Can Atheism Ground Human Rights?

Smith simply attempts to establish that, if atheism is true, there is no warrant for believing in a number of things that (most) atheists affirm.

“A naturalistic universe is one that consists of energy and matter and other natural entities, such as vacuums, operating in a closed system in time and space, in which no transcendent, supernatural, divine being or superhuman power exists as creator, sustainer, guide or judge. Such a universe has come to exist by chance – not by design or providence but by purposeless natural forces and processes. There is no inherent, ultimate meaning or purpose.”

 

Can atheism provide the grounds for believing in universal benevolence and human rights? Well: no, says Christian Smith in his excellent Atheist Overreach: What Atheism Can’t Deliver. In a nuanced, fair, scholarly and readable argument, Smith makes no attempt to establish whether naturalist atheism is true or false, but simply to establish that if it is true, there is no warrant for believing in a number of things that (most) atheists affirm. Thus:

A naturalistic universe is one that consists of energy and matter and other natural entities, such as vacuums, operating in a closed system in time and space, in which no transcendent, supernatural, divine being or superhuman power exists as creator, sustainer, guide or judge. Such a universe has come to exist by chance – not by design or providence but by purposeless natural forces and processes. There is no inherent, ultimate meaning or purpose. Any meaning or purpose that exists for humans in a naturalistic universe is constructed by and for humans themselves. When the natural forces of entropy eventually extinguish the human race – if some natural or humanmade disaster does not do so sooner – there will be no memory or meaning, just as none existed before human consciousness evolved.

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