Friday, March 4, 2011

The courage of Nietzsche

I've wrote on Nietzsche's philosophy in the past and I think it's time to write about him again, especially after reading and listening to a recent question given to Richard Dawkins. His (Dawkins') response to the question was weak and sophomoric, which is very unsurprising given Dawkins' history in these events. Now, I don't want to bash Dawkins here because he is excellent in his field (Biology), so I will certainly give him credit for that, but I don't think he should be engaging in debates given his poor argumentation. Consider philosopher of science Michael Ruse's comments on Dawkins' book The God Delusion:

"It is not that the atheists are having a field day because of the brilliance and novelty of their thinking. Frankly - and I speak here as a nonbeliever myself, pretty atheistic about Christianity and skeptical about all theological claims - the material being churned out is second rate. And that is a euphemism for "downright awful." [. . .] It is simply that it (and the other works, some of which I have gone after elsewhere) is not very good. For a start, Dawkins is brazen in his ignorance of philosophy and theology (not to mention the history of science). [. . .] Dawkins misunderstands the place of the proofs, but this is nothing to his treatment of the proofs themselves. This is a man truly out of his depth." 

He later says that the God Delusion makes him embarrassed to be an atheist. Can you blame him? Dawkins is not alone in the new atheist method of argumentation. The method (wrapped in different ways) is simply to remove God and Christianity, but to keep the morality that comes from God. How can you do this? When following atheism and all of the flavors of it (naturalism, nihilism, etc.) to its logical conclusions, you don't get objective moral values. What do you get? Nietzsche realized that when you take God out of the picture, all you have is meaninglessness. That is the natural conclusion. What does Dawkins do with his naturalism? 

"Dawkins:….What I do know is that what it feels like to me, and I think to all of us, we don’t feel determined. We feel like blaming people for what they do or giving people the credit for what they do. We feel like admiring people for what they do. None of us ever actually as a matter of fact says, “Oh well he couldn’t help doing it, he was determined by his molecules.” Maybe we should… I sometimes… Um… You probably remember many of you would have seen Fawlty Towers. The episode where Basil where his car won’t start and he gives it fair warning, counts up to three, and then gets out of the car and picks up a tree branch and thrashes it within an edge of his life. Maybe that’s what we all ought to… Maybe the way we laugh at Basil Fawlty, we ought to laugh in the same way at people who blame humans. I mean when we punish people for doing the most horrible murders, maybe the attitude we should take is “Oh they were just determined by their molecules.” It’s stupid to punish them. What we should do is say “This unit has a faulty motherboard which needs to be replaced.” I can’t bring myself to do that. I actually do respond in an emotional way and I blame people, I give people credit, or I might be more charitable and say this individual who has committed murders or child abuse of whatever it is was really abused in his own childhood. ….

Manzari: But do you personally see that as an inconsistency in your views?

       Dawkins: I sort of do. Yes. But it is an inconsistency that we sort of have to live with otherwise life would be intolerable. But it has nothing to do with my views on religion it is an entirely separate issue."

That's not courage. That is not being consistent with your argument. Maybe Dawkins doesn't really believe the evidence? Or maybe our moral values and duties are not products of naturalistic determinism? Either way, Dawkins, like many of the new atheists, is not following his arguments to their logical conclusions. 

Looking at Nietzsche, we see a man that was truly revolutionary for his time. To go against the moral establishment of his day took courage. Not only did he make a case against Judeo-Christian morals, but also against utilitarianism and kantianism; looking to bring a more naturalistic source to life itself. Nietzsche observed the master and slave moralities as being in opposition to each other and thus, creating tension on people. The slave morality called for people to suppress their inner urges for "selfish gains" and concentrate on helping others, even though such persons could be supermen if allowed to pursue their "will-to-power." Nietzsche felt that morality is good for the masses, but exceptional people should be left follow their "inner-law." 

The statement "God is dead" is made in several of Nietzsche's works leaving many to label him as an atheist, but the more important question to this statement is, "What now?" If God is dead, what happens now? Nietzsche believed that the death of God would lead to utter nihilism, i.e., universal meaning and objective truth would no longer exist; life would be meaninglessness. The result would be that each person would have his own perspective, but there wouldn't be any real truth, hence no morality. Even though Nietzsche knew the conclusion to the death of God, he did offer a solution to the nihilistic fate of man: Ubermensch. 

What is most important here though is that Nietzsche realized that if you kill God, then there is nothing more than nihilism. You no longer have moral values and duties. Rape, murder, slander, etc., would no longer be evil; such acts would just be unfashionable. Nietzsche didn't try and retain objective moral values in his philosophy. The Ubermensch didn't act as an objective value giver, because it is free from the "failings" of truth and essence. Nietzsche was attempting to create a new world, one of Supermen. A way to visualize this concept is to look at Hitler and the Nazi regime, while it's not a true concept of Nietzsche's philosophy (he was against antisemitism and German nationalism) you can see that Hitler read Nietzsche's work (though not too clearly). 

Do I follow Nietzsche's philosophy? No, I believe the Christian worldview is the best explanation for our questions. However, I do respect his honesty in following the evidence where it leads. His work is also interesting and did shed light on issues. People should enjoy their life here on earth because life is short. Some theologians during Nietzsche's time were encouraging self-mutilation, reminiscent of eastern religions, which is not at all what God wants us to do with our time on Earth. Yes, Christians look forward to life after death, but the Christian is not to hate this life and to view it as evil. Heaven and Earth are not in opposition like good and evil. So, I think Nietzsche made good observations in that some religions do encourage hatred of this life and that is wrong to place such a heavy burden on the backs of people like that. Therefore, there are two things important to this blog post that I want to make clear:

1. Be consistent in your thinking and honest with the conclusion(s). If you don't like the conclusion(s), then change your position. 

2. Love life. There are moral values and duties to follow, yes, however they are not so binding on us that we cannot enjoy life. 

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