16 October 2008

Atheism: Philosophically Incompatible with Intrinsic Value

In a recent blog post titled "Those Mysterious Atheists", Maclin Horton wrote about the incompatibility of morality and atheism:

Anyone who wants to take a serious look at atheism and morality must ask this question: on what grounds can one say that even physical survival, much less co-operation, altruism, or any other mode of behavior, is good in any definite and permanent way?
. . .

Evolution simply has no logical means for speaking of right and wrong, only of what works, and that only with reference to the production and survival of offspring. It can’t, as the saying goes, move from is to ought.That we should concern ourselves with building a better world is either an abstract principle independent of our wishes or it is a mere subjective preference. And if it’s a subjective preference there is no reason why it should be binding on anyone other than the person doing the preferring. Atheists tend to say that moral questions are indeed a matter of personal preference until you come up with an example that they don’t prefer.
. . .

The fact is that most people including atheists experience the sense that some things are simply right because they’re right and other things are wrong because they’re wrong. Of course there are many differences about the specifics, but almost everyone knows the sensation I’m describing, and the rare exception would be considered sick or evil in any society.

Evolution can offer an explanation of these feelings by asserting that they were conducive to survival, and insist that “right” and “wrong” are simply names for feelings of attraction or aversion to behavior that either does or doesn’t facilitate survival. It can’t say that anything is in fact right or wrong, and it must deny that the sense of right and wrong is what we all experience it to be: a reference to some standard outside our selves and our species. In short, the atheist must deny his own direct experience in order to maintain his intellectual consistency.
This dovetails nicely with an essay by Chesterton (which I just happened to be reading) called "Is Change Improvement?" where he addresses the idea of an evolving morality.
If everything changes, including the mind of man, how can we tell whether any change is an improvement or no?
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Now, nobody can possibly say which of those two evolutionary changes is the better, unless he keeps some standard that cannot be changed. He cannot tell...unless he has some principle...that does not evolve at all.
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What I want to know is, how is the evolutionist to tell whether this is a forward step or a retrograde step, if his ethics are always changing with his evolution?...But how is the unhappy doubter to decide which of these two version of true progress is really true? He can only do it if he has the test of some truth that remains true. The mind is fluid and changing, as the body is fluid and changing. On this principle we may be able to say of the future that it will be a change. But we cannot say it will be an improvement: for that implies that there will always be something in common between us and our descendants; something that we are all trying to improve. Why should that something not change like everything? Is that outside the laws of evolution? Is that a special creation? Is that a miracle? Is that common standard of conscience a thing of divine origin? Dreadful thought!
I would put it in terms of intrinsic value. As Maclin states, evolution cannot account for anything being good, as in, possessing intrinsic value--objective transcendent value in itself. And realizing this was the major impetus which moved me from unbelief back to belief: I could not deny my experience that some things really are beautiful, that some things are good (and conversely that some things are evil). Some answer that that's just my subjective experience/preference...but that's not what I experience. The whole reason I experience something as good or beautiful or evil is because I experience it as objectively so. I don't experience the wrongfulness of Aushwitz as a preference, but as an objective fact. . . it is the experience of its objective evil that gives me my preference for hating it. Atheism cannot account for objective values of this sort, because, as Maclin and Chesterton points out, it requires something to exist outside the universe of change And so the atheist can only account for morality as preference and, in doing so, as Maclin says, he "must deny his own direct experience in order to maintain his intellectual consistency."

1 comment:

Samuel Skinner said...

"I would put it in terms of intrinsic value. As Maclin states, evolution cannot account for anything being good, as in, possessing intrinsic value--objective transcendent value."

Intrinsic means someting is an inherent property of an object. Your defense of tis is... you think it is true. And I think it isn't- which is why we rely on evidence to break the tie.

"I don't experience the wrongfulness of Aushwitz as a preference, but as an objective fact."

Which has no bearing on weter morality as a physical existance.

"Atheism cannot account for objective values of this sort, because, as Maclin and Chesterton point out, it requires something to exist outside the universe of change."

Nope. All the things we declare evil and beautiful occur in this universe- it just requires our universe to have an uncanging bottom.