Faith & Boyle-ing Nihilism — Dawson Jackson asserts that atheists have “faith that God absolutely does not exist.” This is a common claim, but it rests on an elementary confusion. Theists are ever making atheism into a strong positive conviction, like their own, but it is nothing of the sort. To believe that something exists is to rely on it in your explanation of the world. That x does not exist is an automatic and idle consequence of the absence of claims about x in your body of belief. If I believe that hydrogen plays a role in explaining the way the world works, then I believe in hydrogen. If kryptonite never enters into my theory of the world at any point, then, by implication, I don’t believe in kryptonite. I don’t go around exerting mental energy not believing in kryptonite, just as I don’t walk around trying not to wear lipstick. Not wearing lipstick is not something I do. In addition to typing, breathing, sitting, etc., I am not also not wearing lipstick, not kicking a dog, and so forth. Obviously, things you are not doing are not among the things that you are doing. If you are an atheist, then one of the things you are not doing is believing in God, but not believing in God is not thereby an ongoing activity.
Also, faith is belief in the absence of evidence. Non-belief in the absence of evidence is the opposite of faith: reason. It doesn’t take a logician to realize that opposites cannot be the same thing.
Dawson also gives us a nice quote (?) from T. C. Boyle about atheism and nihilism. I just wish to say that I find nihilism incoherent. If nihilism is the view that nothing matters, or nothing is valuable, then it’s just obviously false, and it’s hard to see how it’s even possible for anyone who isn’t suicidal to hold it. It’s better to be healthy and well than sick and in pain. It’s better to have love and friendship than loneliness. It’s true! Just try to dispute it! But then being healthy is valuable, and having friends matters. Boyle is being a dramatic idiot. He clearly believes that good prose is better than bad prose, and that success is better than failure. Maybe Boyle means that he doesn’t believe that anything matters from the perspective of the universe or that meaning is conferred on our lives by our role in some grand, pre-ordained story. Well, sure. It would be silly to believe that. But not believing in that is not what nihilism is.
Dawson accuses me of making the “ancient blunder” of conflating two things into an antithesis, but since I have no idea what that could mean, I can’t really stick up for myself on that score. I do understand “conflating two things that are antithetical.” It’s what Dawson does with reason and faith.