Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Bad karma

1. Suppose my parents are indifferent to religion. Not especially religious or especially irreligious. They just don't care. It doesn't figure in my upbringing one way or the other. 

As I hit the teens, I begin to ask the "meaning of life" questions. In a few years I will leave home. Decide what to do with my life. I have my whole life ahead of me. Is this all there is? If so, is that enough? 

To simplify, let's say the philosophical options boil down to atheism and Christian theism. Should I investigate both options? 

As I've often said, investigating atheism is a waste of time. But people object: what if atheism is true? Don't the facts matter?

2. Let's explore that question. Do the facts matter? In what respect do the facts matter? Let's draw a few distinctions:

i) Do the facts matter? 

ii) Does knowing the facts matter?

To break this down a bit further: 

i) Do the facts make a difference

ii) Does knowing the facts make a difference? 

Let's consider a few examples:

3. Suppose I consider the best college to apply to. What's the best college for me? For my needs?

Makes sense for me to investigate different colleges. Compare and contrast what they offer. 

Or does it? Depends on how early or late into the process I begin my investigation. Suppose the application deadline has passed. 

In that event, it's pointless for me to even begin my investigation.  Because it's too late for me to be admitted, there is no point in doing something pointless. 

In a sense, the facts matter. But they matter in the sense that at that juncture, it makes no difference. The outcome is a foregone conclusion.

4. Suppose a teenager is gravely injured in an accident. He's rushed to the ER. He's fast-tracked to the OR. The surgeons patch him up as best they can. Stop the internal bleeding. Stabilize his condition.

However, he suffered irreparable damage to one or more vital organs. He will succumb to his injuries in a few hours.

Moreover, the hospital has been unable to reach his parents. His only "family" at that point is the nurse or attending physician.

Suppose he regains consciousness after the anesthetic wears off. He begins to ask questions. Will he be alright? 

Should they level with him? Should they tell him that he's going to die in a few hours? Or should they lie to him so that he will die happy? In a few minutes he will slip into a coma and never regain consciousness. 

From a Christian perspective, it would be good to pray with him and for him. Prepare him mentally and spiritually for death. But, of course, that's not an atheistic consideration.

Do the facts matter? They matter in the sense that he's dying. But does knowing that matter? There's nothing he can do with that information. His fate is sealed. 

5. Suppose you live in Nebraska. Suppose you're bitten by a rattlesnake. Do the facts matter?

Depends. Whether or not you're bitten by a bullsnake or a rattlesnake makes a difference in the sense that a rattlesnake is venomous and a bullsnake is nonvenomous. One is life-threatening, the other is not.

By the same token, knowing the species can make a difference. You know if you need to seek medical intervention. And you are able to identify the species. It can be the difference between life and death.

But suppose you're an exotic snake collector. You were bitten by a Bullmaster. 

Do the facts matter? In one sense yes, in another sense no. 

The Nebraska ER carries antivenon for local rattlesnakes, but not for Latin American vipers. So you're out of luck. You will die. 

This isn't just a question of place, but period. The same holds true if you were bitten by a rattlesnake in 19C Nebraska. No antivenom back then. 

6. To vary the illustration, suppose you're bitten by a Taipan in the Outback. You're too far from civilization to get back in time. Do the facts matter?

You are going to die whether or not you know that you were bitten by a Taipan. Even if you do know, there's nothing you can do to change the end-result. 

7. These examples are fatalistic, in the classical sense. Suppose you do something, perhaps unwittingly, to offend fate. Break a secret taboo. Trespass an invisible line. As a consequence, you are fated to die on the Ides of March.

Do the facts matter? They matter in the sense that you are doomed. But because you are doomed, because that's a fact, then many other facts don't matter. That one fact nullifies other facts which would otherwise be salient absent that particular fact.

There are lots of different things you can do between now and the Ides of March, but nothing you do will change the outcome. That fact makes other facts irrelevant.

If you're not fated to die on the Ides of March, you needn't take special precautions to avert it–and if you are fated to die on the ides of March, no special precautions will avert it. 

Indeed, you might be better off not knowing that you're a marked man. If you know that you are going to die, come what may, on the Ides of Marsh, you will be a nervous wreck for your remaining time. 

Or suppose, for the sake of argument, that the date isn't etched in stone. You can resort to stalling tactics which may delay the day of reckoning. Evasive maneuvers may buy you a bit of extra time. 

Does that make a difference? In a sense. But the end-result will be the same. Fate has so many creative ways of killing you. Every alternate route is booby-trapped. 

You won't be able to enjoy the extra time, because you will spend every waking moment on the lookout for the hidden dangers that lie in wait around every corner. 

8. At most, it would make sense to investigate the question of whether atheism entails moral and/or existential nihilism. If that's the case, then it would be irrational for you to continue your investigations even if–or especially if–it turns out, on further investigation, that atheism is true. If you find out that something is pointless, then there's no point in learning more about it. Atheism is like those fatalistic scenarios I just ran through. 

9. I use this as a limiting case. I don't think atheism is true. Indeed, atheism leads to alethic relativism. 


  1. I remember hearing Liza Minnelli say she rewrites her memories and tells stories about her past in the way she would have wanted them to happen. She recommended others do the same. She justified doing that by saying, "After all, you have to live with them [i.e. the memories]" (paraphrase).

    Given the nihilism of atheism, there's nothing wrong with living in a self-created delusion. There's no intrinsic value to truth. Truth is only as valuable as it is beneficial. Given atheism, if lies would be more useful, then there's nothing wrong with going with lies. And yet atheists ridicule Christians for believing what they (atheists) think is a delusion. Even though atheists are hard pressed to justify their epistemologies much less overcome the problems of eliminative materialism which renders illusory all human agency, mental states and ratiocination.

    I'm reminded of Steve's blog on why liberals lie and cheat The looter's philosophy

    1. I'm convinced that many atheists live in a selfish, yet self-righteous, self-deception like the main/sole character in Albert Camus' brilliant novel The Fall.

  2. Anti-theism demonstrates the lengths to which people will go in their attempts to evade the God of the Bible. They're willing to commit epistemic suicide.