Friday, March 30, 2007

Our Creator

Feeling a bit nihilistic? Let's continue with this little series.

p: "You do have a purpose. God created this world, he is your creator, and he has a purpose for you in it."

The atheist who takes issue with this has an easy task of undermining it as a straightforwardly denotative claim. He may say that the fact that the creator intends that he take on certain purposes is of no concern to him. "The creator of the universe intends that I do X" does not entail that "doing X is worthwhile." Even if we add a supplementary premise that the creator is perfectly good and wise, the conclusion still does not follow. Moreover, there isn't the slightest bit of evidence that there is a God, so even if the argument were valid, it has a premise which is as about as unwarranted as the belief in ghosts. Robots are under no moral obligation to obey their creator's commands. Etc.

But somehow one suspects that something has been overlooked in such a treatment of the theistic boilerplate p. If we respond to boilerplate with critical boilerplate, when in fact momentous and profound principles are at issue, something is amiss.

What has gone overlooked is the connotation of p. It is difficult to imagine someone stating that p and not meaning by it the connotations that the existence of this world is unfathomably good, that the rough suitability of human nature to thrive in this world is an opportunity to be grateful for, and that there are paths to happiness given by our having been made to be creatures of such a kind. And p is a beautiful way of expressing these things. A tale of a supremely good and wise being's creation of this world and all of these circumstances is a fitting allegory.

On all of these things the atheist can agree. He can also agree that expressing the anti-nihilistic vision that these statements and p attempt to convey is not simply a matter of stating blandly that life is acceptable and happiness is possible. The bland statements too often fail to convince the nihilist, fail to give him to see what he needs to see in order to find his nihilism unfounded. Rather, a cognitive adjustment is required in which one is able to let the torrential flow of trivial thoughts taper off and subside. They too easily subject one to the temptation to frustration, anger and resentment, all of which are vectors pointing straight toward nihilism: the temptation to sin.

More later.