My wife and I were recently talking about the pandemic and why it is so disturbing to all of us. Of course it is creating economic havoc and has been incredibly disruptive to our lives. But there is a deeper issue and it has to do with the value of human life. So many people are dying. If people were just getting sick, but not dying, this would be a different issue.
So why do we value human life so much? In the book I have just written, Reflections on The Existence of God, I spend much of the section, “Why Does God Allow Evil?” debating why, if (hypothetically) there is no God, should we value human life.
The famous Harvard psychologist B. F. Skinner viewed man as a machine that responds mechanically to stimuli, and he openly mocked the religious view that elevated the dignity of man. He said that he was glad to see the riddance of the sacredness of man, and that his abolition has been long overdue. In his book Beyond Freedom and Dignity, Skinner argues that there is no reason to regard human beings as anything other than a product of nature.
However, think of the uniqueness of a human being. We have a conscience with the ability to feel, to love, and to experience joy. We have a desire for security and have this unique yearning that our lives matter and are significant. We have the ability to be fearful but also feel peace. There is no other creature in this world that has the uniqueness of a person.
What most people don’t seem to realize is how the atheist view of humanity is so diametrically opposed to the Christian view. If there is no God, what is a person? How valuable is human life?
Ingrid Newkirk, co-founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, says:
“There is no rational reason for saying that a human being has special rights. A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.”
There are a number of ethicists who argue now that an animal’s rights should take precedence over a human’s.
A good understanding of the atheistic view of human life can be found in the perspective offered by Dr. Rodney Brooks, who received his PhD in computer science from Stanford. He is a roboticist. He taught robotics for a number of years at MIT, where he was the director of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Brooks says:
“A human being is nothing but a machine or a big bag of skin full of biomolecules interacting by the laws of physics and chemistry.”
This view of man started with Charles Darwin. Many people are not aware of the complete title of his highly influential book, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. A key idea in the book is how good it is for the least favored races to become extinct. He said:
“According to the laws of natural selection, the European race will emerge as the distinct species homo sapiens, and all the transitional forms—the gorilla, the chimpanzee, the Negro, and the Australian Aborigine—will be extinguished in the struggle.”
Do you realize what Darwin was saying? He believed the black population were inferior beings and would eventually be eliminated because of natural selection.
Where is this taking us, a world in which human life is nothing more than a product of nature, and that stronger and more favored races will survive, and the weak and disadvantaged will eventually become extinct?
Before he became a Christian and recanted his ‘atheistic beliefs’, Mortimer Adler, one of the most prominent philosophers of the last century, saw human beings as nothing more than sophisticated animals. For this reason, he said, “There is no logical reason to treat mankind differently from any other animal. Therefore, to exploit minorities or to exterminate the homeless could not be condemned any more than killing steers in a slaughterhouse.”
Again, if there is no God, Adler is logically correct.
Contrast this with the life of Mother Teresa, the benevolent Catholic nun who dedicated her life’s work to caring for the sick and poor of Calcutta, India. These people lived out their lives in pain, fear, and loneliness. Many times, Mother Teresa was asked why she cared for those who were doomed. She responded along the lines of, “They are created by God; they deserve to die with dignity.” She clearly believed that every person is precious and has a great value that was formulated by God’s creative act.
So, whose worldview is correct?
Ultimately, the worldview that is true will be consistent with the real world and the one that is untrue will present a view of life that is not in harmony with reality.
The Christian worldview provides a consistent, rational way to look at life. It is not contradictory in the moral realm, and it teaches that we are made in the image of God, which gives us the basis of human dignity and human rights. As a result, Christians live comfortably and consistently with their worldview because it fits the real world in which they live.