A reader recently commented on a post, and in his comment made reference to Christian Science as a form of nihilism. This is a term I and I’m sure most of my readers have heard before, but have never necessarily connected it to Christian Science. I’ve always thought I had a pretty good grasp on what nihilism is, however I figured just for kicks, I’d look it up on-line. It turns out there is more to it than I thought, especially as it relates to Christian Science.
NIHILISM:. . .
1. (a) a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless
(b) a doctrine that denies any objective ground of truth and especially of moral truths 1
I think most of us, like myself, are probably familiar with the (a) definition of nihilism, sort of a point of view of “what do I care, nothing matters anyway”; this is known as existential nihilism, and is probably the most commonly understood form of nihilism. Like I said before, association between Christian Science and nihilism is something I had never really considered, although as I think about this, the (b) definition begins to stand out. It associates somewhat with a newly evolving idea I’ve never heard about before called “metaphysical nihilism”.
Metaphysical nihilism is the philosophical theory that there might have been no objects at all–that is, that there is a possible world in which there are no objects at all; or at least that there might have been no concrete objects at all, so that even if every possible world contains some objects, there is at least one that contains only abstract objects.2
Metaphysical nihilism is an interesting idea that was originally put forward by philosopher Thomas Baldwin in 1996.3 He used the subtraction argument to establish metaphysical nihilism.4 The subtraction argument, presented by Baldwin in three arguments, goes something like this:
(A1) There is a possible world with a finite domain of concrete objects.
(A2) These objects are, each of them, things which might not exist.
(A3) The non-existence of any one of these things does not necessitate the existence of any other such things.5
Going back to the dictionary definition I cited first, the (b) definition, “a doctrine that denies any objective ground of truth…” resonates strongly with me as I relate nihilism to Christian Science. Take that germ of an idea and expand it significantly (use your imagination a bit), and you start to get to the idea of metaphysical nihilism.
Christian Scientists deny the absolute truth of everything that’s around them: the device you’re reading this blog post on, the ground you’re standing on, the walls around you, all of that. To them, it is all an illusion of mortal mind. The absolutist Christian Scientist denies the reality of everything material. This is the basis upon which they claim to be able to heal any disease: they deny that it even exists, as does the body in which the apparent disease is happening; now the paradox of why they’re praying about this so-called “nothing” is a whole different discussion. Argument (A2) is fully expressed in Christian Science, and it follows somewhat into argument (A3), that it would follow that nothing else necessarily exists either.
The metaphysical nihilist would put forth that there is the possibility that there is a world that only contains abstract objects or perhaps objects that may or may not exist. If you’re having trouble getting your head around this, you’re not alone. As I understand it at my early stage of reading about this, the metaphysical nihilist believes that there is a universe, if you will, that contains “things” that may or may not exist, and if some do not exist, that doesn’t necessarily mean others exist. In a grander scheme, to some degree, they deny the existence of any objects in a given “place”, rendering them abstract in some way. That’s the best way I can get my head around it right now.
So, how does this tie back to Christian Science? Is Christian Science a form of nihilism? I think it’s a combination of both kinds of nihilism I’ve presented here: existential and metaphysical nihilism. It puts forward many of the ideas of metaphysical nihilism in that it posits that no “concrete” or as the Christian Scientist would call it “material” objects exist, but then it springs from there into the realm of existential nihilism in that since matter, and all this material world around us with its sickness, disease, death, war, and all that nasty stuff is an illusion that really doesn’t exist, then none of that really matters, so there really isn’t a need to worry about it. After all, it isn’t real, what does it matter, it doesn’t exist, so I don’t care about it. Yes, I think my reader was quite right. Christian Science is a form of nihilism, and I have seen where some very hard-core Christian Scientists do express coldly nihilistic attitudes in the face of very serious conditions.
1 “Nihilism (definition).” Merriam-Wbster. Merriam-Webster, Inc. n.d. Web. 27 June 2014. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nihilism>
2 “Metaphysical Nihilism.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 9 May 2014. Web. 27 June 2014. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metaphysical_nihilism>
3 Rodriguez-Pereyra, Gonzalo. “The Subtraction Arguments for Metaphysical Nihilism: compared and defended.” Oriel College, University Oxford. n.d. Web. 27 June 2014. <http://www.philosophy.ox.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/27447/The_subtraction_arguments_compared_and_defended.pdf>