have that with light.

            With morality, if we had such a thing, it would have nothing to do with the existence of any god - which is my whole point. And you've done nothing to prove or demonstrate it does.

            I begin with the fact that my ontology has to allow that at least some moral propositions have objective truth statuses. Otherwise it wouldn't even be coherent to claim that one should try to understand the truth about reality and live accordingly. And in that case there would not be much point to any of these conversations.

            That's false. There could be an objective reality and no objective moral truths. There being no moral truths would do nothing to hinder us from understanding truths about reality.

            Then, having assented to an ontology with objective moral truth statuses, and considering this in light of the fact that moral value is by its very nature personal in origin, it follows that something person-like must be the determinant of those statuses. And I call that person-like determinant "God".

            But god would be just another subjective mind, no more the determiner of objectivity than any other person. This also fails to tell anyone whether a god who arbitrarily decreed moral values would still ground morality. Also, things people make up can have objective truths. For example, economics is human made, but there are objective facts in economics. No god required. No one says god grounds objective economic truths.

          • Phil

            I think the main point that Jim is getting at is simply that if objective values exist, then they must be grounded in something which is "objective values" itself, or more commonly called, "goodness itself".

            If one wants to argue for objective moral values that is what we ultimately must come to. If not, then we have no coherent ontology for our objective moral values or simply must conclude that moral values are completely relative and arbitrary.

          • Not at all. Can you give me a coherent, non-circular definition of "goodness"?

            Theists who claim morality is grounded in god can't do that without running into problems. And that means the claim that objective values are grounded in a god is incoherent.

          • Phil

            Can you give me a coherent, non-circular definition of "goodness"?

            Would you say it is bad for an argument to be circular? If so, then you are assuming that values exist and some things are better than others. Therefore you would be assuming that objective values exist.

          • My view on objective values is irrelevant.

            Can you give me a coherent, non-circular definition of "goodness"?

          • David Hardy

            Hello The Thinker,

            Can you give me a coherent, non-circular definition of "goodness"?

            I thought I might jump in here. I will start with the caveat that I do not subscribe to a theistic viewpoint, but I (hope I) understand the perspective enough to offer a decent position. I think the value in doing so is that the issue may not be the definition of goodness, so much as the inference of some divine grounding for it (at least, that is the issue I find).

            Goodness, as I understand it in the thinking of Thomas Aquinas, relates first to the degree to which something accurately describes and relates to the pattern it seems to follow -- as a very basic example, a circle might be described as a "good" circle if it is well formed, while an oblong shape somewhat like a circle would be considered less "good" in relation to being a circle. This could be expanded to science - a theory that better captures the patterns of nature would be described as a "better" theory than one that captures some patterns but fails to accurately describe others.

            Taking this into the realm of human nature, the argument goes something along the lines of this -- humans have certain qualities that are innate to our nature. For example, we have a need for food and instincts to eat. Certain diets promote better health, and for this reason, eating is considered good, and some diets could be considered better than others.

            The link is then made that a prescriptive position (we ought to eat certain diets because they lead to better health), is grounded in a descriptive position of human nature (some diets are healthier). Extended to morality, which has to do with how we treat others, the argument can be made that certain ways of treating others leads to stronger social systems. If one begins with the observation that humans in general are social creatures and have instincts to form social bonds and systems, and our success as a species seems to relate to our ability to form these systems, then one can make observations about what behaviors or qualities relate to these positive outcomes.

            This is found across efforts to form a moral position in philosophy -- Immanuel Kant pointed to how social behavior, practiced as a universal moral position, tends to reveal if it is generally supportive of forming and maintaining societies. Utilitarians can take a more flexible position by relying on past experiences of positive social outcomes in making choices. Others have made similar connections in relation to certain human qualities (such as empathy) promoting stronger social systems.

            None of this, so far, is uniquely Christian or theistic -- atheists can take a similar position to ground the idea of goodness without adding God into the line of reasoning. Personally, I think there is still value in distinguishing descriptive and prescriptive uses of the term "good" even if they can be related in the way I described. After all, there is still an inferential step needed that we ought to promote our heath and/or work to build prosocial societies, which a person could challenge in several ways, such as referring to David Hume's "is-ought problem." But for that matter, a person could challenge any "ought", such as whether we ought to pursue more accurate scientific models or new technologies using the same sort of critiques.

            However, more than this, grounding morality in a God requires the inference that God exists, created humans with prosocial/ethical inclinations, created a universe where stable societies require a certain amount of ethical behavior, made our ability to prosper as a species strongly dependent on our success in creating and maintaining societies, and these factors are indicative of God's Will (as being prosocial/ethical). From this, it can be argued that we should foster and express these inclinations and build stronger societies (that is, there is a moral prescription to follow other moral prescriptions). Here I cannot make an argument I consider strong, since I do not except the inference that God exists. Personally, I have more questions and concerns related to the inference of God as the ground of morality than to the idea that our ideas of goodness, including morality, is grounded in objective facts, at least to a certain extent.

            I am interested to hear your thoughts on this. For those who post here with a stronger understanding of the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, please feel free to jump in with corrections if I did not accurately or sufficiently describe the position -- I am certainly not an expert on the position.

          • Phil

            Can you give me a coherent, non-circular definition of "goodness"?

            Sure, goodness is simply the right ordering of reality. The right ordering of reality references that which is true. That which is true references how things actually exist. How things actually exist references "being". Being is the first principle and ground of an Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics, and as you know, first principles are what grounds everything else and one could not go beyond them as they form "the bottom of the pyramid".

            And as you might have noticed, we ended at being, which may ring a bell from when we talked about God. God is Being itself, Existence itself. So goodness, truth and beauty all points towards and are grounded in Goodness, Truth, Beauty, and Existence itself...which is what we mean when we say "God".

            My view on objective values is irrelevant.

            I was simply pointing out that in your question you are assuming that values exist in some way, and therefore yourself must have some definition of "goodness" you are working from.

            What would you say the proper definition of goodness is?

          • Sure, goodness is simply the right ordering of reality.

            Then since god doesn't exist and Thomistic metaphysics is false, goodness can't have anything to do with god. So I'm a little perplexed by your answer.

            The right ordering of reality references that which is true. That which is true references how things actually exist. How things actually exist references "being". Being is the first principle and ground of an Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics, and as you know, first principles are what grounds everything else and one could not go beyond them as they form "the bottom of the pyramid".

            The A-T first principles are false, and provably so, and so your entire argument here is based on a false starting point.

            And as you might have noticed, we ended at being, which may ring a bell from when we talked about God. God is Being itself, Existence itself.

            You are aware that you can't define something into existence, right? Also, which god is being? God A, or B, or C, or D, or E ...or Z?

            So goodness, truth and beauty all points towards and are grounded in Goodness, Truth, Beauty, and Existence itself...which is what we mean when we say "God".

            I still have no clue what goodness is from you. How can I tell goodness from non-goodness? And since "God" is a vague term, how can I possibly ground goodness in it, since there are thousands of different gods that all share the same metaphysical nature as the one you believe in, but have different moral attributes?

            I was simply pointing out that in your question you are assuming that values exist in some way, and therefore yourself must have some definition of "goodness" you are working from.

            No, I'm just assuming your point of view for the sake of argument to see if you can actually tell me something significant. I don't think you can.

          • Phil

            I really don't know what you are trying to say above besides that you don't agree with A-T metaphysics. With that being the case, we'd have to start from the beginning. I do apologize. The answer I gave about goodness was exactly were reason leads to based upon the starting point of existence of A-T metaphysics. It also leads to the existence of God.

            To get a better understanding of what A-T metaphysics actually says and doesn't say I'll suggest two books:

            -https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01D4TAXS2/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

            -https://www.amazon.com/Scholastic-Metaphysics-Contemporary-Introduction-Scholasticae/dp/3868385444

          • Your view is:

            1. The right ordering of reality references that which is true.
            2. That which is true references how things actually exist.
            3. How things actually exist references "being".
            4. Being is the first principle and ground of an Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics, and as you know, first principles are what grounds everything else and one could not go beyond them as they form "the bottom of the pyramid".

            This tells me nothing about what goodness is. And that's especially true since you can't logically deduce a particular god. I have an understanding of what A-T metaphysics says. I think it's mostly garbage.

          • Phil

            1. The right ordering of reality references that which is true.
            2. That which is true references how things actually exist.
            3. How things actually exist references "being".
            4. Being is the first principle and ground of an Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics, and as you know, first principles are what grounds everything else and one could not go beyond them as they form "the bottom of the pyramid".

            This tells me nothing about what goodness is.

            You might have missed that I stated that goodness is the correct ordering of reality. (I then went beyond what you asked for and went further to show that this definition of goodness is not circular by what you numbered 1-4 above.)

            I have an understanding of what A-T metaphysics says. I think it's mostly garbage.

            Sure, one can say that, but that does prove that one is actually correct. One needs to use good arguments to show that their view that A-T metaphysics is garbage is actually correct.

            Apart from that, there shouldn't be any reason to take that statement very seriously yet.

          • You might have missed that I stated that goodness is the correct ordering of reality.

            "goodness is the correct ordering of reality" tells me nothing about what goodness is.

            (I then went beyond what you asked for and went further to show that this definition of goodness is not circular by what you numbered 1-4 above.)

            Basically you're saying goodness is god, and by extension, therefore god is goodness. Still clueless on what the hell goodness is on your view and still seems totally circular to me.

            Sure, one can say that, but that does prove that one is actually correct. One needs to use good arguments to show that their view that A-T metaphysics is garbage is actually correct.

            I've already sent you links to where I've written extensively on why A-T metaphysics is false.

          • Phil

            "goodness is the correct ordering of reality" tells me nothing about what goodness is.

            Goodness: the correct ordering of reality

            I think that is pretty clear. Now, one can reasonably ask, okay, well what is the correct ordering of reality? And that is where I mentioned that that is equal to the truth of reality and how it exists based upon the nature of entities, and how it ought to exist based upon the nature of entities.

            For example, goodness is equal to a squirrel doing things that lead to health, such as eating rather than not eating, because it is in the squirrel's nature to thrive and live. Goodness is always in reference to the truth of reality.

          • Goodness: the correct ordering of reality
            I think that is pretty clear.

            So since naturalism is true, does that mean atheism is goodness?

            For example, goodness is equal to a squirrel doing things that lead to health, such as eating rather than not eating, because it is in the squirrel's nature to thrive and live. Goodness is always in reference to the truth of reality.

            What is a squirrel's perfect essence? Does it depend on the species? Or geographic region? Does the North American tree squirrel have a different "Form," then say, the flying squirrels of Asia? And does a squirrel's "perfect" essence evolve as squirrels were evolving and changing or does it suddenly come to be in one squirrel generation? Any "genetic defect" that an animal might have could give it an advantage to its environment. That's one of the driving mechanisms for how evolution works after all. And that "defect" might become spread throughout that entire population through natural selection and gene flow. At what point does the mutation become the "Form" or "essence"? Can you answer a single one of these obvious objections. And for humans, how can we even know what the perfect essence of a human is and objectively determine it? I don't think that we can do with humans and animals what we can do with abstract Forms like triangles. Animals are far too complex and irregular than geometric shapes to be considered instantiations of "perfect" Forms and essences.

          • Phil

            So since naturalism is true, does that mean atheism is goodness?

            Sure, if naturalism were true, then it would be part of goodness since goodness is always oriented towards the true. But of course, that's a whole 'nuther conversation of whether naturalism is a true description of reality or not.

            What is a squirrel's perfect essence?

            Whatever leads to somethings true flourishing is what is good for it. That can be as varied and different as reality shows it to be. All that we need to know is that goodness and flourishing is grounded in the truth of how something actually exists.

          • How do you define flourish? If for example, humans were cold-blooded and laid eggs instead of having live births, our morality would have to be conducive to the well being of this nature. And abandoning most of the hatched young for the few who could survive would be moral and perfect right?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Have you considered the possibility that 1) a true value exists and 2) we've measured it accurately?

            Not only have I assumed that as a possibility, I believe that is indeed the case. My point is simply to disabuse you of the notion that one must know the value of a constant in order to infer that the constant exists.

            There being no moral truths would do nothing to hinder us from understanding truths about reality.

            That's true. But it would render meaningless the following statement: "We should try to understand truths about reality." I am convinced that that is not a meaningless statement, and I have hard time taking anyone seriously if they claim otherwise, especially in the context of a heated argument about the truth.

            No one says god grounds objective economic truths.

            They don't ?? I was under the mistaken impression that lots of people (myself, for example) believe that God grounds all truths.

          • Not only have I assumed that as a possibility, I believe that is indeed the case. My point is simply to disabuse you of the notion that one must know the value of a constant in order to infer that the constant exists.

            There's no disagreement there. But my point is about epistemology mostly. How do you know what moral claims are correct or not?

            But it would render meaningless the following statement: "We should try to understand truths about reality."

            Not at all. There doesn't need to be an objective "should" for an ought claim to have meaning. This is your theological assumptions coming up again. "I should have sex tonight" can have plenty of meaning and not be objectively true.

            They don't ?? I was under the mistaken impression that lots of people (myself, for example) believe that God grounds all truths.

            I've never heard a single person ever say god grounds objective economic truths. If you do then prove it.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I guess you seem to think I am doing something like this:

            1. I begin by reasoning my way to knowledge about what is morally correct.
            2. I then identify the God whose will matches up with my right answers.

            And then the gotcha is that when I designed my quiz for God, I must have used some independent criteria to discover what the right answers were.

            If that is what you are thinking, this is just entirely off the mark. I'm pretty sure no one here has attempted to make that move. My argument doesn't begin by thinking I have reasoned my way to what is morally correct, and it doesn't end by thinking that I have reasoned my way to what is morally correct. My argument doesn't assume that I know anything at all about what is morally correct. It relies only on the fact that I think that the category of "moral proposition" is not a meaningless category.

          • Alright, so you "know" god grounds morality, but have no idea what that morality is, and you have no way of finding out so.

            Correct?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            so you "know" god grounds morality

            I would call it knowledge, yes.

            but have no idea what that morality is

            Um, no. My argument simply doesn't rely on the fact that I know whether any particular moral propositions are correct or incorrect. I'm saying that in the context of that argument it is irrelevant whether I do or do not have any accurate moral knowledge.

            and you have no way of finding out.

            No. I'm not sure where you are pulling that from. I said that my argument has nothing to do with moral epistemology. I didn't say that I have no moral epistemology. It's just that that's a separate topic.

          • I would call it knowledge, yes.

            I call it false knowledge.

            My argument simply doesn't rely on the fact that I know whether any particular moral propositions are correct or incorrect.

            I want to know how you know. What's your objective standard?

            I'm saying that in the context of that argument it is irrelevant whether I do or know have any accurate moral knowledge.

            Well my point is primarily about epistemology, so it is relevant.

            It's just that that's a separate topic.

            My topic is about that. Please stay on topic. But if you want to talk about ontology, I can do so easily.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Well my point is primarily about epistemology ... Please stay on topic.

            This whole thing started when you posted the graphic, the title of which is "Goodness is Grounded in God". If you think that claim has anything to do with moral epistemology, you just don't understand the basic argument. You began with a theist claim, provided completely off-topic criticisms of it, and now you are going to patronize me for going off topic? I'm sorry, I need to take a breath for a while before I become impolite.

          • I'm well aware the claim is an ontological one. But there is a huge epistemological problem with justifying the claim, that leads to an ontological problem, since one cannot justify the epistemological aspect without having an objective standard of morality that exists independent of all gods. Can you refute that?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            But there is a huge epistemological problem with justifying the claim

            No, there is not. There is no epistemological aspect to the problem.

            The ontological standard of morality is God's will. It is not that God's will is constrained by what is morally right, nor is it the case that what is morally right is constrained by God's will. It is rather that "what is morally right" and "God's will" are two expressions that mean exactly the same thing. One is phrased in impersonal / non-theistic language and one is phrased in personal / theistic language, but they mean exactly the same thing, aside from connotations.

            On the epistemological side, a standard, or standards, for knowing what God's will is (or alternatively, for knowing what is morally right) is not necessary for showing that God grounds morality. I don't know how many times I can say it: the existence of such epistemological standards is irrelevant to the argument. One could -- in principle -- be completely morally agnostic (*) and still see the force of the argument. One need only accept that there is a categorical distinction between "I want to do this" and "I ought to do this". Once one accepts an ontology that admits of that category distinction, that's pretty much the whole ball game.

            ETA: (*) Sorry that is a bit overstated. One does have to acknowledge the existence of at least one moral fact (e.g. "Rape is morally wrong."), otherwise there would in fact be no need to distinguish between the meanings of "I want to do this" and "I ought to do this". However, one does not need to have any general moral principle or elaborated systematic moral epistemology in order to recognize a moral fact. Recognition of moral facts is really a matter of phenomenology, not epistemology. We begin with our perceptions of moral facts, just as we begin our scientific investigations with sense perceptions of things like dogs and cats. We then reason from the moral "facts on the ground" in order to (attempt to) develop systematic theories of moral epistemology.

          • No, there is not. There is no epistemological aspect to the problem.

            There is a huge problem.

            The ontological standard of morality is God's will.

            Which god? And how do you know?

            It is not that God's will is constrained by what is morally right, nor is it the case that what is morally right is constrained by God's will.

            Then it seems you've just told me god is irrelevant to what's morally right.

            It is rather that "what is morally right" and "God's will" are two expressions that mean exactly the same thing.

            That doesn't make the case that what's morally right wouldn't exist independently of god's will. If you think that is something impossible, please by all means make a formal logical argument showing so. Right now you're just making an assertion (I hope you realize).

            On the epistemological side, a standard, or standards, for knowing what God's will is (or alternatively, for knowing what is morally right) is not necessary for showing that God grounds morality. I don't know how many times I can say it: the existence of such epistemological standards is irrelevant to the argument.

            Not at all. The epistemological standards will demonstrate why god doesn't ground morality. To show why, tell me why anything is morally right, or morally wrong. (e.g. "Rape is morally wrong.") This is one of my favorite topics to debate.

            We begin with our perceptions of moral facts, just as we begin our scientific investigations with sense perceptions of things like dogs and cats. We then reason from the moral "facts on the ground" in order to (attempt to) develop systematic theories of moral epistemology.

            Go ahead and do so. I'd like to see your reasoning method for how you arrive at said moral facts and everything pertinent before or after that process.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Then it seems you've just told me god is irrelevant to what's morally right.

            The implication of what I wrote is that you can talk about what is morally right without making any explicit reference to God. However, on a theistic understanding, if you are talking about what is morally right, then implicitly you are talking about the will of God, even though you are not using that exact phrasing. So, it's not a matter of God being irrelevant. It's just a matter of the word "God" being unnecessary.

            That doesn't make the case that what's morally right wouldn't exist independently of god's will.

            Yes it does, because, rightly understood, "God's will" and "what's morally right" are tautologically equivalent. One thing can't exist independently of another if the two things are the same thing.

            arrive at said moral facts

            As I said, I don't arrive at said moral facts any more than I arrive at the perception that I am sitting in a chair. I begin with the perception that I am sitting in a chair. I then develop theories based on those perceptions, and the theories may require me to reinterpret my perceptions. Similarly, moral theorizing may persuade me to revise my understanding of putative moral facts, but it begins with, and remains rooted in, the direct experience of perception of moral realities.

          • However, on a theistic understanding, if you are talking about what is morally right, then implicitly you are talking about the will of God, even though you are not using that exact phrasing.

            How do you know what's morally right? That's the whole point.

            Yes it does, because, rightly understood, "God's will" and "what's morally right" are tautologically equivalent. One thing can't exist independently of another if the two things are the same thing.

            What god's will and how do you know? Still waiting for an answer.

            As I said, I don't arrive at said moral facts any more than I arrive at the perception that I am sitting in a chair.

            Then how do you know what's a moral fact? So far you've been totally vague on this. It seems you're trying to say you just know them.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Let me try one more variation on what I am saying:

            When faced with a moral quandary (Let's say: "Should I go exercise, or should I stay in and help daughter with her homework"), I may be very unsure what the morally correct thing to do is. For that matter, I may also be a bit unsure what I want to do. Doesn't matter. I know in any case that I need two distinct conceptual placeholders: one for what I want to do, and one for what I should do. I know that even if there is overlap between what I want to do and what I should do in this particular case, I nonetheless need to distinguish between those two different concepts.

            Then how do you know what's a moral fact?

            I don't know with absolute certainty, just as I don't know with absolute certainty that I am sitting in a chair right now. But -- as with the realm of sense perception -- I can cyclically iterate between putative facts, theories based on those facts, testable implications based on those theories, and then a new revised set of putative facts and/or revisions to my theory; rinse; repeat. Just as in the physical sciences, there is no simple rule where theory always trumps perception or perception trumps theory. One has to continuously iterate, trying to move toward theories that are truer to one's perceptions (*) and have more explanatory power.

            ETA (*) To be clear, I am not talking about adjusting theories to get them to conform to pre-specified conclusions. When I say "truer to one's perceptions", I mean the totality of one's perceptions.

          • I'm trying to find what common ground, if any, we have. Do you agree that with theism in practice you're always going to get relativism: different people will believe different gods who say they have different purposes for them and humanity.

            Yes or no?

            I know in any case that I need two distinct conceptual placeholders: one for what I want to do, and one for what I should do.

            How do you determine what you should do?

            I don't know with absolute certainty, just as I don't know with absolute certainty that I am sitting in a chair right now. But -- as with the realm of sense perception -- I can cyclically iterate between putative facts, theories based on those facts, testable implications based on those theories, and then a new revised set of putative facts and/or revisions to my theory; rinse; repeat. Just as in the physical sciences, there is no simple rule where theory always trumps perception or perception trumps theory. One has to continuously iterate, trying to move toward theories that are truer to ones perceptions and have more explanatory power.

            No ones asking for absolute certainty. I'm asking for an argument, and so far the only thing I can see is you just intuit not only what the moral facts are, but that moral facts exist entirely.

            You're not really comparing like with like. You have empirical data as well as sound and touch telling you you're sitting in a chair, and others can see and feel that you're sitting in a chair. You don't have that with moral facts in the same way. So I still don't see an argument here for your claim to know moral facts exists, and what they are.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Do you agree that with theism in practice you're always going to get relativism: different people will believe different gods who say they have different purposes for them and humanity.

            I agree that different people will always (in this world, at least) have different conceptions of God and God's will. That doesn't entail relativism though. Different people disagreeing implies that some or all of them have epistemic limitations. Relativism means that there is no right answer. Epistemic limitation just means that none of us has (exactly) the right answer.

          • I'm not saying it entails relativism, I'm just saying the view that "God grounds morality" always results in relativism in practice, and so therefore the theistic argument that claim atheism leads to moral relativism in practice is moot.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            If by "relativism in practice" you just mean "widespread disagreement", then sure: the level of disagreement that we currently have on moral issues would in no way be abated or diminished even if everyone were to agree that God grounds morality. None of us would necessarily be one bit wiser with respect to moral matters. This is related to the point that I've been trying to convey all along: when we debate whether God grounds morality, there are no issues of moral epistemology at stake.

            But again, that never was the point of the argument that God grounds morality. The point has never been that we would have less disagreement on moral matters if only atheism would go away. One need only look at the wars and debates that existed within medieval Christendom to see that any such claim is pure fantasy.

            The point of the argument that God grounds morality is rather: if we reflect on the conceptual / ontological categories that most people use and find unavoidable, namely the categories of "what I want" and "what I should do", we find that the existence of that latter category entails a person-like (but non-human) determinant of "oughts".

            In summary, the point is not, "If one doesn't believe in God, then one can't have moral knowledge", but rather, "We all do have moral knowledge, and if we reflect on the structure (but not the content) of this knowledge, it entails something like God."

          • David Hardy

            Hello Jim (hillclimber),

            The point of the argument that God grounds morality is rather: if we reflect on the conceptual / ontological categories that most people use and find unavoidable, namely the categories of "what I want" and "what I should do", we find that the existence of that latter category entails a person-like (but non-human) determinant of "oughts".

            In summary, the point is not, "If one doesn't believe in God, then one can't have moral knowledge", but rather, "We all do have moral knowledge, and if we reflect on the structure (but not the content) of this knowledge, it entails something like God."

            I was wondering if you could clarify how the structure of moral knowledge entails something like God. Reading your post, and the posts prior in this discussion, I have some idea of the direction you are going, but I do not fully follow it. I find the concept interesting, though, and I would appreciate any additional clarification you could provide.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Namaste David!

            [ I appreciate the courtesy of using my full screen name, but please just call me Jim. "hillclimber" was an earlier non de plume that I used here and then when I decided to share my actual first name I just kept "hillclimber" around to signal that it was the same person. ]

            I don't have especially elaborated thinking on this topic. What I have to offer really just comes down to a few basic observations / reflections :

            1) We cannot help but maintain a distinction between "what I want" and "what I ought to do". As I wrote to The Thinker, even if we are uncertain as to the content of these two categories, we know that they are two different categories.
            2) Whatever it is that puts something in the "oughts" category, it is something that transcends humans. Whatever it is, it is not just me (because that would collapse "wants" and "oughts" into a single category), and it is not just the control structures of society (because that would lead to absurd conclusions, e.g. "That was the right thing to do because Hitler said it was the right thing to do"). If people can be wrong in their assessment of "oughts", then "oughts" don't come from people.
            3) Our encounter with "oughts" has the same quality as our encounter with interpersonal commitments. Transgressing an "ought" has the same phenomenological "flavor" as betraying a loved one.

            Putting those together, I conclude that we have something like personal commitments to something that is not reducible to any human person or any collection of human people. That only makes sense to me if that which is "on the other side" of those personal commitments is itself person-like.

            --Jim

          • David Hardy

            Hello Jim,

            Thank you for clarifying where (hillclimber) came from -- I had wondered, but I also try to address people as they appear to want to be addressed. I will switch to Jim from now on. Thank you for elaborating on the underlying idea you presented, I think it is an interesting way to think about this subject.

            I agree that there seems to be a fundamental difference from personal want and ought statements. Even when a person says that they want to do what is right, this still seems distinctive to me since the want would not dictate the ought, but rather the impulse to abide by the moral position of the individual, whatever it may be. I also agree it is not simply a matter of societal positions of morality, since this would suggest that we need to accept every societal ethical position as equally valid, supporting often contradictory judgments across societies, as well as conflicting positions within subsystems of a society. Such as position seems to me to be of little use in actually directing behavior as ought positions are intended, and is more in line with rejecting any position as having grounding beyond (collective) opinion. I would also strongly relate moral behavior to interpersonal relationships - I am not familiar with any ethical directives that do not directly or indirectly relate to others people (using the definition of personhood accepted within the system).

            Where I, personally, am less certain is that this infers something person-like beyond observable people and societies. In my own reflections, any practical application of moral or immoral behavior always has a person who can be pointed to in relation to the act. Lying, for example, implies a person or people being lied to, likewise with murder, theft or similar crimes implying a victim. On the other side, honesty, kindness and the like also imply a recipient of the behavior. So, while I would grant that there is a ground for morality that goes deeper that an individual or collective opinion, or any particular individual or group for that matter, I would tend to relate this more to the basic nature of social systems, relationships and communication. Insofar as fostering a disposition for immoral behavior prevents or weakens the ability to form and maintain pro-social relationships, I would say it is an act of betrayal to loved ones, even if they were not the direct victim of the behavior. Likewise, the interconnected nature of society means that an act that has no obvious consequences to ourselves and those we care for does not mean there are not subtle consequences.

            However, I think that we are not too dissimilar in our views here since, were I ever to conclude that a supreme creator God exists, it would seem to follow that the deeper nature of social systems and communication I am using to ground my morality are, themselves, grounded in that which created them as they are. I am just not sure that the structure of morality itself implies God. I appreciate your explanation, though, it has given me another way to reflect on this subject and broaden my own perspective.

            -David

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            were I ever to conclude that a supreme creator God exists, it would seem to follow that the deeper nature of social systems and communication I am using to ground my morality are, themselves, grounded in that which created them as they are.

            Well said :-)

            I am just not sure that the structure of morality itself implies God.

            Fair enough. You proposed a compelling alternative account. My account neglected the fact that one has a personal obligation to society that is not equivalent to just doing "what society wants". And although it seems like a stretch in some cases, I accept your verdict that no action that we take is ever completely without social implications (if for no other reason than our actions always influence us, and we in turn influence society). I'm not sure I am finally convinced that this account covers all the ground that it needs to, but I should give this some thought. Where I am especially hesitating is with what I see as a sort of liturgical and artistic mandate. I feel something like an obligation to look up into the sky on clear starry nights, to offer some sort of praise, to respond by (trying to) make things beautiful. I can appreciate that this sort of activity has pro-social implications, but I'm not yet convinced that it is entirely reducible to that.

            A pleasure as always!

          • David Hardy

            Hello Jim,

            Where I am especially hesitating is with what I see as a sort of
            liturgical and artistic mandate. I feel something like an obligation to
            look up into the sky on clear starry nights, to offer some sort of
            praise, to respond by (trying to) make things beautiful. I can
            appreciate that this sort of activity has pro-social implications, but
            I'm not yet convinced that it is entirely reducible to that.

            I am not sure I would reduce beauty and the response to it to prosocial terms, either. I have come to the view that beauty is a receptive aspect of valuing something. This may or may not have pro-social implications, based on what is being valued. A person may savor a meal that is experienced as beautiful even while consuming it. A person may take time to admire a work of art seen as beautiful, but also to protect it from harm. In the stars and natural world, finding beauty can inspire a desire to honor and care for the environment in which we find ourselves, as well as appreciate it.

            At a highly pro-social level, a loving parent may well see beauty in his or her child that others
            miss, and to me this is a receptive aspect of valuing that promotes caring for the child. Likewise friends may find beauty in the qualities or interests of those they are close to. In my own meditations to cultivate love towards others and the world, one part of my practice is to find the beauty in the subject of meditation, by noticing the uniqueness, wisdom and value of the object or person. My own experience suggests that this perception of beauty and the fostering of loving and honoring responses are closely connected, and perceiving beauty, while sometimes spontaneous, can also be the result of an active application of mindfulness and the intention to value the subject. As I said before, whether this relates to pro-social behavior depends on what is being valued. However, I find that a life of valuing what I encounter in each moment leads to a richer existence, even outside of pro-social behavior.

            A pleasure as always!

            It is always a pleasure to speak with you as well, Jim.

            -David

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            David,

            Some related thoughts that I'd be eager to have you respond to:

            This whole issue of conceiving of God as a person: what does it mean, and what is at stake?

            If I attempt to deconstruct what I mean when I say that something (for example, you, David Hardy) is a person, I think I mean something like: I believe that you are comparable to my own self, and especially that you have some sort of interior / unrevealed aspect that is comparable to my own interior life.

            From that perspective, there is a danger in identifying you as a person, namely that I will draw too close an analogy between your unrevealed aspect and my own, and that I will then "project" my own thoughts, hopes, beliefs, etc, onto you. To correct for that, I should recall that you are "other", and the category of "other" is something that I have to relate to, to some extent, in impersonal terms. I shouldn't assume an intimacy, or a connection, or a similarity, that isn't there.

            I think the same can probably be said with respect to God. The danger of conceiving of God as a person is manifest to everyone: we all see that some people go horribly wrong when they project their own hopes, desires, etc onto God. Perhaps impersonal conceptions of God offer some sort of correction for this.

            On the other hand, conceiving of God as in some respects comparable to ourselves opens up the possibility for an intimacy that I think can only exists in a subject-subject relationship and not in subject-object relationship. So, there may be a danger as well in conceiving of God in only impersonal terms.

            I'd be curious to here your take on this, both personally and as you understand the Buddhist perspective.

            I'd also be eager @LukeBreuer to hear chime in with examples of how (or whether) the Biblical tradition speaks of God in both personal and impersonal ways.

          • David Hardy

            Hello Jim,

            My first response is that our definition of personhood may vary a bit -- I define a person as the subject to which some moral obligation exists. When a person says humans are people, to me, this means that there are moral responsibilities in relation to how we treat humans. A person who makes a statement such as "dogs are people, too" is making a statement that one's actions towards dogs have moral implications.

            However, taking it as you mean, I agree that there is a danger of over-assuming familiarity. To me, this suggests the importance of remaining aware of the limits of your knowledge of another, and working to know them better. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk and author, relates a story in one of his books where a man, seeking to do something kind for a friend, prepares a wonderful steak dinner, only to discover when the friend comes over that his friend is vegetarian. The story is used to illustrate how kind and loving acts depend on knowing the subject of the act, and how assuming knowledge can act as a barrier. From this, I would suggest that recognizing the limits of our knowledge of others shows humility, while seeking to know them better is a part of learning how to show love and kindness to them.

            In relation to Buddhism, most forms of Buddhism, if they take a position on God at all, lean either atheist or pantheist -- pantheism being the dominant perspective out of which Buddhism developed. However, a common caution within Buddhism is to not become obsessed with what are termed "side effects." That can include experiences that a Christian, for example, would interpret as the presence of God. From a Buddhist view, these experiences, while potentially valuable, carry a significant risk if over emphasized. The individual may create all sorts of interpretations of what this means, including projecting thoughts and emotions, as you suggested, or take the experience to feed his or her ego as the recipient of special experiences. The practitioner may also begin to focus on trying to repeat these experiences, chasing a memory of the experience rather than focusing on practice.

            Another way to look at this is that the forces and experiences that may give rise to the concept of God are viewed as distinct from any concept of God itself. The goal of practice is, in part, to avoid being swept up in concepts as if they were reality itself. Buddhism is often a reductionist practice, seeking to strip away things that are considered non-essential or harmful. One of the oldest records of Buddha's teachings, when a student began asking a number of metaphysical questions was along the lines that these were the wrong questions. The right questions related more to understanding the cycle of suffering we are in and achieving liberation from it.

            My personal view is that any truth statement exists within a context of assumptions and beliefs held by the person who expresses it. For this reason, the meaning is founded on associations and concepts that impact its meaning. I find that, when I try to consider the idea of God within the sort of context held by many theists, this idea points to many things that seem true. I also find that, when I try to consider the idea of no God with the context held by many atheists, this idea also points to many things that seem true. However, in either context, the things to which the ideas points seem separate to me from the ideas themselves. Therefore, insofar as I believe in objective foundations to which ideas such as goodness, truth and beauty point, I could be said to believe in something akin to God. And yet, I do not believe at the same time, because I believe that the idea of God carries other connotations open to question, as well as being an idea relating to these things rather than the things themselves. I hope that helps to answer your question -- it is a complex subject that can be difficult to fully address.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Another way to look at this is that the forces and experiences that may give rise to the concept of God are viewed as distinct from any concept of God itself.

            This is an interesting point to explore in relation to the Christian tradition. On the one hand, we have a Biblical tradition where YHWH cannot be spoken, and where there is a recurring tendency toward iconoclasm. (Granted iconoclasm is deemed heretical within orthodox Christianity, but the enduring and recurring nature of this line of thought, all the way from the Byzantine era through the Protestant Reformation, speaks to just how compelling it is from within a Christian perspective.) On the other hand, Christianity declares Jesus of Nazareth to be the perfect "image of the invisible God". But then to turn the tables yet again, even if Jesus is the perfect image of God, what Christian would dare to propose that he has a perfect conception of Jesus? (Well, OK, probably far too many ...)

            Where I net out is this: I certainly see the danger in clinging to one's favorite conceptions. (I am also reminded of this daily in my professional work, as I make my living in the biomedical sciences building statistical models, frequently needing to ask people to let go of their pet theories.) On the other hand, I see the danger in iconoclasm: ironically, when you get rid of the external images, you create a vacuum to be filled with your own desires, hopes, preferred beliefs, etc. Ironically, icons themselves have a sort of iconoclastic power: if we take them seriously, they present a challenge to the "icons" of our subjective preferences. (Perhaps rigorous Buddhist practice presents a similar sort of self-challenge?) It is for this reason that I accept the admonition of orthodox Christianity to get off the bus before it goes all the way to the iconoclast stop. I sense that for humans it's not so much a matter of whether to accept icons, as much as it is a matter of which icon one is going to focus on. (And again, even within this mindset, Jesus may be the perfect icon of God, but no one has the perfect icon of Jesus.) It all seems to be at least somewhat in tension with the spirit of "if you see the Buddha on the road, kill him", but it's a bit unclear just how much tension there is.

          • David Hardy

            Perhaps rigorous Buddhist practice presents a similar sort of self-challenge? ... It all seems to be at least somewhat in tension with the spirit of "if
            you see the Buddha on the road, kill him", but it's a bit unclear just
            how much tension there is.

            The same sort of conflict is certainly in Buddhism -- Buddhist beliefs are often presented as signs to point practitioners to the truth, rather than the truth itself, yet is also portrayed as a superior or perhaps "more true" conceptualization than other systems. If it wasn't, why take a Buddhist perspective over any other? The idea of killing Buddha on the road certainly highlights the danger of beginning to focus more on the symbols, or your concepts around the symbols, rather than those things to which they refer -- that particular saying comes from the Zen tradition, which, more than some forms of Buddhism, leans towards something akin to iconoclasm. Other traditions, such as Tibetan Buddhism or Pure Land Buddhism, may argue that venerating the image of Buddha (or a Bodhisattva) helps practitioners draw closer to the understanding these figures attained (in some ways reminiscent of how some forms of Christianity venerate the images of Jesus or Mary, albeit understood somewhat differently).

            I would say that the degree of tension depends in part on the branch of Buddhism followed -- I lean on the side of limiting the focus on images and icons, but I certainly don't think they should be done away with -- used correctly, I find them to be a benefit on the path. Aside from this, concentration meditation itself is designed to reveal and help separate from personal conceptualizations and icons from the reality they are meant to model. Taking this view, I tend to look at a number of different beliefs as differing symbolic languages that may point to similar things -- used well, I believe Buddhism, Christianity, and a range of other beliefs can lead people to become wiser and more compassionate, but used poorly, any can lead to negative outcomes. I believe I have far more in common in my mindset with a Christian, secularist or Muslim, as some examples, whose beliefs results in compassionate works, than with someone claiming a Buddhist view and using it to justify indifference or cruelty.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Taking this view, I tend to look at a number of different beliefs as differing symbolic languages that may point to similar things

            I can't remember if I have shared this with you (I probably have, I'm a bit over-eager and redundant when it comes to sharing certain things), but there was a great series of interviews with David Stendl-Rast where he touches on a number of examples of what you are talking about. Here is one of my favorites:
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAWHqymdwr0

          • David Hardy

            Hello Jim,

            Thank you for sharing the link -- I had not seen it before. I always find interviews like these interesting -- whether I agree with the person or not, I believe there is still much to learn from those who take a contemplative path in life. I will look through the other videos on the channel as I have time.

          • If by "relativism in practice" you just mean "widespread disagreement", then sure: the level of disagreement that we currently have on moral issues would in no way be abated or diminished even if everyone were to agree that God grounds morality.

            I mean a little more than that. I do mean there is widespread disagreement of course, but I also mean that grounding morality in god in principle cannot get you anything other than moral relativism in practice. It's not that it just happens to be, it's that the whole idea necessarily gets you moral relativism.

            This is related to the point that I've been trying to convey all along: when we debate whether God grounds morality, there are no issues of moral epistemology at stake.

            There is if you confess, as you seem to do, that on your view there is no way to know anything about morality other than intuition.

            The point of the argument that God grounds morality is rather: if we reflect on the conceptual / ontological categories that most people use and find unavoidable, namely the categories of "what I want" and "what I should do", we find that the existence of that latter category entails a person-like (but non-human) determinant of "oughts".

            I disagree with this of course and do not think there are any arguments that can demonstrate such a view. What one feels they should do entails no ontological status of theistic normative ethics. What people feel they need to do is always contingent on their personal ethics. E.g. If I'm a vegan, then I shouldn't eat animals; If I'm a Catholic, then I shouldn't use a condom, etc.

            "We all do have moral knowledge, and if we reflect on the structure (but not the content) of this knowledge, it entails something like God."

            No, it does not. We have moral knowledge because we're evolved social primates who require certain behaviors in order to coexist with one another, like sharing and caring for those around you, and looking down upon unnecessary violence and greed. None of that points to something like god.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            TT,
            There still a chasm of disagreement and miscomprehension between us and I'd like to try to bridge it more some day, but I'm getting tired and I risk repeating myself (even more) if we go on in this vein. I think we have thumped this stuff hard enough for now. Thanks for the conversation.
            --Jim

          • I understand you fine, I just think you're wrong. Don't confuse disagreement with miscomprehension, as if to say that if I only understood you, I'd see you're correct. Anyway, thanks.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I didn't mean to imply that the miscomprehension was only in one direction. I'm sure it goes both ways.

          • I think most religious people actually begin by reasoning my way to knowledge about what is morally correct, and then define god as that which grounds that conclusion.

            Answer this: what standard do you use when measuring or deciding why anything is morally correct?

          • BCE

            Hi Rob
            You are close to being right.
            The Thinker is wrong
            The rules apply to concepts just as math

          • @rob_abney:disqus BCE is never right. If there is more than one logically possible god, and the theist has no way of showing why one must exist rather than the other, they are left with a brute fact. Not only that, there is no way to get objective morality from "God" unless one has a way to objectively determine goodness with a standard independently of all people and gods.

          • Rob Abney

            If there is more than one logically possible god, and the theist has no way of showing why one must exist rather than the other

            There is not a logical possibility of more than one God if the necessary being chooses all other gods as "not God".

          • ..."if"...

            Your "if" is wrong. Make a logical argument showing only one god with one possible will existing like this:

            P1.
            P2.
            P3.
            [...]
            C. Therefore, only one possible God with will A must necessarily exist.

            If you can't do that, what basis do you have for saying only one possible god can exist?

          • BCE

            What is so hard with supersets and subsets?

          • Nothing, it just makes no sense here. You haven't justified any claims you made above. You have no basis for claiming god A is necessary. You just assert it. That's not logic. That's certainly not a sufficient reason.

          • BCE

            I'm saying if set x is all
            and set y is all
            and they are equal and indistinguishable, then they're the same
            (like if x = all elements and y=all elements) they are one and the same

            The moment you distinguish, then by "necessity "you are creating a subset of one or both.
            and would have either...x is all the elements(the one superset) and y is a subset...like metals
            or both x is a subset and y is a subset ...then there must be one superset.

          • Great. How does that apply to anything I wrote?

          • BCE

            I've read some of your comments on Atheismandthecity.
            You're able to articulate your position on eternalism well.
            However, you are on the mat here with your A, B, C....gods

            You know you presented your challenge of "only one possible god with will A" ( vs multiple gods A,B,C... )
            and I've chosen instead to use x.

            So you tell me, what is god with will A?
            because the moment you give God A some quality it's either the superset or it's a subset.
            And please don't mix semantics....now go ahead describe God A
            so the rest of us can see your use of boolean logic

          • First, you agree that there's no logically necessary reason god A has to exist, vs god B, C, D...etc., right?

          • BCE

            Reread your own challenge

          • Still waiting for an answer....

          • BCE

            Good
            you might want to edit that comment, others might see
            how you posed a challenge, I responded, not once, twice, but more throughout.
            To continue, we'd be abusing the comment rules.
            I didn't avoid the challenge I'm just ending the game.

          • Looks like you did indeed avoid the challenge. A simple yes would do fine.

  • Rob Abney

    Correct.

  • Rob Abney

    It's been done.

  • Rob Abney

    I like this one. Suppose that God is simple in the sense that, for any two of his first-order properties, P and Q, either P is identical with Q or P is logically equivalent to Q (that is, it is impossible for him to possess P without possessing Q, and vice versa). Let us also suppose that there are two gods. If both are God, then both possess the first-order properties essential to divinity. Call these D. If the two differ, each possesses at least one first-order property which the other lacks. Suppose, for example, that the first possesses a first-order property, H, and the second possesses its complement, non-H. Since each is God, each is simple. Hence, either H is identical with D and non-H is identical with D, or H is logically equivalent to D and non-H is logically equivalent to D. Therefore, either H is identical with non-H or H is logically equivalent to non-H. But this is incoherent and, even if it were not, the possession of H and non-H could not be used to distinguish the two, since either H and non-H are the same property or H and non-H are logically equivalent properties. It therefore seems that if God is simple, there can't be two gods. SEP

  • I think both the video and the article are confused. They seem to actually mean existentialism, not nihilism. The former says (as you elucidate) that you can create your values. Nihilism says that's bunk, all values are illusions, period. It's the latter Nietzsche fought against as I understand it, and he is considered an existentialist. Perhaps it is I who am confused though. These are pretty difficult issues it seems.

  • Gary Torkeo

    Why would being nice to others get you bonus points? It would be a complete waste of time unless it benefitted you in some way. Bigger question: why did the author even mention it? Let's be "good for goodness sake" has never been explained rationally but it sounds good.
    Nihilism is another spoke on the wheel with communism and socialism with atheism at the hub.

  • The capability of asking "Why" is not to be taken for granted for there is absolutely no "Why," simply no curiosity, without Free Will. There's only acceptance. Free Will creates dissatisfaction. It's what is at the core of our consciousness, our identity. Contrast that with the substances of our material reality. There's simply no doubting. Everything operates just as the rules and regulations of nature's laws determine. So systematically is this adherence that it is possible to outline those principles simply by studying these substances.

    Now, imagine if every element of the universe could ask "Why"? Suppose they were able to decide if to abide by those laws or perhaps act in another way? It is this reality precisely which sets us apart. Our minds are designed to evaluate information and make choices based upon it. The final result is not contingent upon how the natural laws govern the behavior of the atoms that make up our brains. Without Free Will, we would certainly have no more volition than a waterway has in deciding its actual course. There is absolutely no "Why." There is certainly no wondering. There's simply doing - like water coursing down its riverbed.

  • James

    Some uncontrovertable facts about the universe:

    1. You will die.
    2. Everyone you care about will die.
    3. There is nothing you can do to prevent this.
    4. Your life and death will matter little in the greater scheme of the universe.
    5. Your behavior does not necessarily change the outcome of your life: Good people might suffer greatly; Evil people might die peacefully in their sleep.
    6. The mechanisms of the universe are beyond human understanding and even further beyond human control. We do not understand why natural disasters happen and we are even more powerlessness to prevent them.
    7. The purpose of the universe is both unknown and unknowable (though we like to think it is all about us).

    The curse of humanity is to be aware of our own ignorance and powerlessness and to be unable to change it. We cannot extend our life or health, save our loved ones, make a just world, or even have a glimmer of understanding about what is going on around us. Whatever we want, we will ultimately fail to achieve and we know it.

    Religion was created as a way to bring order to the chaos. It was to provide meaning where there was none. But it is an imperfect solution at best. Which is why mankind keeps revising it, going from many quarreling gods, to one all powerful god, to whatever is next. As religion fails, the chaos and the curse returns, which is why religion never really goes away. Nihilism is a disaster, even if it is true. (Better for the people to believe a Noble Lie than a disasterous truth.)

    Optimistic nihilism is simply another spin on “reality is an illusion” lines of thought. It’s nothing new or groundbreaking.

  • michael

    Becoming an atheist has actually given me an incomparably greater admiration for the sheer beauty found in nature. And a much happier life! We do't need a king to have purpose and be happy! Just love your neighbor, eat, drink and be merry!

  • michael

    Furthermore, believing in Hell and people shrieking in endless unimaginable agony forever is profoundly pessimistic.