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Human rights endowed by whom?

If humans aren’t endowed by their creator with human rights, do they have human rights at all?

Contrariwise, since human manifestly do have inalienable rights, there must be a creator.

Posted: November 4th 2009

George Locke

The assumption the question makes is that the only way for human rights to exist is if they are endowed by a creator. Thus, if you believe there is no god then you must believe there are no essential human rights, and contrariwise if you believe human rights exist then you must believe that a creator exist.

Under this assumption, these arguments are logically valid, since they don’t make any illogical inferences, however the arguments are not logically sound, since the basic assumption on which they are premised is incorrect. (Compare soundness vs. validity)

Human rights are social constructs. They change along with society, and they would not exist if they were not essential to the current (historically contingent) social order in which we live.

There is a further, subtler assumption in this question. This assumption is that human rights are not historically contingent. If they were not contingent, but were at the very essence of what makes us human, then they would form some sort of transcendent truth which does not bend to historical exigency. This would be nice, and it would allow you to compartmentalize atrocities like the Armenian genocide or the gulags or the horrors of the Khmer Rouge. One could say, “These events go against the nature of man,” rather than face the terrible truth that they were indeed the (unusual, extreme) outcome of natural human tendencies.

This apparently esoteric assumption has real, worldly consequences, encouraging you to think that the only threat to human rights is that they may be violated. The very idea of human rights may entirely cease to be, or become so mutilated as to be worthless. We must never believe that human rights need not be actively defended. They will not simply be for ever and ever despite whatever we may do. We should accept our responsibility not only to enforce human rights, but to participate in their social construction.

To give you a sense of what I’m talking about, the question of whether fetuses have (or when they acquire) human rights is a case in point, and there are some who would extend the notion of rights to animals besides ourselves.

Posted: November 9th 2009

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Dave Hitt www

Rights are an imaginary construct. If you doubt this, try telling a shark who is gnawing on your leg, “You’re interfering with my right to life and liberty!” Let us know how it works out.

But we’ve learned that if we assume we have these natural rights, if we treat each other as if they are real and demand them for ourselves and others, our lives are much richer and more productive. Without them life is miserable. These rights are not something given to us by a god, nor are they given to us by a government – they are something we have, we deserve, simply by being human.

Posted: November 9th 2009

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MouthAlmighty

I believe your reasoning is an example of affirming the consequent.

By way of illustration:

If humans aren’t endowed by the magical sky-monkey with the power of imagination, do they have the power of imagination at all?

Contrariwise, since humans manifestly do have the power of imagination, there must be a magical sky-monkey.

I’m merely asserting, without support, my assumption that there is such a being as a magical sky-monkey and that such is responsible for giving humans the power of imagination.

That may seem frivolous, but I suspect that if I were to say…

If humans don’t derive their sense of morality from millions of years of selective pressures acting on social groups, do they have a sense of morality at all?

Contrariwise, since humans manifestly do have a sense of morality, such must be derived from millions of years of selective pressures acting on social groups.

...you’d be questioning my assumptions and demanding evidence in support.

Much of the argument for the existence of a supreme deity is formulated in the same way. Assumptions as to the origin of a whole slew of human characteristics, traits and behaviours (eg. art, creativity, morality, love, altruism) is first attributed to said deity and then the manifest existence of such things is offered as proof of the deity’s existence.

It is interesting to note that there are many other less attractive human traits which manifestly exists but are never proffered as proof of the deity’s existence.

Posted: November 9th 2009

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flagellant www

Consideration of the US Constitution, from which you quote, gives rise to three comments.

Firstly, it might be appropriate to get your question – with its concluding assertion – looked at by a logician; its form is invalid. You cannot conclude that there is 'a creator’ from your preceding question.

Secondly, just because 'their Creator’ is in the US Constitution, that doesn’t mean it applies universally: there are other countries in the World – just in case you hadn’t noticed – with secular constitutions. It is also important to recognize that Jefferson originally wrote:

We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness…
Not much sign of a creator there…

Finally, doesn’t it make more sense to interpret the current Constitution’s words as a comment on the responsibility of parenthood? In a largely misogynist society, couldn’t this be seen as a reminder to men to respect their offspring’s natural rights? Or should we see it that, in the eighteenth century, as now perhaps, the religiosi were determined to incorporate their beliefs in every sphere of life?

This highlights the problems we have in accepting old texts as completely relevant to modern life; secular rules and laws are subject to change to meet the way in which society changes. This explains how, to avoid becoming inappropriate or incomplete, the US Constitution has had a number of Amendments added.

By the same token, ancient texts like the Bible, the Torah, and the Koran – those multiple versions of an infallible truth – are now largely irrelevant as well as wrong. I don’t see God adding too many amendments to his inerrant word. Perhaps I’ve missed them.

Posted: November 5th 2009

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Reed Braden www

Rights are a human concept. Livestock don’t form labour unions or vote for the fairest beast to lead them because they haven’t yet evolved the capacity to grasp the concept of rights and privileges. Since humans invented rights, we bestow them on ourselves. We don’t need a god to give us rights. We invented them, so we have them.

Posted: November 5th 2009

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