Near the end of his speech at the Republican National Convention, Paul Ryan told the audience that “sometimes, even presidents need reminding, that our rights come from nature and God, not from government.”
I’m not sure what Ryan meant by adding “nature” to “God,” since appealing to nature to establish rights has a sinister history. For example, there was a time that blacks and women were considered to be inferior “by nature.” Aristotle believed in the reasonableness and “natural order” for slavery because there are some people who are “slaves by nature,” a phrase found in his Politics. Aristotle’s views made their way into the thinking of many philosophers and scientists and were used to justify slavery in America:
Of all the ideas churned up during the early tumultuous years of American history, none had a more dramatic application than the attempts made to apply to the natives there the Aristotelian doctrine of natural slavery: that one part of mankind is set aside by nature to be slaves in the service of masters born for a life of virtue free of manual labour.1
It’s unfortunate that Aristotle is the source of a lot of bad philosophy, science, and morality. The so-called war between religion and science was really a war between Aristotle and science.
It’s the reference to God that did not set well with MSNBC’s Touré Neblett. Here’s some of what he said:
“Because for black people, Hispanic people, and women, our rights do not come from God or nature. They were not recognized by the natural order of America. They come from the government and from legislation that happens in relatively recent history in America. So that line just bothers me to my core.”
If there is no God, then there are no rights for anyone. Claiming that government is the source of rights is dangerous. Governments are capricious. Prior to January 1973, pre-born babies were protected by the law. Seven men on the Supreme Court consigned tens of millions of pre-born babies to the disposal bin of history in their singular ruling in Roe v. Wade. One day pre-born babies were protected; the next day they were globs of tissue.
Governments are God-ordained. The Bible describes the civil magistrate as a “minister of God” (Rom. 13:4). The Bible does not relegate women, Hispanics, or blacks to an inferior position in society. Only autonomous governments do that.
Governments acknowledge God-given rights. By doing so, they cannot be violated. The Declaration of Independence says these God-endowed rights are “inalienable,” incapable of being surrendered or transferred.
- Lewis Hanke, Aristotle and the American Indians (London: Hollis & Carter, 1959), 12–13. [↩]