Thursday, January 05, 2012

Atheism and nihilism

I categorized GSS participants as atheists or non-atheists, and as nihilists or non-nihilists. Nihilists answered strongly agree, agree, or neutral to the question that life serves no purpose. With a sample size of 3,708, I found that 17.8 percent of atheists versus 8.2 percent of everyone else are nihilists. This difference is statistically significant. So atheism more than doubles the risk of believing that life is without purpose.   (On the other hand, the vast majority--more than 80 percent--of atheists believe life serves a purpose.)


  1. Correlation != causation.

  2. Wow, DR. Did you go to college?

  3. Only around 20% of atheists have actually thought through their position. You see, if there is no 'hereafter', you are a dying man, living in a dying nation, in a dying culture, of a dying race, existing on a dying world, orbiting a dying Sun, in a dying galaxy, that exists within a dying universe. In the cosmic twinkling of a eye, everything you have known will be no more, and everything you have done will be for naught. If man weren't so good at rationalizing, I'd expect far more than 20% of atheists to be nihilists.

  4. Jehu nails it. The only intellectually consistent atheists are nihilist. All of history's philosophers were in agreement on this.

    My question is this:
    Has their ever been a nation that was mostly atheistic and 'rising' in power and influence at the same time?

  5. @Dan,

    Yes early Imperial Rome has a largely atheistic overclass. Most noble Romans understood the stories of the "gods" to be parables and not literal fact.

    In addition China today, whose state government is officially atheist.

  6. @DR --

    I don't know that much about ancient Rome but I mean the general populace and not some elite subset.

    As for China, for most of the twentieth century under Marxism they punched *far* below their weight, being a high IQ country having the per capita GDP similar to the world's poorest countries.

    In the last 20 years China has risen rapidly from being a very poor country to being a middle income country. During those same years China has undergone what Christian writers have compared to the Pentecost itself, going from a standing start to 200 million faithful in just a few years. It is often said that there are most people in church in communist China than in all of Europe on any given Sunday these days. Many and indeed probably a majority of those religious are young, upwardly mobile professionals. Very interestingly official China, while still demanding allegiance to the state, seems to take a tolerant view, seeing that as part of the magic sauce of the rival they hope to overtake.

    Correlation is not causation I know. Still, these examples you give seem to serve my point rather nicely.

  7. I interpret this question to mean does life serve a supernatural purpose (since scientific and metaphysical purposes to life are axiomatic), therefore I would answer "no" because I disbelieve in the supernatural.

    I'm sure many religious people and non-religious people interpret this question similarly.


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