January 4, 2006

EDGE OF NIGHT?:

The World Question Center (edge.org, January 1, 2006)


"What is your dangerous idea?"

1. Everything is pointless (Susan Blackmore)
2. This is all there is (Robert Provine)
3. We are entirely alone (Keith Devlin)
4. We Have No Souls (John Horgan)
5. Being alone in the universe (Rodney Brooks)
6. Myths and fairy tales are not true (Todd Feinberg)
7. There are no souls (Paul Bloom)
8. Francis Crick's "Dangerous" Idea (V S Ramachandran)

The Edge.Org posed a question, and a number of the respondents (apparently a group of Daniel Dennett manquees) drank deeply of the materialist kool-aid, and belched forth a collection of essays that would require obligatory use of opiates to finish. These essays highlight the vast divide between the University culture (materialist, rational to the point of irrationality) and that of the rest of the country (faithful, distrusting of intellectuals) that cannot be more sharply etched. There was also this amusing juxtaposition:

Science encourages religion in the long run (and vice versa)
-and-
Science Must Destroy Religion

There were also a few very interesting essays regarding the limits of knowledge and the proposition that science may not be able to explain much more than it does now. Finally, there was a nice counterpoint by Alison Gopnik. Her dangerous idea? "It may not be good to encourage scientists to articulate dangerous ideas."

The Readership is encouraged to check out these essays.

Posted by Bruce Cleaver at January 4, 2006 11:02 AM
Comments

I've always been unclear why atheism is a more "dangerous" idea than "We are sinners in the hands of an angry God."

Posted by: David Cohen at January 4, 2006 1:00 PM

David: It's a sad self-absorption. I have spent miserable evenings among atheist friends in academia in which they spend much time discussing the fact that "the Christians" are all sitting around plotting to "get" them. Never been in the reverse situation, though...

Posted by: b at January 4, 2006 1:20 PM

b. Have you ever spent a lovely, relaxed, light hearted or amusing evening among academics, athiest or not? Miserable is their natural state and in almost four decades among them, I don't recall a single one to have ever deviated from that norm.

Posted by: erp at January 4, 2006 1:39 PM

erp: Actually, most scientists are quite pleasant most of the time, in my experience. I wouldn't say "light hearted" is quite accurate, but "miserable" certainly doesn't fit. The humanities are of course a totally different story...

Posted by: b at January 4, 2006 2:02 PM

David,

Atheism is dangerous becuse it leads inevitably and inescapably to nihilism.

While I can easily conceive of a universe without a Creator, such a universe would be a meaningless (if fortuitous) accident. Accidents by definition have no meaning or purpose. Only a universe fashioned by a Creator with a particular purpose in mind has meaning. This is macro-nihilism of an absurd universe that occurs unavoidably if there were no God. And yes, a Creator is necessary to give the universe meaning since a "meaningful accident" is an oxymoron.

"However", says the atheist, "each individual may through their own effort create their own meaning and carve out their own niche of purpose in an inherently meaningless universe. Therefore nihilism is avoided."

Someone argue that in an inherently meaningless universe, any attempts by individuals to create their own meaning would be doomed to failure. For in an absurd world there are absolutely no guidelines, and any course of action is problematic. Passionate commitment, be it to conquest, creation, or whatever, is itself meaningless.

Though I agree that such attempts would be futile, that is not my second stage argument. What I do is run with the assertion made by Pinker, Dennet, Dawkins, etc. that the mind and free will do not really exist, they are merely illusions. Furthermore, they claim that we are nothing more than pre-programmed automata following the dictates of our genes and memes without true volition or ability to show initiative. These claims stem from the assumption that dualism is false and the immaterial soul does not exist.

However, if we are mindless automata without free will, initiative and volition we lack the mental prerequisites for the creation of meaning and purpose. The result is a micro-nihilism of the meaningless individual.

Combining both a lack of God and the lack of the soul results in an overarching and inescapable nihilism.

Posted by: bplus at January 4, 2006 2:47 PM

So why is nihilism a bad thing? The best explanation can be found int Tom Wolfe's essay "Sorry, But Your Soul Just Died" and its analysis of Nietzche:

"The story I have to tell," wrote Nietzsche, "is the history of the next two centuries." He predicted (in Ecce Homo ) that the twentieth century would be a century of "wars such as have never happened on earth," wars catastrophic beyond all imagining. And why? Because human beings would no longer have a god to turn to, to absolve them of their guilt; but they would still be racked by guilt, since guilt is an impulse instilled in children when they are very young, before the age of reason. As a result, people would loathe not only one another but themselves. The blind and reassuring faith they formerly poured into their belief in God, said Nietzsche, they would now pour into a belief in barbaric nationalistic brotherhoods: "If the doctrines...of the lack of any cardinal distinction between man and animal, doctrines I consider true but deadly"--he says in an allusion to Darwinism in Untimely Meditations --"are hurled into the people for another generation ... then nobody should be surprised when ...brotherhoods with the aim of the robbery and exploitation of the non-brothers...will appear in the arena of the future." ...

Nietzsche said that mankind would limp on through the twentieth century "on the mere pittance" of the old decaying God-based moral codes. But then, in the twenty-first, would come a period more dreadful than the great wars, a time of "the total eclipse of all values" (in The Will to Power ). This would also be a frantic period of "revaluation," in which people would try to find new systems of values to replace the osteoporotic skeletons of the old. But you will fail, he warned, because you cannot believe in moral codes without simultaneously believing in a god who points at you with his fearsome forefinger and says "Thou shalt" or "Thou shalt not."

Why should we bother ourselves with a dire prediction that seems so far-fetched as "the total eclipse of all values"? Because of man's track record, I should think. After all, in Europe, in the peaceful decade of the 1880s, it must have seemed even more far-fetched to predict the world wars of the twentieth century and the barbaric brotherhoods of Nazism and Communism. Ecce vates! Ecce vates! Behold the prophet! How much more proof can one demand of a man's powers of prediction?

Echoing Wolfe is A.N. Wilson who in "God's Funeral" comes very close to laying the horrors of the 20th century at the feet of the atheistic philosophers of the 19th century. He sites two main philosophical branches: the Carlyle/Nietzsche branch in which God is replaced with the hero or superman, and the Hegel/Marx branch in which heaven is replaced with a workers utopia. The first gave us the atrocities of the far right, the other the atrocities of the far left.

The first half of Nietzsche's prophecy has come true. God help us if Nietzche is right again. If he's right a second time the coming century will see horrors greater than those of the 20th century. The peace and prosperity of today will be seen by future historians (if there are any) as an era similar to that of Victorian Europe before the first World War.

These horrible visions of the future and the inescapable conlcusions of his own philosophy, not syphilis, are what drove Nietzche mad.

Posted by: bplus at January 4, 2006 3:38 PM

Just one problem with the prediction...

He didn't seem to calculate for people going back to God. A return to the morals of a righteous God would seem to avoid the predicted downfall.

Posted by: Jay at January 4, 2006 4:22 PM

@bplus; @jay:

Nice series of thoughtful answers, bplus!

Wolfe was describing neuroscientists; note carefully that some of the Edge essayists were also neuroscientists.

My own take is that nihilism is ultimately unstable, and I would here invoke that Chesterton* maxim: "When man ceases to believe in God he will will not believe in nothing - he will believe in anything." There is an undeniable need to extract meaning from our lives.


*best scholarship to date says GK Chesterton did not actually say this, but the basic idea can be cobbled together from his works of fiction and his serious writings.

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at January 4, 2006 4:40 PM

I got'cher dangerous ideas right here, pal:

1. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

2. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. . . . And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

Posted by: Mike Morley at January 4, 2006 7:29 PM

Mike -

!!

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at January 4, 2006 8:45 PM

It is so strange.

When the debate is joined between belief and unbelief, unbelief chooses to disregard the material utility of belief.

Belief empowers the individual, it enables individual freedom, and prosperity, and innovation, and every progress.

How this is accomplished is so obvious and so well-documented by human history that even the most devout believer in a personal God should be able to admit that mankind is materially, objectively better off with belief than without it.

We may say it again: mankind must choose between Big Father and Big Brother. With Big Brother come tyranny, oppression and stagnation. Oh, an atheist here or there may prosper as a parasite, getting a free ride in a civilization coasting on values handed down from believers, but without belief men become beasts and cameras must be placed of every corner.

Just as military virtue is the cheap defense of nations, so religious belief is our cheap defense of every freedom.

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 4, 2006 9:09 PM

Mike - excellent.

Your comment inspired me to remember this part of Isaiah, which says the same thing, but when I first read it (about 12 years ago), it simultaneously terrified and comforted me.

"Who among you fears the word of the Lord and obeys the word of his servant? Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely upon his God.

But now, all you who light fires and provide yourselves with flaming torches - go, walk in the light of your fires and of the torches you have set ablaze. This is what you shall receive from my hand: you will lie down in torment".

Isaiah 50:10-11

Posted by: jim hamlen at January 4, 2006 9:51 PM

bplus:

"What I do is run with the assertion made by Pinker, Dennet, Dawkins, etc. that the mind and free will do not really exist, they are merely illusions. Furthermore, they claim that we are nothing more than pre-programmed automata following the dictates of our genes and memes without true volition or ability to show initiative."

In the words of the great Glenn Hoddle, they never said them things.

I've always been puzzled about why dualists think that understanding how something works therefore means that that something no longer exists. It really is a very odd idea.

Atheism is dangerous, and it isn't dangerous. Religion is dangerous, and it isn't dangerous. It all depends on whether you allow your particular poison to affect your humanity and your sanity.

Posted by: Brit at January 5, 2006 5:17 AM

brit,

Yep, they did say it. Dawkins meme concept was taken to its logical conclusion by Susan Blackmore who makes the claim that the Self is merely an illusion. Dawkins has adopted this position. Let the following quotes illustrate this:

In a recent joint lecture, Dawkins asked his colleague Steven Pinker: "Am I right to think that the feeling I have that I'm a single entity, who makes decisions, and loves and hates and has political views and things is a kind of illusion that has come about because Darwinian selection found it expedient to create that illusion of unitariness rather than let us be a society of mind?" Pinker answered affirmatively that "the fact that the brain ultimately controls a body that has to be in one place at one time may impose the need for some kind of circuit . . . that coordinates the different agendas of the different parts of the brain to ensure that the whole body goes in one direction." That hypothetical circuit is all that remains of the illusion of a free-acting self. [The Dawkins-Pinker exchange is available at www.edge.org]

And from a recent interview:

Stangroom: One final question about hard determinism. I think at the end of The Selfish Gene you said that one of the important things about human beings is that they are able to choose to act otherwise than perhaps their selfish genes would have them. Obviously, however, for a hard determinist the choices we make are themselves determined. In an interview with The Third Way www.csis.org.uk/Articles/Intrview/interv1.htm) you indicated that you had some sympathy with Susan Blackmore's view that ".The idea that there is a self in there that decides things, acts and is responsible.is a whopping great illusion. The self we construct is just an illusion because actually there's only brains and chemicals.". Is your position then that statements about consciousness or selfhood will ultimately be reducible to statements about neurons and chemicals?

Dawkins: I suppose that philosophically I am committed to that view because I think that everything about life is a product of the evolutionary process and consciousness must be a manifestation of the evolutionary process, presumably via brains. So I think that has got to mean that consciousness is ultimately a material phenomenon.


Posted by: bplus at January 5, 2006 8:32 AM

I have two objections to the "mind is just an illusion" claim made by the likes of Dawkins, Dennet, Pinker and Blackmore.

First,such a claim in inherently non-falsifiable and therefore unscientific. Yet they try to pass this claim off as if it were a rigorous scientific hypothesis. Such intellectual dishonesty is beneath contempt.

Second, the claim is actually an admission of failure on their part. They are unable to explain the mind in purely materialistic terms, so they explain it away as an "illusion" - never saying who or what is observing the illusion. Illusions cannot observe themselves anymore than the eyes can see the face without a mirror.

Posted by: bplus at January 5, 2006 8:50 AM

bplus:

Like I said, he never said them things.

Dawkins thinks that consciousness is ultimately a material phenomenon. Therefore, Dawkins does not think that there is a separate non-physical 'soul' or 'self' making decisions for the material brain. He therefore also thinks that all statements about consciousness could in theory be reduced to statements about material phenomena.

He does not, however, think that 'we' are controlled by our selfish genes.

The trouble with the word 'reduced' is that it sounds like, well, you're reducing something - or degrading or discounting it.

It would be better to say "can also be expressed in terms of material phenomena", rather like you can express Beethoven's music on a piano, or as little black marks on a sheet of paper, or as digital information on a CD. Anyway you express it, it's still real. Don't get hypnotised by the careless journalistic use of phrases like "a kind of illusion".

Posted by: Brit at January 5, 2006 9:38 AM

I can't think of a more miserable evening spent than listening to bplus' diatribe.

bplus, you are either happy to be alive or you're not. You are the one with the meaning detection problem, not the atheist. I love to hear people tell me what I can't do after I've already done it.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 5, 2006 10:14 AM

Brit, let me repeat the quotes:

"Am I right to think that the feeling I have that I'm a single entity, who makes decisions, and loves and hates and has political views and things is a kind of illusion that has come about because Darwinian selection found it expedient to create that illusion of unitariness rather than let us be a society of mind?" Pinker answered affirmatively that "the fact that the brain ultimately controls a body that has to be in one place at one time may impose the need for some kind of circuit . . . that coordinates the different agendas of the different parts of the brain to ensure that the whole body goes in one direction." That hypothetical circuit is all that remains of the illusion of a free-acting self.

And

...Susan Blackmore's view that ".The idea that there is a self in there that decides things, acts and is responsible is a whopping great illusion. The self we construct is just an illusion because actually there's only brains and chemicals.". ... Dawkins: I suppose that philosophically I am committed to that view...

Their own quoted words refute your claim.

Now if the mind is mere illusion and doesn't really exist, there is nothing (and nobody) capable of creating meaning or purpose. Blackmore goes even further than Dawkins:

Dawkins ends The Selfish Gene with his famous claim that 'We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators.' Yet, if we take his idea of memes seriously, and push it to its logical conclusion, we find that there is no one left to rebel."

If we are all just robotic automata pre-programmed by our genes and memes, there is no "Self" capable of creating meaning and purpose.

Nihilism uber alles.

Posted by: bplus at January 5, 2006 10:37 AM

Robert,

How does quoting the sources themselves constitute a "diatribe"? I'm not saying atheism is right or wrong (that is a matter of faith and as unprovable as the existence of God). What I can show logically and factually is that atheism in inherently and inescapably nihilistic. If you disagree, kindly refute my claim using logic and facts. As for your implied claim that you can create your own meaning in a meaningless universe, let me repeat:

In an inherently meaningless universe, any attempts by individuals to create their own meaning would be doomed to failure. For in an absurd world there are absolutely no guidelines, and any course of action is problematic. Passionate commitment, be it to conquest, creation, or whatever, is itself meaningless.

Nihilsim is a trap atheism cannot escape from. Nietzche saw that trap and predicted the horrors of the 20th century that would result from the athietistic philosophies of the 19th. We won't survive as a species if atheist philosophies dominate the 21st century and lead to even greater horrors after they achieve "the total eclipse of all values".

Posted by: bplus at January 5, 2006 10:45 AM

bplus:

Instead of repeating the quotes, why not try to understand them in their context?

Dawkins claims that the notion of a supernatural soul or self somehow controlling the material brain is an illusion.

In other words, dualism is an illusion

He does not think that 'mind' - that emotions, decisions etc are illusory.

It's materialism. You can read it nihilistically if you wish, but you can just as easily be nihilistic about dualism.

In neither case is nihilism required, as you falsely claim.

Posted by: Brit at January 5, 2006 10:57 AM

Dawkins claims in his own words the "Self" to be illusory, perhaps not as strongly as Blackmore, Dennet and Pinker. Perhaps he is frightened by the implications of his own philosophy.

I'm merely taking all these people at their word.

If it is false to claim the inevitability of nihilism, then kindly explain how it is logically possible for an individual to create meaning and purpose in the absence of self, volition and free will.

Blackmore has the guts to take their philosophy to its logical and bleak conclusions - don't you?

Posted by: bplus at January 5, 2006 11:20 AM

One other question, Brit:

How is the claim that "dualism is an illusion" potentially falsifiable and therefore scientific?

Posted by: bplus at January 5, 2006 11:33 AM

Well, the discovery of a non-material spirit controlling the brain would falsify it at a stroke.

Posted by: Brit at January 5, 2006 11:48 AM

How does one discover anything non-material?

You see both sides make non-falsifiable faith statements.

The only intellectually honest view is that of the New Mysterians.

Posted by: bplus at January 5, 2006 12:12 PM

"42"

Posted by: narciso at January 5, 2006 1:46 PM

In an inherently meaningless universe, any attempts by individuals to create their own meaning would be doomed to failure. For in an absurd world there are absolutely no guidelines, and any course of action is problematic. Passionate commitment, be it to conquest, creation, or whatever, is itself meaningless.

b+, meaning, like beauty, is one of those immaterial concepts. It's not like you can scan the heavens for meaning with a telescope. It is in the eye of the beholder. Humans create meaning out of the circumstances of their existence, it is not some mineral that you ingest in the drinking water.

If an uncreated universe has no meaning, explain to me why a God created universe does? Given two identical universes, one God created and one uncreated, why should one prefer one over the other? Why would the inhabitants of one succumb to nihilism while the others wouldn't?

The question is really about human psychology. What ideas and presuppositions does the human brain need to encode for healthy functioning. I would agree that all humans need a sense of meaning. I would disagree that a theistic worldview is a prerequisite for establishing meaning. The human mind is flexible, and it has an inherent need to seek out meaning. But there are other building blocks for meaning than the promise of an afterlife.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 5, 2006 3:36 PM

If it is false to claim the inevitability of nihilism, then kindly explain how it is logically possible for an individual to create meaning and purpose in the absence of self, volition and free will.

Even if self, volition and free will are illusions (I'm not conceding the point), well then you have the illusions to build these things on. An illusion is not nothing, it is something. You feel like you are a self, you act like you are a self, you desire as if you had a will, you act on those desires as if you had volition. If the illusion is good enough, then why can't you create meaning and purpose?

But the whole discussion about free will and the self is clouded by dualism from the start. What Pinker means when he says that the self is an illusion is the dualistic "ghost in the machine" self that acts totally independently from the body is an illusion. But the self that is the product of the interactions of neural circuits in the brain is not.

As to free will, I would say that we do posess it. You will say, "no, our decisions are caused by circuits in our brain". And I would say "precisely". The circuits in your brain are you. You don't desire because the circuits made you to, your circuits acting is your desire. Remove duality and the problems go away.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 5, 2006 3:56 PM

If an uncreated universe has no meaning, explain to me why a God created universe does?

A God created universe would have been created with meaning and a purpose in mind. Accidents OTOH can have no meaning or purpose.

Given two identical universes, one God created and one uncreated, why should one prefer one over the other?

Neither would be preferable - to a nihilist. Meaning and purpose are important - unless you are a nihilist.

Why would the inhabitants of one succumb to nihilism while the others wouldn't?

It's not about succumbing, it's about not being able to escape. Everything is absurd in a meaningless universe. The best you can hope for is to indulge in solipsism and fool yourself into thinking that you've created your own meaning. Such "meaning" would only exist between your ears.

An illusion is not nothing, it is something.

An illusion by definition is nothing, as the following definitions make clear:

1: an erroneous mental representation [syn: semblance]
2: something many people believe that is false; "they have the illusion that I am very wealthy" [syn: fantasy, phantasy,fancy]
3: the act of deluding; deception by creating illusory ideas
4: An unreal image presented to the bodily or mental vision; a deceptive appearance; a false show; mockery; hallucination.

You feel like you are a self, you act like you are a self, you desire as if you had a will, you act on those desires as if you had volition. If the illusion is good enough, then why can't you create meaning and purpose?

This is more solipsism, and it ain't good enough because it ain't real.

Posted by: bplus at January 5, 2006 4:47 PM

The problem is that there is an automatic association on your part that atheism is directly responsible for nihilism.
Faith, belief, values, etc. are not qualities that are exclusively limited to believers in a conventionally defined monotheistic universe.
These qualities are grounded, in those whom you would call atheistics, in entities other than the big man in the sky to whom you prefer.
Personally, I choose to believe that these social mechanisms of these values arise from the interactions of like minded human beings; the respect and love that people have towards each other; and the changes that occur in the course of ones life as we move from certain types of relationship into others.
And this is not to say that these values do not manifest themselves amongst those who profess a belief in God; I would actually say that they are in many ways strengthened through the kind of conscensus that exists among members of the same church.
I think its OJ who likes to point out that Darwinism, like intelligent design, and creationism as well, are all rooted in a faith; I would agree with him on this point, and I feel the same way about charges of nihilism against atheists; power doesn't like a vacuum.

Posted by: Grog at January 5, 2006 5:49 PM

A God created universe would have been created with meaning and a purpose in mind.

So what? Why is that good or bad for you?

The best you can hope for is to indulge in solipsism and fool yourself into thinking that you've created your own meaning. Such "meaning" would only exist between your ears.

Why does it need to exist anywhere else? Where else would meaning exist? Is meaning a physical substance? Does it exist in rocks? Can you measure it?

You are so certain that atheists are nihilists, but seemingly you are not curious to test your hypothesis by meeting actual atheists and see if they fit your profile. What are the warning signs that someone may be a nihilist? Do nihilists get married, have children, take out 30 year mortgages? Do nihilists join the armed forces to defend their nation? I've done these things. Where does the nihilism come in? Why would I do any of these things if I felt that the universe were absurd and there were no meaning beyond my own illusion of selfhood?

An illusion by definition is nothing, as the following definitions make clear:
1: an erroneous mental representation [syn: semblance]

A mental representation is something. That is what consciousness is, a mental representation. If an illusion is nothing, then consciousness is nothing.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 5, 2006 5:54 PM

Those are dangerous ideas. I say they are cottage cheese.

=========================

Nihilism is the acid that no bottle can hold.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at January 5, 2006 6:29 PM

So what? Why is that good or bad for you?

Those of us who are not nihilists are rather fond of meaning and purpose.

If an illusion is nothing, then consciousness is nothing.

Well, that would be my point....

Posted by: bplus at January 5, 2006 8:40 PM

These qualities are grounded, in those whom you would call atheistics, in entities other than the big man in the sky to whom you prefer.

In the 20th century these entities were murderous, totalitarian parties of the Far Left and Far Right.

Posted by: bplus at January 5, 2006 8:43 PM

In the 20th century these entities were murderous, totalitarianism parties...

not so unlike G-d, is it?

Posted by: ept at January 5, 2006 11:18 PM

ept,

From Prof. Rummel's study on "Deomocide" by totalitarian regimes of the 20th century:

So, the famine was intentional. What was its human cost? I had estimated that 27,000,000 Chinese starved to death or died from associated diseases. Others estimated the toll to be as high as 40,000,000. Chang and Halliday put it at 38,000,000, and given their sources, I will accept that. Now, I have to change all the world democide totals that populate my websites, blogs, and publications. The total for the communist democide before and after Mao took over the mainland is thus 3,446,000 + 35,226,000 + 38,000,000 = 76,692,000, or to round off, 77,000,000 murdered. This is now in line with the 65 million toll estimated for China in the Black Book of Communism, and Chang and Halliday's estimate of "well over 70 million." This exceeds the 61,911,000 murdered by the Soviet Union 1917-1987, with Hitler far behind at 20,946,000 wiped out 1933-1945.

The total for the three largest atheist regimes of the 20th century (Stalinist, Nazi and Maoist) comes to approximately 160 million over 70 years. This does not include mass murder by secondary Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, the Khmer Rouge and other totalitarians. AN Wilson is correct, the horrors of the 20th century stem from atheism and were carried out by atheists.

From an FAQ on the Inquisition:

How many were executed by the Spanish Inquisition? By most standards, the records of the Spanish Inquisition are spectacularly good and a treasure trove for social historians as they record many details about ordinary people. Nothing like all the files have been analysed but from the third looked at so far, it seems the Inquisition, operating through out the Spanish Empire, executed about 700 people between 1540 and 1700 out of a total of 49,000 cases. It is also reckoned that they probably killed about two thousand during the first fifty years of operation when persecution against Jews and Moslems was at its most severe. This would give a total figure of around 5,000 for the entire three hundred year period of its operation.

Do the math ept.

Posted by: bplus at January 6, 2006 7:05 AM

Those of us who are not nihilists are rather fond of meaning and purpose.

As I am, not being a nihilist. I just don't understand what meaning and purpose have to do with a god-created universe.

If an illusion is nothing, then consciousness is nothing.

Well, that would be my point....

But consciousness is not nothing.

Please answer my question. What are the warning signs that someone is a nihilist? All you've done is toss around this term. You've demonstrated neither reason or logic, just a fixation on this one assertion that only religion can give meaning and purpose. Typical theist blather with no substance.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 6, 2006 9:20 AM

As I am, not being a nihilist. I just don't understand what meaning and purpose have to do with a god-created universe.

Well if the universe is not God-created then it must be an accident.
Accidents can never have meaning or purpose.
A God-created universe on the OTOH would have been created with a purpose in mind, infusing it with meaning.

I'm not sure how I can state this more plainly.

But consciousness is not nothing.

If it is an illusion (as Dawkins, Blackmore, Dennet and Pinker claim) it to be than consciousness is "nothing" by definition. If their claims are true, Blackmore is correct in declaring that there is no "Self" to create meaning and "everything is pointless" (please read her Edge essay). As I noted above, she has the guts to take her atheism to its bleak and nihilistic conclusions. Do you have the same intestinal fortitude?

Please answer my question. What are the warning signs that someone is a nihilist?

The first symptoms appear to be not caring if the universe has inherent meaning. Advanced symptoms include moral relativism.

All you've done is toss around this term. You've demonstrated neither reason or logic,

I haven't had to demonstrate anything, just quote atheistic sources (Nietzche, Blackmore, Dennet, Dawkins, and Pinker) and their conclusions.

just a fixation on this one assertion that only religion can give meaning and purpose. Typical theist blather with no substance.

What is needed to avoid the macro-nihilism of the inherently pointless universe is a creator God. What is needed to avoid the micro-nihilism of the meaningless individual lacking "Self", volition and free-will is the Soul. Who said anything about needing religion?

But tell you what, why don't you explain how an accidental universe can have inherent meaning and purpose. Then explain how an individual can successfully create meaning in a universe where every action is absurd and pointless. And then explain how an individual who doesn't really exist (since the "Self" and free-will are all illusions) can attempt to create meaning.

And do it all without retreating into solipsism.

Posted by: bplus at January 6, 2006 10:29 AM

Well if the universe is not God-created then it must be an accident.
Accidents can never have meaning or purpose.

This isn't true. Look at all of the accidental discoveries and inventions which have fulfilled a purpose for mankind.
America was discovered by accident, yet the Europeans had no touble finding a purpose for it.

A God-created universe on the OTOH would have been created with a purpose in mind, infusing it with meaning.

Meaning for who? For God, yes, but you are being presumptuous when you say that God's purpose for the universe would automatically provide meaning for mankind. Even if god exists, you have no idea why he created the universe. It may have nothing to do with humans, humanity may be a negligent or accidental by-product of his plan. If a beef cow had the mental capacity to ask whether his life in the stockyard had a purpose, you would have to answer him "yes". But if you told him what that purpose was, I don't think he would be terribly happy with knowing. All purposes are not equal.

If it is an illusion (as Dawkins, Blackmore, Dennet and Pinker claim) it to be than consciousness is "nothing" by definition.

The dualist notion of self is an illusion. The non-dualist notion is not.

The first symptoms appear to be not caring if the universe has inherent meaning.

You've just created a circular reference. First you say that people who don't see inherent meaning in the universe are nihilists. When asked to define a nihilist, you say that he is someone who can't find inherent meaning. It's a tautology.
Again, you are talking about inherent meaning, as if meaning were some physical property like mass or velicity. Meaning is a value given to something by a conscious being, a self. It is meaningless to say that something has meaning without referring to the being for which it has meaning. You always have specify: meaning for whom? Something can be meaningrul to one person and meaningless for another. The meaning is not inherent to the object, it is inherent to the subject. If I can find meaning in the universe and my life in it, what does it matter whether the universe and myself were put here as the intended action of another?

But tell you what, why don't you explain how an accidental universe can have inherent meaning and purpose.

See above.

Then explain how an individual can successfully create meaning in a universe where every action is absurd and pointless.

Again, meaning is not inherent to the universe, neither are absurdity and pointlessness. These are values ascribed by an actor.

And then explain how an individual who doesn't really exist (since the "Self" and free-will are all illusions) can attempt to create meaning.

I exist, see above.

And do it all without retreating into solipsism.

Interesting that you should bring up solipsism. Religionists cannot discuss the meaning of God's universe without placing themselves as the central purpose for that universe. The universe may have a purpose in God's eyes, but it may have nothing to do with you. Can you accept such a non-homocentric universe as meaningful? If you cannot, then you are the solipsist.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 6, 2006 2:12 PM

I've read Blackmore's essay, here it is:

Everything is pointless

We humans can, and do, make up our own purposes, but ultimately the universe has none. All the wonderfully complex, and beautifully designed things we see around us were built by the same purposeless process evolution by natural selection. This includes everything from microbes and elephants to skyscrapers and computers, and even our own inner selves.

People have (mostly) got used to the idea that living things were designed by natural selection, but they have more trouble accepting that human creativity is just the same process operating on memes instead of genes. It seems, they think, to take away uniqueness, individuality and "true creativity".

Of course it does nothing of the kind; each person is unique even if that uniqueness is explained by their particular combination of genes, memes and environment, rather than by an inner conscious self who is the fount of creativity.

I don't see the bleak or nihilistic aspect that you are talking about. She is referring to a higher purpose for the universe, an intended purpose for it's existence as seen through the eye of a creator.

As she points out, this doesn't stop us from assigning our own purpose to the universe. Nothing bleak about it.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 6, 2006 2:16 PM

Robert,

Now that I've got you to read Blackmore's essay go back and reread it. She contradicts herself twice.

First, she claims that the biological entities created by genes are pointless. Yet she claims that the human personalities created by memes aren't.

Second, she claims that we can be a source of meaning and purpose. Yet she states there is no source, since the "Self" does not exist.

Now on to your points...

No sir, accidents cannot have meaning because they never occur for a reason. They can have benefits, but not purpose. An accident is meaningless by definition.

Granted, God may have created the universe on whim and without purpose in mind, but such a pointless act contradicts the fact that ours is an extremely well built universe. An orderly universe created at a whim is a contradiction.

An actor cannot logically ascribe meaning to an inherently meaningless existence. Let me repeat: In an inherently meaningless universe, any attempts by individuals to create their own meaning would be doomed to failure. For in an absurd world there are absolutely no guidelines, and any course of action is problematic. Passionate commitment, be it to conquest, creation, or whatever, is itself meaningless. You can no more create meaning ex nihilo then you can successfully navigate without an external refernce point like the North Star.

No, you DON'T exist. You are an illusion according to the materialists we've been quoting. Illusions BY DEFINITION don't exist. There is no "Robert". The lights are on but nobody's home.

(However, the claim that the "Self" is mere illusion does beg the question who or what exactly is observing this illusion - illusions can't observe themselves. You may as well claim that the multiple reflection in a funhouse hall of mirrors is somehow conscious. To claim that the illusion can observe or interact with itself results in reliance on an impossible act of boot strapping wher the mind is reduced to an endlessly repeating DO LOOP.)

And yes, it is logically possible for a universe to have a purpose other than mankind. Even so it still has a purpose, and the problem of macro nihilism is avoided.


Posted by: bplus at January 6, 2006 4:43 PM

bplus:

We know we have brains. That doesn't require a leap of faith. We know that brains are responsible for thoughts, feelings, emotions, desires. Ever seen a victim of brain damage?

It only takes a leap of faith to assume that something we don't know and can't see is also required.

Posted by: Brit at January 9, 2006 4:01 AM
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