Secular Law and Rights

QUESTION: Secular Law – Do Rights Evolve?

ANSWER:

Darwin’s evolutionary theory had a profound impact on the Secular Humanist conception of law. Huxley explains, “There proceeded during the 19th Century under the influence of the evolutionary concept, a thoroughgoing transformation of older studies like...Law.”1 An example of how this transformation affected the field of law comes from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.: “I see no reason for attributing to man a significance different in kind from that which belongs to a baboon or a grain of sand.”2 Holmes’ philosophy of law shines a light on both Secular Humanist and Postmodernist law.3

Secular Law – Human Rights Evolve With Society
A moral as well as a legal dilemma arises from the belief that we are evolving animals on an equal footing with baboons—why should we (humans) enjoy rights that other animals do not enjoy? Morris B. Storer states the dilemma this way: “What is there that’s different about a human being that dictates the right to life for all humans (unarguably in most circumstances) where most people acknowledge no such right in other animals? That justifies equal right to liberty where we fence the others in, equal justice under law where the other animals are not granted any trial at all.”4 This position logically leads to the assumption that since mankind, society, morality, and laws all evolve, human rights also evolve.

Notes:

Rendered with permission from the book, Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews (Rev. 2nd ed), David Noebel, Summit Press, 2006. Compliments of John Stonestreet, David Noebel, and the Christian Worldview Ministry at Summit Ministries. All rights reserved in the original.

1 Cited in John W. Whitehead, The Second American Revolution (Elfin, IL: David C. Cook, 1982), 46.

2 Richard Hertz, Chance and Symbol (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1948), 107.

3 See Albert W. Alschuler, Law Without Values: The Life, Work, and Legacy of Justice Holmes (Chicago, IL: Uni¬versity of Chicago Press, 2000). Holmes admits his decisions were based on the fact that humanity is an evolving animal and that the concept of “survival of the fittest” was important to him.

4 Morris B. Storer, ed., Humanist Ethics (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1980), 291.

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