Are people really equal?
The foundation for much modern morality stems from the assertion that all people are equal and valuable. The notion of inalienable human rights makes this very assumption. This claim is often made by atheists, particularly when advocating for civil rights.
Yet I want to challenge the atheist basis for this claim. This post argues that atheism has no basis to claim equality of humanity.
As I observe the world without reference to God humanity is patently not equal. There are massive disparities between the human race in income, talents, intelligence, attractiveness and sociability. I do not have the income of Bill Gates, the looks of Hugh Jackman, the running ability of Usain Bolt, the soccer skills of Lionel Messi, or the singing voice of Andrea Bocelli. We are not equal by reference to any of these attributes. The only way we can be declared equal is by reference to some transcendent rationale which goes beyond observable attributes.
This leads me to my next point that…
The claim that humans are equal and valuable can ONLY be a theological claim. The only way something can be objectively valuable, is for it to be declared by someone (or something) ‘outside the system’. That is, this declaration can only be made by someone who transcends human society and life. Otherwise my claim is only as good as yours – if I claim all people are equal, and someone else says that whites are more valuable than blacks, on what basis am I right and not the other person? The answer can only come if someone ‘outside the system’ objectively states it or creates it – so that both my white supremacist friend and myself are required to acknowledge it – otherwise we can never objectively agree.
This logic is exactly the same as the logic used by atheist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre when he argues against an objective morality in an atheist universe. He wrote, “There can no longer be any good, a priori, since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it. It is nowhere written that ‘the good’ exists, that one must be honest or must not lie, since we are now upon the plane where there are only men.”
We can re-phrase Sartre’s quote for this context – “There can no longer be any ‘equality of humanity’, a priori, since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it. It is nowhere written that ‘humans are equal or valuable’, since we are now upon the plane where there are only men.”
Atheist systems have no basis to assert the equality or dignity of humanity. Objective equality and dignity can ONLY be a theological claim – much like the claim made in Genesis 1, where God declares that humans are equal and valuable by virtue of them being created in the ‘image of God’. This claim is a theological claim made by someone ‘outside the system’ (God). Christianity can claim the objective equality and dignity of humans because the claim is made by God – who is above the plane of men.
But aren’t we all equal by being members of the species homo sapiens? I’ve heard some atheists claim this, i.e. we are equal because we share a common ancestor. Yet this again raises the difficulty I outlined earlier, that this becomes a somewhat arbitrary claim. On what authority can we claim that being members of the same species makes us equal? We are simply on the plane of men.
Yet even if this argument were true, it is often inconsistently applied by many atheists. Even if we grant that we are all equal by being members of the species, homo sapiens, atheists and atheist groups often advocate for abortion. The problem arises because these aborted fetuses are also members of the species homo sapiens. Thus some are more equal than others. If atheists wish to advocate the equality of humanity on the basis of genetics, then this must also require an argument against abortion.
Hence my question to atheists – on what basis do you claim the equality of humanity?
It seems the only basis to declare the inalienable equality and dignity of humanity is theological.