Philosophy Made Me into an Atheist and a Nihilist
Many people associate philosophy with atheism. Such people would accordingly be ready to draw lines from my undergraduate study of philosophy to my current atheism. But in reality, Christianity did most of what people might want to attribute to philosophy, as I described here. Nevertheless, there was still a role for philosophy to play.
In short, philosophy taught me just how difficult it really is to establish, or prove, or know something. Professors poked and picked at essays, always demanding more support, more justification, more clarity and completeness. Philosophers like Descartes and Hume and Quine dug all the way to the foundations, laying bare the gaps and assumptions in many “obvious” or “common sense” positions. Symbolic logic distilled the rules of deductive reasoning, showing how flawlessly they work, but also how terribly exacting they are. The end result was a rather Socratic knowledge of how little we know.
As for God, it’s not some utterly obvious truth that He exists, nor is it something that we can logically prove.
Similarly, ethical standards, and a meaning or purpose to human life, are also not utterly obvious, or logically provable—from scratch, that is.
They can be proven once you assume a religious proposition or two, though. Assume that the Bible is from God, or that the Jesus of the gospels rose from the dead, and then everything else follows. Once one assumption gets you to the Bible—either directly, or via Jesus—you have an expansive philosophical storehouse. You have to do some work to arrive at a coherent biblical system, but once you do, you’re home free. With relative ease, you can deduce robust accounts of ethics, of meaning, of anthropology. You can make sense of the whole world, and justify some of our very deepest convictions and longings. All it takes is that one assumption.
And philosophy helped me to realize that it all came from that assumption. I knew just how much hung upon Christianity. I didn’t blithely think that most of my beliefs were obvious, were universal, were simple common sense. I knew that instead, they fully and desperately depended upon the Bible. I believed that God had spoken. And I knew that if He hadn’t, we’d know nothing.