Thursday, October 1, 2015

Ethics, Equality, and Human Exceptionalism

It seems that the success of the West has depended on the presupposition of human exceptionalism and human equality. However, this idea is now under serious attack. We are having difficulty defending it against numerous vigorous challenges. For instance:

  • What makes humans exceptional? Why shouldn’t we kill and eat humans as we do chickens and pigs? 
Some will argue that we are more valuable than chickens, but to whom? Certainly we are not more valuable to other chickens. Who then can authoritatively assign relative value? Is our value then determined by other humans? Why?

Besides, do we want our value to be culturally or governmentally determined? Instead, we would prefer that our value be based on an objective intrinsic basis – on who we are as human beings rather than chickens.

However, this opens the door to another problem. What intrinsically makes us more valued? Some will argue that we are more intelligent, sensitive, or creative. Well, this is true. However, why should our superiority over the chicken make us more valuable or important? Also, the chicken can do things that we can’t do. She can lay eggs and raise many more young than we can. They are also fearless mothers!

Besides, this kind of reasoning opens the door to many ethical problems. If intelligence makes us more valuable and extends to us more legal protections and rights, then we should be placing greater value on those who are more intelligent, educated, and sensitive, right? Consequently, we would also have to degrade the value of the less intelligent – children, the mentally ill, uneducated, and the elderly. Therefore, to assign value based on human characteristics is to undermine the concept of equality.

Also, if our legal system is to operate in a manner consistent with this criterion of intelligence, then it should extend more rights and protections to the intelligent. Clearly, this kind of thinking will undermine the fabric of our society.

Some postmodernists avoids this problem by asserting that all life is of equal value. However, this assertion is loaded with its own set of problems:

  1. What endows life with value? Is this no more than an arbitrary assertion?
  1. How can any legal system accommodate the need to criminalize human murder along with cockroach murder? It would seem that the legal system would crash under the weight of its broadened responsibilities.
  1. Such a morality would not be humanly livable. It would mean that we couldn’t swat mosquitoes, exterminate termites, and even take anti-biotics. 
Just as problematic as these three problems is the problem of “equal value.” Where does this notion of equality come from? Instead, we observe inequality wherever we look. There is nothing equal between a termite and a cow. They are different in every respect. Upon what then can equality be based?

Even in regards to humanity, we observe little in the way of equality. Some are old, others young. Some are productive, others not. Some contribute to the welfare of society; others do not. 

Nevertheless, we intuitively know that what we value in the West cannot be preserved without the belief articulated in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” – an ascertain that transcends the observable and must find its justification in another realm where true equality exists.

What is the basis for equality? The Declaration claims that equality is found in the mind of an immutable God:

  • We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Perhaps “unalienable” human Rights” are not “self-evident.” However, what is evident is that these rights cannot be founded on human decisions. Such decisions are always in flux. If the government grants a human right, the government can also rescind that right. However, if it depends on God, then these rights are “unalienable” and unchangeable.

Are we truly more valued than the sparrow before God? Yes, according to Jesus:

  • “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of MORE VALUE THAN MANY SPARROWS.” (Matthew 10:29-31)  
Why? We alone are created in the likeness of God Himself:

  • Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26)
Consequently, once we reject God, we reject the only rational and sufficient basis for human equality. God help us!

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