Atheism and Unalienable Rights
By: Robert E. Meyer
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…” We are familiar with this phrase from our Declaration of Independence, but have we considered its logical implications and outworking? Probably not very much at all.
Atheists and Humanists are among the most vocal proponents of a society with an obsession to assert their collective “rights.” But since these secular “religions” are practically branches of the philosophy of naturalism, where everything that exists is a product of matter in motion, we might legitimately ask “from whence do these rights cometh?” If humanity evolved from the slime of a prehistoric pond, it seems silly to even anoint our race with so lofty an attribute as “human dignity.” If what the infidel says about the origin of man is true, then any rights he claims are as illusionary as the disappearing animals in a Las Vegas magic show.
Skeptics want to deny that rights come from God, but if they are correct in that assertion, then there is no sound philosophical footing girding their perpetual claim to any rights. They are walking on a tenuous tightrope of conceptual fiat. Obviously they have not thought this issue through very carefully. The prime purpose of law is to protect an associated right. The commandment “Thou shall commit no murder” ordains the right to life. “Thou shall not steal” asserts the right to property. The biblical prohibition against man-stealing conveys the right to liberty. The Commandments given to the ancient Hebrews is the flagship establishing those rights, thus making them transcendent and absolute.
They were certainly not invented out of thin air by men, several centuries later–and it is a good thing that they weren’t brought about that way. Whatever a government can give, it can take away on a whim, simply because governments are corrupt and have the power of coercion.
As President Kennedy observed in his 1961 inaugural address, “The rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.” If the atheist worldview is correct about there being no God, then the only place anything called “rights” can come from, is gratuitously from the state. That would in turn set the stage for tyranny. The state would no longer be the earthly protector and curator of these rights, but for all practical purposes, the divine provider itself. The state would thus have the just power of caprice to withdraw these rights. If that is the case, there could be no just reason to rebel against tyranny, the cause would be moot and unwarranted. Unless government has limited authority and jurisdiction under God, nobody would have a basis for arguing that the state was ruling unjustly. And let’s not forget that the components of the institution we call “the state,” are merely fallen individuals.
Naturally, secularists will be quick to point out that the Declaration states that the power to govern comes from the consent of the governed. That’s true, but if individuals didn’t have unalienable rights to begin with, there would be nothing negotiable to concede to the state in order to empower their rightful duty to govern.
The atheist, by virtue of his own theory of origins, is hard pressed to prove that rights exist. If humanity evolved with other animals from a common ancestor, then why don’t other members of the animal kingdom have the same rights we do?
Two possibilities may be logically extracted from such theories of ultimate origin. Either humanity and the animal kingdom both have the same rights by the reckoning of fiat, or neither have rights since such are not a necessary by-product of naturalism (that the universe is matter in motion and nothing more). Clearly we do not reason the latter to be true. When the seagull swoops down to the river to grasp a fish, and the eagle wrests it away from the gull with its talons, we don’t declare the gull a murderer or the eagle a thief. A certain agency is necessary for a being to either be morally culpable or to possess rights. Merely declaring that the virtue of superior intellect imbues these rights on humanity is short-sighted hubris. Such attributes merely make for a more cunning “survival of the fittest” paradigm. Ethicist Peter Singer would probably suppose the former of the two possibilities to be true. He calls the supposition of humanity having greater rights than animals “speceism.” While many may consider his ethics wacky, his conclusion is logical if the premises are true. I suggest they are not.
The Atheist/Humanist removes God from the equation, while living on the generous capital pilfered from a theistic worldview. Rights can only be unalienable if they are transcendent and bestowed by God. If they are not, then there is no moral mooring to secure anything nobler than “the rule of the jungle,” which is the inertia propelling the animal kingdom. And notice I am not saying that infidels have no unalienable rights, but that they couldn’t exist if what the infidel stands on is true.
Obviously, the atheist/secularist won’t roll over than easily. I can’t just hear the howls from the secularist media sources, saying that I don’t know about this or that theory of human rights. He will be inclined to point out that there are theories of rights that require no need for attribution to God, such as Ayn Rand’s theory of Objectivism. Others will want their own day in court, also. What all these attempted refutations will completely ignore in their analysis, is how do you derive rights from a materialistic universe to begin with? Where do abstractions such as rights, morality, meaning, self-awareness, etc., come from, in a universe that is nothing more than mindless matter in motion? Philosophically speaking, the atheist throws out the baby and keeps the soiled bath water, then tries to explain how the bath water itself is purposeful.
The father of our nation, George Washington, attributed rights to religious foundations in his Farewell Address. “Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports… A volume could not trace all their connexions with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths…” Notice how Washington attributes religion to the rights of property and life found in the Declaration.
We could go on to talk about how liberty disintegrates into license under a non-believing structure, or how evolutionary theories provided a catalyst for latter day racism and ethnic cleansing, but we will save this for future discussions.
Suffice it to say that Atheism and unalienable rights are a cocktail of water and oil.