I recently heard someone mention something, which made me want to probe a little deeper. What this person said was that there is an inherent problem for atheists who believe in human rights, which is probably most of them in our modern age.
Why is that?
Here’s the problem: If there is no God, then how did you get here? Why are you alive? It was through a series of natural selection which saw the survival of the fittest and the death of the weak.
In other words, the reason you are here, in an atheistic evolutionary model, is because your ancestors trampled on their competitors, who were the weaker of that given society.
So, if that is the entire basis of how humanity evolves and makes progress, then on what basis should we advocate for human rights? To do so would not help further the progress of humanity, but only slow us down, according to this line of thinking.
Here are a few examples of people, who are atheists and who realize this inherent problem with atheistic evolutionary belief and our modern notion of universal human rights:
“The Darwinian worldview must look upon the present sentimental conception of the value of the life of a human individual as an overestimate completely hindering the progress of humanity.”
“The human state, like every animal community, must reach a higher level of perfection through the destruction of the less well-endowed individual. The state has an interest in preserving the more excellent life at the expense of the less excellent.”
Robert Kossmann, “The Importance of the Life of an Individual in the Darwinian Worldview”, 1880: German medical professor whose views influenced later Nazi regime attitudes and actions.
Richard Rorty (1931-2007), a committed atheist, also acknowledged that the basic assumptions upon which his worldview operated could not account for human rights since the struggle for survival eliminates the weak with no regard for any overarching morality.
Rorty admitted that “the concept of human rights came from ‘religious claims that human beings are made in the image of God,’ and admits that he reaches over and borrows the concept of universal human rights from Christianity, even though at the same time acknowledging that his atheistic Darwinian view gives no basis for a belief in universal human rights, but actually encourages just the opposite: the extermination of the weak by the strong.1
It was in fact this very view which led to the attitude in Nazi Germany that people with handicaps were an unnecessary burden on society, and that it was therefore better to put them to some good use for the common good, i.e. inhumane medical experimentation without consent. It was this same view which led to the devaluing of human life by the Soviet regime.
And yet, in our day, it is generally thought that it is perfectly normal to be an atheist and to believe in human rights at the same time. The problem with that is that such a person is ignoring the inherent contradiction between these two, and borrowing the concept of intrinsic human value from Christianity although it is not a natural result of atheistic reasoning. At least Rorty was willing to admit it!
Because if human rights means that we are not supposed to trample upon weak individuals, then that contradicts the basic premise of how atheistic evolutionary theory of human progress works!
Rorty and other atheists see this inherent problem, and yet they have no answer other than to say: if there is no God, there should be no human rights, but yet I believe that human rights are there.
The problem is: they stop right there and don’t allow reason to take them to the next logical step, which is to say: Okay, if there is no God, there should be no human rights, but yet I know that human rights are obviously there… and so: maybe I was wrong about there being no God…
I can’t help but believe that there are some who sense this inherent problem and allow it to lead them to belief in God – I pray that more will – and not just any god, but the God of Christianity, the only God who gave his life to redeem people of all tribes, tongues, nations, ages and ability-levels, because he believed that they all had an equal level of intrinsic value as human beings. He is a God who associated with the weak and marginalized, even to the point of becoming one himself in order to save others. If you believe in human rights, you got it from him.
1. [Nancy Pearcey, Finding Truth, pp. 225-226, quoted by Gary DeMar in ‘Why Atheists Can’t Account for Human Rights’]↩