The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms “faith” in
the dignity and worth of the human person and declares all humans
are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Is this true, or is it just a legal fiction?
Modern science and humanity
The UN believes (and most people would agree, I think) that human beings possess a number of important attributes, including:
- consciousness (our sense of self)
- free will
- a sense that some things are truly right or wrong
However modern neuroscience cannot find a basis for most of them. Consciousness and free will are considered to be illusions by many scientists and philosophers, and ethics are considered to be products of natural selection without intrinsic truth.
You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.”
Science vs Experience
So which is true? Is the ‘reductionist’ and naturalistic scientific account correct, and our experience as human selves is just an illusion of evolution? Or is our experience, from the inside, more perceptive than science, from the outside?
It makes a difference
If we accept the naturalistic science account, we will have to learn to live with these uncomfortable truths – that we ourselves, and our ability to choose, are illusions, and there is no solid basis for our rationality and morals and our worth as human beings.
This may eventually lead to a loss of human rights and inhumane treatment of people, and may be very difficult to live out day-to-day. We will need to find new ways to reinforce behaviours necessary for peaceful societies.
However strongly scientists and philosphers argue for this view, I have difficulty believing that voters and law-makers will ever adopt it.
Something more than naturalism
If we are unwilling to reduce human beings to “robots made of meat”, we will have to find another explanation for these four human attributes.
Naturalistic science cannot satisfactorily explain what we experience, but arguments have been developed that God is the most reasonable explanation of all four. The arguments are based on the idea that we can explain events either by a preceding cause, or by a personal choice, and since science cannot explain these attributes, they must have arisen by personal choice – by a creator God.
Philosophers have also tried to find a non-material but naturalist explanation, but they seem to require belief that these attributes are genuine without explaining how that could occur without God.
The choice is stark
No-one can prove whether these four human attributes are as real as we exerience them, or are evolutionary illusions. But the belief we adopt will have significant effects on how we live.
And no-one can prove whether God created us with these attributes or they arose some other way, but the arguments for God seem strong to me.
I have examined the arguments in greater details in What is human?