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David W. Hegg: Ethics only as strong as society’s view of human life

Posted: September 30, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: September 30, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Richard Dawkins — has made a reputation opposing any ethical system that even remotely takes the time to consider theistic arguments as providing grounds for belief. He has been quoted as saying, “There is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pointless indifference. … We are machines for propagating DNA. … It is every living object’s sole reason for being.”

If we understand Dawkins correctly, he believes there is only one reason for living: to pass along DNA to the next generation. Essentially, we are merely here to pass along DNA to the next generation so they can be merely here to pass it along to the next generation, and so on, and so on, and so on.

It is obvious that Dawkins, and a whole host of naturalistic scientists and philosophers believe that reducing all reality to that which is natural rather than supernatural offers the very best explanation of reality as well as the very best foundation for determining how we should live. But herein lies a massive problem.

The whole study of ethics — the recognition of best practices when it comes to living as a human being — is based on the idea of value. In some sense ethics are the way we preserve the value of life by recognizing the mutually beneficial patterns of living that not only preserve it, but improve it for all concerned. Laws come into being in order to protect life and property; rules help maintain an orderly society; personal ethics such as courtesy, honesty, sacrifice and perseverance all have as their goal the preservation of something considered valuable.

But, if we reduce human existence to the level of sperm and egg donation, we had better understand that such reductionism will, necessarily, subvert our ethical foundations. Where value is lost, ethics erode. As humanity is minimized down from being the pinnacle of creation so also the ethical standards understood as protecting and preserving humanity’s honor will erode and finally dissolve into a puddle of pragmatic selfishness that favors the strong and wealthy. At this point, do we really believe that the survival of the fittest, in terms of physical power, should determine the way ahead for civilized society?

We are already seeing this erosion and its consequences. Under the banner of reproductive rights, women are funding a largely male-dominated abortion industry despite the fact that it was often unrestrained male sexual desire that brought on the pregnancy in the first place. The pragmatic and selfish motives behind abortion have overruled the idea that conceived human life is both honorable and of great value, and the result is the national horror of 55 million abortions since 1973, according to the National Right to Life.

But, if the only purpose of life is to pass on DNA, then abortion shouldn’t really bother us. After all, there are certainly enough sperm and egg donors left. But it should leave the naturalistic community wondering if they have selfishly done away with some of the better opportunities for society to progress. Can anyone really justify throwing out 55 million chances for another Einstein, Bach, Marshall, or any number of world-changing human lives?

The fact is, while many may verbally subscribe to the idea of naturalism, and the belief that we are here only to give life to the next generation, no one really lives that way. We still honor heroes, still want to “make a difference,” and still pray our children will find purpose and honor in their lives. We still want our neighbors to live honestly, justly and ethically, following norms that are found in every society.

As a theist who believes that every human being is endowed by the Creator with an inalienable right to life from the moment of conception, I contend that our need is for a more honorable view of humanity, not one that is being eroded. If, as the Bible declares, every human bears the image of God, and is capable of displaying his communicable attributes, then the ethics of a society will only be as strong as that society’s appreciation of the value and honor of every beating heart. A society’s ethical commitment will, of necessity, mirror their collective appreciation of the unique nature of human life.  

Ethical standards will only be as high as the honor afforded to human life by society.

David W. Hegg is senior pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Santa Clarita.


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