Elsewhere: Atheism and objective rights

Back in August, Clark at Popehat did a slightly confusing posting on how some atheists are confused about rights because they speak as if rights exist while also saying that nothing but matter exists. Clark seems to be one of those theists who thinks that gods are be required to exist for objective rights to exist, but he doesn’t really say why he thinks that. (The real trick in all these arguments is specifying quite what you mean by “objective”. I enjoyed John D’s quote from Richard Joyce: “So many debates in philosophy revolve around the issue of objectivity versus subjectivity that one may be forgiven for assuming that someone somewhere understands this distinction.”)

I argued that Clark had got materialism wrong. Someone asked how any atheist can avoid the conclusions of Alex Rosenberg. I slightly facetiously replied “by not being an eliminative materialist”, but I can do better than that, I think. Rosenberg gets a lot of counterargument from people who are avowed naturalists and philosophically respectable. It doesn’t seem unreasonable for an atheist, especially one who isn’t an expert on philosophy, not to share Rosenberg’s conclusions.

Typically, Christian apologists ignore any distinction between varieties of naturalistic worldview (see Luke M’s interview with John Shook) and go with something like “if atheism is true, we’re nothing but matter in motion, chemical fizzes like soda spilled on the ground”. They then make an argument which uses the fallacy of composition to “show” that properties which matter and energy don’t have can’t be real on atheism (by which they mean some kind of materialism). This is all bunk, but pretty popular bunk, at least in the blogosphere, if not in philosophy journals.

Finally, I got into Yudkowsky’s belief in moral absolutes, which is interesting as Yudkowsky’s an atheist. Massimo P had a post about that back in January, where he sort of disagreed with Yudkowsky but then actually seemed to agree with him if you stripped away the layers of words a bit. My most significant comment on that is here. Yudkowsky’s transition from what looks like mathematical Platonism to the claim that morality is absolute deserves a post of its own, which I might get around to at some point. There’s a lesson for atheists, though: atheist appeals to evolution as a moral justifier are confused. Evolution might be a (partial) answer to “why do I care about X?” but not “why should I care about X?”