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                   Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - 10:18AM CDT

Value of human life: a naturalistic absurdity

By DAN ROBINSON
Storm Chaser/Photographer
25 Years of Storm Chasing
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Philosophy isn't just a boring class you take in college. Our life philosophy determines the core values of society and ultimately the direction our lives take - individually and collectively as both communities and a nation. I've become very interested in this subject, giving it a good amount of thought. It's become apparent to me that the root difference between a civilized society and savagery is not in factors like intelligence, knowledge and strength, but rather essentially the level to which that group of people values human life. This value of human life is unique in that it ascribes inherent value to not only the individual, but equally to others. From this core value springs all of the good things we enjoy as civilized society - science, medicine, a criminal justice system, safety measures, respect, love, friendship, heroism, charity - the list is endless.

The big question then, is where do we get the idea of our lives having value?

Inherent value of human life, that is, the value that one ascribes to his fellow man (either equal or above that of his own life), cannot be derived through naturalistic means. Such a concept is absent in nature. Naturalistically speaking, all organisms do simply whatever it takes to survive and satisfy its own instincts. Protecting the lives of others in the 'community' (such as in the case of ants, bees and birds) is only done when it is convenient to individual survival (or the survival of one's direct offspring). Otherwise, nature is a morally-exempt free-for-all of instincts and impulses to satisfy the wants and needs of the individual, with no thought or concern for the lives, happiness or welfare of others. No means to that end are unacceptable in the animal kingdom, for example, where acts of murder, theft and violence are morally inert.

So, absent a God - and more specifically, a moral obligation and personal accountability to that God - what makes humans different from the rest of nature? Naturalistically speaking, absolutely nothing. We have no natural 'right' to claim that our lives have any more inherent value than that of insects, spiders and microbes. Naturalistically, we ultimately have no solid foundation to even claim any 'rights' at all, for that matter.

Any attempt to derive a worldview of human life having value in a purely naturalistic sense is, to paraphrase Agent Smith in 'The Matrix', "a construct of a feeble human intellect desperately trying to find meaning and purpose". It would be no different than a housefly, rotavirus or algae trying to do the same. Any merit we ascribe to progress, welfare of our fellow man, advances in science, pleasures in life, longevity, happiness, living 'life to the fullest', and so on - is nothing more than a thinly vieled self-deception away from the harshness of our true irrelevance in a cold, Godless and indifferent universe - no more outrageous than the supposed self-deception of believing in a God that allegedly does not exist.

The following comments were posted before this site switched to a new comment system on August 27, 2016:

The fact is your God is a phenomenon of your mind every bit as much as a humanists value of his fellow man is. I value my fellow man and wish my children and mankind in general a productive and happy successful future. The fact that you apparently think that a secular humanist can only view his own children, his wife, his relatives and all their relatives casting out into a net as wide as mankind is perhaps a sign of your own depravity in not being able to do the same without a concept of God to give it to you. It's a sad commentary. For you it seems love can only exist if you can say you were purposefully created and therefore you must imagine a God that did it. So apparently without your faith you could watch your child be run over by a truck, shrug your shoulders, and go back to turn over your chicken on the BBQ. Because love and concern is not inherently in your nature. Whereas you have no knowledge of such a being superior to anyone else's knowledge. You, by imagining yourself part of "God's creation" are in your own matrix. Which is fine, but wouldn't it be better if you knew it instead of placing yourself above others because you embrace your particular brand of matrix and not theirs?
- Posted by bruce
Humanists have a right to claim inherent value just as you have a right to claim a belief in a god.
- Posted by bruce
Bruce, the problem with your first post is that you're drawing your own caricature of my reasons for belief which is completely false. I can't begin to respond to anything like that when you're beginning with false assumptions. I would recommend checking out reasonablefaith.org for an overview that parallels my own reasons for belief. Even if the site does not provide you with personally-compelling arguments, hopefully it will illustrate that there are rational paths to faith, even if you don't agree with all of them.
- Posted by Dan R. from New Baden, IL
I am saying that the only logical conclusion of naturalism is nihilism. If naturalism is true, then yes, belief in God would be irrational. However, anything that posits value of human life, rights, etc requires a deviation from logic and reason (based on feeling or something in your mind), equally as irrational as a belief in God.
- Posted by Dan R. from New Baden, IL
Exactly, it's equally as irrational as a belief in God. We're on the same page. And I'm responding to what you wrote. I'm not diving down your rabbit hole in attempts to determine what you might have actually meant. Sorry. My feelings of inherent value to life are just as valid as your feelings about your belief in god. There is nothing unreasonable or irrational about having feelings.
- Posted by bruce
My main point is that if naturalism is true, logic and reason lead you straight to nihilism. In order to arrive at human life having value, naturalism requires one to "jump off the track" of logic and reason to get there - either by appealing to one's feelings or inner thoughts. If naturalism is not true, theism becomes a consistently logical path to human rights/value without having to "jump the track". It then comes down to how does one choose between naturalism or supernaturalism (and by proxy theism)? I find the arguments against naturalism compelling (again, reasonablefaith.org is the best source for those), like the moral argument, the Kalaam, etc.
- Posted by Dan R. from New Baden, IL
Kalaam, the usual circular, infinite regression nonsense. I agree to disagree with your conclusion. It certainly, even if you settle on "God", doesn't lead to the, to my mind, ridiculous mythologies evident in the Abrahmic religious traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Or any other human invented mythology for that matter. Belief in these things are mainly determined by your birthplace and culture.
- Posted by bruce
Jeez, no one is "jumping off the track" any more than anyone else. You can't prove that naturalism is not true so you are just operating on your feelings and your reason and logic. As am I who can't disprove the existence of your god. I don't think you are actually capable of grasping that because I have to keep saying it.
- Posted by bruce
That's a pretty accurate picture of the issue, Bruce. It all starts with whether or not one believes in a God. And yes, I agree, it's an issue which cannot be proven 100% one way or the other. But there are perfectly valid supporting arguments for each. It comes down to which side you find more compelling. Internally-valid paths of logic and reason lead divergently from that single point. After 9 years of questioning my faith, I found that skeptics tend to be less willing to acknowledge or even explore the theistic arguments, instead focusing their energy on defeating religion. Dawkins himself admitted to not investigating the claims of religions, as he's made up his mind. I'd be more content to "agree to disagree" when skeptics at least make an honest effort to understand my reasons for belief. I don't see that happening here or elsewhere, only drawing caricatures that amount to strawmen.
- Posted by Dan R. from New Baden, IL

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