Does Life Have
An Intrinsic Value?
R.

Short Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "R."
Subject: Re: pondering...
Date: September 20, 2001 7:42 PM

I just got through responding to Jennifer Kinkade-Smith who had claimed that everything happens for a reason and had suggested that the Universe has an intrinsic purpose.

Basically, in order to state that anything has value, we must isolate it from all contexts and see if it still has value. Then we must have a sentient being (one with awareness, such as a human or the hypothetical Christian deity) in order to do the valuing.

I think this can be done, for example, with the condition of being alive, the state of living and having an awareness. In other words, even if I knew that I was the only human left alive on the planet, I would still probably continue to survive rather than commit suicide, and go the route of the protagonist in the children's book Island of the Blue Dolphin. But I am not here saying that anything can be valued apart from a sentint being to do the valuing, that is, there needs to be a sentient being in order to hold the opinion that something is valuable.

Unless we can show the validity of the Christian god-claim, we cannot attach that significance to the Universe, we cannot state that the Universe was created for the purposes described by the Christians. In fact, unless we can show that the Universe was both created and created by a sentient being (one who is aware and has motives such as we would attach to humans), we cannot say that the Universe came to be for any purpose other than as the result of a quantum fluctuation acting according to its characteristics and those of its environment.

When it comes to an individual's life, though, it is up to the individual to ascribe or impart "purpose" to her or his own life. Others who know that person can do this to a limited extent, and humans (specifically, various human cultures) have agreed on various degrees of value for the human life and have imparted that value onto all humans for the purpose of making laws and functioning as a society. Americans, for example, place a high value on the life of an individual, but some cultures teach that the individual ought to be willing to forfeit her or his life for the greater good of the clan; the more one believes in an afterlife, the more likely one is to be willing to forfeit his or her life. A great film which explores the question of specific cultures imparting variable human worth to various individuals.

But the bottom line is that value is nothing more than an opinion: this is the very definition of value in the context of this question. So, without a sentient being (one with human-like emotions and the human trait of valuing various thins), we cannot ascribe purpose to anything.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

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