Friday, February 25, 2005

Imago Dei and Thinking Nurse

Persons following the discussion of theism and rights might be interested in following a parallel discussion of similar issues between the Imago Dei team and Thinking Nurse. Imago Dei quotes an interesting passage from Michael Shermer in The Science of Good and Evil when he says

These rights and values [human rights] are grounded not in religion, or any other transcendental state or supernatural force, but in themselves. They stand alone. Humans deserve life, liberty, and happiness, not because God said so but because we are human. Period. These rights and values exist because we say they exist, and that is good enough. They are inalienable because we say they are, and that suffices. (p. 156)

But if we have these rights because we say they exist, what happens when someone with bigger guns comes along and says they don't exist?


Jason Pratt said...

Sorry I don't have much time to comment (imploding business, etc. {wry g}) But I ironically recall that Richard Dawkins would say (or at least would once have said, back in the days of The Blind Watchmaker including its 10-yr anniversary re-release) that Shermer's sort of notion of ethics is mere speciesism. The promotion of which he attacks as being unethical. Right after explaining to us that our ethical beliefs are actually genetic reactions which themselves aren't ethical in character at all. (Mr. D Science Theater 3000 is always amusing... {g!})

On a more serious note: it seems more than a little ignorant (or maybe desperate) to say that rights are inalienable simply because we say they are. Even assuming no one with bigger guns comes along and says those 'rights' are quite alienable, this is tantamount to saying that we create _and maintain_ eternal truths. But we aren't eternal entities; only an eternal entity (with omnipotent power, btw) could eternally maintain a truth it has created.

And even if _this_ hurtle was somehow leaped (ah, so not only can we become independent facts of reality in our own right, but we already _have_ reached that state?), it immediately runs into the Euthyphro problem. No atheist who cavils at Divine Command ethicity as not being really ethical (and I think that's the right conclusion), can legitimately turn around and ask us to accept the same asserted injunction from something else as being sufficiently ethical--even if we ourselves are the source of the sheer assertion of ethicality.

Especially since God would at least have the advantage of supreme power and eternal existence to maintain those 'rights'. (Remember that I am _not_ saying that _this_ would properly ground our rights; just saying that it's even _less_ satisfactory to propose that creatures who are _not_ the grounding fact of all reality can satisfactorily assert and maintain such 'truths'.)

Thinking Nurse said...

Nice to see my discussion with Imago Dei is generating further discussion and debate.

As I see it, your point is that in any society not based on religious principles, the ethical system of the person or group with the greatest capacity to use force will prevail.

The implication is, that divine authority, with it's ability to save or damn our souls, is the 'biggest gun of all'.

The behaviour of many followers of religion implies that they too believe that the ethical system of the group with the greatest capacity to use force will prevail, using violence through crusade, jihad and pogrom to assert their own faiths and wipe out the faiths of others. Less obvious, but equally insidious use of force includes denying children access to science, by teaching creationism as fact.

Any system of thought based on faith rather than evidence must use force to assert itself, because rational persuasion requires the use of evidence to change people's minds. Without science and evidence, force is all that theism has left.