"What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism." - G.K. Chesterton

Monday, December 11, 2006

From nothing, by nothing, for nothing, to nothing...

This is the situation that lead me to start this blog in the first place. A short while ago I posted a response to a blog entry by Scott Adams at his Dilbert Blog. Scott has been known to throw around a lot of smack about how we as humans do not operate by free will. He seems to go along with a generally atheistic world view, but it’s hard to say exactly. He’s a slippery little bugger.

At any rate his entry was a musing on the smaller pleasures in life and how they gave him a certain amount of joy. As I read that I couldn’t help but wonder why someone who speaks so strongly for the absence of free will, and by extension, the absence of God, would put any stock at all in their “feelings”. If there is no God then the higher sense of “joy” is utterly meaningless. I believe it was his appeal to a standard of goodness, or the sublime, that struck me as out of character with an atheistic world view. I then pressed forward for an explanation. This is the bit that got the most attention:

”If we are from nothing, for nothing, to nothing, then nothing matters. The job you have, the hobbies you enjoy, the family you have, the way you treat people. It doesn’t matter at all. Sure, you can say that it does matter because you want to leave a good mark on the world etc... But what does THAT mean? Good? What’s that? It’s nothing! It’s an illusion. Your children will die. Your children’s children will die and they will all forget you. You don’t matter. You mean nothing. You count for nothing. You are an accident. An amazing accident beyond all odds. You think you are self actualized, but you are not. You are complicated chemistry. You are a moist robot responding to complicated stimuli and you will only be here for a little while then you will return to the nothingness that you came from.”

That roused two very thoughtful bloggers in the U.K. to dedicate a bit of time to the topic.

Matt posted this entry at his blog An Insomniac
However the bulk of this conversation has been playing out here at Tom Freeman’s blog Freemania

I’ve decided to pick up the themes we are kicking around over on Tom’s blog and beat them to death over here. I have a feeling this is more my issue than his, so I may as well give it a proper home. My next post will be a continuation of poking at this issue of objective morality and where it comes from. Some say it’s strictly biology and social climate. I’d say it’s bigger than that. Stay tuned...

Labels: ,

8 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Alex,

Great idea. I'm looking forward to seeing what you have to say, and I'm sure Tom will be too. I've enjoyed our debate immensely - though I suspect we may end up agreeing to disagree, you've really forced me to think about and evaluate my views.

6:21 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Hey Matt,
Glad you found your way over here! How did you pull that off without me clueing you in?

At any rate, you are probably right. I've noticed that phenomena in my long drawn out conversations with my atheist friend at work. It seems we start with the impression that the other is a complete idiot and end with a better understanding of each other, but no one really making any noticeable change in opinon. Either way we just can't stop digging in these topics. We both believe that whatever conclusion we come to it REALLY matters. Whatever that means. Hopefully I can find the time to keep this going. Please contine to stop by! I, like you, am forced to keep refining my thoughts by our interactions!

7:01 PM

 
Anonymous Andrew S said...

Hi Alex,

This is the first blog I have visited. In fact as of two weeks ago I didn't know what a blog even was.
I am excited to read and respond to your thoughts. I am impressed with your continual persuit for the truth. I look forward to the ride.

Andrew S

8:28 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alex,

I saw that someone had come through to my blog from here on SiteMeter. I always try to check out blogs which link to me, and was pleasantly surprised to see you'd created one.

It seems we start with the impression that the other is a complete idiot and end with a better understanding of each other, but no one really making any noticeable change in opinon.

You might be right, but I think that such dialogues *do* change people's opinions - maybe not drastically so, but through re-thinking and refining what it is we actually believe (most of which goes unspoken in our normal day-to-day life), we emerge a slightly changed person, in attitude at the very least.

And, as you say, it encourages us to really engage with different beliefs and (assuming things don't descend into mud-slinging) leaves us with a deeper respect for the other person than we started off with.

This time of year seems to bring out the more reactionary religious figures (as well as reactionary atheists), some of whom I've mentioned on my blog. Without some kind of balancing pressure, I've noticed that some of my criticisms risk crossing the line from "attacking" an individual to "attacking" everyone who shares their general outlook - so I'm extremely glad that you've popped up again and forced me to seriously consider what I write.

I think we need differing viewpoints around us, to force us to think through what we say and be honest to ourselves.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing what you have to write.

6:01 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Hey Andrew,
Good to see you here. Feel free to jump on in anytime. I'm looking to foster an atmosphere of open, and above all, honest exploration. The more minds and viewpoints we get contributing the more enriching this will be.

7:28 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Matt,
You are an odd bird. I hope to meet many more like you. When you say:

”I think that such dialogues *do* change people’s opinions - maybe not drastically so, but through re-thinking and refining what it is we actually believe (most of which goes unspoken in our normal day-to-day life), we emerge a slightly changed person, in attitude at the very least.”

I believe you are right. The funny thing is you will rarely get someone to admit that. That’s where I see you as a pretty rare phenomenon. You actually seem to listen to another view point and actively examine your own in light of it. It seems so often these conversations revolve around “winning”. I know I’m guilty of it at times. It is for this very reason that I see you as a very valuable contributor to this conversation. Keep it up brother. A conversation of this flavor would be hard pressed to steer us wrong.

7:38 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alex,

You are an odd bird. I hope to meet many more like you.

Thank you. I'm more than guilty of trying to "win" arguments (if shutting up the other person can really be called "winning"), though I try to avoid it where possible. Largely because I'm not that good at it. :)

I don't think I'm that rare. The fact that you've gone to great lengths to explain your views really demands a considered response from people. If you'd simply criticised my outlook (after I criticised yours on my blog) we'd probably have got no further than mud-slinging and name-calling. A considered opinion requires a considered response. Which is why I'm quite looking forward to what you have to write.

In my opinion, the defining feature of life is its uncertainty. I have strong feelings about things, but that doesn't mean I'm right. That's why I enjoy finding people who see the world differently - it means I might learn something new, or at the very least get my own thoughts a bit more in order.

Whereas you've summarised the atheistic view as "from nothing, for nothing, to nothing", I see it far more the case as from the unknown, for the unknown, to the unknown, and therefore it's about *finding* what matters - which is why dialogue is so important.

9:00 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Matt,
I don't think I'm that rare.

I hope that you are right. If one was simply to rely on the news media and other standard forms of mass communication, you would get the impression that we are all irreconcilably opposed. It seems only the loudest of any given group has the power to cut through. I would love to discover that the "loudest" are, in fact, the minority.

More thoughts on your thoughts posted in a new entry titled "On uncertainty"

1:45 PM

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home