I wrote in an earlier post that All Roads Lead to Atheism. In that post I argued that multiple disciplines have contradictions that tend to lead towards a person rejecting religion and becoming an Atheist. I’d like to expand on that, and ask the question: Does Atheism also lead towards a single road?
I mean, wouldn’t it be nice the thoughts of Atheists tended to naturally converge upon a single path, because then it would be easier to cooperate? Well the answer so far appears to be no, and that Atheism leads to many branching roads. Atheism appears to be a resting point on a person’s personal journey toward a better understanding of the world.
Many philosophies and schools of thought have been founded on Atheism. Once a person believes that world has no protective guardian, and presupposes no sacred canon, he tends to be inclined towards giving serious thought about how to better improve our world. In that sense, a lot of good can come from reaching this level of understanding.
Today, many of the professors that teach philosophy at (non-Christian) Universities are Atheists. Even in Ancient Greece many of the Greek philosophers had little need for Gods and have quotations that mocked them, or that encouraged individuals to solve their problems without the Gods. I’m also inclined to believe Kant was actually an Atheist, (or a Deist). I’ve read that Ayn Rand became an Atheist In High School, and she later founded Objectivism. (I may insert more examples here later.)
Perhaps it’d be more accurate to say that philosophy today tend to be founded in response to nihilism. That’s because philosophers must consider the possibility that everything is pointless if they are to be intellectually honest. Moreover, there’s a lot of strong evidence that we are living in a world of chance and tragic accidents, rather than a clockwork universe. (See the Marcus Aurelius misquote.)
Nihilism may be the foundation of modern philosophy, and more layers are just applied on top of that. Whenever a philosopher became a nihilist after realizing that his religion didn’t have the answers for certain problems, and then realized God wouldn’t come down from the sky and save us, he tended to want to take stewardship of the world. Hence, many people have tried to create their own moral frameworks that they could personally thrive under, and then they tried to persuade others their framework was worth following.
Once we tentatively accept the possibilities of nihilism, we don’t tend to stay there, because it’s not satisfactory to behave as though our actions are utterly pointless. Nihilism is therefore a phase, and we tend to make up our own goals. Even if perfectly objective morality doesn’t exist, we can lean toward relative morality (i.e. situational ethics), and most Atheists do that.
People can’t always agree on all of the values though, because we have different experiences and different expectations. We have short lives that prevent us from acquiring all of the experiences of our neighbors, which makes for partial truths. Hence we acquire independent views that appear as self-evident to us, and when discourse breaks down our last retorts to one another is, “If you were born in my shoes you would definitely understand.” Perhaps if we lived long enough our roads would converge again at another point “beyond Atheism.”
That said, the Golden Rule/Silver Rule is so universal it’s usually a foregone conclusion. (It doesn’t even need to be articulated, since it’s a biological adaptation and even 3 year-olds prefer justice, and this raises the question of how useful philosophy really is.) If we have natural controls to stop us from killing each other, perhaps philosophy wasn’t ever enough to stop any wars. Perhaps philosophical literature is often just a feel-good way of articulating what we are already inclined to believe, and reinforcing our own values.
Even so, philosophy might have its day someday. Because there’s a chance that relying on biological controls alone will not be enough if society becomes more complicated, and prone to acts of self-destruction. There may even be times when we need to bring order to the chaos, even if that means stepping on personal liberties through a philosophical framework.