No Stable Rights without Intrinsic Human Value

Author Amy K. Hall Published on 07/25/2013

Kelsey Hazzard, the president of Secular Pro-Life, is not religious, so in her response to a pro-choice rabbi’s article pleading with pro-lifers to not impose their religion on the country, she counters that the rabbi is actually insisting that pro-lifers not “impose their science” on the country. An excerpt (the rabbi’s remarks are indented):

You possess a (not THE) definition of what constitutes life.

The Princess Bride was wrong; there is no such thing as mostly dead and slightly alive. You are one or the other. It is a scientific question with a right or wrong answer. The “many truths” approach does not work when the issue is one of objective fact.

And you won’t back down from trying to defend it. There is much integrity to that consistency.

But, like all things religious, it is also potentially dangerous.

How is it “religious” when there are millions of pro-lifers in the United States with no religion? It can’t just be because there are religious folks who agree with us; most religious people also agree that human trafficking is immoral, but we don’t call human trafficking a religious issue.

Hazzard is right about being able to scientifically pinpoint exactly when a human being begins to exist as a live, whole organism. It always amazes me that pro-choicers who take the more mystical approach, saying that life is infused into a human organism at some date after the beginning of its existence, accuse pro-lifers of making an inappropriately religious determination on the beginning of life.

But of course, most pro-choicers know that the fetal human being is scientifically alive. What they’re really objecting to is the idea of intrinsic human value—i.e., the idea that every member of the Homo sapiens species is valuable, regardless of his or her individual characteristics and abilities, because every human being shares the same valuable human nature (which reflects the objective value of God). And usually, it’s this idea of intrinsic human value and its corresponding universal equality and human rights that they’re dismissing as being “religious” (which to them means “not part of objective reality”).

Hazzard recognizes that human value and rights are objectively real, and she can argue for them by appealing to our moral intuition (see here, for example), but not by appealing to science. Universal human rights depend on a shared human nature and intrinsic human value, which can’t be verified scientifically because the scientific method is not capable of detecting things like intrinsic value. Unfortunately, in a society infected by scientism, people have all the wiggle room they need to illegitimately dismiss a scientifically unmeasurable idea they disagree with from the public square by labeling it “religious,” since they can count on our culture interpreting that to mean “a subjective matter of preference.”

I found Hazzard’s comment, “[W]e don’t call human trafficking a religious issue,” to be particularly instructive as an illustration of how unstable rights are when the idea of objective, intrinsic human value is rejected. For of course, human trafficking was labeled a subjective religious issue when it suited the purposes of those who wished to traffic in African slaves.

From Chuck Colson’s preface to William Wilberforce’s A Practical View of Christianity:

Pitt moved that a resolution be passed binding the House to discuss the slave trade in the next session. The motion was passed. But then another of Wilberforce’s friends, Sir William Dolben, introduced a one-year experimental bill to regulate the number of slaves that could be transported per ship.

Now sensing a threat, the West Indian bloc rose up in opposition. Tales of cruelty in the slave trade were mere fiction, they said. Besides, warned Lord Penrhyn ominously, the proposed measure would abolish the trade upon which “two thirds of the commerce of this country depends.” Angered by Penrhyn’s hyperbole, Pitt pushed Dolben’s regulation through both houses in June of 1788.

By the time a recovered Wilberforce returned to the legislative scene, the slave traders were furious and ready to fight, shocked that politicians had the audacity to press for morally based reforms in the political arena. “Humanity is a private feeling, not a public principle to act upon,” sniffed the Earl of Abingdon. Lord Melbourne angrily agreed. “Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade public life,” he thundered.

The time and place may change, but the objections never change. “There is no real harm! Our quality of life depends on it! A belief in universal human rights is religious and has no place in politics!”

Thankfully, in terms of the pro-life fight in this country, our legal system is already built on the foundation of universal, unalienable human rights, so we don’t have to fight for legal recognition of their existence. And happily, since atheists are capable of apprehending moral truths, many accept unalienable human rights, even though objective rights and value—grounded in a standard above human beings, and not dependent on our preferences—are inconsistent with their worldview. What we must do is clarify the indisputable fact that the unborn are members of the human race (as Hazzard does in her article), and then hold people to our nation’s established ideals.