Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation recently wrote this in reply to his fellow New Atheist Jerry Coyne:
During my debates on morality I point out that all of the good teachings in the world religions (which show up in all of them) are really HUMAN values: peace, love, cooperation, and so on. Those values transcend religion, and are in fact the values we use when we are judging from the outside whether we think a particular religion is good or not.
This is of course the sort of gobbledygook one hears often from New Atheists. At the very first his assertion is based on an absurdity. There is no such thing as a ‘human value’; humans value many things – love, happiness, wealth, power, sex, ambition, equality, etc. Some value some of those over others. People differ about which values are legitimate and which aren’t. Christians don’t claim they invented their values, merely that they provide a logically consistent basis for preferring some values (like peace, love, and cooperation) over others, like aggression, hatred and selfishness. Atheism of course provides no basis for preferring one set of values over another.
Because there are no such things as ‘human values’ the idea that we ‘judge’ whether a religion is ‘good or not’ is ‘bass ackwards’ as they say. Different people judge various belief systems (religious or otherwise) based on the values they hold but how they got those values to begin with isn’t merely a product of being ‘human’. Invariably, as we explore where the values individuals came from we end up looking at culture and history – and this always leads us back to religious beliefs. Atheists haven’t created or adopted any values that didn’t emanate from an earlier religious foundation and any values they do adopt are merely a matter of personal preference, not an objective consideration.
So Barker is begging the question here – to say that certain values ‘transcend’ religion is to say that there must be some source of values that preceded religion. This is problematic because the very things that distinguish us as human – our consideration of values and morals, our spiritual capacity and the fact that we produce and are the product of culture are intertwined. To say values transcend religion is like saying that biological ‘life’ transcends respiration; proving this false is as easy as putting a pillow over someone’s face.
So once again we see an atheist not only confused about what Christians claim, but confused about the origin and definition of values all together.