“Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” – Romans 1:20
The propagation of the species is the best thing that materialistic Darwinian atheism can offer as a purpose for human life and all life in general. “Purpose” isn’t even the right word. There is no intent, no design to living things. It’s all just a happy accident.
The scary thing is watching atheism admit this, even revel in it. To do so, the atheist must bury their head in the sand in so far as a desire for a higher purpose is concerned. Human beings innately desire purpose. It’s hard-wired into what we are. That’s what makes religion so popular and it’s what makes atheism so uncomfortable, by admission as we will see shortly.
Today, the internet was given a window into what may go on in the mind of the atheist as they grapple with this discomfort.
This is very disturbing. Not just the video itself but how well it has been received. As I watched this, a lot of questions came to mind. I wondered how many of the assertions in the video I would be able to confront and how many I’ll have to think about. I wondered how well members of my generation would be able to respond to this video, particularly my fellow Christians. I thought of various arguments for and against faith and higher purpose.
My conclusion was that this is very bad. I’ll aim to be concise but I hope I can still defend competently how this philosophy is garbage.
1. The Very Premise
My thoughts kept coming back to the contradiction of the title. “Optimistic Nihilism.” How is such a thing possible? What are you looking on the bright side of? Your life is without meaning, short, and you and all your works will be forgotten. Where is the room for optimism here?
What you have in this philosophy is a call for willful rejection of reality. Try not to think about the true nature of your life. Just focus on whatever makes you feel good.
This is not rational. This is not a pursuit of truth. What this is is the logical end of atheism.
“We don’t know any more about human existence than you do.”
Don’t think of this as any sort of a truth claim. We can’t know the truth and you can’t know the truth. Mutually assured epistemic destruction! We might as well just fabricate a worldview that solves some of the immanent problems we ourselves have just caused.
The very notion of an “Optimistic Nihilism” is incoherent and to maintain it requires a voluntary dismissal of the worldview it attempts to address. It’s functionally self-ignorant. However, this is consistent with atheistic worldview which, lacking any idea of divine revelation, doesn’t have a good reason to even speculate on the nature of the supernatural in the first place. You might as well keep your mouth and mind shut.
If you’re just an ape who evolved to find food and procreate, you might as well embrace the fact that nothing in nature compels you to do thoughtful philosophy.
2. Flagrant Dismissal of Religion
A previous Kurzgesagt video called for the replacement of the Gregorian calendar without any consideration to its history or origin. They rhetorically asked “What happened 2000 years ago that was so important anyway” without acknowledging even the claim of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. More willful ignorance.
In our video on Optimistic Nihilism we learn that religion’s main impetus is a desire to make life less “Scary and confusing.” This is disgusting. It is a reductionist misrepresentation, a deafness, and an insult to religious communities of the world and it makes no attempt to engage with what religious and spiritual people actually believe.
Lumping all the religions of the world into one category and trying to assign a common motive is lazy and thoughtless. Religious traditions vary greatly in their arguments from the accuracy of a historical claim, to the preservation of a certain text, or to personal spiritual experience. And they don’t all try to make life less “Scary and confusing.” Buddhism challenges the desire for comfort in the first place! The gods of the Abrahamic faiths are capable of passing some decidedly non-comforting judgements!
And what hypocrisy! What is this video trying to do other than comfort the poor souls who feel scared and confused in their atheism!
Now I do think the religions of the world do have one common impetus that this video lacks – a desire to take seriously the innately human desire for purpose rather than putting our fingers in our ears and humming loudly until we die.
To my fellow Christian readers, I would love to introduce the Argument from Desire which I learned from C. S. Lewis.
1. Humans beings have a desire for higher purpose in eternity (this is plainly evident in all human endeavor).
2. Natural desires are such that they can be satisfied (hunger by food, thirst by water, loneliness by companionship.)
3. Therefore, there must be some higher purpose in eternity (unless evolution just conveniently happened to misfire on this particular issue).
The very existence of religion and spiritual practice suggests that there is something that the happy nihilists would rather dismiss flippantly and without further discussion. That discussion must take place.
3. Where This Leads
Please reread this section from the video.
“You only get one shot at life which is scary but it also sets you free. If the universe ends in heat death, every humiliation you suffer in your life will be forgotten. Every mistake you made will not matter in the end. Every bad thing you did will be voided. If our life is all we get to experience, then it’s the only thing that matters. If the universe has no principles, the only principles relevant are the ones we decide on. If the universe has no purpose, then we get to dictate what it’s purpose is.”
Let’s think about this for a moment. “It also sets you free.” From what!? What on earth are we free from! Death? The only thing this sets you free from is moral obligation! Where does this lead us? The video suggests that we use our freedom in the universe to make people happy and contribute to the establishment of an interstellar human empire, but what an arbitrarily chosen goal that is!
“Do the things that make you feel good. You get to decide whatever this means for you.”
Rape and kill! What if that’s what my answer was? Or everyone’s collectively? After all, my purpose is to propagate my DNA, right? So I would achieve my highest purpose in life through the broadest propagation of my DNA and the elimination of my reproductive rivals. Any civil authority that tried to stop me would not be acting consistently with the philosophy of Optimistic Nihilism. Anyone raped should take solace in the fact that they are succeeding as a reproductive agent and anyone killed should take solace in the fact that the gene pool will be better for the elimination of a weaker element.
Does the picture painted in the preceding paragraph fill you with disgust? Good! Do you know why? It sure has nothing to do with Optimistic Nihilism, I’ll tell you that much!
Also, notice “If our life is all we get to experience, then it’s the only thing that matters.” The emphasis is all on the one experiencing. It’s your experience. As long as you don’t struggle with burdensome feelings of empathy or compassion, who cares what some other jerk experiences? It’s your life that matters. This isn’t eusociality, this is sociopathy.
You recognize that this picture of society is disgusting because you were made in God’s image and built to recognize objective right and wrong.
4. Sources and explanations (lack thereof)
Rejection of theism – undefended and indefensible.
Supposed origin of religion – undefended.
“This life might be it” – Might is not good enough, see Pascal’s Wager.
Constant undertone of agnosticism – undefended.
Purposelessness of universe – undefended and indefensible.
“Build some kind of utopia in the stars” – totally arbitrary
Assertion after assertion, no sources or explanations.
Optimistic Nihilism, everybody! An ideology that is incoherent in its very premise, demands that you ignore its foundational worldview, reduces and misrepresents its opponents, and wrapped up in some sentimentality not native to its worldview to distract you from its horrifying logically consistent end. Almost a million views, 140 thousand likes and counting. I weep for this generation.
Now there are a lot of things I’d like to say to wrap this up. I’d like to say that we desperately need to reintroduce sound philosophical training to our public schools, for example. But I’m gonna do something I haven’t done on this blog yet. I’m gonna end this post with an altar call.
Your life is not without purpose and your desire for purpose is not an accident. You were made in the image of God (that is in the likeness of his character and attributes: moral judgement, rationality, creativity, authority, and much more) to glorify God and enjoy him forever. He has set eternity in your heart so that, through faith in him, you can have eternal life.
Don’t drown out your God-given search for meaning in youtube videos. Go to the cross of Christ.