Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Nov/08

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Religion & nihilism

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Does religion encourage nihilism? & Belief in God and Nihilism.

13 comments

  • Author comment by Bradlaugh · November 30, 2008 at 6:06 pm

    DH:  Isn’t that a bit like “Vegetarians Eat Less Meat”? Who else but religious believers think life has any purpose?

  • Ivan Karamazov · November 30, 2008 at 7:16 pm

    From the post: “As Dostoevsky wrote, if there is no God, everything is permitted.”

    Ok, maybe it’s a nit, but I can’t let that line stand un-commented on.

    The way the line stands, it implies that was Dostoevsky’s view. Was it?

    The line was put in the mouth of, well, my handle, in The Brothers Karamazov, and it was said rashly, to create an effect, and possibly regretted.

    In any event, I personally am one who believes life has no meaning, but I love it the more, and my fellow man, for that, and want a just a civil society so I and all like-minded others, can live out our days in as much peace as possible.

  • Donna B. · November 30, 2008 at 10:17 pm

    The question is not so much does life have meaning, but whether the meaning comes from inside us or from outside us. Or some combination of the two.

  • Daniel Dare · December 1, 2008 at 12:37 am

    I wish to define a Rational Darwinian Agent or RDA.

    A Rational Darwinian Agent is an intelligent lifeform that could theoretically be produced by the process of Darwinian Evolution.

    A Rational Darwinian Agent is an agent whose emotions, reason, thinking, actions, every function of its mind, is committed to the single goal of maximising its inclusive fitness.
    No matter what it looks like it is doing, it is always, at the deepest level, trying to maximise its inclusive fitness. An RDA has no other goal.

    In other words, a Rational Darwinian Agent lives its entire life as if optimising the survival probability of its genes is the sole purpose of its life.

    Note that this is not nihilism.
    An RDA behaves like a fundamentalist, extremist, fanatical, gene-survival-and-reproduction bot. Albeit sometimes a cunning, subtle, and devious one.

    An RDA doesn’t even need to fully understand what it is doing consciously. Its motives could be organised below the level of its conscious introspection. An RDA could think it was working for the good of mankind or the party or science or the church. But all that is superficial. It is really everywhere and always a breeder-bot. It doesn’t even matter if an RDA believes it is a nihilist with its conscious mind. As long as that is really part of its subtle, complex, survival-strategy. As long as it doesn’t REALLY ACT like a nihilist.

    Question:
    Is Man a Rational Darwinian Agent?

    My answer FWIW, is that Man is not an RDA.
    An RDA is an idealized abstraction. Like God.
    But it is quite possible that Man is the closest to a Rational Darwinian Agent that has yet been produced by life on Earth.
    But make no mistake.
    Humans are capable of malfunctioning severely.
    They can do all sorts of stupid, suicidal things. That’s why they are only approximate realizations of a ideal Rational Darwinian Agent.

    Now I return to your question:
    Does religion encourage nihilism?

    Religion encourages so much loopiness that anything is possible.
    But when religions say things like: “Life has no purpose without God”, they are always leaving out an important qualifier.

    “Living things have no purpose without God, OTHER THAN THE PROPOGATION AND SURVIVAL OF THEIR GENES”.
    They are constantly optimised to have this function/purpose by natural selection. If you wish to think of this as merely a pseudopurpose, that’s fine with Nat.Selection. As long as you ACT as if it is your purpose.

  • Xyz · December 1, 2008 at 5:08 am

    How do you suppose they score an individual’s nihilism? What does a nihilism score of .76 mean?

  • Andrew T. · December 1, 2008 at 7:26 am

    DH: I think the most interesting bits are the comments on your second link; Jason notes (correctly, in my view) that some churches obviously teach a form of nihilism in that they teach the fundamentalist Christian doctrine of “total depravity”; i.e., that the individual is absolutely worthless without God. This strikes me as a very significant insight into the data that people who begin with a religion and then de-convert tend to be more attracted to nihilism than those who never had it and never will.

    Bradlaugh: I assume you’re being facetious, but obviously there are a great many secular theories that are compatible with the notion that human life has intrinsic worth, including the biggie, Immanuel Kant (although, of course, Kant himself was a theist).

  • PascalWager · December 1, 2008 at 7:33 am

    My position would be the life has purpose.. to the liv-er. But as far as life having a universal purpose that somehow lurks behind every decision and action, um, not so much. That would imply a God type who applies a moral/normal construct to life. This is “diet” determinism to which I would ask, “What’s the point?” If this ‘purpose’ exists then it begs the question of intensionality (with an ‘s’).

  • Author comment by Bradlaugh · December 1, 2008 at 8:42 am

    I favor a campaign to “own the insult.” Perhaps a spinoff blog: Nihilist Secular Right.

    The motto on our coat of arms could be Basil Fawlty’s reply when asked what was the point of being alive: “Beats me. We’re stuck with it.”

  • Ivan Karamazov · December 1, 2008 at 9:07 am

    @Daniel Dare
    Interesting thoughts.

    My quick view is that, following normal selfish gene evolution, intelligence continued to develop in mammals, until a very interesting thing happened. Self awareness dawned. Once that occurred, all bets were potentially off, selfish gene-wise, as the self-aware consciousness has decided that IT’S individual life is now the most important thing, and blind gene survival be damned. Who knows where all this will lead, but the movie Idiocracy is funny precisely because something like it cannot be totally dismissed out of hand.

  • Andrew T. · December 1, 2008 at 10:03 am

    Bradlaugh: Because we’re not a small enough minority yet? Perhaps a spinoff spinoff blog, “Nihilist Secular Right Mathematicians?”

    (Of course, we still have a long way to go to catch the religionists, pace Emo Phillips and the “”Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.”)

  • PatrickKelley · December 1, 2008 at 10:23 am

    Life has a purpose to the individual, to himself but also as a member of a greater component, that being society. As such, I think it comes from within, and is a part of our evolutionary path. It helps us to grow, thrive, and strengthen as a species. It is something we have in common with most animal species, only we have a more conscious application to it, whereby animals pursue their innate drives unknowingly. They still manage to “strengthen the herd” as a consequence, but they do not take matters into their own hands and try to exercise conscious control over it as we humans do.

    Any outer source of purpose is probably applied from within and projected onto a God figure, much like a mariner following a certain set of stars to get from point a to point b.

  • A-Bax · December 1, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    PatricKelle: At the risk of sounding argumentative, I’ll say that your description of human purpose has a bit of mysticism (filtered through biologically modern world-view) about it.

    “Evolutionary Path” – this sounds kind of spiritually mushy. Isn’t it the case that evolution, as biologically understood, is not “forward-driven”? That we make sense of the twists, turns, and branches of evolution by looking backward at the tree of life? (Since the future is invisible, if not fully unwritten, from the perspective of any organism at any point along the time-line.)

    Dennett has alot to say, if I remember correctly, about the intellectual confusion that comes from thinking that evolution is geared “towards” some “higher” goal, as opposed to simply being a mechanism that has to pay-as-it-goes, so to speak, in terms of fitness.

    There’s a fair amount of co-opting in the common culture of the term “evolved” as implying “sophisticated”, or “higher” in some kind of ethical or moral sense. It’s as if we’re still operating with a Great-Chain-of-Being mentality, only instead of God arranging the animals thisly and thusly, the impersonal, mystical force of evolution does so in fluid increments over huge stretches of time.

    This mindset is to be resisted, I would think. It does us no good to deify a natural process, and there is no reason to think that a horseshoe crab is metaphysically any “higher” or “more worthy” than a spider-monkey, even if the latter is physiologically and cognitively more complex.

    I notice too, PatrickKelle (not to pick on you, just using your comments as representative of a larger trend) that you still want to be able to separate humans from the rest of the animal kindgom by asserting that we take matters “into our own hands” in some way in terms of evolution. That we try to exert “conscious control”. Huh? How’s that again? Where humans mate assortively, there seems to be no fundamental difference between us following our insticts, and a Red Robin doing the same.

    Our insticts may be less transparent to us, and more complex in their execution. But why exactly do you think we are not just as driven by, say, our own human-specific sexual selection pressures as a bird who is instinctively and unconsciously attracted to bright plumage and other signs of health when looking for a mate?

  • PatrickKelley · December 1, 2008 at 4:24 pm

    Some good points. My only point is we as a species tend to think about the future and what we can do to make it better, while most animals, so far as we know, only live in the moment.

    It’s Patrick Kelley, by the way, it just come out that way in the comments for some reason.

    And yes, I admit some degree of guilt at the charge of mysticism. In fact, I kind of like your description of my point.

    “description of human purpose has a bit of mysticism (filtered through biologically modern world-view) about it.”

    I actually like that. I don’t hold to a belief in a divine creator(s), but I do realize the inner power of the various archetypes, and that they can be useful. I think there is validity to all philosophies, in fact, on some level. The trick is in not being consumed by it but instead using it as a tool.

    Who’s to say, really. You only err when you think you already have all the answers. I stay open to the possibilities, but draw the line between the unknown possible, the improbable, and the outright fantastical. (Or at least I try to do so).

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