What Problem of Evil?


The problem of evil is only a problem if God exists.  More specifically, it is only a problem if the God of Classical Theism exists.  The moment we deny the existence of God we dissolve the problem of evil entirely.  Why?  Because without God there are no moral absolutes, no objective values, and hence, no evil to “cause a problem.”  Ironically, by removing God from the equation, we also remove any grounds we might have had for holding real moral indignation (by “real” I mean something more than our personal dislike for a given set of circumstances but, rather,  a true moral outrage in the face of true evil).

This is what I find so fascinating about the current arguments against Theism.  Those who hold that “God is dead” claim to be the most horrified and the most incensed by the existence of  evil in the world, yet, oddly enough, they adhere to a worldview which teaches that evil is merely a feeling, an evolutionary accident, or a social convention and not an objective reality.  For example, I recently entered into a dialogue about creaturely pain and suffering with the popular Atheist blogger John W. Loftus.  He seems truly dismayed by the overwhelming number of people who have suffered excruciating deaths at the hand of various pandemics throughout history.  In his eyes the amount of pain that, for example, the millions of people who contracted the bubonic plague endured was a tremendous evil.  The implicit assumptions standing underneath his moral outrage are clear: (1) that human beings are inherently valuable and deserve to live a good life, free from horrendous amounts of pain, suffering and loss and (2) that death is a bad thing.

Now this is a very curious state of affairs.  From a worldview perspective, Atheism doesn’t allow for the existence of objective evil or objective goodness.  According to Atheisms grand metaphysical story, human beings are meaningless, temporary, bits of matter with absolutely no intrinsic value or purpose.  If this is true, however, then the pain and suffering regularly experienced by humans is normal and valueless. The subjective meaning that individual human beings ascribe to life is merely an automatic, predestined, physical event (because all mental phenomena are ultimately explainable in terms of the laws of physics). Furthermore, there is no hope of ever escaping death–for there is no afterlife and no escaping the reality that we shall forever be finite, limited, dissoluble beings.  Death, therefore, is a normal physical process—in fact, death, is a crucial aspect of evolution.

Thus, in a strange turn of events, Mr. Loftus, and those like him, find themselves emotionally at odds with their own metaphysics.  They feel sorrow and even outrage at the idea of human suffering, while simultaneously advocating a worldview which denies the implicit assumptions underlying their indignation.  Namely, they feel upset about evil but maintain, philosophically, that human beings are not inherently valuable (and do not deserve to live a good life) and that death is fundamentally not a bad thing.

This, however, brings us right back to the original problem.  For, it is only when we posit the existence of the God of Classical Theism that we have grounds for believing human life is intrinsically valuable and that death is a horrendous evil.  It is only then that a “problem of evil” arises because it is only then that evil is said to actually exist.

This, of course, forces us to make a choice (that is, if we do not wish to live in a state of internal conflict or inconsistency):  we can embrace Atheism, deny the existence of evil or any objective value—thus eradicating the so called problem of evil—or we can embrace Classical Theism.  If we embrace the former, we must be prepared to accept the fact that life is utterly futile and that pain and suffering are ultimately vain physical happenings.  In the words of Pavel  Florensky, “all of reality becomes an absolutely meaningless and insane nightmare.”

If we embrace the latter, however, our distain for pain, suffering, and death, is valid.  For our distain becomes more than a predestined feeling or mindless automatic physical response to stimuli but becomes a proper reaction to real evil.  Beyond this, if we accept Christianity, we also have hope for a future free from pain, suffering and death and filled with Divine love and meaning.

Even More Evidence Christians Just Don’t Think . . .


The other day I posted a response to an article written by John W. Loftus, the author of several books on atheism and the incendiary blog Debunking Christianity.  To my surprise, he was very quick to reply to my post, leaving several comments, and eventually writing a full length response on his blog entitled More Evidence Christians Just Don’t Think.  The evidence, of course, being me.  It is not often that one has the opportunity to participate in a meaningful dialog with someone he disagrees with.  My hope is that, through this conversation, John and I (as well as our readers) might develop a better understanding of our respective positions.  So, with that in mind, the following is  my response . . .

To begin with, I noticed that Mr. Loftus, neither in his original comments nor his blog post, addressed my concluding paragraph which reads as follows:

The Atheist, however, does not have a foundation upon which he might build the argument that anything is intrinsically evil.  A physical event–such as the movement of atoms, or the falling of an apple from a tree, or bodily death–has no inherent value.  Physical events simply happen; they just “are.”  Any value judgment that an Atheist makes about a physical event is totally subjective—for, ultimately, values amount to nothing more than statements about one’s inner feelings (which, by the way, are merely physical events that he has no control of).  When Mr. Loftus laments over the death of millions of people—as if death were an objective evil—he is merely sharing his personal feelings.  He has no grounds to claim that death is “evil’ in any real sense at all.  Furthermore, the Atheist, unlike the Christian, has no ultimate hope.  No matter how much power man gains over nature through science, he will never be able to change the fact that he is corruptible, dissoluble, finite, limited, contingent, and mortal.”

I would be interested to hear why Mr. Loftus finds creaturely pain and suffering morally appalling.  More precisely, I’d like to know if he believes pain and suffering are intrinsic or objective evils?  If so, I’d like to understand how, on Atheism, he justifies this belief?  As of now, he has failed to comment on this rather important piece of the puzzle.

I argued that Christians, unlike Atheists, have a reason to believe death is a horrendous evil and hope for a new life and the restoration of all things.  I’d like to take a moment to expound upon this.  It is because Christians believe human beings are made in the image and likeness of God that we are justified in our belief that human life is intrinsically valuable.  It is because Christians believe everything which has being (or existence) is good, in virtue of the fact that God made it, that we have grounds for believing that movement towards non-existence or non-being (i.e. physical death) is a great evil.  It is precisely because Christians believe  in the resurrection of the dead and in the coming of the New Heaven and New Earth, that Christians have hope.  Sadly, none of this can be said for the Atheist.

If God is dead, then human beings are meaningless, temporary, bits of matter with absolutely no intrinsic value or purpose.  The pain and suffering we regularly experience is normal and amoral.  The subjective meaning that individual human beings ascribe to life is merely an automatic, predestined, physical event (that is because all mental phenomena are ultimately explainable in terms of the laws of physics).  Furthermore, there is no hope of ever escaping death–for there is no afterlife and no escaping the reality that we shall forever be finite, limited, dissoluble beings.

Do you get this?  Mr. Loftus claims I, and all Christians, “dismiss the pain and death of millions,” while touting a worldview which ultimately teaches us that the pain and death of millions is a normal, amoral, meaningless, physical event and that human life is not intrinsically valuable.

Mr. Loftus states that, “Christians just do not care that people die when their faith is at stake,” but I wonder why it is that he cares that people die?  I care because people are inherently valuable (being made in the image of God), and were made to exist and flourish.  Death, therefore, is a terrible evil.  He cares because . . . well, I’m hoping he’ll tell me why.

Now, there are a host of other interesting things in his article we could talk about.  For instance, Mr. Loftus seems to have a limited view of the atonement–assuming that Penal Substitutionary Atonement is the only valid interpretation.  Accordingly, he fails to understand why the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ are so important in this discussion.  At present, however, I think it best to focus on the above topic.  Before we can move any further in this conversation, we need to understand why, on Atheism, anyone should be concerned about the pain, suffering, and death of others?

“Christianity is a Pro-Death Faith”


ObjectorJohn W. Loftus

Objection:

“So Christian apologist, I put it to you. Why didn’t God do anything about the Black Death pandemic? Be reasonable here. Why? This is but one example. There were many other pandemics. I argue that Christianity is a faith that must dismiss the tragedy of death. It does not matter who dies, or how many, or what the circumstances are when people die. It could be the death of a mother whose baby depends upon her for milk. It could be a pandemic like cholera that decimated parts of the world in 1918, or the more than 23,000 children who die every single day from starvation. These deaths could be by suffocation, drowning, a drive-by shooting, or being burned to death. It doesn’t matter. God is good. Death doesn’t matter. People die all of the time. In order to justify God’s goodness Christianity minimizes the value of human life. It is a pro-death faith, plain and simple. I argue that Christians Just Do Not Give a Damn That People Die. Or, you can prove me wrong.”

On the contrary, it is written “Death is swallowed up in victory.  O Death, where is your sting?  O Hades, where is your victory?  The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 15:54b-56)

I say that God did in fact do something about the Black Death pandemic—something which science could never do.  Namely, He took death upon Himself on the cross and defeated it once and for all.  Rather than dismissing the tragedy of death, Christianity faces death head on.  It teaches us that death is a great evil and entered the world through Original Sin which subjugated the world to corruption, dissolution, and ultimately bodily (physical) death.  Furthermore, it teaches that human beings perpetuate the cycle of death and dissolution by means of their own personal sin.  We see this played out in the environment through pollution and the overuse of natural resources, we see this on an international scale in the form of wars, acts of terrorism, human trafficking, and a host of other evils, and we see this played out in our communities in the form of substance abuse, sexual abuse, violence, divorce, theft, greed, abortion, gluttony, and many other evils.

However, the Word of God, by Whom and for Whom all things were made, would not sit back and watch as His beautiful creation destroyed itself but saw fit to humble Himself, taking on flesh, in order to redeem—to save, renew, heal, and restore—the Image and Likeness of God in man and to unite all of Creation to Himself: thus, bestowing upon all of Nature the gift of incorruptibility, eternality, and freedom from pain, suffering, loneliness, and death.  For, as St. Athanasius pointed out:  “it were unseemly that creatures once made rational, and having partaken of the Word, should go to ruin, and turn again toward non-existence by the way of corruption.  For it were not worthy of God’s goodness that the things He had made should waste away, because of the deceit practiced on men by the devil.  Especially it was unseemly to the last degree that God’s handicraft among men should be done away, either because of their own carelessness, or because of the deceitfulness of evil spirits.”  According to Christian Theology, it is unthinkable that God, in His goodness, would sit back and do nothing to save His creation.  It is because of God’s goodness and love that He sent His beloved Son into the world to save it.  As St. John states: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not parish but have everlasting life” (John 3:15).

The Atheist, however, does not have a foundation upon which he might build the argument that anything is intrinsically evil.  A physical event–such as the movement of atoms, or the falling of an apple from a tree, or bodily death–has no inherent value.  Physical events simply happen; they just “are.”  Any value judgment that an Atheist makes about a physical event is totally subjective—for, ultimately, values amount to nothing more than statements about one’s inner feelings (which, by the way, are merely physical events that he has no control of).  When Mr. Loftus laments over the death of millions of people—as if death were an objective evil—he is merely sharing his personal feelings.  He has no grounds to claim that death is “evil’ in any real sense at all.  Furthermore, the Atheist, unlike the Christian, has no ultimate hope.  No matter how much power man gains over nature through science, he will never be able to change the fact that he is corruptible, dissoluble, finite, limited, contingent, and mortal.

Conversely, in the face of death, Christians have metaphysical grounds to believe that death is a horrendous evil and hope for a new life and a restored world.

The New Atheists Are the Old Evangelicals


They’re increasing in number, writing books at an increasing pace, gaining political influence both in the United States and abroad. They’re appearing more and more on television, gearing up their followers, and telling us that if we would only follow what they say, the world would be a better place. Yet, to doubt them or critique them only brings about harm. While they preach that their beliefs are completely rational – in fact, to be rational is to agree with them – they don’t use any reason to back up their claims, only rhetoric. Ultimately, the movement is anti-intellectual in that it doesn’t encourage critical thinking, but instead blind adherence to what is being taught.

Am I talking about the New Atheists or the Old Evangelicals (80s and 90s)? The answer is disturbingly “yes.”

Those who grew up in evangelical circles, especially in the 1980s and 90s, are very familiar with the tactics and culture surrounding the New Atheists. The reason is because while the content between the two is drastically different, the overall “zeitgeist” is the same. Both insult opponents rather than engage them in civil dialogue. Both point out the evils of those who disagree with them and show how one particular group is out to destroy the world. The reason evangelical Christians and new atheists don’t get along extends beyond fundamental differences of belief; they don’t like each other because they’re using the same tactics.

The reality is that Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and others are just a few art classes away from producing an atheist-style Jack Chick tract. Whereas the 1980s and 90s had Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson and others promoting the Gospel, ridiculing those who disagreed, and trying to make us a “Christian nation” once again, we now have Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and others promoting “secularism,” ridiculing those who disagree, and trying to make us a “Secular nation” once again.

The Old Evangelicals relied heavily on rhetoric, fear, demonization, and manipulation to increase the masses and move towards what they believed to be the solution. The New Atheists, however, are doing the exact same thing. Their rhetoric challenges Christianity without allowing for a response; try to prove to them that belief in God is rational (even if not true) and you don’t get an educated response. All you get is an ad hominem reply or a series of arguments chock full of question begging. They point out how Christians want to take over America, they do this to induce fear. They move on to demonize anyone who believes in God, with Dawkins going so far in his “documentary” “The Root of All Evil?” to say that parents who raise their children to believe in God are guilty of abuse. All of this is based on manipulation of the facts or by focusing on one element of Christianity to brand all other Christians. These tactics aren’t new, however; they’re stolen from the Old Evangelicals (Religious Right) and are now being used against them.

Both the Old Evangelicals and the New Atheists are, of course, wrong. The reality is that one can approach the realm of faith or unfaith in a rational way. While I would argue that only one way is ultimately rational, it is possible to be a rational atheist, just as it is possible to be a rational Christian. Sadly, there hasn’t been any civil dialogue because neither side is interested in civility; they’re only interested in being right, they’re only interested in winning. In this, and in many ways, the Old Evangelicals and the New Atheists are the same tune, just different lyrics. Adherents to Christianity and those who engage in atheism should shake off these old ways and instead embrace civil dialogue. Or, to put it more bluntly and in a less civil way, they should grow up.

The Biggest Problem With Atheism


The “New Atheists” have made atheism in vogue among the popular masses. While agnosticism and atheism have been popular stances since the early days of the Enlightenment among the educated, until recently it wasn’t all that popular among the average citizen. In the past decade, however, that has begun to change. Chalk it up to the bravado of the New Atheists and their rhetoric, but don’t chalk it up to the content of atheism; that’s because atheism has no content, which is why no one should embrace it.

The biggest problem with atheism is that it tells us nothing about what is or what ought to be. If anything, in recent years, atheism has turned into nothing more than a giant rant against religion, specifically Christianity. Look at any of the popular books on atheism by atheists and it’s full of arguments against the existence of God. We’re told that God is evil, that God is impossible, that it’s irrational to believe in God, that we don’t need God in order to be good, and so on. In other words, all modern atheism does is show us what not to believe, but it puts nothing in the place of God.

We are told that we do not need God in order to be good; but sans God how do we define what “good” is and how do we create an ought to achieve that good? We’re told we don’t need God for the universe to exist; but sans God how do we explain the existence of immaterial laws in a universe that is supposedly solely material? Which came first, the matter/energy or the laws that govern the matter/energy? In other words, atheism tells us that God doesn’t exist, but if we grant this and go, “Okay, then what?” the atheist simply says, “Oh, I don’t have to answer that.”

Yet, and this is the problem with all skepticism, if no content can be provided as to what should be believed in the absence of what is rejected, then what value is the belief? Recognizing that atheism lacks answers to questions is a big reason for some people to turn away from atheism. After all, any child can mock something someone says, but it takes an adult to articulate why a belief is wrong and what should be believed in its stead. This is not to say that all atheists are children; there are some atheists who are making an attempt to explain why we should be ethical in the absence of God, why life has meaning, and so on. But these atheists are few and far between, and they’re getting fewer (either due to death or conversion to theism). The new atheists apparently want to say that life has meaning, life is unique and wonderful, and that universal ethics exist, but don’t want to supply any proper reasoning behind it. While “fanboys” of the new atheists laud their writings, other atheists (especially in academia) recognize that the new atheists have fallen short. In fact, my implication of there being two atheists is explicitly stated by other atheists (though I still think both types of atheism presented in the linked article are sub-standard as they provide no answers).

We look at the universe and through a process of deduction conclude that God is the most probable explanation. The atheist says no, but when we ask him to explain how something came from nothing, we get nothing (even Lawrence Krauss’ book completely falls short of its title). We’re told that we don’t need God in order to be good. When we ask why we ought to be good, we’re told it’s a matter of genetics and evolution. When we point out that we’re then determined and thus there’s no point to shame or praise, we’re told that we can still choose and that we ought to be ashamed for rejecting atheism. When we say that this is the language of free will (in fact, the mere act of attempting to persuade someone is acting on an implicit belief in free will), we’re told that everything is determined. Thus, atheism, in its attempt to prove God doesn’t exist discredits free will, but then seeks to persuade people to believe God doesn’t exist. This is simply one of many contradictions within atheism.

Having answers for the ought is important because the justification behind the ought is what changes society. Why ought I act a certain way? Why ought I pass certain laws? Why ought I care about suffering that is not my own? Why ought I show any concern for society? Ultimately, all atheism can say is, “Well evolution has caused this,” but that’s not an ought, it’s an explanation. Perhaps evolution has led the majority of humans to believe it’s wrong to murder for one’s own benefit, but where is the ought for humans who see no problem with that? And were we to provide an ought for why it’s wrong to murder, ultimately such a justification must be established in a strong metaphysic. But if our metaphysic is nothing beyond, “Something came from nothing as a huge accident” then our justification loses all meaning because it inherently lacks purpose.

Thus, the biggest problem with atheism is that it brings nothing to the table. It cannot create a metaphysic that holds any meaning because the metaphysic will ultimately lack purpose. Perhaps the new atheists can turn to existentialism, but once again we run into the problem; whereas existentialism taught that we provided meaning to our lives (which is something Kai Nielsen teaches), this belief doesn’t work because, yet again, it lacks the ought. Certainly the atheist can say that helping old ladies cross the street provides meaning to our lives, but we can counter that assuming the atheist metaphysic is true, pushing old ladies in front of cars equally provides meaning; neither action is good or bad, they’re simply actions (this is the conclusion Nietzsche came to). None of this is to say that atheists can’t be good – they are often better than many religious people – but it is to say that atheists lack justification for being good.

Of course, the problem of atheism isn’t limited to the realm of ethics, but that’s just the most obvious target. Atheism has no metaphysic, no justification behind its oughtness. Thus, while atheists may ask difficult questions or point to potential problems with theism, it ultimately lacks any substance or any reason for being good. Thus, even if the atheist points out that a reason for being good is false, it doesn’t mean we should disbelieve God, just that we should disbelieve the absoluteness of our reason; there’s still no reason to be an atheist because it simply has no answers. It might be able to question the explanations for “what is,” but it cannot provide its own explanation for “what is.” That is to say, atheism cannot tell us anything about the world around us, but can only question other theories that attempt to make and explanation, meaning atheism, ultimately, brings nothing to the table.

Random Musings: The Value of a Sex Slave


1) what is the value of a sex slave?

2) picture in your mind a young girl, sold by her parents into the sex industry when she was but eleven years of age; her body and her mind ravished by drugs and hordes of foul men.  Perhaps the value of such a girl is merely a matter of utility.  If this is the case, she is only as valuable as she is useful.  But what is her use to society?  She is uneducated, she is addicted to drugs, she is psychologically damaged . . . how useful to society is such a person?  Perhaps, her usefulness is tied to the only job she has ever known?  Perhaps the only thing which shall ever define her is one word: prostitute.  Is this her identity?  Is this her fate?

3) tell me, dear ethicist, does such a girl cease to have value when she ceases to be useful? Do your ethical theories align you with the slave drivers–those dealers in human flesh?  When the slaver deems his product useless, the product losses its value–and it is only fitting, in the mind of such a business man, to destroy what has become a worthless commodity.  After all, this is only good business.

4) how wretched is this thought!  How degrading!  How base!  That a human life should be reduced to mere utility . . . but, if God is dead, if we are simply the endless motion of atoms, what else shall we conclude?

5) I thank my Father in heaven, the Creator and sustainer of all life, that such is not the fate of this young sex slave.  For she is made in your ineffable  image–in the likeness of Beauty, and Life, and Goodness Himself.  I thank you that she has value and dignity–that she is worthy of love and compassion–that she is worthy of our respect.  For her identity, her nature, will never be destroyed because her circumstances do not define her.  For as long as she has being, no amount of torture or abuse can destroy the image of the invisible God that constitutes her essence.

6) I extol the wonders of our Lord who loves this young girl, who bled for this girl, who died for this girl–that she might have life.  Truly you ground our being; our very existence depends upon You.  Truly, it is in you that human beings find their eternal value; and, in turn, their usefulness.

The Nature of Physical Law: A Dialogue Between St. Athanasius, Jaegwon Kim, and Jeffery Poland


Let us suspend reality for just a moment and imagine that St. Athanasius has returned from the grave . . . and is desperately craving a cup of hot coffee.  After locating the nearest local coffee shop, he walks in with a huge smile on his face–having at last found a place to satisfy his craving.  To his great surprise, he discovers the imminent physicalists Jagewon Kim and Jeffery Poland sitting in the back of the shop enjoying their morning brew.  A dialog quickly ensues . . .

Athanasius: “Good morning gentlemen! Grace to you and peace from our heavenly Father who spoke all things into existence through His own eternal Logos, through which all things hold together harmoniously and in good order!”

Jeffery Poland: “Good god man, you can’t be serious! If you please, I’m attempting to enjoy a cup of coffee before my next lecture.

Athanasius: “My apologies my friend, but surely one can not help but extol the wonders of the Logos who holds all things together!”

Jaegwon Kim: “You’re somewhat of an odd fellow. Are you not aware that what holds all things together are the fundamental laws of physics? My dear friend, there is no God. For, all things that exist in this world are bits of matter and structures aggregated out of bits of matter, all behaving in accordance with laws of physics . . . any phenomenon of the world can be physically explained if it can be explained at all. (1) So, enough of this nonsense about a divine logos.”

Athanasius: “I see. But, if you will, please explain to me the nature of these laws. Are the laws of physics themselves physical?

Jaegwon Kim: “Do we not experience them in the physical world? For all the things we experience are physical. Is this not obvious?

Athanasius: “Obvious indeed. So what you are saying is that the fundamental laws of physics . . . are the fundamental laws of physics?

Jaegwon Kim: “No, that would be circular reasoning.”

Athanasius: “My dear friend, if your ontology is correct then the only possible answer to the question of the nature of the laws of physics is that they are ultimately bits of matter and structures aggregated out of bits of matter all behaving in accordance with the laws of physics. For, as you say, “any phenomenon of the world can be physically explained if it can be explained at all.”

Jaegwon Kim: “Yes, I did say that.  But  . . . “

Jeffery Poland: “I didn’t want to get involved in this discussion, but I can hardly sit quietly any longer!  The relevant point here is that physicalists are (or should be) concerned with what exists in nature: i.e. with what can be spatially and temporally related to us, with that with which we can interact and by which we can be influenced, and with that of which we and the things around us are made . . . sets, propositions, universals, and so on, when abstractly conceived, are not considered to be in nature at all. Nor are they within the scope of the physicalists domain of study. (2)  Hence, your argument is superfluous.”

Athanasius: “But Mr. Poland, do you not state in your writings that ‘everything that exists is either an element of the physical basis or is constituted by elements in that basis?” and do you not further assert that, ‘everything that exists is, in this sense, ‘ontologically grounded’ in the physical domain?” (3)

Jeffery Poland: “Well yes . . .”

Athanasius: “So, physicalism is committed to the belief that everything which exists is ultimately grounded in the physical domain?

Jeffery Poland: ” . . . yes.”

Athanasius: “Tell me, Mr. Poland, do the laws of physics exist?

Jeffery Poland: “Well, of course . . .”

Athanasius: “Clearly, then, the laws of physics fall within the explanatory scope of physicalism!”

Jeffery Poland: “But that would lead to a tautology.”

Athanasius:  “Exactly!  And you’ve only two ways in which to avoid this tautology:  (1) you can accept that the laws of physics are nonphysical universal truths, or (2) you can reformulate physicalism as being a methodological doctrine rather than an ontological one.  Perhaps the notion of a divine logos is not so foolish after-all?”

(1) Kim, Jaegwon. Physicalism or Something Near Enough. New York: Princeton University Press, 2001. 149-150.

(2) Poland, Jeffrey. Physicalism:  The Philosophical Foundations. New York: Oxford, 1994. 228.

(3) Ibid. 18.

Random Musings: The Nature of Beauty


1)  Does beauty truly exist?

2)  Perhaps beauty is merely a feeling; an inner subjective experience; my impression of a perception . . . an emotion.  Perhaps beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.  If this is the case, it is false to believe anything truly is beautiful.  When I look at the sunrise and exclaim in awe, “how beautiful!” I am merely expressing a feeling—I am communicating something private.  For the sunrise is not beautiful in any objective, concrete, sense; it is just an object within space and time.  Like all objects, it has no intrinsic value, no purpose, no meaning, it conforms to no pattern.  I, the observer, give it meaning . . .

3)  If beauty is simply a subjective experience, a feeling, then to speak of beauty is no different than to speak of indigestion.  In effect, the expression, “how beautiful,” is functionally equivalent to the expression, “my stomach hurts.”

4)   How wretched life would be if beauty did not exist!  I look at my wife, an angel, the radiance of the sun instantiated in human form . . . yet, this isn’t real.  The beauty of my wife is nothing but maya—an illusion.  In reality she is the endless shifting of atoms, the constant flux of matter and energy; as am I.  To say that my wife is beautiful is really to say that one shifting batch of atoms (my wife) collided with another shifting batch of atoms (my eyes) creating a chemical response in my brain and producing a particular emotion.  Her beauty is but one euphoric chemical reaction—an animal instinct, a sexual desire.

5)  In a world devoid of intrinsic value, beauty is degraded—it becomes something base.

6)   But surely beauty must exist!  Surely the sunrise is more than the endless shifting of atoms; more than the sense of awe engendered by a brute biochemical response to perception.  Surely such reactions occur in the presence of great beauty—a beauty woven into the very fabric of reality.  A form . . . an idea . . . a logos . . .

Nihilism, Fr. Seraphim Rose, and Horse Feathers


Allow me to be a hipster for one second: My favorite band is probably a band you’ve never heard. They are Horse Feathers, a mix of Americana, Indie, and folk, so if you’re into that kind of thing they’re worth checking out. What I really appreciate about the band is the depth of their lyrics (and the banjo, I’m a sucker for a banjo).

Regardless, they released their new album “Cynic’s New Year” (which, in my opinion, is their best album to date). On the album they have a song called “Last Waltz” that musically is brilliant, but the lyrics just stand out to me. Now, I don’t know what Justin Ringle (or whoever wrote the song) meant by the lyrics, but they make a point that I really want to stress. Here are those lyrics:

I’ve seen the end
All I have loved had broke and won’t mend.
Call in the doctor the day may have died.
There’s a thimble of light for an acre of sky.

Darling we play the dunce,
There’s changes ahead,
coming at once.
I don’t like to lie,
There’s a divorcing sea.
Where will we go if there’s nowhere to be?

Call in the Doctor and break the news,
We’re sick in the head, our hearts’ got the blues.
Where in the world, oh where is the sun?
There’s a blackness that’s bit, it’s bitings not done.

Darling we play the dunce,
There’s changes ahead,
coming at once.
I don’t like to lie,
There’s a divorcing sea.
Where will we go if there’s nowhere to be?

Old friends withering away,
Just like the cliffs found down by the bay.
I don’t like to lie it’s a terrible thing.
Time’s got a way to take more than it brings.

Before hitting that point, I should point out that I also just finished reading Nihilism by Fr. Seraphim Rose. In the book he points out how Nihilism removes the meaning from life by removing God. Whereas atheism is simply the statement that God does not exist, Nihilism seeks to destroy the idea of God wherever it is found, it actively tries to “kill God.” In doing so, all meaning is lost.

Thus, it’s probably no surprise that when I read the lyrics of Horse Feathers, I see modern man plastered all over them. I think of Nietzsche’s monologue in The Gay Science, where taking on the role of the madman, he writes:  Continue reading