We continue reading Abdu Murray's book Grand Central Question and Murray begins chapter 3 by defining intrinsic and extrinsic value. “Something has extrinsic value – value outside of its very nature – if its purpose is to achieve a desired end that is more fundamentally valuable than the thing itself” (page 65). Tools or money are examples of things with this type of value. “Something has intrinsic value not because it is a means to an end, but because it is an end in and of itself” (ibid).
So we see that the type of value something has determines whether that thing’s purpose is subjective or objective. Things with extrinsic value have subjective purpose. The hammer is valuable to the carpenter for the purpose of making a living but not valuable to the software engineer for that same purpose. “But if something has intrinsic value, then its value is not a matter of opinion or circumstance. It is always just as valuable in every circumstance” (page 66). Thus it has objective purpose.
With these definitions in place, Murray goes on to demonstrate that the purpose of humanity that the secular humanist affirms is subjective. Stephen Jay Gould, Lawrence Krauss, James Sire and others all proclaim that we are the arbiters of purpose. His quotation of Stephen Jay Gould reflecting on humanity’s objective purpose sums up this understanding well:
We may yearn for a “higher” answer – but none exists. This explanation, though superficially troubling, if not terrifying, is ultimately liberating and exhilarating. We cannot read the meaning of life passively in the facts of nature. We must construct these answers ourselves – from our own wisdom and ethical sense. There is no other way (pages 63-64).
Thus it follows that if the purpose of humanity is subjective the value of humanity is subjective as well. Murray quotes Sam Harris’ acknowledgement of this in his book The Moral Landscape:
There seems no reason to suppose that we must occupy the highest peak on the moral landscape. If there are beings who stand in relation to us as we do to bacteria, it should be easy to admit that their interest must trump our own, and to a degree that we cannot possibly conceive (page 83).
Finally, Murray points out that secular humanism’s belief in humanity’s intrinsic value without a logical grounding leads to Stalin, Mao, Kim Jong Il, and ethicists like Peter Singer, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva arguing that newborns can be killed if they burden the parents or society. He writes:
Most bioethicists, including atheist bioethicists, disagree with Singer’s view. But without a transcendent Value Giver, how can they disagree logically? Can we see what has happened here? Singer has shown us that without God to give us intrinsic worth, we can simply choose to confer worth on whomever we choose, provided they can think or are otherwise useful. Humans are like tools. They serve our purposes. They have no intrinsic value (page 87).
To say that the secular humanist answer to the Grand Central Question of humanity’s purpose and value is lacking is understated. Perhaps the gospel of Jesus Christ provides an answer to this question that satisfies the mind and the heart. Murray undertakes this exploration in the next chapter.
Stand firm in Christ,Chase