I have been considering Angels Depart’s conclusion to his side of the recent Does God exist? debate. I was disappointed by this conclusion, since it could have been a charitable and honest review of the debate, but instead introduced new material and arguments, quote-mined me, failed to acknowledge even my successful defense of the harmony of Scripture, and completely ignored the epistemological questions which constituted the very core of the debate. However, although this was disappointing, it was by no means unexpected—as I have mentioned often in my works, Scripture teaches that unbelievers are both deceitful and stupid by biblical standards. I am confident that this will be perspicuous to those who critically examine both sides of the debate, and it seems neither appropriate nor constructive to critique Angels’ conclusion at length here. If he would like to engage further with the epistemological argument I have forwarded I would be quite willing to schedule a second debate, since this would show how he has misunderstood many of my points, and give me the opportunity to more decisively refute the secular position—but I would do this primarily for the benefit of my Christian readers, and not out of a genuine hope for his repentance. In light of his own testimony and Hebrews 6:4-8, I cannot maintain such a hope with much conviction.
Erratum; August 14, 2007: Angels recently posted his deconversion story, from which it appears that Hebrews 6 may not actually apply. There is no mention of doctrine or of difficulties with the propositional content of Scripture itself (aside from Jonah)—rather, he seems to treat Christianity as a cultural phenomenon, and judge its truth according to the actions of those who profess to be Christians. This no doubt explains the focus he took in the debate on the atrocities committed by professing believers, though it only deepens the mystery as to what connection he sees between the actions of obviously apostate people, and the truth of the religious propositions which they claim to believe. If he met atheists who lived as Christians, would he start to doubt atheism?
Nonetheless, there is one theme permeating Angels’ concluding post which I think can constructively be considered. I don’t direct this consideration to Angels himself; rather, I am merely using his comments as a vector into a discussion which I have already been thinking about for some time. This discussion is as regards values in the secular worldview.
I think Angels’ statement represents the secular view fairly well when he says, “Only in humanism do we really have the tools to enjoy and value life.” Similarly, his representation of religious ideologies as “weak” and “inferior” is typical of the view taken by many secular ideologies. The problem with these statements is that they presuppose the concept of value—but value as a concept is incongruent with a godless worldview.
What I mean is, the idea of value implies a great deal more than most atheists or agnostics are willing to concede. It implies a standard which is directly borrowed from the Christian worldview: a standard which requires there to be such a thing as meaning and worth in a genuine, transcendent sense. This is obviously only possible given a transcendent source for these things, which in turn entails God.
Now, don’t think I make this statement naively. I am well aware that the immediate response of the unbeliever is, “Rubbish! Secular worldviews do not require that worth or value or meaning be dictated by God; they can be equally worthwhile, meaningful and valuable concepts if we dictate them instead.” In fact, many would argue that value can only be most truly dictated by the individual: that it is impossible for anyone to assign it from without, because it is something subjective which must be determined from within.
The problem should be obvious from the way in which I have couched the objection. It isn’t a trick; it is simply an observation on the nature of things like value and meaning. In order to talk about them, one must first have some conception of what they are. When we try to define value or meaning, we are already presupposing value and meaning in doing this. For example, an atheist might say that value is not any kind of moral issue, but is simply a pragmatic concern: that which is pragmatically best is of the most value. So we can say that life has value because it is, from a practical perspective, better to be living than dead. But the term “better” and “best” here are value judgments themselves. In trying to define value as a function of pragmatism, the atheist is nonetheless presupposing a non-pragmatic view of it.
In an evolutionary worldview, value or meaning must be defined as a product of evolution itself. The atheist would say that we see life as valuable because it contributes to the survival of the species, and a species which did not see life as valuable would not survive. But this doesn’t explain the concept of value itself. It tries to explain why we see life as valuable, within an evolutionary framework—but it has no explanatory power over what value actually is. If it is simply a word to describe what is conducive to survival, then obviously the unbeliever is using it wrongly when he speaks of humanism as being able to provide the tools to enjoy and value life. Nor can his value judgment of religious ideologies as weak and inferior be valid. If anything, religious ideologies have shown themselves to be more conducive to the survival of the species than non-religious ones; and, if they are indeed an evolutionary by-product, as the evolutionist would assume due to their ubiquity, then certainly it is absurd to say that they are weak or inferior if one is defining value in a pragmatic sense.
On the contrary, the way in which the unbeliever clearly despises religion (or, I should say, Christianity) betrays a clear belief that value is more than a matter of pragmatics. It also does not seem to be simply a matter of preference (which would include personal enjoyment), because although one could perhaps define value as a mere metric for subjective inclination, the unbeliever does not permit the Christian his own preferences—rather, he says that Christian ideology is weak and inferior. It is very important to the atheist that people don’t believe in what he sees as weak and inferior ideologies. It is very important to him that they do not believe what he thinks is false and foolish. Value is something which is implicit in nearly everything he thinks and believes—but it isn’t pragmatic, and it isn’t subjective. On the contrary, he acts as if it is moral and objective, albeit twisted to his own worldview. Values are valuable to him. But how does a materialistic, naturalistic, non-theistic worldview account for this? How does a way of thinking which sees the universe as purely physical, without intelligent purpose, and without intrinsic value, explain what the terms “purpose” and “value” in this sentence even mean?
Indeed, the way in which objections to Christianity are couched generally imply very strong assumptions about purpose and meaning, as well as value itself. Christianity is seen as having no good purpose; that is, its purpose is without value. Conversely, one assumes that an atheist sees some valuable purpose in humanism, or he would not assert its worth so strongly. Although there are other things than purpose which may be valued, it is generally the case that the ideas of purpose and value are strongly correlated. Indeed, the implication in much humanistic argumentation, such as the quote by Angels Depart at the beginning of this article, is that value is a metric of purpose. Purpose is valuable; and, I suppose, value is purposeful.
Certainly the Christian has available to him the tools within his worldview to agree with this. Since God is all in all, and value and purpose are both intrinsic to him, as much as intelligence and creativity and compassion and all those other things we take for granted, we can certainly affirm the value and purpose of both him (intrinsically) and his creation (by necessary consequence). Indeed, the Christian knows that teleology (design and purpose) is integral to creation. It all fulfills a purpose, and because that purpose is God’s, it has superlative value. Human life has purpose, meaning, and value, because God has created it, and decreed it in his law.
The atheist, on the other hand, has a worldview in which life arose from non-life through non-teleological processes. We cannot even say that evolution has a purpose, because evolution is simply a natural process, and without any kind of teleology to nature itself, we certainly can’t impose one on any given process within nature. It would be erroneous, for example, to say that the purpose of the human species is to survive—there is no purpose at all intrinsic to it. It is a consequence of purposeless evolution that humanity has survived, and continues to survive—no purpose can be ascribed to this process.
Of course, even things like the desire to survive must be couched in purposeless, evolutionary terms. Although we desire to live, it is not because life has any genuine value or purpose in some objective sense. On the contrary, when viewed simply as a natural process, life has no value at all, because value is a meaningless concept in naturalistic philosophy. We might perceive life to be valuable, or we might see some meaning or purpose to it, but that is simply a mechanism which has arisen because it is conducive to survival. It does not imply genuine purpose or value at all, because genuine purpose and value do not exist.
Now, the humanist might say that value and purpose exist because we perceive them, and we determine what they are. Although they may not reflect ultimate truths, they are nonetheless genuine to us. But I have already shown how the objections against Christianity tend to bely a view of teleology which is moral and objective in nature—not subjective in the sense that the humanist ought to believe. If he were consistent, he would say that it doesn’t matter what Christians believe. It isn’t morally wrong or somehow deficient to believe what is false; nor should it make the slightest difference to him. Indeed, if it conveys an evolutionary advantage to believe falsehood, and it is built into us, why should the nonbeliever object? But he does; he views religious ideologies as weak and inferior compared to humanistic ones. He believes that humanistic philosophy provides the tools to properly enjoy and value life. All of these beliefs are not ones he has deduced from his own worldview. His own worldview has no place for them. There is no provision for such ideas; they are, in fact, really incoherent. Just as reason itself is incoherent in a naturalistic worldview (but an argument from reason is slightly beyond the scope of this discussion), so value and purpose are quite at odds with his basic philosophical assumptions about the universe. So it should come as no surprise that his use of them is confused.
Because naturalistic, evolutionary humanism is an absurd way of viewing the world; because it is false and does not even provide the tools to make concepts like value and purpose intelligible; the unbeliever must steal teleology from Christianity, even as he denounces it as a weak and inferior system of thought. In precisely the same way that humanism cannot account for the uniformity of nature, but must assume it anyway, so it cannot account for value and purpose, but must assume them anyway. They are intrinsic to our natures; they are obvious elements of reality, just like uniformity. And so, they must be assumed without explanation—even when they are genuinely incoherent, meaningless concepts in the worldview to which they are being applied. It is really quite remarkable how incomplete secular worldviews are. They not only cannot rationally account for basic facts of the physical universe, but they also have no provision at all for things like values and purpose—and, as I may discuss another time, reason itself. And so they keep borrowing from the Christian worldview, which is the only one able to explain and describe these things in a comprehensive, coherent manner.
Now, these are merely some preliminary thoughts. I would be quite interested to see how a humanist would respond to these criticisms. Perhaps Angels, or another atheist or agnostic online, could offer comment. Perhaps this would be a good topic for another debate. By all means, contact me.