(Captain's log): In my post yesterday about the possibility that radical Muslims are facing a crisis of faith, I said:
...for me as an atheist I see religion as being helpful for individuals but largely negative for society collectively. To the extent that individuals practice it without it becoming a societal force, it's net positive (in most cases) providing comfort and guidance. When it starts meddling in politics, the effects are uniformly negative in part because it is uniformly anti-pluralistic. Thus for me the ideal state is actually something like what we have in the US, where religion is quite common but there are so many different ones that no single one attains critical mass.
I also said the following:
And the US is the most secular nation on the planet, with secularism a part of the Constitution since the ratification of the First Amendment (and in fact this idea is also in the Constitution itself, which forbids religious tests for candidates for political office). I think it no coincidence that the US is also the most successful nation on the planet, though that is not the only reason why.
These particular comments have inspired quite a lot of thoughtful mail strongly disagreeing with me. One of the basic points was best explained by Harry (who describes himself as a pagan):
For example, in Judeo-Christian teachings, murder is not just a crime, but a moral sin. This is true regardless of the ethnicity of the victim. Our idea that murder is wrong, and therefore should be illegal, comes directly from the moral teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
In essence, law is the practical application of moral theory applied to a population. Laws are enforced by a government which has a monopoly on the use of force, to prevent damaging sins from transpiring. They at least punish the guilty in the here and now, and hopefully modify the behavior of the populace, and thereby allow the populace to go on with life. If not free from sin, at least free from crime.
The idea that law always derive from morality is a common one, and it's one I don't agree with. There are two theories for law (at least), and that's one of them, and it's true that it's been the one which has driven law historically in most of the world. (Not always; I don't believe that Roman law was based on religion to any significant extent) But there's an entirely different concept for law. If there's a standard term for it, I'm not aware of it. It more or less treats the entire legal code as a grand form of traffic law, kind of like rules of the game.
There's nothing that says that driving on the left side of the road is necessarily more or less moral than driving on the right side of the road. Either will serve equally well as long as everyone does it the same way in a given area. Traffic law is entirely mundane and prosaic. It's not based on any kind of high principle; it's sole purpose is to try to keep the roads as safe as can be, while maximizing traffic flow. This second theory of law treats the entire legal code that way, and evaluates laws on the basis of their contribution to creation of an orderly society which maximally benefits the people living within it. (Of course, that begs the question of "benefit", and in that sense it doesn't totally escape from value judgments.)
This is, obviously, an approach to law which would appeal to an engineer: law as solution to the problem of running a society, as opposed to law as a way of making people live good lives. In many places the two will overlap and each will conclude that the same law is a good one, but for entirely different reasons. Harry cites laws against murder and claims that murder is illegal because of the Judeo-Christian tradition that murder is illegal. An engineerist evaluation of the laws about murder would rather decide that murder should be illegal in part because a murder deprives the victim of the ability to enjoy the benefits of society, but also because if murder is legal, and common, then it will strongly affect the way that people in the society live and interact. If you live in fear of being shot at any time, you won't live the same kind of life that you do if that's considered a very remote possibility.
One of the problems with basing a legal system on a moral system is deciding whose moral system gets to be the lucky one. One of the benefits of the engineerist approach to law is that it doesn't favor any single belief over any other, and instead justifies laws on purely pragmatic grounds of consequences (with a more broad idea of what good and bad consequences are).
There are a number of reasons why I think the engineerist approach to law, based on evaluation of consequences, is superior to the use of an ethical system (most commonly derived from some single religion). For one thing, if you base your law on a moral system, you're forced to pick some system and raise it above all others, by giving it the ability to use the power of government to enforce its edicts on nonbelievers, and it's difficult to keep it from getting both petty and tyrannical. When the laws are based on evaluation of consequences, then no single religion will be preferred over any other.
Another reason why I think the engineerist approach is better is demonstrated by places where the two would disagree. Sometimes an engineerist lawmaker would pass a law which a religious lawmaker would not, and vice versa.
Laws are often the only practical solution for the Tragedy of the Commons. One example of that is childhood vaccination. Vaccines are a modern miracle; they are cheap and effective and very safe, and using vaccines many diseases whose names would have made mothers and fathers in my grandparents' generation break into a cold sweat are nearly unknown now. Most people now don't really understand just how fearful people were of diseases like polio in the old days, and rightfully so; such diseases routinely killed tens of thousands of people, and crippled tens of thousands more.
But in immunology there's what's known as herd immunity and what it means is that most of these diseases can only be gotten from another human. If everyone around you has been immunized, then even if you have not been you will never be exposed to the disease and can never get it. You benefit from their vaccinations, as long as the vaccination rate is sufficiently high to interrupt the ability of an infectious disease to travel through the population.
And though the risks associated with vaccines are extremely low, they are not zero. With respect to DPT vaccine (diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus) given to children, there's chance somewhat less than one in a million that the child will suffer an exaggerated response with very high fever which can cause permanent brain damage. Other vaccines have comparable very low but nonzero risks, and as a result in the 1980's and 1990's, when many of these diseases had faded from memory, a lot of parents decided to not vaccinate their kids.
And this became sufficiently common so that some of the diseases started returning. The vaccination rate dropped too far and they stopped being protected by herd immunity. There were, for instance, some high profile cases where measles broke out in certain schools, and some of the kids were actually seriously harmed. (I think there were even some deaths.)
In most states now there is a law that you cannot send your children to public school unless you prove that the child has taken a standard set of vaccines. That's completely justified from an engineerist point of view, because the risk from the vaccines is far lower than from the return of the diseases the vaccines prevent. But some religions oppose the use of vaccines (and many other kinds of medicines), and if they were the ones in charge, whose religious dicta controlled the law, then not only would there not be mandatory vaccination, vaccines themselves might be made illegal.
On the other side of the coin, there are cases where a legal system based on morality would attempt to ban certain things that an engineerist would not.
One interesting thing about the US in particular is that over the course of my lifetime we've been moving, slowly, from a moralistic legal system to a pragmatic one, and nowhere is this better demonstrated than in laws about sex. 40 years ago, "sodomy" was a major crime nearly everywhere in the US. Precise definitions varied, but oral sex (whether homosexual or heterosexual) was usually forbidden, and in some cases even having heterosexual sex in any way other than the "missionary position" was against the law.
Such laws still exist, but they're rare, and the general rule now in most of the country is that what consenting adults do with one another behind closed doors is nobody's business but their own. That's a very engineerist approach to things, as opposed to the previous moral approach. Most of those acts were made illegal because they were considered sinful by certain religions. But there's no particular reason to believe that widespread sexual freedom is any inherent risk to society, so from an engineerist point of view a law against such practices does more harm than good. (Yes, it's true that certain sexual practices increase the spread of certain diseases, but there are other ways of dealing with that, and the laws banning those practices did even more harm.)
The general engineerist idea with respect to laws is that they should be used as little as possible, to solve problems which can't be solved any other way (not to mention having an entirely different meaning for "problem"). Any law, by its nature, infringes liberty and since liberty is axiomatically a societal benefit, then a law must be proven to have a sufficient offsetting benefit to be acceptable.
The problem with having a dominant religion in a society is that it will always try to use its majority status politically to co-opt the mechanisms of the state to enforce its own ideas of right-and-wrong on the members of the society who are not part of that religion. This isn't a logical necessity; it's conceivable that there could be a case where a tolerant religion was in the majority and did not do this. But I'm not aware of any such case from history. (About the closest I can think of is the generally low current level of political activism by the Church of England, but that's a recent development. As little as 180 years ago the Church of England did use its power to pass laws discriminating against such people as the Quakers.)
Thus my comment about religion being an individual good but a collective negative. What we have here is a problem of scaling. There are a lot of things which are positive when small but negative when large; and some of them are political. Pacifism, for instance, doesn't scale; it works for individuals only if they are surrounded by an adequate quantity of fellow citizens who are not pacifist.
And in my opinion religion also suffers from scaling problems. Shannon wrote:
Society is made up of individuals and if religion is helpful to enough individuals, it can only end up being helpful to society. Groups do have mores that an individual may not follow, but those mores are based on SOME individual setting them. The workplace is an example where management sets the mores and the individuals in the group follow them. Part of the problem with lumping things into "society" is that brings up the idea that one can't really do anything about it because how does one change society? The only way to change society is to change the individuals within society.
In most cases the benefit of religion for an individual is positive. There are many exceptions to that, but most people at least in the US who are religious gain from that, in the form of comfort in bad times, a moral compass, a pattern for life, maybe even a reason to live (not to mention a feeling of belonging and a group within which to belong). That represents a collective good, and it scales linearly with the number of people who are religious.
But as membership in a given religion grows as a proportion of the society, you get an emergent effect: it will begin to become a political force and, at least historically when this has happened, such religions have always tried to use the power of the state to advance their own religious concepts on the unwilling, to make them live by the dictates of the religion even if they are not believers. I consider that a societal negative (primarily because it is an excessive infringement on liberty). That doesn't grow linearly; it's an exponential effect. Small religions have essentially no political power (in the American winner-take-all system) but when a single sect gets into the range of one quarter of the population (with its members nearly all voting the same way), it will have substantial political influence sufficient to be the difference in most elections. What you get, therefore, is that small religions cause small benefit and negligible harm and are thus net positive, while big religions cause big benefits but huge harm, net negative.
There's a different way to scale the benefits of religion without the concomitant harm, and that's to proliferate lots of small ones. With no single religion achieving mass, none of them will gain disproportionate political power, but the benefits of religion for individuals (and society as a whole) do grow. 25 religions each having 1% of the population do the same amount of good for individuals as one religion with 25%, but do far less collective harm to the political process. Which is why I said that I thought our current situation in the US, where religion is common but no sect dominates, is nearly ideal.
I don't want any single religious point of view to dominate in my nation, and that includes atheism. Some atheists try to claim that it's "scientific" and that all other religious beliefs are "mystical" (or some less complementary description) and that as such atheism is somehow more valid than any other religious belief. As an atheist I don't think that's the case. I don't think atheism is a fact; I can't prove to anyone that there are no deities, even though I believe there are none. (Even if one could prove that there's no evidence of any action by a deity, that wouldn't prove there was no deity. The deity may have chosen to passively observe without interfering, and may change that decision later.)
Despite what many may think, atheism can also be a source of moral guidance. That can be non-obvious to non-atheists (which is something I've run into many times), in part because there's no unity at all among atheists on this subject. Atheism isn't a collective belief; it's a whole lot of individual beliefs all stuck in the same bucket, united only in what they don't believe. There are overlaps, however, and I think that if atheism became the dominant religious voice in this nation it would ultimately be just as bad as if any deistic religion did.
Of course, there are massive disagreement among atheists, too. Marxist historical dogma (including teachings about the inevitability and desirability of socialism), post-modernism, multiculturalism and transnational progressivism are all fundamentally atheistic beliefs with which I at least can't disagree more strongly. If them folks get in charge, we're in deep trouble. (I'd sooner trust the Baptists.)
In the US, the rules of the game make government secular, but for most of the history of this nation that's been more philosophy than reality, and any time a given religion has achieved a local preponderance it has tried to impose moralistic laws on society. That's why it used to be illegal in Massachusetts for any store to be open on Sunday morning, a law which made no sense on any practical level and was intended to try to get as many people to attend church as possible (including store workers).
The US system has, in fact, been evolving as long as we've been a nation, and we're slowly moving towards fulfilling the philosophy on which this nation was founded. In some cases the movement has been glacially slow (or even "stop"); in some cases it's required violence to cause it to start moving in certain directions. But we're going in the right direction, and one way has been to change, ever so gradually, away from the philosophy of law-as-enforcement-of-moral-living to the philosophy of law-as-rules-of-the-game. It's an argument we'll keep having, in gross and in specific, as long as we continue to exist as an independent nation, but the political consensus now is indeed engineerist, and I think that's positive.
Shannon also wrote:
It is no coincidence that crime and immorality are on the rise at the same time that religious influence is being attacked and hampered and dropping. This is the export that I feel the Middle Eastern people don't like - we're exporting immorality and criminality along with the good stuff. Religion is attacked and attacked and attacked. Religion is the only thing that teaches a basis of ethical or moral conduct. If the people can get rid of those that are teaching ethics and morality, then no action can be considered immoral or unethical and therefore, free rein to do as one pleases is now possible. Schools can't teach ethics or morality because then they are accused of religious teaching. That confirms my standing that religion IS considered a source of ethics and morality.
What some consider a rise of "immorality", I consider an increase in liberty. What it means is that over the course of the last fifty years, we Americans have become increasingly free to act in ways which scandalize the neighbors. I think that's a good thing. What we've been doing is to move away from a system where something was made illegal solely because the majority of voters disapproved of it (no matter why), to a system where things are made illegal because they're harmful to the fabric of society, in the sense of making it run well (the way the traffic laws try to make traffic run well). As a result, we've been legalizing a lot of things that some dislike but which don't seem to actually threaten the society as a whole, like pornography and "alternate lifestyles".
It's equally true that the schools are not supposed to be teaching ethics and morality. (Many still do, in fact, but these days it's multiculturalism rather than the Christian ethos.) I don't think that's a problem because I don't think that this is a business that the schools should even be in. I think children should learn ethics and morality, but not from the state. They should get that mainly from their parents and families. When the state does that, through the schools, it is yet again a case where one single system has to be selected over all others, and this is yet another way that a dominant religion (or non-religious philosophy like multiculturalism) tries to co-opt the mechanisms of the state to advance its own agenda. Teaching religious-based morality in schools does have some benefits but I feel the harm is greater, net negative. (Having gone to school when that kind of thing still existed, I have personal experience with it.)
But it is not the case that religion is the only thing that can teach a basis for ethics, with "religion" taken to mean belief in one or more deities. I, as an atheist, have a very strong sense of ethics which is not based on that kind of religion, and so do most other atheists and agnostics. In the broader sense of "religion" as "any philosophy of life" then it's true that religion is the basis of morality, because in that case it is tautological. (Anything which teaches you ethics is a philosophy for life. By this definition, even multiculturalism would be a "religion".)
On the other hand, there's no evidence I've seen that the rise in "immorality" correlates in any way with crime rates. Crime is a complicated thing, and on some level it's not possible to avoid having at least some of it. But if there's anything at all which correlates to crime rates (besides weak government), it appears to be the general level of prosperity as an inverse correlation. As a rule, during fat times the crime rate drops, and during lean times it rises. Which is apparently the primary reason why the overall crime rate for the US dropped during most of the 1990's, a period during which what Shannon characterized as "immorality" was definitely on the rise. Nor is there any particular geographic correlation; there is not, for example, any reason to believe that crime in Greenwich Village was substantially higher than in the rest of New York.
Meanwhile, he might have a difficult time explaining the unreasonably high rate of criminal pedophilia among priests. If religious morality prevents crime, one would not expect to have seen that.
(By the way, I do not know whether Shannon himself thinks that sexual freedom is a form of what he calls "immorality". His letter didn't actually elucidate the term. I am instead commenting here on the basis of the fact that many Christian fundamentalists consider sexual freedom, especially open homosexuality, to be an example of rising immorality, and most political rhetoric which talks about that usually refers to the results of the sexual revolution. If I have misinterpreted Shannon specifically on this, I apologize.)
You are just plain wrong when you say the US is the most secular nation. In fact, on all measures such as church attendance, the US is the MOST religious of all industrialized countries.
I stand by my characterization. Israel says that this is a religious nation. I say that I am living in a secular nation which has a very high proportion of religious people, and that's not the same thing. I may be wrong in saying that the US is the most secular nation, but the reason it is secular is because religion in the US exercises much less political power than anywhere else I can think of.
But John Quiggin says that Australia goes even further in that direction, and I don't know enough about my friends there to be able to judge that:
Although Australia is not a very important country we do have a Constitutional clause prohibiting the establishment of a state religion, which (like much of our constitution) is modeled on the same US clause. Unfortunately, our Founding Fathers didn't see fit to adopt most of the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment, but the establishment clause is crucial in the present context.
Leaving aside the constitutional position, I think we are more genuinely secular politically in the sense that neither avowed atheism/agnosticism nor any particular religious belief (except maybe Scientology and things like that) would constitute a barrier to a political career. Ostentatious display of religiosity, which seems to be routine in US politics, would be politically fatal here, and similarly with anticlericalism, which is common in a lot of European countries. As an illustration, our parliamentary rules allow a choice between an oath of office (sworn on the Bible or other holy book) and an affirmation - both options are used by substantial numbers.
Though the Constitution forbids any religious test for holding office, there's nothing in the Constitution that forbids voters from preferring candidates who are religious, and it's true that the political climate here is such that it's been 200 years since we've elected someone as President who was not overtly religious. (Jefferson was the last exception I know of.) By the same token, it is unlikely that this nation will elect anyone other than a white man as President any time soon (though I'm holding out hope for Condi Rice to shatter that one).
Though the US is a secular nation, it's also true that the majority of people in the US are, at least in name, Christian. (A lot of them are "Easter Christians".) And even though we've moved far in the direction away from using Christian beliefs as the basis for law towards a more consequences-oriented approach, Christianity still influences the politics of America. Of course, because Christianity in the US is severely fragmented, its power overall is severely diminished as various Christian sects work to make sure others don't gain excessive power, so that only the most general concepts from Christianity collectively, ideas which are broadly accepted by nearly every Christian, have any significant political power in the US now; and that's not necessarily a bad thing, for it is an example of how we form consensus.
But the best demonstration of our new acceptance of consequences-driven lawmaking is the way that moralists, trying to pass laws they think are morally required, have to try to make consequences-oriented arguments for their proposals and even to try to deny that they are morality-driven. (And go down in flames when they fail, such as how the Supreme Court overturned critical parts of the CDA.)
The single biggest advantage of consequences-driven lawmaking is that it is more willing to admit when it's made a mistake, and to repeal the law again once it's been shown to be harmful. The US passed a Constitutional amendment banning sale of alcohol, as the result of a very strong prohibitionist movement which was profoundly driven by particular religious beliefs, and then passed another amendment just 14 years later repealing the other when it had become obvious that it was a complete failure. But when a legal system is based on revelations from God, then merely criticizing the law is heresy, and repealing it is impossible. (Repealing the law would require a new revelation from God, and those have been in short supply recently.)
Part of most religious systems is a belief in inerrancy of at least some part of the canon, and if those things are used as the basis for law, and if as a result they profoundly harm the fabric of society and seriously harm the people living within it, such laws will not be repealed because they can't be. The very idea is inconceivable. And we see that nowhere now more clearly than in the terrible effects of Sharia on the nations (or parts thereof) which have adopted it. It's unimportant whether Sharia is actually based on core teachings of the Qur'an itself or on the derivative writings of later scholars. What's important is that in the places where it's been imposed, the reason has always been that it's the Will of Allah. Therefore, the negative consequences it's had for society don't ultimately matter, and so far it's usually required war or violent revolution to get rid of it again.
To a great extent the US has actually been secular in this regard from the very beginning, because we have been able to make those kinds of shifts in our legal system without war or huge amounts of violence. There's been some of each, including one whopping big war which killed more Americans than all other wars we've participated in combined, and a lot of violent demonstrations at one point or another. But our nation survived all that, and I think that now it is, on balance, better than it's ever been, with its citizens (me!) more free than ever before. It's a gradual process, and I'm glad it's moving in the right direction.
There are many ways in which it could still be improved. I think that our marriage laws are still archaic, for one thing. I believe that any group of people who truly love each other should be permitted to legally marry. I favor gay marriage, and I don't see any good reason to outlaw polygamy, or polyandry either. (The polygamy laws were, as a practical matter, a form of discrimination by the religious majority against the practices of certain religious minorities who were seen as dangerously extreme at the time, most notably the Mormons.) I make no claim whatever that we've reached the ideal yet. Our system, and our legal code, is still flawed in many ways.But we are moving in the right direction, and we've moved a long ways, and that's all I could hope for. I'm a practical man; I don't demand ideal solutions to this or anything else.
Unfortunately, many of our enemies are still seized in the jaws of a dominant religion which controls their systems to their own detriment, and that is part of what will have to be changed before this war can end. So when I say that "shattering Islam" would be a useful consequence of this war, I'm using the term shatter deliberately. Shattering something turns it into lots of pieces. The Reformation shattered Christianity, broke the power of Catholicism in northern Europe, and led to the proliferation of Protestant sects. In most of Europe that meant trading dominant Catholicism for some other dominant church (often Lutheranism, and also the Church of England) which then was just as politically active as the Catholic Church had been.
But we in the US, in part for historical reasons, avoided that fate. Our founders clearly saw the danger of letting any single religion get political power (having experienced it directly before the Revolution). That's why they included the "establishment" clause in the First Amendment. The majority of Americans now consider themselves to be Protestant Christians, but no single flavor of Protestantism has anything like a critical mass, so we Americans get that desirable scaling of good effects without most of the drawbacks. If Islam can equally be shattered, then it too will become a much more unmixed force for good, with most of its terrible consequences blunted. And everyone will benefit: we by removal of a grave danger; people living in Muslim-dominated nations by improvements in their societies.
Update: Shannon wrote again to inform me that he's a guy. (Oops!) I've updated the prose above and switched all the pronouns. He also writes:
What I consider a rise in immorality regards sex would be along the lines of more willingness to have sex with someone that is not one's married partner and greater discussions and more activities towards having sex with minors of various ages. While the part with minors is still considered illegal, there appear to be movements towards making it ok. I don't recall the name of the journal, but there was an article proposing that it would be "healthy" for men to have sex with boys. Congress actually voted to disagree with that article (a couple abstained, none supported). [I believe this was in the APA journal back in 1998 or 1997.]
You mentioned that while I considered it more "immorality", you consider it more "liberty". To me, that means you feel more freedom is being exercised. I agree with Freedom being important. Very very important. However, as I pointed out to someone else, for freedom to exist, there must also be barriers. Freedom is the ability to have sufficient barriers to prevent others from detracting our freedoms and not so much barriers that our freedoms are detracted. It is a balancing act. The more freedoms people ask for, the more barriers must also be installed in other directions. The people coming from the other directions now have more barriers and less freedoms.
How does one decide if this newly asked for freedom, which is asking for a barrier elsewhere, is a valid request? The request has to have something to measure itself by. Greatest good for greatest number of people? Well, wouldn't it be the greatest good for the greatest number of people to nuke the major places that are supporting terrorism and wars regularly? Kill a few million, end misery for many more millions. Simple numbers. But we know it is not the answer. Even if all those people who are just plain against killing for any reason were taken out of the equation, I think the consensus is that a nuking solution is wrong.
It's true as a general rule that any freedom created for anyone involves a loss of something for someone else, and that all decisions about liberty are a balancing act. But in the general case of "scandalizing the neighbors" what is gained is a substantial increase in options for choices in everyday life, at the expense of a certain degree of annoyance when seeing someone else do something thought to be stupid. I'm willing to put up with some chagrin or annoyance for a broadening of my personal choices.
Shannon gave child sex as an example of immorality. You won't find me defending that, and while it's true that there are advocacy groups for that kind of thing (most notably NAMBLA) I do not think that they are even the faintest bit influential and they have zero chance of actually getting those laws changed. So that one's a red herring.
Shannon also specifically mentions adult sex outside of marriage as an example of rising immorality. Setting aside the fact that such things have been going on for as long as humans have existed, and hypothesizing a major increase in that kind of thing in the recent past, this is a case where I think the gains in terms of personal choice far outweigh any losses. Aside from the fact that you (any arbitrary "you") might disapprove of my spending a night with my girlfriend (if I had one, sob) it's hard to see just how you, or anyone else, is actually harmed by it. If we are happy we did it, why is this a problem?
Well, certain religions consider extra-marital sex a sin, and in some religiously-based legal systems it actually is illegal for that reason. Most particularly, it's a capital offense within Sharia, punished through death-by-stoning. But if one looks at it from the point of view of societal consequences rather than the dicta of some specific religion, it's hard to see just how it causes harm sufficient to offset the gain in liberty that it represents. Yes, it's arguable that it causes certain kinds of damage. It may slightly increase the rate of divorce. It may increase the spread of certain kinds of diseases. It can scandalize the neighbors. But it's also a massive increase in personal liberty, and I don't consider this issue even close.
In terms of the general question of how we decide whether the tradeoff in each case is a good one, the answer is that we talk about it, and then make a collective decision, and if it turns out we're wrong then we may eventually change it. This isn't a mathematically ideal process. The idea of basing law on consequences to society does not try to claim the certainty and inerrancy that religion claims. That's both a strength and a weakness of it, but on balance I think it's more strength than weakness.
Update: Arthur points out that in terms of a basic philosophical principle for use in evaluating the consequences, you can't go much better than this:
WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness — That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed...
I'll go along with that, even if my own personal creator was certain biochemical processes.
Update: Alisa comments here and here.