Wednesday, September 21, 2011

God and the United Nations



"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights."

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Preamble Article 1.

How could an atheist say this?

First of all, if humans are merely soulless bags of chemicals created by mindless evolution, what rights and dignity do we have more so than a rat, a jellyfish or a rock?

Secondly, if we have no soul and are purely physical, in what way are all humans equal? Even identical twins have different experiences and therefore are different. Would anyone say all diamonds, stars or animals are equal?

One of the United Nations' founding documents seems to imply the existence of a God given human soul. It seems to have been inspired by the Bible, not Darwin.

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the intent was to indicate "... equal in dignity (meaning, none) and rights (also meaning none)."

That's the cynic in me, though.

jewish philosopher said...

Read the rest. Article 3 states

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Jeff said...

"How could an atheist say this?"

How could an believing Orthodox Jew say this? Orthodoxy most definitely does not say that all human beings have equal rights.

jewish philosopher said...

It's closer to the Torah than it is to Darwin.

jewish philosopher said...

We as Jews would agree that humans are superior to animals, plants and minerals by virtue of our souls and murder and theft are prohibited by anyone against anyone.

Certified Ashkenazi said...

> Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Not the criminals.

And yes, Judaism does not think people all have equal rights.

An atheist could argue that since all people are moral agents (by virtue of having free will), therefore, they are equally endowed by nature with "rights".

But this doesn't explain, of course, the rights of mentally ill people or the childen.

jewish philosopher said...

Atheists don't believe in free will.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitalism#Critical_opinions

Anonymous said...

"How could an atheist say this?"

How could an atheist not say it? There's no god, no chosen nation, no class of people that is singled out as special or favored, no gender arbitrarily granted authority over over others.

Without gods and priests, human beings must accept that each person stands on equal footing with others. No one person is automatically elevated above another person. Therefore, all people in a society have equal rights and privileges before the law.

jewish philosopher said...

"There's no god, no chosen nation, no class of people that is singled out as special or favored, no gender arbitrarily granted authority over over others."

Nor is there any chosen species. Humans are not superior to any other type of animal, plant or mineral.

http://www.atheistnexus.org/forum/topics/why-i-am-not-a-humanist

Evolution is mindless and has no goal.

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/evolphil/teleology.html

"No one person is automatically elevated above another person."

Why not? A huge mansion is worth more than a tiny shack, a 10 carat diamond is worth more than one carat. Shouldn't a genius be more important than an idiot or an athlete more important than a cripple?

Anonymous said...

"Nor is there any chosen species. Humans are not superior to any other type of animal, plant or mineral."

Agreed.

"Shouldn't a genius be more important than an idiot or an athlete more important than a cripple?"

I don't see why. If you're saying that people need to create a generally agreed-upon value system, this is true, but then there's no need to "rank" people in order of importance. The most reasonable value system simply recognizes equality and makes that principle the foundation of social law and practice. Judaism, of course, does not make equality a principle of practice.

jewish philosopher said...

"Agreed."

So cockroaches and people have equal rights to life, liberty and security of person.

"I don't see why."

For the same reason that a mansion is more valuable than a shack, although both are houses. And just as we might well demolish a shack to make room for a mansion, perhaps idiots should be killed to relieve others of their burden. This should make prefect sense to an atheist.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Action_T4

Anonymous said...

"So cockroaches and people have equal rights to life, liberty and security of person."

They do, even if we do not acknowledge it or grant equality in practice. But we do in fact protect some species. Humans better hope that the world doesn't get taken over by cockroaches.

"This should make prefect sense to an atheist."

This shows a lack of understanding of what atheism is, and what it implies.

As I already said, people need to create generally agreed-upon value systems. Yet there's no need to "rank" people in order of importance. The most reasonable value system simply recognizes equality and makes that principle the foundation of social law and practice.

Judaism, of course, does not make equality a principle of practice. You seem to acknowledge this in your last comment, but don't get mad at me because your pet system has its flaws.

jewish philosopher said...

We as Jews would agree that humans are superior to animals, plants and minerals by virtue of our souls and murder and theft are prohibited by anyone against anyone.

As an atheist, humans are not superior to roaches and surely it's natural for big roaches to consume little roaches.

natschuster said...

Evolution dpends on some individuals being mre fit than others. This means all humans can't be equal.

Anonymous said...

"This means all humans can't be equal."

Incorrect. It means that each human being is different. Difference and legal/social equality can be compatible, don't you agree?

That one trait in a human or in a population enhances the likelihood of survivability has no impact on what rights we as a society should grant individuals. We have no way of knowing which attributes of a person will provide enhancement long-term. There may be many such attributes distributed unevenly across people, so that you have one enhancement while I have another.

As I said though: how we choose to govern ourselves as a society has nothing to do with our (or our ancestors') biological attributes. Or at least it shouldn't.

natschuster said...

Anonymous:

Why shouldn't we live by survival of the fittest? And what is your basis for saying anyone has rights at all?

Anonymous said...

"Why shouldn't we live by survival of the fittest?"

We could, if that's the kind of society we felt was best and most reasonable. It would not be a society consistent in practice with principles of human equality, but we could certainly live that way if we wanted to.

"And what is your basis for saying anyone has rights at all?"

It follows from choosing to adopt human equality and dignity as a primary principle of our society. Once we adopt this principle, we can determine the obligations, rights, and prohibitions that apply to each individual in the society.

On what basis do we adopt the principle of human equality? On the basis of comparison. We know we need some grounding philosophy for our society. It's just a matter of which one we want, and which one takes priority.

Now, how does a believing Jew say that "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights." S/He cannot because this in not what Judaism teaches.

In Judaism, people are commanded to behave in restricted ways at a very personal level. Men and women are not equal before the law, even in principle. Jews and Gentiles are not equal before the law.

Maybe focus a little less on atheism, which you don't seem to understand, and a little more on Judaism, which you also don't seem to understand.

jewish philosopher said...

Let's say I take a plastic garbage bag and fill it with sewage water. I think you will agree that this object does not have any dignity and rights.

My question is, from an atheistic perspective, how is a human essentially different from that bag?

And claiming something about how society should behave, etc doesn't answer that question.

Anonymous said...

"from an atheistic perspective, how is a human essentially different from that bag?"

A human is alive, for one thing. A human can also speak or communicate on its own behalf.

One doesn't need to be an atheist to recognize this.

I have now answered your question. The comments before about "how society should behave" also answered the questions posed.

I notice that Judaism offers nothing to the discussion. All you want to talk about is atheism. I hope you are revising your perspective to be more favorable toward atheism as you learn more about it.

jewish philosopher said...

"I have now answered your question."

But the plastic bag of sewage is intelligently designed, while you assert humans are not. Also, the bag has a strong aroma. Most people don't.

So yes there are differences, however could you cite essential differences which should confer rights and dignity on a human but not the sewage bag?

Anonymous said...

You don't think being alive and being able to demonstrate sentience is enough of a difference?

jewish philosopher said...

I'm not sure what you mean.

"Life" is vaguely defined.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life#Definitions

Unconscious people are not sentient.

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sentient 

Anonymous said...

Your position, then, is that people are not alive and that sentience doesn't count?

Besides, can we not come to a workable definition of "life" and "sentience" to be able to establish a difference between a person and a bag of water?

If you're trying to evade the force of my argument by hiding behind definitions, then that works against your argument as well. There are people who love to root around at the impractical, nano-level of word definitions. They are the rabbis.

jewish philosopher said...

From an atheistic perspective, I don't believe that there is an essential difference between a human and a thirty gallon trash bag filled with sewage.

From a Jewish perspective there is. A human is endowed with a God given soul

http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0102.htm#7

A garbage bag isn't.

Anonymous said...

"From an atheistic perspective, I don't believe that there is an essential difference between a human and a thirty gallon trash bag filled with sewage."

That's not an atheistic perspective, however. That's a sociopathic perspective.

Remember, atheism primarily concerns the question of whether gods do or do not exist. One doesn't need to believe in gods to believe that observed entities have similarities and differences, and that these similarities and differences allow for classification of entity-types.

"From a Jewish perspective there is. A human is endowed with a God given soul."

Does Judaism not also claim that some have an "extra" soul? Yes, it does. Now, where's that basis for equality? Gone.

jewish philosopher said...

"That's not an atheistic perspective, however. That's a sociopathic perspective."

That's the point. They are identical.

"Remember, atheism primarily concerns the question of whether gods do or do not exist."

Define the word "god".

Anonymous said...

"Define the word "god"."

I take this as a sign that you've run out of ideas and also don't want to deal with the implications of Jewish belief.

jewish philosopher said...

I take that to mean that you've never thought seriously about your own beliefs.

zipperback said...

"Secondly, if we have no soul and are purely physical, in what way are all humans equal?"

In dignity and rights.

It's written right there. How did you miss it?

Dignity and rights are something we, as human beings, have the ability to control and interpret. This document makes the philosophical declaration toward an (unfulfillable?) ideal that "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights."

We have the dignity and rights that we choose to have and the impart on others in our generosity. If rats and jellyfish wish to have dignity and rights they should create their own declaration stating such.

By your second point you imply that we are equal by virtue of having a soul, but what makes souls equal to other souls. Would anyone say souls, diamonds, stars or animals are equal?

Whatever this implies it is pointless, feel-good, liberal wordplay anyhow. We cannot be born into equal rights unless we are born under the same system of law and we cannot be born into equal dignity without major shifts in "class consciousness". How is a baby born in a ditch to a third world whore equal in dignity or a baby to into wealth?

This is just soft socialism, implying the "need" for a redistributionalist one world government, inspired by not by God or Darwin but by Marx and Lenin.

jewish philosopher said...

Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre criticises the concept of human rights and he asserts that “there are no such rights, and belief in them is one with belief in witches and in unicorns.”

MacIntyre argues that every attempt at justifying the existence of human rights has failed. The assertions by 18th century philosophers that natural rights are self-evident truths, he argues, are necessarily false as there are no such things as self-evident truths.

MacIntyre made this critique of human rights in the context of a wider argument about the failure of the Enlightenment to produce a coherent moral system. Philosophers of the enlightenment sought to cast aside the discredited notions of hierarchy and theology as justifications for morality. Instead, MacIntyre argues, the enlightenment placed the individual as the sovereign authority to dictate what is right and wrong. However allegiances to historical notions of morality remained and philosophers sought to find a secular and rational justification for existing beliefs.

Human rights are an example of a moral belief, founded in previous theological beliefs, which make the false claim of being grounded in rationality.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_of_human_rights#Alasdair_MacIntyre_on_Human_Rights