Thursday, October 10, 2013

Humanism And Nihilism

There is a bit of controversy about the Yale Humanist Community. One of the things that really surprised me about the group was the rejection of Nihilism. From their website:
Morality vs Nihilism.  Who knows what reasoned experience ultimately leads to.  But whatever the result, the Humanist believes that the jury comes back concluding that there is morality and purpose in our lives.  So while the universe may be aimless, our own lives are no less meaningful and compassion, honesty and other virtues have no less value.  Ethics and purpose then becomes a human centered enterprise which we must work together on.
The makes remarkably little sense. It is trendy to be a humanist at places like Yale so a lot of smart people are signing onto this. OK, maybe not that smart because they misspelled "nihilism."  (I fixed it). Actually I am going to skip over the morality bits and focus more on purpose.

It starts by saying "there is morality and purpose in our lives." Great. But then it says "while the universe may be aimless, our own lives are no less meaningful." How does that work? No less meaningful than what? Than the meaning life would have if we were here for a purpose? How can that not make a difference? 

It talks about a "human centered enterprise." What does that mean? Which human is in the center? I am guessing it is yourself. But there is an obvious problem. In terms of purpose the problem is death. If purpose is a human-centered enterprise then how do you deal with the issue of human death? 
The trouble is that when you leave everything up to human reason all bets are off. How do you know reason will not lead people to Nihilism? You don't. Many will end up there because that is where the logic goes. If you take the skepticism you applied to God and apply it to meaning and purpose then you can conclude they don't exists either. The same problem of a lack of material evidence applies. 

So why assert that we will follow our reason wherever it goes except we are sure it won't go here? It is not because reason cannot go there but rather than reason has gone there. There would be no fear of Nihilism if it had not already happened to more than a few humanists. It is like when the church condemns a heresy. It is not because it is impossible to reason your way there from the scriptures. It is precisely because people have. Arianism was condemned because there were Arians. 

Really you have all the problems of protestantism present here in just a slightly different form. You can really see Bl John Newman's idea that orthodox Catholicism and strict atheism are the only two logical positions on each end of the spectrum. Stopping anywhere in the middle leaves you open to the questions. Why not go further this way? Why not go further that way? There is no logical reason. It is just an arbitrary place to stop.

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