This question is significant because its answer determines the ground of our human rights. Much talk about human rights assumes that intrinsic worth and dignity is inherent to what it means to be human. Yet at the same time, it is not self-evident that intrinsic human dignity is anything that can be said to have come about naturally within us. We are natural just like any other created thing like a tree, mud, or insects. But what sets us apart from animals, trees, or dirt to say that we have intrinsic dignity and worth?
In wrestling with how we can speak of humans having sacred worth from a naturalistic point of reference, atheistic philosopher Raimond Gaita writes that without reference to God, it is hard to make sense of where we get the idea of sacred worth as the basis for our human rights:
We may say that all human beings are inestimably precious, that they are ends in themselves, that they are owed unconditional respect, that they possess inalienable rights, and, of course, that they possess inalienable dignity. In my judgment these are ways of trying to say what we feel a need to say when we are estranged from the conceptual resources (ie. God) we need to say it…Not one of [these statements about human beings] has the power of the religious way of speaking…that we are sacred because God loves us, his children. (Raimond Gaita, A Common Humanity: Thinking About Love and Truth and Justice)
Could it be that our intrinsic human dignity is a reflection of our being made in the image of a God who loves us and made us to know and enjoy him?