Is a human life precious?

Religions have taught that a human life is precious almost beyond words. “Killing a person is like destroying a whole universe.” On the ohter hand, we have seen wars and murderous activities, not to mention plagues and famines that have killed scores of people. Couldn’t you take the position that human life, in itself, has no particular value - or value only to the person who is alive.

We see both ideas in the current conflicts. Let’s strive for peace but kill those who disagree with us.

For the sake of starting a debate, I will take the position that a human life is not more inherently of value than that of a horse, or at least of a healthy horse.

Any takers?

If you’re willing to trade young healthy humans for young helathy horses, I’ll take all you got. It’s tough to make money on horses, but I can sell the female humans into white slavery or prostitution for 25-50k each, while a horse is only worth a grand or two. I can employ the male humans in menial labor for minimhum wage and clear 10k + per year. If I can get them to breed, I can adopt out the offspring for another 25-50k apiece! Hmmm. Maybe I better reconsider the slavery thing. I only get paid once. But, if I breed the humans every year, I could clear 250k each in ten years minimum and still have a product that will go for menial labor for another decade or so before I have to send it off to the rendering plant.

Horses on the other hand eat a lot more than humans and what work they can do is better done by less expensive machines. Most of their value is sentimental/recreational and there’s just not a lot of cash in the industry since the overhead is so high.

Humans definitely worth more.

Not me. I’ve known and known of too many humans worth a lot LESS than a good horse.

I have never held with the idea that humans are so damn special. We’re just smart and powerful. I think our “specialness” is going to end up destroying the whole damn planet, and I don’t see anything particularly admirable or special about that.

I am talking about the inherent or intrinsic value (let us say before God) not the economic or extrinsic value. Sorry I didn’t make myself more clear originally.

What inherent or intrinsic property are we speaking about?

How does God value it?

And just how does that suggest that human life is not valuable?

Your statement about murderous activities merely demonstrates that people don’t always value human life the way they should. Shame on those people! As for plagues and famines, those are tragic acts of nature which say nothing about the intrinsic worth of a human being.

Sure, tragic deaths have occured – both willfully and due to natural disasters. That does not make human life less valuable though. Quite the contrary; the mere fact that we consider these events to be disastrous suggests that human life is something to be valued greatly.

I don’t believe that all religions have taught any such thing. The value place on human life in the Bible is obviously limited to members of the tribe. Numerous places in the Old Testament God instructs the Israelites to wipe out all the inhabitants of a site. Jesus, in Matthew, says that he will deny before God anyone who denies Him here on the earth. And He also tells the disciples to shake the dust of cities where His message is rejected and that the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah will be child’s play compared to what will happen to those people.

God’s main message seems to me to be, “Obey my instructions to the letter. If I tell you to save people, save them. If I tell you to kill people, kill them.”

Human life is precious to me, because I am a human. I value my life and I value the life of the society that I share it with. However, that does not mean that the single death of one human is this monumental tragedy. Sometimes people die, and sometimes their death benefits human life as a whole. Due to natural selection I do think that humans are more important than other animals. If I didn’t I wouldn’t eat and I would starve myself to death, but then I’d be killing every microorganism that calls my body home.

So the answer is yes if you come from a human perspective and no if you come from a universal perspective. Though if you want to believe in an omniscient god, then perhaps he gave the strongest capability for adaptability and survival to his prized creatures. Who knows? The importance we put on whether or not human life is important is silly.


I disagree. If that interpretation were accurate, then the Israelites would have had free license to kill anybody outside the tribe. Instead, they were only instructed to kill certain tribes, and only at the direct order of Yahweh, i.e. the Creator from whom all life ultimately originated. Additionally, the Parable of the Good Samaritan illustrated that even the lives of non-Israelites were considered valuable.

Well, if we’re going to get biblical, I think this pretty much sums up God’s position:
“Thou shalt not kill.”
Pretty clear, it seems.

From a biological point of view, humans are a valuable as ants right now. There’s billions of us, and more every day. Gaia would probably breathe a sigh of relief if a couple million humans were obliterated somehow.

I like Scylla’s answer. I would add that the economic value of something does tend to go down as supply increases. Right now, as far as Mother Earth is concerned, an awful lot of us are just pests. (Some of us are possibly more precious than others.)

Not clear at all, as the above posts point out. God did (at least, according to the Bible) give the Hebrews a license to kill certain groups – to the point of complete genocide. Further, while God commands humans not to murder (not “not kill” – murder is unjust killing, and interpreting what is just is of course a big can of worms), he freely kills men – to the point of subjecting entire nations to plagues and scourges (like Egypt) because of the acts of their ruler, or even trying to drown out the entire human race, save one family. So, how much is a human life worth to God? On the one hand, you have “don’t murder” and on the other hand, you have genocides and plagues. So, like I said, I don’t think the Bible is clear at all on the worth of a human being. (Of course, I should point out that the Bible is hardly the last word on God, so saying that you know “God’s position” is a bit arrogant in my opinion.)

Well, we’re nowhere on the scale of insects. However, biological value is a complicated issue. One ant and one human are hardly comparable, as one ant, on its own, can do so little compared to a human. I don’t see the biological world as attributing value to organisms – even species that benefit others can die out.

Oh my, I never intended to sound like I know God’s opinion on anything. I was just quoting one of the commandments attributed to God. Maybe this will help clarify this issue :D.

I agree; biological value IS a complicated issue. I think humans would do well to remember that the biological world doesn’t attribute value to organisms - we’re nothing special from Mother Nature’s point of view.

That is allowed. It is even possible that on rare occasions those who disagree with me are right.

I’m not sure it follows that if lives of those outside the tribe are not precious but those inside are, that you are free to kill the outsiders indicriminately.

This illustrates some of the contradictions in the Bible that permits people to do all sorts of things and claim Biblical sanction. I say that because the Bible cites Jesis as saying that those who will not accept His message are condemned to intolerable punishment (Matthew 10:14-15)

It is clear to me that the God postulated by the Israelites is solicitous of their welfare (as long as they strictly obey His rules) and cares little about any other group. This isn’t surprising to me because the Bible is based on Israelite history and that was probably also their attitude in that crude and savage time.

The Bible unquestionably divides people into categories according to their worth as measured by the contemporary standards. The death penalty is mandated for certain types of homicide but not others. For example, if someone strikes his servant resulting in immediate death, the killer is killed. But if the slave suffers through a day or two and then dies there is no punishment because the servant is the property of the killer (Ex 21:20-21).

You are free to interpret the Bible as saying that God is solicitous of all people, but that is only your interpretation. Others don’t agree and can point to examples in the book itself.

A ‘life’ is only as precious as somebody is willing to ‘pay’ for it, and like a previous poster said, that is dependent upon the supply to a certain extent. There’s lots of it out there, so it’s not exactly a limited commodity.
However, that being said, MY life is precious to ME, so the value is very dependent upon who you’re asking.
In terms of my ‘contribution’ to the world, I guess my life is relatively expedient. The world would not be all that different if I had never existed.
But then again, there would be no ‘world’ if I didn’t exist because I would not be there to percieve it. Just as the world will cease to be when I die (even though I know theoretically that it will go on), for my purposes, it will die when I do.

OOOh, the world DOES revolve around ME!!! Yippee!

Is life of any kind “precious”?

Some biologist once said that God must love beetles above all else, because He created so many of them. I say that’s a narrow-minded, biocentric view. If the size and number of something is an indication of how much God loves it, then clearly God loves stars more than anything else in the universe.

And if I may be so bold, planets seem to be a side effect of star formation, and Earthlike planets seem to be the rule rather than the exception. (Okay, we don’t know this for sure, because we don’t yet have any equipment that can detect extrasolar planets smaller than Saturn. But considering the weird extrasolar planets we have detected so far – all of which would be hostile to life and none of which give any indication that other solar systems are arranged anything like ours is – I’d say “few Earthlike planets” is a good educated guess.)

Life hardly seems like more than an accident of the chemical laws, which were a necessary (but perhaps unintentional?) consequence of the more important quantum-mechanical laws necessary for an enduring universe with stars in it.

I’m going to have to go with JThunder on this one.

I’ll argue all day that human life is valuable to other humans. I’ll also argue that some human lives are not as valuable as others. A profoundly retarded indvidual is not as valuable to others as someone who is not retarded.

As for wars and other human actions that destroy life: That’s fine. There are legitimate reasons to go to war or to kill another human being. A person who commits capital crimes has given up their value as a person. These kinds of things are argueably justified, and they do not mean that human life is not valuable.

–==the sax man==–

I agree; neither have any inherent value.

Perhaps I should be more clear: I agree that a human life is not inherently more valuable than a horse. I think this because I think that neither have inherent value.

Do you mind if I ask you a question, then?
If someone held a gun to a newborn’s head, and if nobody offered to dissuade him with a large enough amount of wealth, would this gunman be justified in taking the newborn’s life?