Most people don't have a logically coherent worldview. This is true not only of children and dummies, but also true of most intelligent adults. They have pieces of different worldviews that don't logically fit together. The reason for this is that all logically coherent worldviews have a single unifying principle, which makes them essentially, if not blatantly monotheistic. Unfortunately monotheism is monopolized by religions that pile so much speculation and dogma on top of the basic premises that the necessary truth at their core is camouflaged in it. This puts them in conflict, not only with each other, but with common sense, and leaves them repugnant to emotion, and the very human spirit they claim to rescue.
This essay briefly examines a few logical problems, common sense problems, emotional and spiritual problems, and finally proposes a solution.
First it must be made clear that logic and common sense are two different things. Logic is that set of statements which is universally and eternally true of the relationships of variables. Common sense is a term used to label three concepts:
- the faculty by which minds recognize logic as reliable. (Logic cannot prove itself reliable, because it must use logic to do so, and that would be circular reasoning, which logic denounces as useless.)
- probability judgment based on remembered observation of consistent cause-effect relationships interpreted by inductive reasoning
- things that are generally agreed on
Second, nihilism must be defined. In this context, nihilism means belief that an objective basis doesn't exist:
2. for ethical values (axiological nihilism)
Does your worldview say that some actions are good and other actions are evil? If not, it is nihilistic2. If so, it assumes that good and evil mean something. For lack of an authoritative concept definer, I propose that good is what is liked; bad is what is disliked, and evil is a subset of bad. Evil is the set of willful actions that violates someone's rights. Assuming that these definitions are accepted, note that good and bad can be totally subjective. Evil, however, appeals to an objective standard by which rights are judged. Therefore any worldview that calls some actions evil must contain an objective standard by which such actions are judged.
Is law such an objective standard? It should be, but is it? Laws are made by legislators, and legislators make the laws most likely to benefit themselves, at least indirectly if not directly.
Would you call popular consensus an objective standard? If so, how many people in a given sampling have to agree on a particular action being evil? All of them? 90%? 80%? Your objective standard is already arbitrary. And how large of a sampling must you take in order to make a judgment? A given community? A particular country? All humans presently alive? You need another objective standard by which to judge between the possible criteria for judging your first objective standard. Otherwise you have nothing but arbitrary subjectivity.
Values cannot exist apart from an evaluator. Objective values cannot exist apart from an objective evaluator. We can imagine a plurality of objective evaluators who magically always agree with each other, but realistically the only candidate for an objective evaluator is a personal Supreme Being. We have all been told that if we accept the existence of such a Being, we must then accept one of the religions that claims to represent him, most prominently Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. Unfortunately their version of a Supreme Being requires us to choose between them, and each promises serious punishment for guessing wrongly. Would the Supreme Being do that? If so, we would have to conclude that he is evil, which they all say he isn't. So we can safely conclude that these religions are all full of crap, but not that they are all devoid of truth. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. With all of their countless flaws, these religions at least offer an objective foundation for morality, even though its particulars, conceived by primitive minds, are desperately in need of revision. They also offer an afterlife in which injustices have the possibility of being rectified, though their ideas on afterlife are mixed bags of justice and injustice. This is at least one minute step better than nihilism. A coherent worldview is not necessarily right, but an incoherent worldview is necessarily wrong.
Let us focus on Christianity, simply because it seems to annoy us the most – intellectually and spiritually if not politically. And let us focus on Biblical Christianity because it contains an accessible foundation to examine. Biblical Christianity is so terribly messed up that the most logical form of it is more intellectually repugnant than less logical forms of it. This most logical form is called inerrancy, and it goes like this:
God cannot lie or make errors or contradict himself.
The Bible is the Word of God.
Therefore the Bible contains no lies, errors, or contradictions.
Anything that appears to be a lie, error, or contradiction is due to wrong interpretation.
Now you may think that the Bible contains obvious and irrefutable contradictions, but this is not so. All a Biblical inerrantist has to do is define a contradiction as two statements that can't possibly both be true at the same time. There are many ways to resolve a contradiction. If all else fails, they can always assert different senses of terms. Consider these two statements:
A equals B. A doesn't equal B.
By strict rules, each statement contradicts the other only when A and B are different numbers. Otherwise you can always assert that the statements mean A in different senses, or B in different senses, or even equals in different senses. No contradiction exists when non-numeric values are plugged into the variables, because identical terms cannot be proven to represent identical concepts.
No matter how repugnant this may be to our common sense, we cannot prove it illogical. If we say they have a supposedly omnipotent God who can't lie, they will interpret the Bible as meaning that God can lie, but chooses not to. Some inerrantists have enough gag reflex to back up a step and admit that only the autographs (original documents) of scripture are inerrant, but then they will proceed to use the same conflict resolution tactics on existing scripture as though the admission meant nothing. Actually the admission means that their version of inerrancy means nothing, because the autographs can't be examined for errors.
Less logical forms of Biblical Christianity need not be addressed. But some of Christianity's excess baggage should be pointed out as excess baggage.
There is no philosophical reason to believe that a personal Supreme Being must be omnipotent, except to say that he controls all the power that exists. This doesn't make him able to do anything he wants. If he were somehow able to do anything he wants, he could be rightly accused of creating unnecessary evil – especially if he is also omniscient and knew it would be evil. Omniscience, however, is ridiculous if not technically impossible because every knowledge storing unit is made of parts and relationships, each of which must also be known and stored ad infinitum. This implies an eternal and instantaneous explosion of knowledge in all dimensions simultaneously. How many times can you multiply infinity by itself before you admit its too ridiculous to consider?
The standard Biblical concepts of an eternal heaven and hell are morally reprehensible in themselves to anyone with a rudimentary sense of justice, even prior to the assertion that entry into one or the other is based on believing the right sales pitch rather than on righteous or unrighteous behavior.
The Supreme Being may or may not be identical to the Being who created this universe, who may or may not be identical to the Being who created mankind, who may or may not have any reason to communicate with mankind. He may communicate with some worlds and not with others just to see what happens in each. If he does communicate with mankind, there is no reason to assume he necessarily does so in human language, rather than conceptually in ways that can only be clumsily approximated in human language. If he communicates in human language, there is no reason to assume that what he says to one person at one time is applicable to all people at all times. e.g. He might tell early Bronze Agers that blood vengeance is good, but then change the rule when civilization evolves enough for a legal system to take over that function. Anyone who claims the Torah to be the "Word of God" must admit this.
Likewise, given the premise that it is good for a particular species to exist, then homosexuality and abortion within that species are nearly always bad, until it approaches its optimal number, at which time homosexuality and abortion start becoming good. God could communicate that conceptually. But if the first part of that communication is recorded as divine scripture, and the canon of scripture is then closed, God can't update it. Sensible people are then forced to either trash it, fabricate an update, or figure out a sensible way to interpret it.
These few examples illustrate arguments against the popular interpretations of the Bible, not against the existence of the Bible as a record of man's efforts to relate to a deity who may be communicating, and definitely not against monotheism.
If a worldview is illogical, it's wrong. If it's repugnant, you can't live with it. If you are designed by a Creator, then he didn't design you to live with it. Why do so many people buy into a monotheistic religion despite its obvious absurdities? Because they have been duped into believing that it offers the only way to be compliant with the Being, who holds their only alternative to nihilism, and to whom they are accountable.
Formulating a logically coherent worldview that you can live with is difficult in this world of bullshitters, but the starting point is simple. Admit truth. Admit that you know what you know and don't know what you don't know. You skeptics should have that down, but you don't. e.g. Don't pretend to know an afterlife doesn't exist just because there is no evidence of it. Absence of evidence is evidence of absence only when presence would necessarily show evidence of presence. e.g.
There is no evidence of other universes, but that is not evidence of their absence. If other universes exist, we are not likely to be able to see evidence of them.Physicists now have evidence which is consistent with 11 dimensions. Do you pretend to know that no no more than 11 dimensions exist, just because there is currently no evidence for them? Do you pretend to know this is the only universe, just because there is no evidence for other ones? If there is no evidence for or against the existence of something, admit that you don't know if it exists. Otherwise, if faith is claiming knowledge without sufficient evidence, you are falling back on faith, just like those Christians who say Earth is the only planet with sentient life because there is no evidence of it elsewhere.
Absence of evidence for Santa Claus is evidence of his absence, because if he existed, we would see evidence of his presence.
Don't fight a copout with a counter copout. Don't let the adrenalin of the argument cause you to forget why you started arguing in the first place. A skeptic is supposed to be a truth seeker, just like a believer should have at least started out as a truth seeker. Both sides have degenerated from truth seekers to polemicists - rhetoricians - mutually antagonistic faith defenders. The effort to be right will not only make you more right than you would have been otherwise, but if pursued it will make you more right than anyone on this planet who doesn't also pursue it. There is amazingly little competition.
If you think objective evil doesn't exist, then admit that you are a nihilist, and quit redefining the term so that it doesn't apply to you.
If you think objective evil exists, then admit that you also think all of its necessary preconditions exist, including a personal Supreme Being. This doesn't obligate you to buy into any religion. It doesn't even make you a monotheist in the conventional sense, unless you also believe the Supreme Being is identical (for all practical purposes) to your Creator, and to an assumed God to whom you are accountable. Those assumptions do not logically follow, and need not be made if you choose not to make them.
Christianity need not be Biblical. Monotheism need not be Judaistic, Christian, Islamic, or anything else. It is understandable that you would not want to call yourself a monotheist because of the popular connotations of that term which don't apply to you. But it's denotatively false to call yourself an atheist, but not an axiological nihilist.
We are not faced with a choice between atheism and a book allegedly representing the Supreme Being. That is a totally false dichotomy, and a stupid trivial snag contributing to the exasperating shittiness of human existence. Can we please get beyond it?