Monday, November 3, 2008

Without God (VIII)

An additional fact about our existence that fits better into a theistic worldview than an atheistic metaphysics is our belief that human beings possess dignity. Modern atheism tells us that we're little more than machines made of flesh - sacks of blood, bone and excrement. There's no soul; there's nothing about us that makes us much different than any other mammal. We're more intelligent, of course, but that only makes the difference between us and a cow about the same as the difference between a cow and a trout.

In the absence of God there's no reason why someone who has the power should not use it to manipulate and exploit the rest of us like the farmer exploits his cattle for his own purposes, slaughtering them when he might profit from so doing. The universe reminds us we're nothing but "dust in the wind" and there's no dignity in that.

If, however, we are made by God and personally and specifically loved by Him then we have a basis for believing that we are more than a machine. We have a ground for human dignity that is simply unavailable on the assumption of atheism.

Related to the previous point is the further truth that we have a conviction that human beings are intrinsically valuable. If, however, all we are is an ephemeral pattern of atoms, a flesh and bone mechanism, then in what does our worth as human beings consist? We have value only insofar as others, particularly those who wield power, arbitrarily choose to value us. If atheism is true there is no inherent value in being human. Only if theism is true and we are valued by the Creator of the universe can human beings have any objective worth at all. There's no other non-arbitrary ground for it.

Similarly, we have a belief that human beings have certain fundamental rights. Unfortunately, if there is no God there's nothing at all upon which to base those rights save our own prejudices and predilections. As Thomas Jefferson acknowledged in the Declaration of Independence, we have the right to life and liberty only because we are children of the Creator of the universe who has invested those rights in us and in whose eyes we are precious. If there is no Creator then there are no human rights, just arbitrary rules, mere words on paper, which some people agree to follow but which could easily be revoked.

When atheists talk about human rights someone might ask them where those rights come from. Who confers them? Who guarantees them? What grounds them? If it's not God then it must be the state, but if so, our rights are not inalienable. If the state decides what rights we shall have then the state can determine that we have no rights at all. The fact is that if atheism is true human rights are no more substantial or real than the grin of the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland.