As you probably have noticed, human beings spend their entire lives fighting for what they consider to be inequality, justice and human rights. But, why do humans matter so much if all of reality is reducible to matter, chance, and the laws of nature? Biological reductionism, metaphysical materialism, and psychological behaviorism say that impersonal, physical, and valueless processes cause valuable, rights-bearing persons to be.
Humans, therefore, can assign value to fellow humans by sheer choice. However, this assignment of value to human life is subjective, not objective. Assigning value to people based on personal choice leads us to ask, “What if someone doesn’t think a group of people are valuable?” Rights, it seems, are linked to personhood. The Bible, for example, says that humans are made in the likeness and image of God, and that they are therefore intrinsically valuable. Rights come by virtue of who human beings are by nature, as opposed to function, productivity, or ‘usefulness. One thing is for sure: the concern over such a topic demonstrates that people live as if they care about justice, equality, and human rights. But to atheist and skeptics, why do humans matter so much and why would they be outraged over all the mistreatment of their fellow humans? Why fight so hard for humans?
There are five options other than grounding human value in anything other than a view that humans are made in the likeness and image of God, and that they are therefore intrinsically valuable. Rights come by virtue of who human beings are by nature, as opposed to function, productivity, or ‘usefulness. Here they are:
First option: Peter Singer and others describe any attempt to see humans as more significant than any other part of the animal world as arrogant speciesism (the view that one’s own species is the superior one).
A second option is some form of rationalist autonomy, in which one of the properties that make humans significant is the use of reason—specifically people’s capacity to set ends for themselves.
A third option is to see human significance as somehow grounded in an evolutionary framework through adaptability and survival, though humans’ place at the top of the evolutionary ladder could well be temporary. This outlook opens the door to a view that is the subject of transhumanism (the view that it might be possible for human beings to surpass their humanity and become something different than merely human).
A fourth option is a type of naturalistic Platonism, which recognizes that some necessary things about human beings are built into the structure of the world but does not necessarily acknowledge that there is a designer who placed them there.
A final option, which moves toward the discussion of postmodern individualism addressed in the previous chapter, would be to see the grounding for human significance collapse into some form of subjectivism. In this outlook, significance is a matter of personal preference or is conferred by some external authority such as the state.
See Why People Matter: A Christian Engagement with Rival Views of Human Significance, John F. Kilner, Russell DiSilvestro, David Gushee, Amy Hall, John Kilner, Gilbert Meilaender, and Patrick Smith.