Friday, June 20, 2014

Where Atheism Leads

Last November I wrote a post titled Atheism and Nihilism in which I quoted a commenter on another blog who outlined the nihilistic implications which he believed followed from his atheism. He said this:
I’m a nihilist because it shows reality. If there is no higher power, then everything humanity holds dear was constructed by humanity and therefore not real.

There is:
  • No objective, absolute, inherent meaning in life or the universe
  • No objective, absolute, inherent purpose in life or the universe
  • No objective, absolute, inherent value in life or the universe
  • No objective, absolute, inherent morality in life or the universe. No good, no evil, no right, no wrong
  • No objective, absolute, inherent truth in life or the universe
  • No objective, absolute, inherent knowledge in life or the universe
  • No objective, absolute, inherent logic in life or the universe
There's more:
  • We are the cobbled together Frankensteins of billions of years of trial and error
  • We have no free-will, mind, consciousness, rationality or reason. They are illusions and [the notions of] personhood, identity and humanity are not real.
  • The emotions we express are just chemicals in our brain. The very things we seek in life like happiness, peace, contentment, joy are just chemicals reducing us to nothing more than chemical addicts.
  • We are no more important than other animals. A dog is a rat is a pig is a boy.
  • There is no afterlife. Once we die, we fade from existence and all our memories, experiences, knowledge etc goes with it. In time, we are forgotten.
  • All the things we do in life are just for survival. Learning, loving, seeking, being positive, eating, relating, having fun are created for the sake of ignoring the real reason we are here and that’s to live as long as we can.
  • There is no help coming to save humanity as a species or as individuals. We are all alone and on our own. If you can’t survive, you die.
Following the appearance of these remarks on Viewpoint a reader wrote to express his own agreement with what this commenter said:
I agree very closely with what this person commented. I am an atheist, and many people have called me a nihilist. I would also consider myself a nihilist in many aspects. Life cannot have any meaning. Humans exist only for the purposes they give to their own lives. If there is no higher power above us, morals must also be illusions created in the mind. Morals only exist because they help to achieve the most benefit. When people create the idea of morals, it changes their behavior and helps them to make decisions that they believe will benefit themselves. I don't understand why people want to believe things can be right or wrong outside of the mind.

I cannot understand why people believe humans are more important than any other animal. What could make us any more special than a more primitive animal? We have just become more advanced through evolution, but we are not special. Humans just happen to have evolved more through the process of evolution, which does not make us special. Any other animal could have evolved more, but by chance we happened to evolve more than the other animals.

I live a life filled with the love of knowledge, but I don't believe knowledge means anything to me. I desire to acquire knowledge. I want a thorough, organized understanding of my environment, but I understand that this desire is only the result of the desire to make the most beneficial decisions in life. If I know more about how the universe operates, I can make decisions that will bring me the most benefit. All people make decisions that they believe will benefit themselves and I want to have more knowledge so I can make better decisions and achieve the most benefit. Although I can never know if my understanding is accurate, I believe I can search and try to find an accurate understanding.

Nihilism is not a mentally healthy way to think, but it is what I believe to be accurate. I will never give up my nihilism, although it has been problematic for me. My nihilism sent me to therapy and eventually to the hospital, but the struggle was worth the pain as it was the only way I could believe I could be finding an accurate understanding of my reality.
I replied to this reader with this:
I sympathize with the ordeal you've undergone, and I hope you're able to overcome the problems you wrestle with.

You say that it's your nihilistic mindset that's the source of your mental health problems and that you'll never give it up because you believe it's true. I think you're right to want to commit yourself to what's true, even if the consequences are not good, but, as you're aware, your nihilism is an inference from your atheism, and I'm convinced that atheism is false.

I don't know what has persuaded you that it's true, but I urge you to keep an open mind and to honestly continue to investigate the matter. It would be a tragedy if you spent your whole life living with what you describe as a mentally unhealthy way to think if, in fact, it's all unnecessary because it's all based on a false assumption about God.
This reader's sad letter and the earlier thoughts by the anonymous commenter that precipitated it reminded me of the words of Kirilov in Dostoyevsky's novel The Possessed. Kirilov, an atheist, says "I don't know how an atheist can know there is no God and not kill himself on the spot." Kirilov himself committed suicide. In light of the above I can understand why. Atheism may be true, but if so, God help us.