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Atheism and the Problem of Human Worth

Ken Hensley October 10, 2017 4 Comments
  • I enjoyed reading your article Atheism and the problem of human worth, and think you developed your “argument” as well supported with scholarly research. I have renewed my appreciation for “arguing” for God since I watched Bishop Robert Barron when sharing with Facebook staff last week: How to make a religious argument. And I am sure you concur with him. Thank you for your expert worldview–I am commenting just to see if I can do this successfully.

    • Ken Hensley

      You did it! Thank you!

  • De Ha

    ***ME***

    ***YOU***

    Naturalism, Value and Dignity

    ***ME***
    I can already tell this is gonna be strawman after strawman after strawman. You’re going to ask questions about human feelings so disconnected I’m going to accuse you of being a sociopath, you’re going to get all arrogant like you think you’re better than animals, and you’re probably going to accuse us of being “inconsistant” because there’s a difference between our actual words and actions and your strawman.
    ***YOU***

    But what if the worldview of the modern garden-variety atheist is true? What if we really are nothing more

    ***ME***
    “nothing more” is a subjective judgement.
    ***YOU***

    than very complicated biochemical machines that appear for a moment, gears spinning, and then disappear forever? What if we really have come from nowhere and are going nowhere?

    ***ME***
    that’s just wrong.
    ***YOU***

    What if we really arenothing more than the product of an entirely impersonal material universe, that we don’t have souls, that we aren’t spiritual beings at all?

    ***ME***
    That would only matter if ghosts exist.
    ***YOU***

    What becomes of inherent value and dignity, then?

    ***ME***
    Nothing has *inherant* value. Things are only worth what you’re willing to pay for it.
    ***YOU***

    It would be an illusion. Objectively speaking, in a naturalist universe we would have no more value than any other aspect of nature.

    ***ME***
    Which is why Atheists like animals.
    ***YOU***

    The only “value” we would possess would be what others were willing to grant us in our few moments on this earth.

    ***ME***
    Uh huh. Money is also worth what we as a society decide it can be traded for. What’s your point?
    ***YOU***

    And of course this is something consistent atheists admit all the time. As Ingrid Newkirk, president of PETA, has said,

    Animal liberationists do not separate out the human animal…. A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. They are all mammals (Vogue Magazine, September 1, 1989)

    ***ME***
    I think you missed the point entirely.
    ***YOU***

    Here’s how atheist philosopher James Rachels puts it:

    As Darwin clearly recognized, we are not entitled—not on evolutionary grounds, at any rate—to regard our own adaptive behavior as ‘better’ or ‘higher’ than that of a cockroach, who, after all, is adapted equally well to life in its own environmental niche (Created from Animals, p. 70).

    Take a moment to read these quotations a time or two. Allow their meaning to sink in. This is consistent naturalism. This is what is simply true if there is no God and we are merely the accidental products of nature.

    ***ME***
    An accident is when a sentient being does something the being didn’t intend.
    ***YOU***

    Indeed, it would be “speciesism” and a crime against nature to assign different values or rights to individuals based on the species of which they are members. After all, we’re all the accidental products of an accidental universe.

    ***ME***
    That’s a blow to your ego, isn’t it?
    ***YOU***

    The Implications of Atheism

    Is there any way to escape this implication of the naturalist worldview?

    ***ME***
    Why would you want to?
    ***YOU***

    Is there any way to justify our thinking of human beings as possessing inherent, high and equal value – a value inherently “higher” than that of rats and pigs and dogs and cockroaches — without believing in our creation in God’s image?

    ***ME***
    One of the things I dislike about religion is the arrogance to think the Univers is about you.
    ***YOU***

    James Rachels readily admits that the Judeo-Christian doctrine of man’s creation in the image and likeness of God may be the only foundation there is to support such an idea. With the rejection of the biblical worldview, he writes,

    The traditional supports for the idea of human dignity are gone….They have not survived the colossal shift of perspective brought about by Darwin’s theory…. [A] Darwinian may conclude that a successful defense of human dignity is most unlikely (Created from Animals, pp. 171-172, emphasis added).

    The Problem of “Equal” Value

    So much for inherent value and high value; what about “equal value?”

    We all say yes to this. Whether we believe in God or not, everyone believes in treating people as though they possessed equal value and dignity.

    ***ME***
    If jehovah plays favourites, then no. No one is equal. If nothing has value, then everyone is equal.
    ***YOU***

    But can an atheist justify this belief on the basis of the worldview he holds?

    ***ME***
    You already quoted PeTA saying animals deserve rights.
    ***YOU***

    Atheist philosopher Joel Feinberg has spent time thinking through this exact question from a naturalist perspective. Since people quite obviously have inequalities of “merit” — inequalities of gifting, talent, ability, personality, character, inequalities in the contribution they make to society

    ***ME***
    You said without God, no one has value. and there’s nothing special about humans. Now you’re saying without God, some humans are better than others. Which is it?
    ***YOU***

    — why is it, he asked, that we seem to have this universal intuition and strong belief that each human being possesses “equal value” and should be treated with “equal dignity?” Why do we believe this and strive to practice it?

    His conclusion was that this intuition and belief, however common it may be, has no grounding or basis whatsoever in the natural world.

    ***ME***
    Lots of things have no basis in the natural world. Money, the internet, etc.
    ***YOU***

    It seems to be some kind of irrational and unjustifiable attitude we share,

    ***ME***
    I don’t think you know what “irrational” means. If you advocate for bringing back slavery, you better say more than “black people can’t vote in the wild”.
    ***YOU***

    a subjective feeling that everyone has equal value, when in fact they don’t (see J.P. Moreland, The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism, pp. 144-145).

    Application to Apologetics

    It’s my belief that this can be a powerful evangelistic tool.

    ***ME***
    And you are wrong. It’s stupid.It raises more questions about you than us and it’s self-contradictory.
    ***YOU***

    Because your atheist friend is the image and likeness of God, and knows that human beings possess inherent, high and equal value,

    ***ME***
    You just said we don’t. Make up your mind!
    ***YOU***

    it’s going to bother him to think that he has no foundation for this belief in his naturalist worldview.

    ***ME***
    Wait, you think rights are the BASIS for everything else we believe??!!

    You are a moron.
    ***YOU***

    When he finds that something he feels to his bones to be true stands in contradiction to his stated worldview, it’s going to bother him.

    ***ME***
    correction; when you strawman us, it’s going to bother us. Telling other people what they think instead of askimg is a dick move.
    ***YOU***

    This is no “proof” of God’s existence. But not everything convincing has to be a proof.

    ***ME***
    Yes it does.

    And you have NO chance of convincing an Atheist of anything if that’s your attitude towards evidence.
    ***YOU***

    What this is is a powerful argument for our being more than mere accidents of nature.

    ***ME***
    No it isn’t. It’s a complaint about an idea that offends your ego because you are arrogant.
    ***YOU***

    It can open the door to the most interesting of conversations.

    ***ME***
    This is the first time you’ve actually tried it on anyone, isn’t it?

    • Ken Hensley

      I don’t mind talking about this. To start, please explain what the “straw man” is you think I’ve presented here. Because I think all I’ve done is draw out the logical implication of materialism with respect to human worth. And you seem in various places to agree entirely with me — that we have no more objective value than any other aspect of creation. So where’s the straw man?

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