The debate arose from the question of whether we have free will and was fuelled by Dave's introduction of a lecture by the atheist speaker, Sam Harris.
At our last Meetup gathering, I asked the question about whether listening to sceptics and negative views can be counter-productive in terms of my own growth. I used to spend an inordinate amount of my time studying the views of people who disagree with my worldview. This was an attempt to challenge my own thinking and also to know how to defend myself in the face of their arguments. However, in the end, the constant doubting of my own thoughts became depressing and hindering. Thus I did not watch the video above. I consider Harris to be one of those who proselytise atheism, materialism and nihilism. I consider these views to be pessimistic and negative so, these days, I limit my exposure to them.
Having said that, I thought it might be useful to share some thoughts about why I find myself in disagreement with those views and what they represent to me. So this is more a personal piece than a research article like my previous entries here.
I have spoken at length with atheists in the past and it seems to me that, along with the modern proponents like Dawkins and Harris, they love to include Friedrich Nietzsche as a major influence on their thinking. Perhaps Nietzsche famously proclaiming that "God is Dead" has something to do with that?
Nietzsche was a nihilist yet he questioned nihilism. Looking for a definition of nihilism that I could use here, I happened across this one, which will do nicely:
'Nihilism’ is based on the Latin word for `nothing’: nihil. Nihilism is used for a lot of positions in philosophy… that there is nothing at all; that we know nothing at all; that there are no moral principles at all, and virtually any other position that could be framed with the word `nothing’. But the most common use, and what we'll explore today, is nihilism as the view that nothing we do, nothing we create, nothing we love, has any meaning or value whatsoever.
From what I can gather about the man, nihilism depressed Nietzsche so he attempted to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear: he practiced what is termed Active Nihilism. This 11 minute video gives a good overview of the difference between Passive and Active Nihilism.
In other words, Nietzsche tried to replace spiritual meaning, purpose and goals with earthly ones. The pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, the goal of finding beauty in nature, and so on. You can watch Brian Cox following the same agenda in his TV programmes. I suspect that is what Sam Harris is doing in his video above.
Now, I have to say that there are many things which Harris says, and which Nietzsche says, that I agree with. I do not dismiss everything they say because they are atheists or materialists. I'll paste a quote here from another blog which seems to get to the core of the matter. It introduces the concept of "Amor Fati" which, translated loosely, means to love one's fate.
Again, in some ways I agree with some of that. I tend to see the bad and the ugly in a larger context. I do not want to accuse, nor even accuse the accusers. I see the need to embrace the pain and suffering and to "love" it. But I am coming from an entirely different starting point. Whareas Nietzsche starts with nihilism (nothing has any value), I start with the concept of love (everything has value, everything comes from love).Nietzsche looks at not only that which is life-preserving, but more importantly that which is life-enhancing. He aims to renaturalize morality and our existence, to put the animal man back into nature, per se. It is impossible to annihilate all pain and suffering—anything of worth or value comes after a difficulty or an obstacle that has been overcome, or after a dissatisfaction of the will—so then the problem becomes, is there any value or purpose to be had from all the pain and suffering?From this thought Nietzsche develops his concept of Amor Fati. In “Ecce Homo” he writes, “My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it—all idealism is mendaciousness in the face of what is necessary—but love it” (EH 10). It is impossible to eliminate all pain and suffering, therefore we must learn to accept it. But Nietzsche takes this one step further and urges us not just to accept pain and suffering, but to wholeheartedly embrace it, “to love it”.In fact, Nietzsche believes Amor Fati is his core life-affirming philosophy. In “The Gay Science,” the term reappears, and he writes:Amor fati: let that be my love from now on! I do not want to wage war against ugliness. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse the accusers. Let looking away be my only negation! And, all in all and on the whole: some day I want only to be a Yes-sayer!
Atheism, materialism and nihilism are the dominant ideologies of the modern intellectual and scientific communities. They influence our media and our educational curricula. Nihilism was born of philosophical pessimism and the potential adoption of that as a cultural direction is what I find depressing. It all stems from the rejection of the so-called supernatural: the greater reality that we, in our little group and many others like it, are trying to experience and embrace. If we are right, we are inevitably all part of that greater whole which has meaning and purpose and is sustained by love. If we are wrong then it doesn't matter anyway: nothing does.
So, in conclusion, I'd urge you to watch this short video which summarises what it means to be a materialist. Perhaps count the number of times you mumble "bollocks!" but do, please, watch until the end.