On Nihilism and Satanism

I’d like to write today about two stereotypes of atheism that are common among some quarters of religious apologists: that we are moral nihilists, recognizing no such concepts as right and wrong; and that we are Satanists who worship, or at least admire, the adversary power of monotheism. The atheists who advocate these concepts, rare though they are, are exploited by fundamentalists who use them to tar the rest of us.

Is what I just wrote a contradiction? I don’t think so. I find no inconsistency in saying that a depiction of some group is a stereotype, even if it is actually held by some members of that group. The purpose of a stereotype is as a misleading, derogatory depiction of some group as a whole. Even if a very few members do fit that description, it’s untruthful and insulting to imply that all of them do. As I hope to show, atheists who are nihilists and Satanists do exist, but their numbers are so small that they are essentially negligible in comparison with atheists as a whole. They do not represent the views and beliefs of the larger majority of atheists any more than ranting lunatics like Fred Phelps represent all of Christianity.

I’ll begin with Satanists. Most people who call themselves by that name today are devotees of a church founded in the 1960s by the eccentric occultist Anton LaVey. Satanism as such does not include the literal worship of demons. Instead, Satanists believe in the exaltation of the individual, hedonism and self-will as the supreme virtues, and the desirability of a society of Spencerian social Darwinism. (If anything, Satanism is most similar to Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, which LaVey acknowledges having been influenced by.)

Satanism is not a large movement. Self-identified Satanists were not even numerous enough to register in the 2001 ARIS study, which counted religious groups as small as 4,000 members nationwide. I know of no survey undertaken since which has come up with any greater numbers.

Nevertheless, they do exist. As with any tiny religious movement, they have a web presence – here’s an excerpt from one of their essays, written by the current head of the church, Peter Gilmore.

As you can see, there are no elements of Devil worship in the Church of Satan. Such practices are looked upon as being Christian heresies; believing in the dualistic Christian world view of “God vs. the Devil” and choosing to side with the Prince of Darkness. Satanists do not believe in the supernatural, in neither God nor the Devil.

So, Satanists say that they don’t literally believe in Satan; fair enough. But if that’s true, why do they define themselves in terms of the language and symbology of a religious tradition which they supposedly reject? Why do they name themselves after that which they do not believe in? This inconsistent behavior indicates a seriously confused state of mind, to say the least.

My strong suspicion is that Satanism is a faith crafted to appeal to the rabble-rousers, the self-chosen outsiders, that are bound to be present in any large enough group of people. They adopt these terms because they enjoy shocking others, because they revel in the sense of excitement that comes from deliberately transgressing social norms, and because they find a shared identity with others who feel the same.

Next is a marginally more serious position: the atheists who proclaim themselves to be moral nihilists. (Regular Daylight Atheism readers may know the one or two examples who occasionally comment here.)

It seems to me, as I think it would seem to any rational person, that it’s a contradiction for Satanists to draw their identity from the religion they reject. I think this point applies with even more force to the nihilists.

Religious apologists assert, continually, unendingly, and in the face of a vast amount of contrary evidence, that atheists can have no basis for morality, and that only people who believe in God have any good justification for ethical behavior. In my experience, most atheists see through this flimsy slur and recognize that morality can be based on conscience and reason. But, inevitably, some people will be taken in. If the religious say often enough that only through religion can you find morality, some people will begin to believe them; and when those people rightfully notice that the factual claims of religion are a morass of wishful thinking and fallacy unsupported by evidence, they often conclude: so much the worse for morality.

In an important sense, the nihilists are the product of religion in a way that most atheists are not. We humanist atheists find a reason to recreate morality apart from supernatural claims, based on the facts of this world. The nihilists, meanwhile, are still stuck in religious stereotypes about how the non-religious “should” think and behave. They’ve had the insight to see religious superstitions for what they are, but not enough to take the next step and adopt a worldview completely free from them. Instead, the religious outlook still tinges their beliefs and their thinking.

With both nihilists and Satanists, we can see how religion creates its own enemies. Rather than face our position as it truly is and try to refute it, most religious apologists spend their time exclusively thrashing at strawmen of their creation. They push these stereotypes so persistently that they end up being actually adopted by a handful of real people. Predictably, these few are then pointed out and played up to exaggerate the seriousness of the “threat”, and their existence used as a broad brush with which to tar all atheists.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • utopia

    Actually, there are also theistic Satanists (on the Net most well-known might be Diane Vera, who has a comprehensible website on the subject), who indeed do worship Satan. Don’t know if there’s more LaVeyans than theistic Satanists, but in any case, it would be a good idea to do some more research about whichever subject you’re writing about.

  • HairTonic

    The Bible (and many other religious texts)are filled with instances whereby God condones atrocities (like gang rape and indiscriminate killing of opponents) and even start them.

    How do theists choose which portions of the Bible to follow and which to ignore? The criteria which they use has to come from outside the Bible.

    Thus, the Bible can’t be the ultimate moral compass.

  • Mark C.

    I’m not so sure that nihilists can be said to be the product of religion. If nihilism is the position that there is no good or bad, right or wrong, then couldn’t it just be the case that they see no non-arbitrary basis for defining those terms?

  • http://www.dougpaulsen.com Doug

    Mark

    What Nietzsche wrote was certainly a response to Christianity, or an attack against it. So in that sense Nihilism is a response against religion.

    Also, in a broader sense, it is hard to separate nihilism from religion because of the dominance religion has over our culture. Hardly anyone grows up in America without thinking at some point or another that morality comes from God, so whether or not their nihilism is a response to that seems almost irrelevant. I suppose someone could grow up, probably with parental influence, that there is no such thing as morality. But ultimately, it is a response to religion.

    Complete unrelated note to Ebon, since your server switch I am once again able to access the site on my cell phone. Thanks…

  • Samuel Skinner

    Well, Mark, I think what Ebon is trying to say is that some people who become atheists have heard that you can’t have morals without God, and when they lose faith, they toss their morality. A good example would “The Adventures of Huckleburryfin”. For those who haven’t heard of the scene, Huck decides to dump morality rather than turn in Jim (who is a fugitive slave), because turning in him would be the “right thing to do”.

    Funnily enough, actual Satanists HAVE to be Christians- the must admit God exists. So they aren’t really atheists.

    The ones we have belong to “The Church of Me”.

  • Brayton C.

    I definately think that you’re on to something as the amorl and satanic members of the much larger atheist society are in small numbers. But I am not sure I agree with all of your points.
    While it is true that the name of the Satanists does in fact derive from Satan (though I believe they are defining the character of Satan and the Devil differently) it does not necessarily lead to a contradiction. Atheists, for example, also draw our identities in direct opposition of the Theistic figure of God, which is often a religious figure. Also, for a group (and I mean atheists here) which is in direct opposition and disbelief of theisms and the Theist God we do spend an awful lot of time discussing God. Yet, no one could state that being an athieist is a conceptual contradition even though we must be aware of the concept of God in order to not believe in it.
    As far as Nihilism is concerned, the belief that all human actions are meaningless is something that would necessarily have to be alligned with Atheism as a Theistic God would necessarily give meaning to all actions. But that does not make nihilism immoral, rather it makes it amoral, but there are other problems with nihilism that we need not get into here.
    Here is where I think you’re right: Both satanism and nihilims come with their own sort of public baggage. The terms Satanist or Nihilist are considered before they are put into context of actual human beings to be negative. They are loaded, in that sense. To evoke the word Satanist is to bring up all the images of evil and the Christian devil that one is wont to do, and a certain amount of people do, enjoy that sort of attention. The same can be said for Nihilism. While less abundant in the Bible it confilicts with the view that life is worth living and it is a gift from a benevolent creator.
    It seems to me, and I may be mistaken, that being associated with Satanists and Nihilists is, by no means, something to even be upset about. As long as they are the same respectful and intelligent people that everyone wants to associate with. Which, of course, just supports your claim that stereotyping is wrong on all levels.

  • http://deconbible.blogspot.com bbk

    I think the greater point of your argument is true. Religion is apt to create all of its enemies out of thin air. This doesn’t just go for atheists, but other religions and even other sects of the same religion. Just the other night I’ve overheard some Pentecostals telling jokes about drunken nuns peeing in the holy water while the monks brushed their teeth with it. Coming from people who think that an epileptic seizure is a sign of the Holy Spirit, it’s the pot calling the kettle black.

    As far as Satanic worship, I believe the old story line is that they deny the existence of God because they hate God. But this implies that they believe in God and pretend they are secular and hedonistic to “fool” people. Given that they don’t believe in God yet call themselves Satanists, who knows? You can run around in circles forever trying to figure out if they’re theists or atheists. The only reasonable conclusion is exactly how you put it: Satanists just want attention and shock value.

    As far as nihilism, I just find it boring. I don’t claim that it comes from religion. At least modern adherents can trace it back far enough as a philosophical movement that it doesn’t matter anymore whether or not it was originally a reaction to religious absolutism. But I wish I never had to hear about it. Nihilism holds as a moral truth that there are no moral truths. Nihilism is a paradox. It’s nothing more than a simple logical fallacy. This fact alone is enough to disprove the theists who claim that morality does not exist without God. Morality exists so long as there are any sort of moral claims. Even the statement that there is no morality without God is a paradox: if a Christian concludes that there is no morality because there as it turns out, there is no God, they’ve already made a moral claim. It’s all just so god damned stupid it doesn’t deserve any more attention than people who try to imagine how big infinity is.

  • Jim Baerg

    Huck decides to dump morality rather than turn in Jim (who is a fugitive slave), because turning in him would be the “right thing to do”.

    More specifically, Huck says to himself “alright, I’ll go to Hell”

    I think it’s safe to say that Samuel Clemens was not an orthodox christian.

  • http://blog.infeasible.net/ Godless Geek

    On the name Satanism, I heard an interview with the high priest of the church who said that the name was supposed to reflect the adversarial nature of the church to actual religion, and was chosen because the word used in the oldest Hebrew manuscripts actually meant adversary.

    He may have been doing a little post-hoc rationalization, but it made sense based on his descriptions of what they stood for.

  • kraryal

    It’s worth pointing out that many Christians have a rather different view of nihilism; if you argue that morality is not “external”, that it is based on human cognitive architecture, culture and the zeitgeist, they’ll call you a nihilist.

    Contingent, internal morality is inferior to external, necessary morality in the common denominations. This means that there are quite a few “nihilist” atheists from the Christian point of view, and they have no trouble finding bogeymen.

    Ebon is dead on about the Satanists; they seem to be extremely rare, and largely a figment of the popular imagination.

  • http://www.ninth-circle-alliance.net/ Emiel

    I think you have some things confused. Satanists (in the LaVey sense) take their name from the abrahamic faiths, true. But this was done for a reason. One of it is to shock and scare away the closed minded folks that hear the word “Satan” and instantly close off. I don’t want to talk to such a person anyway. The more important reason is that the word “Satan” comes from the hebrew “Shaitan”, which means “accuser” or “adversary”, as in the person that opposes, questions and more importantly; thinks.

    The rest you are correct in. I am a Satanist, but I do not worship any gods or devils. I think that if a person wants to be successful, one shouldn’t look for help or salvation from a god or it’s antithesis. You do it yourself, with your own hands, wits and wiles. Sure I seek like-minded people, and many atheïsts share my viewpoints on religion (the ones I talk to, and most of my family, who is mostly agnostic and atheist). And yes, I like to instigate and to shock. It makes people think. And that can only be a good thing.

  • Alex Weaver

    They do not represent the views and beliefs of the larger majority of atheists any more than ranting lunatics like Fred Phelps represent all of Christianity.

    Less, actually, since Atheists don’t nominally claim to follow an allegedly divinely inspired book which actually contains the tenets advocated by nihilists and Satanists.

  • Chris

    I think you’re strawmanning the nihilists. Some may believe that there’s no morality simply because they can’t think of any source other than a god, but some may have considered the possibility of sources of objective morality and rejected them (either categorically, or just all the ones they’ve seen propounded so far).

    Morality exists so long as there are any sort of moral claims.

    But what about the belief that there’s no way to reliably distinguish between true and false moral claims, or that the concepts of “true” and “false” don’t even usefully apply to moral claims the way they do to empirical ones? How is that kind of moral agnosticism different from nihilism?

    Saying that the belief that moral claims are inherently nonfalsifiable* is itself a moral claim doesn’t help: that just means it’s also nonfalsifiable, which means you can’t falsify it and therefore can’t establish the truth of any system inconsistent with it. Classifying moral claims as inherently nonfalsifiable rapidly leads to rejecting the whole domain of moral claims as useless, which is (IMO) indistinguishable from nihilism. (In the same way that some forms of agnosticism are *functionally* indistinguishable from atheism: Who’s going to bother worshipping a being that they don’t know if it exists or not? Who’s going to bother following a moral standard that they don’t know if it’s valid or not?)

    As a human being, I of course instinctively feel that some things are morally wrong. Other people instinctively feel that other things are morally wrong. I currently don’t know of any *rational* basis for preferring one set of moral instincts to another. Is that nihilism?

    ———
    * Making an exception for ones that are logically self-contradictory, which don’t really need outside falsification. But if there are any internally consistent moral systems there must be more than one, so throwing out the contradictory ones doesn’t solve the problem.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Brayton C:

    Atheists, for example, also draw our identities in direct opposition of the Theistic figure of God…

    I don’t agree with that at all. Atheists do not define our identities in terms of “opposition to God,” and if there are any who do, then they shouldn’t. We don’t oppose God because we don’t believe in God; if we oppose anyone, it’s the human beings who claim to speak in God’s name, and who use that as justification for wielding power over others.

    But more importantly, as I’ve always stressed, atheism should not be construed as the mere absence of religious belief. It’s better to conceive of it as a positive, fulfilling worldview in its own right, one that provides the happiness of intellectual freedom and free inquiry.

    As far as Nihilism is concerned, the belief that all human actions are meaningless is something that would necessarily have to be alligned with Atheism as a Theistic God would necessarily give meaning to all actions.

    This is exactly the kind of religious baggage I’m talking about that still tinges the thinking of many atheists. No, it is not true that if a god existed, all actions would automatically have meaning. That is a total non sequitur. How would the existence of a god confer meaning on a previously meaningless action?

    In my opinion, this way of thinking is a classic fallacy of reification. It assumes that “meaningfulness” is some kind of substance which a supernatural being could create, as if it were a magical elixir, and infuse it into an object or an action. In reality, meaning is not a property of the world, it’s a property of the mind: if you choose to find something meaningful, then it is meaningful, by definition. If this wasn’t enough to create meaning, no number of gods could change that.

    bbk:

    Nihilism holds as a moral truth that there are no moral truths. Nihilism is a paradox. It’s nothing more than a simple logical fallacy.

    Well said. As Daniel Dennett puts it, nihilism is literally a negligible position. Either nihilism is false, in which case we should not believe it, or nihilism is true, in which case there are no “shoulds” and so, again, it is not the case that we should believe in nihilism. Either way, it’s a position that eliminates itself from consideration by its own standard.

    Chris:

    As a human being, I of course instinctively feel that some things are morally wrong. Other people instinctively feel that other things are morally wrong. I currently don’t know of any *rational* basis for preferring one set of moral instincts to another.

    You may be interested in my essay on morality, “The Ineffable Carrot and the Infinite Stick“, and its followup on Daylight Atheism, The Roots of Morality.

  • D

    …nihilists are the product of religion.

    First off, I want to admit that I haven’t studied nihilism in any formal capacity for much the same reason that I haven’t studied postmodernism: I find it silly, useless, and not worth the time. That said, do you have some research or something to support this? Maybe some definitions from a philosophical encyclopedia or some such? I’m honestly curious, not trying to be confrontational.

    The reason I ask is that I actually had a brush with what I think might be nihilism while losing my faith, and later looked into ethical emotivism and error theory (which play out practically the same, it seems). My reasoning was way different, though: I thought, “Well, if God doesn’t exist, we can’t base morality on that. What can it be based on?” In trying to find some standard of value, I realized that not even God could decree morality into being either real or binding, and so not even God (were he to exist) could serve as a basis for morality. I sort of worked my way backwards to this conclusion, though, and it was more of a side note to my musings than the thing that pushed me into nihilism.

    What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was getting hung up on the conflict between descriptivity and prescriptivity, and since I couldn’t preserve both (and thought I had to), I chucked the whole mess and said, “Ain’t no morality.” My experience with nihilists has been limited to The Big Lebowski, so I don’t exactly have much of a basis for comparison. My descent towards nihilism wasn’t fueled in any way by religion, though – I just got stuck in a rut while pondering a well-known philosophical problem. I think a lot of nihilists (or former-nihilists) may have had experiences similar to my own, rather than going through the process you describe above in the original post.

  • Caius

    I’m an atheist myself, and I was wondering what you mean by deriving your morals from reason. I have a very Humean view that morality is derived from some kind of moral sense (I think that’s an oversimplification, and I suspect it’s even more complicated than just conscience, but that’s certainly an important element), and I agree with him that reason can only inform morality (and it is, of course, very important that it does). Meanwhile, I think that Kant totally fails to draw moral principles from pure reason. I was wondering what folks here thought; is it possible to derive any morals from pure reason? If not, where does it fit?

  • MS (Quixote)

    Nihilism holds as a moral truth that there are no moral truths. Nihilism is a paradox. It’s nothing more than a simple logical fallacy.

    “The irrationality of a thing is no argument against its existence, rather a condition of it.”–Nietzsche

  • Caius

    I don’t see how “There are no moral truths” is a moral statement. The argument that it’s a logical fallacy seems like a copout.

  • Mark C.

    Brayton C.,

    we must be aware of the concept of God in order to not believe in it.

    Not true. There are some circumstances in which “believing ‘not A’” is not equivalent to “not believing A”. This is one of those cases. You are implicitly requiring that a person know about some concept in order to have a belief status term associated with that person. But belief is binary–on or off–there is either a belief or there is none. You could believe A or ‘not A’, or you could “not believe A” or “not believe ‘not A’”. The placement of the negation does make a difference. (Sorry for any confusion.)

    Ebon,

    But more importantly, as I’ve always stressed, atheism should not be construed as the mere absence of religious belief. It’s better to conceive of it as a positive, fulfilling worldview in its own right, one that provides the happiness of intellectual freedom and free inquiry.

    But atheism, just like theism, only concerns one particular class of beliefs: those dealing with the existence of a deity. Atheism is not a world view, just as theism is not a world view, and there are bound to be atheists who would not or do not espouse the world view you would like to associate with the term. How would you deal with them when they are, legitimately, atheists?

    Either nihilism is false, in which case we should not believe it, or nihilism is true, in which case there are no “shoulds” and so, again, it is not the case that we should believe in nihilism.

    One could just as well say that it is not the case that we should believe in something other than nihilism.

    Just so I understand, and know that you understand, what you just said there, do you consider “one should believe true things and attempt to disbelieve false things” to be a normative statement? It’s not quite like most moral statements, but it definitely isn’t a predictive “should” (which I think you didn’t take into account when making your statement above).

    Pertaining to the articles of yours that you linked to, I really, really like the portions concerning theistic morality. However, as much as I like happiness, I haven’t been able to accept your Universal Utilitarianism (isn’t that what it’s called?). As a descriptive (meta-ethical) theory, I rather like Alonzo Fyfe’s Desire Utilitarianism. However, I remain unconvinced of any particular moral theory.

    D,

    Maybe some definitions from a philosophical encyclopedia or some such? I’m honestly curious, not trying to be confrontational.

    Try the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I’d like to plug this particular article to everyone, which describes the situation with regard to moral nihilism: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/skepticism-moral/#3.4

    When speaking of philosophical issues, it’s wise to expose oneself to all the viewpoints concerning any particular issue. I won’t dismiss moral nihilism out of hand or with a very limited knowledge of it.

  • Wowbagger

    Is the overwhelming theistic position that we learn moral values through the bible and its teachings, or that ‘god’ provides us with them via ‘his’ very existence – the ‘in his image’ thing?

    Are they saying atheists don’t have moral values because they refuse to believe what they’re taught through revelation, or are they saying the very existence of moral values means god exists and created humans with a sense of right and wrong and atheists are simply denying the obvious?

  • http://verywide.net/ Moody834

    Said Ebonmuse:

    Either nihilism is false, in which case we should not believe it, or nihilism is true, in which case there are no “shoulds” and so, again, it is not the case that we should believe in nihilism. Either way, it’s a position that eliminates itself from consideration by its own standard.

    (Doing best Walter Sobchak imitation:) “Duuuude.”

  • Wowbagger

    Hmm, I’m afraid with all the Lebowski references flying about someone’s going to call me Donnie and tell me I’m out of my element…

  • http://deconbible.blogspot.com bbk

    I don’t see how “There are no moral truths” is a moral statement. The argument that it’s a logical fallacy seems like a copout.

    The statement says that the set of moral truths is an empty set. But the statement itself is true, so it belongs to the set of moral truths because it says something true about the set of moral truths. That’s a contradiction.

    Not convinced yet? Take any candidate moral truth that you hold to be untrue. Say “this moral truth is false”. Well, now you have a new moral truth that you hold as true. Continue filling up the set of moral truths in this manner until you achieve a complete set of moral truths. Even if they are all statements of falsity, they convey the moral implications of there being no moral truth.

  • prase

    bbk, your argument is valid only under assumption that any statement about morality is a moral statement. I am not sure if this is true. It seems to me similar to “any statement about god(s) is religious, so atheism which says there are no gods is a religion”, which any atheist would most likely reject.

    Similarly, Ebonmuse said

    Well said. As Daniel Dennett puts it, nihilism is literally a negligible position. Either nihilism is false, in which case we should not believe it, or nihilism is true, in which case there are no “shoulds” and so, again, it is not the case that we should believe in nihilism. Either way, it’s a position that eliminates itself from consideration by its own standard.

    Some statements you should believe because there is enough evidence in their favor, not because it is moral to believe them. Your argument (well, Dennet’s argument in fact) seems to equivocate in using words like “should” and “believe”. I can believe nihilism is true in the same way I believe the Earth is round, not in the way I believe murder is a crime.

    I’d like to point out that I myself am not a nihilist, only play a devil’s advocate for a while.

  • True_believer

    Satanists are in my opinion (as one of them even openly admitted here) just a bunch of deluded, attention-hungry, mass-murderer-wannabe egoists that are trying to shock everyone else with obvious contradiction: “We believe in Satan but we do not believe in God. Prof of Satan’s existence is Bible and other holy books but those books do not prove existence and majesty of God. We are so fucking evil; you won’t believe how evil we are, just watch”. I’m not going to comment anymore on that, as they are just a source of great entertainment for me.

    I still don’t see why OP claims that theists put Satanists and atheists in the same basket. It’s completely different state. I can fully understand why they could see atheists as nihilists, since it’s impossible to be one without the other. Although, there is one thing Satanists got in common with atheists: disregard for logic whatsoever. I think there must be a reason for that, although it escapes me at the moment. God is Almighty and if He wanted, we would all think same about everything, and we would all worship Dude Lebowski.

    PS. In view of his “Superman” concept, I don’t think Nietzsche was true nihilist. He was just going that path in his thoughts and concluded that Trinitarian Christianity leads people inevitably into condition which is defined as nihilism.

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    Ebonmuse,

    Either nihilism is false, in which case we should not believe it, or nihilism is true, in which case there are no “shoulds” and so, again, it is not the case that we should believe in nihilism. Either way, it’s a position that eliminates itself from consideration by its own standard.

    It’s nevertheless possible to step more carefully into a better statement of a nihilistic position which is not contradictory. Something like “There are no absolute moral truths. I prefer — personally, and not in reaction to any outside moral imperative — to believe things which are true. Therefore I believe there are no absolute moral truths. If you also prefer to believe things which are true then to be consistent with that preference you will need to believe that there are no absolute moral truths.” (For the purposes of this phrasing of a nihilistic position, a ‘moral truth’ is a statement that is both objective and normative. The statement that there are no moral truths is hypothetically the former but not the latter. Clear, bbk?)

    Were you honestly blind to the possibility of a less contradictory phrasing?

    Really, I think you’re too hard on nihilists. Skepticism — in the strongest sense of skepticism about all knowledge and/or all moral knowledge — has a long history, from ancient Greece through the Renaissance to postmodernists and others. The idea that it’s all just atheists reacting to religious stereotypes is simply false.

    Have you never reached the point where you realised it was easier to demolish philosophical arguments than to keep them standing? That is where skepticism — nihilism — comes from. At least, it is if you’re doing your opponents the courtesy of fighting their strongest position. Don’t be so hard on nihilism; it’s doubt, Ebonmuse, and doubt is a virtue worthy of being faced in a fair fight, not dismissed by shoddy reasoning as you have done.

  • Chris

    Take any candidate moral truth that you hold to be untrue.

    I don’t think you’re reading the posts you’re responding to. I don’t hold moral statements to be untrue, I (for the purposes of argument, at least) hold them to be nonfalsifiable – i.e., undecidable. The opposite of an undecidable proposition is also undecidable.

    Furthermore, statements *about* moral statements are not necessarily themselves moral statements. “Murder is wrong” is a moral statement. “‘Murder is wrong’ contains three words” is not. “‘Murder is wrong’ is true” clearly is a moral statement, because it is the same as simply saying “Murder is wrong”, but then what can you say about “‘Murder is wrong’ is unfalsifiable”? Unfalsifiable isn’t a truth value. You can accept that the excluded middle applies *in theory* to unfalsifiable statements, without in any way removing their *practical* unfalsifiability (and the resulting uselessness).

    What does it mean to say that you “should” believe true statements and disbelieve false ones? Is that statement true? If so, how do you know? If not (or if unknown), why should you believe it? Isn’t that very statement self-defeating in the absence of proof of its truth?

  • http://deconbible.blogspot.com bbk

    I don’t think you’re reading the posts you’re responding to. I don’t hold moral statements to be untrue, I (for the purposes of argument, at least) hold them to be nonfalsifiable – i.e., undecidable. The opposite of an undecidable proposition is also undecidable.

    “Moral truths are unfalsifiable” is a falsifiable moral statement. At some point, you have to reduce any such position to first order logic. Unless you want to claim that you have a new system of logic, such as fuzzy logic or some sort of quantum mechanical principle that you wish to apply to morality. If so, you’d have to demonstrate this to be the case or else I will just keep reducing nihilist positions to contradictory first order logic.

  • http://deconbible.blogspot.com bbk

    prase,

    bbk, your argument is valid only under assumption that any statement about morality is a moral statement. I am not sure if this is true. It seems to me similar to “any statement about god(s) is religious, so atheism which says there are no gods is a religion”, which any atheist would most likely reject.

    The difference is that atheism does not claim that gods are impossible. Most atheists take the skeptical position, which is very, very different from the nihilist position. With the proper evidence, the existence of a god can be admitted. The reason that there are no gods is because there is no evidence for gods and no clear definition of what a god would be were we to find one.

    Morals are also different from Gods because they are not supernatural. They are closer to mathematical constructs. They don’t require some sort of observable external existence – they are a theory. In that sense, atheism is a theory about gods – atheism exists. Morals are theories about behavior – they exist. Morals are similar to mathematical concepts.

    Nihilism proposes that instead, there is a specific definition of a moral truth. Something that is just as true for rats as it is for cats, to which there are no exceptions, and it has to be observable as an external entity of some type in order to exist. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, it doesn’t make a sound. And in the end it is itself a moral theory with moral implications. “Moral truths don’t exist. Therefore, this is true about how you should behave. This is true about how you should judge others. This is true about how we should organize society. This is true about which things are good and which are bad.” Etcetera.

  • D

    It looks some of us are talking past each other, and I’d like to clarify a few things. First, there’s a difference between “moral statements” and “statements about morality;” the former are ethical propositions, the latter are metaethical propositions. Another problem seems to be that meanings of “good” or “should” are being conflated. For example, a “good” pizza is delicious, but is not a morally good thing in and of itself; a “good” theft is planned, swift, and involves a clean getaway, but is a morally bad thing to do.

    Moral propositions are of the form “x is good” or “x is evil;” they are positive attributions of moral properties to objects/actions/situations. Some people seem to be talking about emotivism, which is the position that there are no moral propositions because moral language is merely code for emotional reactions. Another thing I’ve seen alluded to is moral error theory, which is the position that there are moral propositions, but they’re categorically false. This is an example of a moral error theory:

    1. An action is morally good IFF (if and only if) it helps someone as a person.
    2. An action is morally bad IFF it harms someone as a person.
    3. The self is an illusion, so the “as a person” clause is incoherent.
    C: Moral propositions are categorically false (since the preconditions for their truth can never be met).

    “You should do x” is not a moral proposition, it’s either a conclusion or a command. As a conclusion, the supporting (but unstated) argument is typically of the form:

    1. You have goal x. (“getting to work on time,” “eating a salad,” “maximizing utility,” etc.)
    2. Action y will accomplish goal x.
    C: You should perform action y.

    So if you want to be rational, and being rational entails endorsing a moral error theory, then you should endorse a moral error theory (in order to be rational). Though this may have moral consequences, it is not itself a moral proposition. Hashing out the language in a clear manner on these issues can be a sticky matter, but we should take the time if we want to avoid talking past each other.

    To bbk:
    “There are no moral truths” is a statement about the set of moral propositions, but is not itself in that set, and is thus a metaethical proposition; “this moral truth is false” is the statement of the negation of a moral proposition and so, strictly speaking, is not itself a moral proposition. I know it’s a subtle distinction, but semantics are important in technical arguments such as this. Similarly, “moral truths are unfalsifiable” is a statement about other statements, and not itself a moral proposition. In other words, “using moral language” and “referring to moral language” are different activities. Does this help clear up where some of the others are coming from?

    To Mark C.:
    Thanks for the link! I found it very helpful, and it looks like moral nihilism is in fact a kind of moral error theory.

    To Ebonmuse:
    In light of the reading I’ve done just now, I can certainly understand how rejection of religion could lead to moral nihilism, but since there are several ways to arrive at this position, I see no a priori reason to think that all (or even most) moral nihilists arrive at the position via rejection of religion. Do I misunderstand the scope of your position (perhaps you meant only to talk about those moral nihilists who in fact do arrive at the position explicitly because of rejecting religion?), or is something else going on?

  • Christopher

    Two things:

    1. One of my best friends in college was a Leveyan Satanist – and through coming to know him I overcame the stereotypes of the Satanist that were fed to me by my family and my church since I was a lad. In fact, I strongly considered joining the Church of Satan myself: but ultimately declined as I didn’t need the psychodrama rituals – I get enough psychodrama from blasting demons in a game of “Doom” while blasting Iron Maiden or Slayer.

    But, if I ever found myself predisposed towards accepting a faith of any kind again (an unlikely, but possible event), Leveyan Satanism would be my first choice.

    2. My Nihilism isn’t necisarrily a response to religion so much as it is the whole concept of intrinsic value – I find the idea lacking any substance as all values are ascribed from an external intelligence, hence making them products of the mind of the one who conceives of them (i.e. they’re imaginary). The existence of such a thing as “god” would have no bearing on this: as any values it would possess would be products of its own consciousness and thus be as imaginary as any value we conceive of.

    Sorry Ebonmuse, but you really missed the mark on that one…

  • Mrnaglfar

    As far as I understand them, morals are dependant upon too much subtilty to ever be black and white, or anything but subjective. They are all contigent upon the situation (who is acting on who, why they are, and how, as well the as response and the intended outcome and the actual outcome etc etc.), and for any who claim there are absolute moral truths I don’t think they would stand up to rational debate in the light of different situations; if anyone would like to try and posit an absolute moral truth that would forever silence the nihilsts, they’re more than welcome to try.

    There need to be mutliple standards of morality because there are mutliple cases to which it could be applied. Take the story of Robinhood, or the more modern batman; both are acting outside the law, intending to create what they believe is justice. As a matter of fact, I would venture to say that most of societies most beloved heros acted in ways that many would consider immoral.

    It seems to me what while morals certainly do exist in people, they are highly subjective. For instance, while just about every society in the world (everyone I know of anyway) has implented laws against murder, there are also exceptions to that law as well. It seems to depend more on who’s doing the killing and who’s getting killed.

    bbk,

    The difference is that atheism does not claim that gods are impossible. Most atheists take the skeptical position, which is very, very different from the nihilist position. With the proper evidence, the existence of a god can be admitted. The reason that there are no gods is because there is no evidence for gods and no clear definition of what a god would be were we to find one.

    With the proper evidence for non-subjective morals, they could certainly exist as well; I feel they could do with a definition too. Are morals something that merely applies to humans, or social animals, or non-social animals? Are they rigid or are they flexible, and if they are flexible, are they really morals? Are they driven in any way other than by people’s reactions to the act on an emotional level, in which case, could morals change merely by someone changing their opinion?

    Morals are also different from Gods because they are not supernatural. They are closer to mathematical constructs. They don’t require some sort of observable external existence – they are a theory. In that sense, atheism is a theory about gods – atheism exists. Morals are theories about behavior – they exist. Morals are similar to mathematical concepts.

    Those would be subjective morals then, which is very close to what I feel exists, though correct me if I’m wrong. Once all the variables have been calculated in, in a matter of speaking, there’s some kind of cost v. benefit analysis and from that analysis the body decides to act. However, that has some issues in that morals aren’t normally rational, but rather driven by a person feeling a certain emotion and from that emotion acting in a way that may involve almost a bypassing of thought (on the conscious level), and if one is not thinking then it becomes rather hard to label what one does as moral or not.

    Long story short, it’s a very complicated picture.

    And just to diffuse any potential slings and arrows that may come my way, I normally take pleasure out of helping people, would rather see more people adopt that attitude and work on improving the quality of life for people. However, I’m also pretty selective about the people I decide I want to get to know, so that picture as well is complicated, but does not mean because I hold morals to be subjective that I go out and hurt people; Quite the opposite actually.

  • Christopher

    BBK,

    “The statement says that the set of moral truths is an empty set. But the statement itself is true, so it belongs to the set of moral truths because it says something true about the set of moral truths. That’s a contradiction.”

    To say something about “morality” is no more a “moral” statement in and of itself than a statement about the “law” is a “legal” one. I fail to see any inherent condtradiction in saying that “there are no ‘moral truths’” as this is merely a statement about “morality” (a comment on its nonexistence) rather than a claim *of* “morality.”

  • prase

    bbk,

    The difference is that atheism does not claim that gods are impossible. Most atheists take the skeptical position, which is very, very different from the nihilist position. With the proper evidence, the existence of a god can be admitted. The reason that there are no gods is because there is no evidence for gods and no clear definition of what a god would be were we to find one.

    Some atheists can argue at least that some specific gods are impossible, since their defining properties, as omnipotence, are self-contradictory. It’s a question of what is described by the word “god”.

    Morals are also different from Gods because they are not supernatural. They are closer to mathematical constructs. They don’t require some sort of observable external existence – they are a theory. In that sense, atheism is a theory about gods – atheism exists. Morals are theories about behavior – they exist. Morals are similar to mathematical concepts.

    Nihilism proposes that instead, there is a specific definition of a moral truth. Something that is just as true for rats as it is for cats, to which there are no exceptions, and it has to be observable as an external entity of some type in order to exist. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, it doesn’t make a sound. And in the end it is itself a moral theory with moral implications. “Moral truths don’t exist. Therefore, this is true about how you should behave. This is true about how you should judge others. This is true about how we should organize society. This is true about which things are good and which are bad.” Etcetera.

    Is this an accurate description of a nihilist position? It seems to me that the contrary is true – that nihilists deny the existence of one privileged moral theory. Mathematics require axioms to build on them. Moral theories require moral axioms too. From my point of view the nihilists simply say that from all mutually exclusive sets of moral axioms which are conceivable (including such statements as “murder is good”) no one can be decided to be objectively right.

  • Christopher

    Prase,

    “Mathematics require axioms to build on them. Moral theories require moral axioms too. From my point of view the nihilists simply say that from all mutually exclusive sets of moral axioms which are conceivable (including such statements as “murder is good”) no one can be decided to be objectively right.”

    That’s not quite accurate for my brand of Nihilism (but you’re close): rather, I deny the very existence of a “moral” axiom as they are mere tautologies (ex. “murder” is “wrong” because it’s “wrong” by definition, “virtue” is “good” because it is it’s desirable to be “virtuous,” etc…) – instead holding all values as being matters of opinion: some being more popular in a given society than others, thus becoming part of the official “morality” of the culture.

  • http://deconbible.blogspot.com bbk

    prase,

    A mathematical axiom is one such as “A triangle has 3 sides.” There is no more proof of that than there are of moral axioms. By definition, an axiom is so simple as to be self evident and does not require additional proof.

    One could say “Murder is wrong” as axiomatic because by definition, murder is an unjustified taking of life. That’s pretty self evident if you ask me. But we can add further axioms to help us decide when something is justified and when it is not. For example, we can decide to say “loss of good is bad” and make that axiomatic. Now I’m not supposing that I will build up a moral theory within a single paragraphs, but it goes to show that moral axioms can exist and need no further proof than mathematical axioms. We can build up larger moral “truths” from what we hold axiomatic. That alone is enough to demonstrate that nihilism is wrong.

    But consider this. A triangle has only 3 sides, but what is the sum of the angles between the sides? It’s not always 180 degrees. This depends on your type of geometry. So even in mathematics, “truths” change even if some of the axioms remain the same. Likewise, if a moral “truth” seems to change depending on its context, that does not mean that the truth is unfalsifiable, it just means that the observer isn’t thinking clearly enough to see the difference between varying contexts to recognize that the underlying axioms actually still hold true. I believe this is what causes nihilists to reject all truth. If you don’t allow for moral axioms, you might as well not allow for mathematical ones.

  • http://deconbible.blogspot.com bbk

    I think Christopher hit it on the nail. Nihilism claims that even a tautology is false when it comes to morality. It simply does not allow for truth, even if it were self evident. If that’s not a logical contradiction, I don’t know what is.

  • Mrnaglfar

    bbk,

    One could say “Murder is wrong” as axiomatic because by definition, murder is an unjustified taking of life.

    The unjustified clause makes murder, in my opinion, wrong. However, ‘unjustified’ is rather ambiguous, don’t you think? Exactly how much justification is needed before murder becomes justified homicide? Self-defense? War? Abortion? Trespassing? Threats against one’s person or loved ones? Killing in the case that the alternative is death? Killing one to save the lives of others? How about killing to save the life of a non-human, or killing a non-human to save a human’s life? Killing a pet versus killing a wild animal or a caged animal?
    That, and you’ll find that ‘unjustified’ varies from person to person, area to area, and country to country. So while the statement itself may seem like a self-evident axiom, all it does it mask the vast ocean of conditions that lay in the rule.

    For example, we can decide to say “loss of good is bad” and make that axiomatic. Now I’m not supposing that I will build up a moral theory within a single paragraphs, but it goes to show that moral axioms can exist and need no further proof than mathematical axioms. We can build up larger moral “truths” from what we hold axiomatic. That alone is enough to demonstrate that nihilism is wrong.

    Loss of good is bad is similar to saying dark isn’t light; of course, you need one to define the other so it becomes circular: Good isn’t bad and bad isn’t good. However, when you scratch the surface a bit deeper what you get is that good and bad themselves are lacking in an objective definition; my good may be your bad, and your good may be my bad. What morality then becomes, much as people hate to say it, is the majorities feelings towards what good and bad happen to be, not by some objective standard that all can agree on. If 99% of people decided rape was ok, then the remaining 1% opinion that it isn’t would pretty much cease to make much of difference. If people didn’t react negatively towards the idea of an act, it would not be labelled immoral, or bad, or whatever word one chooses to mean “I don’t have an affianty for the thought of that act”.

    So it hardly does much to disprove nihilism by laying down a circular definition of good and bad and saying all can objectively judge morality from it.

    Likewise, if a moral “truth” seems to change depending on its context, that does not mean that the truth is unfalsifiable, it just means that the observer isn’t thinking clearly enough to see the difference between varying contexts to recognize that the underlying axioms actually still hold true.

    That the observer isn’t thinking clearly enough? If the axiom is to hold true, in any sense of the word, it needs to hold true for all situations and all observers; triangles can’t most of the time have pretty much three sides – rather by their definition they have three sides, and anyone looking at a triangle can count 3 sides. When it comes to a moral axiom, as I mentioned above, the unjustified clause seems to make it an axiom, but the definition of unjustified is not agreed on. To use the geometry example, you could say a triangle has 3 sides, but if it was unclear what a side was, then what a triangle is could vary in any number of ways.

  • Steve Bowen

    Whoah! I love this site, especially when the comments get me out of my intellectual depth, which they are on this one so I’ll go away a lurk a little more after this. But as an aside so much of this thread seems to hang on semantics. e.g

    One could say “Murder is wrong” as axiomatic because by definition, murder is an unjustified taking of life.

    But “Murder” is in itself a morally loaded word and pre-supposes the act of killing without “justification” (which also morally ambiguous). You could almost say that truly axiomatic is “thou shalt not kill” or ,as Lenny Bruce said “Thou shalt not kill means that, not ‘amend section A’”
    So, why do most of us take as a-priori the assumption that to kill is quintessentially a wrong thing to do, so much so that we need extreme provocation or circumstances to “justify” the act? Most of us here would agree it’s not just because God gave us the tablets on prescription, so is it innate i.e evolved? if so how far back can the behaviour be traced? and if is found in a rat, say, is that still a moral response or an adaptive behavior.

  • prase

    Christopher,

    That’s not quite accurate for my brand of Nihilism (but you’re close): rather, I deny the very existence of a “moral” axiom as they are mere tautologies (ex. “murder” is “wrong” because it’s “wrong” by definition, “virtue” is “good” because it is it’s desirable to be “virtuous,” etc…) – instead holding all values as being matters of opinion: some being more popular in a given society than others, thus becoming part of the official “morality” of the culture.

    But axioms and definitions are not so easily distinguishable. Using bbk’s example, “triangle has three sides” can be regarded as an axiom as well as a definition of triangle. I even think there is not much need to make the distinction between these two. Anyway, even if I tend to agree that values are a matter of opinion, that does not mean that when one sets up some axiomatic system (however opinion-based) its axioms are tautologies or even non-existent.

  • http://deconbible.blogspot.com bbk

    But “Murder” is in itself a morally loaded word and pre-supposes the act of killing without “justification” (which also morally ambiguous). You could almost say that truly axiomatic is “thou shalt not kill” or ,as Lenny Bruce said “Thou shalt not kill means that, not ‘amend section A’”
    So, why do most of us take as a-priori the assumption that to kill is quintessentially a wrong thing to do, so much so that we need extreme provocation or circumstances to “justify” the act? Most of us here would agree it’s not just because God gave us the tablets on prescription, so is it innate i.e evolved? if so how far back can the behaviour be traced? and if is found in a rat, say, is that still a moral response or an adaptive behavior.

    Because if we take “loss of good is bad” to be axiomatic, then apply Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage to social interaction, we can conclude that if killing others is not necessary for some greater good, then overall it causes a loss of good. If it causes a loss of good, then we can conclude that it is not justifiable. And if we can say that some killing is not justifiable, then we can call it murder.

  • prase

    bbk,

    A mathematical axiom is one such as “A triangle has 3 sides.” There is no more proof of that than there are of moral axioms. By definition, an axiom is so simple as to be self evident and does not require additional proof.

    Agreed.

    But consider this. A triangle has only 3 sides, but what is the sum of the angles between the sides? It’s not always 180 degrees. This depends on your type of geometry. So even in mathematics, “truths” change even if some of the axioms remain the same. Likewise, if a moral “truth” seems to change depending on its context, that does not mean that the truth is unfalsifiable, it just means that the observer isn’t thinking clearly enough to see the difference between varying contexts to recognize that the underlying axioms actually still hold true.

    The analogy probably needs more precise formulation. In mathematics one can build on different axiomatic systems and derive different conclusions, as in your Euclidean vs. curved space geometry example. Despite of that, mathematicians don’t lead bloody disputes about these things. It’s because everybody at least intuitively understands that the statement “a triangle has three sides” means in fact “under assumptions of Euclidean geometry a triangle has three sides”. This is where the analogy beween mathematics and morality breaks down. You can of course say “under assumption of utilitarian morality murder is wrong” and that’s a perfectly decidable statement, but this is not what most people find satisfactory when discussing morality, since it does not give clue what moral axioms are those that should be followed. Of course at one point one has to say the word “self-evident”, but this can settle the problem only for you and those who agree with you, and the historical experiences tell us that there is always a non-negligible group of those who don’t. Needless to say that group will tend to be the greater the more elaborate and precise your moral axiomatic set is.

    One more remark – mathematics is not testable in conventional sense of the word. Physics is testable since it describes the reality, and you test it by doing experiments. Mathematics speaks about abstract ideas. For a mathematical theory to be true it is enough if it’s internally consistent. A physical theory is considered true if it’s consistent both internally and with the external reality, where the latter is what’s tested. If you take moral theories only as an analogy of mathematical constructions, their statements are not testable (although they can be decidable).

  • http://deconbible.blogspot.com bbk

    prase,

    But the thing about Euclidean geometry is that it is not just perfectly consistent, but useful. You wouldn’t always use it to land a space shuttle but you would definitely use it to square the frame of a house you’re building. Neither one of the mathematics contradict the other – when someone lands their space shuttle, my house doesn’t become crooked. Likewise, a moral system can have perfectly legitimate applications without infringing with other systems. It’s not that neither one of them is true – but both are true, and very useful in the proper context. They’re not simply opinion based.

    When you mention bloody disagreements about morality, don’t remove the fact that like religion, most other moral systems that people live by are not internally consistent by a long shot. Most people aren’t capable of brewing good beer, either, but we don’t dismiss the concept out of spite for what our neighbor has concocted in their basement.

  • prase

    bbk,

    I thing we can agree that what makes mathematics successful is the combination of consistency and usefulness, rather than the fact it’s true (since every statement in mathematics is only conditionally true, i.e. true if the axioms are true). I also agree it’s perfectly rational to treat morality in similar manner, and to ask whether it’s consistent and useful. However there are still some minor differences between math and morality I’d like to point out.

    1. In applications of mathematics, one usually maps the mathematical concepts to the described objects (and then asks whether this mapping can describe the objects well). For example a state of a quantum system is described by a Hilbert space vector, the effect measurement of some observable corresponds to application of certain projection to this vector and so on. We can speak about states and measurements, or we can equivalently speak about vectors and projections. From this point of view, the mathematics is nothing more than an extremely effective language used for description of real world objects, and each relevant mathematical statement can be in principle translated into terms of physics (if we speak about application in physics). The moral theory, on the other hand, can also have its abstract concepts mapped on objects/situations in some real human society, however the central point of any moral theory are the terms like good/desirable or bad/evil, which do not have their real world conterparts. If one says “stealing is evil” it’s a valid statement inside the moral theory, but if we want to apply it we have to translate this into language which lies outside the theory, and it translates as a command (“do not steal!”) rather than a statement. In this aspect the relations mathematics vs. physics and morality vs. politics/law are different and this is also why normative and positive/descriptive statements are distinguished.

    2. Second, maybe related remark is: if we ask whether a moral theory is useful, we must also ask useful for whom? The mathematics is pretty uncontroversial here since it usually isn’t (contrary to some moral systems) used as a tool for exploitation of people. Somehow I recalled Seneca’s quote “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.” The use of different sets of axioms in mathematics doesn’t create a real-world conflict because the interests of their users don’t clash. I just think morality is different in this respect.

    3. Regarding what is self-evident (this adresses rather your previous comment than the last one): There are different levels of self-evidence. That grass is green is self-evident in such extent that everyone accepts it. That killing is bad is not so much self-evident. Even in mathematics the axioms are not easily given by self-evidence criteria. Just think about the axiom of choice in the set theory. It states that if you have any system of non-empty sets, then there exists a way how to pick up one element from each single set. It seems self-evident, but it leads to conclusions like the Banach-Tarski paradox, which is almost self-evidently false. But the logic is merciless, either you accept you can dissect a sphere and reassemble it to get two spheres of the same size without stretching, or you have to reject the axiom of choice (unfortunately that leads to some other not very pleasant paradoxes). If a lesson can be learnt from that, it’s that one has to be careful with the use of the phrase “self-evident” and one shouldn’t overestimate it’s usefulness.

    P.S. appologies for the rather late answer, but it was deep night here.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    There have been many good comments – let me try to respond to a few of them.

    Mark C:

    Just so I understand, and know that you understand, what you just said there, do you consider “one should believe true things and attempt to disbelieve false things” to be a normative statement?

    Yes, of course. There’s no way to derive “ought” from “is”. Even if proposition X is true, it does not follow that we should believe X, unless we begin with the premise that one should believe true things. It’s so basic a prescriptive statement that most people overlook it, but it is a prescriptive statement nonetheless.

    Lynet:

    It’s nevertheless possible to step more carefully into a better statement of a nihilistic position which is not contradictory. Something like “There are no absolute moral truths. I prefer — personally, and not in reaction to any outside moral imperative — to believe things which are true. Therefore I believe there are no absolute moral truths.

    To be honest, this position looks to me like disclaiming the existence of prescriptive statements and then trying to sneak one in through the back door. Why do you prefer to believe true things? If there are no moral truths, there’s no answer you can give to that question. A moral objectivist could say that he prefers to believe true statements because they give him a better chance of a happy and successful life; because knowing the truth is an objectively valuable thing in and of itself; or because he values knowing the way the world really is. None of these are answers available to the consistent nihilist, who has no notion of value. Claiming that the nihilist can arrive at the same position as the objectivist just by happenstance, by arbitrary whim, looks like a philosophically fishy move to me.

    Skepticism — in the strongest sense of skepticism about all knowledge and/or all moral knowledge — has a long history, from ancient Greece through the Renaissance to postmodernists and others.

    I didn’t say there haven’t been other nihilists in history. But I believe that in a culture as religious as ours (well, as mine, anyway), the religious equation of atheism with nihilism is pervasive and is probably one of the primary motivating forces on people who do in fact accept that position. See my earlier comment to Brayton C for an example.

    Don’t be so hard on nihilism; it’s doubt, Ebonmuse…

    Doubt in moderation is a virtue, but I maintain that pure doubt and pure skepticism is necessarily a self-contradictory position.

    D:

    “There are no moral truths” is a statement about the set of moral propositions, but is not itself in that set, and is thus a metaethical proposition; “this moral truth is false” is the statement of the negation of a moral proposition and so, strictly speaking, is not itself a moral proposition.

    I disagree. “There are no moral truths” is a metaethical proposition, but it is also an ethical proposition. This is the case because any such statement inevitably implies a conclusion about what kinds of acts you are permitted to do. Is it acceptable to murder this person if they anger me? If there are no moral truths, then necessarily, there is no reason why I should not. There might be practical reasons why it would be infeasible, but no moral reason for why the act itself is wrong.

    In light of the reading I’ve done just now, I can certainly understand how rejection of religion could lead to moral nihilism, but since there are several ways to arrive at this position, I see no a priori reason to think that all (or even most) moral nihilists arrive at the position via rejection of religion.

    See my comment to Lynet above.

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    To be honest, this position looks to me like disclaiming the existence of prescriptive statements and then trying to sneak one in through the back door. Why do you prefer to believe true things? If there are no moral truths, there’s no answer you can give to that question. A moral objectivist could say that he prefers to believe true statements because they give him a better chance of a happy and successful life; because knowing the truth is an objectively valuable thing in and of itself; or because he values knowing the way the world really is. None of these are answers available to the consistent nihilist, who has no notion of value.

    Oh, lovely, lovely, lovely. I was tempted to go that way in my comment but didn’t want to blur the stuff I’d already said. Because this is the crux of the matter, isn’t it? If you want to argue against nihilism (and I guess arguing against nihilism is a side issue to this post in some ways, but –), then this, it seems to me, is the centre. Not some argument that we can define morality into existence like triangles (Why not define squares, instead? Why that morality?), and not some dismissive speculation as to the root cause of nihilistic positions, but this, this notion of value, of motivation, of worth.

    One could, of course, argue that values and suchlike are entirely subjective. Certainly such ideas vary between people and only exist insofar as people believe in them. Nonetheless common purposes are important precisely because they allow us to avoid “Prisoner’s Dilemma” pitfalls and the like — and human beings have enough in common that there is, I think, a limit to the extent to which the subjectivity can stretch. So bring on the desire for a better world!

    (Depending on your definitions, this view of morality may not be truly objective, but it’s an approximation thereof. It’s certainly not entirely subjective, at any rate.)

  • prase

    A moral objectivist could say that he prefers to believe true statements because they give him a better chance of a happy and successful life; because knowing the truth is an objectively valuable thing in and of itself; or because he values knowing the way the world really is.

    Ebonmuse, do you really choose what you believe? Speaking about myself, I don’t have any conscious control over my beliefs. Even if I wanted to, I can’t tell myself something like “OK, let’s believe there is a God” (or “let’s believe that Bucharest is the capital of China” or anything). I don’t prefer to believe true statements. Instead, for the statements which I believe I use the word “true” as their description.

  • Christopher

    BBK,

    “I think Christopher hit it on the nail. Nihilism claims that even a tautology is false when it comes to morality. It simply does not allow for truth, even if it were self evident.”

    The first example you provided (triangles have three sides) is a self-evident claim – anyone can look at an object to determine whether it has three sides, and thus whether it fits the bill to be a triangle. “Moral” issues, on the other hand, don’t have that same level of self-evidence – ten people can look at an event and reach ten completely different conclusions about the “morality” of the event depending on what their existing predispositions are.

    Quite simply, there is reason to believe there are physical or even mathematical axioms, but a “moral” axiom is a delusion – as “morals” are based on one’s a priori assumptions about value. As Nietzche once said: “there are no ‘moral’ events, only ‘moral’ interpretations of events.”

  • Christopher

    BBK,

    “One could say “Murder is wrong” as axiomatic because by definition, murder is an unjustified taking of life.”

    And pray tell, what exactly constitutes a “murder?” Who decides what a human life is and when it can be justfiably terminated – the pro-lifer argues that abortion is “murder” is human life begins at conception; anti-death penalty advocates claim that execution is “murder” as the government has no “moral” right to take human life; anti-war activists see war itself as mass “murder;” the cannibal tribes of various remote regions don’t see killing people to eat them as “murder;” etc…; who’s standard of “murder” are you using when you throw that word around?

  • http://wilybadger.wordpress.com Chris Swanson

    I agree completely with this little essay. Everytime I encounter someone who claims to be a Satanist, my reaction is to say, “Oh, that’s so CUTE!” and pat them on the head.

  • Christopher

    Chris Swanson

    “I agree completely with this little essay. Everytime I encounter someone who claims to be a Satanist, my reaction is to say, “Oh, that’s so CUTE!” and pat them on the head.”

    I take it you don’t know any on a personal level – I must say that I find their lifestyles most admirable: they take shit from nobody, they don’t get hung up on little things like rules and they really know how to party. This is perhaps the one religion I can honestly say that I like (if only they didn’t have the silly rituals, I would have joined myself).

  • http://deconbible.blogspot.com bbk

    “Moral” issues, on the other hand, don’t have that same level of self-evidence – ten people can look at an event and reach ten completely different conclusions about the “morality” of the event depending on what their existing predispositions are.

    Can 10 people with a consistent outlook reach different conclusions? If we wanted to measure an object’s weight with 10 different scales and the scales were not calibrated, it doesn’t matter if it’s in kilograms or pounds – the results will be screwed up. I think this is a major problem with morality. Nihilism doesn’t offer a way to solve that problem – it does not try to say that there should be a level of consistency in a moral theory – it just says throw the theory out the window entirely and pick a random answer, they’re all just as good.

    Secondly, are these people capable of rational thought? Consider how a modern court of law works. The job of the judge is to explain to the jury what the law is. In theory, this means that the jury will have a common perspective of the law. The lawyers then explain both sides of the argument in a consistent manner, so that all jurors get to hear the same exact set of facts. Is this system perfect? No. But look at how hard it attempts to get everyone on the same page – there is an effort to make sure that we have a common understanding of the law and a common understanding of the facts. How would a court of law look like if we did not have such a system? Some chieftain would pound his staff into the ground and arbitrarily condemn people to death depending on which way the wind blew. This is the current state of morality. We have a bunch of chieftains dictating what they believe it is and no rational process whatsoever to arrive at a reasonable set of outcomes. Because I see this too, I sympathies with nihilists on some level.

    The question that I have to nihilists is, in what dispute over morality has there ever been an effort to force both sides to agree on both the system of morality that is in play and the facts of the matter at hand? When we do mathematics, it is only possible because we agree on a certain convention and a certain set of rules. We use Greek letters that have entirely different meanings between statistics and physics, yet there are physicists who can compute statistics just fine. Would a Nihilist say that an Epsilon has no provable meaning, that it is completely arbitrary, and therefore we must abandon all these systems? Nihilists are setting up an impossible standard for morality just because they view it as exceptional – somehow different from any other area of human thought. I don’t think that morality is exceptional in this way and it should be approached with science and reason just like any other subject. The fact that the majority of the world doesn’t do that has no effect on my opinion of tihs.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    And pray tell, what exactly constitutes a “murder?”

    Just as I said in my post, Christopher’s argument here bears the stamp of his former religious beliefs. Like theists, he still treats morality as a matter of arbitrary proclamation, but since he no longer believes in an omnipotent god who always has the last word, he gives up and concludes that morality itself must be arbitrary.

    The existence of disagreement over what constitutes morality is a serious problem, but it hardly proves that morality itself cannot be objective. People also disagree over the theory of evolution, for example, but that doesn’t prove that whether evolution occurred is just a matter of opinion. The existence of disagreement does not imply that there is no truth of the matter. That is an elementary logical fallacy.

  • Christopher

    Ebonmuse,

    “Just as I said in my post, Christopher’s argument here bears the stamp of his former religious beliefs. Like theists, he still treats morality as a matter of arbitrary proclamation, but since he no longer believes in an omnipotent god who always has the last word, he gives up and concludes that morality itself must be arbitrary.

    Did you even read my first post? The existence or nonexistence of such a thing as “god” has no bearing on whether “morality” is objective or not: as any “morality” that this hypothetical “god” creates would be created to serve its own purposes, just as human societies create “morality” to suit theirs. It was the question of intrinsic value – not he existence/nonexistence of of a divinity – that led me away from belief in “morality” to the path of Nihilism.

    And on that note, I couldn’t be happier for it.

    “The existence of disagreement over what constitutes morality is a serious problem, but it hardly proves that morality itself cannot be objective.”

    It is when you ask “why do we use these ‘moral’ codes instead of those over there?” When all is said and done, it’s because some body within society said “that’s the one we’re using” and left it at that.

    “People also disagree over the theory of evolution, for example, but that doesn’t prove that whether evolution occurred is just a matter of opinion.”

    We can show physical evidence to corraberate scientific theories, but “morality” is just an idea – one we came up with and seldom ever questioned throughout our develpment. Their is no evidence that it exists as anything other than a concept, thus comparing it to a scientific theory is like comparing an apple to an orange.

    In light of the fact that “morality” is just an idea without any substance behind it, I reject it.

  • Christopher

    BBK,

    “Nihilists are setting up an impossible standard for morality just because they view it as exceptional – somehow different from any other area of human thought.”

    Once again, you gravely underestimate us: “morality” isn’t somehow unique in being a mere social construct – law, economics, religion, the concept of “family,” etc… are all equally artificial constructs, just as “morality” is. We conjured these ideas into existence to serve our needs and purposes – and some of them (in my opinion: law, religion, and “morality” due to the fact that they insist on nonexistent absolutes) have outlived their usefulness to. When a concept is no longer able to fulfill the purpose for which it was created, it’s time for it to die.

    When all is said and done, all concepts will die with their possessers – so why waste time and effort keeping those concepts that don’t serve you around if there’s nothing to substatiate that it exists as anything but a concept? “Morality” is one of those concepts that doesn’t serve me, nor is there anything to substantiate its existence outside the mind – so I happily throw it on the pyre…

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Did you even read my first post? …It was the question of intrinsic value – not he existence/nonexistence of of a divinity – that led me away from belief in “morality” to the path of Nihilism.

    Yes, I did read it. However, by your own standard, you’ll lie whenever it serves your interests to do so, or simply whenever it pleases you, so I see little reason to believe anything you say. I consider my account to be a far more persuasive and likely explanation of your position than the one you gave.

  • Mrnaglfar

    bbk,

    I think this is a major problem with morality. Nihilism doesn’t offer a way to solve that problem – it does not try to say that there should be a level of consistency in a moral theory – it just says throw the theory out the window entirely and pick a random answer, they’re all just as good.

    And your solution is… what?

    Secondly, are these people capable of rational thought? Consider how a modern court of law works. The job of the judge is to explain to the jury what the law is. In theory, this means that the jury will have a common perspective of the law. The lawyers then explain both sides of the argument in a consistent manner, so that all jurors get to hear the same exact set of facts. Is this system perfect? No. But look at how hard it attempts to get everyone on the same page – there is an effort to make sure that we have a common understanding of the law and a common understanding of the facts.

    Rational thought here again seeming to mean the conclusion you have come to. If different juries, lawyers, judges, and facts all end in different verdicts, from innocent to guilty to probation, to a fine, to several years in jail, to life in jail, to the death penalty, it seems that morality is something different than a simple matter of calibrating people’s scales.
    And if everyone’s scales aren’t measuring the same thing, then it seems a reasonable question to ask why? Is it because people’s understanding of morality could be perfect, but is broken, or that the standard itself doesn’t exist in anything outside of a subjective form?

    Would a Nihilist say that an Epsilon has no provable meaning, that it is completely arbitrary, and therefore we must abandon all these systems?

    It has different values, depending on the situation it’s used it; it’s subjective. In the language it was a letter, in other systems it’s a variable. There’s no fixed meaning to it, just meaning ascribed in different situations. It doesn’t bother people because the meaning of that particular symbol has little importance in their day to day lives, and any other symbol could just as easily hold it’s place. In the case of morals, this isn’t so; people can base their lives around what they feel is correct, and in doing so, have a strong incentive to push that morality onto others.

  • Christopher

    Ebonmuse,

    “Yes, I did read it. However, by your own standard, you’ll lie whenever it serves your interests to do so, or simply whenever it pleases you, so I see little reason to believe anything you say.”

    And in here it profits me little to lie – this is one of the few place I can speak freely and remain anonymous, thus there’s no need to hold back.

    “I consider my account to be a far more persuasive and likely explanation of your position than the one you gave.”

    Or perhaps your account is simply the one you desire to be “true” and won’t consider another view because of that? Perhaps it’s time you re-examined your own biases and predjudices – and don’t say that you have none because you are a self-admited absolutist (and bias goes with that territory).

    Until then, I bid you adue.

  • http://deconbible.blogspot.com bbk

    prase, I think we can agree on a lot of the underlying difficulties with moral systems. And analogies always have some inherent limitations in how far they can be stretched before some inconsistencies are found.

    I’ve never studied set theory long enough to use things such as the axiom of choice except maybe implicitly in some problem, I think. Which probably means the one or two logic courses I took on it don’t amount to much. But the one thing that kind of throws me off is the relationship between Euclidean geometry, which is only supposed to be valid for 1st order logic to the best of my knowledge, and set theory. I’m not sure if there shouldn’t be some paradox in that case and I’m not sure why this would really matter to the general practice of geometry. But I am far from a good mathematician and someone’s probably rolling in their grave right now. And all this is just an aside.

    To put some perspective back into the point which I was trying to make, it was that there do exist basic fundamental statements that can be taken axiomatically and that this is in and of itself enough to conclude that a moral truth does exist. I think maybe at this point we have a difference in approach. I am perfectly at ease in saying that much moral relativism is inevitable. But I approach this as an outcome that should be demonstrated using solid proof built upon known axioms. Additionally, while some moral issues are difficult to define, others may not be so difficult. So let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

    As for the axiom of choice, even though there seem to be some arguments against it, most mathematicians apparently accept it and use it in their proofs if they need to. So in this sense as well, we have a parallel between mathematic theory and moral theory. Some things we just accept, well, just because. It works, it makes sense, and we got tired of trying to prove it somewhere along the way. For all practical purposes, it does a good enough job of approximating what we observe in reality.

    We have had a similar situation in Physics. For years we have had Newtonian mechanics, then we added Maxwellian electrodynamics, but only later did quantum mechanics tie the two realms together. Nowhere along the way did somebody go “wait a minute this just doesn’t make sense. Why does the apple fall from the tree? No, gravity can’t possibly exist.” Sorry for poking fun at it, but that’s what Nihilism sounds like to me. It’s still self defeating. The only possible outcome that I can see from Nihilism is that even if it is true, by definition it changes nothing and so I should ignore it just as if it did not exist. Which is the real reason why I just can’t figure out why people become so fascinated by it in the first place.

  • http://deconbible.blogspot.com bbk

    one or two logic courses I took on it

    It being discrete math, not the axiom of choice. Sorry it’s really late at night here.

  • True_believer

    bbk
    “The difference is that atheism does not claim that gods are impossible.”

    That’s an oxymoron. Term “atheism” means “no god(s), deities, anything comparable” … at all. Basically, atheism means that everything runs randomly, nothing behind it, you die, and you’re gone forever. It’s term invented for only that purpose, no need to redefine. Atheism is therefore very close (and in my oppinion unavoidably leads) to belief in complete and no more than nothingness that is nihilism.

    I also think that great idea of Wikipedia turned into shit same way your great idea of “atheism” did. If you believe there is “something else” or even possibility of it, you involuntarily stop being an atheist, and what you are depends on what that “something else” is. In my opinion, it does not matter what people call them self, or which part(s) of your education they use to justify their erroneous self-declaration. It’s quite fundamental: “You can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?”

    You are declaring to world that you are an atheist, so, is there any gods? Keep in mind my absence of mentioning of any deity definitions, religious organisations or concepts, because it’s irrelevant, and please no full-pseudo-philosophical half-bullshit, just positive or negative answer. You can then keep it to your self; I don’t need to know, but I sincerely hope it will benefit you.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Tb,
    Thank you for defining to us what we are without actually asking us. We really appreciate it when people tell us what we are and what we necessarily must believe or disbelieve. Sheesh. Too bad your definition is all straw man. Atheism does not mean that gods are impossible. Atheists say that the theist has not met their burden of proof, so therefore there is no reason to believe in god(s). Nor does atheism say that everything runs randomly. This is just more straw. And, I fail to see why you believe that this must inexorably run to nihilism.

  • True_believer

    OMFG

    “Thank you for defining to us what we are without actually asking us.”

    What’s there to ask? Let me put it this way: you can claim to be “insert whatever” and in your view “insert whatever” might be flying kind of pink rhinos. You must understand that many of us might not agree with your perceptions, as they are confusing. I think that you guys are trying to unnecessary “redefine” atheism into something that it’s not. I just don’t see any purpose in it. Why simply not invent new name for whatever you want it to be? Or find existing more appropriate term?

    “And, I fail to see why you believe that this must inexorably run to nihilism.”

    It just does. It’s hard to explain and it’s obvious. How to explain that if you jump of a toll building, you are going to look a lot like a pizza without going into physics, anatomy and cooking? :)
    To add to analogy, it actually doesn’t matter if atheism is what you claim it to be or what I think it is, you still land as pizza/nihilism.
    Nietzsche came to concept of nihilism with starting from statement “God is dead” or something like that (also an oxymoron, or paradox, whatever suits you), having actually Trinitarian concept of god Jesus that died in mind, and it was a critic of that kind of religion, or absence of it. It’s not his invention, but he sort of defined it …

    Sorry, I can’t explain any better. Maybe someone else will put an effort to clarify it, or you could just do some proper research, maybe even read some of his books, e.g. “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”, it’s a free e-book somewhere, probably worth the time. It’s essential if you want to understand why it would be so dangerous if it would prevail.

    And maybe you are just failing because you don’t want to accept atheism for what it is, so you miss that obvious connection with nihilism.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    tb,

    What’s there to ask?

    Whether your definition is in accord with reality.

    I think that you guys are trying to unnecessary “redefine” atheism into something that it’s not.

    No, we aren’t. You are trying to impose your biased and narrow definition on us. There’s no need to find a new term when the existing one works well enough; it is only you who are insisting that it doesn’t.

    It just does.

    Really? That’s great reasoning. Considering it’s built on straw, I’m going to need a bit more from you.

    And maybe you are just failing because you don’t want to accept atheism for what it is, so you miss that obvious connection with nihilism.

    Likewise, maybe you are asserting that atheism must lead to nihilism because of your faulty notions that without god morality does not and can not exist. This, of course, ignores our evolutionary history and reason and rationality. Maybe if YOU do some proper research, you’ll figure it out and won’t simply rely on “It just does.”

  • http://nesoo.wordpress.com/ Nes

    True_believer:

    Term “atheism” means “no god(s), deities, anything comparable” … at all.

    The dictionary definition I have for atheist says: “a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings.” (Emphasis added.) I don’t see how this meshes with your claim that it means no deities, period. I do not believe that there are any deities (i.e., “disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings”). This does not mean that there flat out can’t be such beings, I just don’t think there are. I feel that the evidence to support such is too flimsy.

    If you believe there is “something else” or even possibility of it, you involuntarily stop being an atheist, and what you are depends on what that “something else” is.

    I don’t believe that bigfoots (bigfeet?) exist either, though I’m willing to grant the possibility that some sort of strange primate creatures exist that we just haven’t found good evidence for yet. As with deities, I believe that the evidence that we do have for them is too flimsy. Does that mean I’m not really a “bigfoot atheist”, despite not believing that they exist?

    You are declaring to world that you are an atheist, so, is there any gods?

    No, though I am willing to be shown otherwise. Same with bigfoots, Loch Ness monsters, extraterrestrials (visiting Earth), reiki, auras, ghosts, souls, Atlantis, qi/chi, homeopathy, mediums, crystal balls, and any other variety of poorly supported claims. In each of those cases, including deities, I’m willing to grant the possibility — if you can bring some good evidence — but I live as if none of them were true.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    True_believer:

    You must understand that many of us might not agree with your perceptions, as they are confusing.

    I don’t doubt that it is confusing for you to meet actual atheists and discover that we do not fit the prejudices and stereotypes you’ve been taught in church. If you want to move beyond those mistaken conceptions and learn what real atheists think, you’re welcome to stick around.

    I think that you guys are trying to unnecessary “redefine” atheism into something that it’s not. I just don’t see any purpose in it. Why simply not invent new name for whatever you want it to be? Or find existing more appropriate term?

    There is no need to come up with a new term when the existing one is perfectly appropriate. “Atheist” means “without gods”. That’s all it means, and that accurately describes us. There is no requirement for those who lack belief in gods to also be nihilists, and in fact, as I’ve explained, most atheists are not nihilists.

    To add to analogy, it actually doesn’t matter if atheism is what you claim it to be or what I think it is, you still land as pizza/nihilism.

    TB, you probably don’t realize how silly this makes you sound, so let me try an analogy. How would you react if an atheist said to you: “You can’t be a real Christian! You’re not racist or anti-Semitic, and you don’t hate people who belong to different religions!”

    How would you feel to hear that? No doubt, you’d be greatly insulted by the condescension of someone who tries to define your beliefs for you in a highly negative and prejudiced way, and then acts offended when you refuse to conform to that stereotype, as if you were the one in the wrong and not them. That’s the same way we feel when you act as if you’re the authority on atheism, as if you know better than we do what we’re supposed to believe. If you wouldn’t appreciate that talk coming from an atheist, then you can understand why we don’t appreciate it coming from you.

  • True_believer

    OMFG:
    “Really? That’s great reasoning. Considering it’s built on straw, I’m going to need a bit more from you.”
    Here is some more: Pizza Quattro Formaggi, very, very cheesy, yummm.

    Nes:
    “I do not believe that there are any deities (i.e., “disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings”). This does not mean that there flat out can’t be such beings, I just don’t think there are.”

    So basically, you don’t believe they could exist, but they might exist is your view as well. In other words, it’s yes and no. Interesting view, very comfy, you are both right and wrong at the same time. Not fully formed opinion, kind of waste of time, and you probably didn’t spend much or enough time on that anyway, just went with the flow. I would suggest that maybe you should make up your mind, spend as much as you need to decide because it’s the single most important decision in your life. Your religiousness or lack of it should be personal thing, what other people think about religion does not count, or does it? Also, which part of what you cited from me wasn’t exactly the same as what your dictionary citation said? Any healthy brain would agree that IF YOU DISBELIEVE (which my limited English would translate same as “do not believe in”) GOD means that GOD DOES NOT EXIST FOR YOU. PERIOD. The rest of your reply is just rubbish.

    Ebonmuse:
    “I don’t doubt that it is confusing for you to meet actual atheists and discover that we do not fit the prejudices and stereotypes you’ve been taught in church.”

    I’ve met and meet many atheists, many are part of my family, some can really make me question my religious views, which is healthy activity, but I don’t see any here. This here starts to look like a kindergarten, and only reason I replied is because I’m sick of more and more of stupid “atheist” bloggs popups on my StumbleUpon although I’m not subscribed to topic “Junk”. Ergo, something I will do to try and change it. By the way, I’ve never been to church for religious purposes, and I would imagine that they do not tutor about atheism there, or even slightly care about it. Just do the math, your number is like a wart on their arse. You can’t even imagine how microscopic that is to all religions put together. How’s that going to fit into YOUR distorted and stereotyped world view? Everyone is brainless, only you guys are oh so advanced.

    Ebonmuse:
    “”Atheist” means “without gods”.”
    Eureka! That is so completely new to me! And I said so different … what exactly, Einstein?
    Ebonmuse:
    “There is no requirement for those who lack belief in gods to also be nihilists, and in fact, as I’ve explained, most atheists are not nihilists.”

    Ok, so we’ve established that most of you got no clue what that is.

    “TB, you probably don’t realize how silly this makes you sound, so let me try an analogy. How would you react if an atheist said to you: “You can’t be a real Christian! You’re not racist or anti-Semitic, and you don’t hate people who belong to different religions!””

    Since I’m silly enough, I’ll reuse your analogy:
    What would you say as an atheist to a “Christian” that never heard of book called Bible exists or that Jesus existed and believes that there is no God, and be honest:
    A) “If you claim that you are “Christian”, and you got your little shiny cross around your fat red neck, then that is sufficient for whole wide world to recognise you as Christian, whatever you think that might be.”
    B) “You can’t be serious!? You really are just a stupid redneck showing off your jewellery, and you are wrong.”
    HINT: If I would want to be “nice”, all goody, kiss-kiss, but very dishonest and damaging, I would go straight for A), and B) would be if I would want to be “nasty”, but informative and helpful in a way. Does that make sense now? :P

    I’m not authority on anything, I’m not trendy, guru, priest of any kind, atheisitc, tactful, … I’m not many other things, I’m realy sorry, but I’m just a guy on the Internetz. What I am should be irrelevant to you, but judging by your response, you all went to defence mode. You guys just don’t want to face that you are wrong, that atheism is not a religion substitute, or movement, and it’s not an opposite or counter-weight, or product of technology and science, or trend, or way to be friendlier to other people. It’s just a state of mind, like schizophrenia. It’s not something you decide to be for today. It’s like this: you either know deep down inside that there is God out there or you think there is none, it can not be both. Even if some of you really are atheists, there is nothing to show off with, e.g. by putting a wrong tag for StumbleUpon. Atheism is not a religion, it more of a not-religion.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    TB,
    I see you’ve decided not to defend your position. Can I take it then that you will retract your statements?

    So basically, you don’t believe they could exist, but they might exist is your view as well.

    Where did Nes say that deities could not exist? Stop reading into our arguments what you want to hear.

    I would suggest that maybe you should make up your mind, spend as much as you need to decide because it’s the single most important decision in your life.

    Is it really the single most important decision? Certainly, most believers don’t even grant it that gravity, so why should any of us?

    The rest of your reply is just rubbish.

    Oh the irony.

    I’ve met and meet many atheists, many are part of my family, some can really make me question my religious views, which is healthy activity, but I don’t see any here.

    We are mostly atheists here, so I have no idea what you are saying here.

    This here starts to look like a kindergarten, and only reason I replied is because I’m sick of more and more of stupid “atheist” bloggs popups on my StumbleUpon although I’m not subscribed to topic “Junk”.

    How funny that you would call us kindergarteners then add on an insult. In what way is it like kindergarten here? Are our arguments bad? How so?

    Everyone is brainless, only you guys are oh so advanced.

    Where was this said?

    Eureka! That is so completely new to me! And I said so different … what exactly, Einstein?

    What you said that was different was not allowing for any possibility of gods, or do you not even remember what you yourself said? If you can’t see the difference there, then I suggest you check your pre-conceived notions at the door and read for comprehension.

    Ok, so we’ve established that most of you got no clue what that is.

    Do you have an actual counter-argument to Ebon or will you simply continue to make assertions based on strawman arguments?

    Since I’m silly enough, I’ll reuse your analogy:

    Nice non-sequitor. Do you really not have an answer to Ebon’s analogy?

    What I am should be irrelevant to you, but judging by your response, you all went to defence mode.

    Not defense mode, just correct the ignorance mode. Again, look at Ebon’s analogy. You came in here making accusations about all of us and we corrected you, yet you still refuse to listen to what we are saying and claim that you know us better than we do.

    You guys just don’t want to face that you are wrong, that atheism is not a religion substitute, or movement, and it’s not an opposite or counter-weight, or product of technology and science, or trend, or way to be friendlier to other people.

    What is it we are wrong about? No one has said it’s a religion substitute – it’s actually a non-religion. No one has claimed it’s a movement. The only way one could say it’s a product of technology and science is because some people lose their faith once the gaps that god hides in are closed. It is not a trend either, and no one claimed it is. It may be a way to be friendlier to others if I’m not going to kill people in other countries for worshipping the wrong god. Anyway, where in the heck did you get any of this?

    It’s like this: you either know deep down inside that there is God out there or you think there is none, it can not be both.

    Who is claiming both? No one.

    Even if some of you really are atheists, there is nothing to show off with, e.g. by putting a wrong tag for StumbleUpon. Atheism is not a religion, it more of a not-religion.

    Except for the theistic commenters here, we are all atheists. And, atheism is not a religion! Thank you. I make that point all the time to other theists who insist that it is a religion. Perhaps you should be ranting at them.

  • Polly

    I’ve met and meet many atheists, many are part of my family, some can really make me question my religious views, which is healthy activity, but I don’t see any here.

    Just curious, do you frequently hear phrases from those atheists like,

    “That’s not what I’m saying”
    “You’re putting words in my mouth”
    “No, for the last time, that’s not it at all!”
    “You’re missing the point”
    “I didn’t SAY I believed that”
    “Are you even listening to me?!”
    “Have you heard a word I’ve said?”
    “Why do you keep saying that? I already told you that’s not true.”

  • Mrnaglfar

    TB,

    So basically, you don’t believe they could exist, but they might exist is your view as well. In other words, it’s yes and no. Interesting view, very comfy, you are both right and wrong at the same time. Not fully formed opinion, kind of waste of time, and you probably didn’t spend much or enough time on that anyway, just went with the flow.

    No, here’s the simple version:

    A) Anything MAY exist, in some unprovable, unobservable form somewhere, that we cannot have any conception of.
    B) However, that list of what may exist is infinitely long, as anything imagined from fantasy novel beasts to imaginary friends in included.
    C) The premise is that, in order to prove your particular god exists, you need to provide evidence.
    D) You seem to have rejected every other god/religion, current or former, that is not your current one, while accepting your current idea of a deity as the truth; atheists simply reject one more god than you do. Upon what grounds do you have for rejecting every other one and embracing one, and upon what evidence do you intend to present in order to convince others of your ‘truth’?

    I would suggest that maybe you should make up your mind, spend as much as you need to decide because it’s the single most important decision in your life.

    I feel I’ve made far more important decisions in my life than spending endless horus pouring over every god/spirit claim that has ever been made, though I’m sure you’ve vigerously researched every other religion in the world, and each sect within that religion as well, to determine which has the greatest body of evidence backing it up.

    So tell us, why your particular brand of religion? What holds it above the other current and past ones? Does it happen to be the type your family follows by chance?

    Any healthy brain would agree that IF YOU DISBELIEVE (which my limited English would translate same as “do not believe in”) GOD means that GOD DOES NOT EXIST FOR YOU. PERIOD. The rest of your reply is just rubbish.

    I’m sure that is god just happens to exist, and is really, really concerned with my believe he does, I’m sure he could drop by for a chat every now and again, huh? Seems like the least he could do. Yet, for something so important to him, he seems mysteriously absent; got any explainations for that?

    This here starts to look like a kindergarten, and only reason I replied is because I’m sick of more and more of stupid “atheist” bloggs popups on my StumbleUpon although I’m not subscribed to topic “Junk”.

    Well at least you didn’t call yourself rubber and us glue. I mean, that would have just been childish.

    None of that sounded like a temper tantrum at all ;)

    By the way, I’ve never been to church for religious purposes, and I would imagine that they do not tutor about atheism there, or even slightly care about it. Just do the math, your number is like a wart on their arse.

    Clearly numbers of believers proclaim the actual truth of the matter once you skip the whole “needing evidence” thing. You must be jumping from religion to religion as one becomes more popular than the next with that stellar logic.

    Everyone is brainless, only you guys are oh so advanced.

    Those words you put in my mouth taste kind of werid. But if you want to bring advancement into it, how many advancements in any field have been guilded by digging through religious texts in order to tell us how to cure diseases (ways that actually WORK, mind you), create running water, teach us about how bodies work, have applications in physics and chemistry, let us know about genetics, or really anything? I don’t recall religion leading the charge of technology, or medicine, or really any intellectual matters, much less your specific religion.

    Ok, so we’ve established that most of you got no clue what that is.

    How about some evidence?

    I’d do more, but I have important matters to attend to, like getting to this show.

  • http://nesoo.wordpress.com/ Nes

    So basically, you don’t believe they could exist, but they might exist is your view as well.

    You didn’t happen to miss the part (which, incidentally, you quoted) that says, “This does not mean that there flat out can’t be such beings, I just don’t think there are”, did you? I didn’t say that I think that deities couldn’t exist, I said that I didn’t think that they do exist.

    Your religiousness or lack of it should be personal thing, what other people think about religion does not count, or does it?

    I’m a bit uncertain what you’re trying to get at here. I don’t go around yelling “I’m an atheist, look at MEEEEEEEEEEE!” to everyone (or anyone, for that matter) that I meet, though I will tell them if asked; and the only time I really care about other people’s religion is when it’s causing them to make obviously harmful choices (refusing medical treatment, for example) or when it interferes with politics (such as teaching rubbish in schools). Even then, more likely than not, I’ll keep my mouth shut (though I will vote).

    The rest of your reply is just rubbish.

    It was an analogy, actually. But thanks for your… “insightful criticism.”

    I assume that you didn’t care to wade through my “rubbish,” because you also seemed to miss the part where I answered the question “[are] there any gods?” with “No, though I am willing to be shown otherwise.”

    Also, which part of what you cited from me wasn’t exactly the same as what your dictionary citation said? Any healthy brain would agree that IF YOU DISBELIEVE (which my limited English would translate same as “do not believe in”) GOD means that GOD DOES NOT EXIST FOR YOU. PERIOD. [emphasis added]

    That emphasized part was not in your original claim at all, so that looks like a bit of goal post shifting. (At least, I think it is; anyone care to correct me? I’m not exactly the best at spotting those kinds of things and putting the right labels on them.)

    Perhaps I misunderstood what you were saying, but it sounded, to me, like: [the] term “atheism” means [that] “no god(s), deities, [or] anything comparable” … [exist] at all. Note that this says nothing about the person’s belief, it seems to be making a claim about the world in general. As far as my understanding of the word goes, as quoted from the dictionary, deities could exist (as I’m sure you believe they do), though I could still call myself an atheist if I didn’t believe that they did. This is the prime difference between what you seemed to be saying, and what my understanding of the word means. My apologies if I misunderstood.

  • DamienSansBlog

    Yes, I did read it. However, by your own standard, you’ll lie whenever it serves your interests to do so, or simply whenever it pleases you, so I see little reason to believe anything you say.

    Am I reading this right? An actual nihilist is explaining his actual nihilism and you (Ebon) just dismiss them as “well, you’re a liar anyway!”?

    But, lest I be branded as some kinda goddam Nazi nihilist-lover: Christopher, you spelled “adieu” wrong. Shame, shame.

    (And of course True_believer’s comment that atheism is “just a state of mind, like schizophrenia” is both unbelievably offensive, and appallingly incorrect. But that’s neither here nor there.)

  • russell

    Nihilism is to reject all beleifes, including the fact that reality in with all laws of physics dont actualy exist and are as real as a dream. Atheism is just saying you dont beleive in god, it doesnt nescesarly mean you dont beleive in science. Satanism, Nihilism, and Atheism all seem to be different things. Atheism is jsut a term to describe the particular disbeliefe in god, nihilism teh disbeleife in anything, and satanism as teh disbeliefe in morality. One could call themselves any of these concidering that their personal morals are just an illusion created by the laws of physics that really cant be explained for themselves as it all is infinite anyways.

  • Fuckin Fred

    LaVeyan Satanists are neither confused nor do we especially enjoy “shocking people” just for the sake of doing so. Anton LaVey explained thoroughly numerous times through various media outlets why he chose the name Satanism for his philosophy. Perhaps if you had not poorly researched your topic you would know what those reasons were, unless you were just too intellectually deficient to actually grasp them. Also, there are more of us than you think. Where are you getting your figures? Not all Satanists broadcast their religious and philosophical views.
    Whoever wrote this should do their homework better, unless they just enjoy making asses out of themselves.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    LaVeyan Satanists are neither confused nor do we especially enjoy “shocking people” just for the sake of doing so.

    … quoth “Fuckin Fred”.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    Thump… Beaut!!

  • canadian420

    Hey! The author of this is missing a key fact for his description of LaVeyean Satanists. Me, being one, will fill this in for him. The reason for the Satanic symbols from Christianity and other foolish religions, is because we are simply MOCKING it. We believe that Satan is the scapegoat for all of the Christians bullshit, so we wear it clear and proud.

  • Emperor

    You are jumping to conclusions here. The hebrew word Satan means to oppose or he who opposes. So it is like a mockery of sorts. It is not just chosen to gain more members. And if it was, it would obviously not have worked because of how fews members they have. It is not just meant to scare Christians either, although that is an added benefit.


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