The Central Logical Problem of Atheism and Hard Materialism
Anyone who claims to be an Atheist should immediately lose any and all credibility with rational men, for an Atheist can be at most two of the following things: alive, rational, and honest. Naturally, this means that a living Atheist must be irrational or dishonest. The logic behind these conclusions is as simple as it is compelling: If there is no soul, this life is, in the end analysis, wholly and totally devoid of meaning. In the face of a meaningless existence, the only logical action is not to act. However, avoiding personal pain and suffering is also rational, so suicide (in order to avoid the pain and suffering entailed by simply waiting to die) is the most rational choice.
Atheists, of course, will advance a number of arguments in an (entirely futile) attempt to rebut this undeniable and irrefutable logic. I have yet to see an even remotely convincing rebuttal. Further, virtually all of these attempts fall into one (or more) of the following four categories:
- Evolution Arguments
- Suicide Is Wrong Arguments
- Duty Arguments
- Hedonic Arguments
One of two primary arguments advanced by Atheists when attempting to rationalize their continued existence is the Evolution Argument (the second is the Hedonic Argument, discussed infra). In reality, this 'argument' is actually a family of related arguments. They all take essentially the same basic form: 'the whole point of evolution is the propagation of genes [A] and thus one should continue to live [B] or at least not kill oneself [C].
The Atheist who advances this argument manages to pack an almost impressive amount of nonsense into a fairly compact 'argument', and, consequently, I have broken the argument into three pieces (i.e., A, B, and C). We shall address these in turn.
A: Point of Evolution = Propagation of Genes
Evolution has no point. This will come as a shock to most New Atheists and most of the denizens of various Internet sites where these topics (particularly Atheism) are debated. However, this fact is as irrefutable as it is unavoidable. Evolution is a process, it knows neither points nor goals. It simply is.
Consequently, it is completely incoherent to argue that evolution has a point or a goal. Antecedent A is entirely incoherent. Of course, we shan't be making the central error of Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion" and concluding that B or C are false due to the falsity of A (i.e., we are not going to commit the elementary error of logic of denying the antecedent).
However, we have at least shown that the argument advanced by so many Atheists is, in fact, wrong. (n.b., this is not to say that it is poorly constructed [though it is also that], but merely that it loses any power to compel as the antecedent is incoherent and cannot be true.) We are not, however, going to content ourselves with showing that the argument is wrong due to the incoherence of A, we are going to move on and show that the entire argument is incoherent (i.e., that B and C are as logically invalid and incoherent as A).
B: One Should Continue to Live
Please welcome one of the oldest and most extensively employed fallacies in all of history: the is-ought fallacy. Here, in summarized form, the Atheist asserts: 'evolution is, therefore we ought'. This does not follow and is incoherent. Not all statements of fact necessarily entail any sort of prescriptive command. In fact, the majority of descriptive/positive statements entail no normative/prescriptive injunction.
In this argument, the Atheist argues (if we help him by correcting it to read: "Evolution is the process whereby certain genetic material is preserved and transmitted to future generations, typically via out-competing other genetic material.") that evolution does X, therefore we ought to do Y. This does not follow (non sequitur). Just because evolution does a thing does not mean we should aid it in doing so. In essence, what the Atheist is actually arguing in B (if, again, we help him by correcting his conclusion) is: "In order to continue one's genetic line and to increase the odds of one's genes being passed on to future generations, one should continue to live."
We have a number of problems here. First, this 'argument' employs circular reasoning, it is begging the question. The Atheist assumes his conclusion without any proof. He asserts that we should want to continue our genes. Why? No reasons are given.
C: One Should Not Commit Suicide
This 'argument'/conclusion is essentially a copy of the previous with "not commit suicide" replacing "continue to live". It would be too repetitive to run through the problems again. All that was wrong with the previous argument is also wrong here. While there is also a problem with shoehorning in the Moral Law, this aspect is discussed, infra, under "Suicide Is Wrong".
The evolution argument, as typically advanced, is a jumble of bad ideas and, at its best, sophistry. The Atheist who employs it can hope only that his audience will not notice his errors, fallacies, obfuscation, and conflation. The 'argument' has power neither to persuade not to compel; it should be dismissed wholesale.
Additionally, while this does not provide formal, logical grounds upon which to dismiss the evolution argument, I have noticed that most Atheists who advance it are hypocrites in some way. Quite often, they have no children or very few children. Clearly, this is not in keeping with their professed belief in the purpose of life (and the twin believe that we should aid or pursue that purpose). While, again, this does not constitute actual proof or refutation, a bit of sophistry can go a long way in an informal argument or even a formal debate.
Suicide Is Wrong
Similar to the evolution argument in many ways, this argument commits at least one unique error: It attempts to shoehorn in the Moral Law for an argument under a framework that explicitly denies the existence of the Moral Law. This argument rests on at least one of two pillars: 1) suicide defeats the purpose of life (i.e., propagation) or 2) suicide, in and of itself, is a wrongful act. As the first pillar was discussed, supra, under "Evolution Argument", it is not rehashed here. The second pillar, however, warrants further examination.
Under a Materialist framework (Atheists almost necessarily are Materialists), terms such as "right" and "wrong" have no actual meaning (the same for "good" and "evil"/"bad" when used in the moral sense). However, Atheists who advance this argument use the term "wrong" (or some related, and largely equivalent, term) in a non-Materialist sense (i.e., in a moral sense). This is an admission of defeat advanced as an argument.
If suicide is "wrong", then there is a Moral Law. If there is a Moral Law, then there is more than the material world. If there is more than a material world, Atheism (at the very least when advanced alongside Hard Materialism) is wrong. If only Atheists understood what they were arguing when advancing this position they would never advance it.
Naturally, an Atheist advancing this argument will deny, vehemently, that he is shoehorning in the Moral Law. However, the logic is undeniable and irrefutable. If we are to proclaim anything "wrong", there must be a standard, and that standard is the Moral Law.
Related to the "Suicide Is Wrong" argument, discussed supra, the Duty Argument commits similar errors, although with an emphasis that is not as common in a straight suicide-is-wrong argument. Here, the Atheist attempts to shoehorn in the Moral Law and disguise his sophistry with emotional imagery. Most frequently, the Atheist will point out a duty to family, to friends, or to Society, claiming that continued existence is an affirmative duty to avoid causing harm to others. Again, we are forced to ask: Why?
Any response offered by the Atheist will invariably rely upon shoehorning in the Moral Law or upon the incoherent is-ought evolution argument. Wherefrom does this duty to family, to friends, or to Society flow? The Atheist can offer no satisfactory response. While emotional imagery may render the argument appealing to some (and, ironically, those who do believe in the Moral Law may be particularly susceptible to such sophistry), it is ultimately incoherent. Be prepared for ad hominem if and when you reveal this sophistry.
While the evolution argument enjoys a certain degree of popularity (and virtually every Atheist will resort to it at some point), perhaps nothing is more popular (and common among modern/New Atheists) than the Hedonic Argument. In short, the hedonic argument boils down to the following: 'I continue to exist because I enjoy life/it brings me pleasure.' For those who have read the rest of this article up to this point, at least some of the problems with the argument are almost certainly immediately apparent.
First, and foremost, pleasure is not a valid reason to continue existing. Pleasure may be an arguably valid reason to do some things (or not to refrain from doing some things), but pleasure is not a sufficient reason to continue to live. If, in the end analysis, Hard Materialism is correct and, consequently, all of life is utterly devoid of meaning, then momentary pleasure is also, necessarily, meaningless. Some Atheists will initially have trouble with this (n.b., not because the logic is unsound or complicated, but rather because they do not like the implications). Nevertheless, the premises are sound and the conclusion flows necessarily.
If we are merely matter that is, more or less, self-aware and the Universe is doomed to end, regardless of how that end comes about, then nothing we do has any ultimate meaning. Murdering children for sport is just as meaningful (and just as meaningless) as devoting one's life to relieving the suffering of the poor and curing disease (i.e., these actions are all equally meaningless). While this clearly leads to abhorrent results, the consequences of an argument are evidence neither for nor against its validity. However, the fact that all is meaningless in the end does prove the hedonic argument incoherent. Seeking pleasure/avoiding pain is, in the end analysis, wholly and totally meaningless.
Of course, this raises the question: Why is suicide more logical than continuing to live? In the end, this is somewhat a judgement call. For my part, I find decades of meaningless work and effort (even if enjoyable, which undoubtedly is not always the case) to be less compelling than no meaningless work and effort. It seems clear to me that a rational person would choose suicide.
In the end analysis, then, the only rational choice for the Atheist is suicide. He can make an irrational choice or lie to himself (and to others) about his decision (i.e., be dishonest), but the logic is inescapable. For the Atheist, the following simple proposition shakes his worldview to its core and unseats his beliefs from what he believed was a foundation:
Atheist, [(alive)⊻(died of natural causes)]→[(rational)⊼(honest)]
Given an Atheist who is alive (or who died of natural causes), he cannot be (nor can he have been) both rational and honest. The Atheist must abandon reason or lie to himself and to others. Of course, he can also 'opt out'. The Atheist who yet draws breath betrays his irrationality or his dishonesty with each and every breath. For the rest of us, we can remain secure in our belief that an Atheist should never be taken seriously.
i.e., no life after this one ("soul" is used as a sort of shorthand). ↩︎
At least arguably. ↩︎
Sarcasm quotes on "argument" are (mostly) forgone for the remainder of this article. ↩︎
Or, more accurately, screamed about in a nearly-incoherent fashion. ↩︎
As redundant as this formulation (i.e., facts, by their very nature, cannot be refuted) is, it is more accurate than using the term "assertion" or "proposition" and serves to emphasize the point being made. ↩︎
While it is usually described as a "problem" in philosophy literature, it is every bit as much a fallacy as, e.g., affirming the consequent when used in the fashion in which it is employed in the 'argument' currently under analysis. ↩︎
e.g., if I tell you "That building is red.", absolutely no action is demanded from you; I've simply stated a fact. ↩︎
I said only that I would mostly foregoing the sarcasm quotes, not wholly. ↩︎
Almost, anyway; the argument is, in fact, too much of a mess to commit such a formal fallacy. ↩︎
He also assumes that continuing to live will increase one's odds of passing on one's genes, but this is, in fact, an entirely reasonable assumption (the dead seldom pass on their genes). ↩︎
It is, after all, a bit of both rolled into one. Okay, I confess: I like sarcasm quotes. ↩︎
I have also seen it advanced as a denial of Free Will (i.e., as our purpose in life is to propagate our genes, we are wired to comply with that purpose and, consequently, remain alive/do not commit suicide). This second formulation is even less convincing and places the Atheist in the untenable position of having to defend Hard Determinism. ↩︎
It could be argued that conclusion C in the evolution argument commits this same error, but it does not do so necessarily, so the error is discussed here instead, as a separate issue. ↩︎
From an evolutionary viewpoint. ↩︎
If the Atheist says the standard is evolution (or some equivalent), then we are back in territory previously explored, supra, under "Evolution Argument". ↩︎
e.g., "Are you saying you do not believe in a duty to family and friends?". No, in fact, we are not; we are saying we do and Atheists do not, hence the highly questionable turn of events. ↩︎
And what kind of psychopath starts reading an article at the fourth main heading? ↩︎
Used here as shorthand for enjoyment, pleasure, et cetera. ↩︎
While this article does not go into the interplay of infinity in these issues, it is worth noting that an infinite nothingness (i.e., effectively what will follow the death of the Universe) renders as absolutely meaningless anything finite that precedes it. ↩︎
If Hard Materialism is true, that is. ↩︎
A rational person would, in fact, choose never to be born, but that is not an option. ↩︎