Sunday, July 10, 2016

Atheism and existential nihilism

I'll comment on a post by Jeff Lowder:

Jeff's analysis is dependent on Erik J. Wielenberg's Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe.

intrinsically meaningful life: a life has intrinsic meaning if the life is good for the person who lives it overall. 

Take the head of a Latin American drug cartel. He enjoys the best of everything. Sexy women, gourmet food, yachts, mansions, sports cars, &c.

He has business rivals murdered. He has their family members murdered as a deterrent. He bribes judges and police. Those who can't be bribed he has tortured and murdered. 

It's a very good life for him. He enjoys the perks. In fact, due to his sadistic streak, he even enjoys the vicious policies necessary to sustain it. 

Doesn't that meet Jeff's definition?

If Jeff objects that it isn't "good" in the appropriate sense, does Jeff have a noncircular definition of "good"?  

intrinsic value: something is intrinsically valuable if the thing’s value is inherent to the thing’s own properties, as opposed to its value being derived from the properties of another thing. 
extrinsic value: something is extrinsically valuable if the thing’s value is derived from the value of another thing.

Is it that cut-and-dried? Take a facsimile of Da Vinci's The Virgin and Child with St. Anne. 

In one respect, the reproduction is valuable in its own right. If the original was destroyed, the reproduction would still be valuable. In that regard, the reproduction has a value independent of the original. 

But in another respect, its value derives from its correspondence to the original–as an accurate reproduction of the original. So its value is, in that regard, relational. If the original is valuable, and the reproduction closely resembles to the original, then the reproduction is valuable. 

By the same token, the original is a reflection of Da Vinci's artistic vision. A concrete expression of his visual idea. Although the painting has properties that make it precious in its own right, there's another sense in which its value is derivative. It derives from the mind of the artist. If it was destroyed, Da Vinci could, in principle, produce another original from memory. The painting is a concrete representation of his mental image. 

First, if, as I think, life has intrinsic value, its intrinsic value does not derive from God’s existence. This follows from the definition of intrinsic value: if life is intrinsically valuable, its value lies in its own intrinsic properties, not the properties of God (such as God’s valuing life). Second, if value realism is true, then it seems highly plausible that life is objectively intrinsically valuable and, again, this value doesn’t come from God. 

i) That suffers from some of the equivocations I just noted. 

ii) In addition, it doesn't show that life has intrinsic value in a godless universe. At best, it attempts to show that whether or not life has intrinsic value is irrespective of God's existence.

iii) I, for one, am not arguing that life has value because God values it. To recur to my illustration, Da Vinci's The Virgin and Child with St. Anne isn't valuable because Da Vinci values it. 

iv) Let's take a different comparison. A father played football in junior high and high school. He has nostalgic memories of his experience. He wants to give his son an opportunity to share the same enjoyment. 

He spends time alone with his son. Takes his son places. Takes his son to a playground where he can teach him the basics of football. It's one way of expressing affection for his son. And his son, in turn, loves doing things with his father. That's an emotional bond. 

But from a secular standpoint, is that good? From the standpoint of naturalistic evolution, paternal love is instinctual. Filial love is instinctual. Evolutionary psychology has brainwashed us to feel that's meaningful. To feel that's good. 

And yet, from a secular standpoint, that's an illusion. There's nothing objectively good about it. For one thing, the evolutionary process is mindless and amoral. There's nothing benevolent about naturalistic evolution. Nothing intentional about naturalistic evolution. 

Natural selection favors behavior that contributes to reproductive fitness. That's by process of elimination. Adaptive behavior serves no purpose. Evolution is blind. Rather, that's an incidental outcome. Organisms with certain traits survive and thrive.

In addition, the instinct is arbitrary. Evolutionary psychology could just as well brainwash us to have very different instincts. 

In some species, the mother cannibalizes the runt of the litter. Or his siblings cause him to die of malnutrition by squeezing him out at nursing time. Lions kill the cubs of a rival male. Drakes rape hens. Ever see ducks at mating season?

In evolutionary psychology, there's no underlying good to back up our sense of good. No reason it should be that way. There's just the groundless sense of good. Although we have an instinctual sense of good, once we begin to reflect on our evolutionary programing, we realize that our sense of good is delusive. We've been manipulated by an evolutionary process. Yet evolution isn't good or bad. It simply is. 

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