First, however, I must point out that Roger has actually done a great job elucidating some of the points I originally tried to make. Indeed, his summary is spot on when he says:
I notice that neither you nor Paul are really disagreeing with Peter or myself on this subject. Pretty much every point has been ceded about the worldview's content and necessary implications - the only real response has been, 'Yes, but, we like it enough not to kill ourselves yet.'Now remember, my original thesis was: Within atheism, life is meaningless because the only thing that can give it meaning is the individuals who live their lives, and when they die all their meaning vanishes with them. Inherent in this claim is the fact that the only type of meaning an atheist can claim is subjective meaning.
The Subjectivity of Atheism
Zilch’s main tactic has been to claim that I’ve been smuggling in theistic concepts when determining how an atheist ought to act. I pointed out the irony of this since Zilch also stated that what I had said about nihilism fit with Sartre (is this a tacit admission that Sartre was a closet theist?).
I had originally said:
So our evolution causes us to long to survive, which requires us to ignore the objective reality of our universe. There is no meaning, but in order for us to survive we have to pretend there is meaning.To which Zilch responded (italics his):
Nope. What "objective reality" must we ignore? As I said, there is meaning in the universe, or rather many meanings. Once more, you are assuming your position to be true- I don't have to pretend. If you can prove to me that there is a God, that would be a different story.Here Zilch is so certain that I’m smuggling “God concepts” into the discussion that he ignores the implications of his very response. I am most certainly NOT smuggling any theism into my statements at all. My argument has NOTHING to do with what I believe about the universe, and I can prove it by using Zilch’s own words here.
Zilch says: “There is meaning in the universe” but immediately backs away from that by saying “or rather many meanings.” But that, precisely, IS my point. There are many “meanings” that an atheist claims, yet none of them are objective. They do not transcend the individuals involved. Indeed, how could they? They remain totally and completely subjective. And if they are totally and completely subjective, then this is exactly what I claimed in my very thesis statement.
Zilch responded to my following comment:
But just because something is doesn't mean something ought to be that way. That is, just because we've come about from creatures with a survivability instinct doesn't mean that's what we ought to have.by stating:
Since we've also evolved intelligence, then we're able to separate the is/ought and look at the world and see there is no reason to live.
That might be true if one presupposes an eternal Ought. But since, in the atheist view, such a thing does not exist, but rather all "oughts" are evolved entities, then this cannot be the position of the naturalist, but only the imagination of someone who already believes. Of course there are reasons to live: they are evolved, not eternal, and peculiar to us humans, but they are the only kinds of reasons we have. From the point of view of an atheist, naturally.Again, all italics are his. And once again, Zilch is so intent on finding an underlying theistic bent to my argument that he doesn’t realize he’s once again handed me exactly what I claimed before in his own words. When I say that “just because something is doesn’t mean something ought to be” that is not a claim that there is an eternal “Ought” out there. Indeed, my point was that there is no ought at all from the atheist perspective. That’s why you cannot derive one from what is.
In other words, Zilch completely missed my point because of his bias in reading what I’ve written. (He’s unfortunately tunnel blinded by not realizing that I am fully capable of making an argument from someone else’s presuppositions.)
And finally note that Zilch once again agrees that the only reasons to live are “evolved, not eternal, and peculiar to us humans.” Indeed, he emphasizes that these are the “only kinds of reasons we have”. Which again just IS my thesis statement. So at this point I have to wonder just who Zilch is arguing against, because thus far he’s been in total agreement with what I said before while missing the fact that I actually said it.
Now Zilch believes that our concepts of how we view meaning came about via evolution. He states this repeatedly, and I’ve already quoted one such passage above. But despite that he also admits:
Now that we have achieved a degree of freedom from want, we are less constrained to have only beliefs that are accurate or even fitness enhancing, and we can still thrive: if you are rich enough, you can believe just about anything.So on the one hand, our beliefs come via evolution, but on the other hand they don’t because we can now deviate from the path of evolution. One wonders where these deviations arose from.
In any case, however, it should be noted that evolutionary beliefs merely select for survivability advantage. They do not select for truthfulness. To give a simple example, if someone believes there is a demon in the woods, he will not go in it. As a result, he is not mauled by a bear. This is a survivability advantage even though (according to the atheist) there are no demons at all. Those who would believe in demons would be less likely to go into the woods than those who scoffed at the thought of demons. So evolution doesn’t select for truth, but merely selects for that which allows survival.
And as Zilch said, as long as we are able to survive “you can believe just about anything.”
The Implications Regarding Suicide
So let us plug this concept back into the idea of our lives being meaningful. As I pointed out, according to evolution, belief that our lives are meaningful is a survivability advantage since virtually everyone (atheist or believer alike, but with the exception of true nihilists) says that their lives have meaning. The universality of this belief would require it to be an extremely STRONG survivability trait. That is, if it weren’t important to the survival of our species, we ought to see more people who did not have this trait. Since we don’t see that many, this trait (according to evolution) must be pretty darn important to have for survivability.
But just because we have the inborn desire to belief our lives are meaningful doesn’t make it so. All it means is that evolution selected it. This is why I said that meaning in evolution is nothing more than an opium to drug us into a state where we will not off ourselves. It is pretty obvious (again, due to the universality of the belief) that belief in a meaningful existence is necessary for survival, so not having that leads to death; the most obvious form of which would be suicide (as this is an internal trait—completely subjective—and therefore does not pit man verses the environment, or man verses beast, but simply man verses self).
Just so this point is clear, let me illustrate it with some syllogisms too:
1) Universal traits come about in evolution because that trait has a significant survivability advantage for the organism.
2) The belief in a meaningful life is universal.
Conclusion 1: The belief in a meaningful life provides a significant survivability advantage for the organism.
3) Converse of 1), traits that do not show up in an organism over time do not provide a significant survivability advantage for the organism.
4) The lack of belief in a meaningful life is virtually nonexistent.
Conclusion 2: The lack of belief in a meaningful life does not provide a significant survivability advantage for the organism.
5) Subjective concepts are internal to the organism.
6) Beliefs are subjective concepts.
Conclusion 3: Beliefs are internal to the organism.
7) The environment and predators typically only interact with the external changes to an organism (i.e., speed, strength, visual acuity, etc.)
8) Beliefs are internal to the organism.
Conclusion 4: The environment and predators will typically not interact with the beliefs of an organism.
9) Conclusion 2 restated: The lack of belief in a meaningful life does not provide a significant survivability advantage for the organism.
10) Conclusion 4 restated: The environment and predators typically only interact with the external changes to an organism.
Conclusion 5: The environment and predation are not the likely reason for why the lack of belief in a meaningful life does not provide a significant survivability advantage for the organism.
11) Suicides are typically driven by issues internal to the organism.
12) Suicides decrease the survivability advantage for the organism.
Conclusion 6: Suicides are a possible reason for the decrease of survivability of organisms due to internal issues.
13) Conclusion 2 restated: The lack of belief in a meaningful life does not provide a significant survivability advantage for the organism.
14) Conclusion 6 restated: Suicides are a possible reason for the decrease of the survivability of organisms due to internal issues.
Conclusion 7: It is possible that suicides are the reason that the lack of belief in a meaningful life does not provide a significant survivability advantage for the organism.
Now obviously given the above, suicide is the most likely explanation for why lack of belief in a meaningful existence has significant disadvantages over the belief that there is meaning in life. That is, the other possibilities for this belief being detrimental to the organism do not seem adequate to actually cause a decrease in survivability.
Again it should be pointed out that this does not prove that life is meaningful in reality; it merely says that the belief that life is meaningful grants a survivability advantage due to the fact there will be less likelihood of suicide under that position.
The Meaninglessness of the Subjective Meaning
Finally, I want to address the idea that Zilch has brought up repeatedly, namely that if something is meaningful for him then it really is meaningful. My argument is that subjective meaning is ultimately meaningless. To establish this claim, let me first draw out some further implications.
First, it is important to note that we need to view the system in its entirety. Zilch does not wish to do so, for he states (italics his):
And I differ with you, for the same reason: yes, the Universe as a whole has no meaning, just as the Universe as a whole is not alive. But there are parts of the Universe that are alive, and have meaning, because they have evolved.And:
So you are saying that if the universe as a whole has no meaning, then no part of the universe can have meaning? That doesn't make sense- the universe as a whole is not iron or green or alive, but parts of it are iron or green or alive, no? Again, you are assuming that "meaning" is some sort of primal quality, like the laws of physics, and if the universe as a whole cannot be described as being "meaningful", then no part of it can be "meaningful" either.So it is clear that Zilch is trying to compartmentalize the idea that on the whole the universe is meaningless, but in part it is meaningful. This meaning is (as established above) subjective meaning, not derived from the universe itself but rather an artifact of evolution.
The problem with Zilch’s concept is that we must view the universe as whole to determine whether our subjective meanings are actually meaningful or if they are merely delusional. To give a specific example of why this is important, consider the following analogy.
A man is walking down the street when he sees a car veer toward a group of deaf students. The man shouts out: “Get out of the way!” The deaf students do not hear him and are run over. Was the man’s warning in any way a meaningful warning?
No. The warning did not change the outcome at all. It had no effect on the course of events in the slightest. Seen in terms of the system as a whole, the man’s shout was completely irrelevant and therefore meaningless.
In the same way, an atheist decides that he wants to live for as long as he can, and he claims that this gives meaning to his life. But does it really do so? Even if he extends the length of his days, the end result of death is inevitable. It cannot be stopped forever. And furthermore, the end is identical regardless of how many days the person lives. In other words, for all the struggle for life that the atheist goes through, it changes nothing. It is as meaningless as shouting out a warning to deaf students because the end result is the same.
Those who are dead are dead regardless of the lives they lived. Whether one is a murderer or a virtuous saint makes no difference. Whether one lives ten minutes or a hundred thirty years makes no difference. Death is the great equalizer: all become identical in the grave.
Therefore, no matter what meaning you manufacture in your life, it is irrelevant.
One Final Word
Since Zilch is so adamant that I must be forcing theism into my arguments, I encourage all to examine again the basis of my arguments. The basis of subjective meaning is found in Zilch’s own words, not in theism. The basis of the suicide theory is found in the proposed concepts of evolution, not in theism. The basis of the meaninglessness of subjective choices is found in the fact that life does not extend forever, not in theism.
My arguments at no point smuggle in any God concepts at all. They are, in fact, intentionally devoid of them. These are not ideas that I believe in, because I do not hold to the presuppositions required to believe them. However, atheists do; yet despite this they do not wish to believe what their presuppositions would lead them to.
Rather than me inserting God concepts, it is the atheist who, faced with this philosophy, must steal from the Christian worldview in order to avoid the consequences. The atheist must assert that despite all evidence to the contrary, their sheer force of will is sufficient to establish real meaning. They have to ignore the fact that their idea of meaning is impotent. But it is not so much that they must ignore this, it is the very nature of how they must vehemently argue for their meaning that gives away the fact that they are smuggling in concepts.
The theist has reasons for defending meaning in the universe, not the atheist. But the atheist wants that meaning, so they hijack it without establishing it within their own worldview. The result is that atheistic meaning is a house of cards, a stolen concept devoid of a foundation.