Thursday, October 14, 2004

Pragmatic Nihilism: How a naturalistic worldview renders our existence supreme…

Our friend Ed Brayton, over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars, has taken Matt Powell and myself to task for posts we recently published related to the death of Christopher Reeve and ESCR. Ed states,
Both Rusty at New Covenant and Matt at Wheat and Chaff have posted in the last couple days to bash Christopher Reeve for promoting embryonic stem cell (ESC) research. They say that he is selfish and self-serving for promoting "death" to improve his own position.
This is a bit amusing considering that my post, Mere Comments on Christopher Reeve, was simply a direct copy of a post by Patrick Reardon over at Touchstone Magazine’s blog, Mere Comments. I clarified this point with Ed but instead of correcting his original post he compounded his error by adding a postscript in which he states,
PZ Myers has also been writing about this subject the last couple days, and as a developmental biologist lends some scientific details to the discussion. In this post, he discusses why ESC is important and why it may also be important to combine the research on adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells to unlock how they work; in this post, he looks at some other right wing nutballs who are tearing down Christopher Reeve far beyond what Rusty and Matt attempt. One of them even wonders if he arranged his death on purpose to become a martyr and help John Kerry get elected. Where do these idiots come from?
Now, while I would love to take credit for the wise words penned by Patrick Reardon, they remain his words. Clarifications aside, I believe that the gist of Ed’s post highlights an inherent flaw in the worldview of naturalism. Ed argues that ESCR is, in reality, pro-life. He states,
The choice for ESC research is not between "destroying life" and not destroying life. The choice is between using the enormous store of frozen zygotes that will otherwise be tossed out for promising scientific research that can help millions of people over the next few decades, or simply tossing them out. That's the only choice we face.
Note how, in his postscript, he links to posts by P. Z. Myers in which Myers argues for the validity of ESCR and how, in his opinion, opponents of ESCR are idiots. In his post, To people who hate humanity, Myers states,
When you tell me you think an embryo is the same as my kids, you cheapen the worth of my children. They are much, much more than that small thoughtless blob. You reduce the value of family to mindless chemistry and metabolism.
Why do both Myers and Ed hold such strong beliefs on this issue? Myers is an avowed atheist, while Ed lives next door in the world of deism. Both follow some form of naturalism. Now, consider for a moment that naturalism posits that nature is all there is. If that is true, then when we die… we die – no heavenly existence, no beautiful afterlife, just nothing. So, if there’s nothing after this life, then how this life plays out in the here and now becomes our ultimate concern. The nihilist will tell you that since the universe has no ultimate meaning, it’s better to live your life to your best advantage – regardless of any adverse impact on society. There’s a bit of a problem with that line of thinking though, and both Myers and Ed know what it is – there is meaning in their lives. Whether it be through a spouse, child, mother, or friend, they are well acquainted with the existence of the abstract reality of love. I would argue that they are also well aware of how living their lives as nihilists, at the expense of those they love, would be inherently wrong. Interesting, isn’t it, how the idea of a common understanding of right and wrong always seems to show up? Think about it. What drives the intense emotion found in the words of Ed and Myers? They believe that this life, here and now, is all there is... or all they think they can be sure of. If you choose not to admit to the total hopelessness of such a position, then all you are left with is the task, pointless as it may be, of making this life as meaningful as you can. The atheist Michael Shermer illustrated the hopeless position of his worldview quite nicely on the recent PBS broadcast, The Question of God. He stated,
I don't believe there's an afterlife at all — this is all there is. For example, when my mother was dying, she had these brain tumors. They kept taking them out, they kept coming back. And this went on and on for 10 years. You know, I felt from the moment this started happening, that since I'll never see her again and she's not going anywhere and neither am I, this is it — every single moment I could have with her, everything I could say to her that was loving, all that just to me was incredibly enhanced by the fact that there is nothing else.
You see? This life becomes so important that, eventually, Pragmatic Nihilism becomes our god. If, for the sake of someone like this, we state that this is not a human being... then how far removed are we from stating that this is not a human being? The ultimate reality of our existence manifests itself in many ways, not the least of which is love. Such a reality continues to be the deadly poison afflicting Naturalism. Although there are many people who have strongly steeped themselves in Naturalism’s brew, the poison remains in their bloodstream.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Rusty,

In one clear sentence, what do you suggest doing with all the frozen zygotes?

Rusty said...

If the frozen zygotes are human, then they should not be used for research but should either be kept frozen, or discarded in a humane manner.

Macht said...

I know! Let's do just enough research on them to get our hopes up until we realize that we have to clone millions of more embryos - for the sole purpose of killing them - in order for the research to save people from paralysis and such.

Or ... we could focus on adult stem cells which don't require the death of human beings and don't face the problem of immune system rejection.

PZ Myers said...

Wow. You really are an offensive little prig.

Where do you get off dictating what atheists ought to feel? We're human beings. We love our families. Have you ever stopped to think that since your bigotry, your assumption that atheists must be self-centered nihilists is not true, that maybe you are wrong in your assumptions? But no, you instead insist that all atheists are wrong for not fitting into your peculiar prejudices.

And yes, this world is all there is. I feel sorry for you that you feel this life is inadequate, so that you have to invent a silly fantasyland that you'll move to after you die. You are blind to reality, and the satisfaction that is found in its appreciation. That you can read Shermer's account and see only hopelessness is but one symptom of your failings.

Rusty said...

Paul Myers,

Where do you get off dictating what atheists ought to feel? We're human beings. We love our families.I'm making an observation. I believe that all human beings (yourself included) have been made in the Image of God. I have no doubt that you love your family - that's one of my points.

Have you ever stopped to think that since your bigotry, your assumption that atheists must be self-centered nihilists is not true, that maybe you are wrong in your assumptions?I'll ignore the accusation of bigotry since it is without warrant. If you inferred that I am assuming all atheists to be self-centered nihilists then I apologize for misleading you. My stance is that a logical outcome of the atheistic worldview is one that leads to nihilism. I argue that the abstract reality of love is one of the reasons why you do not follow your naturalistic atheism to its logical conclusion. And, yes, I am certainly aware of the possibility of being wrong.

As for your last paragraph, I do not feel that this life is inadequate but has inherent purpose and meaning. The explanation of such meaning renders Naturalism mute.

DarkSyde said...

I'd say your hosed on this one Rusty. The embryo's which produce embryonic stem cell lines don't come from abortions,, they come from IVF clinics. If you wish to eliminate IVF clinics on the grounds that they're pro-death, you eliminate thousands of children from being born. If you grant that IVF is acceptable, you've accepted embryonic stem cells.
And you won't prevent aborted pregnancies no matter which position you take.
Furthermore, even stipulating that blastocysts are human beings-a mighty generous stipulation in the face of the facts, you not only accept the destruction of human beings in other venues where you feel the ends justify the means, you defend it. And all the while you carry around the delusional idea in your brain pan that you're in possession of a superior absolute morality.

BTW we do know why you've painted yourself into a corner here and it has nothing to do with Right-to-Life or your religion or your alleged morality. It's politics Rusty. It's bankrupt ideology. You have to defend Bush's actions as being 'the right thing to do', and thus you're forced by what Bush has done into defending this discredited rationale.

Rusty said...

Dark,

I didn't bring the topic of abortion into this issue, and have not claimed that the embryos in question come from abortions.

I have not granted that IVF is acceptable and, in fact, lean towards the position that it is not acceptable.

I would argue that the facts point overwhelmingly towards the humanity of an embryo.

I've never claimed to have possession of a superior absolute morality. On the contrary, I've claimed that absolute morality exists and that everyone is aware of that fact.

Two points on your political motivation claim: 1) I don't agree with Bush's decision regarding research on embryos that would have been discarded anyway (if, in fact, that's what you're referring to) and, 2) even if it were true, which it is not, that my motivations were driven by politics, that doesn't change whether the claims are true or not.

Anonymous said...

This is slightly off the topic of this thread, and it is something that I posted on Ed Brayton's board, but I believe it might also be of interest to the proprietor of this board:

"I wish that the public opponents of embryonic stem cell research would be a little more honest in why they oppose ESCR. I have chatted with a few of the non-public opponents, and what has become clear is that their opposition is based, not so much on the research, per se, but on the fear of what might happen if the research proves successful. I suspect that they view that research conducted on embryos that are going to be discarded anyway isn't the problem--their problem is that, if the research pans out, large numbers of embryos will be created merely for the purpose of harvesting their stem cells. In their view, the deliberate creation of human life merely to be destroyed for the purpose of benefiting others. That is what is anathema to them. And I don't believe that merely poo-pooing that issue is going to make it go away. It's an issue that ethicists are going to have to come to grips with."

NB: I believe it is something that ethicists are going to have to come to grips with it, but they unlikely that they will unless the public opponents (that is, the peoplt who actually go on radio and TV programs to oppose the research) make clear that that is a signficant reason for their opposition.

--RAJ

Macht said...

That's perfectly on topic (IMO)! I think more people would be against stem cell research if they knew that in order to help somebody like, say Michael J. Fox, we would need millions of embryos from IVF (instead of the hundreds of thousands that we actually have) or (the more likely solution) we would need to make a cloned Michael J. Fox embryo for the sole purpose of killing it.

I think there are a lot of people who find this wrong but they just aren't aware of the issues. See this recent poll: http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/metropolitan/2844532
There is growing support for ESC research, but there is declining support for theraputic cloning.

386sx said...

I would argue that they are also well aware of how living their lives as nihilists, at the expense of those they love, would be inherently wrong.

Good. No need for your religion then. We can all go home now!

Interesting, isn’t it, how the idea of a common understanding of right and wrong always seems to show up?

Well, I don't think either one of them would think that Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass is "inherently right", so I don't think you have a common understanding of right and wrong.

Rusty said...

386sx,

Good. No need for your religion then. We can all go home now!There's just the little problem of not acknowledging the source of their sense of right and wrong.

Well, I don't think either one of them would think that Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass is "inherently right", so I don't think you have a common understanding of right and wrong.Re-read my post and the response I also give to DarkSyde. The issue isn't whether specific rules are agreed upon but whether there is such a thing as right and wrong... and, if so, where it came from - the natural or supernatural realm. When you jump to issues of rules, commandments, or penalties you're putting the cart before the horse.

Paul said...

386sx - From previous conversations, it appears that the new covenant view of absolute morality is that whatever god says is moral, even if that contradicts what god said 2 minutes ago. It still isn't clear to me how we know what god considers to be moral at the moment.

Rusty - You said that the existing embryos should be kept frozen. Don't you think that's immoral, keeping full human beings in a frozen non-state for eternity?

Rusty said...

Paul (and 386),

it appears that the new covenant view of absolute morality is that whatever god says is moral, even if that contradicts what god said 2 minutes ago.No, that's not the case.

You continue to jump ahead of yourself in that it appears you want to apply the concept of penalties where you should be applying the concept of right and wrong. Hence you come up with hypothetical scenarios that leave you puzzled as to just what absolute morality could be.

For instance, it's not whether we must stone a homosexual to death now simply because you may find such a rule in the Bible; it's whether or not homosexuality is wrong. How such a wrong is dealt with does not diminish whether or not it is wrong. If we understand that there is a right and wrong way to act, then we've appealed to something outside our sphere. Any reference to a morally better way of doing something cannot be reduced to purely naturalistic means.

That certain purveyors of atheistic naturalism condemn me as morally wrong only serves to further my argument. For within their world of purely naturalistic causes, there is no transcendent basis to which I must submit - if their position is derived from the natural, and the natural is all there is, then my position must be derived from the natural as well. If that were true, then why do they persist in arguing with me?

You said that the existing embryos should be kept frozen. Don't you think that's immoral, keeping full human beings in a frozen non-state for eternity?Yes, I do. But what are our options now that we've played with things we shouldn't be playing with?

386sx said...

Paul said: From previous conversations, it appears that the new covenant view of absolute morality is that whatever god says is moral, even if that contradicts what god said 2 minutes ago. It still isn't clear to me how we know what god considers to be moral at the moment.

One of the reasons it might not be so clear could be due to the fact that he is invisible and never says anything. In fact, I'm quite astonished that anyone wouldn't consider the invisibility factor to be more of a liability than an asset.
After all, non existent things are invisible, too. I look at it this way: If I wanted to keep people from the eternal horrible torture I have created for them, which option would I choose - which choice would be the more effective: 1. Invisibility, or 2. Visibility. That's a tough call.

Paul said...

Rusty - and where do you propose to derive what is moral or not, if not from the bible. And if you do take it from the bible, why is the sentiment right and the punishment wrong? And of course if you don't take it from the bible, your words in themselves have no more weight than mine.

My point was not about the specific punishments, however. The bible is pretty clear about not killing people, except when god wants you to kill people. So what is it now - are we supposed to be killing or not?

Rusty said...

Paul,

I realize that most, if not all, of the critics of absolute morality are concerned with how moral rules are enforced. While such a topic is certainly worthy of discussion, I continue to address the foundational aspect of absolute morality.

For the sake of time I'll briefly, very briefly, outline my polemic*: I argue that there is a common morality that is known, and has been known, to all people (e.g., where virtue is understood as virtue and is cherished, and vice is understood as vice and is reviled). Through various sub-arguments I posit that such a common morality cannot be derived through naturalistic methods. If such a morality exists, and it cannot be derived through natural means, then it must be derived through supernatural means (i.e., it is transcendent).

That is the base of my argument and once that argument has been traversed we, hopefully, understand that there exists some transcendent morality that all humans are not only aware of, but subject to.

It is at this point that one addresses the topic of where the transcendent morality comes from. It is also at this point that I would offer the God of the Bible as the author of the morality that we already know exists.

So when someone claims to criticize the concept of absolute morality by attempting to show how God has contradicted Himself I cry foul, for we first need to understand whether absolute morality exists before we address supposed contradictions by the author.

* this really isn't my argument - I'm simply paraphrasing from the likes of C. S. Lewis, J. Budzizsewski, Ron Nash, etc.

386sx said...

And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.

What is it that makes grown people believe such a ridiculous story? What in the world is wrong with rejecting such obvious garbage as that? You say we won't acknowledge the source of our sense of right and wrong, and yet we are faced with such absurd nonsense as that verse, and plenty more.


Why don't you "acknowledge" the source of stupid verses like that, namely, people. Good grief.


Now allow me to translate my above rantings into what it sounds like to the religious people who believe first, then ask questions later:

Blah blah blah, blah blah...


Anyways, good luck to you Mr. Lopez. :-)

Anonymous said...

has enyone ever heard of a snowflake adoption? frozen embryos can be adopted and carried to term in their adoptive mothers body. I wish this option would be discused when people talk about what to do with frozen embryos

Rusty said...

Greg Koukl, at Stand to Reason, has mentioned this.