Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Problem with Terminology: Daylight Atheism's Mistake Regarding Nihilism

One thing that never fails to bother me is people mischaracterizing nihilism. Usually, though not always, out of ignorance. Simply put, nihilism is the lack of belief in inherent meaning, purpose, or value to life, the universe, and everything. (More specifically, that is existential nihilism.) Many people misunderstand that to mean there is no meaning, purpose, or value to life, the universe, and everything. Instead, there is meaning, purpose, and value, but only that meaning, purpose, and value that we ourselves ascribe to it which does not exist independent of us. That is not inherent meaning, purpose, or value, so it is not something which nihilism rejects. I bring this up since I was reading through Daylight Atheism's essays, and I came across this essay, entitled "Life of Wonder." In it, he makes an argument for meaning, purpose, and value being compatible with atheism. In doing so he says,
"I do not believe that atheism implies nihilism. I do not believe it leads inevitably to the conclusion that life has no purpose. I do not believe our existence is meaningless, or that our emotions are illusions, or that we have no hope."
Each of those sentences, taken on their own, is fair enough. However, the three of them put together like they are seems to imply that nihilism is the conclusion that life has no purpose or the belief that our existence is meaningless or that our emotions are illusions or that we can have no hope. In fact, he makes several statements about meaning, purpose, and value about atheism which are nihilistic ideas, such as:
"Where do our purpose and meaning come from? They come from nowhere but ourselves."
"Similar conclusions hold for the source of value and worth. Human beings, as intelligent, free-willed beings, bring value and worth into the world through their choices, by deciding to consider some things valuable and worthwhile."
Both of those statements are statements of nihilism. Purpose, meaning, and value comes from us and nowhere else. In arguing against atheism implying nihilism, he makes arguments for nihilism. This comes from a fundamental lack of understanding of what nihilism is. Not only has he failed to argue against nihilism in this essay, but he has demonstrated that he is a nihilist himself.

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