Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Greatest Proof for Black and White

One of the things that I love to do occasional (okay, I do it a lot) is to list blatant foolishness masquerading as wisdom and gleefully tear it to shreds from the top down. It is time again for me to vent, so in the words of Mr. Bean: "Brace yourself."
Today's candidate is this little pseudo-pearl of wisdom: "We know that there is no such thing as absolute good or evil because we know that everything is so complicated. We know that there is no black or white because everything is so gray." This statement is ludicrous for the following reasons:
  1. Gray needs black and white in order to exist (I speak in a moral sense, but even if I was referring to colors, I would still be right). In the realm of morals, you can have no concept of grayness without black and white, just like you can have no concept of "the middle" unless there really are two extremes. The very existence of the concept of a neutral ground is completely contingent upon there being non-neutral grounds. Without the concept of non-neutral grounds, neutrality losses all meaning; the same is true in regards to a middle with no extremities, or gray without black and white. They need each other in order to exist; the presence of one is directly dependent upon the presence of the other.
  2. Likewise, without a concept of absolute good and evil, then there are no "complications," for the "complications" (in order to even be complications) need absolute good and evil to exist in order to exist themselves. The very concept of moral complications is completely contingent upon the concept of absolute morals.
Should not this all be obvious, though? Ask yourself: why do these "complications" arise? What makes something morally complicated? Well, generally speaking, complications arise because we see good and evil in the same situation. For example, a man is willing to commit terrible atrocities (evil) in order to save the life of one who he loves dearly (good). That situation is most definitely complicated, but to claim that it is proof against the existence of absolute good and evil is completely idiotic. The only reason that this situation is "complicated" at all is because the "evil" that the man is doing really is something evil, and the "good" that he is doing really is something good. If good and evil disappear, then his actions are no longer "good" or "bad" actions; they are simply actions: "The man did something in order to do something else." There's nothing "complicated" about that (or interesting for that matter).
Far from being the greatest proof against good and evil, moral complications turn out to be the greatest proof for absolute good and evil. The greatest proof that black and white exist is the gray. That is what we call sweet, sweet irony.

The End of Atheism

My last two posts have been dealing with a response that I got from an atheist (who I am calling Alec), and within them I revealed the inherent weakness of atheistic reasoning. I have unfortunately, one last flaw to reveal in his logic, and because it is not the biggest flaw he had, this will seem more like a parting shot than anything else. However, I cannot let such a glaring error pass by me unchallenged and unexposed.
Alec began his response thusly: "Atheists are not obligated to follow your or anyone else's idea of what atheism is. Not Nietzsche's, not Wells', nobody's." Now, what is he actually saying? What he is actually saying is this: there is no fixed definition of atheism. No one is the authority on atheism (not even atheists themselves: "Not Nietzsche's, not Wells', nobody's") and thus all definitions are mere subjective opinions that carry no real weight in regards to atheism's actual definition. Thus, just because Nietzsche or Wells (or myself) say atheism is such-and-such, Alec is under no obligation to believe us because there is no authoritative statement on atheism, only opinions on atheism that can be believed or discarded at will and/or preference. What's atheism to you may not be atheism to me, and what's atheism to me may not be atheism to you.
Alec shoots himself in the foot, however, within the very next sentence: "Atheism is defined thusly: The absence of a belief in a god. Period. End of definition." Okay, first he tells me that there is no fixed, authoritative definition of atheism, then he goes and defines atheism in an attempt to convince me that that is what true atheism is. If there is no fixed, authoritative definition of atheism, then by what grounds am I obligated to believe that his definition is any more truer than Nietzsche's or Wells' (or my own, for that matter)? If there is no ultimate idea of what atheism is, if all is merely subjective opinion, then how do you even begin to have a standard by which you can measure what atheism is? You cannot; without a fixed definition, all attempts to completely define atheism are lost, including Alec's complete definition ("complete" by his addition of "Period. End of definition").
Contrary to what you may be thinking, I am not twisting his words; I am hearing what he is actually saying (whether he knew it or not). Because he equally dismissed Nietzsche and Wells as well as me, apparently even atheist's definitions are not immune from the whole "[we] are not obligated to follow your or anyone else's idea of what atheism is." And because Alec is himself an atheist, that means that his own definition is not immune either. Therefore, it is equally as subjective and dismissible as Nietzsche's, Wells', or my own. In an attempt to remove any grounds for me to define atheism, he has removed any grounds for himself to define atheism.
"We are the (currently living) atheists and we will decide what the word means." If the word does not have a fixed, authoritative definition, and if no one (not even atheists) can give one, then how in the world am I to believe that any definition you all come up with is the true definition? What is there to prevent future atheists from saying, "We are not obligated to follow your or anyone else's idea of what atheism is. Not Dawkins', not Alec's, nobody's"? There is nothing to prevent it. In addition, if atheism has no fixed, authoritative definition, then chronological location ("currently living") is irrelevant; if the very idea of atheism cannot be authoritatively defined by anyone, then that includes "currently living" atheists as well as dead ones.
The further problem with atheism lacking a fixed, authoritative definition is even more devastating for Alec. If no one can define atheism (not even atheists), then we cannot know what it actually is; and if we cannot know what it actually is, then the very idea of "atheism" has no meaning. Therefore, we cannot know whether or not atheism exist at all. Ideas must have meaning (a fixed, authoritative substance) to them in order to exist. If someone says, "I don't believe in God," we can call that belief whatever we want to, but we cannot call it atheism, because (according to Alec's own logic) atheism is indefinable, and thus even the statement "I don't believe in God" cannot be called "atheism" because no one knows what the heck atheism even is! In this scenario, where atheism is indefinable, atheism as an idea ceases to exist. Making atheism indefinable is the end of atheism.
I do not believe that Alec meant to say all that, nor do I believe that all atheists are as dumb as my entries may make them sound like. What I do believe is exactly what I said in my previous post: when placed in the fires of logic and reason, atheists (though perhaps well-meaning and sincere) simply have not or do not think out their own ideas to their logical conclusions. Every time I read one of their blog posts, every time I read one of their essays or articles, every time, I remember what a friend of mine once said, "In order to be an atheist, you must be willing to live with certain logical inconsistencies."

"Boy's philosophies..."

"Atheism is too simple.... [It is a] boy's philosophy." -C.S. Lewis

In my previous post, I demonstrated how the response I received from an atheist (I'll call him Alec, b/c it's a cool name) showed the results of epistemological nihilism, i.e., how claiming that there are "no authorities" reduces all arguments (including atheistic arguments) to absurdity and non-existence. I showed how, in an attempt to silence my arguments, Alec was willing (whether he realized it or not) to demolish the very foundations of argumentation itself in order to win the argument, i.e., he was trying to argue that there are no arguments, which is an obvious contradiction. That was perhaps the most fatal flaw of his whole response.
I am not finished, however. There is yet another flaw I wish to expose, a flaw which that same response demonstrated perfectly, a flaw that (though not quite as fatal as the first one) still demonstrates the inherent weaknesses in atheistic reasoning.
Angry at my implication that atheism can philosophically lead to nihilism, Alec (speaking for all atheist: "We are the (currently living) atheists") decided to instruct my unlearned mind on what atheism really is: "Atheism is defined thusly: The absence of a belief in a god. Period. End of definition." What this response demonstrates is the supreme naiveté that apparently most atheists are working under (if Alec is truly speaking for all of them). This supreme naiveté is the assumption that ideas do not have consequences, i.e., that absence of a belief in a god merely means that and nothing more (aside from the freedom "to consider any other set of values you wish.")
Atheism is not as simple as "absence of a belief in a god," however, and the reason why is because the question of God/god(s) is no mere simple inquiry. It is the prime question, the question dealing with prime reality, with what is the source of all things. When you are asking the question about God/god(s), you are not merely saying something about supernatural entities; you are really asking the question, "What is really real; what is fundamental reality?" The God/god(s) question is the first and foundational question in regards to shaping your worldview. The answer that you give to that question will directly affect the way the rest of your worldview turns out, including your answers to: What is the nature of external reality? What is a human being? What happens after death? Can we know anything? How do we determine what is right and wrong? What is the meaning of human history? etc. The question about God/god(s) is alot weightier than Alec seems willing to allow for himself (and all atheists).
As such, atheism does not end at "absence of a belief in a god." That statement is a presupposition that must be thought out to its logical conclusion(s), i.e., "What does it mean if there is no God/god(s)?" I had mentioned that philosophical atheism will logically lead to nihilism, and Alec took except to that; but he preceded to give me no alternative logical conclusion except that atheism sets one free from religion, which is a tautology (a philosophical "no duh"). That atheism only sets one free from religious institutions and principles is only surface scratchings. What does it mean to be absent from a belief in God/god(s)?
I tried to mention to my friend that Nietzsche realized that, if there is no God, if we are merely a conglomeration of molecules that came together purely by chance through arational, random, natural forces, then we are merely puppets trapped in the system of natural cause and effect, and our actions have no more meaning to them because they are not our actions, but random acts of nature imposed on us by nature through cause and effect happenings that we know nothing of (you can find this in his book Human, All too Human). Thus we have the complete loss of meaning to our actions, and thus all loss of meaning period (he also realized this in his work "The Madman").
I tried to mention to my friend that H.G. Wells realized that if there is no God, then man is merely left to himself, and is solely dependent and reliant upon his own devices; and after seeing two world wars, Wells concluded that if man's only hope is man, then man is doomed (you can find this in his book Mind at the End of its Tether). Thus we have the complete loss of hope in "human potential." We are our own worst enemy, and we cannot save ourselves; and since there is no God, then there is no one to save us from ourselves. Therefore, again, we are doomed.
That wasn't good enough for him, though; so now I must quote from another atheist, a modern atheist, a contemporary atheist, a current atheist, a "we atheists". Prominent atheistic evolutionary biologist and historian William Provine of Cornell University put it this way: if there is no God, then (1) there is no life after death, (2) there is no foundation for right and wrong, (3) there is no ultimate meaning for life, and (4) people do not really have free will (you can find this in Phillip E. Johnson's book Darwin on Trial, as well as Ben Stein's documentary Expelled). This man is living today (though I hear that he has cancer). He is, therefore, one of the "we atheist" that my friend was speaking of, and apparently Provine disagrees with my friend on what exactly atheism is, because he has looked beyond mere surface scratchings to logical conclusions.
What do Nietzsche, Wells and Provine all have in common? They all moved beyond childish atheism, beyond naive ideas, and went onward to the consequences of those ideas. They all possessed the courage and maturity to look their belief's conclusions square in the eye and be honest about it. Some were honest to a fault (Nietzsche committed suicide), but they all were more honest than Alec was. He believes in a "boy's philosophy," a kiddie belief that does not see or does not want to see the true logical conclusions of its own belief system; atheists who have seen the conclusions are summarily dismissed as irrelevant. This is not adult thinking, but childish naiveté that refuses to grow up and face the reality of their own ideas.

P.S. For a well done, easy to understand perspective on what atheism's logical conclusions are and how it reaches them, I recommend James W. Sire's book The Universe Next Door