Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Necessity Concluded

     This blog is the final segment of a 3 part series. In the blog An Argument from Contingency and Necessity, I began formulating an argument for God’s existence based on Leibniz’s argument. In that blog I essentially argued that if something exists then ‘nothing’ could not have ever existed. Because of this fact, I argued, something necessary must exist. However, in the blog Necessity Revisited, I criticized some of the decisions I took with regard to my original formulation of the argument.  After some back and forth, I offered the revised argument at the end with some descriptions preceding it. This blog will present this revised argument and go into more detail with each of its premises. Since the argument is long, possessing a total of 3 conclusions within it (2 minor, 1 final), I’ll break it up into three parts. 


1.) If something exists, then it is impossible for nothing to have ever existed.
2.) If it is impossible for nothing to have ever existed, then there exists something that is necessary in its existence.
3.) Something exists.
4.) Consequently, something is necessary in its existence.

     Premise (1) shouldn’t be too controversial so long as terms are properly defined. By ‘nothing’ I mean the complete negation of being, no properties. With this in mind, I base this premise on the metaphysical axiom, Ex nihilo nihil fit, or “Out of nothing, nothing comes.” Those who object to this axiom either inevitably argue in favor of it by presenting nothing as ‘something’ with properties, or reject it simply because of some epistemological barrier (e.g. naturalistic scientism). Both of these rejections fail to understand that ‘nothing’ and ‘something’ are contradictories as is demonstrated in the following sentence: Nothing can cause something. The property ‘causes’ contradicts the subject ‘nothing’. This is akin to saying, “The married bachelor got a divorce”; it doesn’t mean anything. Since there is no way to object to this first premise without contradicting yourself in the process, I’ll simply move on.

     Premise (2) expresses the implications of ex nihilo nihil fit. The subsequent in the conditional doesn’t seem to suffer from any powerful defeaters. One could contest by saying that necessity doesn’t follow since a contingent ‘something’ is just as likely to exist. However, necessity means that it exists in all possible worlds and could not have failed to exist. Contingent things, however, can fail to exist since their existence is dependent on factors ‘outside’ itself. Claiming that a contingent thing ‘just exists’ is the same as saying that there exists a necessarily contingent thing, which is a contradiction in terms.  Contingency points beyond itself and so a state of nonbeing ‘prior’ to this makes no sense. This will be defended later in the argument as well.

     I anticipate that only solipsists would offer doubt concerning premise (3). However, even solipsists acknowledge that something exists, namely themselves. This is all that premise (3) requires, that something, whether people, mountains, water, a single atom, exists. Since it’s arguably self-evident that something exists, then the conclusion found in premise (4) logically follows.  This conclusion isn’t too controversial, for even naturalists typically agree that something necessary exists. What follows will test this ‘necessary’ something against the physical world.


5.) If the universe is necessary, then its properties could not have been otherwise.
6.) Potentiality presupposes that something's properties could have been otherwise.
7.) The universe has potentiality.
8.) Therefore, the universe is contingent.

     Since it was established that something necessary exists, it’s now the goal of the argument to test the identity of this necessary thing against the physical world. Premise (5) uses ‘universe’ very broadly to mean all (the totality) of space, time, matter, and energy. The subsequent merely presents what necessity entails. Necessity, again, is a property which makes the thing in question exist in all possible worlds; it could not have failed to exist.  I argue, however, that this freezes the essential properties of a thing. If a particular property could have been otherwise, then there is a possible world in which the entire ‘thing’ itself is different, and hence not necessary. This will be developed in the next premise.

     Premise (6) might be where this entire argument receives the most traffic. Since in many circles potentiality and possibility are seen as the same thing, I have to define how I’m using this term. Potentiality expresses an inner movement determined by some previous state of affairs that works for one end. A perfect example of this is a sunflower seed. Of course, through intense genetic manipulation, this sunflower seed is a ‘possible’ tulip, but it certainly lacks the potentiality to do this. The sunflower seed has only one end goal, that of a sunflower. Even if the proper external conditions are not met to make this happen, the sunflower seed still has this inner movement, this essence, within it. I argue, however, that a sunflower seed is not the same as a sunflower, because a seed lacks properties that would make it a flower. Because of this, I argue, potentiality is a sign of contingency. However, what if the sunflower seed exists necessarily such that it couldn’t fail to exist and its properties couldn’t have been otherwise? Would it make sense to say that this seed was a potential sunflower? I don’t think so, for then there is a possible world in which the sunflower seed fails to exist (i.e. seeds fall out of existence when they become a flower; there is no ‘seed’ left). Perhaps one might object and say that I’m using a simple example and stretching it to fit my conclusion. But consider another example, which doesn’t include life: Imagine a pond that has existed in a frozen state from eternity. The property ‘ice’ presupposes the property ‘is below 0 degrees’. Now if this pond existed in this state necessarily, then would it make sense to suggest that this ice is potentially water? No, otherwise it wouldn’t be necessarily frozen. Since potentiality seems to contradict necessity, and something is either contingent or necessary, then whatever is potential is contingent.

     As was mentioned above, the word ‘universe’ is defined very broadly to include the totality of space, time, matter, and energy. Now the only way to object to premise (7) is to offer reasons why the universe is necessary, rather than contingent. But what would a necessary universe look like? I appeal to the ‘sunflower seed’ and ‘frozen pond’ examples listed above. Similar to those examples, it would mean that the universe’s properties couldn’t have been otherwise. Consequently, then, it would forbid the universe having the property of potentiality. But we know, from various scenarios, that the universe had a prior state in which the properties we witness currently didn’t exist. According to Big Bang cosmology, even space, time, and matter had a definite starting point. One could argue that, given naturalism, this pre-Big Bang state, by definition, possessed properties that the post-bang state didn’t have. Therefore, one can conclude that the universe had potentiality; it ‘became’ something else by virtue of adding essential properties. One can even observe atoms and quarks and conclude the same thing. Since matter is composed of atoms, and atoms could be otherwise (see the periodic table), and the universe is the totality of matter, then one can conclude that the universe is contingent as premise (8) states. But if the universe is contingent, then we know it isn’t the identity of this ‘necessary thing’.


9.) This necessarily-existing thing either decided to create the universe or it didn't decide to create the universe.
10.) If this necessarily-existing thing didn't decide to create the universe then the universe would never exist.
11.) Only minds can decide.
12.) The universe exists.
13.) Therefore, a mind decided to create the universe.

     Premise (9) will most likely be charged with begging the question. One might say, “You would only believe in this premise if you already believed in God.” However, I offered a tautology in the form of an absolute dichotomy. The only way premise (9) can be false is if one could present a third alternative. But as it stands, all of reality can fit into these two categories, albeit most of reality will fit in the ‘non decide’ category. Since there are both alternatives listed in this premise then one cannot say I’ve begged the question. When someone says “true” to premise (9), he is committed to the truth of the dichotomy, not one individual half of the disjunction.

     Premise (10) mirrors the claim that the universe, its properties, cannot come from nothing.  This means that this necessary ‘thing’ stands in some high causal relationship with the universe.  If the universe is the totality of space, time, matter, and energy, then that which creates these things cannot possess any of them. These physical properties entail each other such that if one were taken out the rest would follow. So if this always-existent ‘thing’ didn’t decide to create the universe, then the casual connection between itself and the nonexistent universe remains highly questionable. Again, this necessary absolute cannot have potentiality, an inner movement, to bring about the existence of the universe without already possessing the properties in question. This premise, then, seems more plausibly true than its negation.

     But then how did this always-existent ‘thing’ create the universe? Premise (11) answers this. The fact that only minds can decide isn’t controversial; what is controversial, however, is (a) how this mind created the universe, and (b) how this mind did so without having potentiality. With regard to (a), consider our own minds. The imagination is a powerful force in forming concepts and taking properties from our ‘knowledge pool’ and putting them together. Innovation would be nonexistent without the imagination. But we know from experience that if we ‘conceptualize’ a red ball in our minds, and will that concept to form outside of us in the physical world, it won’t do so. No matter how earnestly we conceptualize, our minds simply have no control over the forces of nature. Why? For one, we are under the jurisdiction of the physical world. There are statutes in place that govern nature, and those under the law cannot change the law. However, with a mind that is not physical in any way, there would be no such jurisdiction, for what ‘barrier’ could exist that would prevent complete volition? The atheist seems to be stuck with saying that since we cannot will things into physical existence that therefore this mind cannot either. Again, inevitably their explanation will come to this concept of physical jurisdiction, but this wouldn’t apply to a mind not under such jurisdiction. Perhaps the atheist might argue that one needs to have a concept of something before creativity can be achieved.  So how can such a mind have any concepts of the physical world such that it can create it? Where did this mind acquire the knowledge of these properties if they never existed? I don’t think it’s hard, however, for this being, this necessary absolute, to have perfect knowledge of ‘being’ and then with imagination negate and manipulate that which it knows to form what we would call ‘physical’ entities.

     With regard to (b), the question of how this mind can ‘will’ anything without having the potentiality to do so might appear problematic. I clearly stated, and it’s important for this argument to work, that ‘potentiality’ is a sign of contingency. But surely ‘thinking’ and ‘willing’ entail potentiality, an inner movement, right?  I think this question is wrongheaded for two reasons. First, it might presuppose a ‘temporal’, linear, flow of thinking that we are accustomed to. Our thoughts certainly ‘take time’ to think, and could, if one wished, be measured in seconds. However, does this mean that non-temporal thinking is impossible? No. Consider my eternally frozen pond example again. From eternity’s past the ice and below 0 degree temperature existed parallel to each other, one not coming before or after the other. However, even in eternity one has logical priority over the other. In this case, although existing temporally the same, the below 0 degree temperature exists logically prior to the ice, for the temperature causes the ice and not ice the temperature. Likewise, this mind’s thoughts would all occur at the same time, but they would have logical order. But how does this provide an answer to the ‘potentiality’ problem? If you remember, potentiality was more narrowly defined than possibility; it entails an inner movement for a specific end goal. A sunflower seed has the potentiality to become a sunflower, not a potato. I hesitate to limit potentiality to a ‘single’ end goal, but the more  likely end goals that exist, the less ‘potential’ the thing is. With a ‘free’ mind, however, there are almost an infinite amount of possible routes it can take. This mind didn’t have to create anything even if it has the ‘potential’ to create. This is why I prefer the term ‘possible’ with regard to this mind, since the amount of possible ends are so numerous. To say this mind had the ‘potential’ to create the universe suggests to me that a ‘universe essence’ existed along with this mind, such that its coming into existence was inevitable. One may wish to argue that if this mind created something, that the introduction of accidental or relational properties would mean that this mind ‘could have been otherwise’. However, premise (6) never precluded something gaining accidental properties, for if these accidental properties were to fall, the thing in question would still be necessary while possessing its essential properties. With this understood, the problem of ‘potentiality’ seems to dissolve.

     I don’t imagine that anyone would object to premise (12). The totality of space, time, matter, and energy, exists. Since only solipsists may wish to contest this, I will simply ignore any robust argument against solipsism. All I could do is argue that their epistemology is flawed and, hence, their ontology as well. However one wishes to define ‘exists’ in this premise wouldn’t affect the larger point being made. From this it follows that a mind has indeed created the universe and happens to be the necessary absolute this argument was trying to discover the whole time. The only problem with the conclusion might be that it doesn’t say ‘God’. However, God is implied for the following reason: If the properties of this mind were spelled out then one would get monotheism. Simply put, the creator of space, time, matter, and energy, must transcend those properties, otherwise it didn’t create them. This would give us a spaceless, timeless, immaterial mind.  Furthermore, this mind would be extremely powerful in order to will into existence the known world (and holding all ‘being’ in its power), and incredibly intelligent for possessing the conceptual blueprints, as well as the direct and pure knowledge of those concepts. With the creation of the physical world, this being would experience every moment, every object, immediately and purely, such that it can be said to be ‘everywhere’ in the conscious sense. And since we aren’t justified by multiplying the causes (as well as for ontological reasons), we can only conclude a single mind. Therefore, this argument establishes monotheism.

    This argument is indeed valid and, as I’ve argued, sound. One could say, as some atheists do in debates, that as a Christian I have to prove that ‘my’ God exists, not just a generic god. Surely, this argument doesn’t demonstrate that this mind is good; one might as well conclude the malevolence of this being. However, if I were to argue for this being’s goodness then this argument would be way too long. Another argument would have to be offered for that. But I like to see the conclusion of this argument as a ‘breather’ for a greater case for a religious-specific god, my God. It would make no sense to argue for God’s goodness if the atheist will merely reject the metaphysical possibility of this being’s main properties. With this argument in place, the atheist would have to stick to the topic of goodness, instead of accusing me of arbitrarily concocting God’s properties. Such a cumulative structure keeps the discussion orderly. 

     The additional beauty of this argument is that it also directly refutes naturalism, which is the atheist’s common (positive) worldview for their rejection of God. The physical, natural, world is not all there is, and so the naturalist is left to the drawing board. This argument also lends support for substance dualism in philosophy of mind. No longer can naturalists reject the notion of ‘spirit’ without first refuting this argument. So at the end of the day I find this argument powerful. Whether this convinces the atheist is more a topic for existential/psychological philosophy. No logical conclusion can serve as an existential shift of mood. If only it were that easy!

Friday, September 14, 2012

On Science and Philosophy

                                         “Philosophy? What can you do with that?”

     When most people think of philosophy they think of toga-wearing ancient Greeks sitting near marble statues or pillars pondering deep things. Today, philosophy is seen as a novelty, a fun thing to study, but with nothing practical to offer society. Discovery is science’s job, technology is the engineer’s job, and history and English cover everything else. With the growth of science and postmodernism, philosophy is grouped somewhere between art and religion, both increasingly seen as useless. But this misconception has yielded several problems for young thinkers who unknowingly buy into this ‘goods-determine-the-value-of-disciplines’ mentality. It’s my aim to clarify what philosophy is, its relationship and hierarchy over science, and its inevitability in human life.

     To start this off, I want to draw together some of the themes that arose from a small debate I had with an atheist blogger recently. His blog was critical of another debate between an atheist and a Christian. His main criticism of the debate was that both parties were appealing to philosophy to answer the question, “Does God exist?” His main point was that philosophy is only good at discussing concepts, ‘what if’ ideas, but has no jurisdiction to declare what is and isn’t real. He was implicitly arguing that science deals with real existence and philosophy with conceptual existence. At the end of the day he claims that debates between philosophers are nothing more than an act of philosophical ‘masturbation’, a ‘who-is-smarter’ game of words.
     But as was evident from this dialogue, this particular science enthusiast, although highly critical of philosophy, was presenting philosophical arguments to defend his way of seeing the world. This is an expected thing with such people, even with prominent figures like Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking.  The results of such ignorance are bad arguments, horrifically circular arguments. If you don’t understand philosophy, you are doomed to make the mistakes it has so wisely warned us about. In fact, atheists who adopt this epistemology, this scientism, are some of the most close-minded and angry individuals I come across, despite their painting themselves as “defenders of free speech and free thought”.  I’ll explain why.

     Consider the atheist’s claim that in order for something to be ‘real’, or count as knowledge, it must be demonstrated by the scientific method. This maxim certainly has a wide range of effectiveness. For example, the statement, stars converted light elements into heavy elements, is either true or false. The scientific method (in simple terms: observe the world, reveal a problem, form a hypothesis, experiment, match data to hypothesis, conclude the validity of the hypothesis) will deliver the scientists to the truth (high certainty). However, consider another proposition: “Murder is wrong.” The scientist can observe various acts of humans harming others, could explain the psychology behind it, yet would not observe anything in the data that would yield ‘wrongness’. Wrongness is a description of some human action, a statement about how things really are. Even the statement, which you would think follows from this epistemology, “Murder is subjective”, is also not something accessible by science, for it is possible that despite various opinions, there is still one standard. Science, then, must remain agnostic with regard to moral claims.

     Consider also a proposition that science bases its entire foundation off of, “The physical world is real.” The scientist might think this an easy and silly challenge to meet. So the scientist goes out to the world, finds a rock, performs the scientific method, and concludes the following: “The rock that is before me weighs 3.6 pounds, is subjected to gravity, is brittle, can absorb heat, and is rough to the touch. Therefore, with all things being equal, the physical world exists.” The problem, however, is that his argument is completely circular; it presupposes that which it was attempting to prove, that the physical world is real. The scientist might at this point get furious over such a ridiculous challenge. “Of course the physical world exists!”, he says, “What are we manipulating, what are we seeing if not something real? We create buildings, we make technology, and we make medicine! Illusions do not yield such things, you foolish philosopher!” The problem is that no matter how much one appeals to practicality, it does not yield truth, let alone the truth of the aforementioned proposition. To falsify a proposition making a truth claim, one only needs to point to one example in which it fails to hold. With regard to the atheist’s (naturalist’s) maxim, that something is real if and only if it can be demonstrated via the scientific method, it turns out to be a false statement because there exists a proposition that is held true without science. Reality, therefore, seems to appear a lot bigger than science which, consequently, proves that there is a reality outside the scope of science. Enter philosophy.

     Philosophy is much more than ‘thinking deeply’ (whatever that truly means). It, like science, makes observations about the world, but not just the physical, replicable, world. Philosophy can ask, “What is it for something to be wrong; what sort of conditions must be in place for such a word to represent an aspect of reality?” To answer the question, philosophy makes use of a discipline it defined: logic. The branch of philosophy, logic, sets up parameters for the inquirer to use in order to eliminate various contradictory answers. For example, they might start with thinking of ‘wrong’ as that which violates moral law. They then test this proposition, this premise, against defeaters: “If men determine the moral law, then what happens when two or more disagree on what is wrong? Surely, murder cannot be wrong and not wrong at the same time. But how, then, do we determine whose moral law is correct? Only he who has a perfect understanding of goodness can be the proper author and giver of the moral law. Therefore, we report our findings as such: (1) If a person exemplifying perfect moral knowledge declares a moral statement true, then the moral statement expressed is true; (2) The morally perfect person says that murder is wrong; (3) Therefore, murder is wrong.” Obviously this wouldn’t give us an answer, but it sets up the parameters which could lead us to declare whether the conclusion is true or false. The two premises would have to be debated and shown reasonably true before the conclusion can be true. For example, one might object by saying that it’s not possible that there be a perfectly moral man (objection to premise 1), or that even if there was it remains questionable how his ‘word’ simply determines reality, how he acquired this knowledge in the first place, or why he would be obligated to follow his own standard (objecting to premise 2). These would be arguments to counter the conclusion, thus showing that ‘murder is wrong’ is a false statement. But not all is lost, for one may wish to argue for the original conclusion further. Suppose one believes that there is a transcendent Creator of all that is; surely this being would possess knowledge of moral truth, given that it provides moral truth ‘being’. Therefore, such a being would possess moral goodness in its nature necessarily, thus evading the previous objections.  Once these premises are tested, and a worldview formed, the original conclusion can be adopted as true and consistent with reality. This is just a small and shallow account of ‘philosophizing’.

   The problem with science is that the ‘goods’ it produces are often seen as a sign of its supremacy.  Some feel that because science gives us laptops, cell phones, missiles, tanks, medicine, etc, therefore it is the beacon of truth and knowledge. Philosophy seems to produce ‘behind-the-scenes’ goods, almost like an anonymous donor. Even if one were to reveal the limitations of science, such that one acknowledges that it has jurisdiction only in certain (although arguably large) aspects of reality, it might not be convincing for one who is content playing video games their entire life. This leads me to my final point.

     The most practical thing philosophy gives humanity comes from ethics and existentialism. What is good, how do I become a virtuous individual, and what am I living for? It’s a great shame in America that most people base their entire philosophy of life on simple shallow slogans like, “If it doesn’t hurt anyone then it’s ok”, or, “Do whatever makes you happy.” The problem is that these slogans hardly cover any aspects of reality and make people morally desensitized. Egotism is often cultivated by such shallow philosophies of life, because individuals ‘expect’ that they will get ‘theirs’. Everything becomes for some end to increase their happiness, even to the point that giving money to charities is to make them feel good and justified. It doesn’t take much thought, however, to see that these slogans just don’t cut it. There are too many defeaters for them. But this also brings into view the proper mood for individuals to adopt when developing a philosophy of life: that truth should stand as the compass, not pleasure. Once pleasure is adopted as one’s compass, then any sort of statement can be believed. A person with a philosophical mind knows what they believe, why they believe it, and can formulate a worldview to guide them through the world and its various experiences.  An adept philosopher will have each belief backed up to some degree by other propositions so that an intricate web of beliefs is formed into a worldview.

     The expression, “Everyone is a philosopher” is only a half-truth. Yes, everyone ‘does’ things for reasons that, when expressed, can be some sort of philosophy. However, not everyone is a good philosopher. Scientists are probably the perfect examples of this. It’s one thing to offer an explanation on how stars formed, what makes up matter, how ecosystems work, but an entirely different thing to tell people (based on these facts) that no supernatural beings exist, that morality is ‘this’ way, that governments should be like ‘this’, that people should strive for ‘this’. Often times these statements hold little weight philosophically and are based on a shallow naturalistic epistemology.  Richard Dawkins puts forth very little science in his book The God Delusion, but rather passes his very wide but shallow philosophy off as science. The result?  An angry, close-minded, ‘science-or-myth’ mentality that predominates most of the New Atheism movement.

    In short, without an understanding of philosophical concepts, one is doomed to develop shallow worldviews which inevitably fail. One who criticizes philosophy is more likely to place walls around themselves which serve to cover up that which they disagree with. Not knowing why you believe something, and the presuppositions behind them, will usually result in pleasure serving as the compass, instead of truth. One who appreciates truth also appreciates the challenges it offers to the way they see things, and thus are more open. Viewing disagreeing viewpoints in a noncontroversial manner allows the individual to be more tolerant of others. In an age where disagreement is seen as intolerance, we need individuals who can think and communicate their ideas more than ever before.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

What About Nihilism?

   The topic of morality in the atheistic community involves everything from nihilism, pragmatism, traditional objectivism, and virtue ethics. While practiced throughout most of the atheist community, it’s difficult to find any robust defense of traditional morality. The reason, I think, is that atheists are still struggling to define themselves properly, instead opting for a form of agnosticism and hiding the positive worldview (often naturalism) that rests behind the veil of mere nonbelief.  Regardless of the inability of the atheist community to provide an adequate account for morality, something else lurks in the shadows that has plagued the atheist community since the Enlightenment: nihilism.

    This blog will deal with the problem of nihilism, its threat against civilized atheism, and what becomes of Richard Dawkins’ argument that nonbelief in a deity doesn’t lead one to kill and steal. To do this, I will point to a knight of nihilism, a character in a blockbuster hit movie The Dark Knight, called the Joker. The character found in Christopher Nolan’s movie is a perfect representation of someone who poses a threat to the ‘nice side’ of atheism that people are trying to sell to the world. While presenting philosophical and moral dilemmas, I will be considering certain scenes in the movie and parts of dialogue to move the discussion forward. At the end I will argue that nihilism poses a serious threat to civilized atheism.

What Do You Believe In!?

    In this clip we see that the Joker has successfully robbed a bank owned by the mob. The mob in Gotham city was simply a guild of criminal masterminds who had a mutual understanding with one another, an invisible code of conduct, an alliance. The Joker, however, flaunted this code of conduct and quite literally saw it as a joke. I equate the mob here with civilized “Enlightenment” atheism, and the Joker as the intruding nihilist. The nihilist sees all of morality and value as subjective and ultimately meaningless concepts. The Joker looks at the mob’s invisible code as a poor attempt to control things; it’s a silly thing that hides the true monster within us. The Joker was clever and witty enough to pull off the heist, and this cunningness, this will to act, this will to power, allowed the Joker to be in a position to rip off the mob.

    What makes what the mob said special? What makes their promises binding or objectively valuable? The Joker saw through the absurdities of men trying to make these ‘codes’ of life. In terms of atheistic morality, it too is helpless to answer the Joker’s criticisms. There are three necessary criteria for an adequate theory of morality: (1) Moral objectivism, (2) Moral obligation, and (3) Moral reparation.  The first merely presents morality as something in reality irrespective of the opinions of human beings; it would amount to a (relational) property in certain things. The second criterion expresses conformity to moral propositions, what we ought to do in certain situations, and what is expected of us. Finally, the third criterion states the effects of failing to conform to these moral truths, some form of punishment. I argue that without (3), (2) becomes a shadow, and with (2) a shadow (1) becomes a joke. To say one has an obligation to do something, but that failing to do it makes no difference, then I think a joke of epic proportions is revealed. True, societies may punish one for failing to adhere to the homo sapien’s code, but without (1) it amounts to bullies with power imposing their code on other people. Moreover, their ‘code’ is only as good as those who enforce it, and who just so happen to be ignorant of everything they cannot see.  Moral law would amount to a relational property between two or more people, but if the latter party is not aware of what is going on then can one say that the moral law exists? It reminds me of the metaphysical dilemma turned moral: If someone is murdered in the woods and nobody is around to see it, then has the ‘murderer’ done something wrong? Without a unity of 1-3 then the atheist would be hard pressed to answer the previous question in the affirmative. Thus the Joker’s response expressing the absurdity of morality and value holds weight: “I believe that whatever doesn’t kill you simply makes you stranger.”

These Civilized People…They’ll Eat Each Other

    When watching The Dark Knight, one notices that the Joker’s only main objective is to reveal the absurdity of ‘rules’. He reveals the absurdity of the Mob’s obsession with money by burning their money. He reveals the absurdity of life itself by allowing Two-Face to put a pistol to his head while leaving his life to chance. He presents Batman with moral dilemmas in order to show him the absurdity of his precious standards. Recall the Joker saying, “The only sensible way to live in this world is without rules, and tonight you’re going to break your one rule.” Joker’s final project, which ultimately failed in the end, was to show how absurd ‘civilized’ people are by placing two parties on two separate boats armed with bombs containing the detonators on the opposite boats. The Joker’s “social experiment” was to show that people won’t live up to these arbitrary codes by killing other people in order to preserve their selfish ambitions.

    The atheist is left helpless to defend against this worldview. If naturalism is true, then it seems that nihilism follows more so than any other secular ethic. I recall a debate I witnessed live on the internet between the blogger Justin Vacula (atheist) and Dr. Chervin (theist). When asked how he accounts for the horrific crimes committed by the atheists Stalin and Mao, Justin says the following: “I would say that Stalin and Mao were simply wrong. As a moral realist, I believe that moral truths do exist and if we start from some sort of starting assumptions, such as people should have some sort of autonomy, that life is better than non life, murder is wrong; these seem to be quite uncontroversial, moral intuitions.” (! [1:23:08- 1:23:27]) The Joker would most likely respond by laughing and mocking Justin’s ‘starting assumptions’.   For the Joker, and any sort of deep nihilist, the phrase ‘starting assumption’ is code for “please don’t look behind this curtain.”  Without an account for moral objectivity, then moral obligation becomes a phantom, as does moral reparation.  Even if Justin is right with his ‘starting assumptions’ that in no way makes us have an obligation to do anything, especially when the ‘law’ is only as good as those who enforce it, who, again, are ignorant beyond what they can see. If a 250lb body builder comes across a 120lb teenager with a wallet full of cash, and the odds of stealing the wallet without getting caught are high, then why wouldn’t the body builder beat the kid and take his wallet? If the body builder was smart, as all predators need to be in nature, then why should he fear getting caught? Again, the Joker’s insight is helpful: “They’re only as good as the world allows them to be.”

Richard Dawkins’ Denial

    Justin Vacula echoes much of the New Atheism when they present atheism as some sort of optimistic humanism. Sure, they all start from ‘reasonable assumptions’, but when one discovers that these ‘assumptions’ are built on solid air, then it’s only a matter of time before nihilism is adopted in some form. Richard Dawkins consistently defends the claim that a mere nonbelief in a god doesn’t make one kill and steal. In one sense Dawkins is correct because merely eliminating a proposition from one’s belief library doesn’t necessarily force an existential conclusion.  But one needs to ask the question, what does my worldview permit me to believe in consistently? As a Christian, I can believe that pornography is perfectly fine. However, one would be hard pressed to suggest that Christianity teaches that it is perfectly fine. With that knowledge, my pornography belief is inconsistent with the worldview I happen to adopt. I would either have to abandon the worldview I claim to follow, or provide an account as to why my pornography belief is consistent with my Christian worldview. Likewise, an atheist cannot get away by appealing to assumptions anymore than a Christian can appeal to assumptions; they must bite the bullet and follow their worldview wherever it leads.

    The error with Dawkins’ statement is that atheism isn’t a mere lack of belief; that would only yield agnosticism. Either way, they have a nonbelief for a reason, either based on evidentialist epistemology and/or naturalism. The issue is with whether their positive worldview (naturalism) can account for moral realism. The sad truth is that it doesn’t. It fails to account for the three criteria for a sound moral theory. It seems to me that if an atheist maintains objective moral values and duties, then he does so out of emotional reasons, and consequently is being irrational and inconsistent. Because of this, nihilism (which can give an account for its morals, or lack thereof) is a possible and arguably rational conclusion given the truth of naturalism. Because of this inconsistency, one can argue that atheism leaves it open for people to view other human beings a mere chunks of matter, useful insofar as they provide the means for your own ends. It would seem, then, that nihilism provides a big problem to civilized, optimistic, atheism.