During a Twitter exchange yesterday I brought up the idea that atheists could account for the intrinsic value of human beings in order to counter the idea that only theism could account for our intrinsic value.
The atheist compatible basis for intrinsic human value is fairly simple: The capability to value anything at all is intrinsically valuable.
Since some human beings have the capability to value something, those that do are therefore inherently valuable.
This idea was challenged by an apologist and theologian I happen to respect and interact with fairly often Stephen J. Graham.
Stephen asks: "Why is the ability to value necessary for possessing intrinsic value?" (Emphasis his)
There is a response to this question, though at first I should make an important point.
The question is somewhat malformed, because like any question for the basis of value, or why something has value - you eventually come to a terminus of your explanation to which one can always ask "but why does that give something value?"
This is as true for theistic conceptions of value as it is for atheistic ones. After all, even if theists say that god simply is defined as being valuable, one could ask why we should consider a being like that to be valuable?
So at some point we reach an explanatory ultimate with regard to value. The best we can do is evaluable whether or not we consider that explanatory ultimate to be sufficient.
The conception of intrinsic value that I'm giving here is one that is rooted in an atheistic worldview, one that would be compatible with naturalism.
To see that the capacity to value anything is itself intrinsically valuable, you need to consider what "value" entails.
Valuing something requires a mind - this is true regardless of whether one is a theist or an atheist. This is still true even if all minds are dependent on physical brains - as naturalism would entail (note here that naturalism is a much stronger claim than atheism).
Still, on atheism or naturalism what is to be valued is subject dependent. Not everything is going to be valued equally by all kinds of beings. However there is one thing that would be true - a meta kind of fact about value itself: the "capability to value" is itself valuable.
This would be true for all kinds of beings that have the capacity to value, since nothing could be valued at all without one first having the capability to value something in the first place!
So if a theist asks that if atheism or naturalism is true and human beings just are the sum total of their material components, what makes us any more valuable than slime or other collection of matter - an atheist can respond with the idea that the capacity to value something is what makes us intrinsically valuable compared to other collections of matter.
I hope that this answers Stephens question, or if it did not I hope he points out where I've gone wrong or how I've misunderstood his question in the first place.