Why Atheists Can’t Account for Human Rights

Harvard Historian Richard Pipes writes the following in his book Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime:

“The Communists attacked religious beliefs and practices with a vehemence not seen since the days of the Roman Empire. Their aggressive atheism affected the mass of citizens far more painfully than the suppression of political dissent or the imposition of censorship.”1

It wasn’t only the Communists that had no concept of human rights or the value of the individual. A person only had value as he could add value to the State. Robby Kossmann, a German zoologist who later became a medical professor, expresses a proto-Nazi view in his 1880 essay “The Importance of the Life of an Individual in the Darwinian World View”:

“[T]he Darwinian world view must look upon the present sentimental conception of the value of the life of a human individual as an overestimate completely hindering the progress of humanity. The human state also, like every animal community of individuals, must reach an even higher level of perfection, if the possibility exists in it, through the destruction of the less well-endowed individual, for the more excellently endowed to win the space for the expansion of its progeny. . . . The state only has an interest in preserving the more excellent life at the expense of the less excellent.”2

What is man if there is no God? How did he come into being?

Brain mechanism gears and cogs made from rusty metalMarvin Minsky of MIT “believes that humans are nothing but meat machines that carry a computer in their head” also made of meat. Minsky, who is an atheist and works in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI), “claimed that people should give their money to AI research rather than their churches, as only AI would truly give them eternal life.”3

But what is the source of intelligence in a matter-only world? These AI machines are not building themselves. Intelligent beings design and build them. What is the origin of the intelligence of the designers that can impute organized information in the form of complicated program to a mechanical device? How does he know that his intelligence is intelligent and the decisions he makes have a moral basis? Anyway, who or what is there who could challenge his or anybody’s view of morality? Who’s to say that these transhuman AI machines won’t turn on their creators like they did in the Terminator films? Were these machines moral or immoral in their attempts to eliminate humans? If so, who says?

Even atheists like Minsky have recognized that human rights cannot be founded on materialistic, evolutionary, and atheistic assumptions given their beliefs about the nature of reality and the stuff that makes up that reality.

Committed atheist and evolutionist Richard Rorty (1931-2007) knew that the operating assumptions of his worldview could not account for human rights when the struggle for survival eliminates the weak with no regard for an overarching morality that can’t be found in the stuff of the cosmos. There is nothing outside of nature evaluating what happens in nature. So how then does the atheist account for human rights and human dignity when, according to Joni Mitchell, “we are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon”?4

Nancy Pearcey writes that Rorty says the concept of human rights “came from ‘religious claims that human beings are made in the image of God.’ He cheerfully admits that he reaches over and borrows the concept of universal rights from Christianity. He even calls himself a ‘free-loading’ atheist: ‘This Jewish and Christian element in our tradition is gratefully invoked by free-loading atheists like myself.’”5

So here we have an atheist borrowing the necessary elements from a worldview he denies with his entire being because he knows that he can’t live consistently with the full implications of his atheism.

He’s not the only one. Rodney Brooks, also of MIT, shows in his book Flesh and Machines “that a person is nothing but an automaton—‘a big bag of skin full of biomolecules’ interacting by the laws of physics and chemistry. It is not easy to think this way, he admits. But ‘when I look at my children, I can, when I force myself, . . . see that they are machines.’”

And yet he goes on to say, contradicting the atheistic worldview he supports with all his being, but “‘[t]hat is not how I treat them. . . . They have my unconditional love, the furthest one might be able to get from rational analysis.’ If this sounds incoherent, Brooks admits as much: ‘I maintain two sets of inconsistent beliefs.’ In other words, he has to take a secular leap of faith” into a realm that he does not believe exists in order to give his world meaning.

Minsky also must leave behind the operating assumptions of his anti-God worldview in order to live a life where life matters and has meaning. “In The Society of Mind he writes, ‘The physical world provides no room for freedom of will.’ And yet ‘that concept is essential to our models of the mental realm. [And so] we are virtually forced to maintain that belief, even though we know it’s false.’”6

What happens when the next generation of atheists who are less connected to a Christian worldview from which Rorty, Minsky, and Brooks have been borrowing from in order to maintain some sort of moral sanity become more consistent with their matter-only, meat machine, “big bag of skin full of biomolecules” worldview?

The day may come when the new-new atheists will drop any pretense of inconsistency and fully embrace the view that humans are nothing but organic machines, carbon units that have no more regard for the lives of other people than the graphite found in a pencil.

  1. Richard Pipes, Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime (New York: Alfred K. Knopf, 1994), 337. []
  2. Quoted in Richard Weikart, From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 2. []
  3. Anne Forest, God in the Machine: What Robots Teach us About Humanity and God (New York: Dutton/Penguine Group, 2004), 43. []
  4. The interesting thing about Joni Mitchell’s song “Woodstock” is that she can’t escape religious imagery by using phrases like “child of God” and “get ourselves back to the garden,” presumably a reference to the Garden of Eden. []
  5. Nancy Pearcey, Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2015), 225-226. []
  6. Nancy Pearcey, “Intelligent Design and the Defense of Reason,” Darwin’s Nemesis: Phillip Johnson and the Intelligent Design Movement, ed. William A. Dembski (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 237 []
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