Why do you claim that atheism is a bankrupt system of thought?

 

Because ultimately, the tenets atheism has to offer are hopelessness, meaninglessness, and according to Sartre (an atheist himself), suicide.  Sartre was “likewise struck by the possibility of suicide as an assertion of authentic human will in the face of absurdity. Suicide is, according to Sartre, an opportunity to stake out our understanding of our essence as individuals in a godless world.  For the existentialists, suicide was not a choice shaped mainly by moral considerations but by concerns about the individual as the sole source of meaning in a meaningless universe.” (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/suicide/) To even the playing field, according to Camus, another atheist, although life is meaningless, suicide may not necessarily the best alternative, for “suicide…tempts us with the promise of an illusory freedom from the absurdity of our existence, but is in the end an abdication of our responsibility to confront or embrace that absurdity head on.” (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/suicide/) I would, however, contend with Camus and agree with Sartre.  In a meaningless world, filled with all sorts of evils, suicide is definitely a viable option.  It is not the only option, and some people will contend that it is not the best option (as Camus points out), but it would be untrue to atheist worldview to state that it is not a viable option.

 

So you’re saying that atheism can’t be true because the implications of it make you feel bad and Christianity must be true because it makes you feel good?  Is that your argument?

 

Don’t get me wrong, I sympathize with your position.  Obviously eternal bliss with a loving god would be preferable to a short mortal life followed by oblivion.  I would choose the former myself if I could pick how reality was.  How could anyone possibly choose atheism when faced with such a choice?  That’s exactly the problem though, we don’t get to choose what we want reality to be.  Reality is what it is, regardless of our feelings.  No matter how depressed the idea of a natural universe with no god and no afterlife makes you, it does not make it untrue.  No matter how happy you feel when you think about god and heaven, that does not make them real.  I am a non-believer not by choice, but because it is the only intellectually honest position to take in a universe with no evidence of any gods.

 

Now, as for the hopelessness you see in atheism, I fully disagree with you.  You mention some atheist philosophers who say that there is no hope in atheism and you might as well kill yourself.  How is it then that there are so many happy atheists out there, myself included, who have hope and who don’t want to kill themselves?  How can we exist when a philosopher has determined that we can’t be happy atheists?  It’s because a.) we don’t really care what a philosopher thinks we should be feeling, and b.) we find our meaning within life, not without or after.  I find meaning and hope in my life when I see my beautiful baby daughter’s smile, when I finish a project at work, when I eat a good meal, when I learn something new, etc.  I don’t need the help of an invisible god nor do I need promises of an illusory heaven to find hope and happiness in life.  Sure, I won’t get to live forever and I don’t have an invisible pal in the sky, but that’s just how things are and how they always have been.  There’s no use getting sad about it.  Take lemons and make lemonade, my friend!

 

Sure, suicide is always an option for people of any religious persuasion, or lack thereof, who have reached a point where they feel life is not worth living.  Christians kill themselves too you know, despite that wonderful grace thing that’s supposed to make everything perfect.

In response to your comments on suicide, let me first clarify, and then comment.  As clarification, I never stated that atheism was untrue based on it’s implications, I simply stated that, due to it’s implications, it is a bankrupt system, aka it has nothing to offer were true meaning is concerned.  Now to comment, I am exceedingly happy that you find meaning and hope in (as you put it) your family.  This is good, and I applaud you and encourage you to continue to raise your beautiful daughters as a loving and devoted father.  However, here’s the issue at hand: you have every capability to, as a human being, live a life with these aspects of “meaning”, but your worldview provides no basis or grounds for this meaning.  You either have to borrow tenets from other worldviews, or create tenets from nothing, to accomplish this.  In the one case, you are no longer a true atheist, in the other case, you are being self-deceptive.  I would not so rashly dismiss the conclusions that your fellow atheists have arrived at, for they are the ones who are living your worldview to it’s true, logical ends.  For points of reference, read Nietzsche, Sartre, and Camus for a start.

 

How does one quantify “true” meaning?  Who decides what’s a true meaning and what’s a false meaning?  Do the practical things in which I find meaning not count as true meaning?  Meaning is a subjective opinion, which means that nobody is in any position to tell me that my meaning is false.  Anyone who cares to is welcome to give their opinion on what I find meaningful, but no one else’s opinion is any more valid than mine.

 

It is also important to note that offers of meaning have no bearing on the actual truth of a given worldview.  An atheistic reality could be utterly devoid of any and all meaning and still be true.  Reality does not owe us any meaning.  When picking my worldview I am concerned above all about what is true, not what makes me a better-sounding offer.

 

When you say that atheism provides no basis or grounds for meaning, you’re both right and wrong in that statement. Yes, atheism doesn’t provide grounds in itself for meaning.  This is because there’s not much to atheism, it’s just a lack of belief in all gods.  Atheism doesn’t provide a goal to shoot for like heaven in Christianity.  However, you’re wrong that there is nowhere to get meaning as an atheist.  I don’t have to derive my meaning from my position on religion.  As I have said before, I draw meaning from my life, my experiences and my relationships with other humans.  No god or afterlife is required for finding meaning here and now.

 

In reference to those philosophers you mentioned, they certainly have some interesting ideas, many of which I would probably agree with, but at the end of the day their conclusions vis-à-vis meaning are their opinions.  I am under no obligation to defer to any authority when determining subjective meaning.  That’s the thing about atheism: we don’t have a pope or a Bible to tell us what our opinions should be.  We are allowed to come up with our own.

 

I want to highlight several of your statements in your response:

 

“Do the practical things in which I find meaning not count as true meaning?  Meaning is a subjective opinion, which means that nobody is in any position to tell me that my meaning is false.”

 

I don’t mean to patronize you, but I would like you to think, for a moment, the ramifications of this statement.  What happens to morality?  What happens to social order?  Is this system of thinking a livable system?  What has history taught us about this ideology? (if necessary, I have some historical examples, unless you wish to provide any)

 

“It is also important to note that offers of meaning have no bearing on the actual truth of a given worldview.”

 

If meaning is subjective/relative, what is truth?  Buddhists will claim that the self doesn’t exist, is their statement true?

 

“However, you’re wrong that there is nowhere to get meaning as an atheist.”

 

I agree with you that atheists can get meaning out of life, I am simply stating that they have no basis within their own belief system to warrant this meaning.

 

“I am under no obligation to defer to any authority when determining subjective meaning.”

 

Again, I would like you to think of the ramifications of this statement.  The one word that comes to my mind is chaos.  To deny this, you are going to have to prove that meaninglessness and objectiveness are not contradictory.

 

As a last note, I would again suggest that you review these atheistic philosophers I have mentioned who lived out their atheism to its logical ends, and I would implore you to rethink your own worldview stance.  It is destructive in more ways than just religiously.

 

Yes, it all becomes subjective, doesn’t it?  The ramifications are lots of different opinions on meaning, morality and all manner of other topics.  Some opinions work better than others.  Sometimes differences of opinions create anger, hatred and bloodshed among people who take these differences seriously.  Sounds kind of scary, but does this not accurately describe the situation in our world throughout history and even right here on this forum?  There is no objective standard to compare against.  Many Christians fancy their morality to be the objective standard, but the reality is that there is a huge spectrum of different opinions even within the Christian community.  Even if Christians all agreed with each other it’s still just one opinion among many.

 

Once again, the fact that you find these ramifications of a particular idea uncomfortable does not make it incorrect.  This is an Appeal to Consequences logical fallacy, which you continue to base your arguments on.

 

Your point on truth seems like a bit of a red herring, but I’ll address it anyway.  Truth is what is objectively true.  We never know truth for a 100% certainty.  That doesn’t mean that objective truths don’t exist, just that our ability to know them is not perfect.  The scientific method gets us as close as we possibly can get to objective truth though.  I base my worldview on the truth as near as I can possibly know it.

 

As far as the self-existing or not, that’s a weird one.  I think the self does exist because I can experience myself.  I could be wrong though.

 

In reference to your point on chaos, I think you’re extrapolating a bit more than I intended to say with that phrase, as I was mainly referring to personal meaning in the sense of “reason to live.”  I think I somewhat addressed your point about chaos in the first part of this post.  I won’t deny that chaos can result from relativism of meaning and morality.  Yes, things can indeed get chaotic as it very often has in human history.  It would be nice if people agreed on things more and weren’t so prone to attack each other over disagreements, but unfortunately that isn’t human nature.  The only solution is to get more people to agree on better ideas, but that’s an elusive goal that nobody has a solution to yet, including Christians.  If you did then the world would have become a nice, happy planet when Christianity came on the scene a couple thousand years ago.  It didn’t.

 

Finally, how is atheism a destructive worldview? I’m a very calm, nice person overall.  I don’t hurt anybody, steal, rape, cheat, and I pay my taxes.  In what sense is my worldview is having a destructive effect on the world?

 

Again, highlighting several of your statements:

 

Statement A: “There is no objective standard to compare against.”

Statement B: “That doesn’t mean that objective truths don’t exist, just that our ability to know them is not perfect.  The scientific method gets us as close as we possibly can get to objective truth though.”

 

Pardon me for any ignorance, but as far as I can rationalize your two statements, you seem to imply that objective standards don’t exist, but objective truths might?  Let me not patronize you: what you are essentially saying is that objectiveness may only exist where it benefits your own paradigm (strict naturalism).  If I have misinterpreted you, please clarify, because to a layperson, you have stated an apparent contradiction.

 

You then criticize me for making an Appeal to Consequence.  It is not an appeal to consequences to take a worldview to its logical conclusions in order to show inconsistency and contradiction.  However, I can see how it would seem that I am making an Appeal to Consequence, and I therefore respect you assertion, and will attempt to clarify myself better in future posts.  I apologize for any grievance I may have caused you.  Please know that I respect you, and I hope you respect me as well.

 

My point on truth was not a red herring, it stemmed directly from my point on meaninglessness.  In a meaninglessness world, truth is a subjective opinion.  My point with Buddhism was to point out that what is “true” for you may not be “true” for someone else.  Who is to say which paradigm is the correct one?  What grounds do you have to deny an eastern view which, in many regards, is totally opposite in paradigm to that of a scientific one?  I hope this clarifies my statement.

 

Again, I respect that you have found your own meaning, and I hope you continue to find joy in your family, but you must understand that this meaning has no grounds within your worldview.

 

To comment on your thoughts on chaos, the simple problem is that atheism provides no grounds to fix this dilemma.  To quote you:

 

“I won’t deny that chaos can result from relativism of meaning and morality.”

 

You are being far to kind with your statement.  Following your worldview to its logical ends, atheism does lead to chaos.  Again, I urge you to look into the atheist philosophers I have stated.  You will understand what I mean about a destructive worldview.  It is a bankrupt worldview.  It cannot fix the inherent problems to it’s system, it can just hope that people act morally, which is, again, a contradiction to it’s own proclaimed tenets.

 

In reference to your confusion of “Statement A” and “Statement B”, each of those statements refers to something different, but I can understand the confusion if I did not make myself clear.  In statement A I was saying that there is no objective standard for subjective opinions like morality and meaning.  This is evidenced by the fact that everybody has their own ideas of morality and meaning and they have shifted in trends over time according to human culture.  In statement B I was saying that there are objective truths about how reality is, such as the atomic weight of hydrogen or the speed of light in a vacuum.  To use the question of the existence of god or gods as an example, there can be only two possibilities: god(s) either exists in reality or he doesn’t.  Whatever the answer is, it’s not subjective.  God can’t be non-existent for one person and extant for the next.

 

I didn’t arbitrarily come to these conclusions just to suit some sort of naturalist dogma.  Naturalism is where the evidence has led me.

 

To clarify on your comments, I am not aware of any inconsistency or contradiction within my atheism or between my atheism and reality.  I have hopefully clarified the supposed contradiction you pointed out earlier.  I didn’t see how your points about atheism leading to a meaningless existence showed any inconsistencies or contradictions.  As I said in previous posts, atheism could lead to utter meaninglessness as you say and still be correct.

 

Then to comment on your statement that “In a meaninglessness world, truth is a subjective opinion.” I think this is where we’re not understanding each other and I think it’s causing a lot of confusion for both of us.  The bolded statement doesn’t make any sense to me because “meaning” is something completely subjective that does not exist outside of human minds, while truth is simply what reality is.  It seems to me akin to saying that because I’m happy today, Neptune is going to turn around in its orbit and start going the other way.  There is no connection between the two.  What is going on in our heads has no bearing on what is really true about reality.

 

The only “truths” that can be true for some people and not for others are not objective truths, but subjective philosophies.  The example you provided was one of these.  My grounds for denying the Buddhist view of the non-existence of self is that there is no evidence to support that claim, to my knowledge.  If anyone can make a case that this view accurately represents reality then I am open to being convinced by the evidence.

 

Then to comment on the problem that atheism provides no grounds to fix the dilemma of chaos leading from meaninglessness, yes, you are completely right that atheism provides no answers to fix the world’s problems.  That is because this is not a subject that atheism speaks to.  There is no contradiction with atheism’s proclaimed tenets, because atheism proclaims no tenets.  Atheism is simply a lack of belief in gods, nothing more.  Atheism has no tenets, it is not a system, it doesn’t instruct one how to live and it’s not something to base a government on.  When an atheist wants those types of functions, we look elsewhere to systems devised by humans to serve those needs.  One can subscribe to ideas such as secular humanism, democratism, anarchism, socialism, environmentalism, conservatism, capitalism or any other -isms to cover all the practical worldview needs while still subscribing to atheism.

 

Every one of us, yourself included, are left no other choice but to hope that other people act morally.  When you walk down the street you have to hope that the guy walking past you doesn’t decide to pull out a knife and stab you.  He could very well do such a thing, and he would either get away with it or somebody would deal with him according to either their personal morality or the morality of the law of the society you live in.  Is this not the case whether you’re an atheist, Christian or anything else?  If the man was a Christian, would that have stopped him from plunging that knife into your gut if he was otherwise inclined to do such a thing?

 Thusfar, I am exceedingly surprised at your aptness to civility, even in our disagreements.  Thank you for that.

 

Now, to respond.

 

Thank you for your clarification.  As I understand you now, your official statement is this:

 

Morality and Meaning = Subjective

Reality = Objective

 

To cover the content of a great deal of you response, my question to you is this, how do you define reality?  Let me answer for you, you define reality from a paradigm of strict naturalism.  As you stated, you see this as the most feasible response, and you are entitled to that opinion.  However, in a meaningless world, you still must accept the fact that your paradigm is not necessarily better than the rest.  You would claim that nature supports your naturalist paradigm, but this is circular reasoning.  Nature cannot explain itself. (herein is a fundamental argument for the necessity of a higher being)  Therefore, even reality, under your system of reasoning, is subjective.  It is based on your opinion as the most feasible, but a Buddhist may quickly disagree with you, and claim a paradigm that transcends nature.  You cannot deny them this, based on your own assumptions of meaninglessness, you must understand that you cannot deny them this.

 

This is a little out of place, but as a side note, based on some of your comments, you sound a little agnostic?  Am I sensing correctly?

 

Moving on, you seem to want a clearer portray of atheism’s inconsistency and/or contradictions.  As I recollect, I made several arguments, but I think the strongest one I promoted was atheism purporting morality on a meaningless world.  You cannot deny that this occurs, and if atheists ever followed through with the logical ends of this assertion, chaos would ensue, as I previously asserted.  You cannot deny this.  If you want more examples, I suppose I could go digging through these past post, but for brevity, I’ll move on.

 

You state: “…’meaning’ is something completely subjective that does not exist outside of human minds.”  You say this, but you do not believe it.  How do I know this?  Because without even knowing you, I know that your outward actions would dictate otherwise.  Here’s an example.  I have a family who I love dearly.  A murder comes into my home on night and threatens the life of one of my children.  I plead with him to stop.  How does he answer me?  “The love you have your child is meaningless, because it exists only in your mind.  My mind dictates another meaning, and that is to kill your child.”  Now, following the logic of your statement, the murderer is justified in his actions.  Now, granted, this is a harsh example, and I hope that if a murderer ever entered your home and threatened your children, you would punch him square in the face.  But you must see my point, and the inconsistency it portrays.

 

You then state: “Atheism is simply a lack of belief in gods, nothing more.  Atheism has no tenets, it is not a system, it doesn’t instruct one how to live and it’s not something to base a government on.”  Trust me, in every way, I wish you were right, and if this statement were true, and not idealic, I would be jumping up and down for joy.  I am not being sarcastic here.  I fully agree with you that atheism is not something to base a government on, it is not something to instruct someone how to live.  I fully and 100% agree with you.  The sad news is, atheism is a world view.  It does have tenets, it is a system of thought, it does instruct one how to think, act, and behave, and worrisome beyond all, it is a pressing governmental dogma.  Believe me, I understand what you are saying, and idealistically I agree with you, but your idealism has turned into a dogma, and may I say, a vicious dogma.  I do not need to give you examples, look at the many authors and bloggers who are espousing this.  This is my point.

 

You state: “Every one of us, yourself included, are left no other choice but to hope that other people act morally.”  In the sense you have stated this, I agree with you, for I would be a fool to disagree.  I do not hold the reigns of morality, I cannot dictate human action. But here is the difference, Christianity offers a moral standard, atheism does not.  The hope you espouse to is based on meaninglessness, the hope I espouse to is adherence to standard.  Which is the better hope?  This is the point I was trying to make with my original statements.

 

I continue to wish you all joy and happiness, and I hope that your family is doing well.  I will patiently await your response.

 

In reference to reality, a good, succinct definition of reality is one coined by Philip K. Dick: “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”  Naturalism is the only view that consistently holds up as reality under this definition.  When you stop believing in god, he goes away.  When you stop believing in Buddhist transcendentalism, it goes away.  Nature doesn’t go away when you stop believing in it.  If you jump off the roof of a 30 story building, gravity is going to pull you down and most likely kill you whether you believe in the reality of gravity or not.  That’s because gravity is not subjective.

 

When you say that nature cannot explain itself you’re getting into the origins of reality, which is a different subject altogether.  Science has some pretty good theories about it, but nobody knows the exact answer to that one.  I’m fine with saying “I don’t know,” and in cases like this that’s really all you can say and remain intellectually honest.  Keep in mind though that not knowing doesn’t invalidate naturalism, nor does it “prove” that god did it.  That is an argument from ignorance logical fallacy.

 

The fact of the matter is this, atheism doesn’t make claims to morality, but atheists can and do make claims to morality.  This is an important distinction.

 

To refer back to your example of the child and the murderer, firstly, I think you are confusing meaning with morality in this example.  They’re two different things.  I never said that I think everybody can just do whatever they want and they are justified in doing so.  When someone gets the idea to start murdering innocent people, for example, that tends to make other people pretty unhappy.  Atheists dislike being murdered as much as anyone else, so we get our ideas that murder is bad from that practical knowledge, not from our atheism.

 

Secondly, the fact that meaning exists only in our heads doesn’t make it meaningless.  Everyone’s meanings are meaningful to them, and to others to the extent to which they empathize.  The murderer in your example is apparently a sociopath with no empathy whatsoever, so clearly my meaning doesn’t mean anything to him.  This fact seems to me to support my point perfectly.  The problem was when you said that I would have to agree that his action is justified, which I could not because it goes against my own subjective sense of meaning.

 

You also make several claims concerning tenets that atheism espouses. Before I can discuss this, could you list some tenets of atheism as you understand them?  Can you describe in which ways atheism instructs one to think?  Can you tell me about this atheistic governmental dogma?  This is the first I’ve heard of any of this, since there are no atheist Bibles or churches or anything.

 

In closing, I feel like I’ve said this many times now, but you’re totally right that atheism does not offer a moral standard.  This is because atheism in itself doesn’t speak to morality.  Atheists all have their own opinions on morality based on their backgrounds and their own opinions on the subjects.  We each have our own standards and our own sources of hope that we draw from other places besides our position on the existence of gods.  If this was as bad as you make it out to be then you would expect most atheists to be criminals, but somehow we’re at least as good as any other group on the average.

 

I think a better question than “which offers the better hope?” is “which is more likely to deliver on your hopes?”  If you just look at the offers then Christianity looks pretty good.  It falls way short when it comes to following through on those hopes, however.  Christianity gives all sorts of false hopes in prayer that does nothing, heaven that nobody has ever seen and a god who doesn’t do anything.  Atheism gives hope in understanding and coming to terms with reality as it actually is without clouding things up with supernatural nonsense.  I think that’s more valuable than any of Christianity’s illusory hopes.

 

First, thanks for being intellectually honest, I respect that greatly.

 

You state, “When you stop believing in god, he goes away.  When you stop believing in Buddhist transcendentalism, it goes away.”

 

Again, this is stated from a naturalistic paradigm, and is not necessarily true.  From my paradigm of theism, the assertion “god…goes away” is simply incorrect, and I’m sure the Buddhist would have something to say on the matter as well.

 

You state, “Atheism doesn’t make claims to morality.  Atheists can and do make claims to morality.  This is an important distinction.”

 

I agree with you that this should be the case (although I would wonder where atheists find their basis for moral claims), but I disagree that this occurs.  Again, you are stating an ideal case.

 

You state, “When someone gets the idea to start murdering innocent people, for example, that tends to make other people pretty unhappy.”

 

So morality for atheists is based on what makes other people happy?  This is a scary thought.  What makes me happy might not make you happy at all.

 

You state, “Atheists dislike being murdered as much as anyone else, so we get our ideas that murder is bad from that practical knowledge, not from our atheism.”

 

Is disliking something practical knowledge or personal taste?

 

You state, “Secondly, the fact that meaning exists only in our heads doesn’t make it meaningless.”

 

I disagree, the subjectivity you have promoted, and the fact that you are not the only person in the universe, dictate this.

 

You state, “The murderer in your example is apparently a sociopath with no empathy whatsoever, so clearly my meaning doesn’t mean anything to him. “

 

I see that another tenant of atheistic morality is empathy?  So basically the Golden Rule?  But with no basis for morality, this view crumbles, for the “sociopath” as you mention is the proof of this.  It was the point I was attempting to make.

 

You state, “The problem was when you said that I would have to agree that his action is justified, which I could not because it goes against my own subjective sense of meaning.”

 

This is incorrect, for you have not understood “justified”.  Yes, you are correct to assert that you do not have to agree with the actions of the murderer, but based on your meaningless system of morality, you must assert that he is justified in his actions.  Remember, something can be justified and you may, at the same time, not like it.

 

You state, “Ok, before I can discuss this, could you list some tenets of atheism as you understand them?  Can you describe in which ways atheism instructs one to think?  Can you tell me about this atheistic governmental dogma?  This is the first I’ve heard of any of this, since there are no atheist Bibles or churches or anything.”

 

Off the topic of my head, a good example would be Margaret Sanger.

 

You state, “Atheists all have their own opinions on morality based on their backgrounds and their own opinions on the subjects.”

 

Again, taken to it’s logical conclusion, if this idea was ever purported as the correct “system of moral action”, the result would be chaos.

 

You state, “If this was as bad as you make it out to be then you would expect most atheists to be criminals, but somehow we’re at least as good as any other group on the average.”

 

Yes because you live under an objective moral code (aka the laws that govern your land), which is actually contradictory to your own espouse world view.

 

You state, “…which is more likely to deliver on your hopes?  If you just look at the offers then Christianity looks pretty good.  It falls way short when it comes to following through on those hopes, however.”

 

I completely disagree, and you will disagree too when you understand that this is morality we are taking about and not God.  The Christian system of moral standards far exceed that of an atheistic moral system.  Christian morality is where any hope lies for a good moral system.

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