A fairly common objection to atheism is that it entails nihilism, that is, the complete arbitrariness of the concepts of good and evil. It is of course no accident that it was Nietzsche who proclaimed both the Death of God and Beyond Good and Evil. He saw quite clearly that the nonexistence of God entails that “good” and “evil” have no non arbitrary significance. Without an eternal lawgiver who is the very standard of absolute goodness, there can be no moral laws—only preferences, which in the end, as Nietzsche also saw clearly, reduce to power. This view is not new, of course, going back at least as far as Plato’s Republic, in which the thesis that might makes right is championed by the sophist Thrasymachus, while Socrates speaks for the objectivity of justice. Other atheistic philosophers who have drawn this clear conclusion include Machiavelli, Hobbes, Sartre, and Camus.
And of course those theists who have meditated on the nihilism the Western world has been sliding into for the past couple centuries, such as Dostoyevski, have seen this also:
Now of course the fact that the nonexistence of God entails nihilism doesn’t mean that nihilism is true. It is, in fact, the basis of one of the more powerful arguments for the existence of God, the Moral Argument:
- If God does not exist, there are no objective moral standards.
- But there are objective moral standards.
- ∴ God exists.
What you cannot have, though, is objective moral standards without God.
But to tell the tale: this is a tale of Twitter. Twitter: you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy—and also stupidity and intellectual dishonesty.
One of my theist friends challenged an atheist to justify the objective wrongness of murder. He admitted that he couldn’t, and challenged my theist friend to justify the same.
My friend went on to give the traditional account of wrongness as evildoing and evil understood as the deprivation of being, or as St. Dionysius Areopagite once put it:
Concomitant with this account is that of God as both Being itself and Goodness itself, such that the further something is from God, the more it is not, and this “not” is precisely evil. Evil is a lack of Being. The greatest desire of the demons is something they can never have: to not be. The greatest desire of Satan would be not only not to be, but for nothing to be, not even God.
Now here is where it goes interesting. Or stupid and dishonest. Same thing, in this case.
Once the discussion had reached the point of concluding murder was objectively wrong because it was objectively evil, the atheist started demanding to know why evil is evil. Let’s be clear: not, at this point, why this or that act is evil, but why evil is evil.
I suggested the law of identity, A=A or “everything is what it is and not something else.”
But you see the trick here. The atheist claimed that, because my theist friend could not answer the question “Why is evil evil?” (or “Why is X, X?”) that he also could not ground objective morality, so (he wanted to say) atheism and theism were in the same boat about the matter.
This is absurd, however. The question Why is X, X? cannot be answered except as I did, by pointing to the law of identity, and noting that, necessarily, X is X. This atheist, though, was willing to deny the law of identity to create the appearance of a false equivalence between atheism and theism on this point. But one who denies the law of identity, denies reason outright. If this is the standard for giving an account of something, no one can give one of anything, ever.
Take a simple example: An atheist tells me “I lack a belief in God.”
“Good,” I reply, and take his car. Why?
Because “I” doesn’t = “I”, but (I decide) = “You”. And “lack” = “may take.” And “a belief in God” = “my car.” So he was giving me permission to take his car. He certainly can’t protest that he wasn’t doing that. To protest my understanding of his words, he would have to say that “I” means “I”, “lack” means “lack” and “a belief in God” means “a belief in God.” But in throwing out the the law of identity, one has embraced the principle that things are not what they are, but can be something or anything else, which includes the principle that words don’t mean what the mean, but can mean something or anything else.
Of course no one can live or think without implicitly affirming the law of identity in everything they say and do (since even if they verbally deny it, as this atheist was prepared to) they still do what they do and not some other thing in doing it.
I really despise the kind of intellectual dishonesty that would lead a person to (verbally) go so far as to deny the basic laws of thought that underlie all thought and speech just to (fail to) make a cheap point.