I’ve been contemplating for a while about the “oughts” within epistemology. It is often said that we should do something, or that we are obligated to consider certain types of evidence. But what exactly does this mean? Specifically, I don’t see that it can have any meaning given an atheistic perspective.
Take a recent example. I was talking to a friend of mine who asserted that we “ought” to be skeptical about all things.* The friend was referring to the existence of God as an example, and continued to argue that there are specific things we epistemically should or should not do. We should, for example, approach the question of God’s existence with skepticism. We should take empirical evidence above any other type of evidence. The examples could be multiplied.
The question that came to mind, however, is what kind of justification does an atheist have for arguing that we have epistemic “oughts”? In other words, what is it about people that means we owe it to… well, something… to fully investigate the universe? For, on atheism, there cannot be meaning to our lives other than a “noble lie” which we tell ourselves in order to try to infuse our lives with meaning(Dr. L.D. Rue–cited in On Guard by William Lane Craig, 46). The universe is on a countdown until cosmic heat death. Any actions we take are ultimately utterly devoid of meaning, for no matter how much we impact the human race for good or evil (and who knows what those terms mean, on atheism!?), the human race will, inevitably, fade into non-existence, along with the rest of the universe.
But then what does it matter what our beliefs are? How is it that we can have “oughts” about what we do or don’t believe? What kind of justification is there for thinking that we should or should not try to discover the truth about the universe? Ultimately, my actions, on atheism, do not matter. In the grand scheme of things, I am just more matter in motion, on a big hunk of matter in motion, in a universe filled with matter in motion, which will, itself, fade away.
It is because of this that I cannot think of any reason that there could be epistemic “oughts” on atheism. I think that atheistic philosophy (and indeed anything, on atheism) is an ultimately pointless endeavor, trying to infuse meaning into a universe which is utterly devoid of meaning.
There cannot be epistemic “oughts” on atheism. The very idea is a fiction, another “noble lie” invented to try to keep us from despair.
*I have the friend’s permission to write about this on my blog.
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