The dilemma of human rights

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)

Between the recent emphasis on the Black Lives Matter movement and the Supreme Court ruling last week that forbade job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, there has been a lot of talk recently about human rights. Americans, whether they are people of faith or not, assume that it is a given that there is such a thing called human rights, that all people have the right to be treated as people of equal worth and dignity, regardless of any differences they might have. However, the reality is that this assertion is only objectively true if there is a God who has created all humans in His image. If you remove God, then there really is no basis for human rights.

Most Americans who do not believe in God believe as a matter of fact that we are here as a result of evolution; that natural selection and random mutation caused species to evolve until humans arrived on the scene. Evolution depends upon the survival of the fittest – those best adapted to survival pass on their genes, while the rest do not. And when you look at the animal kingdom, we clearly see a world full of violence, where the strong survive and the weak die off. Nobody cries “injustice” when a cat kills a mouse. Nobody protests when a female praying mantis eats the head off the male after mating with him. Survival of the fittest is the way of nature.

However, when one human being treats another human being cruelly or unjustly, we instinctively believe and know that it is wrong, that it is different than one animal killing another. We demand that the weak and defenseless be protected, and that oppressors be served with justice. But the question remains: if we are simply highly evolved animals, the product of natural selection and random mutation, then why are we so sure that injustice among the human species is wrong? On what basis do we believe that there is such a thing as human rights?

Years ago, I saw a short Nazi propaganda film called Opfer der Vergangenheit (Victims of the Past). This 1937 movie appealed to natural selection in order to bolster public support for the planned T-4 Euthanasia Program for the mentally ill, which they called “inferior life-forms,” so that they would not weigh down the progress of humanity. The film begins with these words: “All that is non-viable in nature invariably perishes… we humans have transgressed the laws of natural selection in the last decades.  Not only have we supported inferior life-forms, we have encouraged their propagation.” The film laments that healthy, “normal” people are living in ramshackle hovels while the mentally ill are housed in beautiful buildings, asylums for the mentally infirm. The answer, this video argues, is to stop transgressing the laws of natural selection and kill off the mentally ill.

Now, imagine someone today were to argue for the Nazi point of view. How fast would that person be publically shamed and banished from civilization? But do you see the dilemma? The Nazi argument fits logically with the evolutionary idea of survival of the fittest. Yet we know instinctively that it is an abhorrent view. So the question remains: which makes more sense? That we are the product of a godless evolution? That, as the philosopher Vladimir Solovyov, sarcastically put it, “Man descended from apes; therefore, we must love one another”? Or is it more likely that we were created in the image of God, with every human being of immeasurable worth?

Yes, there is such a thing as human rights. But only if there is also a God who has created us in His image.

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