I've got a blog-debate happening at the moment with "ET", over at small dead animals.
ET is someone who claims to be an atheist, but not a materialist. As best I can understand it, this means that the material universe is designed, whoops bad word, possesses laws that govern its operation, but that behind these laws there is... nothing.
It's the old "I believe in Laws, but not a Law-giver" position.
Here's my latest post:
ET "This self-organization produces normative habits of organization."
Fine. But since this "self-organization" is itself uncaused, undesigned, and undirected, it still doesn't explain, to me at least, where objective moral truth comes from. The very concept of morality is a stretch if humans are surrounded by a vast, unthinking, amoral, purposeless, cold-hearted, and unfeeling universe that simply self-organizes.
Without a Creator who willed us to exist, designed us to exist, and created us to be more valuable than a blade of grass or a frog, killing a human being is no better or worse than cutting the grass or killing a frog.
A universe without God is totally indifferent to what we do.
You may say, "well, it goes against Reason". Well, so what? Who made Reason God over us? If Reason was never intended, never designed, and is itself unfeeling and unthinking -- an interesting concept, by the way -- why should we be slaves to it?
We may say that it is somehow a terrible thing to take a human life, but that is only because we are thinking more highly of ourselves than our atheism warrants.
An ordered, but uncreated universe strikes me as half-way deism, a position someone takes when they want the comfort of an ordered universe without the obligations attached to belief in a Creator, who, no less than mankind, possesses mind, will, self-consciousness and emotions.
Your choice -- but it strikes me as being nothing more than that.
* * *
ET "Morality is a basic component of reason. And the so-called 'Golden Rule' of 'treat others only as you consent to being treated in the same situation' is, I feel, a conclusion based on reason. No metaphysical agent has to tell me this."
Indeed, but you might wonder where this marvellous cognition and reasoning ability came from in the first place.
Let's say, for the sake of argument, that it is wrong to take another human life because of the golden rule -- "do unto others as you would have them do unto you". Fine. This is human mutual self-interest.
Now let's say that another species from another planet visits us and is hungry. They apply the same golden rule -- they don't kill and eat each other. But what is to constrain them from killing and eating us? Do human beings have intrinsic worth and value that is greater than, say, a cow or a pig or a frog or a lettuce, or do we not?
If we think so, on what non-metaphysical basis? Without a metaphysical agent who designed us, brought us into existence and declares our worth, just who do we think we are in the universe, something special?
And, if as you say the primary purpose of the universe is to conserve energy, does killing and eating a human violate this purpose in some way that killing and eating a cow does not?