December 7, 2005
Natural Rights: Darwin vs. God
Evolution or creationism? That's the polemic bitterly dividing the
intelligentsia once again.
opine that it is not possible to see the mark of God in the evolution
of living beings. There is no scientific proof of His divine hand.
Changes occur without the guidance of an ethical criterion.
however, insist that it is not possible to explain the immense
complexity of life without the intervention of a superior being.
Further, they believe that human beings have a profound moral
sense that can be explained only by the existence of God. It is
even propounded that there is a gene that predisposes humans to
this appears to be a harmless intellectual debate, where science
and theology weave and blur. But, in fact, the controversy affects
the very roots of Western civilization and, in the long run, can
have tremendous consequences on a political level.
philosophical and juridical structure that supports liberal democracy
hinges on the existence of a superior being from whom emanate
the ''natural rights'' that protect individuals from the actions
of the state or from the will of other people. If the premise
of God's existence disappears, the theory of the existence of
natural rights is automatically eliminated and the door is flung
open to all kinds of abuses.
a Jew and founder of stoicism in the fourth century, is attributed
the first formulation of the theory of natural rights. Zeno and
his followers posited something novel and revolutionary: Human
beings, because of their unique nature, possess some rights that
came not from ethnic grouping or city structure but from the gods.
predated the existence of the tribe and the state so they couldn't
be suppressed by tribal leaders or the city's political authorities,
because the rights hadn't been granted by them.
approach allowed for the existence of an essential equality among
people and established the qualitative difference that separated
them from the other creatures. People were gifted with the ability
to reason. They could distinguish good from evil, as if a supernatural
force had aimed their conscience in the direction of ethical judgment.
It was not
true, as Aristotle advocated, that ''natural slaves'' existed
or that women and foreigners (then called ''barbarians'') were
inferior. That's why when Christianity centuries later adopted
the philosophical legacy of the Stoics, it opened its arms to
all races, nationalities, social classes and both sexes. ''Catholic''
In the late
17th century, English philosopher John Locke, along with others,
reprised the argument of natural rights and laid the foundations
for liberal democracy: Neither the king nor parliament can legislate
against liberty and the right to life and property. Locke inspired
England's Bill of Rights and established the principles that 100
years later would lead to the founding of the United States and
the drafting by the French of the Universal Declaration of the
Rights of Man and Citizen.
that simple. If there are no natural rights, it may be acceptable
to enslave prisoners, discriminate against women and execrate
foreigners or homosexuals. All that's required is a decision by
a legitimate source of power, such as a majority in numbers, for
instance, or a group of notable and petulant wise men.
Marxism, which denied the existence of natural rights, felt authorized,
in the name of the working class, to establish a dictatorship
of the proletariat, to deprive millions of people of their property
and to execute and imprison millions of others because they were
also did not believe in natural rights, exterminated six million
Jews and one million Gypsies and other minorities because there
was no moral or philosophical impediment to curb it.
nobody -- much less this agnostic -- can state with total certainty
that God exists. Nobody can assert the opposite, either. What's
indisputable is that if liberty and tolerance exist in the West,
it's because we have built dams -- call them natural rights --
capable of holding back barbarism. To blow them up is to leap
into the abyss.