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Guest Post: No Official Religion in God’s Own?

April 6th, 2010 by Madeleine

David Simpkin is a Hamilton based lawyer with an interest in church-state issues. He studied law at the University of Auckland and holds a BA majoring in history and political studies. David is married to Susan and has a infant son, Caleb. He attends Whitiora Bible Church in Hamilton. David writes:

As a holiday weekend that coincides with the most significant festival on the Christian calendar, Easter, concludes we should reflect on the freedom of religion we have in this nation. The Human Rights Commission is calling for submissions on a draft statement on freedom of religion and belief that includes the statement:

‘New Zealand has no official or established religion.’

Race relations conciliator Joris de Bres has publicly said that New Zealand’s absence of a state religion is a statement of fact[1]. Former Prime Minister Helen Clark was also quoted as saying there is no state religion, there will be no state religion[2]. These comments may be a surprise to those Kiwis who thought rugby has the role of a national religion!

Given the above comments by influential New Zealanders and the tax payer supported Human Rights Commission it must be clearly correct legally to say that New Zealand has no official religion.

Well, actually, no, it is not.

Does New Zealand Have an Official Religion?
An important distinction needs to be made at the outset. A state with an established religion is one in which a particular religion or church is effectively an arm of the state, and the state identifies with a particular religion. A state with an official religion gives special recognition or privileges to a religion. While an established religion and an official religion are usually found together, that is not always the case.

One of the most (if not the most) important offices in New Zealand is that of our head of state. New Zealand is a constitutional monarchy and the head of state in New Zealand is our monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II.

The Accession Declaration Act 1910 provides New Zealand’s head of state’s oath of office’ This accession declaration states:

“I … do solemnly and sincerely in the presence of God profess, testify, and declare that I am a faithful Protestant, and that I will, according to the true intent of the enactments which secure the Protestant succession to the Throne of my Realm, uphold and maintain the said enactments to the best of my powers according to law.”

The accession declaration provides that the Queen must claim to be a Protestant. This is inconsistent with the notion that New Zealand has no official religion. It also refers to other laws which “secure the Protestant succession.” These other laws are the Bill of Rights 1688[3] and The Act of Settlement 1700[4]. All these acts of parliament were re-affirmed as part of the law of New Zealand by our parliament as recently as 1988 in the Imperial Laws Application Act (which, curiously given her comments above, Helen Clark voted in favour of passing[5]). The other laws that secure the Protestant succession are intended to ensure that the King or Queen of New Zealand is always a Protestant Christian. These laws are, incidentally, identical to the current law in the now multi-religious United Kingdom. Where New Zealand differs from the United Kingdom is that neither the Anglican nor Presbyterian churches are established.

The legal requirement that New Zealand’s head of state must be a Protestant Christian means that in our constitutional form at least we are a Christian nation. Technically our official religion is Anglicanism[6]. Having an official religion of course in no way requires New Zealanders to profess a particular religion. But does an Official Religion pose a threat to Religious Minorities? To answer this question lets refer to some overseas examples.

Having no official religion and a secular state has been no guarantee that freedom of religion and human rights generally will be respected in North Korea, Cuba and the People’s Republic of China, all of which have woeful human rights records.

By contrast the Lutheran church is the established church in Norway (there is even a minister of church affairs). It would be fair to say that Norway is not known for its suppression of freedom of religion or for having a poor human rights record.

Likewise, the established Anglican Church in England and the Presbyterian Church in Scotland has not led to a lack of freedom of religion. Indeed the tolerant Anglican Church is preferable for religious minorities to intolerant secularism.

It may come as a surprise to learn that there are leading Muslim and Jewish scholars who are actually against disestablishing the Anglican Church in the United Kingdom. To paraphrase their argument, an established but tolerant Anglican Church is preferable to a nation where all reference to the religious or sacred is ruthlessly excluded from the public domain[7].

The intolerant secularism rightly feared by religious minorities has been evident in France recently. France has already banned the Islamic headscarf and outward wearing of the crucifix, and other religious symbols, in state schools[8] and is considering banning the wearing of a burqa altogether, moves which are causing public discord in France[9].

Having an official religion is not necessarily any threat to freedom of religion, and may actually be more beneficial to religious minorities than aggressive secularism. The advancement of the rights of religious minorities and multi-culturalism should not be mis-used as a Trojan horse to advance intolerant secularism.

Conclusion
As a nation we should celebrate our tolerant Christian tradition, not attempt to falsely deny the legal fact that Christianity is a part of our national constitution. Ironically denials that Christianity is our official religion are playing down the Christian religious tradition that bought about the very religious freedom and tolerance the Human Rights Commission is attempting to promote.

We have nothing to fear and will gain by having a National Statement on Religious Diversity in New Zealand and a Draft Statement on Freedom of Religion and Belief that acknowledge the existence of New Zealand’s official religion rather than willfully ignore it.


[1] “There’s No State Religion –De Bres” New Zealand Herald 19 February 2007.
[2]
As above.
[3]
The relevant section of Bill of Rights 1688 provides:

And whereas it hath beene found by experience that it is inconsistent with the safety and welfaire of this Protestant Kingdome to be governed by a Popish Prince or by and King or Queene marrying a Papist the said Lords Spirituall and Temporall and Commons doe further pray that it may be enacted that all and every person and persons that is are or shall be reconciled to or shall hold communion with the See or Church of Rome or shall professe the Popish religion or shall marry a Papist shall be excluded and be for ever uncapeable to inherit possesse or enjoy the Crowne and Government of this Realme.

[4] Section 3 of the Act of Settlement 1700 states (inter alia) “that whosoever shall hereafter come to the possession of this Crown shall joyn in Communion with the Church of England.”
[5]
Hansard, 1988 (4th Labour government 1984-1990).
[6] The Head of State is required to be an Anglican – refer to footnote 4.
[7]
Tariq Modood “(Muslim) Establishment, Multiculturalism and British Citizenship,” Political Quarterly 65 (1994) pp.53-73; Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Ibid at 63-64; also Jonathan Sacks, The Persistence of Faith: Morality and Society in a Secular Age, London, 1991, cited in R Ahdar and J Stenhous et al God and Government The New Zealand Experience, University of Otago Press 2000.
[8] “Party Pushes Burqa Law Despite Public Discord” New Zealand Herald 10 January 2010.
[9] Ibid.

[Wikipedia have a chart showing which countries Queen Elizabeth II is currently head of state of.]

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124 responses so far ↓

  • Does such an oath also apply to the G-G?

  • Very good, and I concur. I have always wondered why people feel so sonfident and comfortable saying that there’s no state religion here. It strikes me that there plainly is one.

    I didn’t know about the commission calling for submissions. I must look at submitting something.

  • The legal requirement that New Zealand’s head of state must be a Protestant Christian means that in our constitutional form at least we are a Christian nation.

    So is India, then. With 2.3% if the population associating with Christianity.

  • Dave, ‘establishment’ is not what the majority view is, ‘establishment’ is what the legal position of the state is.

    With regards India, it became a republic in 1950.

  • I remember years ago a priest telling me that he was driving around in in his car listening to the news on the radio one day and he heard a news story saying that NZ was no longer officially a Christian country. It must have been sometime in the 80s I think.

  • I concur! But I think you have just handed the Republican movement a silver bullet…

  • A couple of points for David to consider:

    1: Why is it that some people cannot use certain words without an accompanying adjective? Doesn’t this expose a prejudice? So we have “intolerant secularism”, “aggressive secularism” etc. Just like the word atheist – it is always (for some people) accompanied by words like “strident” or “militant.” (We have the silly situation where a gentle, thoughtful and fair man like Prof. Dawkins is always called “strident” or “militant” when he is nothing of the sort).

    It is particularly biased in this case because surely the NZ experience is that as we have become more “secular”, as religious influence has waned, we have become more tolerant – not less. In fact intolerance at the moment seems to be strongly correlated with the religious rather than the non-religious.

    Consider objections to advertising (non-religious like the buses and religious like some church billboards). Objectors are most likely to be religious (I haven’t yet heard of non-religious objectors in these cases).

    Opposition to removing discrimination in employment, against women and gays, etc., is generally from the religious. Consider the campaigns against the law changes introducing new freedoms of the last few decades.

    My impression is that the non-religious have very much a “live and let live” attitude whereas the religious seem still motivated by the intuition of judgmentalism which has been hijacked and used by religion.

    2: Concepts of “official religion”, “state religion” etc., are, like royalty, anachronisms in today’s more tolerant world and countries. Many of the most secular countries in Europe (also the most democratic and tolerant ones) still have anachronistic relationships to a state religion, etc. Even to the extent of religious taxes.

    In NZ, where less than 50% of the population at the last census was NOMINALLY Christian (49.5% when double dippers are removed) we still have some overhangs like Parliamentary Christian prayers, the “supernatural” qualification for religious tax exemption, etc.

    But this is changing. In my lifetime I have seen huge changes for the better in this respect. Many if not most funerals and other life ceremonies are now secular. And they are much better and honest for it. A betting person would probably accept that we will become a republic before too long and remove tax exemptions for religion soon after.

    Importantly, and especially for the younger people who are overwhelmingly non-religious, any stigma connected to words like “atheist” and “secular” is fast disappearing. We have seen a huge change in this respect even over the last decade (I suspect 9/11 had something to do with it).

    So I suspect that current anachronisms like monarchism, etc., which encourage you to consider NZ a “Christian Nation” are fast disappearing and before long we will all (religious and non-religious alike) proudly consider ourselves a “Secular Nation” (without the silly requirement for qualifying adjectives).

    And we will recognise that as a strength and the source of our tolerance and freedoms.

  • “We have the silly situation where a gentle, thoughtful and fair man like Prof. Dawkins is always called “strident” or “militant” when he is nothing of the sort”

    It’s a while since I’ve laughed so hard!

    Dawkins is a near perfect example of a the “arrogant atheist” stereotype – snarky, dismissive, and seemingly incapable of addressing Christianity without using inflammatory words like “idiotic” or “pathetic” while having an almost laughably inadequate knowledge of anything bar biology.

    The rest of your post isn’t too bad, but you chose almost the worst possible example of a “fair minded” atheist.

  • Rob, evidently La La Land is well populated. 🙂

  • Good to know NZ constitution is based on Christianity.

    Atheists, suck it up!

  • ZenTiger -The Governor General of New Zealand is sworn in using the oath of allegiance, (this oath is prescribed by Oaths and Declarations Act 1957).

    Incidentally, the oath of allegiance’s reference to “so help me God” implies that New Zealand is not a secular state. The full text of the oath of allegiance is set out below:

    “I, [name], swear that I will duly and impartially serve Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her heirs and successors, in the office of Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief in and over Her Realm of New Zealand, comprising New Zealand, the self-governing state of the Cook Islands, the self-governing state of Niue, Tokelau, and the Ross Dependency, in accordance with their respective laws and customs. So help me God.”

  • Hilarious -I knew dome people couldn’t help themselves . Tolerance, never mind truth, flies out the window for them when Dawkins is mentioned.

    A lot of NZers and Aussies have now met or heard the man in person and can make up there own minds. No longer thinking with their knees!

    Rob has surely demonstrated why it is silly to automatically associate secular with “intolerant” while ignoring the intollerance of the anti-secular.

  • Rob, if you’ve been here for a while you’ll know that Professor Dawkins is the best example of a fair minded atheist… which says all you need to know about the rest of them.

    One of the intriguing things about people who identify as having no religious belief is that generally they aren’t atheists. (they are over represented in prison though) I think Iceland is an example where whilst official church attendance is very low (about 2%) the majority still believe in some sort of god, heaven and hell etc. An disinterest in organized religion does not correlate to a lack of interest in God or gods. Secularism is just a halfway house to a new paganism.

    We conquered a pagan empire before, we can do it again. Until then it seems best to bend an elbow and just chuckle at the resident clowns.

    Tolerance is the virtue of the man who has forsaken all others.

  • With respect to Mr Simpkin he should have paid more attention in law school. While he might want to bolster his beliefs by attributing them to the nation he is, to put it simply, wrong. In law and in fact.

    There is no official religion in New Zealand. Even if one counts rugby.

  • luigi,

    the majority of the people might considered themselves secular, but the country’s constitutions, official oaths and national anthem are evidence of NZ’s official religion.

    just because you say it’s not, it doesn’t make it so.

  • I assure you Luigi that David Simpkin is correct as to the content on the Acts he cites and their status as current New Zealand law. You can check them out for yourself at http://www.legislation.govt.nz/.

    Simply stating the Acts do not exist or the content of them is not what you want it to be does not make it so.

  • Luigi – If you do not agree with my conclusion, then please refer to some legal authority and mount an argument. Bald assertions that I am wrong do not prove anything and do not make for an interesting debate.

    I have referred to four acts of parliament in force in New Zealand today (five if you cound the Oaths and Declarations Act) as authority in support of my argument that New Zealand has an official religion.

  • Isn’t it naive to make a declaration of NZ as a “Christian Country” on the basis of a few anachronisms in our laws (or ceremonies and procedures)? After all, reality is not black and white so we expect these sort of things. And you base your claim on only 4 or 5 anachronistic acts.

    Chemists can safely talk about ionic and covalent bonds – knowing full well that all covalent bonds, for example, will have some ionic character.

    So, I think most people will accept that NZ is a secular country, recognising that there are still some anachronisms which give some rights and privileges to religion. And that these are likely to disappear in the future.

    Things like parliamentary Christian prayers, tax exemption for religious institutions, discrimination in employment and services surely violate the essence of our human rights legislation and sensibilities. They can’t last much longer. Historically that has been the trend.

    So, I repeat, isn’t it naive, David, to make this claim? Doesn’t it ignore the full situation and the historical trends?

  • David Simpkin said, “the tolerant Anglican Church is preferable for religious minorities to intolerant secularism”

    Such a statement is either so generalizing as to be worthless blather, or just factually incorrect.

    Perhaps the author should have considered why British/New Zealand law came to insist on a Protestant monarch. (It has something to do with centuries of legal and social Anglican intolerance against the Catholic minority. Given the slant of the article, it is not surprising that this aspect was covered up. It is, however, hardly an insignificant omission if the author professes some expertise in law.)

  • I think the Godless communist political parties we witnessed in the last couple of centuries is a strong testimony to secular intolerance of religious freedom (to a point of justifying mass genocide).

  • Ken wrote: “you base your claim on only 4 or 5 anachronistic acts.”

    Call them what you want Ken but they are current Acts of parliament so unless and until they are rescinded or amended they remain current New Zealand law. As current New Zealand law, they clearly state that we have an official state religion. Appeals to what may or may not happen in the future based on a subjective observations of the past and present do not render a careful examination of current legislation “naive.” Likewise with appeals to what you think the majority think should be the law.

  • Madeleine – you say:
    “As current New Zealand law, they clearly state that we have an official state religion.”

    Could you please quote the specific text (saying we have an official state religion) and reference it please. This is something I want to check as it is certainly not the interpretation most people place on the laws.

    So specific text and legislation please.

    Actual practice and interpretation are of course open to opinion – but the actual text isn’t.

  • “In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.”

  • Ken -I have quoted from the Bill of Rights 1688 and the Act of Settlement 1700 in footnotes 3 and 4. The Imperial Laws Application Act 1988 (and its schedule of United Kingdom Acts in force in New Zealand today) can be found on the legislation website Madeleine referred to above.

  • David – could you quote the text stating that NZ has a state religion? Madeleine claims that there us text.

    At this stage all I can see is that you infer it – which of course amounts only to a matter of opinion. Obviously other experts font agree with that inference.

    Unequivocal text is what would swing it.

  • Why do some people demand unequivocal texts before they will believe another person’s interpretation, but the opinion of those who agree with them counts as good enough evidence for their own view?

    What a world.

  • To those who argue, would you RTFA?

    “A state with an official religion gives special recognition or privileges to a religion. ”

    New Zealand’s head of state’s oath of office’ This accession declaration states:

    “I … do solemnly and sincerely in the presence of God profess, testify, and declare that I am a faithful Protestant, and that I will, according to the true intent of the enactments which secure the Protestant succession to the Throne of my Realm”

    Is that a special recognition of Protestant or what?

    The modern Western nations were founded on Christianity … suck it up Atheists!

  • A guest post at Christian blog M and M asks the question – and answers “yes we do – because of the monarchy”. Contrary to the popular view that New Zealand does not have an official religion (and research showing New Zealanders don’t want one either), the guest poster at M and M is correct – we do have an official religion.

  • Ken, David has answered your question but I do want to comment further on this statement:

    “Actual practice and interpretation are of course open to opinion – but the actual text isn’t.”

    First of all, I would have to absolutely dispute your claim that the actual text of a statute is not open to opinion. I spent half of law school reading cases and articles where judges and lawyers argued about correct statutory interpretation and offer their opinion on the meaning of “actual text.”

    Secondly, “clear law” does not always mean a specific statute with a specific clause. A great many laws are deduced from several laws and a great many are modified or limited by competing statutes. A “specific text and legislation” is not where the legally trained stop when checking what the law is, precedent is vital as are conflicting statutes (note that statements issued by the Prime Minister offering his suggestion as to how the law be read do not do not figure, neither does asking the majority what they think the law is).
    Notwithstanding the above, the rules of legal interpretation regarding the deduction of the law from several sources of law are very precise and while the meaning of a statute can sometimes be open to interpretation, many are not open to much variation of opinion at all. Both David and I are qualified and practiced in how to undertake this exercise and we maintain that the position that New Zealand legally speaking has an official state religion is a very straight-forward and clear and current legal position. David sets out how the interpretation works and cites the relevant legislation above, I concur with his reasoning – which, I would have thought, was fairly easy for a lay person to follow.

  • I`m wondering what the point of this post is, if this argument is applied to all states headed by the Queen. If all states headed by the queen have an official protestant – or even Anglican – religion, what does this actually mean in these states where most people are Catholics?

  • Dave, as they also have freedom of religion it doesn’t mean much when it comes to the religious affiliation of those Catholics. What it does mean, though, is that the automatic assumption many have that religion has nothing to do with Government isn’t true. The idea that government is secular in the sense of godless or without religious assumptions is a mistaken idea.

  • Glenn – I was simply asking for the text that Madeleine indicated was there. A statement that NZ had a state religion.

    From the lack of response I think either she was overstating the case or I read it too literally. Clearly her statement is a statement of opinion. On this many will disagree – including many state officials.

    However, who cares? WTF does it matter what one’s interpretation is? Only if they use this to advance a particular cause. And I think both Madeleine and David should be up front about that.

    Personally my interpretation is that NZ is a secular country but still provides some legal and cultural privileges to religion. I think these legal privileges violate the spirit of our human rights legislation and we should be working to remove the legal anachronisms providing such privileges like tax exemption ( a forced legal tithe on us all), parliamentary prayers, statutory oaths, etc.

    Notice – I want equal rights. I don’t want to remove justified equal rights. I have no trouble with individuals belonging to a religion, practicing it, etc, as long as they keep it out of my face.

    I can understand the republicans providing the interpretation they do. They wish to raise consciousness, make people aware that there are still such undemocratic allowances in our laws. They obviously wish to get rid of them.

    So what motives do Madeleine and David have for their presentation? Do they wish to use this interpretation to make changes to our society or laws? Or to prevent changes that others make.

    Interestingly, Brian Tamaki’s campaign for a Christian New Zealand has the motive of enshrining that idea in law, in so many words. (He obviously doesn’t agree with David’s current interpretation). But he has specific things he wants to achieve like removing my right to make secular oaths, religious indoctrination of children, etc. In general, removing many of the democratic advances we have made as a nation.

    So David and Madeleine – what practical use is your interpretation? What do you want to achieve with it? Do you want to advance some legal or cultural changes to shore up your interpretation? Or do you want to prevent legal changes which may remove these anomalies? Do you want to resist, for example, the removal of tax exemption privileges for religion?

  • Ken wrote: “I was simply asking for the text that Madeleine indicated was there. A statement that NZ had a state religion.

    From the lack of response I think either she was overstating the case or I read it too literally. Clearly her statement is a statement of opinion.”

    Again Ken, the texts on the law have been supplied. In this case, as with a vast number of New Zealand laws, the text is in fact texts. Understanding what the words in the text/a group of texts mean in and of themselves and when read together (as applicable) is the practice of statutory interpretation.
    Statutory interpretation – what Ken calls “opinion” – is an exercise that is applied to every_single_determination as to what the law is (when speaking of laws derived from statutes).
    Thus, whether a statute plainly says “no person may do x without reasonable notice of y” or whether 4 statutes have to be read together to deduce that “no person may do x without reasonable notice of y”, who a person is (all human beings, only adults, etc?), what constitutes doing (eg does accidentally doing count?), what amounts to reasonable notice, and so on, still must be understood to properly get at what the law regarding x is.

    The problem is not my overstating the case neither is it Ken reading me too literally, the problem stems from Ken’s lack of understanding as to what can constitute a clear and unambiguous law and how one can know when one is confronted with one.

  • Dave -There is no legal reason why Anglicanism cannot be the official religion in every country in which the Queen is head of state, even if the majority are Catholics or another religion (indeed this was the position in majority Catholic Malta from 1964-75).

    Likewise the fact that 51% of New Zealanders in the 2006 census identified themselves as belonging to one or another Christian church, while it may tell you that Christianity is the majority religion in our society, is not legally relevant to the question of whether New Zealand has an official religion or not.

  • New Zealand doesn’t need an official religion, it will just be ignored anyway, it may have kudos on paper but ordinary people and people in government don’t care about it. The Bible is just thrown around in the justice system, in the courts, as a joke.
    If anything to stop mocking Christianity as Christianity is just a joke to many people and a majority have no concept of what it actually is – it should be excluded from government and left to just the churches.
    Christianity as a state religion doesn’t seem to make people want to be ‘good’ because most people just don’t understand it.

  • I see many commenters here have predictably missed the point, which is this: the human rights commission stated that at law NZ has no official religion. This claim is false and arguably the Human Rights Commission know it is false. There is a term for what they are doing when they deny this point, they are lying.

    Now it may well be that the majority of NZer’s are not Anglican (I am not), it may be that the majority of NZer’s do not care or do not like this, it may be that NZ does not need this or whatever, this is beside the point. The point is that the Human Rights Commission are not being honest when they say it is not.

    Contrary to what some appear to think, the fact that people do not like a law or may want a particular situation to be the case, this does not give the Human Rights Commission the right to claim the law is not what it is. Non-elected commissions do not get to simply assert that the laws are whatever they desperately want them to be. I am sure having public officials lie or misrepresent both law and history may be beneficial to some secularists’ agenda, however, this does not make it acceptable.

    I also find it amusing that Emily and Ken think that by appealing to what majority of people think they can somehow settle what the case actually is. I take it Ken, then, is going to grant that in the US Evolution is false because, after all, some polls show the majority of people do not agree with it, like it or accept it, so therefore it must be simply a matter of ‘opinion’ – or perhaps Ken can tell which test-tubes and chemicals and brand of bunsen burner I should purchase to be able to conduct my own at-home-proof-of-evolution experiment (hmmm am I misunderstanding the methods of science like Ken is misunderstanding the methods of law?) Once again, we see Ken abandoning the scientific rigor he claims to follow when it suits his secularist agenda to do so.

    I also assume that if the majority of people do not care about a particular policy which advances women’ s rights Emily will claim laws safeguarding those rights do not exist.

  • If the statute books are a determinant of what is ” official”, how come the government has often said that English is one of our official languages? Come to think of it , the state identifies with English more so than any religion.

  • Emily, New Zealand may not need an official religion, an official religion may be ignored and considered a joke but the fact remains that it has one – that was all David was saying.

    The Human Rights Commission, former Prime Minister, politicians, commentators, retired soil scientists, etc are all wrong if they claim otherwise.

    Note that David did not express that he desired to keep Anglicanism as New Zealand’s official religion. David, like us, is not Anglican himself and did not state his own position on the need for an official religion neither did he speak to what the majority may or may not think of the current law. He simply pointed out what the law is on the subject.

  • This is not a debate about facts. I don’t think anyone now claims that our laws state that NZ has an official religion. Only that according to the law a protestant religion is used for some official purposes. That to most of us is an historical anachronism but it really doesn’t affect us in our day to day life..

    But whatever you call it – why do so? What are your motives. What do you want to achieve?

    Is it just that you would like the Prime Minister and the Human Rights commission to publicly state your interpretation?

    Or do you want to use that interpretation to advance some cultural/political/legislative purpose.?

    And what is your attitude towards many people like me who say that our state should be completely secular (as the most democratic arrangement) and that we should therefore remove such anomalies and privileges?

    And Matt – you are being silly and irrelevant to compare what people desire in their government legislation with objective statements about reality. Reality is what it is – only fools go around trying to change reality.

    But in democracies we can all have a say on how to arrange our government. I believe many people would like to remove these ancient anomalies – and one day perhaps they will (Let’s face it, no one is loosing sleep over it at the moment).

    But, in the meantime I just don’t like the idea that people may use their interpretation of the laws to impose restrictions on our democratic rights. We should be moving in the opposite direction – becoming more consistent with our Human Rights Act.

    And while we are on the subject of the Commission telling “lies.” Why not have them on for the way they distort the census figures. The 2006 census showed 49.5% nominal Christians. They quote 52% or sometimes more. One gets that by including double dipping – those people who give more than one answer to the question. My brother used to consider himself both a Baptist and AOG – see what I mean? It seems quite common for Christians.

    I think the Human Rights Commission has been dishonest with the whole way they have handled this question. It goes a lot further than and mild representation of specific law. They have specifically excluded the non-religious from the religious diversity of this country. I can understand how this happens becuase religious people seem to be very afraid of anything non-religious and will manipulate situations like this.

    Again, most people probably don’t give a toss. Even the religious mainly ignored their statement. But there is a concern because this approach has infested things like advice for Police on handling our diversity. The commission is also working on similar booklets for the work place and schools.

    The non-religious are actually the largest group in the 2006 census when the religions are broken down. It is undemocratic to ignore them. Which is rather sad for a human rights commission, isn’t it?

  • Ken -This is a debate about legal facts. I am indeed arguing that New Zealand has an official religion because arguably our most important constitutional position -head of state- can only be held by a Protestant.

    I have only re-stated the correct legal position. The motives that need to be scrutinised are the motives of others who misrepresent the correct legal postion.

  • I have to chuckle at the approach that basically says “damn the facts, let’s talk about your motives!”

  • Eell, David, we don’t disagree with the facts. The legal texts. We choose to see it differentwasts. You as a state religion, me an ancient anomoly. One we, the people, can get rid off if we choose.

    OK, you raise the motives if the HRC and prime minister. Well, go ahead and discuss those motives. Surely a more important issue than any small difference between you and me on interpretation.

    And a more interesting and relevant one.

    I Also hope you go ahead snd campaign against the HRC terminology. You will find that there “condulstions” in these matters is a farce. As usuhenshen it comes to religion and rights.

    By the way, David, what about responding to my point about your Orwellian language in dismissing secularism as “aggresive” and “Intolerant.” That is completely uncalled for and surely reveals a motive.

  • Sorry about the mistakes. Commenting from an iPod is not easy.

  • OK… Ken answered a very important question for me… I will *not* be getting an iPod!

  • “By the way, David, what about responding to my point about your Orwellian language in dismissing secularism as “aggresive” and “Intolerant.” ”

    Those words don’t even compare to words that atheists used to describe Christians and Christianity. Of course atheists think their use is justified, of course.

  • Seems like Ken and Emily are just happy the Human Rights Commissioner lied for their agenda. And typical typical, instead of raging against the liar, they defend the liar.

    So next topic …. can atheists be moral … can they be ethical?

  • Anon, of course atheists can be moral, indeed it’s easy for them to be more moral than Christians.

    Since (as atheists constantly claim) there is no common atheist set of beliefs (except that they have no loyalty to god or gods) there is also no common atheist philosophy and consequently no common atheistic morality.

    Consequently the only source of moral authority for the atheist is the atheist him or herself. Once that is understood then they realise that “right” and “wrong” have no objective meaning, any more than that vanilla ice-cream is “good,” and coffee ice-cream is “bad.” They are just labels.

    The atheist can then label anything he or she does as “good” meaning that they can be very moral people.

    The Christian sees their moral authority in what is revealed in, and reasoned from, the Bible. It is quite possible for the Christian to do things that are contrary to the divine commands making them immoral.

    Since the atheist can always be moral, and the Christian may not always be moral, then the atheist can be more moral than the Christian.

    Strangely enough the group identified as having no religious belief, whilst only about a third of the 2006 census, made up 48% of the prison intake in 2007. Meanwhile Christians, who were almost 50% of the census, made up 23% of the prison intake. That makes those non-religious people about 3 times as likely as Christians to end up in prison.

    I guess making up your own moral code may lead to conflict with the law.

    (Sources Department of Corrections and Statistics New Zealand)

  • Jason, could you please provide a link or full reference for your prison statistics. I have heard this story before but never been able to find the data. Your attribution doesn’t actually help.

    The US figures give a completely different story so I would not comment before seeing the data.

  • Isn’t it hypocritical to ask for “a link or full reference ” when one hasn’t been providing with any in the discussion?

  • Anon – I don’t know what your problem is. If the data exists I am sure Jason will happily provide the link or reference to support his claims. If it doesn’t he will presumably ignore my request.

    It’s just that I have previously searched the source he gives for the data and not been able to find it.

    I am genuinely interested in seeing it – as would be anyone trying to get an objective picture if the situation.

    It is an aside, I agree, and I don’t want to divert discussion away from David’s inappropriate adjectives. Just want to have a link so I can see the data myself.

  • Jason

    “I guess making up your own moral code may lead to conflict with the law.”

    This arbitrary assertion rests on a false premise. Also “guess” and “may” are ambiguous and show foggy thinking. Weasel words.

    A moral code is not made up. Either by scripture or Man. A moral code is scientifically a given and it relates to the identity and thereby the nature of the creature.

    A creature cannot act against its nature. Ever.

    That which it does to survive is moral. Ethics proceed from this. This is a primary.

    A corollary of this is that rights are natural to each Man. This means that no Man should initiate force on another, if he is to be acting morally.

    This notwithstanding, you are unwittingly correct to say that making up your own moral code will not be successful.

    The Bible doesn’t have any moral code if that code does not correspond to the nature of reality. Man does not “make up” a truly moral code either. That’s subjectivism, and shifts with the times.

    Morals are in fact timeless and I don’t need some misconstrued, contradictory, anti-life scripture to tell me otherwise.

    You educated guys here especially re-interpret the morality from your Bible to suit the times.

    Nature exists. The law of identity cannot be denied. That which is moral follows from the nature of the organism.

  • Ken

    Your attribution of inappropriate adjectives seems to me a misreading of David, taken in context what he said is
    “To paraphrase their argument, an established but tolerant Anglican Church is preferable to a nation where all reference to the religious or sacred is ruthlessly excluded from the public domain[7].
    The intolerant secularism rightly feared by religious minorities has been evident in France recently. France has already banned the Islamic headscarf and outward wearing of the crucifix, and other religious symbols, in state schools[8] and is considering banning the wearing of a burqa altogether, moves which are causing public discord in France
    Having an official religion is not necessarily any threat to freedom of religion, and may actually be more beneficial to religious minorities than aggressive secularism”

    Here David is not “dismissing secularism” as “aggressive” nor is he saying all secularisms are aggressive and intolerant. He clearly is pointing to a particular type of secularism, the kind that bans burkas and the wearing of crosses and attempts to “excludes all reference to religious or sacred from the public domain” .

    Once again reading what was written, instead of getting outraged at what you think was written helps. I know Dawkins loves to attack positions without actually bothering to read or understand them first, but that doesn’t mean one should follow his example.

  • Greg, “You educated guys here especially re-interpret the morality from your Bible to suit the times.”

    Do you mean like people change their minds about what moral codes are yielded by nature, to suit the times? Or did you mean something else.

    As for any suggestion that “a moral code is scientifically a given,” this is breathtakingly naive. Science has nothing to say about what is moral and what is not. Not a single word.

  • Glenn – “Science has nothing to say about what is moral and what is not. Not a single word.”

    Actually not true. There is an interesting debate going on at the moment. Sparked by Sam Harris (who did his PhD on neurological aspects of morality). I linked to two of his videos at Can science answer moral questions?

    Harris has a new book coming out in November –The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. It should be fascinating.

    The debate has got quite heated (Sam even apologised for an unwise tweet he made about Shaun Carroll), Carroll is a cosmologist so it shows that even such apparently “hard” scientists can be enthused about such debates.

    Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher with a background in evolutionary science, has also commented.

    While both Carroll and Pigliucci (both of who I think usually are very sensible) have been quite critical of Sam’s analysis, I actually think they are tending to talk past him a bit. I find Sam’s analysis, in some aspects, close to the argument that I have advanced from time to time that there is no such thing as “objective morality” but there is an objective basis for our morality. This enables us to come to an agreement about what is right and wrong.

    A fascinating debate which will no doubt take of anew in November when Sam’s book is out and the reviews start coming in. I imagine I will be blogging more on this then.

  • Matt – you claim “Here David is not “dismissing secularism” as “aggressive” nor is he saying all secularisms are aggressive and intolerant.”

    Well why does he not just use the unadorned word? After all he is talking about New Zealand. Whatever he thinks of France or Iran is irrelevant. And surely his intentions for NZ are clear in his claim: “Having an official religion is not necessarily any threat to freedom of religion, and may actually be more beneficial to religious minorities than aggressive secularism.” He sees “aggressive secularism” as the only alternative to our current privileged situation with respect to religions.

    I argued that it would be more applicable to talk of intolerant religion in the NZ context because of the clear evidence that religion has opposes so much change that has been good for our people. (The cowardly, behind the scenes complaints made by a number of religious people to the NZ Bus Company over the “atheist ads” is a recent example – one that most people have condemned as intolerant).

    The fact is that secular does not imply intolerance or aggression. It just describes a situation, supported by religious and non-religious, where we agree that religion should not have the current privileges that David and I have pointed out. Many religious people are secular in that sense. They don’t want to impose their prejudices on others.

    A truly secular society would be good for all of us, religious and non-religious alike.

    We are getting there in NZ but still have a way to go.

  • Actually not true. There is an interesting debate going on at the moment. Sparked by Sam Harris (who did his PhD on neurological aspects of morality). I linked to two of his videos at Can science answer moral questions?

    Actually Ken as has been pointed out ad nauesm, studies like the ones you mention give us insight into the origins of moral beliefs. They tell us how human beings came to have moral sensibilities or intuitions. But telling us how humans developed a capacity to believe something does not tell us whether the beliefs correspond to anything true or false. Nor does it answer the questions of what actions have what moral properties, it simply tells us how humans developed an ability to think that certain actions do.

    This kind of reasoning is actually a text book version of commit the genetic fallacy. Your correct of course that some athiest scientists regularly commit this fallacy.

  • Matt – you are wrong.

    Much of the past research may have been partly about origins. But Sam’s TED and Google lectures are claiming that we can determine a moral landscape, a right and wrong, from the facts.

    Actually people like Pinker have also made this point in the past.

    However, I think because of the mantra that science has nothing to say about morality Sam is meeting resistance. I believe that people are reading things into his claims which are a bit different to what he is actually saying.

    it’s a fascinating debate. One that won’t go away just because you ignore it or make unwarranted assumptions about it.

  • “a right and wrong, from the facts.”

    How??? For example how would science explain that abortion is right or wrong? Head count? Economic impact? Loss of potential career? Health problems?

  • Anon – this is a diversion here. If your want to discuss it go to Can science answer moral questions?. I would welcome any contribution you can make there.
    I was just pointing out that Glenn’s bald statement on science and morality was wrong.

    I am, more interested in the content of this post. Particularly the strange need David has to add adjectival appendages to the word “secular.” And his motive for criticising those who say we don’t have an official religion.

  • Well Ken if that post is anything to go by, either Harris or yourself are hopeless confused you state.

    . He argues for a fact-based morality which enables moral logic and decisions. This conflicts with ideas of moral relativism and god-given morality, or “objective morality.”

    Here you distinguish between a fact based morality and objective morality. The problem is that all forms of objectivism, whether divine command theories, naturalist theories or non naturalist theories of objectivism postulate the existence of moral facts and hence are fact based. Moreover any theory that denied the existence of moral facts would arguably not be objectivist. So all this post shows once again is that you don’t understand what you are talking about.
    Simply citing slogans about facts and logic does not actually address the meta-ethical questions you refer to.
    As to the claim that science can’t answer moral truths is a mantra which people ignore. I would refer you to the voluminous literature arguing for this. For example there is Mackie’s famous argument from queerness. There is the widely commented on and discussed debate between Harman and Sturgeon over whether moral properties can be justified by scientific theorizing. There is the whole literature since Hume on the is ought question. There are the detailed deference of Divine command theories by Quinn, Adams, etc and the various defenses of non naturalism which also argue that moral properties are the types of things that are not know empirically. These are all published in the literature. I take it that you have read and refuted all these arguments? If not please don’t talk about mantras and ignoring studies.

  • Ken,
    And surely his intentions for NZ are clear in his claim: “Having an official religion is not necessarily any threat to freedom of religion, and may actually be more beneficial to religious minorities than aggressive secularism.” He sees “aggressive secularism” as the only alternative to our current privileged situation with respect to religions.

    I read David as suggesting that, in the current cultural context we live in “aggressive secularism” is likely to be the alternative adopted. I think this is also a plausible claim, David defines aggressive secularism as and this is in fact the dominant and orthodox position on religion and public life in contemporary liberal political thought, defended by people such as Macedo, Rawls, Audi, Gaus etc. Its unlikely any other alternative would be promoted.

    . (The cowardly, behind the scenes complaints made by a number of religious people to the NZ Bus Company over the “atheist ads” is a recent example – one that most people have condemned as intolerant).

    This is bad reasoning, you argue that religion is intolerant from one example. Of course one could easily make the same fallacious inference to claim secularism is intolerant. The rationalist society attempting to ban nativity scenes from Christmas parades, or complaining about Christian radio. Or the infamous living word case which banned videos criticizing homosexual conduct and so on.

    I would ask you a question though, in The Aotearoa Ethnic Network Journal you wrote “Non-religious people have the right to be free from interference by religious people and organisations, freedom from proselytising,”(emphasis mine).
    If non religious people should be free from being proselytized why is it ok for atheists to prostelytise on the side of buses???

    But of course your not seeking special privileges for anyone are you Ken.

    The fact is that secular does not imply intolerance or aggression. It just describes a situation, supported by religious and non-religious, where we agree that religion should not have the current privileges that David and I have pointed out.

    Err no; Secularism in the context of public philosophy is the view that religion should be excluded from public life and all public issues, institutions etc only be governed by secular ideas. This actually does privilege a secular view of the world over a religious one, a fact critics of this view such as Quinn and Wolterstorff have repeatedly pointed out.

  • Matt, it might be better to discuss the morality question under the appropriate post as we otherwise just end up duplicating things. You for instance misunderstand what I mean by moral outlook having an objective basis. This is NOT claiming moral facts! It’s just pointing out that we can derive our moral oulook FROM objective facts – our existence as a sentient, empathetic, intelligent and social species.

    All that had been covered in the discussion on that post – repeatedly because of Dale’s obtuseness.

    Better discuss this in the appropriate place.

  • I see no conflict Matt. While I personally believe in an objective reality, I can see that there is a case for a fact-based – but non-objective morality.

    As an analogy:

    Arm-length is something which has evolved (if you buy evolution) and it is a fact which can be scientifically studied that arms fall within a certain length range, and certain proportions and so on. This will be true of all humans who live (with he exception of mutants….). So arm-length is objective in one sense, but in another sense it is entirely dependent upon the way humans happened to develop. Morality could be studied in the same way… it could be objective – in the sense that all humans agree upon certain things – but not objective in the way that there is no “arm-length” apart from humans…. now this is not what I personally believe, but I don’t think Ken’s viewpoint is incoherent.

  • Clearly Matt, you wish to maintain a position of hostility towards any suggestion that undemocratic religious priveliged should be removed and equal rights for all guaranteed as envisaged in our human rights legislation.

    Consequently the childish insistence of attaching the Orwelllian doublespeak of “intollerant” or “aggressive” to any use of the word secular.

    I suppose we could always attach “intollerant” or ” aggresive” to the word “Christianity”. Maybe that would offend you ( and jsbt that the purpose if such sillyness). There us, after all, plenty of justification for such adjectives in this case.

    But it would just be childish. As childish as David’s use of such terms.

  • Ken, it’s all very well to link to scientists who take issue with the claim that science can’t tell us what’s moral and what’s not. But what they offer are scientific accounts, and in doing so they suppose that science can answer question like this, which it can’t.

    Ethics is a branch of philosophy, and as numerous philosophers like John Mackie, Michael Ruse, or even older ones like Friederich Nietzsche have explained, moral facts just are not the kind of things that reside in brains or cells. They are value judgements about non-scientific states of affirs like wrong or right.

    I realise that many scientists very much like the idea that science encomopasses all things, but it simply doesn’t. There are in fact boundaries.

  • This is NOT claiming moral facts! It’s just pointing out that we can derive our moral oulook FROM objective facts – our existence as a sentient, empathetic, intelligent and social species.

    Actually, to derive a moral out look ( ought statements) from non moral facts about human beings ( is statements) would involve deriving an ought from an is, this is widely recognized as a fallacy. With the exemption of trivial examples involving the addition rule. One cannot derive any substantive ought statements from is statements alone. This is because one can not put in the conclusion of a valid inference anything that is not contained in the premises.

    Second, even if you could derive such an outlook, if there are no moral facts then the outlook derived would not be a true one. A true statement is one that is in accord with the facts, if there are no moral facts there is no moral truth, and hence , what you have derived is not a true moral system. It will either be false ( a series of assertions which have no factual basis) or you will have to claim morality does not make true statements at all.

    All that had been covered in the discussion on that post – repeatedly because of Dale’s obtuseness.

    Actually, the logical problems with deriving an ought from an is has been covered in the meta-ethical literature for some 300 years since Hume first pointed out the fallacy.

  • Consequently the childish insistence of attaching the Orwelllian doublespeak of “intollerant” or “aggressive” to any use of the word secular.

    I suppose we could always attach “intollerant” or ” aggresive” to the word “Christianity”. Maybe that would offend you ( and jsbt that the purpose if such sillyness). There us, after all, plenty of justification for such adjectives in this case.

    That’s right Ken, ignore the rebuttals I have given, ignore the contradictions in your position I pointed out. Simply repeat the assertion over and over and call those who disagree with you childish. But don’t pretend this is any thing other than dogmatic bluster.

  • Max,

    I agree with you that one could put forward a view where goodness is like arm length. In fact natural law approaches which identify human goodness with human flourishing and the satisfaction of certain natural inclinations and desires would be an example. On such a view if humans had evolved differently, they would have a different nature and different things would be good, so in that sense what’s good depends on humans.

    I don’t think however when people talk about good being objective, they mean to discount this type of view. On this view there would be a fact about what human nature is like, wether its true or false will not depend on what people believe about human nature but what human nature actually is like.

    Nor do I think this view enables us to say that science alone can tell us what is right and wrong. Science might be able to tell us what human nature is like, and what natural inclinations people have. But to get a moral theory out of this, these facts will need to be conjoined with a moral claim to the effect that: one ought to pursue what meets our natural inclinations and this latter claim will be a moral one that cannot determined by empirical methods.

  • “….deriving an ought from an is, this is widely recognized as a fallacy”

    Apparently this is an area of active research in philosophy departments at the moment…

  • “”But to get a moral theory out of this, these facts will need to be conjoined with a moral claim to the effect that: one ought to pursue what meets our natural inclinations and this latter claim will be a moral one that cannot determined by empirical methods.””

    Again, my personal inclination is to agree with you… BUT I don’t think that is quite fair on the naturalist Matt. You are trying to impose a certain viewpoint where there is an objective morality above and beyond the natural inclinations – the very thing the naturalist may want to deny.

    Rather than saying: “one ought to pursue what meets our natural inclinations”

    The naturalist may instead say: “one ought to pursue” is defined as what “meets our natural inclinations.” IE. all they mean by “ought” is that which we all (having common anatomy and psychology) are naturally inclined to do.

    This seems coherent to me and avoids falling into some sort of subjective morality since it is accepted that humans DO have a common moral sense, in the same way they have a common anatomy.

  • Max, you write

    Again, my personal inclination is to agree with you… BUT I don’t think that is quite fair on the naturalist Matt. .. Rather than saying: “one ought to pursue what meets our natural inclinations” The naturalist may instead say: “one ought to pursue” is defined as what “meets our natural inclinations.” IE. all they mean by “ought” is that which we all (having common anatomy and psychology) are naturally inclined to do.

    I agree I probably formulated it in a mistaken way. You suggest that naturalist defines goodness as “meets our natural inclinations. If this is intended to be a semantic claim about the meaning of the word good, I think it will probably fail. It would imply that non naturalists either use the word “good” to refer to “that which meets natural inclinations” or they do not really understand what they are saying and are not competent users of the language. That seems prima facie implausible. One could also ask what basis there is for defining the word this way, one presumably cant just define ones position into existence.

    What naturalists typically do ( as I understand it) is use a synthetic identity claim. They suggest goodness is some natural property like “meeting natural inclinations” in the same way water is H20. I think this move however will raise the same questions I raised with Ken, the issue is one what scientific basis does one conclude that goodness is meeting our natural inclinations . With the water H20 example we already have by observation familiarity of with waterits various characteristics we determine whether its H20 by seeing whether, H20 best explains these features we observe. With goodness however, we don’t observe the property of goodness through the five senses, so it’s not clear how one would proceed to use science to prove this claim in an analogous manner.

    If we have some intuitive grasp of right and wrong, then perhaps we could, we could look at what we know intuitively and then see whether some natural property best fits or explains this material than any alternative. But doing this involves appealing to moral intuitions and hence goes beyond using empirical methods of science. One would have to grant that humans have access to reality beyond the empirical and scientific.

    I agree with you that this picture is coherent, the question however is whether its plausible. Is it plausible that goodness can be identified with some natural property in this way, those who argue it can’t usually contend that some feature of moral obligations are features which natural properties don’t have. Mackie for example suggests that moral obligations are categorically prescriptive, and natural properties are not. Or that natural properties can be empirically verified and determined in a certain way whereas moral properties cannot. Others argue that moral obligations are overriding or authoritative in a way that natural properties are not and so on. Or that certain presuppositions of adopting a moral perspective can’t be defended from a naturalist perspective. Ruse argues that evolutionary Psychology undermines belief in morality by making it plausible morality is an illusion and so on. The question is really whether naturalist explanations can do the work they claim they can and whether religious explanations can do it better.

  • Glenn – I was responding to your dogmatic claim “Science has nothing to say about what is moral and what is not. Not a single word.” Surely it is obvious that this is completely wrong.

    1: Now you may not agree with what these scientists are saying – lets face it, Sam Harris’s key arguments are being debated hotly within the scientific community. But you surely cannot deny that this is a subject scientists are looking at. We don’t agree on lots of things in science, but we still keep investigating them, discussing them and trying to understand them.

    One has only to read books by people like Marc Hauser (Moral Minds) and Jonathan Haidt (The Happiness Hypothesis). Or Pinker’s writing on ethics and human dignity.

    I attended a convention recently where I heard scientists including AC Grayling, Peter Singer, Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers and others all discussing ethical questions and what is right and wrong.

    I would have loved to attend recent NZ lectures by Lawrence Krauss and Martin Rees. I am sure, from knowing these guys and what they talk about, these lectures included moral/ethical questions and decisions.

    Take “climategate” – some see as a scientific issue. Sure the science is involved but behind it all is a question of ethics and morality. Basically one’s attitude towards reality and truth – the scientific ethos. And also what responsibility one has for our grandchildren. Take Andy Reisinger’s recent book on the science of climate change – a very objective thorough coverage but finishing with that final moral question. What would one say to one’s grandchildren if one did nothing now.

    2: Your insistence on naive boundaries is hardly realistic. Sam Harris was trained as a philosopher and only recently graduated with a neuroscience degree. His presentation could be said to include both areas. Massimo Pigliucci has taught both philosophy and evolutionary science. He only re3ently transferred completely to a philosophy position. AC Grayling is a professor of philosophy but his work is so closely allied with science (he was speaking on the science – religion question). I include him in the science-philosophy arena.

    The point is that there is not one philosophy – some philosophers have a shocking anti-science philosophy (they remind me of the saying that “philosophy has the same relationship to science as pornography has to sex”).

    Other philosophers have a much more scientific philosophy – they understand both disciplines. In reality these discipline merge at their most productive level.

    All scientists do philosophy, unconsciously in their day-to day job. But some of us actually do it more consciously and I think you are seeing the results of that in the discussion around Sam’s talks.

    3: Re your claim “moral facts just are not the kind of things that reside in brains or cells” It’s hard to know what you mean. What is a mortal fact? What is meant by residing in a brain or cell? I suspect any attempt to discuss this would lead to us talking past each other because we have different understanding of the meaning of terms.

  • Matt – I was concerned this was a diversion. But thinking about it the question of morality and its objective basis is really behind our different attitudes towards the removal of religious privilege in our society.

    However, to take you up on a few points first:

    1: The is/ought mantra. You present that as a dogmatic necessity which is hardly the way to advance knowledge. (In my experience people who insist on justifying their “knowledge” by going back 300 years and rejecting current discussions are bound to be wrong, completely out of touch. It’s like saying Einstein should not have been listened to because Newton laid it all down centuries ago).

    Is/ought is an argument which is understood in various ways by various people so should be examined rather than stated it as another mantra.

    If you watched Sam’s lectures you would see he dealt with that argument. And in a recent article (How you can derive an ought from an is) he says:

    “Hume’s argument was actually directed against religious apologists who sought to deduce morality from the existence of God. Ironically, his reasoning has since become one of the primary impediments to linking morality to the rest of human knowledge.”

    He finishes that short article with a statement which to me seem really obvious:

    “FACT #9: One can, therefore, derive “ought” from “is”: for if there is a behaviour, intention, cultural practice, etc. that seems likely to produce the worst possible misery for everyone, one ought not adopt it. (All lesser ethical concerns and obligations follow from this).”

    I think that is how we, in general, try to run our society. Sure, your belief in a god may prevent you from seeing this, but in the end I think it is a very sensible way to determine one’s ethical outlook. (Even those who claim to get their morals from a holy book surely must adopt this approach to decide which ones to accept and which to reject. Without this their scripture based morality would be considered extremely inhumane in today’s society).

    2: You can mutter on all you like about “moral facts”, “moral truth” and “objective morality” but unless these are rigidly defined I am not going to participate as it just amounts to theological jelly wrestling.

    3: So, I agree with Sam that in the sense he and I use it we can derive ought from is. A moral outlook (or even a landscape of outlooks that Sam refers to) from the facts of our existence. I think we do this all the time, realise it or not.

    4: Sam’s intention was to argue against moral relativism, as he explained. And this is very relevant with some current ideals of multiculturalism. The fact that he was confronted by an academic who could claim that we cannot judge actions of other cultures (example of the culture with a religion that mandates that every third child must have its eyes gouged out).

    We can judge genital mutilation. slavery, oppression of women and gays, apartheid, etc., etc., as wrong (I don’t have to worry about your “moral fact” to do that). And we do that on the basis of our existence as a sentient, intelligent, social and empathetic species and what the consequence are for us of such behavior.

    5: So, regarding the question of the desirability of a secular society. This is desirable, because it guarantees human rights for all, (not just a race, cast, clan, gender or religion). We are close to that in NZ but still have anachronistic survivals of a situation providing privilege to religion (and as David points out, some extra privileges for Christianity and protestantism).

    6: Now, Matt, you may rant on all you like about secularism denying rights of Christians. If that was a real fact of society it would be wrong to call it secularist. We want a democratic, humane situation where everyone’s rights are guaranteed.

    There is of course room for debate and negotiation – nothing is ever black and white. And I can understand why some religious people refuse to see the supernatural tax exemption as an undeserved privilege – after all their pockets are effected. They have to be opposed because they are ignoring the rights of others.

    But equal human rights for all, irrespective of religion, life stance or belief, is what I certainly want.

    7: To deny a full extension of human rights as envisaged by secular ideas is surely an undemocratic, authoritarian attitude. Where does one get one’s morality for that? I suspect region plays a role there.

  • 1 The is/ought mantra. You present that as a dogmatic necessity which is hardly the way to advance knowledge.

    Yes I consider rules of logical inference to be necessity and I am dogmatic about them. I don’t think that 2+2 can equal 2909 or that square circles exist or that modus ponens is invalid and am fairly certain that I am correct.

    (In my experience people who insist on justifying their “knowledge” by going back 300 years and rejecting current discussions are bound to be wrong, completely out of touch.

    That would be a valid point if I had said I was ignoring contemporary discussions but I wasn’t , much of my conversation with Max comes from contemporary studies of ethics.

    If you watched Sam’s lectures you would see he dealt with that argument. And in a recent article (How you can derive an ought from an is) he says:

    “Hume’s argument was actually directed against religious apologists who sought to deduce morality from the existence of God. Ironically, his reasoning has since become one of the primary impediments to linking morality to the rest of human knowledge.”

    This is irrelevant, the fact that Hume used a particular logical inference rule against religious ethics does not mean the same rule does not apply in other contexts. The same line of reasoning could lead one to affirm contradictions, after all some people use the law of non contradiction to oppose religion, it does not follow that secularists are allowed to contradict themselves

    He finishes that short article with a statement which to me seem really obvious:

    “FACT #9: One can, therefore, derive “ought” from “is”: for if there is a behaviour, intention, cultural practice, etc. that seems likely to produce the worst possible misery for everyone, one ought not adopt it. (All lesser ethical concerns and obligations follow from this).”

    Actually this does not provide a counter example to the rule at all, in fact it nicely illustrates it. The inference

    [1] If a behavior, intention, cultural practice, seems likely to produce the worst possible misery for everyone, then one ought not to do it

    [2] Action A seems likely to produce the worst possible misery for everyone, then one ought not to do it

    Therefore

    [3] you ought not to do A

    Does not derive an ought from an is, [1] is an ought statement. [2] is an is statement, [3] follows from both [1] and [2] by the logical rule of modus ponens.

    To be an valid counter example, one would have to show that [3] follows from [2] alone, with no other premises at all via some valid rule of inference.

    You are welcome here on this blog to show me, how using the accepted rules of logical inference one can get [3] from [2] alone.

    It’s very simply, simply show me how one can get [3] from [2] alone by the accepted rules of logic. If you can I will grant that this inference involves a valid ought from an is, if you can’t it doesn’t. You scientists like testable statements, this one is testable.

    2: You can mutter on all you like about “moral facts”, “moral truth” and “objective morality” but unless these are rigidly defined I am not going to participate as it just amounts to theological jelly wrestling.

    Try actually knowing what you are talking about before you write. Reference to moral facts and truth is used in secular meta ethics not theology, and these terms are typically straightforwardly understood.

    Take the statement, My shirt is black this statement is true if the object in the world that is my shirt has the property of being black. The existence of my shirt and it possessing the property of being black are two facts in the world that make the statement true.

    Now take the statement, rape is wrong is true if the action of raping someone has the property of being wrong. The existence of a rape in the world is a non moral fact, the presence of the property of being wrong is a moral fact. In order for the statement to be true both the non moral fact and the moral fact must be present.

    If there are no moral facts then there are no moral truths.

    3: So, I agree with Sam that in the sense he and I use it we can derive ought from is. A moral outlook (or even a landscape of outlooks that Sam refers to) from the facts of our existence. I think we do this all the time, realise it or not.

    I pointed out above that the example you gave does not derive an ought from an is, what happens in this instance is that an ought is derived from two premises an ought is statement about an actions effects and an ought statement to the effect that actions which have these effects are wrong.

    But seeing you think science can answer ethical questions can you please demonstrate empirically the following statement.

    Any behaviour, intention, cultural practice, etc. that seems likely to produce the worst possible misery for everyone, is wrong

    Above you said you found it obvious, but simply saying X is obvious is not empirical demonstration.

    Seeing science can demonstrate moral claims I am sure you can show me the empirical experiments etc which can be conducted to demonstrate this statement.

    4: So, regarding the question of the desirability of a secular society. This, because it guarantees human rights for all, (not just a race, cast, clan, gender or religion).

    Well that’s an assertion, I see no reason for thinking that removing God from public life guarantees rights for all. In fact the whole concept or idea of human rights has its origins in Christian thought, and may leading secular thinkers ( Bentham, Mill, Marx) deny such rights exist. Nor is it obvious that secular societies have a better track record on the human rights front than religious societies do. Wolterstorff and Perry have argued that its difficult to even make sense of the notion of human rights outside of a Christian view on the world. I am afraid this comment needs arguing not asserting.

    Its interesting that skeptics who demand empirical proof for Gods existence seem so willing to simply assert things which they have not proved when it helps there case, one suspects a fairly selective method is being utilized.

    5: Now, Matt, you may rant on all you like about secularism denying rights of Christians. If that was a real fact of society it would be wrong to call it secularist.

    I see, so secular societies guarantee rights because societies that don’t guarantee rights are not secular. This is obviously a circular claim.

    In fact there have been obvious examples of secular societies where rights were not guaranteed. USSR, North Korea, North Vietnam, revolutionary france, to name a few

    And I can understand why some religious people refuse to see the supernatural tax exemption as an underserved privelige – after all their pockets are effected. They have to be opposed because they are ignoring the rights of others.

    Funny how when the issue of tax exemptions come up I never hear anyone mention mention those numerous tax exempt humanist trusts set up to promote secularism Consider for example this example from the Journal of the New Zealand Rationalists and Humanists http://www.nzarh.org.nz/journal/autumn01.htm#HUMANISTTRUST “The named beneficiaries in the Trust deed are HSNZ and the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists (NZARH)” [emphasis mine] This article also tells us that the trusts purpose is not purely charitable, one of its functions is to “Provide funding for seminars and other educational activities to promote public understanding and discussion of ethics and Humanism;” and the article tells us that NZARH could use it to fund visiting speakers.”

    Of course the same organization put out a press release saying there should be no tax exemptions for any charities which engage in missionary work. But hey its all about treating everyone equal right. NO one should get tax exemptions to promote there religious views.

  • Matt – I will only respond on the tax exemption issue at this time. It is clear your argument derives from your pocketbook rather than your brain.

    The Humanists do have a trust registered as a charity. It is under the sector: Education / training / research

    The Destiny church has a trust registered as a charity. It is under the sector: Religious activities. There are many, many organisations registered under that sector.

    It is clear that no organisation I currently support can register under the Religious activities sector because that requires supernatural beliefs. I can register under the other provisions (“relief of poverty, the advancement of education, or any other matter beneficial to the community”).

    Now in a truly democratic society religious organisations will also be able to register under the same provisions and this would cover true charitable work. We would be on equal footing. (And it surprises me that religious organisations don’t accept they could hide their supernatural teachings under advancement of education. I am sure a lot already do and get other educational subsidies as a result).

    But why should I subsidise the sort of religious behaviour that goes on in these organsations. promotion of supernaturalism, superstition. etc. (and we might add currently child sexual and other abuse).

    The stupid thing is that I could get the exemption by registering the Church of the Spaghetti Monster. Some organisations (usually with spiritualist in their name) already to this.

    So here is a suggestion. For democratic purposes why not give up the religious provision? All real charitable work could still get tax exemption. Then we might be on an equal footing. And I wouldn’t be subsidising practices I find repugnant. (I am quite happy for the religious to go overseas and help poverty stricken and sick people in other countries. I am opposed to them using that genuine charity work to sneak in “missionary” proselytizing).

    Really – in practice I think the Church will fight tooth and nail against this democratisation. They have too much to loose – and I mean monetary value not real spiritual value.

    And they will use the weapon they have honed most over the years for this – theological jelly wresting and obfuscation.

    Your attempts to avoid this real issue, and argue around it, is just an example of the latter.

  • Ken thank you for making your position abundantly clear.

    First, you suggest tax exemption equals subsidy, it doesn’t. Refraining from taking money a person has lawfully earnt off them is not that same thing same thing as taking someone else’s money and giving it to them.

    But second you state

    But why should I subsidise the sort of religious behaviour that goes on in these organsations. promotion of supernaturalism, superstition.

    And

    So here is a suggestion. For democratic purposes why not give up the religious provision? All real charitable work could still get tax exemption. Then we might be on an equal footing. And I wouldn’t be subsidising practices I find repugnant. (I am quite happy for the religious to go overseas and help poverty stricken and sick people in other countries. I am opposed to them using that genuine charity work to sneak in “missionary” proselytizing

    Here you state you oppose having tax exemptions for organizations that promote supernaturalism or engage in proselytizing or that you find repugnant

    However the humanist trust states that its purpose is to promote humanism and NZARH say they will use the money to fund speakers who promote the values and ideals of rationalism (which is essentially proselytizing for secular ideologies) all causes I find repugnant, and you apparently support that.

    I notice also that the buses which had Dawkin’s silly adds on them were public transport and so the buses driving around (and displaying the adds) is subsidized by the tax payer and in an earlier post you said opposing this was intolerant.

    So apparently it is OK to subsidize prostelyizing on provided the views promoted are yours.

  • Matt, this is theological obscufation again. Thecsubdidy issue is ver clear if religious institutions benefit from services thay get for free, provided by my tax and rates.

    OK you want to equate religion and supermatural rubbish with science and reason. I guess those are the issues we will have to fight this out on, as we have from Galileo on and do so now over evolutionary sciece and creationism.

    But I think people are getting a bit fed ip with these sort of stupidities. Something to do with flying planes into buildings and being told once too often how to live my life in areas that should not be of interest to such busybodies.

    The latest Catholic scandals are really sheeting home how little moral integrity religion has and how hollow it’s claims are. People are angry.

    Unlike the priveliged ride religion has wrt tax exption the bus ads will be paid for, fully. Intolerant xtians have pressured behind the scenes, as they have wherever this has been done. Again it just makes people angry – piss off they say. It’s got nothing to fo with you. You should look at the forums and see the anger – much of it from honest Christians.

    Funnily enough there us plenty of religious prosletysing, advertising and opinion columns. We aren’t objecting and putting pressure on behind these scenes.

    Yes, some of it gets pretty offensive but in a pluralist society one dies not have the right to not be offended.

    Again if these protesting ifiots could just calm down, recognise it won’t damage them in any way and let things be people might respect them. Instead they make fools of themselves, dig another shovel of earth for their religions grave and
    anger reasonable people.

    But I think this is what basically religion gets it’s support from. The evolved sense of judgementalism we all have. It’s just that some of us can moderate and change this through reason and logic.

    Aplogise in advance for the mistakes my iPod will inevitably make and prevent me from correcting.

  • Matt, I don’t see any value in closely debating your other points. I will make only a few points you can take or leave. I am happy to leave the discussion with them:

    1: if you aren’t ignoring contemporary discussions then I guess you will follow the one surrounding Sam’s lectures, articles and upcoming book. I certainly will.

    Equating such an issue to an arithmetic sum suggests you don’t have the interest or understanding to really consider such issues. Surely you don’t really see it that way?

    2: your manipulations around the ought/is question smack of justification for moral relativism to me. Similarly your demand to “prove” that something producing the worst possible misery for everone is wrong. (how else will one make that decision in the real world?) This is a typical tactic of moral relativists. And is commonly used by those who oppose human rights or attempt to justify inhumane behaviour on the basis of multi-culturalism.

    Watch Sam’s Google lecture – he discusses this specific question and shows how meaningless it is.

    Really people get quickly pissed off with those who philosophise in such a childish way when confronted with real life situations. They value people who can say something is right or wrong and why without wasteful and pretentious verbal piss and wind which advance nothing more than moral relativism and an unwillingness to commit.

    3: You continue to wrongly attribute ideas to me that I have never advanced. I have not said science can “answer ethical questions” (although it certainly helps in some cases). You should also recognise that the title Sam chose for his talk prabably was meant to be partly provocative? (Notice I used a ? in my title).

    I think you have a knee jerk reaction which inevitably leads you to place your own understanding on anothers words which suggests you don’t have good listening skills. Your initial misunderstanding of what I was saying about fact based morality is another example of this.

    One doesnt have to be a rocket scientist to apply logic and draw moral conclusions on most cases. We all can do it. But we rely on objective facts to do this. And that is why we came come to a large amount of agreement .

    4: I find your reference to USSR, Korea, etc. childish. And inhuman.

    Humanity should recognise the problems of oppresive/undemocratic regimes. We have plenty to consider. I would add post/war Portugal, Spain, Pinochet’s Chile etc. It is childish to spiteful to blame secularism for this. Victims of these regimes deserve better.

    I have some familiraity with Chile, the USSR (I had relatives there who I visited), Mao’s china. I followed closely some of the discussions on Moscow News during the ’80s about their history and who was at fault. No one blamed secularism. People generally went past Stalin and discussed the culpibity of Lenin and Marx. In other words they were not easily brushed off – it was too important for them.

    The discussions seemed very intelligent to me. Not looking for fall guys but honestly trying to understand.

    We can still do this sort of analysis – and we should for humanity’s sake. But silly spiteful blaming “secularism” hides the real issue and works against our interests as empathetic and intelligent humans.

  • Crikey Matt:

    “First, you suggest tax exemption equals subsidy, it doesn’t. Refraining from taking money a person has lawfully earnt off them is not that same thing same thing as taking someone else’s money and giving it to them.”

    You’re clear as mud. And wrong, of course. A tax exemption equates to a subsidy of whichever business, charity, or church.

    That is not to condone taxation. Just to point out an obvious inequity.

  • Ken says: Glenn – I was responding to your dogmatic claim “Science has nothing to say about what is moral and what is not. Not a single word.” Surely it is obvious that this is completely wrong.

    Making statements as though they are true isn’t dogmatic, otherwise this statement is dogmatic. But I’ll set that pointless rhetorical trick to one side.

    And in fact it’s obvious that my statement was true. Absolutely and clearly obvious. All that science can do is tell us what is. it cannot hope to tell use what ought to be. As soon as someone starts making such claims, they have stepped out of science and into ethics.

    I can see exactly where your confusion is, and it’s possible that you simpyl misread me. I see you saying things like “I attended a convention recently where I heard scientists including AC Grayling, Peter Singer, Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers and others all discussing ethical questions and what is right and wrong.”

    Maybe so. But I have never denied that scientists have things to say about what is right and wrong. I never even implied that, so pointing this out to me just makes me think that maybe you thought I said “scientists have nothing to say…” Have another look. I said science has nothing to say. And as a matter of definition, almost, it doesn’t. Ethics is ethics. Science is science.

  • And no greg, actually Matt is correct. Tax exemption is not a subsidy, as rhetorically useful as it might be to call it such.

  • 2 Questions to Glenn

    I’m from Toronto, Canada, so I am relatively new to this blog
    find it refreshing actually

    Anyway, Q1: comparing Christian agape vs Humanistic instrumental good, is the one life stance of the former, superior in some respects as the one on the latter and vice versa?

    Q2: Christianity and Humanism have exclusionary claims attached to them regarding existence of deities, and man’s place in the universe. Is one more likely to destroy indigenous cultures of other peoples than the other because of said claims?

  • “I attended a convention recently where I heard scientists including AC Grayling, Peter Singer, Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers and others all discussing ethical questions and what is right and wrong.”

    Dawkins and Myers have no publications of any note, or any expertise in the area of applied ethics, so the fact they express an opinion on this field really tells me nothing at all.

    Peter Singer is an ethicist not a scientist, he also in the first chapter of his book Practical Ethics endorses the view of J L Mackie that there cannot be objectively true ethical statements if God does not exist ( its on p 12 of his book An Ethical life).

    Singer’s solution to the problem is to assert (following Hare) that moral claims are not true or false but simply the expression of commands, and one determines which commands to accept by asking what commands would be issued by a fully informed, fully rational, loving impartial being if one existed. The originator of this theory, R M Hare, whose views Singer by and large follows was clear that the ideal informed being is modeled on God.

    So, Singer’s view is that without God objective moral duties do not exist, but we can do ethics by asking what commands God would accept if he existed and basing our opinions on that.

    If you examine the work of Thomas Carson ( an actual ethicist rather than say a Zoologist) you’ll find arguments to the effect that this kind of position, when the criticisms of it are dealt with and cleared up, ends up leading to a divine command theory. Robert Adams in fact argues that a divine command theory is a superior understanding of morality than the” If God existed he would command X” theory in various respects.

    Perhaps you should have listened a bit closer when Singer spoke.

  • Can we make a new Internet Law where the first person to use: “flying planes into buildings” completely out of context as an argument against theism automatically loses the debate?

    I will humbly call is Whitaker’s Law.

  • You’re clear as mud. And wrong, of course. A tax exemption equates to a subsidy of whichever business, charity, or church.

    Sorry I’ll be clearer, my point is that a tax exemption involves a failure to take what a person has lawfully earn’t. In otherwords they keep their money. A subsidy involves the state taking the money someone else has lawfully earnt and given it to the you. I think there is an important difference between these two situations.

    Suppose I pay 30% tax that means that I get to keep 70% of what I earn, if not paying tax is the same as a subsidy then you would have to conclude that everyone in society subsidizes 70% of my earnings. The only way to avoid subsides would be 100% tax, that seems to me absurd.

    That is not to condone taxation. Just to point out an obvious inequity.

    Ok, two things, first if ( as I suspect is the case with you) you think taxation is unjust, then the problem is not that churches are tax exempt, its that other organizations are not tax exempt. To suggest that churches loose there exempt status would be to argue that its better that everyone be treated unjustly rather than one where some people are treated unjustly, that seems to me to be absurd.

    Second, I am not convinced there is inequity; the law allows organizations that promote religion to be tax exempt. How is this inequitable? First, the law applies to all religions hence, Muslims, Jewish, Hindu etc all can get the same exemption for there organizations so Christians are not given a benefit denied other religions. Second, as noted, organizations which want to promote no religious view points such as humanism also can get charitable status under the education section of the law, as they already have in the cases I mentioned, so Christians are not given a benefit proponents secular ideologies cannot also access.

    Moreover if there was an inequity here, one obvious solution would be to simply expand the definition of the word religion in the law to include any view religious or secular which functions like a religion. This was done by the supreme court of the US with regard to conscientious objection laws.

    The reason humanist/ secularist organizations don’t do this is obvious, under standard secularist doctrine, religion should be excluded from public life, and it cannot be promoted or taught in public schools, hence allowing themselves to have the same status as religious groups would mean they would have to be subject to the same strictures they apply to everyone else. Hence actually gaining equal status is not in their interest. So in reality this is not about equity at all, it’s about wanting to ensure religious groups are subject to state control and loose financial autonomy to the secular state.

  • Matt, as I said you are thinking with your wallet, not with your head.

    If the local Church gets all the services such as roading, fire, water, street lighting, police, etc, etc. gratis – not because it costs nothing. It is because I and others paid for it, extra and beyond the cost of the services we use. We have subsidized the church. Unwlingly. A forced tithe.

    Surely you are aware that the definition of religious for tax purposes has been tested in the courts. Hence the supernatural ruling. So that option has been tried and exluded

    The other option of removing the supernatural religion exemption privige would not effect true charitable and educational exemptions. It would also be consistent with our human rights legislation. But of course your god given morality means you are more interested in preserving unjustly aquired church money that human rights.

  • Glenn & Matt. “Science” as a word or concept can’t talk. But scientists can. There is an active science of morality. Scientists are talking about it. The very fact that you guys are criticising these scientists just shows it is wrong to claim science has nothing to say on the issue “not a word ”

    Of course you can question their conclusions , assuming you are prepared to make yourself familiar with them. You can disagree with them – I do on some issues. But recognise in doing so that you are accepting them as equal partners in the discussion.

    I do that with you. I think you are wrong in many of your statements on morality. I have advanced some ideas of my own. We have debated these to a limited extent.

    Now you would be childishly silly to claim I have nothing to say on morality or how we determine right and wrong – “not a word”?

    Let’s respect each others right to discuss such issues, don’t write people out without even making yourself aware of their contributions.

    For example. The philospher and neuroscientist Sam Harris has made some interesting assertions about a factual basis for human morality. Have you read any if his articles on this? Have you watched his TED and Google lectures?

    If not of course you can’t comment. But if you have I would appreciate an honest/objective critique of them from you.

  • Ken, saying that scientists are talking about morality is nothing at all like saying that science can tell us about what’s moral and what’s not.

    Good grief, that’s like saying that since some scientists talk about Christian theology, we should look to science to arrive at a correct theology!

    You add to this by saying “Now you would be childishly silly to claim I have nothing to say on morality or how we determine right and wrong – “not a word”?”

    But this is irrelevant. Nobody has ever said or even hinted that scientists have nothing to say about morality.

    Scienctists have views on art. They have views on ethics. They have views on music. They have views on theology. They have views on cookery. But that doesn’t make these things the domain of science.

  • Glenn – I think there is confusion here. I don’t think anyone has claimed that sciece can determine exactly what is right and wrong. I certainly have never said that and have never read or heard such a claim by a scientist – quite the opposite.

    Most people will accept, however, that scientists do have an important imput into the moral decisions we make. Especially on complex issues like climate change they have a key input into helping us make the correct moral decisions, for humanity toady and for our descendants.

    So please put that argument to rest. I specifically am claiming that our moral decisions, to the extent they are thought out, are fac based. The facts about the nature if our existence as a sentient, empathetic, intelligent social species. These facts add to and are interrelated with our evolved intuational morality.
    Of course things like scientific understanding of climate change, sentience in other species, etc, also provide a factual basis, secondary I guess, to our morality/ethics.

  • Ken, of course a person takes facts into consideration when determining the moral course of action, and science gives us facts.

    The the facts that science gives us are not the facts about what is right and wrong. Not a single one of those facts is a fact like that. That’s what I said right at the start when I said:

    “Science has nothing to say about what is moral and what is not. Not a single word.”

  • Glenn – I am glad you accept that our moral decisions should be fact based. You should also accept that I have never declared that science can determine what is right and wrong. I don’t know of any scientist who has (although some people are tryuing to itnerpet Sam’s comments that way).

    This is a straw man, mantra, which I often get from certain theologically inclined people when I talk about objectively based morality. I believe the mistake is motivated, an attempt to argue for a religious basis to morality, without actually arguing for it. My point is that while science cannot tell us, directly, what is right and wrong. religions certainly can’t either – although that claim is often made. (In fact science is far more useful in the process as it helps elucidate just what the facts are.

    So let’s put that argument to rest. Deal with what I have actually suggested or propose alternatives.

  • @Ken

    “My point is that while science cannot tell us, directly, what is right and wrong. religions certainly can’t either …
    In fact science is far more useful in the process as it helps elucidate just what the facts are.”

    Absolutely, religion is not science but Theology is. Theology is particularly useful in elucidating right and wrong.

  • Ken writes Glenn – I am glad you accept that our moral decisions should be fact based.

    No one to the best of my knowledge has ever argued that moral decisions should not be fact based, in the sense that any relevant empirical information should be taken into account

    The suggestion that this is some how something new suggested by Harris in contrast to religious approaches is simply ignorance of those approaches, or any approach put forward in the last two thousand years or so.

    You should also accept that I have never declared that science can determine what is right and wrong. I don’t know of any scientist who has (although some people are tryuing to itnerpet Sam’s comments that way).

    Great, so this means that either (a) one cannot know what is right and wrong or (b) there are thinks humans can know despite the fact they cannot be scientifically proven.

    Of course accepting (b) means that objections to theism: to the effect that because the existence of God can’t be scientifically proven its on par with belief in fairies are mistaken.

    Moral claims can’t be proven scientifically and believing that rape is wrong does is not on par with belief in fairies or spaghetti monsters.

    I believe the mistake is motivated, an attempt to argue for a religious basis to morality, without actually arguing for it.

    Well this is false, if you had actually read the literature you will find plenty of people have argued for it. Philip Quinn, Robert Adams, John Hare, Edward Wierenga, Stephen Layman, and so on, the fact that people like Sam Harris choose to ignore these writings and you have not read them does not mean they do not exist.

    My point is that while science cannot tell us, directly, what is right and wrong. religions certainly can’t either – although that claim is often made.

    Well this faces two problems, first its false, religions can and do tell us what is right and wrong. Judaism for example tells us its wrong to murder ones parents, to commit adultery, etc.

    Second, those who depend theologically based morality do not typically do not claim that religions tell us what is right and wrong. They state that moral properties depend on God’s command for there existence, or that certain necessary assumptions of morality are better explained by theism than a secular alternative, or that certain theological positions explain morality better than theological ones and so on.

    How about actually addressing what people have actually said.

    (In fact science is far more useful in the process as it helps elucidate just what the facts are.

    Well by your own admission it does not elucidate the moral facts, and unless we can know these knowledge of the facts is actually quite useless.

    So let’s put that argument to rest. Deal with what I have actually suggested or propose alternatives.

    Sure, can you show me that moral facts are (a) natural phenomena (b) discoverable by science. If you cannot then you unless you deny that moral facts exist (and hence deny that any moral claims are true).You cannot rule out the existence of things which are supernatural and which science cannot detect or explain.

  • cj_nza – you claim “religion is not science but Theology is. Theology is particularly useful in elucidating right and wrong.”

    Well, explain how theology is a science, please. To my mind it isn’t in that it doesn’t map it’s ideas and claims against reality. It doesn’t test or validate it’s ideas. And it doesn’t get it’s ideas from objective reality

    Please also tell me, give me one example even, of how theology can tell us what is right or wrong.

    Surely anyone can say x is right and y is wrong. They don’t have to be a rocket scientist to do this. They don’t need any theology to do this.

    Take Matt’s example – “Judaism for example tells us its wrong to murder ones parents, to commit adultery, etc.” A stupid validation of religion becuase many peoples, long before the Jewish religion came along and quite apart from those cultures knew that murder was wrong, adultery wrong, etc. It is insulting to these peoples, and the Jewish people, to think that these moral conclusions required any religion, or any belief in supernaturalism.

    Come on cj_nza – simple declarations only indicate dogma. Explain yourself.

  • Matt – get a grip on yourself “by your own admission it does not elucidate the moral facts,” – I have said nothing of the sort. I said I will not discuss those terms in the abstract because it amounts to theological jelly wrestling. You can’t explain yourself what you mean by a “moral fact” can you?

    Science certainly can discover facts – far better than other approaches and certainly religion doesn’t even bother about facts so can’t have any expertise in this area.

    Now you also indicate you accept that we should base our moral conclusions on facts. This has been my point and, as I say, this claim that science is asserting it can decide what is right and wrong is a straw man – a tactic the theologically inclined always seem to bring up when I argue for an objectively based morality. (I notice when people make those claims they just can’t provide any quote to justify them).

    It is childish to claim that “religions can and do tell us what is right and wrong.” Of course they do tell us (and I can do that too – nothing unique) and we can judge their record. What about this Texan historical justification of slavery as being “abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations”

    Most people have had a gutsful of religions telling us what is right and wrong. That’s why the Pope is getting so much flack at the moment. Religious morality is shown historically to be hypocritical.

    This is my point about a religious based morality – it is a relativistic morality because it can be used to justify anything. Slavery, child abuse (and it cover-up) or the support of minority privileges like religious tax exemption in a pluralist society.

    My argument is that because our morality is fact based, it has an objective basis – both in the of the existence and nature of our species, and in the facts around any specific issue (eg climate change) – we can come to a common moral position. In contrast religion can be used, and has been used, to justify anything. Slavery, apartheid, oppression of women, gender prejudice, employment discrimination, tax exemptions, etc.

    Fact based morality unites us, religion based morality divides us.

    Hey David. I am disappointed you have left the discussion. I was wanting to know either what your motives were in saying we had an official state religion, or what you thought the motives of the HR Commission and Prime Minister were for saying we don’t.

    These other discussions have been a diversion away from this central issue of your post.

  • KEN: You give this historical example of religious folk using their (ill thought out) theology to justify atrocity.:

    What about this Texan historical justification of slavery as being “abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations”

    I would like to point you to a news story :
    http://www.seattlepi.com/national/1105ap_af_senegal_gay_violence.html

    Here we see the real world result of the sort of bad theology which goes on in some conservative circles – even in our fair land.

    Now I am finding this whole discussion odd because I personally believe in an objective morality… and I also believe that science can (and clearly does) say a lot about morality, especially if you include the social sciences in with so-called “hard science.”

    To use your first example about slavery, I think that advances in understanding about the origins of humanity and the fact that we are in fact very similar to each other have had at least some effect on eradicating the idea that slavery is moral from our society.

    Similarly the understanding of human sexuality, also a product of modern science (especially if science includes the social sciences) has done a lot to dispel the archaic view that homosexuality is “wrong.” Although clearly this is a transformation we are still working through as a culture.

    Advances in anthropology have reform a great deal of colonialist moral beliefs and so on and so on.

    Now Glenn may well argue that these are just “scientific facts” and still do nothing to indicate whether or not the stances are right or wrong – but the same could be said about “theological facts” surely? Yes there will always be some mental process involved which makes the final decision, but, to play Devil’s advocate for a moment, I am sure many scientists in the fields of neurology and psychology would argue that even this decision making is subject to scientific scrutiny.

  • Max – I think one has to be careful with terms. Even then, of course, people drag in the straw men.

    You say “because I personally believe in an objective morality”. But I think your argument probably indicates more that you believe there is an objective basis for morality. That is how I describe my position and your seems to be similar.

    Actually Glenn and Matt seem to agree with this – at least in part.

    The problem is that some apologists argue for an “objective morality” as something “god-given” (but they can’t seem to define properly) which enables them to declare that something right or wrong.

    If you aren’t careful you end up in that camp (in their eyes anyway).

  • @ Ken,

    I was reading the blog and it struck me that this thread has long departed from the orginal argument(s).

    The tread started to read like an appeal to lay a particular argument to rest on condition that you have the last word. (I could not resist also having a word.)

    I think the above is a reasonable explanation of my position.

  • Ken:

    Ah! But I *am* in their camp! Well half in it, but I disagree upon a lot as I think is clear. I believe both in an objective morality (a God given one at that!), and that there is an objective basis for morality. That is I think science has a lot to say about morality and it would be foolish to ignore it. I find this discussion frustrating because I don’t really see a great conflict with holding this view.

  • Well, Matt, perhaps the discussion should not be concentrating on my position (objective basis for morality) but on the apologetics one (objective morality).

    Perhaps someone should explain, demonstrate, prove the existence of “objective morality” instead of seeking to attack my position if they actually, at the end of the day, agree with it.

    I should state, obviously, I don’t accept there is such a thing as “objective morality” and I have yet to hear any presentation of it which indicates the promoter understands it properly. But it has been used several times to argue that I cannot criticise Hitler, for example.

  • Ken – I am humble enough to admit to you that I have no way of proving that there is an objective morality. I think your viewpoint is coherent and does not lead to moral subjectivity as often claimed – simply because humans are “made” in a certain way, and we do have a way to know what is right and wrong… somewhat mysteriously, and certainly not universally.

    Now whether this “made” is due to a loving God or due to the pressures of natural selection – or both – seems to be undecidable by appeal to science. They would be empirically equivalent I think.

    As such, I have other reasons for believing one over the other. But I am hardly a spokesperson for the view you are arguing with.

  • Appreciate your honesty, Max.

    I will only say that one should never write sciece off. We may not understand a lot of details now but that does not mean we never will.

    And the so-called “other ways of knowing” hardly have a good record. If science cannot help us investigate these sort of issues nothing else will. And I do think we have acheived a lot in our understanding of human evolution – even more if one is prepared to at least consider some of the ideas in evolutionary psychology.

  • Ken

    1. I’ll repeat the point I made earlier about your view and the morality.

    And the so-called “other ways of knowing” hardly have a good record. If science cannot help us investigate these sort of issues nothing else will. And I do think we have acheived a lot in our understanding of human evolution – even more if one is prepared to at least consider some of the ideas in evolutionary psychology.

    Here you seem to state that science is the only reliable method of determining truth.

    In your correspondence with Glenn and I however you state

    You should also accept that I have never declared that science can determine what is right and wrong. I don’t know of any scientist who has (although some people are tryuing to itnerpet Sam’s comments that way).

    Here you deny that science can determine what is right and wrong.

    So apparently your position is both (a) science cannot determine what is right and wrong (b) Science is the only reliable way of knowing. Of course it follows from both these points that one cannot know what is right and wrong.

    Which means that the claim “Hitler was wrong to order the final solution” is one that no human being can know.

    2. In fact your position seems to be even more contradictory than this, earlier you suggested you believed the following moral principle. : Any behavior, intention, cultural practice, etc. that seems likely to produce the worst possible misery for everyone, is wrong

    I asked you to provide “empirical proof of this principle, your response was to state

    your manipulations around the ought/is question smack of justification for moral relativism to me. Similarly your demand to “prove” that something producing the worst possible misery for everone is wrong. (how else will one make that decision in the real world?) This is a typical tactic of moral relativists. And is commonly used by those who oppose human rights or attempt to justify inhumane behaviour on the basis of multi-culturalism.

    Here you state the demanding you to prove your moral principles is true is somehow an expression of relativism and illegitimate. However in your previous post you state

    Perhaps someone should explain, demonstrate, prove the existence of “objective morality” instead of seeking to attack my position

    Here suddenly you are demanding I prove my moral position is correct.

    Once again Ken we see you position changing and contradicting itself as you back pedal due to making claims in a field you clearly do not understand.

    My challenge to you is simple, either (a) provide a purely scientific argument from empirical premises alone for the claim that the holocaust is wrong or (b) grant that there are ways of knowing other than science and hence demand for empirical proof is unnecessary in this context or (c) give up the belief that the holocaust was wrong.

    However flip flopping back and forth between positions is not a rational stance.

  • I should state, obviously, I don’t accept there is such a thing as “objective morality” and I have yet to hear any presentation of it which indicates the promoter understands it properly. But it has been used several times to argue that I cannot criticise Hitler, for example.

    Then I suggest you simply have no really studied many presentations of this position.

    First, its not the apologists position many atheists actually hold to the view that ethics is objective.

    Second, it’s quite straightforward to define: to say morality is objective is to say that ethical claims are true or false independently of whether humans believe they are true or false. This is not any different from saying ( as you do) that scientific claims are objective. Whether its true that the world is spherical depends on wether the world is in fact spherical, not on whether a culture or person believes it is, if they think its flat they are wrong. Similarly moral claims like “Hitlers actions are wrong” are true if it’s a fact that hitlers claims were wrong, they do not depend on whether you or anyone believes they are true. If a person or culture believes its ok to murder Jews that society is wrong.

    So Ken simply answer me this, is it a fact that Hitlers actions were wrong. Is it something that’s true independent of whether people believe it is, or do you think that if a person or community believe its Ok to genocide its Ok for them to do so. A straight answer is requested.

  • Matt – to claim as you do: “Which means that the claim “Hitler was wrong to order the final solution” is one that no human being can know. “ is surely moral relativism – in its worst form. It is certainly not a position I adhere to. I certainly know that was wrong and most peo0ple I come across agree with me.

    I have said science cannot ultimately determine what is right or wrong. Neither can religion – no matter how often religionists claim that it does (Notice scientists never claim such hubris).

    I think Glenn got it right (after clarifying his comment) when he said “Science has nothing to say about what is moral and what is not. Not a single word.”

    But of course this is only part of the story. Actually:

    “Science and religion have nothing to say about what is moral and what is not. Not a single word.”

    Of course religion often pretends that it does. It certainly makes claims, judgments and attempts to impose biased ideas on society. It justified slavery, oppression of women, apartheid, etc., etc. as well as things we now judge good. So clearly it has absolutely no better way of knowing right from wrong than the man in the street.

    Possibly less if we look at what the Catholic Church has been getting up to and how they have been trying to hide it and blame others for it. People are extremely angry about this and apologists just look extremely silly when they claim any special understanding of right and wrong.

    It is just so obviously not true.

    The truth is that we all make these decisions about right and wrong – and it is just as well as those who are brought up to rely on an imposed morality usually turn out not to have developed their own moral judgment.

    In doing so we can (and I say should) take into account information from experts – especially when things are not simple. Clearly this is the case with climate change where to ignore the experts would risk making the wrong moral decision. One that effect not only us today but the whole of humanity and our future grandchildren. There are a lot of issues like that today.

    We can also benefit from specialists in philosophy and ethics who have studied issues like this. In doing so we should recognise that these experts are often ideologically motivated and that society should ensure that a wide spectrum of such experts have an input.

    But lets get beyond the situation where scoundrels in a dress and carrying a cross can pretend infallibility and moral knowledge. Their advice is usually worthless if not dangerous.

    The Pope pardoning the Beatles – come off it!

    Your question:
    “is it a fact that Hitlers actions were wrong. Is it something that’s true independent of whether people believe it is?” Yes, obviously. Many people thought he was right (including those believing in objective morality) but it don’t make him right, did it?

    “or do you think that if a person or community believe its Ok to genocide its Ok for them to do so.” Obviously no.

    You are being very silly to ask such stupid questions.

  • Matt – you have got the idea stuck in your head that a purely naturalistic objective morality is impossible… you believe this so strongly that you keep making the, quite frankly insulting, insinuation that Ken is incapable of knowing whether mass murder and rape are right or not. Now I don’t know Ken at all, but from his comments on here it seems pretty clear that he does have some capacity of determining what is right and wrong despite holding to a naturalistic world-view. Does this not make you pause for thought at all? Will you stop the insinuations that he is morally depraved because he thinks we can derive morality from a naturalistic perspective? … because the evidence is right in front of you that people *can*.

    Yes, I know, you are going to say that in actual fact they can only do this because in actual fact we don’t live in a naturalistic world… but isn’t this a rather circular argument? Why are you so adamant that we could not evolve a grasp on objective reality in a materialistic world? You ask Ken to provide “empirical proof of [his] principle – but I would challenge you to do the same. I can only see a strong claim being made… and very little reason for it.

  • One can have concrete proof that religion prescribes what human beings ought to do by virtue of what God commands people to do…

    Its analogous to product teleology
    God being the producer and Humans the product
    God meant humans to glorify him, be good, worship his son according to christianity, then humans should do likewise and emulate this ideal

    similarly, a chair is meant for taking in weight as manufactured accordingly by the carpenter to meet a necessity of comfort.

    A chair can be used as a weapon obviously, but this counts a deviation against what ought to be done by the carpenter’s objectives (telos) likewise if human beings go against God’s commands to be good, worship him and his son, it goes against what God (the Creator of humanity) intended human beings to be, thus its a violation of the oughtness of the is (human beings being products of God’s creation)

    in atheism, and naturalism, you cannot say you have such a telos in place, because human beings are products of blind, unintelligent processes that are impersonal and amoral, therefore, human beings have no ought to follow, they’re free to pursue actions and behaviors that are either good or bad, because there is no overrarching intelligence and sentience in place that gives humans an ideal or purpose on what they ought to do.

  • You raise some good questions, but I think you have misunderstood me.

    “Now I don’t know Ken at all, but from his comments on here it seems pretty clear that he does have some capacity of determining what is right and wrong despite holding to a naturalistic world-view. Does this not make you pause for thought at all? Will you stop the insinuations that he is morally depraved because he thinks we can derive morality from a naturalistic perspective?”

    I agree that Ken can know that mass murder and rape I wrong. I also agree that he has a capacity for determining what is right and wrong. Nor was I saying he is depraved. What I did state was that if ( as Ken appears to claim) science is the only reliable way of knowing, then unless one can scientifically demonstrate the truth of moral claims, one cannot know that any action is wrong. Of course Ken can know whats right and wrong because in fact science is not the only way of knowing. The point is he can not know it via science.

    “Yes, I know, you are going to say that in actual fact they can only do this because in actual fact we don’t live in a naturalistic world… but isn’t this a rather circular argument?”

    No, my argument is simply to point out that two things Ken appears to assert [1] Science is the only reliable way of gaining knowledge [2] Science cannot determine what is right and wrong, entails the false conclusion that [3]one cannot know what is right and wrong, there is nothing circular here.

    “You ask Ken to provide “empirical proof of [his] principle – but I would challenge you to do the same. I can only see a strong claim being made… and very little reason for it.”

    I am not committed to the view that one can only know or rationally believe what can be scientifically demonstrated, so I am not required to provide empirical proof of my position. Ken however has suggested that science is the only reliable way of knowing, it’s for this reason that I request he scientifically prove his claims. My position is that that the fact Ken’ knows that that the holocaust is wrong is a good clue that his scientific epistemology is mistaken.

  • It is important to put empirical fact ahead of theory and the Queen today is only a figurehead, not the real power either here in New Zealand nor even in Brittan. Parliament is effectively sovereign making the Prime minister the Head of State.
    Thus when as PM Helen Clark declared NZ a Godless Socialist state, She was right (for better or worse). Any current Laws such as prohibition on the sales of alcohol at Easter, or that the Queen is Defender of the Faith are but the last vestiges of a by gone age and the sooner these relics are disposed of the better. Of course having a secular state ought not automatically favor Atheism or absolute democracy either…a tendency that has resulted in a vile mixture of religious and Irreligious Intolerance.
    Via unchecked democracy we see the Religious block is able to thwart legal reforms such as the Prostitution Bi laws that maintain bigotry and oppression against prostitutes, though it was supposedly decriminalized, and on the other hand we see that socialist atheist dominance in the state education sector has been able to impose a monopoly of the theory of evolution, and a whole raft of Anti-Christian values upon our Children.
    Today our Laws are total chaos!
    As a Christian Libertarian I say the key to justice is individual liberty, thus I would support NZ becoming a republic if it was to be one that was instituted to protect individual rights, (This is a system of Individual sovereignty and a limited democracy) but would be a royalist opposed to an absolute Atheist republic that has no such guarantees, because as this piece states…better to have a tolerant so-called religious monarch than an intolerant secular democracy. I say QE2 is a very honorable monarch as she does not impose Protestantism upon her subjects thus is actually being true to the Gospel of grace, (which cannot become party to legalistic force and remain the gospel) and to the principle of good government which is to be the vanguard of freedom not an arm of a monopolistic religious state. The fundamental point of Christian Grace is that it is based upon individual freedom. The fundamental modus opperandi of all Christian virtue is voluntary action, not legalism and political force…thus Social welfare is not Christian charity!
    It was the Pagan Roman Idea of the state that corrupted true Christianity by making it a political tool. (Caesar was also Pontifix Maximus…the pagan origin of the Pope) This was the death of Christian grace which did not begin to rise from the dead until after the Reformation and the 1611 KJV, which began the process of separating the Gospel from legal oppression.

  • Matt – a bit of advice. if you are in the position of claiming so and so “appears to assert” then don’t start bashing them. Step back and clarify the position, ask them what they assert. Otherwise you end up misrepresenting them and debating with yourself.

    Here’s some of my ideas.

    1:
    Humanity has over the years honed its skill at determining the facts about reality, investigating reality and building theories about reality. Methods have varied from the old ways of superstition to the modern scientific ways. Science today boils down to doing whatever it takes to avoid being fooled by reality and it works. We also know that superstition doesn’t work. Religion doesn’t work – its ideas of reality have been consistently proved wrong and most have been discarded.

    2: Deciding what is right and wrong is not a job for science and scientists never directly impose those decisions – although they may voice them, obviously. This is because right and wrong are not facts about reality but decisions operating out of considering values. They are value decisions.

    3: Science is very much involved in helping us make those value decisions. Climate change is the obvious case where science must be employed to understand a complex reality. This is also true of moral decision like abortion, areas of research like stem cells, voluntary end of life, etc. We could say that despite the demarcation there is a dialectical unity between the factual, empirical, and conceptual science on the one hand and our values decisions, our morality, on the other.

    4: Our values decisions process is very much objectively based. It is fact based. The facts of our existence as a sentient, intelligent, empathetic and social species. And the consideration of similar factors in other specifies (eg vegetarianism, arbotion).

    5: The factual basis of the real world and the objective nature of our species and existence mean that we do come to a large amount of agreement on what is right and wrong. In some sense we can say those decisions are objective (because they are objectively based). I think Sam is postulating an interesting idea though about a moral landscape., The idea that there can be more than one correct decision which is objectively based.

    6: Moral viewpoints which don”t arise (consciously or unconsciously) from reality are of course suspect. Especially when they are imposed. It’s well known that children brought up in religious cults do not develop their own moral judgments and when they eventually escape often have to go through a process of learning to think morally.

    7: We all have the ability to apply moral logic in the way I have described. Expertise comes from those who can provide complex information (climate change, abortion) or advice from the history of applying and thinking about moral logic.

    8: Religion itself has no particular skill in this area (or the scientific area). In fact history suggests otherwise. However, it’s leaders will unjustly claim those skills. Part of their argument is “the other ways of knowing” fallacy. It is dishonest because it basically says “science can’t tell us everything, therefore there are other ways of knowing, therefore I am applying another way of knowing and I can tell you how life formed, where the universe came from and what is right and wrong. It is wrong not to give me 10% of your income every week – you will go to hell if you refuse” You know, the old I win by default argument.

    9: If you have ideas about “other ways of knowing,” “other ways of determining right and wrong” or “objective morality” then it is incumbent on you to advance those ideas. Argue for them.

    You leave yourself in a very weak position if all you can do is attempt to discredit my ideas, especially when you use strawmannery to do so.

    I am actually interested in what ideas you can propose as an alternative to fact based morality.

  • MATT: Thanks for clarifying… i did not really think you were throwing wild accusations around… just being playful….

    KEN: As I agree with most of what you say let me just address one point.

    –“the other ways of knowing” fallacy. It is dishonest because it –basically says “science can’t tell us everything, therefore there –are other ways of knowing

    I would see gaining knowledge directly using your moral sense, as analogous to gaining knowledge directly about other qualia we observe… ie. we observe “redness” and we observe “goodnesss.” There is nothing unscientific about a moral sense. And you are perfectly correct that we would apply reason to the data we obtain using our moral sense. It is not a matter of Science or Moral Sense… it is both working together! (like any field of science involves empirical data and theory) As such your comments that follow are rather strawmanny (a sin in your own eyes….)

    -9: If you have ideas about “other ways of knowing,” “other ways -of determining right and wrong” or “objective morality” then it is -incumbent on you to advance those ideas. Argue for them.

    I can argue for them no more than I can argue that I have images in my mind and an internal monologue. I *know* I have thoughts… but cannot prove it. I know I have a moral sense… but cannot prove it. You can play the skepticism game and say that I have no reason to believe in a moral sense because I can’t empirically demonstrate it… but that sort of logic leads straight to solipsism. I refute it thus!

  • Max – I think the “other ways of knowing” argument is basically dishonest.

    Imagine if I went up to a creationist/theist and said:

    “OK you might believe your bible, that species arose through special creation events, that there is a sky pixie who is solely concerned about your personally.

    But there are other ways of knowing and these tell me that the universe came into existence 13.7 billions years ago, our planet 4.6 billion years ago., life 3.9 billion years ago and humans evolved from this life. I know that!”

    Of course then you start asking for evidence (good on you – that’s healthy) and we get into science.

    My “other ways of knowing” claim, especially one which is not explained, justified or credible, doesn’t convince this creationist/theist. And it shouldn’t,

    Similarly whenever I hear the “other ways of knowing” mantra I know the individual doesn’t know, is afraid of saying so and therefore pretends to know.

    And such “knowledge” is worthless.

  • Cough cough cough… damn… just getting all the straw away from me… now KEN how about you go read what *I* mean by “other ways of knowing” rather than someone else’s version which I have no more support for than you!

  • Ken, you state that I am using “strawmannery” to discredit your ideas. The problem is,. In order for me to have attacked a straw man I would have had to misrepresent your position in my argument. But I clearly did not. I said you held to two claims [1] that science is the only way of knowing and [2] that one cannot determine what is right and wrong with science. I then pointed out that [1] and [2] entail that one cannot know what is right and wrong, and make moral knowledge(including the knowledge that the holocaust is wrong) impossible.

    In order for this to be a straw man it would have to be false that you held to [1] or [2]. But you clearly do. Regarding [2] you stated “I have said science cannot ultimately determine what is right or wrong.” and also stated “You should also accept that I have never declared that science can determine what is right and wrong. I don’t know of any scientist who has (although some people are trying to interpret Sam’s comments that way).

    So attributing [2] to you is clearly not a straw man.

    Regarding [1] you in your response to Max stated with regard to ways of knowing other than science, “Similarly whenever I hear the “other ways of knowing” mantra I know the individual doesn’t know, is afraid of saying so and therefore pretends to know…And such “knowledge” is worthless.”.

    So I am quite correct to suggest you claim both that science cannot determine what is right and wrong and also that science is the only reliable way of knowing. There is then no straw man at all here.

    The problem is, as I pointed out, if science is the only way of knowing and science cannot determine what is right and wrong it follows that you cannot know what is right and wrong. Which of course means you cannot know that the holocaust is wrong.

    You can change the subject all you like,. Harp on about other subjects, equivocate back and forward affirming one thing and then contradicting the same thing, but in the end it does not address my point. You affirm both [1] and [2] and these two claims entail that you cannot know that what Hitler did was wrong. I think that’s an absurd conclusion, and seeing I have never seen any convincing scientific demonstration of moral claims, this means that I think there are good reasons to reject [1].

    Note that this provides the evidence you ask for to show that science is the only way of knowing, to demonstrate this all we need to do is show that there are things we know which science cannot demonstrate and I have provided one, right and wrong, we know that the holocaust is wrong and this cannot be demonstrated by science. Therefore there are sources of knowledge other than science.

    If you disagree then you need to actually address my argument, rather than ignore it.

  • Max I wasn’t referring to the way you used the term which you admitted was vague and one you didn’t want to pursue.

    I was referring to my general experience when I hear this mantra and trying to demostrate how dishonest it sounds.

  • Matt my position has, I think, been clearly stated. Go back and read it because you have misrepresented it completely in your last comment.

    I have been the only one here presenting an outline of how we make moral decisions. I have done all the heavy lifting. So what about you putting in some comstructive effort.

    You state that you know the holocaust was wrong. Explain how you know. My explanations should indicate that I believe the holocaust was wrong and why.

    Why do you think it was wrong?

  • Ken, you actually have to email the department of corrections and ask for that information. It’s not on their main pages.

    Religion: No. of Prisoners
    ADVENTIST (NOT FURTHER DEFINED): 3
    ANANDA MARGA: 2
    ANGLICAN: 167
    APOSTOLIC CHURCH OF NEW ZEALAND: 8
    ASSEMBLIES OF GOD: 12
    ASSOCIATED CHURCHES OF CHRIST: 3
    ASSYRIAN ORTHODOX: 1
    BAHA’I: 2
    BAPTIST (NOT FURTHER DEFINED): 33
    BIBLE BAPTIST: 2
    BRAHMA KUMARIS: 1
    BRETHREN (NOT FURTHER DEFINED): 3
    BUDDHIST (NOT FURTHER DEFINED): 42
    CATHOLIC (NOT FURTHER DEFINED): 331
    CHINESE CHRISTIAN (NOT FURTHER DEFINED): 2
    CHRISTIAN (NOT FURTHER DEFINED): 575
    CHRISTIAN AND MISSIONARY ALLIANCE: 2
    CHRISTIAN OUTREACH: 2
    CHRISTIAN REVIVAL CRUSADE: 1
    CHRISTIAN SCIENCE: 2
    CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF THE LATTER DAY SAINTS: 164
    CHURCHES OF CHRIST (NOT FURTHER DEFINED): 10
    CONGREGATIONAL: 27
    DRUSE: 2
    ELIM: 1
    EVANGELICAL (NOT FURTHER DEFINED): 5
    GREEK ORTHODOX: 1
    HARE KRISHNA: 1
    HINDU (NOT FURTHER DEFINED): 21
    ISLAM (NOT FURTHER DEFINED): 70
    JAPANESE BUDDHIST: 3
    JAPANESE RELIGION (NOT FURTHER DEFINED): 1
    JEHOVAH’S WITNESS: 39
    JUDAISM (NOT FURTHER DEFINED): 8
    KOREAN CHRISTIAN (NOT FURTHER DEFINED): 1
    LODGE: 1
    LUTHERAN: 2
    MAHIKARI: 1
    MAORI CHRISTIAN (NOT FURTHER DEFINED): 24
    MAORI RELIGION (NOT FURTHER DEFINED): 17
    MARONITE CATHOLIC: 1
    METHODIST: 64
    NEW LIFE CENTRES: 1
    NO RELIGION: 3852
    NOT SPECIFIED: 274
    NULL (no response entered): 1984
    ORTHODOX: 1
    OTHER INDIGENOUS CHRISTIAN: 7
    OTHER NEW AGE RELIGIONS (NOT ELSEWHERE CLASSIFIED): 1
    OTHER RELIGIONS (NOT ELSEWHERE CLASSIFIED): 8
    PENTECOSTAL (NOT FURTHER DEFINED): 15
    PRESBYTERIAN: 94
    PROTESTANT (NOT FURTHER DEFINED): 6
    RASTAFARIANISM: 3
    RATANA: 217
    REC CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST – LATTER DAY SAINTS: 4
    RELIGION NOT KNOWN: 4
    RELIGION UNIDENTIFIABLE: 9
    RINGATU: 31
    ROMAN CATHOLIC (LATIN RITE): 171
    SALVATION ARMY: 17
    SEVENTH DAY ADVENTIST: 30
    SHIA: 5
    SIKH: 3
    SPIRITUALISM: 1
    SUFI: 2
    SUNI: 9
    SWEDENBORGIAN (NEW JERUSALEM CHURCH): 1
    THERAVADA BUDDHIST: 2
    UNITED PENTECOSTAL: 4
    ZEN BUDDHIST: 5
    TOTAL: 8419
    Muster as at report date (4 June 2007): 8073
    Number of prisoners who named more than one religion: 346

    As for the claim that the American statistics are different, I assume you’re referring to Sam Harris’s red state, blue state claims.

    As Vox Day pointed out in his book The Irrational Atheist the argument is based on the false premise that Democrats are more atheistic than Republicans (hey, this is America) and ignores the fact that if you break it down into counties, rather than states, it’s the democratic counties that are least law-abidiing.

    Next time do your own work.

  • Jason, could you please provide the contact name snd email address for the person who provided you with the data? I want to follow it up to check the nature of the information gathering.

    The US information was referenced to their prison service as official stats. I have seen it several times but never bothered bookmarking it as there were no surprises. I was not aware that Harris has anything in the way of detailed stats.

    One reason for the difference with your data is, I think, the US prisoners self identified so that atheist and agnostic were specified. These are of course not the same thing as “no religion” in such surveys.

  • My contact was Madeline Smith Ministerial Services Advisor, and I contacted the email info@corrections.govt.nz. The information was current as of 4 April 2008.

    Her quote. “Information about prisoners’ religious beliefs is collected during an induction interview at the time of reception into prison. It is collected so that appropriate provision can be made for the prisoner’s religious and spiritual needs. It is not routinely collated for census or research purposes.”

    I found this interesting.

  • Thanks, Jason. I will follow this up.

    However, I don’t think these figures, in themselves enable one to draw conclusions about the effect of specific (theist vs non-theist) on moral outlook. My reading of research indicates that there is a lot of commonality across cultures and religous/life stance adherents.

  • Of course there are, you were raised in a Christian culture and indoctrinated with Christian moral values. Even though you may have decided to reject some of them, you still manifest that early training. That is true of most of the western world.

    If you’d lived 2500 years ago in Greece you’d have seen nothing wrong with slavery and women’s rights would have seemed like a joke to you.

    I suggest you read some of Michael Onfray’s writings, Vox devotes a chapter to him. He’s a committed hedonistic utilitarian and has nothing but contempt for the “Christian atheism” of people like Dawkins.

    Also, despite what the statistics say I don’t think there actually a lot of atheists in prison. It’s just a useful statistic to use like a rolled-up newspaper to whack atheists stupid enough to claim that the 2006 census data means something.

    I demonstrated that when I used the statistic in a letter to the Herald. Barely a week later an atheist had written in claiming that “no-religious belief” didn’t actually mean “no-religious belief”, it just meant “no particularly strong interest in religion”. It only means “atheist” when it seems useful…

    Intellectual honesty? What’s that?

  • Matt, thinking about your description of Peter Singer’s archangel moral theory, I think someone should send him a WWJD bracelet.

    It’s seems a bit sad that an atheist PhD moral philosopher is on the same wavelength as a Christian 10 year old.

  • Jason, you exhibit the Christian chauvanism which unfortunately is quite common amongst apologists. This causes naive distortion and misrepresntation of history and science.

    My reference to across cultures/life stances includes situations where Christianity has never existed.

    My point is that we can come to common agreement on many ethical issues because we have a common factual basis as a starting point. Christianity gets much if it’s morality from this common secular morality. How else can you cherry pick the bits of the bible you think good and the bits you think bad?

    Might I remind you that it was only recently that Christians promoted and justified slavery, apartheid, segregation and the oppression of women snd gays. Many Christians still discriminate against women and gays.

    Some Christians sexually and otherwise abuse children and their church covers it up. So no, my morality is my own – it’s not Christian.

  • You actually have to provide an example of the cultures that you claim held to a morality independent of a Christian or religious basis. Simply asserting it isn’t enough.

    I don’t cherry pick, ask Max.

    I know that by the fourteenth century Christians had almost eradicated slavery in the west, the borders against Islam being the exception. This because of theologians who understood that if all men were kin and created in God’s image, then enslaving another human being was contrary to God’s will. I also know that it was St Paul who expressed one of the few classical sentiments placing women as equal with men. Racism from a Christian perspective is irrational because we are all kin. In other words I can argue with Christians who advocate such things within their own framework. They might disagree with me, but that’s okay. They’d simply ignore you and your baseless assertions.

    As I’ve already said, you’re welcome to say that child abuse is wrong, and homosexuality is right, however your opinion has no moral force. Your only source of moral authority is yourself and I can ignore you as I wish. Appealing to some moral facts that you can’t prove exist is amusing, but little else.

    The Biblical limit of sex to a marriage between a man and a woman prohibits both. Don’t like it? Tough.