Thursday, September 15, 2005

Source of Natural Law

Reason sometimes comes from an unlikely source. In this case Skeptic Magazine. But my old friend Mike Shermer has sent along an email referencing a book review. The book being reviewed is Alan Dershowitz's newist RIGHTS FROM WRONGS: A Secular Theory of the Origin of Rights. The review is written by Kenneth W. Krause, and is availabe here

Now, I almost never agree with anything Alan Dershowitz says, and this book would be no exception. I sometimes agree with Shermer, who is mainly only completely wrong about the existence of God, and the supremacy of science. However, the reviewer is pretty even handed. Here are the summary paragraphs, but I encourage you to read the whole thing:

Humans, then, must “invent” their rights, Dershowitz surmises, from a list of “agreed-upon wrongs.” Rights must be synthesized from our collective experiences with past disasters we would never want to see repeated. We should build our canon of rights not from a “top-down” utopian perspective, but rather from a “bottom-up” dystopian view of bygone tragedies. In short, the author concludes, we should “build rights on a foundation of trial, error, and our uniquely human ability to learn from our mistakes.”
From the womb of historical injustice, then, a rational and informed public would deliver liberties, the implementation of which should warranty against the reoccurrence of such disasters. From slavery and Jim Crow, from Know-Nothing nativism and World War II internment, Americans would deliver equal protection and due process. From the Alien and Sedition Acts and McCarthyism, we would deliver freedom of _expression; and from the Salem witch hunts and the Philadelphia riots of 1844, we would deliver freedom of conscience.
Or would we?
Perhaps Dershowitz’s theory is more utopian than he cares to admit. On what basis does the author conclude that Americans could ever agree as to which experiences constitute such wrongs? And in asking Americans to so agree, is the author advocating that rights be invented according to majority rule? Are average Americans sufficient to that task? These questions, although unavoidable, are never effectively addressed in the text.

Without God and the Bible, we are free to pick and choose the truths we adhere to. No amount of Dershowitz's poor reasoning will ever change that.

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