Wednesday, 12 October 2011

It really *is* a matter of nihilism versus God

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From the comments:

http://charltonteaching.blogspot.com/2011/06/psychology-of-atheist.html

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Daniel said...



Mr. Charlton,

Your dilemma, as you have described it here, very closely resembles my own. But I don't understand your conclusion (the one that leads you to accept transcendence).

You very expertly lay out a paradox, and then point out that a belief in transcendence is the only way out of the paradox. But I do not see how this is necessarily so. It is the only satisfying answer to the dilemma. But there is also another, entirely unsatisfying answer: that nothing makes any sense and the only answer is pure nihilism.

One sees the problem in judging science vs animism (your example) without an appeal to transcendent truth. But what about the ole shrug of the shoulders? The materialist/nihilist would say: yes, you are correct, moral instincts are evolved. Yes, you are correct, science can't be proven to be more true than animism except that it is much better at manipulating the physical environment, and therefore is at least pragmatically more true. And yes (you don't suggest this one, but it's an easy argument that's been made many times), what seems beautiful in art is also just a product of evolution. We don't find beautiful what slugs find beautiful. Neither are slugs interested in Caravaggio.

So, to repeat, while I find your story relevant and indeed compelling, I don't see how you really made the leap you did. Acknowledging that you don't necessarily intend this as some sort of proof (you have presented it merely as your own psychological journey), can I ask you what I have missed here in my response? Or were these questions simply never important to you?

One more rephrasing, if you will indulge me. You seem to have chosen theism because it was more comforting that pure nihilism. But I don't see how it's any more necessary that pure nihilism. One or the other, it would seem. But why, from a formal logic point of view, the one and not the other?

PS: I ask all these questions in earnest and sympathetically, and do not mean to be needlessly combative.



bgc said...



@Daniel - "point out that a belief in transcendence is the only way out of the paradox. But I do not see how this is necessarily so. It is the only satisfying answer to the dilemma. But there is also another, entirely unsatisfying answer: that nothing makes any sense and the only answer is pure nihilism."

We are agreed that nihilism and God are the only answers - but when you say 'satisfying' you seem to imply emotionally satisfying, whereas I mean satisfying to reason.

A nihilist cannot use reason, since he has no grounds at all to assume that reason is valid. Indeed a nihilist has no reason to say anything, do anything nor even to stay alive.

A consistent nihilist presumably just *feels* that everything is meaningless, including the feeling that everything is meaningless.

But having decided that reason is valid, I was trying to satisfy *reason* - not my feelings.

"You seem to have chosen theism because it was more comforting that pure nihilism. But I don't see how it's any more necessary that pure nihilism. One or the other, it would seem. But why, from a formal logic point of view, the one and not the other?"

I hope that this is answered by the previous point. It is not a matter of 'comfort' but reason, truth, the nature of reality (belief in God may, or may not, be comforting, varying at different times and situations).

Eugene (later Seraphim) Rose sets this out in his (online) book Nihilism which I have referenced innumerable times on this blog. He makes clear there really is *no middle ground* between God and nihilism: and nihilism is denial of reality - so if there ever was a coherent nihilist we would know nothing of them.

What we actually observe in the West is a partial nihilism, where nihilism is selectively-applied - usually to those parts of Christianity which stand in the path of self-gratification, or applied only to enemies' beliefs.

However, once the process of nihilism/ secularization has begun it eats away more and more meaning, purpose and relatedness - until it ends up being a hell on earth (misery, purposelessness and alienation with no hope).

As we see.

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P.S: 'Daniel' is now blogging at:

http://outofsleep.wordpress.com/





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9 comments:

  1. You ignore the option that there is something that is not God. This idea has been developed by Derek Parfit(among countless others)http://spot.colorado.edu/~heathwoo/phil3600/parfit.pdf

    Reason is not enough. Faith is required as well.

    ReplyDelete
  2. @Faith

    Who said reason was *enough*?

    Not I. No Christian could believe that. Certainly not one who had engaged with Pascal.

    ReplyDelete
  3. But the exchange you quote happened here: http://charltonteaching.blogspot.com/2011/06/psychology-of-atheist.html

    Revisiting your post and our exchange has kindled some new thoughts in me, Dr. Charlton. Even after you posted the comment quoted here, I came back and basically restated my whole question/argument, like hitting my head up against a brick wall.

    Rereading what you said, especially in your second response, I found it makes much more sense now, somehow. I'll expand on that when I have time to digest it and articulate it. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  4. @Daniel - um, yaas...

    That was today's deliberate mistake.

    Fixed!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Mr. Charlton,

    Let me compliment you on this post. I'm facing the same issues as Daniel is, so I too will profit from it.

    Apropos this discussion on nihilism, I don't know if you have come across a certain Mitchell Heisman. He was 35-year-old Harvard graduate who committed suicide last year, leaving behind a 1,900 page defense of nihilism as an explanation for his act. A quick sampling does, in my view, prove your point of "it's nihilism or God".

    The text is at
    http://www.suicidenote.info/

    and information about the author at

    http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2010/9/22/heisman-harvard-mother-death/.

    Best,

    ReplyDelete
  6. I haven't read the suicide letter, but I recall the coverage.

    What could a modern mainstream materialistic hedonist *consistently* say that would deter someone from suicide who felt that their life was too miserable to be worth living?

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  7. I never heard about that 1900 page suicide note/defense of nihilism before but — though I imagine he tries to disarm this obvious question at some point — the obvious question is: if you truly believe in nihilism, why bother writing 1900 pages defending it?

    Caring that much about the truth of your nihilism means you care about ... truth. Right?

    ReplyDelete
  8. @Daniel - as we discussed - there is no coherent nihilism.

    Never mind writing 1900 words, if you murmer a *single* word in defence of nihilism, you are not a complete nihilist - if you ever do anything other than what impulse tells you...

    Well, there's no point in trying to imagine how a consistent nihilist would behave because they probably would not last 3 days.

    Our modern problem is a kind of 'rotating nihilism' - in which nihilism is directed at whatever is before the attention (while leaving intact whatever is not being attended).

    The nihilism problem or apparent paradox is not just precisely analogous with the nature of evil - it is exactly the same problem.

    There can be no complete and consistent nihilism because there can be no complete evil - all evil is a partial and or distorted version of Good. All evil persons (real or imaginary) have *some* good in them, else they could not exist/ would not do anything.

    But to defend nihilism (or evil) on the grounds that it is not completely nihilistic (or completely evil)...

    well, when you are doing that then you are in *deep* trouble. And yet that is just what modern nihilists do - they point out "Look! I am not a *complete* nihilist - see I ('passionately') believe in THIS and THAT

    (sotto voce - "Of course I do not believe in any objective and fixed reality, nor do I distinguish between real belief and useful-delusion - but still I passionately 'believe"(-in-my-own-arbitrary-meaning-of-the-term-'belief') in THIS, THAT and also THE OTHER.

    "SO I can't be a nihilist."

    Well, the simplest definition is that a nihilist does not believe in the reality of reality - anyone who does not believe this is a nihilist.

    (The next question for the non-nihilist concerns his grounds for belief in the reality of reality. As Pascal saw, the only coherent grounds for belief in the reality of reality is revelation from a real god).

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  9. For an amusing, but also frightening, at play-nihilism:

    http://www.naturalism.org/index.htm

    I've read several of their articles and they are richly confirming of Charlton's description of false nihilism. Not only do they refuse to accept the ultimate non-preference of existence over non-existence, total naturalism apparently conforms to every single aspect of the liberal, late Christian worldview!

    ReplyDelete