Ard: So what is the value of a human being?
AR: If you’re using the word ‘value’ to mean some ultimate, intrinsic value, then the answer is there’s no such thing as ultimate, intrinsic value. And so either the question is ill-posed or the answer is none.
Ard: So I think where Alex and I agree, and we probably disagree with you, is that we both think that if the world is made of nothing but atoms and molecules, then such conclusions are inevitable. I, on the other hand, believe that there is a transcendent reality, a god, and that these kinds of values, like the intrinsic value of a human being, come from outside the natural world. But I believe that if you don’t believe that’s true, I think Alex’s logic is impeccable.
AR: Now, I think that if you use the standards of reasoning which you are accustomed to employing in the sciences, that you cannot come reasonably to the conclusions that you just identified. Unless you can provide a good reason why you should cease to employ the principles of logic and the standards of evidence and reasoning that you employ in doing empirical science, when you raise these questions about the nature of value, you’re engaging either in sophistry or self-delusion. And I don’t think that appealing, for example, to the existence of a supreme being, even if there were one, would help us in any way understand the nature of value. And that’s something that’s been recognised in philosophy since the earliest and simplest of Plato’s Dialogues, The Euthyphro, in which he specifically argued against this view.
David: Got a self-delusion, mate.
Ard: Self-delusion, yeah. So basically what you’re saying is, if I use my logic, I should let go of the idea of God. And even if I have a god, the idea that somehow that…
AR: It doesn’t help.
Ard: It doesn’t help me explain why human beings…
Ard: So even though I would believe that God created human beings, and therefore their value comes from that, you’re saying that doesn’t actually help?
AR: I don’t see how, even if that Sunday school were correct, it would help us ground moral value.
Ard: Okay, okay, I disagree.
David: I thought you might.
AR: So give us an argument.
Ard: The argument would be that the morals that we have, or the value that we have… I think the idea that we’re created by God gives us value. And that value is partially linked to the goals that God has for us, which are good goals. So all the moral things that we have are linked to…
AR: Wow! This is like… It’s… I don't know where to start to deal with true theism. You know, I can deal with deism because it’s not a serious competitor to the scientific world view, but theism is actually logically incompatible…
Ard: With science?
AR: With a lot of science.
David: And by theism you mean…?
AR: I mean that God… that there is an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and benevolent agency who is responsible for our presence here in the universe.
Ard: So he says classic theism is incompatible with science.
David: Obviously it’s not, in some sense, because you’ve got both.
AR: No, you can keep both ideas in your head. But that’s because we all keep contradictory ideas in our heads, we’re not logically omniscient, and these two happen to be particularly obvious examples of incompatible ideas...
Ard: So do you think it’s dangerous?
AR: ...that many people keep in their heads. And how do they deal with it? Cognitive dissonance! Being a bit schizoid in their personality.
David: But maybe that’s a good thing then. I mean, maybe, if that’s what we do, and maybe that’s the way we’re evolved, then maybe it’s a very good thing that it’s like that.
AR: It might be adaptive, but that doesn’t make it true, any more than so many other beliefs that we have, that are adaptive, are not true.