In my book “The Triumph of Atheistic Materialism,” I identify three general classes of worldviews. In order of complexity and rationality, they are (keep in mind that I wrote this book many years ago, when I was still a capitalist):
1. Creationism (the belief in a transcendent authority as creator of order)
Main examples: Biological Creationism, Divine Command Theory, statism and political authoritarianism, interventionism and imperialism, the concept of God in general, the belief in souls and spirits.
2. Subjectivism (“we are creators of our own perception of order.”)
Main examples: Post-modernism, tribalism, nihilism, existentialism. (I also included Anarchy in this category)
3. Emergentism (“A system is composed of individuals units which interact with each other, within a given context, giving rise to a higher order.”)
Main examples: Evolution, moral objectivity, libertarianism and capitalism, free trade, materialism, mind-brain dependence.
Some people fail to see the relation between the different kinds of order I discuss in the book. For instance, atheists object when one compares disbelief in gods with disbelief in the State. They say there is no relation and that an atheist can be a communist or a liberal (or even a conservative). That is very true, but besides the point, which is that materialism and Anarchism both follow the same general explanation of order: that order comes from the free interaction of units, that it is an emergent property of this interaction, whether the units are individual human beings, atoms, or neurons. Perhaps they can see this in one case but not in the other.
Certainly I do not believe that an atheist should necessarily be an Anarchist, or vice-versa. I don’t think that all the examples for each class are inextricably linked. But they do share the same kind of worldview about the creation and maintenance of order, and by extension of meaning, of material products, of values. What philosophical issue should concern us more than that? If we don’t know how these things are produced and maintained, how can we hope that our opinions further the aims we desire? A statist, holding that this or that thing is evil and should be made illegal, can have no idea whether such measures bring more or less order: the violence of the State in intimidating its subjects hides a lot of the chaos (but not, by far, all of it) created by law and democracy.
The problem of believing in God creator of matter, God creator of values, the State, or souls, or any other such things, is that there can be no such thing as a transcendent entity or process. Anything that pretends to create or mold must necessarily be part of the same causal system and subject to the same laws.
For the sake of simplification, let’s take the example of God. Suppose we believe in God as the creator of morality. If anything God declares as good is good, then God could declare that mass murder is good, or that something as arbitrary as working on a specific day is evil (both things that are in the Bible). Of course Christians argue against this by saying that God would not do such a thing. But there’s absolutely no way for them to know that: they can believe or have faith that God wouldn’t do such a thing, or have faith in the Bible where it says God wouldn’t do such a thing, but they cannot know that it would never happen.
But the point I am getting to, is that God’s acts are necessarily inscribed within the moral system of this material universe. God is just another moral agent, and there’s no reason to think that God has transcendent moral significance: after all, human beings modify objects all the time and this does not give us any transcendent moral significance. if God decrees that mass murder is good in a specific instance, we are perfectly justified in questioning such a decree and pointing out its flaws. Because of this, the concept of God as creator of values becomes meaningless: there needs to be pre-existing values in the human being in order for us to judge whether following God’s moral statements is desirable.
The only main thing I would change in my classification is the concept of subjectivism as a category, which I think was more a remnant of when I was an Objectivist. I would now like to replace this category with “nihilism,” by which I mean a position of epistemic pessimism: that we can’t find out the truth by ourselves, or that we can’t find truth at all.
The nihilistic class of worldviews is important because it is often used as a justification or support for authoritarianism. The issue is fundamentally an epistemic one: if we deny to the individual the power or capacity to find truth by his own work, but the individual must hold some truth in order to function, then the individual will necessarily turn to some authority to follow. Of course, one may adopt an attitude of total apathy in an area in which one can maintain total apathy, but even apathy is a choice to some extent. The nihilist attitude is the “might is right” attitude: in the absence of principles, whoever can enforce his views best is the winner. There’s no way to prove anything, therefore we can only turn to what is commonly accepted.