PCS311 – Do Human Beings have Intrinsic Dignity?

Question

I don’t believe that human persons have intrinsic dignity. Human beings are biological things that have no special meaning or worth above rocks, plants, or bugs. So ethical principles are simply inventions which carry no real obligation to be followed.

Answer: Most people, whether they are religious or not, are aware that human beings are more than just biological things because of our unique capacity to seek what is transcendental (beyond material).

In order to claim that human beings are just the sum of our material parts, you would have to ignore the fact that human beings are capable of love, empathy, forgiveness, compassion, generosity, and self-sacrifice. You would have to deny that human beings find their greatest meaning and purpose in truth, love, goodness, justice, and unity. If, on the other hand, you find that you cannot deny this, then physics and biology cannot explain who we are. Science, by nature, looks only at what is physical and material, not at what is transcendental.

Many of the greatest physicists and biologists, even in our current day, have acknowledged this unique transcendental specialness in human beings. For example, Sir Arthur Eddington, a famous physicist and astrophysicist in the 20th century had this to say:

We all know that there are regions of the human spirit untrammelled by the world of physics. In the mystic sense of the creation around us, in the expression of art, in a yearning towards God, the soul grows upward and finds the fulfillment of something implanted in its nature. The sanction for this development is within us, a striving born within our consciousness or an Inner Light proceeding from a greater power than ours. Science can scarcely question this sanction, for the pursuit of science springs from a striving which the mind is impelled to follow, a questioning that will not be suppressed. Whether in the intellectual pursuits of science or in the mystical pursuits of the spirit, the light beckons ahead and the purpose surging in our nature responds.
— Sir Arthur Eddington. 1928. The Nature of the Physical World. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 327-28.

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