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Theistic nihilism

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  • Theistic nihilism

    I respect the motivation to withhold judgement on the intentions of the divine. And, sometimes, a cosmic narrative in which the story of mankind is unobstructed by divine revelation seems plausible. Also one avoids the messiness of religious devotion and the seemingly overwhelming search for the right religion. And I suspect the Aristotelian-leaning naturalism may in a generation or two slide into a sort of lukewarm religiosity where there is a God but he is principally seen as the First Cause, a terminus and source of intelligibility. He serves, in the end, merely as an explanatory stopping point.

    However, there is something terrifyingly bleak about this sort of Aristotelian deism--a sustainer of being that casts his creation to the fortuity of nature. This is where those fundamental existential questions occur. What is our ultimate purpose? Are we here to play out the human narrative, to expire, and perhaps live on in some afterlife? How aimless is our existence? To what end are we made for?
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    It is the worldview of the religious that settles these questions. I think many undestimate the aimless nature of the world when it is divorced from the religious. I can run as far as possible in the realist direction with philosophy, I can eschew the materialist view of nature, I can view reality as latent with value, as irreducibly purposeful, yet--without adherence to a religion--God is eerily that which sustains my being, which actualizes me, which produces my knowing of the world, my rationality, and also that which is silent. God is intimately with mankind on a metaphysical level, yet coldly absent everywhere else. The relational nature of man is severed from its creator. God has no will for man, and leaves him obscurely in the dark for the entirety of his existence. And so man grows, learns, and dies. Nothing beyond him calls for his devotion, his sacrifice of ego, his conformity to his creator.

    Without religion we move inwards with the adoption humanism. We don't worship the transcendent Good, but rather whatever trammeled good we can glean from the mortal characters that surround us.

    I am religious but at times lost. I prefer abstractions over revelation, and often find my spiritual dryness as a failure to control my emotional disposition towards life. But these contemplations on deistic classical theism makes me appreciate the comfortable sensibility of the religious worldview. Revelation sometimes seems arbitrary to me, but I'm increasingly finding it to be a necessary antidote for a theistic nihilism.

  • #2
    What strikes me is how irrational such a view (theistic nihilism) seems to me. Naturally, it leads to the question of why would God bother with being "intimately with mankind on a metaphysical level, yet coldly absent everywhere else". If God had no will for man, and doesn't really care about the universe, then why did He bother creating anything at all? Why would He sustain everything if it doesn't matter to Him and He has no will for it? It would be a violation of the principle of sufficient reason. I am convinced ther is something true about John Leslie's and Nicholas Rescher's "axiarchism" or "optimalism". The idea is that the ultimate questions can only be answered with some proposition of value. Leslie thinks that the universe exists because it was in some way ethically required; it is ethical principles which create reality, Goodness is what selects one possibility over another.

    The downside to axiarchism is, of course, that it is completely crazy, no matter how Leslie might try to invoke Plato to make it seem palatable. "Ethical requiredness" does not create anything; value does not cause anything. Yet there is something deeply true about the fact that ultimately, reality must be explained with a proposition about value. The obvious solution, to me, is theism. Ethical principles are abstract entities which cannot cause universes to exist; but a concrete being, something like a mind, like God, is capable of causing objects and universes. And being personal/intelligent/good, God can do so for ethical reasons (because it is good to create, and He loves sharing being and having people, etc).

    Aquinas and Pseudo-Denys both agree there must be a reason why God creates, and that reason is love and goodness. The Good is by nature diffusive. Read about what they say in this regard. Leibniz also follows this - though in some form of theistic axiarchism which might be to radical, that is, involving best possible worlds and so on which might threaten modal collapse, but we need not follow him in every detail.

    So wholly apart from arguments for the meaning of life and so on, I think that nihilism is irrational because it would ultimately imply a violation of PSR. The universe must be caused by a necessary being, but there must be some reason why this being creates rather than not, and why He creates this world rather than some other, and the best explanation is to be found in value, love, etc. A God who did not care about His creation but somehow bothered to create and conserve everything seems to be in violation of PSR.

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    • #3
      You are both right to some degree.
      What I appreciate in Atno s post is the pointing out of the irrationality of theistic nihilism. The question as to why God would have created or why he still holds us up in existence shows us good evidence for there indeed being a deeper reason for our existence. Another reason is our rationality. We have the mental capacity to touch on Gods existence, albeit barely. We can make good arguments for Gods existence, while the atheistic metaphysics are more absurd than anything else.
      However this is where I agree with Joe. I had a thought yesterday: I think that the fifth way is sound, I think some PSR versions with the accompanying arguments show Gods existence convincingly, I think that the naturalist has to deny obvious data and lead us into irrationality, in order to work, I believe due to the evidence that miracles happen, I defend the historicity of the resurrection. You name it. I still have problems to really say that "God" is there or exists. This is probably because I really only engaged with this topic for 15 months now and I believe I have the tendency to put specific arguments or metaphysical concepts on a too high podest. And I still am too much concerned with general academic consensus. Maybe on different grounds, but I think I can understand how Joe feels.
      Now where I divide with Joe is the status he gives to revelation. I now think I understand why revelation is somewhat necessary. The God picture I developed in the last year is vastly different from what I had pictured in my earlier life. This has positives and negatives. The positives being that I can´t imagine how there could NOT be a necessary being underlying all of reality. And I take our intelligence as giving good evidence to show why the necessary being also would need some kind of intelligence. The negative is that this abstract, from our persepective completely not understandable being is hard to make a relationship for a meaningful life with. But this is what makes me expect revelation when we believe that this being who holds us up in existence is indeed interested in his creation. We should expect that he would give us a way to him. The theistic nihilist must deny that. In his version God must only be interested in himself. The problem is that this is where I´d say we reached an end for the philosopher and we must rely on experience. And this requires some revelation.

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      • #4
        One of Maverick Philosopher's best posts analyzed the writing of a religious Theist who lamented the meaningless trajectory of Existence -- in perhaps the most controversial book in the Bible. It almost missed the final cut because it "inclines toward skepticism." However, it's not clear that 'vanity' is the optimal translation of its key term:

        Originally posted by Ethan Dor-Shov
        It is only through the corrected reading of hevel as “transience” rather than “vanity” that we may understand the structure of the book of Ecclesiastes, and thereby learn its message. For Ecclesiastes does not offer a single, static teaching from beginning to end, but a thematic progression, one that follows Kohelet’s own discovery of meaning. ... Ultimately, if there is an underlying message in the book of Ecclesiastes, it is this: That only in understanding the transience of life do we attain the beginning of wisdom; and in turn, only through the wisdom derived from our experience of life may we in some way take part in that which is eternal. Ecclesiastes: Fleeting and Timeless
        It turns out my favorite religious declaration of Nihilism is anything but.
        Last edited by Bamidbar 22; 09-06-2019, 06:19 PM.

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        • #5
          I just want to say a tremendous help with intellectual struggles like the one I mentioned has been Jordan Peterson

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          • #6
            It tells us volumes about our culture [sic] that he's perceived as reactionary. He's about as controversial as milk. This was Next-Level Samson Mode.

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