Who created human rights? (and why it’s a problem for atheists)

Nov 29, 2018 by

By Andy Bannister, Premier Christianity.

This year is the 70th anniversary of the document that most famously encapsulates this idea: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which was adopted by the United Nations on 10th December 1948 in Paris.

The UDHR opens with these powerful words: “Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

We’re passionate about human rights, we award Nobel Prizes for them, but a fairly basic question is often overlooked. These rights, this dignity that human beings are claimed to have – where is it located? What  is its basis, its foundation? In short, however noble the UDHR may sound, is it true?

These are trickier questions to answer than you might imagine, and the options are limited. Perhaps one might suggest that human rights just are; they just exist. This was the route taken by the secular human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell whom I once debated on Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable? show. Tatchell is passionate about human rights, but when I pressed him on why we have them, he basically said they exist because they exist. This is hugely problematic, not just because it’s a circular argument, but because the racist can use the same rationale – they can claim to be superior to other races and when we ask why, reply: “I am because I am.”

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