Monday, February 26, 2007

Moral equivalence bollocks

And whilst we're on the subject...
Today's Guardian carried one of the more abjectly craven pieces of writing I've seen in a long time. Presented as an article about the stand-off between theist superstition and rationality, it staked its position from the start, by quoting an expert in fairies at the bottom of the garden, or some such, Colin Slee, Dean of Southwark, who believed that there existed a triangulation between fundamentalist theists, "fundamentalist atheists", and reasonable theists (like himself, obviously) who represented the only reasonable course.
This, of course, ignores the obvious objection that nobody blows up aeroplanes in the name of rationality. But also tries to place superstition and rationality on the same level. No!!! Atheism is simply the statement that there is not enough evidence to support the "My imaginary friend created the universe" hypothesis. Theism can come in many guises, but they can all be divided into one of two camps - either those which directly contradict evidence and don't care (cf. Creationism), or those which try to maintain a scientific approach, and then add a layer of god on top. The second of which is no more rational than the first - it ignores the principle of parsimony (one of the basic things to take into account when trying to explain anything). If there is no evidence that fairies live at the bottom of your garden, you don't remain neutral on the subject, according people who believe that they do the same respect as people who think it's daft. You say it's daft. If those people then claim that the fairies have written down a moral code about how to live your life, you laugh at them, and ask how it has any effect on reality.
And don't forget - for a theist like Colin Slee, all it takes is a voice in his head telling him that he must go out and blow up tube trains or murder prostitutes, and he's in a real dilemma. Does he do his duty to god, as Abraham did when god told him to murder his son? Or does he ignore god, thus repudiating all his moral beliefs? All theists are only such a voice away from psychopathy. Scary, eh?

Is it possible for a theist to behave in a moral way?

Here's today's question. Well, above, in fact - read it yourself. Is it possible? It does seem that the answer is no, and for two good reasons.
Firstly, moral acts need to have some moral intent behind them. For instance, if you are a theist with a backpack full of explosives, ready to blow up the tube, but you unfortunately trip, but in doing do, drop your backpack down a manhole, where it blows up and destroys a reservoir of smallpox which was about to infect the city, you have saved countless lives, but no one would claim you performed a moral act - the intent was to do harm, the lives were saved only by accident. Similarly, if you obey the "Do not kill" commandment, or the "Love thy neighbour as thyself" instruction, but do so only because you're frightened your imaginary friend will be cross with you if you don't, you are also not performing a moral act, simply an act of cowardice inspired by irrationality.
However, there is a deeper element to it than this. That is the fact that theism itself actually prevents people from performing acts with positive outcomes by preventing them from determining what positive outcomes are. For instance, if we could experiment on stem cells, we could save countless lives, and improve the quality of life for millions. Whilst doing no harm - nothing with a central nervous system suffers. And yet theists will oppose this simply because it is beyond the comprehension of the people who wrote various books between 2500 and 1700 years ago. And this very stance - that of preventing people from doing good, or even of understanding more about how to do good - is the essence of this superstition. Surely, the prevention of doing good is nothing more than a definition of evil?


No, not a nation of hibers, but merely the state I attain over the winter. A ginger cat needs her sleep, you know.
But I am roused, now. At least temporarily, by the sight of more blogging cats. Hello, Tolstoy.