Author Tim Barnett
Published on 03/11/2024
Other Worldviews

Atheist Says Human Rights Aren’t Real

The next time you say the words “I support the right to” or “we should all have the right to,” ask yourself whether such human rights are a fundamental part of reality or, as materialist Yuval Harari claims, just a fictional story.


Original video: But human rights are just like Heaven, and, like God, it’s just a fictional story that we’ve invented and spread around. It may be a very nice story. It may be a very attractive story. We want to believe it, but it’s just a story. It’s not a reality. It is not a biological reality. Just as jellyfish and woodpeckers and ostriches have no rights, homo sapiens have no rights, also. Take a human, cut him open, look inside. You find their blood, and you find the heart and lungs and kidneys, but you don’t find any rights. The only place you find rights is in the fictional stories that humans have invented and spread around.

Tim: Some of you are thinking, “What did I just watch?” Well, that was bestselling author Yuval Harari giving a now infamous TED talk. First off, I got to hand it to him. Harari is consistent. He’s wrong, but he’s consistent. See, Harari is a materialist. That means he believes only the material world exists. For him, objective reality is only what you can see, smell, hear, taste, and touch, and if reality is only what you can perceive with your five senses, then of course human rights are not part of objective reality. They’re merely fictional stories that we have invented.

In defense of his claim that human rights are fiction, Harari says, take a human being, cut him open, look inside. You will find the heart the kidneys, neurons, hormones, DNA, but you won’t find any rights. I want you to notice what’s going on here. Harari simply assumes materialism. Of course, cutting someone open to find a human right only makes sense if human rights are material objects located somewhere in the human body, but just because human rights aren’t made of matter like mountains and molecules, that doesn’t mean they aren’t real.

Human rights really do exist, and I think Harari knows it. True enough, you can’t find a human right by cutting someone open and looking inside their body. However, I think you can find a human right by threatening to cut someone open. Here’s what I mean. Imagine Harari successfully convinces the world that human rights aren’t real. They’re just fictional stories we invented. And suppose some of those people are done playing make believe about human rights, and they get together, find Harari, and threaten to cut him open for the fun of it. After all, he doesn’t really have a right to life. Any imaginary right that is invented can also be uninvented. Now, most of us, especially Harari, would have a legitimate problem with that, but why? Is it merely because some people aren’t playing by the made-up rules of a fictional story? No. It’s much deeper than that. It’s because Harari and everyone who has ever drawn breath has been created with intrinsic value and, as a result, is endowed with inalienable human rights. Therefore, Harari has a real fundamental right to life, regardless of whether society protects that right or not.

Harari’s materialism leaves him unable to ground the human rights he enjoys and desperately needs, but the solution isn’t to deny human rights. The solution is to deny materialism. The next time you say the words “I support the right to” or “we should all have the right to,” I want you to think about this question. Are you just stating a figment of your imagination, or are you saying something fundamentally true about reality?