Why identify as atheist and not nihilist?

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Discussion by: Happy Nihilist

What would you say is the distinguishing criteria to draw the line between atheist and nihilist? I consider myself an existential nihilist and yet when I read much of the arguments made by self-labelled atheists I can't help seeing that they are intrinsically nihilistic or at the very least if followed to their logical ends, lead fundamentally to a nihilistic viewpoint. If logical, rational thinking is used then I fail to see how nihilism cannot be the conclusion.

Atheism is merely the rejection of religious beliefs, whereas nihilism goes further to saying that there is no meaning to our existence, we are just what we make ourselves to be. But how many 'atheists' fall into the latter category? If you don't believe in a creator or divine plan and you understand how our minds and emotions have evolved as chemical signals and electrical pulses then where do you fit the meaning in to this? I enjoy being alive and live as hedonistic lifestyle as possible yet I am under no illusion that this has any meaning outside of my own mind. I believe that when living memories of myself die then my existence is erased entirely, in a few billion years that anything that ever happened on Earth won’t matter, the universe will continue regardless and nothing will have any more significance than if the Earth hadn't existed at all. In trillions of years when the final stars die out and all matter is erased then time will cease to have any meaning. Oh and I can't negate the classic quote 'we have no choice but to have free will' as nor do I see that having the ability to choose one’s destiny is synonymous with a ‘meaning’.

So, what gives your life meaning and if it is indeed something only in relation to yourself then why are you an atheist?

 

49 COMMENTS

  1. What you do impact others and your environment. You’re the product of billions of years of evolution, and if you are lucky, you will be survived by your genes. And maybe you even contributed towards the betterment of life on earth in your own way. And if you think all this is also meaningless, then I suppose that’s where I’ll disagree.

    Existentialist questions are a waste of time and energy as far as I’m concerned. They are all dead ends. About as much as the other side pondering about the meaning and intent of hypothetical deities.

    As they say, stop worrying so much, and look on the bright side of life.

    I suppose that makes a nihilist in denial :)

    • In reply to #1 by papa lazaru:

      What you do impact others and your environment. You’re the product of billions of years of evolution, and if you are lucky, you will be survived by your genes. And maybe you even contributed towards the betterment of life on earth in your own way. And if you think all this is also meaningless, then I suppose that’s where I’ll disagree.

      Existentialist questions are a waste of time and energy as far as I’m concerned. They are all dead ends. About as much as the other side pondering about the meaning and intent of hypothetical deities.

      As they say, stop worrying so much, and look on the bright side of life.

      I suppose that makes a nihilist in denial :)

      I am all for enjoying life while you can, as chaotic and futile as the whole thing is I am very happy to be part of the puzzle. I have perhaps been a bit loose with the term nihilist (*explained below), where I should stick to existential nihilist as just because something has no purpose doesn’t mean it cannot be enjoyed (like art). I suppose the difference between existential nihilist and atheist is really just the semantics of how ‘meaning’ is interpreted. If you think that you own selfish aims and ambitions constitute to a greater meaning, then I suppose atheist is the best description, if in the opposing category where you think ‘pointless, but who cares’ then that’s all there really seems to be to it. It does seem to be a very fine line to me though, so hopefully I am totally wrong as this would be more fun, but it seems to me that if you don’t have any assumption there should be any meaning to life or anything constituting a purpose to fulfill, then you are an existential nihilist.

      (It seems nihilist tends to have a negative connotation with a very depressed individual, implying that without meaning life is not worth living at all. I completely disagree with this statement, as it is no different to the ‘no god, kill yourself’ arguments. I don’t see what’s wrong with living a futile existence without convincing oneself to the contrary)

  2. While nihilism and atheism have been inextricably linked, I think that is an historical anomaly, not a logical one. I believe nihilism prevails in the advancement of human thought, as the hole left by religion. For thousands of years, metaphysics has relied upon belief in judgmental ghosts. Sam Harris’ flavor of moral-objectivism may have metaphysical implications, though they are not required (as with all application of science). For the first time we can speculate on these meta matters with scientific modeling.

    You jump into all kinds of metaphysical assumptions based on science, and they are not necessary. If the nature of time, or some aspect of the Universe, is fundamentally different from our perception, what you say about permanent obliteration may not be true. I find it a beautiful and spiritually profound thought, but the prudence of science does not afford us such speculation. However, what you say does not currently contradict science, so it is a sound belief and worthy of building a foundation on. I admire those who can sterilize their worldview from metaphysical assumptions, which should be the goal of clergy but is more often found in scientists.

    What gives my life meaning?
    Doing meaningful things.

  3. For me, the essential issue is that of naturalism, which is to say that nothing supernatural has any (demonstrated) effect on the natural universe. This makes me incidentally an atheist but only due to the insistence of those around me who are theists.

    Existential nihilism probably has a (somewhat) similar relationship with atheism, though I can imagine both theistic and atheistic models, that is, that whether or not God exists doesn’t necessarily give intrinsic value or purpose to life. (To a bacterium in a petri dish, the seeding and observing scientist is a essentially a god, but that doesn’t necessarily give that bacterium impetus to behave one way or another. Nor would the scientist care.)

    So atheism and nihilism focus on separate aspects. I’m a bit wary of nihilism because it gives the sense that there should be an intrinsic purpose to human existence, which is questionable. We have a sense of purpose, yes, on account of a social instinct to develop one (and is formed in our childhood years by our parents). We’ve evolved to want to contribute positively to society. But yeah, it doesn’t make sense that the universe, or even an intelligent prime-mover would care about the moss on a speck chasing a spark.

    There’s the comparison between nihilism and atheism: both fixate on the absence of a thing because so many others of us insist that that thing is certain to exist, when it’s clearly not [certain]. They’re both contrasts to popular opinion. But they are contrasts regarding different specifics.

  4. ” nihilism goes further to saying that there is no meaning to our existence, “

    Not quite. Nihilism tells us existence is useless and senseless.

    A subtle but real difference.

    I can not connect atheism and nihilism together in my mind> I guess that is why I do not put too much stock in philosophy!

  5. I suppose I am an existential nihilist, but often people think that nihilism means not only there is no intrinsic meaning to life, but that all nihilists think there is no meaning to life at all while in fact it is common to choose your own meaning of life. Since I have chosen a meaning of life I tend to tell people I’m a secular humanist as that is my self chosen philosophy (in a crude nutshell).

  6. Happy nihilist

    Do you think the things that make you happy have value?

    Why identify as atheist and not nihilist?

    Due to being one but not the other.

    What would you say is the distinguishing criteria to draw the line between atheist and nihilist?

    Atheists don’t believe in gods; nihilists don’t believe in values.

    they are intrinsically nihilistic

    If you’re talking about the arguments I think you’re talking about, you’re conflating two important things. Reality “doesn’t care” about our values, in the sense that whether things suit our values or not isn’t causally significant in determining what happens. But to say certain predicates don’t correlate with causality isn’t the same as saying they’re non-existent.

    I believe… in a few billion years that anything that ever happened on Earth won’t matter

    Which isn’t the same as saying there’s no time period in which it matters.

    we have no choice but to have free will

    Do you think we have free will? If so, how?

    what gives your life meaning and if it is indeed something only in relation to yourself then why are you an atheist?

    Let’s suppose my life has meaning and something makes it so; that doesn’t mean that there’s a god. People are atheists because no evidence supports the existence of a god.

  7. How many brands of nihilists are there? I’d have thought one would be unnecessary and sufficient.

    If you take nihilism to its ultimate logical conclusion, what’s the difference between a plain vanilla nihilist and an existential nihilist … cachet? Why is a card-carrying nihilist engaging in “logical, rational thinking” in an attempt to convert atheists to nihilism when he could be happily sitting on the railroad tracks, content with the random meaninglessness of everything? If the answer is “well, because I’m a nihilist”, that begs the question. So let’s get down to where the rubber meets the road: if the odds are much different than 50-50 of doing one versus the other (and we’ve already know what tack that boat is on) mustn’t we consider this profession of nihilistic faith to be completely disingenuous?

  8. Why do nihilists assume that life should have a meaning to begin?
    In my view, the universe/existence is totally indifferent to what we humans think.
    Yes the human race will go extinct and our planet will be destroyed eventually. Who cares?
    What really matters for me is the quality of time we get to spend while we’re alive. I guess I never quite
    understood nihilism and all its philosophical mumbo jumbo. :)
    .

  9. existential nihilism is a theory, atheism is not a theory, it is a description related to your lack of beliefs in gods, but is not a theory. If you are an existential nihilist, then you are also an atheist by definition. If you are an atheist, you are not automatically an existential nihilist by any definition.

    Existential nihilist -> You’re an atheist too

    Atheist -> You are not necessarily an existential nihilist

    • In reply to #10 by adiroth:

      Atheism and nihilism are overlapping but different categories.

      Good explanation. For some people atheism could lead to nihilism but not necessarily. If you consider that, as the OP says, atheism is merely the rejection of religious beliefs, then part of that is rejecting the idea that religion is necessary to give your life meaning. That doesn’t mean that because religion doesn’t give your life meaning then nothing else does either. You may feel that your life is given meaning through your relationships with other people (friends, family/children), helping others, your work, your hobbies, etc. That’s not nihilism.

  10. In my opinion the two viewpoints don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand, life can have a meaning or purpose that isn’t determined by an anthropomorphic god. Nihilism implies that there are no correct values or viewpoints to hold, all are wrong and meaningless, but this is not a view generally held by atheists.

    My view is that humanity and their view/values/opinions are like chemical reactions going to completion, the laws of physics are playing out in the most intensely complex way we’ve ever seen. As we grew from DNA we are first and foremost survival machines, but due to evolutionary forces acting on the species we’ve grown large computers specially designed to understand the true nature of reality and thus shape it to suit our needs. These needs as selected for by natural selection are the source of meaning in our lives.

    Fulfilling the needs of our brains is the only thing we can possibly value in life, it’s all we are, however this isn’t reducing in any way the nature of human experience. Our brains have more needs than the basics of hunger, food and sex, and as the basics are more easily fulfilled the more time we have to spend on the more difficult (less essential) needs. Drugs bring into view some other needs humans have, like LSD inducing feelings of interconnectedness with reality, ecstasy inducing feelings of unconditional love towards others; needs that are not fully acknowledged in our culture so we don’t have much language to talk about them at this moment in time.

    Religious practices used to be the best way to fulfill these needs until we realized that religions weren’t based on understanding the true nature of reality, and unfortunately most people think that without god these needs can never be fulfilled, that there is no reason to place value in things that would cause these needs to be fulfilled. This is what nihilism means to me, and to many other people who hear and use the word.

  11. The evolution from the first prokaryotic cells found over 3.6 billion years ago to eukaryotic cells and on to the Cambrian explosion was over 3 billion years.

    In reply to #13 by Stijnyr:

    In reply to #1 by papa lazaru:

    You’re the product of billions of years of evolution,

    Really? billions of years! When did the cambrian explosion took place? :P

  12. If you don’t believe in a creator or divine plan and you understand how our minds and emotions have evolved as chemical signals and electrical pulses then where do you fit the meaning in to this?

    I don’t understand. First, what do you mean by “meaning”?

    Second, what use would a creator be with a divine plan? How would that make anything more “meaning”ful?

    • I don’t understand. First, what do you mean by “meaning”?

      I doubt that you will get an answer to this question, even though it is the only useful one that could be asked here, Susan Latimer. The need to talk about “meaning” is a persistent, lingering after-effect of jettisoning metaphysics. Many atheists feel that they have to talk about meaningfulness, in order to put themselves on a par with the religious, as if abandoning “meaning” made them inferior citizens instead of simple nihilists.

      Claiming “my life has the meaning I give it” is just relatively harmless narcissism at one level, until we start asking, as you have done, what is meant by “meaning”. Generally when a reply is attempted, we find that what a theist is saying when he says “meaning” is quite different from when an atheist uses the same word. “Meaningfulness” is often the atheist’s “warm, fuzzy feeling” word.

    • In reply to #15 by susanlatimer:

      If you don’t believe in a creator or divine plan and you understand how our minds and emotions have evolved as chemical signals and electrical pulses then where do you fit the meaning in to this?

      I don’t understand. First, what do you mean by “meaning”?

      Second, what use would a creator be with a divine plan? How would that make anything more “meaning”ful?

      I’m guessing “meaning” here is a lofty synonym for “purpose” or “something to shoot at”, such that the clause “it gives us meaning” translates into “it gives us purpose” or “it gives us something to shoot at.”

      I won’t repeat the point made by others about atheism not automatically leading to nihilism, so I’ll just add that a purpose requires two things: a desire, and the ability to obtain that desire. Adding a god into the picture, if by god you mean some conscious mind who designed the universe for us, doesn’t actually get around the nihilist problem in any special way, as most people assume it does. God – or, as I’m beginning to think of it, the “superhuman” – is simply another player in the universe.

      Value statements are effectively statements that a certain state of the world is better than another state, so it reduces to the question of whether something is better or worse than something else. As far as I’m concerned, the answer to that can be found in comparing the totality of individual sentient lives and comparing them with each other – which is where the notion of better/worse comes from in the first place – and then trying to get as much info as possible about sentient states before coming to a conclusion (within practical limits, obviously). Since sentient experiences are ranked naturally anyway (pain is far inferior to pleasure, for example, and the satisfaction of knowing the truth, all else being equal, is preferable to knowing a lie and then finding out about it later), the universe has already solved that particular problem as far as I’m concerned, and the hard part is in comparing notes and figuring out who’s got the right ideas and who hasn’t. The assumption seems to be, though, that if it’s a subjective experience, then it doesn’t exist in any real or “objective” sense, which is where I think the “atheist=nihilist” argument falls flat on its face.

      • In reply to #43 by Zeuglodon:

        God – or, as I’m beginning to think of it, the “superhuman” – is simply another player in the universe.

        Just checking.

        Your use of the term ‘superhuman’ in this context has a resonance with Nietzche’s concept of the Übermensch.

        If that was intentional, then well done.

        If it wasn’t intentional, you might want to check up on whether or not the resonance works for or against your line of thinking as you want it to be understood by others. Depending on exactly what you mean, the use of the term ‘superman’ could easily cause unwanted confusion: I won’t be the only person to assume a link, but there won’t be very many of us who will check that assumption with you.

        Otherwise, nothing much else to add. :P

        • In reply to #44 by Daniel Schealler:

          In reply to #43 by Zeuglodon:

          God – or, as I’m beginning to think of it, the “superhuman” – is simply another player in the universe.

          Just checking.

          Your use of the term ‘superhuman’ in this context has a resonance with Nietzche’s concept of the Übermensch.

          If that was intentional, then well done.

          If it wasn’t intentional, you might want to check up on whether or not the resonance works for or against your line of thinking as you want it to be understood by others. Depending on exactly what you mean, the use of the term ‘superman’ could easily cause unwanted confusion: I won’t be the only person to assume a link, but there won’t be very many of us who will check that assumption with you.

          Otherwise, nothing much else to add. :P

          Point appreciated. I wasn’t referencing Nietzsche’s “Ubermensch” concept, but harking back to a conclusion I came to in another discussion on RD.net. Basically, after an exchange with Ignorant Amos, I came to the conclusion that the main definition of god that is not either dishonest equivocation (for instance, “God is love”, “God is the Universe”, or “God is existence”) or unfalsifiable (and therefore difficult, if not impossible, to verify – for instance, the “omni-” characteristics) can best be tackled by lopping off all the emotional and ethical connotations of the word and reducing the concept to “a very powerful human-like organism with a mind, intentions, and behaviour, which is capable of performing feats well beyond our current technological achievements”. I called it “superhuman” more to invoke the superpowers of “superman” than to make a reference to a bizarre speculation on ethics.

  13. According to Wikipedia I am a nihilist, so that is fine. It is perfectly sensible to conclude that there is no objective, inherent morals or meaning to our existence.

    However that does NOT mean that our lives have no meaning. The fact that things at their lowest level lack a purpose does not prevent purpose from arising (and therefore existing) at larger scales.

    Equally so for morals, just because morals don’t exist in the fundamental laws of physics, doesn’t mean that they can’t exist as higher level (larger scale) concepts. But our human-created morals are not that rigid, they depend on the circumstances and ‘right and wrong’ are far more subjective than objective.

    Equally so for free will, it doesn’t exist at the lowest levels but does ‘emerge’ at larger scales. Same is true for almost everything really… wetness, happiness, consciousness, etc.

  14. In reply to #19 by Stijnyr:

    In reply to #14 by Ryan1306:

    The evolution from the first prokaryotic cells found over 3.6 billion years ago to eukaryotic cells and on to the Cambrian explosion was over 3 billion years.

    That’s Sci-Fi. The Cambrian explosion refutes that view because life-forms which are totally different suddenly begun to show on earth and procreate. There is no sign, not even a hypothetical argument, which can justify our belief in relationship between pre-Cambrian and post-Cambrian.

    Thanks 4 ur reply.

    Sorry to wade in but you are talking absolute crap and embarrassingly so. Are you getting your facts from creationist websites?All life as has been correctly pointed out by Ryan1306 has an origin in a single unique organism that existed about 3.6 billion years ago.
    There was a lot of evolution prior to the Cambrian period as cells became more and more complex incorporating mitochondria for energy for instance; its simply not the case that single celled life such as bacteria are “simple” lifeforms.

    The Cambrian explosion saw the rise of large multiple cellular lifeforms with external skeletons such as trilobites, which could be preserved through fossilisation, however the general opinion is that they were descended from soft bodied creatures that were not easily preserved.
    Go and watch David Attenborough’s “First Life” for a primer on Cambrian evolution.

    As to nihilism, debating things is one of many things that give my life meaning!

  15. In reply to #21 by Stijnyr:

    In reply to #20 by mr_DNA:

    Sorry to wade in but you are talking absolute crap and embarrassingly so. Are you getting your facts from creationist websites?All life as has been correctly pointed out by Ryan1306 has an origin in a single unique organism that existed about 3.6 billion years ago.
    There was a lot of evolution prior to the Cambrian period as cells became more and more complex incorporating mitochondria for energy for instance; its simply not the case that single celled life such as bacteria are “simple” lifeforms.

    The Cambrian explosion saw the rise of large multiple cellular lifeforms with external skeletons such as trilobites, which could be preserved through fossilisation, however the general opinion is that they were descended from soft bodied creatures that were not easily preserved.
    Go and watch David Attenborough’s “First Life” for a primer on Cambrian evolution.

    As to nihilism, debating things is one of many things that give my life meaning!

    No need to be sorry for wading in. You are welcome and thanks for your reply.

    I don’t get my justification and opinion from any philosophy nor from sci-fi. It’s just logic and reasoning. Since I don’t believe in (blind) evolution and also I don’t deny it completely, I have the right to believe in existence of reason. I was talking about life-forms which differ from all other forms before explosion and these forms begun to live suddenly, according to theory of course, not according to something we can observe but since the observation itself is possible due eyes which are product of evolution, I don’t think we can justify knowledge based on an evolution’s product which is in various ways in millions of different life-forms while another mutations or evolution history could generate other suggestions and conclusions made by homo-sapien.

    So, I did not mention cellular lifeforms. Why? There’s no argument, no sign, not even a pseudo-sign we can use to believe in linear revolution, relationship between post and pre Cambrian, existence of a single unique organism as an origin of al life-forms. It’s OK as a sci-fi story. But again, this fantasy implies nihilism.

    Please, do not try to reconcile Darwinian evolution with Cambrian explosion.

    Ok I don’t know how to say this respectfully but if you are not a troll you are definitely one of the most scientifically illiterate people I have come across and I simply don’t have the time to point out all of the fallacies in your statement.
    Suffice to say that you don’t understand evolution if you think all life does not share common ancestry. Please for my entertainment point me at the source of facts? Do you have link or something that explains why you think you are justified in being in denial of all evolutionary science and then state there are no arguments to support it and it is a fantasy? You are an “intelligent design” proponent aren’t you?

  16. In reply to #21 by Stijnyr:

    Please, do not try to reconcile Darwinian evolution with Cambrian explosion.

    Outstanding ignorance by someone who hasn’t a Scooby on what they are talking about.

    For curiosity sake….just how long do you think the period of the Cambrian explosion took in geological terms compared to real time?

    Edit: sorry Jos…you are absolutely right…get back on topic a stop with the trolling…I got hooked.

  17. Nihilism has many different meanings. Nihilism can mean you won’t consider ethical values, but also nihilism refers to those who use fake or ungrounded beliefs to base their ethics. That is, Nietzsche considered religions as the major source of nihilism.

    The ‘existential’ nihilism is when no values are worth pursuing. Then life could, not should, be lived as a source of short term pleasures.

    Having said so you can describe yourself in many different way. I myself, consider myself an Atheist, an Agnostic and a Humanist. I am atheist as I don’t believe in any god. I am agnostic, not because I consider that god’s question is unknowable, but because I consider it meritless to be pursued and self contradictory. Finally, I am humanist as I consider that ethical values can be found and acted upon, only that those values do no come from any religious source.

    From a philosophical point of view there is no sense for life inside the life, as you cannot use a word in its definition. Therefore, there is ample point for ethical nihilism.

  18. I was tempted to stop reading when I read ” we are just what we make ourselves to be.” but out of morbid curiosity I waded on through to the end. And survived.

    Just one question to begin with, HN: how can we “make ourselves”? Grammatically we have a subject “we”, a verb “make, and an object “ourselves”. This can only make sense if the subject and the object are not the same person. The “we” doing the “making” is already “made”. By ourselves? I think not.

    I await your answer with interest.

  19. The idea that there is no purpose in the universe does not equate to life having no purpose. While it may be that there was no purpose in life arising or even the direction it took once it was established, purpose can be found in continuing to exist. Not accepting the existence of supernatural beings without evidence has nothing to do with whether there is any purpose or value in life.

  20. My problem with nihilism can be found in it’s definition

    ni·hil·ismˈnī-(h)ə-ˌli-zəm, ˈnē-
    noun
    1 a : a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless
    b : a doctrine that denies any objective ground of truth and especially of moral truths
    2 a : a doctrine or belief that conditions in the social organization are so bad as to make destruction desirable for its own sake independent of any constructive program or possibility
    b capitalized : the program of a 19th century Russian party advocating revolutionary reform and using terrorism and assassination

    I do not need a “god” or a “religion” to teach me about truth or moral truths. We may takes these attributes from religious teaching and from sectarian teachings. But there are moral truths that transcend the divide between the two world views. What is truth and moral truth? Are they different or the same? Without truth/moral truth we are on a never ending road to doom, death and destruction . We might be on that road already but moral truth/truths make that journey less horrific.

  21. As a non-atheist (and before reading any of the comments) two thoughts: 1) Buddhists are generally atheists too–in a nice way–but believe in ‘spiritual’ things like life beyond death, karma, all-pervading awareness, and so on. So maybe a stronger term, such as materialist atheists, is needed? 2) I am not an atheist, at least not of the materialist persuasion, but I agree 100% that nihilism is a logically necessary outcome of the kinds of materialist views I see most atheists professing–no god, no life after death, no karma, eventual total erasure by entropy, and SO no reason to do one thing instead of another… I think most ‘atheists’ are self-inconsistent thinkers–they continue to hold and argue for views (about good and evil, love, ‘decency’ (a supreme value in Richard Dawkins’ world view) and so on) that are as unreal in a mechanistic, strictly material universe as god, angels, etc. 3) Are you a ‘safe’ nihilist or a ‘dangerous’ one? If you can get away with stealing from me…will you? If not…why not? Of course, as a nihilist you don’t have to be consistent .. lol… Charlie

    • In reply to #32 by carloscarlos13:

      Your arguments boil down to “what doesn’t have meaning eternally never has meaning”. That’s a fallacy; properties in general don’t work like that. I discussed that above. If people don’t read earlier posts on the thread, it shan’t be a worthwhile, productive discussion.

      • In reply to #33 by Jos Gibbons:

        In reply to #32 by carloscarlos13:

        Your arguments boil down to “what doesn’t have meaning eternally never has meaning”. That’s a fallacy; properties in general don’t work like that. I discussed that above. If people don’t read earlier posts on the thread, it shan’t be a worthwhile, productive discussion.

        Hey, Jos, I love to get replied to even if it’s disagreeing–it makes me feel meaningful lol. First of all I was replying to OP in my post, not to the whole discussion, and indicated as much, so I still feel…”worthwhile, productive” lol (what exemplary non-nihilistic evaluating terminology! ). Second, I did read your earlier post and disagree with the idea of real but temporary significance that you seem to suggest, if I correctly catch your drift. Fleeting happiness, yes sure–nihilists and atheists can be happy. But happy about what? Significance or validity or meaning of any real substance? Only in a subjective way, not in relation to anything real.

        Your rephrasing of my position suggests where we differ, perhaps; I think what I’m saying is more like “a supposed value that doesn’t exist in the initial conditions (and that can’t be validated scientifically) is probably just made up, not real.” Since that’s generally the reason atheists don’t believe in god–somebody just made it up–it makes sense to me to put them together, and to say materialist or naturalist atheists (not Buddhists) who aren’t nihilists are being inconsistent. They are not applying the same rules of evidence and validation to their own beliefs that they do to religion.

        To say that humanism or evolution or anyting else gives us a real, valid source for values, ethics, meaning, etc. doesn’t stand the Dawkins ‘make it a scientific hypothesis and look for evidence’ test any better than belief in angels does. If thinking you are doing something meaningful makes you feel good, or thinking you’re an ethical atheist makes you feel virtuous, or whatever, that’s ok, since we’re really just stochastic mechanisms, and it doesn’t matter in any real way what we believe–how could it? But once you accept the premises of materialist/naturalistic atheism (that we are stochastic mechanisms in a universe with no intrinsic purpose for existing and no original moral gradient whatsoever), then there is no objective criterion for anything not reducible to physically measurable values. Whatever temporary meaning or value or whatever that you think you have found is (I am both lovingly and scientifically suggesting) purely subjective and no more real than someone else’s feeling good about God’s love–and by very much the same arguments. ‘Show me the evidence’….

        So I still agree with OP that Dawkins-style arguments for atheism are just as applicable to any claims about ‘meaning’ or ‘values’ or ‘moral principles’ or any of that stuff, and should lead logically to some form of nihilism. PS: OP, I’m still wondering would you steal my laptop if you knew you could get away with it? If not, why not? Charlie Sorry this is so long, but what should be an easy obvious argument seems to require a lot of explanation…

    • In reply to #32 by carloscarlos13:

      I agree 100% that nihilism is a logically necessary outcome of the kinds of materialist views I see most atheists professing–no god, no life after death, no karma, eventual total erasure by entropy, and SO no reason to do one thing instead of another…

      I’m assuming you either meant to say something else or there’s a hidden premise in there because that’s obviously not true the way it is.

      There is no god / Either there is a god or you bank at RBS

      Hopefully you have better reasons for choosing one bank over another.

  22. Why identify as atheist and not nihilist?

    Atheism worked for me; nihilism did not.

    The abridged version of my life story is that I was raised Catholic (though not as strict as I know some have experienced), teenage rebellion/nihilism, then a bit more then a decade as a 12-stepper, dissilusionment, a return to nihilism and now atheism.

    The nihilistic episodes were my least happy times. So I choose to view my life as meaningful and strive to commit acts that promote my self-esteem. I like it better this way.

  23. Fossils going back into the pre-Cambrian exist, it’s just that they were microscopic and weren’t found until the 1940d’s and 50d’s.

    Ediacara fauna are found in rocks over 600 million years old. That’s 50 million years before the Cambrian. These are multi-cellular organisms. Some resemble jelly fish, worms, and proto-trilobites.

    In the earliest stages of the Cambrian (The Nemakit-Daldynain and Tommotian 520 to 545 million years ago ) you start to find sponges and shelled creatures like Cloudina hartmannae , and Anabarites sexalox, a tube dwelling animal, and Brachiopod’s, a shelled animal with a nervous system and a brain. In addition sediments of the period show tons of burrowing showing that a lot different soft bodied worms with a coelom ( a internal fluid filled cavity) must of existed.

    By the Atdabanian stage, 5 million years later, you see an increase in diversity but most of the genera are trilobites and most of the other animals had all ready appeared before that time ( mollusk, sponges, coral, echinoderms).

    During the Middle Cambrian (500 to 510 million years ago) diversity actually drops some with less species of animals found then in the previous stage of the Cambrian.

    In summary, the development of life from mulit-cellular Ediacara fauna to your classic Cambrian animals like trilobites starts at 600 million years ago and finally gets there 520 million years ago. That’s 80 million years, which makes it a pretty slow explosion. You might all so read up on how rising oxygen levels of the period might have made metabolization easier for animals and could have spurred diversification.

    In reply to #19 by Stijnyr:

    In reply to #14 by Ryan1306:

    The evolution from the first prokaryotic cells found over 3.6 billion years ago to eukaryotic cells and on to the Cambrian explosion was over 3 billion years.

    That’s Sci-Fi. The Cambrian explosion refutes that view because life-forms which are totally different suddenly begun to show on earth and procreate. There is no sign, not even a hypothetical argument, which can justify our belief in relationship between pre-Cambrian and post-Cambrian.

    Thanks 4 ur reply.

  24. Maybe this is a quibble of terminology. However, I think it is relevant.

    I always frame the question of ‘meaning’ as: Meaningful to whom?

    If it’s meaningful to me, then it’s meaningful to me. It doesn’t have to ‘come from’ anywhere. No-one has to ‘give’ it to me.

    Similarly, that which is meaningful to you, is meaningful to you.

    Given that you have things that are meaningful to you, and that I have things that are meaningful to me, it follows that relative to any conversation between you and I, the question of meaning is an important one and worth discussing.

    The reason I don’t consider this to be nihilism is that you and I are part of the universe. As there is meaning relative to us, and we are part of the universe, therefore the universe does have meaning.

    That might seem to you like semantic wrangling, but I think it’s highly relevant. There is a deep-seated assumption in discussions of meaning that it must either exist objectively or authoritatively in order to be ‘real’. Sometimes that’s even part of the definition.

    To my (shallow) reading, you’re buying into that assumption in the way you suggest that the presence of subjective meaning relative to how you regard your own existence doesn’t count against the concept of nihilism, which to my (shallow) understanding is to do with the absence of meaning.

    Then again – I’m likely as blind to my own biases and assumptions as you are to yours. And I’ll be the first to point out that my understanding of these issues is admittedly shallow. So I’m interested to see where you (or anyone else here) may think that I’ve stepped awry.

    Disclaimer aside: When you say, “when I read much of the arguments made by self-labelled atheists I can’t help seeing that they are intrinsically nihilistic or at the very least if followed to their logical ends, lead fundamentally to a nihilistic viewpoint,” I am led to suspect that either:

    1) There are one or more unstated assumed premises in your chain of reasoning that you haven’t acknowledged and with which I disagree – leading us to valid but contrary conclusions (implying that one or both of us are valid yet unsound in our reasoning), or:

    2) I’ve fundamentally misunderstood what you mean when you say ‘nihilism’, and am actually agreeing with what you intend to convey and really am just quibbling over terminology after all.

    Interested in your views. ^_^

    • In reply to #37 by Daniel Schealler:

      Since you asked, I will point out what seem like flaws in the reasoning in your post, in I hope a spirit of friendly discussion toward mutually improving knowledge…

      Given that you have things that are meaningful to you, and that I have things that are meaningful to me, it follows that relative to any conversation between you and I, the question of meaning is an important one and worth discussing.

      The reason I don’t consider this to be nihilism is that you and I are part of the universe. As there is meaning relative to us, and we are part of the universe, therefore the universe does have meaning.

      Um, especially given that the OP is writing to atheists, on RD.net, I’m not sure I see how this is much different from saying something like ‘you believe in a God, and I believe in a different God, and we are part of the universe, therefore the universe does have some kind of God.’ That’s something even the average conservative religous believer would question–something exists because we both believe it does? What if we’re just having similar delusions?

      … There is a deep-seated assumption in discussions of meaning that it must … exist objectively or authoritatively in order to be ‘real’. …

      Similar problem with this statement. Religionists could apply the same arguments to criticisms of their religious beliefs–”There is a deep-seated assumption in discussions of God, soul, and heaven that they must exist objectively or authoritatively in order to be ‘real’.” … Um, ye-e-s, that is a common assumption around places like RD.net — isn’t that the point of atheism? That there’s a difference between reality–what exists objectively — and stuff we make up?

      To my (shallow) reading, you’re buying into that assumption in the way you suggest that … subjective meaning relative to how you regard your own existence doesn’t count …

      Isn’t that a pretty key element of most atheist arguments, that someone’s subjective religious feelings don’t count for much if they can’t bring some hard evidence to the table?.

      Again, I think OP’s point is that the same arguments that undermine faith in God would, if consistently applied, undermine any other kind of faith as well–in subjectively perceived meaning, in ethical distinctions, or whatever. The nihilism that he thinks should follow logically from atheism is (if I understand him correctly, OP correct me if I am misrepresenting!) not dark or despairing, but just an acknowledgement that no faith of any kind is logically supportable by the methods and conclusions of science.

      You, on the other hand, whether or not you believe in God, are clearly a “person of faith” making a sincere effort to live by values (“subjective meaning”) not entirely supported by objective scientific evidence. That’s by no means an insult, but I agree with the OP: it seems to me that, if you think of yourself as an atheist, but try to act like a person of faith, there are probably some inconsistencies in your thinking…

      • In reply to #39 by carloscarlos13:

        Since you asked, I will point out what seem like flaws in the reasoning in your post, in I hope a spirit of friendly discussion toward mutually improving knowledge…

        Hey Carlos, thanks for the thoughtful feedback.

        Just to echo that back: I like these kinds of semi-navel gazing sort of discussions. Improving mutual knowledge is a good outcome, as is coming to a greater understanding of alternate viewpoints (regardless of whether or not I agree with them). But mainly it’s because I just enjoy them.

        So if I come across a little bit chilled out or blasé in my tone, it’s not out of a lack of interest or anything. That’s just my way when I don’t have an axe to grind on this one. My discussions of religion, on the other hand, can get quite heated. But that’s a theme for a different place.

        ^_^

        Now that introductions out of the way: If you don’t mind, I’d like to focus on one particular part of your reply to me. I did read the whole thing, honest! It’s just that I find that the back-and-forth fisking of comments in this kind of setting tends to get bogged down in too many tangents, winding up with a bad signal-to-noise ratio. I usually have a much more focused and interesting conversation if I keep things… Well… focused.

        In reply to #39 by carloscarlos13:

        Um, especially given that the OP is writing to atheists, on RD.net, I’m not sure I see how this is much different from saying something like ‘you believe in a God, and I believe in a different God, and we are part of the universe, therefore the universe does have some kind of God.’ That’s something even the average conservative religous believer would question–something exists because we both believe it does? What if we’re just having similar delusions?

        Religionists could apply the same arguments to criticisms of their religious beliefs–”There is a deep-seated assumption in discussions of God, soul, and heaven that they must exist objectively or authoritatively in order to be ‘real’.” … Um, ye-e-s, that is a common assumption around places like RD.net — isn’t that the point of atheism? That there’s a difference between reality–what exists objectively — and stuff we make up?

        I think that you’re still not quite getting where I’m coming from. I picked this example as representative of the problem.

        In the case of a religionist, they (typically) take an inherently subjective experience, and infer from this the existence of something objective. For example: I feel overwhelmed by a loving, protective presence when I pray to God. Therefore, God exists.

        The similarity between the religionist and myself is that I am also taking an inherently subjective experience as part of my position. The difference is that I am not trying to get to an objective conclusion about the universe. I start from the subjective, and then stay there.

        I don’t make the same flaw as the religionist does.

        In my view the religionist makes a deeper flaw of assuming that the question of meaning requires an objective (or authoritative) target in order for it to be valid. I disagree with that basis on the grounds that the entire question of meaning is inherently subjective. My framing device for the concept – meaningful to whom – is intended to draw this out. To my most fair minded understanding of ‘meaning’, the notion of objective/authoritative meaning isn’t just incorrect – it’s incoherent category error. Not even wrong.

        My opinion of those who adopt the OP’s (and yours? not sure) position on ‘nihilism’ is that they start by accepting the (incoherent) metaphysical premises of the objective/authoritative moralist, take the (correct) position that no object/authoritative morals can be shown to exist, then conclude a meaningless universe.

        The error in this nihilist position lies in the first step: The acceptance of the premises of those that came before us is wrong. If a self-declared nihilist accepts that premise as tacitly obvious and then omits it as an un-stated premise in their chain of logic, then they can continue to reason validly from that point on and still arrive at a flawed conclusion, simply due of the initial premise not being adequately critiqued and rejected right at the beginning.

        So in a sense: You have accused me of being too much like the religionist in my position here. But on the contrary – I reject the initial premise of the religionist altogether. To me, is your position that accepts that first flawed fatal premise and then reasons validly to an equally flawed conclusion. To me, it is you that is too much like the religionist. ^_^


        One very large mistake I made in my previous comment was not defining my usage of ‘universe’. There’s an equivocation between two common usages of that term: 1) _Every_thing. 2) The known physical universe.

        I intended it in the sense of 1), but it is very, very common and normal among pro-science, skeptical atheists to use 2) as the given. I really should have been clearer up front on my usage. Mea culpa.

        With that in mind, I’ll also define my usages of ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’.

        Objective: Everything that would continue to exist in the absence of any minds. Rocks, chairs, the moon, etc.

        Subjective: That which would not continue to exist in the absence of any minds. Experience, feelings, thoughts, meaning.

        Using these in combination with my earlier definition: The objective and the subjective are sub-sets within the greater category of everything, the universe. So when I say that subjective experiences are part of the universe, I’m not trying to suggest that they are part of the objective part of the universe. But I can see how someone could have easily drawn that conclusion given that I didn’t define my terms up front. Again: Mea culpa.

        Still enjoying myself. Hope you’re having fun too. Looking forward to your (or anyone else’s) response/comments/criticism.

  25. carloscarlos13

    I did read your earlier post and disagree with the idea of real but temporary significance that you seem to suggest, if I correctly catch your drift.

    Give an argument for why meaning, unlike most other predicates, cannot apply to something temporarily.

    But happy about what? Significance or validity or meaning of any real substance? Only in a subjective way, not in relation to anything real.

    People tend to be happy about real things. The question of whether it’s really true those real things are worth being happy about is a separate question. At any rate, it appears we’ve now moved beyond the “not eternally, therefore never” argument to others. I may not be so damning from this point on.

    To say that humanism or evolution or anyting [sic] else gives us a real, valid source for values, ethics, meaning, etc. doesn’t stand the Dawkins ‘make it a scientific hypothesis and look for evidence’ test

    Dawkins has explicitly said evolution doesn’t tell us what’s right or wrong. Evolutionary biology tells us the genetic part of the explanation for why we think certain things about that. A point I’d add is that knowing about our biological vulnerabilities and inclinations defines part of the factual environment in which we have to try to keep values internally consistent.

    Any specific approach to working out what is right or wrong, such as humanism, will raise Hume’s hackles. But just as science has lower standards than mathematics, I think we need still lower standards with ethical principles. In general, we should have the highest standard in a field that allows us to say nontrivial amounts. Mathematicians use proof because they can. If we can’t have empirical reality in tracking down values, the next best thing is to assume those values which would have to apply if values are to plausibly have reality at all (such as universalizability), then combine them with empirical facts for inferences.

    it doesn’t matter in any real way what we believe–how could it?

    Going back to my “what does realism have to involve if correct” principle, the question “how can any property of us matter?” can be answered with, “it would have to be in terms of its effect on our behaviour” (or, which isn’t relevant here, how good is the outcome for us). Our beliefs can, in fact, influence our behaviour.

    I still agree with OP that Dawkins-style arguments for atheism are just as applicable to any claims about ‘meaning’ or ‘values’ or ‘moral principles’ or any of that stuff, and should lead logically to some form of nihilism.

    Mind you, you’re not presenting the same arguments the OP did.

    To my (shallow) reading, you’re buying into that assumption in the way you suggest that … subjective meaning relative to how you regard your own existence doesn’t count … Isn’t that a pretty key element of most atheist arguments, that someone’s subjective religious feelings don’t count for much if they can’t bring some hard evidence to the table?

    There’s a difference between requiring non-tautological claims about what is true or false to be rooted in empiricism and requiring meaning to be similarly objective, at least if meaning is personal satisfaction. This debate is, in part, about whether there’s more than that; but it’s also a debate about whether there needs to be. In other words, if people not using faulty premises feel satisfied, is that objectionable? But while we’re on this subject, I’d like to point out there are at least three definitions I’ve caught people implicitly using for objectivity (and, if anything can be neither objective nor subjective, and I’d be interested if you felt there could be, the definition of subjectivity becomes even more ambiguous).

    They are: (1) It’s a matter of truth or falsity; (2) It’s independent of minds’ properties; (3) Answers are obtainable from a criterion or criteria. Statements about the properties of minds fail test (2). I would argue, in fact, ethics to be ethics has to fail (2), because the reason it would be wrong to punch you in the face is because it would hurt you. Tarski showed even the truths of arithmetic fail (3), so clearly these are all different definitions. Which are you using? (Or maybe you have a fourth in mind.)

    Daniel Schealler appreciates (1) differs from (2):

    I’ll also define my usages of ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’. Objective: Everything that would continue to exist in the absence of any minds. Rocks, chairs, the moon, etc. Subjective: That which would not continue to exist in the absence of any minds. Experience, feelings, thoughts, meaning. Using these in combination with my earlier definition: The objective and the subjective are sub-sets within the greater category of everything, the universe. So when I say that subjective experiences are part of the universe, I’m not trying to suggest that they are part of the objective part of the universe.

  26. Thank you for all the great replies, I will try and reply to some of the key points. Firstly just to clarify my position:

    I believe all values, morals and meanings to our existence are as manmade as any deity and that all examples given can be explained as the end result of evolutionary processes and nurture. I do not understand why life is put on a pedestal when there are so many unlikely events in our universe, however I do enjoy being alive and as my chosen username suggests I am very happy. I consider nihilism to be the objective and logical interpretation of reality, akin to how I would imagine a robot would think.

    Using a robotic mind as an example, if a robot were programmed to replicate a human then in what sense is its life worth and less than its biological cousin? We are controlled by our instincts, we stay alive, procreate, show altruism and avoid harm due to biological programming the same way a robot would imitate. The only humans to break such rules are deemed damaged in some way, which could be alike for an android or indeed programmed in from the start. I don’t think it could be argued the android has less value, worth, meaning or however you wish to phrase it without resorting to sentimentality and subjective irrationality. Nor that a human values their own existence more so than any other creature that has the ability to preserve itself, other than speciesism and again, sentimentality. This is not just a moral point but a direct comparison, it would be bizarre to argue that the android rules, because followed as a group, somehow become a real concept as it is plain to see it is just following its pre-programmed algorithm of ingrained actions.

    As a living organism, you could say the odds of you being born as an ant were the same as being born human. As an ant, would any of your arguments of worth and meaning still hold true? Does the ant care if the colony survives or is it more obvious it is following instinct and pheromone direction?

    Morally, I look at the big picture. For example there was a recent article regarding a one-way mission to Mars where I recall a comment being made that volunteers should be sterilised as it would be immoral to allow a child to be born to such a life. Mandatory sterilisation apparently being justified, is it then not justifiable to sterilise a large percentage of the impoverished whose own prodigy are destined for a terrible existence (thank God). If you were to list the world’s problems, such as climate change, environmental destruction, starvation etc is there a single issue not solved by a reduction in human beings? We are on an almost inevitable self-inflicted genocide that seems in every way worse than being born on a different planet yet I hear few cries to do what would be necessary and arguably the most moral act.

    If you agree with all or most of my arguments, then I would consider you a nihilist, do you?

    • In reply to #46 by Happy Nihilist:

      Firstly just to clarify my position…

      For the record, could you please define/explain what you mean when you refer to nihilism?

      My understanding of nihilism was that it was based on the idea of an absence of meaning that is worth taking seriously.

      But since you already said that you do take your self assigned meaning seriously, there’s obviously something that I’m missing.

      I do not understand why life is put on a pedestal when there are so many unlikely events in our universe…

      That’s because, as far as we know, at the moment life is the only class of thing in the universe that is capable of en-pedestalling things. So it makes sense that life would en-pedestal itself.

      As an ant, would any of your arguments of worth and meaning still hold true? Does the ant care if the colony survives or is it more obvious it is following instinct and pheromone direction?

      It’s not entirely clear to me that an ant can form arguments, so that hypothetical is a bit of a stretch.

      That said: In my view, if an ant could form an argument, then it’s sense of meaning would be as relevant to it as mine is to me, and presumably as yours is to you.

      Given that all three of us – you, me, and the sentient ant – take the subject of meaning seriously, it’s a worthy discussion to have and take seriously, to seek out mutual understanding and a basis for mutually beneficial compromise and cooperation. ^_^

      • In reply to #48 by Daniel Schealler:

        In reply to #46 by Happy Nihilist:

        Firstly just to clarify my position…

        For the record, could you please define/explain what you mean when you refer to nihilism?

        My understanding of nihilism was that it was based on the idea of an absence of meaning that is worth taking seriously.

        But since yo…

        I imagine there are many different types of nihilism, but what I describe as existential nihilism is the understanding that there is no meaning or purpose to life, where much of what we deem ‘special’ like emotions, altruism, measuring of good and evil are all non-entities and are easily explained by evolutionary processes. This is much the same as an atheist, but I think nihilism goes further to acknowledge and consciously accept that one’s actions are dictated by our baser instincts as opposed to being credited to a higher level of consciousness and therefore have no reality beyond some form of narcissistic solipsism.
        I think the concepts of good and bad are a prime example, as these principals don’t exist, it is not bad when a predator kills its prey any more than it is bad when a human kills a human, it is only social pressure. All moral or immoral actions are perceived only in context to the situation and exist fundamentally as a means for group co-operation and thus a survival strategy. Saying this on RD.net may sound condescending, but I am not a gifted enough writer and my vocabulary is too limited so please forgive me, but if you were to study social interactions and individual actions a keen psychologist and evolutionary biologist could break these actions down to give credible explanations as to their origins and make predictions, but to me personally, this doesn’t take away the joy of the moment.

        A clearer example would be to answer if I would personally steal an individual’s laptop if I would guarantee the avoidance of revenge. I cannot answer truthfully without some kind of context, but as a general answer I would say that no I would not, as I am a human being and have evolved with built-in social rules and having been raised to act a certain way. As a nihilist I consciously contemplate the logic of these functions and can logically agree that some kind of social rules are needed to avoid a worse quality of life. I hope this makes some kind of sense. From a free will standpoint I do think I have free will, though 95% of my actions are dictated by my biology and outward forces, like social rules that make many decisions for me. It is a contradictory statement, as I could end my own life if I wanted to which gives me free will to break all the rules, but I cannot force myself to want to kill myself, so my free will is taken. But overall I don’t believe in a destiny so yes free will seems to exist as a reality.

        My point with the ant hypothetical scenario was purely to show that all the meaning of life given is purely down to a human point of view. An ant (to my knowledge) possesses no ability for thought, my point was that without our higher intelligence then our lives have the same meaning and value, but that intelligence is not an argument for higher worth. I agree life is wondrous, but life is life in the grand scheme of things and the ranking of such creatures based on intellect is as vain as a giant ranking life’s wonders on their size, it bears no correlation outside of one’s own ego.

        It really is bamboozling to say the least and I find myself quite confused, hence why this topic was created as there are some greater thinkers and contributors who may guide my delicate psyche to some kind of intellectual foundation. (As a human I find it fascinating in itself, as a nihilist I am possibly reaching out to associate with similar members of my own tribal group , nihilistic thinking really is arrogant and annoying, I see this I really do).

        (ps sorry for the lengthy replies and thanks to anyone who takes the time to trawl through them)

        My understanding of nihilism was that it was based on the idea of an absence of meaning that is worth taking seriously.

        But since yo…

        • In reply to #49 by Happy Nihilist:

          I imagine there are many different types of nihilism, but what I describe as existential nihilism is the understanding that there is no meaning or purpose to life, where much of what we deem ‘special’ like emotions, altruism, measuring of good and evil are all non-entities and are easily explained by evolutionary processes

          This is an example of specious reasoning. Why should we consider emotions, altruism, and good and evil non-entities merely because they are the products of evolution? It just doesn’t make sense.

          It’s nothing like the atheist’s case. Atheists don’t dismiss the case of theism simply because it might be the product of evolution. We dismiss it because no one has provided a good reason for thinking that a deity exists, both because there’s nothing in the real world that conclusively corresponds to it and because armchair reasoning can’t generate one, evidence or no. Emotions, altruism, and good and evil exist because we can provide case-by-case examples, show the logic behind the concepts and the mathematical relations (especially game theoretic models), and see their lawful relationship with sentient experiences which are naturally categorized in good, bad, neutral, and mixed categories.

    • In reply to #46 by Happy Nihilist:

      I don’t agree with any of your arguments, given the logic you use:

      1. “Manmade = nonexistent”

      I don’t get the impression you understand what man-made means here. The origin of an idea does not automatically invalidate its truth/false premise, assuming it is a declarative statement. To take a different view on it, if we somehow made a god out of raw materials, akin to making a machine or a test-tube baby, then it would exist. It’s not so obvious to me that prescriptive moral injunctions, or personal goals and ideals, are false or incoherent just because somebody “made” them. Most of them run on game theoretic models, which can be true or not true when you examine them in real life, and there are real benefits and disadvantages to be had depending both on the actors and on the outside world.

      1. “Determinism = nonexistence of values, morals, and purpose”, implying “free will = existence of values, morals, and purpose”

      Determinism is simply a statement about cause and effect, not about the existence of morals or of purposes. Whether something is more valuable than something else is not effected by causality. My preference of chocolate over rotting carcasses is based on the deterministic actions of my brain, but the preference doesn’t vanish or lose its reasoning as a result (that eating a rotting carcass is more likely to make me unpleasantly ill and a danger to others than eating chocolate). In any case, determinism says nothing by itself about the existence or non-existence of better and worse outcomes, and purpose actually relies on determinism to enable the goal-seeking that needs to exploit predictable laws of cause-and-effect in order to bring about its goals. The brains of agents couldn’t work if there were no laws of physics to exploit and form the basis of emergent properties such as brains and conciousness. Lastly, the fact that something can be explained by evolution is not an instant invalidation of it. Evolution explains how functioning eyes work, but that’s because evolution exploits real world laws and principles such as optics and computing. The fact that morals can trace their origin to such a thing lends strength to the notion of moral realism because it shows that evolution had to pay attention to real world facts (such as those of game theory and of sentient experiences) to produce it.

      1. “Life is no different from any other unlikely event, therefore no morals, purpose, and values”

      For a start, life is very different from any old improbability. It has not any old arbitrary improbability,but functional improbability which is based on purpose-like notions to begin with: of all the possible arrangements of the cornea, retina, optic nerves, etc., only one will actually see anything and thereby fulfil the purpose of seeing what’s going on. Another difference is that life, or at least a subset of it, is the only place where one can expect to find both agents and agents with sentient and conscious experiences, which is where the notions of value, purpose, and morals play out. Lastly, your argument is just a flat non-sequitur. Life’s difference and/or similarity to other things has no intrinsic bearing on the existence of morals, values, and purposes.

      1. “To enjoy being alive has no bearing on the question of the existence of morals, purpose, and values”

      Here, I think there’s the source of one of your confusions. You are automatically ignoring and denying the relevance of sentient “subjective” experience to objective facts about the world (presumably based on an equivocation), and thereby lead to the absurdity that the preferences you have are utterly separate from anything in the outside world. It’s easy to dismiss the notion of objective morality or moral realism from such a position, but the position itself is based on a semantic error, which Jos Gibbons outlined earlier.

      1. “Being programmed, but treating another with the exact same program differently, proves morals, values, and purpose don’t exist.”

      Firstly, many could deconstruct your scenario for its lack of realism. Something that imitates humans on the surface could still lack key mental modules that put them on the same footing, which could be revealed by examining their respective internal computers or brains. Secondly, even if this was the case, this would prove the hypocrisy of people at best. The alleged contradiction comes about as a result of a double standard, and is based on the misconceptions about sentient experiences which the audience might not fully appreciate they have. It is not a rebuttal to either of those standards, but a rebuttal to their inconsistent treatment.

      1. “You’re an ant, therefore your arguments of worth and meaning could be wrong, therefore worth and meaning do not exist”.

      Putting aside the problem of an ant actually making such a case, I’ll dip into the deeper issue here of minds set up differently from humans. Firstly, they still have the common ground of sentient experience, and therefore can be compared and contrasted. Secondly, ants are born cognitive retards when it comes to ethics, values, and purposes (being incapable of reasoning about them), are fitted with minuscule bodies, and live in a world in which their welfare is not taken into consideration (heck, they were produced by such a world). They suffer from diseases, death, and the deprivation of many of the advantages of foresight and knowledge enjoyed by humans. While the ecosystem has them in a bind, and given that they exist, ants could still be better off if they were in human shoes because their sentient experiences would shed off many of the disadvantages of their former selves, gain a few more advantages, and be capable of appreciating the difference. The fact that virtually all of them don’t get such a chance at all owes more to the hardness of their circumstances than to the non-existence of values, morals, and beliefs.

      1. “People won’t do what utilitarianism asks them to do, so morals, purpose, ethics etc. don’t exist.”

      Again, see point 5, but the way the scenario is set up doesn’t help. There’s nothing particularly wrong with shunning a scenario that requires you to inflict more pain and suffering, especially if you hope you can find a way around it. That’s actually pretty consistent with utilitarianism, and your rebuttal only works if any deviation from it (even in exceptional circumstances, and made by people who can be inconsistent) counts as an instant and complete rebuttal, which only works from an absolutist mindset.

      So, no, I don’t consider myself a nihilist, nor do I consider it a rational position to hold. Moreover, I fail to see why you unthinkingly assume, as you must do to make the point about joining atheism with nihilism, that theism gets around any of these issues. This, if anything, is suspicious and spurious.

      • Thanks for your reply and good points, I have had to ponder how best to reply and give a succinct response.

        • Manmade = nonexistent

        I do not agree that is a fair representation of what I have said, or at least looks at the issue too shallowly as of course if a human being physically creates something it can be proven to exists in the real world. The social and moral rules followed by our species serve only to strengthen our own species (as opposed to purely spreading ‘good) and as you rightly state can be proven in game theory simulations. So as I have mentioned these rules are very real indeed within our own mind, but this is why I also mentioned solipsism as I don’t think that something that only exists in our minds and has only the amoral purpose of aiding our genes procreation can really be termed good or bad, or anything much at all.
        This cannot be directly compared to something physically created by hand as morals are an idea, so I would say ethics and morality are more comparable to the fashion industry. Fashion is location specific and changes over time much like ethics and morals but also shares the same principal that with hindsight, past behaviours can look obviously mistaken whereas the future is only vaguely predictable. Fashion can only be deemed good or bad based on an individual’s own point of view, in a specific timescale with the correct circumstantial comparability, much like what is deemed ‘good or bad’ by individual humans. So the concept of true morality may exist and I am just cynical, but when found only in a selfish creature that generally uses such rules to favour its own species, tribe and kin then I am left wanting in my convictions.

        • Determinism = existence of values, morals and purpose

        I understand your reasoning and I think very similarly a lot of the time, I am possibly as much of a nihilist as most self-proclaimed Christians are really Christian in their actions. As although I believe the logic of what I am saying I do not really care about it at the same time, as I am happy living and enjoying emotions and act morally whilst having a somewhat unappealing view of determinism. I also enjoy chocolate and although evolution tells us why, it doesn’t depreciate my enjoyment. However what I am saying about morals is akin to (hypothetically assuming chocolate is agreed positive, for the sake of argument) saying that because we as humans enjoy chocolate, the fact that chocolate is good is an obvious fact and physical laws of the universe have allowed evolution to sculpt this into our very being and is therefore proof of the goodness of chocolate. You have on one hand the fact that humans enjoy chocolate as a result of ‘X’ forces, but nothing to conclude that this then means that the ‘goodness’ of chocolate is real, you can only say that the end result is real. This is all a bit too philosophical for my liking but I hope you understand the comparison.

        • Life is no different from any other unlikely event, therefore no morals, purpose, and values

        I didn’t say it was no different from any other unlikely event, but life is only special if you are alive and want to remain so, it is a fundamentally local idea but I did not say it has any bearing on morals. Any number of things in the universe at large are just as precious, so the only value is to your own sentimentality. If you have seen ‘Watchmen’ you may recall the part where Dr Manhattan is on Mars and is admiring the beauty of his surrounding and asks “how things are better with another oil pipeline or shopping mall?”. This is such a huge topic to cover so I will try and steer things back on topic a little bit where possible, but let me just reassure you that I do think life is an absolutely cracking part of the universe and I do not underrate it, if I am guilty of anything it is to find so many different things in the universe mind numbingly awesome that it seems vain to value our tiny idea of what consciousness is in comparison. If I may revert back to the morality of sending a human to mars one-way, imagine an alien race pondering the same question about sending a being to Earth and if they have similar morals wondering ‘is it cruel to confine any being to only one planet and to limit them to so few dimensions?’ Which is just a matter of perspective, but perhaps we need humbling on occasion.

        • To enjoy being alive has no bearing on the question of the existence of morals, purpose, and values

        Perhaps this is where the card tower of my own position comes falling down, as I am more often wrong than right I don’t mind this at all. But I do see and stand by (thus far) a distinction between logically and objectively viewing the world and the way one lives in it. Semantically I can concede that from one point of view saying that I live a hedonistic lifestyle could show that this is the meaning of my life, as if all joy was taken away then I would possibly decide to cease living. However this is not how I see it, I see myself as an absent minded collection of atoms in a colossal universe of chaos of which I can never comprehend, and my trivial flash of existence on one of the trillions of rocks is a very enjoyable yet utterly futile occurrence. There is no meaning to my life other than the innate need to exist that has no bearing on subjectivity, but that of an android programmed to survive in the cleverest way (to want to survive). Even subjectively I don’t see that there is any point in me existing at all, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be part of the mad hatters tea party until all the biscuits are gone. I am not dismissing any of this conversation, there are so many big questions that it might take me some time to digest it all and ponder it to its full extent, so maybe I will rationalise differently as there so few certainties to work from.

        • Being programmed, but treating another with the exact same program differently, proves morals, values, and purpose don’t exist

        You have missed my point, whilst proving it. I think your response shows that you subjectively must feel that there ‘simply must’ be a key difference between a human and a human imitation android. Why must there be? Where do you draw this assumption from? It is this feeling that humanity must be somehow set apart as special and precious that is the root of many problems e.g. religion. The double standard is an important one I think worth pondering and does say a lot about sentient experiences as a whole, as when drilled down to their fundamental parts it is like looking behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz and what seems so impalpable can be very humbling. I would personally treat such an android as an equal, much the way I do not necessarily feel that a human values their own life beyond creatures of lesser intellect.

        • You’re an ant, therefore your arguments of worth and meaning could be wrong, therefore worth and meaning do not exist

        I did not argue an ant would have such feelings, the idea of the metaphor was to consider how you would be without higher cognitive functionality. A bit long winded so I won’t flog a dead horse, I will just summarise that I think your assumption that an ant would be “better off if they were in human shoes” is ridiculous. I am unsure if you are speaking mostly metaphorically, suffice to say I disagree in all scenarios but I am not sure which angle to attack from. There is no better or worse in nature, only survival!
        • People won’t do what utilitarianism asks them to do, so morals, purpose, ethics etc. don’t exist.
        If people really did act as utilitarianism dictated, it would destroy many of my moral based arguments as they are based on the position that our morals are a selfish mechanism to ensure the longevity of our genes. Tribes have killed each other for all of history and to this day, if there was an example of a group sacrificing themselves on mass to protect others then I would be utterly, utterly wrong in my views. If half our population volunteered at random for sterilisation, based on no other circumstance other than they believed it would save more people down the line then I would again be wrong. I can be so easily shown wrong in so many ways, but I don’t think I have been shown thus yet. What this would show to me is a ‘pure moral’ a right and wrong that goes beyond the self and beyond one’s own tribe or pride.

        I have not once insinuated nor would I ever that theistic reasoning is ever preferred or needed, please quote me if I am wrong. If you wish to understand my views of religion then it would be a safe enough assumption to extrude my opinions from ‘God is not great’ by one of the few beings I would ever call one of my role models and heroes of modern time, nothing ‘spurious’ which is a curious comment.

        Thanks again for taking the time, I appreciate a debate especially when people disagree so I can hopefully refine my thoughts. I think it may be unlikely, but if some of the parameters can be defined it may even be possible to refer back to the original question I was hoping to answer but things are just too complex.

  27. A nihilist, you say? Perhaps you should first question your definitions before labeling yourself as such.

    “Vhere ist ze money, Lebofski? Ve are nihilists, ve believe in notzing!” Now thóse guys from ‘The Big Lebowski’ are nihilists! Do you identify with them? Surely not.

    There is a semantic difference between the purpose of life and a meaning in it. Just because there is no plan, no goal and, in the véry long run, no future for every form of life now known to us, that doesn’t necessarily deny the conscious mind the opportunity to find meaning in its own existence.

    Furthermore, the existence of the term nihilism doesn’t automatically validate it as a classification. It is merely the philosophical term for what scientists call clinical depression. I would go one further and call it ‘militant clinical depression’.

    Are you truly militant clinically depressed? Please watch the following video and then get back to us:

  28. You are no more than an ephemeral insignificant speck of cosmic dust, billions of years in the gestation, now with a somewhat inflated ego. As are most of your species.
    What you seek you will never find,
    For when the gods made man
    they let death be his lot.

       Love the child that holds your hand,
       Take delight in your wife's embrace
       For these are the concerns of  humanity.
                                                               Gil. 
    
  29. In reply to #53 by Happy Nihilist:

    Thanks for your reply and good points, I have had to ponder how best to reply and give a succinct response.

    • Manmade = nonexistent

    I do not agree that is a fair representation of what I have said

    Your insistence on the manmade nature of morality suggested to me that you were basing your intellectual position on the origin of the phenomenon. Assuming for the moment that any ideas or concepts are manmade, that does not by itself prove that values etc. do not exist, for to argue such would be to commit the genetic fallacy. Your insistence on the evolutionary origin of morality is a case in point, which I countered by pointing out that, by the same logic, the principles of optics don’t exist because the optical mechanisms we have are products of evolution. This also ignores the fact that evolution is exploitative by nature, exploiting objective facts to fashion such devices.

    or at least looks at the issue too shallowly as of course if a human being physically creates something it can be proven to exists in the real world. The social and moral rules followed by our species serve only to strengthen our own species (as opposed to purely spreading ‘good)

    This is overreaching, if not wrong in its own right. Rules such as “do not kill people” do not exist to “strengthen our own species”, a phrase which doesn’t bode well for your understanding of evolution anyway. They are the natural outcomes of game theory, which relies on an existing and quantifiable measure for what is good in any particular situation. In individual interactions, this measure comes from individual benefits and losses in face-to-face encounters over, for instance, resources that help individuals to survive. But if there was no real gain or loss in any real-world sense, then we should predict the game theoretic models would be utterly useless in predicting anything in the real world.

    I also suspect you’re giving the genes too much say in how things play out. The genes are the programmers and designers of the body for their own selfish ends, but their metaphorically selfish ends are not the sole ones in this picture, nor do they invalidate the existence of real world costs and benefits, especially not those of sentient experience. Taken to its logical conclusion, your argument would predict that the experience of pain a person has is non-existent simply because it’s a device the genes built-in to help themselves. Moreover, nothing about the fact that a person’s philanthropy may originate from genetic influences proves that no other purpose is being served under a genetic one. Just remember which “purpose” is the metaphorical one, after all.

    and as you rightly state can be proven in game theory simulations. So as I have mentioned these rules are very real indeed within our own mind,

    Ha, you can’t slip that one past me. The rules apply objectively, not merely “within our own mind”, and as I pointed out above, they would be utterly useless if they did not have any real-world application. Moreover, I think you’re still sleepwalking into the equivocation fallacy Jos Gibbons outlined when it came to the word “subjective”.

    but this is why I also mentioned solipsism as I don’t think that something that only exists in our minds and has only the amoral purpose of aiding our genes procreation can really be termed good or bad, or anything much at all.

    Your errors are on display here like open wounds. Firstly, that is the reason why they were created, not their only reason whatsoever. The reason I exist is because of a long line of ancestors with their own purposes who thereby made me possible, but this has no bearing on my continued existence now that I am here. Even if an android were built with the sole purpose of destroying things, its purposes need not be the same as those of its maker. Also, I find it curious in any case that you invoke purpose as part of an argument to claim that purpose does not exist.

    Secondly, “subjective” in the sense of occurring within human minds is not the same as non-existent. Indeed, your point is actively misleading because you think “all in the mind” means “it has no real basis”, yet you also claim that there is a real-world basis (game theory, for instance), which is contradictory. Again, Jos Gibbons and I have already made note of this equivocation, which you don’t seem to have taken into account. And like I’ve already said, evolution wouldn’t put in the software if there weren’t real-world facts it had to exploit in the first place. I notice your invoking of evolution fails to note this, and merely re-commits the genetic fallacy mentioned above.

    This cannot be directly compared to something physically created by hand as morals are an idea

    I already explained the comparison above, but I might note here that the distinction between concrete objects and abstract concepts isn’t very helpful in a discussion about whether something is real or not.

    so I would say ethics and morality are more comparable to the fashion industry.

    And yet people freely, naturally, and easily distinguish the difference. Moral norms are treated as universal (no one is allowed to practice differently from the norm with impunity), are self-evidently worthwhile (needing an ulterior motive to be moral is frowned upon), and obligate punishment of those who diverge from them (hence our motives for revenge and for justice). Moreover, moral norms are not free to vary indefinitely, but are based on a few relational models, as shown by the work of Shweder, Haidt, Friske, and Pinker, including their own means of distinguishing violators of each model, and factors that influence where and when it is considered appropriate to apply them based on the specific cases on offer. Even more encouragingly, animals show rudimentary versions of each model (chimps having a sense of fair play, monkeys behaving altruistically to prevent harm being inflicted upon their fellows, and so on), and the models have their origins in evolutionary concepts that span across huge swathes of the animal kingdom, such as kin altruism and reciprocal altruism. By comparison, fashion is a game theoretic strategy of arbitrary social convenience, inherently unstable and unpredictable as a result, with relatively no serious punishment (if any) being meted out to those who don’t conform. Moreover, when it is treated any more seriously than that, it is because it is being moralized as a surface indication of some deeper qualification, a bit like judging a doctor’s competence by his dress and manner rather than by his work record. This is known as sartorial morality. Details of this kind of thing can be found in Better Angels and How The Mind Works by Stephen Pinker.

    Fashion is location specific and changes over time much like ethics and morals but also shares the same principal that with hindsight, past behaviours can look obviously mistaken whereas the future is only vaguely predictable. Fashion can only be deemed good or bad based on an individual’s own point of view, in a specific timescale with the correct circumstantial comparability, much like what is deemed ‘good or bad’ by individual humans.

    One objection to your analogy here is that, as noted above, morals are not nearly as unstable or arbitrary as they’re made out to be. Moreover, the noted changes co-occur with shifts in worldview (for instance, from superstitious to rational thinking) and in cultural mores, and there’s evidence to suggest that they’ve been changing in a progressive pattern over the last few millennia, rather than higgledy-piggledy as fashion has. Again, see Pinker’s Better Angels. Moreover, what’s good and bad in fashion is better known as what’s in or out. The fashion world’s notions of good and bad are not comparable to the notions of good and bad in morality.

    So the concept of true morality may exist and I am just cynical, but when found only in a selfish creature

    This is a huge biology error on your part. Genes are the only purely selfish things, and even then only in a metaphorical sense. There’s no rule against genuine altruism and even moral codes for general well-being arising in animals such as humans, though given that genes have the advantage in shaping brains to suit their own needs rather than those of the organisms they design, such faculties don’t seem to occur very often. This, however, no more weakens the case for moral realism than it would do for the principles of aerodynamics in the few winged creatures that managed to evolve.

    So, “selfish creature” is a poor but revealing choice of words on your part.

    that generally uses such rules to favour its own species, tribe and kin then I am left wanting in my convictions.

    No animal favours its own “species” or “tribe”. That’s group selectionist thinking, which is wrong and obsolete. Trivers describes how a Darwinian creature could evolve that actually competed to be the most moral creature around, and in any case there’s a curious self-contradiction in using “selfishness” as a reason to doubt morals exist. Even if every living thing on the planet truly was selfish, this moral shortcoming couldn’t be used to confirm that morals don’t exist because the principles they rest upon aren’t effected by the real-world incidence of them any more than the principles of aerodynamics were proven wrong simply because all birds and flying machines vanished overnight.

    • Determinism = existence of values, morals and purpose

    I understand your reasoning and I think very similarly a lot of the time, I am possibly as much of a nihilist as most self-proclaimed Christians are really Christian in their actions.

    I’m afraid I find this sentence ambiguous. Are you claiming to be indulging in hypocrisy or are you affirming your confidence in your position?

    As although I believe the logic of what I am saying I do not really care about it at the same time,

    What you care about determinism is irrelevant to the current discussion. I don’t care that much for free will, but I still take it seriously as an idea, if only because lots of people apparently believe in it, and even then only to dismiss its coherence and real-world soundness.

    as I am happy living and enjoying emotions and act morally whilst having a somewhat unappealing view of determinism.

    What is your unappealing view of determinism, and why is its unappealingness relevant to this discussion?

    I also enjoy chocolate and although evolution tells us why, it doesn’t depreciate my enjoyment. However what I am saying about morals is akin to (hypothetically assuming chocolate is agreed positive, for the sake of argument) saying that because we as humans enjoy chocolate, the fact that chocolate is good is an obvious fact and physical laws of the universe have allowed evolution to sculpt this into our very being and is therefore proof of the goodness of chocolate. You have on one hand the fact that humans enjoy chocolate as a result of ‘X’ forces, but nothing to conclude that this then means that the ‘goodness’ of chocolate is real, you can only say that the end result is real. This is all a bit too philosophical for my liking but I hope you understand the comparison.

    Vaguely. I think what you’re saying is that we project our emotions onto the chocolate, so instead of saying “I find this chocolate good, but maybe you won’t”, people say “Chocolate is good”.

    The trouble I have with your argument here is that taste did not evolve willy-nilly and arbitrarily pick chocolate to sit at the high end of the experience. Our own susceptibility to sugary foods is based on picking those foods most likely to aid personal survival, though this has the side effect of making us vulnerable when circumstances change (hence chocaholism and obesity in the modern world). Even here, there’s nothing arbitrary going on: if we had evolved strong stomachs that could handle it, we might have evolved to find rotting meat delicious, and our sense of taste would be correct. Taste is essentially a nutrition-detection-and-judgement device that can be correct or incorrect.

    The real problem I have with your example is the dichotomy presented: either goodness is all in the mind, or it’s out there like a real substance. The problem is that this doesn’t consider the possibility that both are important. Yes, what’s good depends on how the mind treats it, but on the other hand, the mind has to interact with real world substances that do impinge on it, and the properties of those substances is relevant. To bring this back to ethics, naturally the concepts of right and wrong don’t make sense outside of a biological context, but they do rely on real-world facts about biological organisms and their experiences.

    • Life is no different from any other unlikely event, therefore no morals, purpose, and values

    I didn’t say it was no different from any other unlikely event, but life is only special if you are alive and want to remain so, it is a fundamentally local idea

    I’m afraid I don’t understand what you’re saying here. You said earlier that you did not understand why life is put onto a pedestal, implying that it was no different that anything else in the universe. I pointed out why this was erroneous. There are two basic reasons why life is “put onto a pedestal”: life, or more accurately biology, is the only domain where notions of ethical superiority are coherent; living organisms are the only known locations of sentient experience, the basis of most if not all of our ethics. Since ethics is about how to treat other organisms or the environment in which they exist, it is unique to that domain and doesn’t apply outside of that field. Being field-specific, however, is not the same as being non-existent.

    but I did not say it has any bearing on morals.

    Then why are you bringing it up in a discussion about nihilism, if not to imply as such?

    Any number of things in the universe at large are just as precious, so the only value is to your own sentimentality.

    People value things because of the properties they have, and those properties have some lawful bearing on their own states of mind. People value, say, diamonds because of how those diamonds can improve their lives, or at least because of how they think it can. People value non-intervention in the world’s ecosystems due to beliefs on how it will effect people’s/animal’s lives or because of the hotbed of scientific knowledge it contains, which satisfies their own thirst for knowledge. Look into any valued object, and you’ll see its effect on people’s lives sooner or later, imagined or real.

    If you have seen ‘Watchmen’ you may recall the part where Dr Manhattan is on Mars and is admiring the beauty of his surrounding and asks “how things are better with another oil pipeline or shopping mall?”.

    His own aesthetic experience. It’s hard to admire a particular environment if it doesn’t exist. Also, people naturally have leanings towards the “naturalistic fallacy” whereby they equate moral goodness with being natural, but this is usually coupled with a deep-seated, almost superstitiously phobic, suspicion that bad things will happen or some sacred essence will be destroyed if they interfere. Also, his rhetorical question could actually be met depending on the circumstances, but I digress.

    This is such a huge topic to cover so I will try and steer things back on topic a little bit where possible, but let me just reassure you that I do think life is an absolutely cracking part of the universe and I do not underrate it, if I am guilty of anything it is to find so many different things in the universe mind numbingly awesome that it seems vain to value our tiny idea of what consciousness is in comparison.

    How impressive or frightening you find something is a separate question from how it is relevant to ethics and purpose. Also, your placing the valuing of consciousness in the category of “vain” is based on… well, what? You being an emotional drunk? I think you are ignoring the distinction between the valuing of consciousness in ethics and you valuing non-conscious things out of personal interest or preference, as would readily be revealed if you suggested destroying lots of the former in favour of the latter. I already discussed the distinction above, and there’s more to ethics than hedonism, in any case.

    If I may revert back to the morality of sending a human to mars one-way, imagine an alien race pondering the same question about sending a being to Earth and if they have similar morals wondering ‘is it cruel to confine any being to only one planet and to limit them to so few dimensions?’ Which is just a matter of perspective, but perhaps we need humbling on occasion.

    Until you show errors in my position, I don’t regard this as making even remote sense. Whatever positions you’ve encountered before – say, the “god-given right” view of ethics used by supremacists – are not the same as the basic one that a conscious biological entity entails certain facts about ethics – indeed, entails ethics as much as the existence of water entails hydrodynamics. The arrogance of humanity in general is irrelevant.

    • To enjoy being alive has no bearing on the question of the existence of morals, purpose, and values

    Perhaps this is where the card tower of my own position comes falling down, as I am more often wrong than right I don’t mind this at all. But I do see and stand by (thus far) a distinction between logically and objectively viewing the world and the way one lives in it.

    Define logically and objectively here. I don’t understand the distinction you’re trying to make, and feel you might have been better served with a different word choice.

    Semantically I can concede that from one point of view saying that I live a hedonistic lifestyle could show that this is the meaning of my life, as if all joy was taken away then I would possibly decide to cease living.

    Again, there’s more to ethics than hedonism, but I’ll let it pass.

    However this is not how I see it, I see myself as an absent minded collection of atoms in a colossal universe of chaos of which I can never comprehend, and my trivial flash of existence on one of the trillions of rocks is a very enjoyable yet utterly futile occurrence.

    “Futile” means that one has purposes and so on, just that they cannot be fulfilled. It depends entirely on the purpose and the arena in which it plays out. By your own “hedonism” lights, so long as you’re enjoying yourself, your efforts are not futile because you are succeeding at them.

    You’re not making sense.

    There is no meaning to my life other than the innate need to exist that has no bearing on subjectivity, but that of an android programmed to survive in the cleverest way (to want to survive). Even subjectively I don’t see that there is any point in me existing at all, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be part of the mad hatters tea party until all the biscuits are gone. I am not dismissing any of this conversation, there are so many big questions that it might take me some time to digest it all and ponder it to its full extent, so maybe I will rationalise differently as there so few certainties to work from.

    I am having difficulty understanding your point here. If you want to do anything, then not surviving is generally not a good way to go about it. And how exactly do you persuade yourself that you have no “meaning” (please define) other than to survive when you apparently saw fit to post a thread here promoting a point of view? The logical outcome of a meaningless life, insofar as I hazard a guess at “meaning” as “purpose”, is to cease to exist, because you couldn’t make any effort to survive without thinking it worthwhile or meaningful in some capacity. Even wanting to die involves meaning of a sort, albeit a short-lived one.

    • Being programmed, but treating another with the exact same program differently, proves morals, values, and purpose don’t exist

    You have missed my point, whilst proving it. I think your response shows that you subjectively must feel that there ‘simply must’ be a key difference between a human and a human imitation android.

    No. I don’t “feel” that there must be one. I’m saying that there really is one, whether or not we could adequately detect it. It goes back to the “consciousness zombie” thought experiment, in which an apparent humanoid nevertheless lacks any real experiences. While this is ultimately a question of how consciousness works, my point was that there could still be a real-world difference that people were intuitively recognizing in your own example, albeit they might be incorrect about the specifics.

    Why must there be? Where do you draw this assumption from? It is this feeling that humanity must be somehow set apart as special and precious that is the root of many problems e.g. religion.

    There’s a difference between human supremacism and pointing out that ethics presupposes the existence of conscious creatures, which are in short supply in the universe at large. And what possible problem could exist in such a scenario? The very notion of a problem relies on it being a problem to someone. When the dishwasher breaks down, it isn’t the dishwasher’s problem; it’s the owner’s. Granted, consciousness may well exist in a continuum rather than as an all-or-nothing state, but that’s a different kettle of fish.

    The double standard is an important one I think worth pondering and does say a lot about sentient experiences as a whole, as when drilled down to their fundamental parts it is like looking behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz and what seems so impalpable can be very humbling. I would personally treat such an android as an equal, much the way I do not necessarily feel that a human values their own life beyond creatures of lesser intellect.

    But by doing so, you side with the truth-proposition that it has a consciousness. I’m fine with that stance as it goes – personally, I think that side has the best case – but the recognition of the moral status of other beings – mechanical or organic – is wholly different to the case of nihilism you’re trying to push.

    • You’re an ant, therefore your arguments of worth and meaning could be wrong, therefore worth and meaning do not exist

    I did not argue an ant would have such feelings, the idea of the metaphor was to consider how you would be without higher cognitive functionality.

    For what aim?

    A bit long winded so I won’t flog a dead horse, I will just summarise that I think your assumption that an ant would be “better off if they were in human shoes” is ridiculous.

    On what grounds? I’ve already pointed out reasons why it would gain if it was human rather than an ant. This isn’t speciesist egoism; there are real-world facts that inform the comparison because they have a bearing on consciousness. Granted, I could be wrong in specific cases and there may be facts about ant consciousness that I don’t fully appreciate, but again, it seems you’re no longer arguing for nihilism and are simply arguing against reflexive anthropocentrism, which is something else entirely. And which, in any case, you can’t do without thinking that there is a right or wrong answer on the matter.

    I am unsure if you are speaking mostly metaphorically,

    I was speaking hypothetically, so no.

    suffice to say I disagree in all scenarios but I am not sure which angle to attack from. There is no better or worse in nature, only survival!

    So how does individual game theory work if there’s no better or worse outcome for either party? You can’t dismiss it as arbitrary numbers because that could only work if the numbers had no real-world analogue, in which case the model would be useless in the real world. If pain was not demonstrably worse than pleasure in real life, then people would happily interchange the terms in real life and treat them the same. The only case where this occurs is where people predict that putting up with suffering will yield a compensating reward later on. So long as the real-world states exist, and the logic of purposeful agency follows from it, then better or worse cannot be arbitrary.

    • People won’t do what utilitarianism asks them to do, so morals, purpose, ethics etc. don’t exist.

    If people really did act as utilitarianism dictated, it would destroy many of my moral based arguments as they are based on the position that our morals are a selfish mechanism to ensure the longevity of our genes.

    You missed the point. My point was that it does not matter. The logic of ethics is not predicated on whether people act it out. It would still be true that people would be better off if they did X or Y even if no one in existence did X or Y, which is all it needs. I don’t think it’s that hard to appreciate the difference between a fact’s truthfulness and its incidence in the real world, yet apparently you did find it hard.

    In any case, people do follow utilitarianism in a mild form naturally. It’s codified as one of the moral models I mentioned earlier: Haidt calls it the Harm/Care principle, and the others list it under Reciprocity. Philosophers have a tendency to push it to the limits, though, which gives the false impression that it isn’t applicable to human behaviour.

    Tribes have killed each other for all of history and to this day, if there was an example of a group sacrificing themselves on mass to protect others then I would be utterly, utterly wrong in my views. If half our population volunteered at random for sterilisation, based on no other circumstance other than they believed it would save more people down the line then I would again be wrong. I can be so easily shown wrong in so many ways, but I don’t think I have been shown thus yet. What this would show to me is a ‘pure moral’ a right and wrong that goes beyond the self and beyond one’s own tribe or pride.

    So you can identify moral behaviour readily enough when pushed. How does this fit in with a nihilistic worldview, exactly, if you don’t think ethics has a real world basis?

    I have not once insinuated nor would I ever that theistic reasoning is ever preferred or needed, please quote me if I am wrong. If you wish to understand my views of religion then it would be a safe enough assumption to extrude my opinions from ‘God is not great’ by one of the few beings I would ever call one of my role models and heroes of modern time, nothing ‘spurious’ which is a curious comment.

    So why do you single out atheists for not identifying as nihilists? The very act of linking the two concepts is spurious, especially given the reputation of atheism in some mainstream circles. It’s in your title, for crying out loud.

    Thanks again for taking the time, I appreciate a debate especially when people disagree so I can hopefully refine my thoughts.

    No worries. I like a good intellectual workout, myself.

    I think it may be unlikely, but if some of the parameters can be defined it may even be possible to refer back to the original question I was hoping to answer but things are just too complex.

    The issue can be summed up thus: objective values and so forth rest on the existence of a real-world distinction between being better off and being worse off, regardless of the fact that brains could in theory be recalibrated to run virtually any program, and to such an extent that no one who wanted to be taken seriously could deny it and be considered honest. Since humans universally appreciate the distinction, and given the link with sentient experiences, I thus consider moral realism to be the strongest position.

  30. Atheist and nihilist are not even close to the same thing.

    Just look at the definition of ‘nihilist’

    ni·hil·ism (n-lzm, n-)
    n.
    1. Philosophy
    a. An extreme form of skepticism that denies all existence.
    b. A doctrine holding that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated.
    2. Rejection of all distinctions in moral or religious value and a willingness to repudiate all previous theories of morality or religious belief.
    3. The belief that destruction of existing political or social institutions is necessary for future improvement.
    4. also Nihilism A diffuse, revolutionary movement of mid 19th-century Russia that scorned authority and tradition and believed in reason, materialism, and radical change in society and government through terrorism and assassination.
    5. Psychiatry A delusion, experienced in some mental disorders, that the world or one’s mind, body, or self does not exist.

    Atheism, completely unlike Nihilism, has no doctrines. It’s merely one who believes that gods probably don’t exist. Other than that, no two athiests are forced to agree about anything else.

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