Atheism, agnosticism and pessimism

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Although Bertrand Russell was an agnostic, he had favorable views of atheism.[1] Bertrand Russell wrote in 1903 about entropy and the universe:

That man is the product of causes that had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins- all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand.

"Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding dispair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built." [2]

In a letter to Lowes Dickinson, Bertrand Russell wrote:

We stand on the shores of an ocean, crying to the night and the emptiness; sometimes a voice answers out of the darkness. But it is a voice of one drowning; and in a moment the silence returns” (Bertrand Russell, Autobiography, p. 287 as quoted by Leroy Koopman, “Famous Atheists Give Their Testimonies,” Moody Monthly, Nov. 1975, p. 124.) [3]

See also:

Atheist philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer and pessimissim

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788—1860) was a German philosopher and he was an atheist.[4] He deeply affected Friedrich Nietzsche, and was among the first to assert that at its center, the universe is not a rational place. However, atheism is an irrational worldview (see: Atheism and irrationality).

According the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Schopenhauer’s pessimism is the most well known feature of his philosophy, and he is often referred to as the philosopher of pessimism. Schopenhauer’s pessimistic vision follows from his account of the inner nature of the world as aimless blind striving.

Because the will has no goal or purpose, the will’s satisfaction is impossible. The will objectifies itself in a hierarchy of gradations from inorganic to organic life, and every grade of objectification of the will, from gravity to animal motion, is marked by insatiable striving. In addition, every force of nature and every organic form of nature participates in a struggle to seize matter from other forces or organisms. Thus existence is marked by conflict, struggle and dissatisfaction.[5]

Atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and pessimism

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844—1900) was a German philosopher and an atheist. His work set a foundation for the existentialist movement of the 1900s.[6]

Russel Grigg's short synopsis of Nietzsche states:

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche repudiated Christianity and traditional morality, declared God to be dead, and identified himself with Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and excess. In the place of God he postulated an imaginary, all-powerful, amoral Superhuman (German Übermensch), exemplified in the 20th century in the person of Adolf Hitler. Although he construed human existence naturalistically, he was severely critical of Darwin’s mechanism for evolution, and proposed instead what he called “the will to power”. Of his many books, the best known is his philosophical novel Thus Spake Zarathustra, in which he uses a semi-biblical style to present his anti-Christian ideas to the world.[7]

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy says about Nietzsche's pessimism:

That Nietzsche could not countenance Schopenhauer’s “ethical pessimism” and its negation of the will was recognized by the young man quite early during this encounter. Yet, even in Nietzsche’s attempts to construct a counter-posed “pessimism of strength” affirming the will, much of Schopenhauer’s thought remained embedded in Nietzsche’s philosophy, particularly during the early period. Nietzsche’s philosophical reliance on “genius”, his cultural-political visions of rank and order through merit, and his self-described (and later self-rebuked) “metaphysics of art” all had Schopenhauerian underpinnings. Also, Birth of Tragedy’s well-known dualism between the cosmological/aesthetic principles of Dionysus and Apollo, contesting and complimenting each other in the tragic play of chaos and order, confusion and individuation, strikes a familiar chord to readers acquainted with Schopenhauer’s description of the world as “will” and “representation.”[8]

For more information, please see: Nietzsche, the man who took on God and lost!

Richard Dawkins and pessimism

See also: Atheism and the origin of the universe

“When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:3-4)

The new atheist Richard Dawkins flip-flops between agnosticism and atheism (see: Richard Dawkins and agnosticism).

According to Dawkins, "The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference."[9]

On the other hand, Wayne Jackson writes in the Christian Courier:

...the scope of our amazing universe has psychological value. When David reflected upon the jeweled canopy above, he was constrained to contemplate his own purpose: “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:3-4). Our universe simply is not an example of non-design.[10]

Depressing implications of an atheist worldview

See also: Atheism and morality and Atheism and the problem of evil and Atheism and depression

Atheism is worldview (see: Atheist worldview).

Lenin left, Stalin right

The article The World of Atheistic Implications declares:

Putting ourselves in the mind of an atheist is hard for most of us. Honestly, have many of us really tried to think how reality might be perceived from the opposite side of the theological spectrum? For me, I began thinking about what life would look like through the paradigm of a non-believer. My mind immediately gravitated towards the notion that the universe would be void of cosmic justice. The idea of Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Mao, Lenin, and innumerable other evil dictators being morally blameless for their crimes gave me a sense of discomfort. Many atheists make the objection that the Christian God is evil because He called for the extermination of the Canaanites but dismiss the idea of cosmic justice to rectify mass evil when it comes to the evils perpetrated by the wicked dictators over the last century. Obviously, the ponderings about the existence of cosmic justice doesn’t provide us with a conclusion of whether a God truly exists or not. However, this dismissive attitude towards truly evil wrongdoers while being supercritical over their misperceived evil conducted by the Old Testament God is worth noting.

So, if you’re an atheist, you must find a way to reconcile the notion of ‘evil’ in order to live consistently with an atheist worldview. If you truly reject the existence of God, you would have to reject the existence of an objective moral standard that would serve to measure the morality of our actions. For instance, Hitler and Mother Teresa would be morally indifferent because there is no objective standard to measure their actions. If the atheist would develop a standard of morality, it would be a subjective standard that would not be authoritative among humanity. An atheist could judge the moral actions of someone else however they could not judge them on any moral foundation other than the one they’ve personally constructed for themselves. If I was an atheist that would really take the wind out of my sails. Maybe that is why you see a lot of atheists supporting pro-choice and same-sex marriage laws. In a world with no objective moral standard, why would these two behaviors (or any behavior for that matter) be considered immoral?

Humanity is purposeless. You have no value. You’re a meaningless product of a random evolutionary process that initially developed from the spawn of a single-celled organism. The relationships you derive are also meaningless. Everything that you do in this life has no objective value. You’re living day-to-day only to accomplish the goal of mere survival.[11]

Discouraged individuals within the atheist movement

See also: Atheists and the endurance of religion and Atheist pessimism about the atheist movement and Desecularization

Within the atheist movement and within the atheist population at large, many individuals have low morale given the various trends related to desecularization (see: Growth of global desecularization). the contentiousness within the atheist movement (see: Atheist factions) and the enduring nature of religion (see: Atheists and the endurance of religion and Atheist pessimism about the atheist movement).

The American atheist activist Eddie Tabash said at the 2010 Michigan Atheists State Convention:

In every generation there has been a promising beginning of a true vanguard movement that will finally achieve widespread public acceptance for nonbelief. Yet, in each generation there has been an ultimately disappointing failure to actually register the naturalistic alternative to supernatural claims in the public consciousness...[12]

The British agnostic Eric Kaufmann wrote in 2010:

Worldwide, the march of religion can probably only be reversed by a renewed, self-aware secularism. Today, it appears exhausted and lacking in confidence... Secularism's greatest triumphs owe less to science than to popular social movements like nationalism, socialism and 1960s anarchist-liberalism. Ironically, secularism's demographic deficit means that it will probably only succeed in the twenty-first century if it can create a secular form of 'religious' enthusiasm." [13]

On September 27, 2014 in a blog post entitled The Atheist Disillusionment, the prominent atheist PZ Myers declared:

I will make a prediction, right here and now.... The number of people identifying as atheists will stagnate or even shrink, because organized atheism is happily in the process of destroying itself with regressive social attitudes, scandals, and their bizarre focus on irrelevant metaphysical differences that don’t help people...

Unless we change.

I don’t know that we can.[14]

See also


  1. Russell, Bertrand (1947) "Am I An Atheist Or An Agnostic?"[1] Most online sources say "by which one prove," probably a mistake.
  2. Entropy and heat death
  3. Atheism and the despair of hope
  4. Arthur Schopenhauer, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  5. Arthur Schopenhauer, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  6. Stanford's Biography on Nietzsche.
  7. Nietzsche, the man who took on God and lost! by Russell Grigg
  8. Friedrich Nietzsche, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  9. Richard Dawkins quote
  10. Some Atheistic Arguments Answered by Wayne Jackson
  11. The World of Atheistic Implications
  12. Atheists Speak Up - Eddie Tabash
  13. Shall the religious inherit the earth? - Eric Kaufmann
  14. The Atheist Disillusionment - PZ Myers, September 27, 2014