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Contra Mundum: Consenting Adults and Harm

August 6th, 2011 by Matt

In debates over abortion, homosexual conduct, euthanasia, prostitution, drugs, those who call themselves liberals often mount the same basic argument; a socially or morally permissive stance is necessitated towards such practices because people have a right to choose do what ever they like with their own bodies. As John Stuart Mill put it in his book On Liberty:

“The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.” [Emphasis added]

John Stuart Mill

Here Mill articulates the harm principle. He makes a distinction between other-regarding actions, actions that harm other people, and self-regarding actions, those that harm oneself. He argues that society, either by law or by social pressure, cannot justly regulate any action a person performs unless it is other-regarding; that is, it harms people other than the agent him/herself.

As Mill’s position is typically interpreted, harm is understood to be governed by the principle volenti non fit injuria (where there is consent there is no injury); it refers to things done to other people without their consent. Mill states that a self-regarding action is one “which affects only himself, or affects others with their free and voluntary, and undeceived consent”.

Mill intended his principle to be criteria as to what should and should not be made a criminal offence; he did not consider it criteria for determining what is right and wrong. Yet many contemporary liberals appear to use it in this latter way. They contend that as long as the action involves only consenting adults it is morally permissible. It is often asserted in our society, as though it were self-evident, that people have a moral right to do whatever they like with their own bodies.

I think this claim is far from self-evident. Irving Kristol famously proposed this counter-example in a 1971 article in New York Times Magazine:

“[T]he plain fact is that none of us is a complete civil libertarian. We all believe that there is some point at which the public authorities ought to step in to limit the “self-expression” of an individual or group even where this might be seriously intended as a form of artistic expression, and even where the artistic transaction is between consenting adults. A playwright or theatrical director might, in this crazy world of ours, find someone willing to commit suicide on stage, as called for by the script. We would not allow that-any more than we would permit scenes of real physical torture on the stage, even if the victim were a willing masochist. And I know of no one, no matter how free in spirit, who argues that we ought to permit gladiatorial contests in Yankee stadium, similar to those once performed in the Coliseum of Rome-even if only consenting adults were involved.”

The examples Kristol gives are all cases where any person of common sense would condemn the act but where all the victims consent to be harmed.

In his book Harmless Wrong Doing: Moral Limits of the Criminal Law, Liberal Political Philosopher Joel Feinberg considers Kristol’s objection as the most important and potentially-devastating counter-example to the harm principle and he spends considerable energy attempting to circumvent it. He offers four responses. Here I will argue that these responses fail.

First, Feinberg questions whether such cases are really cases of consensual homicide. He suggests that Kristol is too complacent about “the problem of determining genuine ‘willingness’ and voluntary ‘consent’.” He picks up on the fact that Kristol refers to such things happening in this “crazy world”. Feinberg argues, “an agreement is hardly consensual if one of the parties is “crazy”. To exploit a crazy person in the way he describes is not distinguishable from murder”.

Feinberg is correct; people who are crazy, in the sense of being insane, are not competent moral agents. However, it is doubtful that Kristol was speaking of people who are crazy in the literal sense of the word. His reference seems more like a colloquial comment on the kinds of depravity people will engage in if given the freedom to do so. Feinberg appears to find it difficult to accept that a sane person would ever choose to engage in the depraved activities outlined in the counter examples Kristol offered. However, if one believes that human beings are capable of great evil as I do then much of what he says is implausible.

Feinberg also argues that if gladiatorial matches existed today then one would need various mechanisms to ensure consent was actual. He suggests that licensing procedures would render the contests unobjectionable and that both the contestants and the audience could agree to a set of rules that held that the contest must stop once one fighter has clearly gained his or her dominance.

This response is inadequate. It is unclear why contestants would agree to these provisions. Why, for example, could they not agree to a free-for-all or a fight to the death? In the journal Ethics, Jan Arneson observed, “Feinberg has projected a bit of his own nice character onto the world at large” and correctly adds “Feinberg’s liberal principles non-tendentiously applied would hold that we ought to let the free market decide how horrific or bloody the contests should become”.

Arneson adds that even if the contestants and audience did agree to such rules it is hard to see why the practice would then become unobjectionable:

“Feinberg’s response contains the disturbing suggestion that a state-regulated version of Kristol’s gory spectacles would be acceptable to the liberal … so long as some analogue of the Marquis of Queensberry rules is enforced (no bludgeoning your opponent when he is down; no slashing below the belt; no disembowelling your opponent once he surrenders), commercial combat with lethal weapons should in principle be tolerated by a liberal society. Many would consider this a reductio of the liberal position.”

Feinberg’s third attempt to circumvent Kristol’s counter-example is to argue that consensual gladiator matches would inevitably involve harm to non-consenting, third parties. Reflecting upon the audience in a gladiatorial match, Feinberg suggests:

“We cannot hold an image of these wretches in our minds without recoiling, for each of them alone will seem threatening or dangerous, and thousands or millions of them together will be downright terrifying. … When the bloody maiming and slaughtering of a human being is considered so thrilling and enjoyable that thousands will pay dearly to witness it, it would seem to follow that thousands are already so brutalized that there is a clear and present danger that some innocent parties (identities now unknown) will suffer at their hands.”

The claim that such an activity will lead to the deaths of innocent third parties is an empirical one. Feinberg simply asserts that he is correct but offers no evidence to prove this. In the absence of such evidence, the claim is speculative.

A second problem reinforces this. The people killed in gladiatorial matches consent to the fight; the innocent third parties Feinberg mentions do not. In order for enthusiasm for death and killing in a gladiatorial match to spill over into the killing of innocents, fans of such matches must be unable to distinguish between consensual and non-consensual killing so that they are unable to limit their enthusiasm for one without endorsing the other.

This assumption is implausible. For example, permitting people to engage in and enjoy consensual sodomy does not necessarily mean that those people will engage in sodomous rape. Allowing the consensual use of drugs will not mean that all drug users will then coerce others into drug use. Allowing people to watch pornography would not result in the majority forcing others to have sex. Perhaps, even closer to the issue under discussion, allowing people to watch boxing matches does not appear to lead many of them to inevitably engage in assault. Why then should allowing people to watch consensual homicide lead a significant number of them to engage in non-consensual homicide?

The final response Feinberg proposes is to concede that in cases like Kristol’s examples we do see cases of unjust homicide that are consensual but he claims that cases like this are hypothetical, “[t]here seems little likelihood that they will ever occur, at least in the foreseeable future”.

Again Feinberg relies upon an unsubstantiated empirical claim. He asserts, without offering any reason, that gladiator matches are unlikely to occur at all in the foreseeable future. But why think this? Duelling to the death was practiced for centuries. People clearly have been willing to engage in such activities and did so for many years. Moreover, it is also plausible that people would choose to watch such spectacles, even ordinary people. Public executions were popular as late as the nineteenth century which suggests that people are willing, if allowed, to watch real death and violence. The practice of the circuses and gladiator matches in civilised Rome shows the appeal of watching such spectacles. There appears to be no reason for thinking that such an activity is unlikely to occur given the history of the human race.

Interestingly, Feinberg admits this elsewhere in his monograph. In a footnote he notes that the example of gladiatorial contests is no worse, and in some respects better, than some forms of commercial brawling that exist in the U.S. After saying this he cites disapprovingly the examples of “tough guy” contests where people fight bar-room brawls with no holds barred, no rules and often on racial lines. The sources he quotes note that such contests are popular, “the newest rage in spectator entertainment”. It is hard to understand then why Feinberg thinks that such things are unlikely to occur in the future.

It seems then that Feinberg fails to escape the counter-example proposed by Kristol. Liberal morality provides no basis for condemning gladiator matches (and I am not aware of any responses by defenders of liberal or permissive morality that fair any better than Feinberg.) It seems to me that slogans such as “as long as everyone involved is a consenting adult” are not the self-evident truisms they purport to be and are actually quite implausible. It seems far more self-evident that people who engage in and watch consensual gladiator matches are, in fact, depraved rather than that slogans like this are correct. If that makes me non-progressive reactionary or a conservative then I am guilty as charged.

I write a monthly column for Investigate Magazine entitled “Contra Mundum.” This blog post was published in the August 2011 issue and is reproduced here with permission. Contra Mundum is Latin for ‘against the world;’ the phrase is usually attributed to Athanasius who was exiled for defending Christian orthodoxy.

Letters to the editor should be sent to:
editorial@investigatemagazine.DELETE.com

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  • @Matt

    “And I know of no one, no matter how free in spirit, who argues that we ought to permit gladiatorial contests in Yankee stadium, similar to those once performed in the Coliseum of Rome-even if only consenting adults were involved.””

    but we do allow boxing, and mma fighting and did anyone not see ‘Fight Club’ ?

    I think that under the right circumstances we would pay for ‘to the death’ gladiatorial contests, just we would pay to watch people being executed for capital crimes (have you seen the polls for that ?)

    Sometimes commentators tend to view humanity as being far more noble than it really is.

  • Is it ethical to allow someone to poo on someone else, even if that other person does not give permission to be pooed on? I’m stuck on this dilemma.

  • No it is not ethical to poo on someone who has not consented to be pooed on. How could you possibly be stuck on this?

  • Because poo is just poo. It can’t really harm you, its not exactly nuclear waster material or metal melting acid. It can actually bring some real benefits, ie minerals for the skin etc. Some people seem to have an issue with it though and I have pondered over the ethics of it for a while now. Maddy, are you coming from solely a conservative Christian perspective?

  • Paul I think I made that point above. The issue is not what people would do it is what we judge to be correct.

  • ‘“as long as everyone involved is a consenting adult” are not the self-evident truisms they purport to be and are actually quite implausible”

    I couldn’t agree more. It is so difficult to establish this consent in some circumstances that, in my opinion, those circumstances are best avoided.
    While we all seem to have a fascination for gore, I would put forward that the enjoyment stems from the knowledge of the fact that we have avoided such a fate. When it becomes insanity is where one gains pleasure purely from the fact that others suffer. The enjoyment of watching a boxing match for me is soured by the knowledge we have these days of the long lasting harm it does that near overcomes the fact that it may be consensual.
    Besides consent is such a quagmire that even if one may verbalize/sign a consent there is no telling if circumstances have limited their ability to say no. Prostitution is a great example here. Porn is another. We really have no way of knowing the level of consent the participant is able to give and in my opinion it is better to avoid situations/entertainment that may be exploitative.
    If doubt remains, (regarding consent) and you continue to enjoy it, then this is a slippery slope to a sadism that you would not want practiced on yourself.

  • @ Matt – that was my point – stating that some things are agreed to be wrong by common sense standards or common consent standards is not a given.

    Under the right conditions televised public executions or Mixed Martial Arts fights or Bare Knuckle Fighting would be more popular than The X Factor on a Saturday night.

    Who is to say that that would be wrong ?

  • Feinberg’s third attempt also seems to me like a two edged sword. There are other things that liberals approve that can be argued affect innocent non-consenting third parties. Under this logic if pornography affects how a society approaches sexuality (which in does) and ends up affecting those who do not consent to participate in ti, it is wrong. This principle if accepted brings the original principle down like a house of cards.

  • Matt, I think people would be prepared to watch all kinds of violence and evil. Though they are not the same.

    A reasonable argument can be made for public executions if executions occur. The issue is not execution, this is a justice issue, but I have little objection to the publicity of such.

    Dueling is a little different, though if justice allows such resolutions of differences I am not certain they should not be public.

    The other issues are not associated with justice so fall into a different category. Prudence would demand the forbidding killing of anyone, consensual or not, because of the difficulty establishing real consent. Thus even if suicide is allowed, assisted suicide should be illegal.

    Mind you, I think that voluntary suicide on stage is more justifiable than abortion, yet we allow the latter.

    I write all this from a libertarian perspective. Not that I think what we allow legally is in fact moral. We should legislate against direct harm but be very cautious concerning indirect harms, even though indirect harms are real. All killing of other people outside combat and justice should be forbidden because consent is always murky. Suicide perhaps may be permitted (even though it is morrally wrong). I am uncertain about this.

  • It is important to note that the Christian case for libertarianism is that of evil rulers. Maximising liberty when our rulers may be evil may be best when direct harms only are banned.

    It could be argued that indirect harms can be legislated against in term of their promotion, even if their presence is tolerated. Eg. One could allow prostitution, but prevent advertising (soliciting), and the same with other harms.

    While I am uncertain about this position, it does not seem to me that non-libertarian solutions are better than libertarian ones. The former still legalises vices, but penalises right behaviour. Further, Christians are aware that the law has limited capability to change people. Perhaps we are best to stick with punishing men for their direct crimes against persons and property?

  • So what does this have to do with homosexuality again?

  • Paul Baird, I think your conflating what is popular, what lots of people would enjoy and find entertaining with what is wrong and recognised to be wrong. Its not inconcievable that people recognise certain actions are wrong and also recognise that if certain cultural restraints were removed they would find them appealing.

  • Did Jesus or Paul (or whomever) ever explicitly condemn gladiatorial events (either consensual or non-consensual) at the Circus Maximus in Jerusalem?

    This is sort of a trollish question, but also I honestly don’t recall if that specific condemnation is in the New Testament or not, but it’s been a while since I’ve read it through.

  • @ Matt – I’m not sure a charge of conflation is correct. These are, I suggest, morally grey areas where the morality of the group could change. What you seem to be proposing is an external standard which everyone would know and comprehend.

    I don’t accept that, in the instances I’ve suggested, such an external morality exists.

  • MadF you say: “No it is not ethical to poo on someone who has not consented to be pooed on. How could you possibly be stuck on this?”

    Now, I didn’t originate the poo question, but I think we can all see how MadF chose to answer the easy version of it.

    I propose these questions to MadF which I would be interested in how she thinks about the reasons for whether the following actions are ethical or not?

    Is it ethical to poo on someone who does not want to be pooed on? (MadF said No.)
    Is it ethical to poo on someone who is apathetic about being pooed on?
    Is it ethical to poo on someone who wants to be pooed on?

  • Hey MatF, is the proper function of Law more so to prevent harm amongst its constituents, or to make that which is wrong illegal? It would seem the former, and since the religious seem to have a hard time separating harm from wrong, is it easy to see why plenty of people voice some worry when the religious start to make recommendations about public policy?

  • kristol needs the audience to provoke an emotive response. all three of his examples imply that there is a blood-thirsty audience deriving pleasure from watching, which distracts from the morality of the actual act. especially given that “abortion, homosexual conduct, euthanasia, prostitution, drugs” are essentially private.

    without the audience, his examples are just lame. if someone is a willing masochist in private, are they doing anything wrong?

    and consensual homicide is an oxymoron. one person killing a consenting other isn’t really different from assisted suicide, so the only difference between the suicide and consenting gladiators is knowing for certain in advance who will die. this doesn’t move us past discussing the morality of suicide, which i’m not commenting on yet.

    kristol needs the audience for two reasons. the first is that the thought of people enjoying watching suicides or torture makes us imagine a blood-thirsty violent society. this disturbs us because we fear how it might affect us (possibly without reason), given that we need to live in that society. but if it did it would then fail a liberal justification as well, so isn’t really relevant.

    the second is that implying others get pleasure from watching opens up the potential for exploitation. john points out that it is often difficult to know the level of consent. he is entirely correct, but is not saying that the acts are actually wrong. hypothetically, what if there was genuine consent? his problem is not with prostitution and pornography, it is with people being forced to do something against their will, which again, is the whole point of the liberal argument.

    but hell, just for arguments sake lets let someone watch. if i want to be tortured, and you want to watch, and i don’t mind you watching, then what’s the problem? you’d be a wierdo, but no more so than me for wanting to be tortured in the first place. why does the fact that others may not understand us two freaks mean that we shouldn’t be allowed to do it, provided it doesn’t affect those uncomprehending others?

    i have no idea why you would want to go to church and sing songs to a deity i don’t believe exists, and it bothers me that you do, so you shouldn’t be allowed to do it. sound fair? no of course not, provided it doesn’t impact on me against my will, for example if i was gay and you told me i shouldn’t be.

    but don’t worry, it works both ways: a gay man has no right to tell you that you’re not allowed to be in a heterosexual relationship because of their delusions either. that’s the whole point.

    but actually, like captain evil asked, what does any of this even have to do with homosexuality? kristol looked at acts involving death, how does this show that gay sex is somehow worse than straight sex? even on stage with an audience? it doesn’t comment on it at all, so why do you even have it in your article?

  • now that i think of it, christopher hitchens was once voluntarily waterboarded, which was videoed and put on youtube. was he morally wrong for being consensually tortured, and is everyone who watches the video doing something bad?

    no, we would only have a problem if people watched it because they derived pleasure from seeing suffering. this unsettles us (again, probably without reasons, as matt has exlained), because they are members of the same society we are.

  • Ennennex Hey MatF, is the proper function of Law more so to prevent harm amongst its constituents, or to make that which is wrong illegal? It would seem the former, and since the religious seem to have a hard time separating harm from wrong, is it easy to see why plenty of people voice some worry when the religious start to make recommendations about public policy?

    Actually, I don’t think the function of the law is to “prevent harm” I think Mill was simply mistaken on this. When the government prosecutes murderers and rapists it does not use force defensively to prevent harm, the rape and murder have already occurred. It uses force to punish the rapist and murderer for what they have already done. This is why we only punish people who are mentally culpable for their actions, only punish those who are guilty and make the punishment proportional to the crime. These conditions all make sense if we are punishing them because their deeds deserve or merit it.
    Most criminal punishment cannot be justified on the grounds that it defends the innocent from attack . I can only use force to defend another from attack, if I know that an attack is imminent, the force is necessary to prevent it , is directed against the attacker (regardless of his culpability) and is proportionate to the threat. I can’t attack one person in “self defence” because I think its likely someone else might attack me and attacking a third party will deter them from doing so. Nor can I make the force against this third proportionate to what they have already done. Nor can I attack a person in self defence on the grounds that he has attacked another person and so therefore might attack me, normally I’d need compelling evidence an attack against me was imminent. Moreover the evidence they commited a crime is irrelevant in a defensive context, what’s relevant is the evidence of a future threat.
    Mill took this line because he was a utilitarian, and his line carries all the problems with utilitarian accounts of punishment. It’s far more plausible to contend that much of what justifies criminal punishment is a moral concern. Justice, people are punished because their deeds deserve it and justice requires treating people as their deeds deserve. We protect the innocent from certain harms because its unjust for someone to inflict those harms on them, they have a right to not be treated that way. We do not prevent other harms because its not unjust for those harms to be inflicted on another, the person has no right to be protected from the harm in question. We punish failed attempts at harm such as attempted murder because a persons moral commitment to killing means they deserve censure, and we don’t punish actual harms which are inflicted on accident because we don’t think such actions do deserve punishment. In otherwords its moral constraints about what various wrongs deserve, not harm, that govern our use of force.
    If your concerned about social danger, I suggest that you look at regimes which believe either that governments use of force is not governed by moral restraints because upholding a just moral order is not the role of the state, or you look at regimes which use utilitarian justifications and suggest that what matters is when punishing criminals not that people are guilty or innocent of misdeeds that deserve or warrant punishment. But what matters is that the force prevents some greater evil and so can be inflicted without concern for desert. There you’ll find the danger. Atheist regimes with these beliefs have proved to be really quite dangerous.

    As I side issue, do you think its fair to write off the religious, because they don’t uncritically accept controversial and dubious utilitarian claims and are educated enough to know the philosophical problems or alternatives to these positions, or should we all just assume uncritically certain trendy liberal positions assume they are self evident and then generalise about the “religious” because they disagree with us?

  • Sam G
    You suggest Kristol’s argument requires an audience for two reasons, first because of the danger it provides us and second because of exploitation. I disagree, I am inclined to think that taking pleasure in seeing someone beaten to death and killed is wrong because it displays a vicious character trait one of cruelty and sadism and fails to show respect for peoples worth and dignity. Its simply not given that the morality of these actions has to be cashed out in terms of likely consequences. Of course ultilitarians and consquentialists will see it that way but other moral theories such as virtue ethics and kantainism will not.
    Second, your suggested this is not in private seems to me false. A stadium could be privately owned, and run by a private company. The only people who watch are those who buy tickets in a voluntary contract, this seems fairly obviously a case of multiple consenting adults in private.
    Most of the rest of your post is simply asserting the liberal position in terms of rhetorical questions and disbelief that anyone would think otherwise. Simply asserting a position and showing you are unable to be open minded enough to even comprehend alternatives however is not really much of an argument. Your final point is a straw man you state

    i have no idea why you would want to go to church and sing songs to a deity i don’t believe exists, and it bothers me that you do, so you shouldn’t be allowed to do it. sound fair? no of course not, provided it doesn’t impact on me against my will, for example if i was gay and you told me i shouldn’t be.
    That assumes the argument is that Gladiator matches are wrong because we don’t understand why people would want to do it and that it bothers us. But thats a straw man, what I contend is that Gladiator matches would be wrong, they would fail to respect human beings as worthy of dignity and would display a really vicious character.
    but don’t worry, it works both ways: a gay man has no right to tell you that you’re not allowed to be in a heterosexual relationship because of their delusions either. that’s the whole point.
    Actually it doesn’t work both ways, suppose Bill is the owner of private property say a house, and I decide to let my property out via a voluntary contract to others adults who may choose to consent to the terms of the contract, however Bill does not want his property to be rented out by a Gay couple because he has the delusion that its wrong for people to be in such relationships and thinks he would be making himself complicit in wrongdoing by renting his private property out in this way. Does the fact that some people are offended by Bill’s this and think he is delusional allow them to force him to act otherwise? Sorry same but to say this works both ways is simply not true.

  • So Paul, if a religious society believes persecution of other religions and holy wars against other religious societies is OK then its a morally gray area, there being no external standard by which to judge there actions?

  • Matt,

    I think you glossed over one major item in your criticism of the utilitarian view of punishment.

    Punishment is useful because it imposes a cost upon the the person who committed a crime, thereby (hopefully) making it costly to commit crimes. Naturally, our hope is to make crime costly enough, within reason, so that people are adequately demotivated to pursue crime (or additional crime) in the future. That, in fact, is the *primary* purpose of punishment.

    If punishment is for moral concern only, and has no bearing on utility (presupposing for a second that “moral” and “useful” aren’t nearly synonyms), just what good does it do to impose a useless punishment? Is there some intrinsic good in the suffering of criminals, even when it is useless?

    If a punishment is useless, it is by definition, unnecessary. Is any unnecessary suffering good?

  • @ Matt: from whose perspective ?

    Christian missionaries riding roughshod over indigenous cultures or Muslims exporting Islamic terrorism or Jews using Old Testament texts to justify barbaric acts on the West Bank ?

  • If punishment is for moral concern only, and has no bearing on utility (presupposing for a second that “moral” and “useful” aren’t nearly synonyms), just what good does it do to impose a useless punishment?

    I find this a fascinating illustration of how one can be so completely immerse on one outlook (in this case utilitarianism) that they just don’t see how obvious answers to challenges must be appear to outsiders.

    Here’s an answer: “The good of justice.”

  • typos are ankoying.

  • Paul, I did not identify a perspective, I simply asked if you believe that its wrong for a religion to engage in holy wars against another religion.

    A few weeks ago you were defending your moral stance on abortion and saying mine was mistaken, now your stating “whose to say whats right and wrong”?

  • I find this a fascinating illustration of how one can be so completely immerse on one outlook (in this case utilitarianism) that they just don’t see how obvious answers to challenges must be appear to outsiders.

    Here’s an answer: “The good of justice.”

    Well, I did admittedly hang myself with the wording. I should have said something like, “what possible interest would we have in punishing people, if it had no justifiable utility?”

    This is where I’m convinced non-consequentialist ethics fail – because you eventually have to disconnect from utility (human flourishing, happiness) at some point, and believe that certain rules just need to be followed for their own sake, regardless of how the effect people. Well, I think ethics (justice, etc) is about doing things for the sake of people, not for the sake of rules. If punishment serves no utility, and only results in the suffering of a person (the criminal), I’d have to ask “why the heck should we bother”? We’re just adding to the amount of suffering in the world, but doing nothing else. Why is that good? Why should we be bound by such rules?

    Matt was wrestling a little with this sort of question a few blog posts down (moral providence), when he was asking whether it was sadistic to teach morality, if all it did was cause misery. And as before, I’d say once you start connecting happiness, well-being etc, to morality, well… you’re on the slippery slope towards consequentialism! Yay!

  • @ Glenn: typos – welcome to my world.

  • Matt wrote: “Paul Baird, I think your conflating what is popular, what lots of people would enjoy and find entertaining with what is wrong and recognised to be wrong. Its not inconcievable that people recognise certain actions are wrong and also recognise that if certain cultural restraints were removed they would find them appealing.”

    Matt, how do you determine what is right and wrong?

    Are the following actions “wrong” in your opinion and, if so, why?

    1. The killing of a child by a parent if the parent believes that God has directed the killing?

    2. Mandating that a rapist marry his victim?

    3. Wiping out a civilization (aside from a few humans and animals specified for salvation) by way of a directed natural disaster?

    4. Punishing grandchildren for wrongs committed by their grandparents?

    5. Permitting polygamy?

    6. Killing a man’s wife/children and afflicting him with illness on a bet to see if he would blame his deity for his misfortune?

    Just wondering. As an atheist, I am sure you understand that I need all the help I can get in sorting out right from wrong. Based on this post, I am assuming that you take the view that UFC matches (where voluntary combatants are encouraged to choke their opponents into submission) are “wrong” and I am most interested in understanding how you have arrived at this conclusion.

  • Good stuff, Matt.

    I believe in freedom and consensual activity – within Biblical bounds.

  • I often wonder at the honesty of those who basically present questions about biblical issues that they have doubtless seen before, in a manner that ostensibly suggests they have never seen answers to those questions before.

  • What Glenn really means is that he doesn’t want to answer the questions posed!

  • But doesn’t consequentialist ethics assume that human happiness and flourishing is a good thing? And under it, isn’t what is “good” assessed by it’s utility? Seems like a circle to me.

  • Following on from TAM, here are some questions that I demand an answer to (and I demand them because no-one has attempted to answer them before which I have come to believe is because they are far too hard and are very embarrassing to Christians):

    Why does God hate Jews?

    Why is John Stuart Mill correct?

    Why did God create poo to be a healthy and tasty part of a person’s diet then made most humans instantly hate it?

    Why can men not experience the joy of abortions?

    Why is God and Christians obsessed with sex?

    Why is there a contradiction between Christians wanting to protect unborn babies and no caring about poo? Poo has the same mental capabilities as an unborn child and is also found in the bodies of women (who God does not like).

    Why does God not care about poor children in Somalia and Kenya?

    And there is plenty more where they came from.

  • Not TAM Glenn means that I have answered most of those before, that readers on this blog know that. he also is noting that asking questions which are analogous to “when did you stop beating your wife” is dishonest.

    But, seeing you raised the issue, I take it TAM you object to each of the things you cited. This suggests you believe ( like most people do in practise) that certain actions by people are wrong even if their culture endorses it. If so, then you agree with me that Paul Baird’s sudden commitment to relativism is mistaken?

    You also agree that moral statements are objective?

  • TAM, when did you stop beating your wife? When did you leave the nazi party? When did you cease to support Genocide in Rawanda?

    If you can’t answer these questions directly I’ll take it you can’t.

  • TAM beats his wife?

  • dicky p, I think TAM does that when he is not commanding people to marry rapists.

    I read it on the interent somewhere so it must be true.

    The fact he can’t offer a yes or no answer to questions such as “was your beating your wife last night a good thing” suggests he really can’t deny it.

    http://www.mandm.org.nz/2009/07/sunday-study-does-the-bible-teach-that-a-rape-victim-has-to-marry-her-rapist.html

    http://www.mandm.org.nz/2009/09/sunday-study-the-bible-and-rape-a-response-to-michael-martin.html

  • TAM
    In response to your questions,
    1. The killing of a child by a parent if the parent believes that God has directed the killing?

    There seem to me two things here, first you don’t mention wether it’s an adult child or a minor. I think that’s important, you also don’t mention the context, for example has an adult child committed a capital crime and been found guilty an the parent the state executioner. Is the child attacking another person with a knife and the only way I can stop a homicide occurring is to kill him? So unlike you I can think of cases where it would be permissible for a parent to kill their child.
    Second, as to your specific question you talk about a situation where someone believes God commanded killing a child. You fail to mention wether this belief is in the situation a true one, so that God actually commanded it or wether the person is justified in holding it.

    So until you tell me about these further details its unclear what the correct answer is.

    (Btw from can you remind me was it you who praised Peter Singer as a good atheist ethicist on various blogs)

    2. Mandating that a rapist marry his victim?

    Again that depends on wether this is a case of statutory rape, say where a 18 year old man sleeps with a 15 year old girl who consented but was underage. Or weather its a case of rape where a person violently attacks another women and rapes her without consent.
    Which do you mean?

    3. Wiping out a civilization (aside from a few humans and animals specified for salvation) by way of a directed natural disaster?

    Again ambiguous, first are you saying its wrong for any person even an all powerful all knowing good person to do this, or wrong for human beings.
    Second, whats the context, for example will wiping out a civilisation bring about some greater good or avert a greater evil?

    Third, are all the people wiped out people who are wicked and committed to violence and hence guilty of capital crimes and those saved blameless. Or is this not the case.
    Again until you provide me with specific context such as the above one can’t answer this one way or the other.

    4. Punishing grandchildren for wrongs committed by their grandparents?

    Again, I need context, are the grandchildren innocent of their grandparents crimes and have turned away from an rejected their conduct or are they appropriating these crimes themselves doing them and continuing to do them?

    5. Permitting polygamy?

    Depends on wether you are talking about legal permissibility or moral permissibility. If your saying that someone claims its morally permissible to engage in polygamy then I think thats mistaken. If rather it’s a situation where the law simply does not prosecute polygamy then that is I think different. The law does not prosecute lying either.
    Again some context would help.

    6. Killing a man’s wife/children and afflicting him with illness on a bet to see if he would blame his deity for his misfortune?

    That would depend on whether the event is part of a historical narrative which purports to tell me what actually happened. Or talking about an incident in a poetic document which is making a different moral point.

    Also I’d want to know if the action was done merely for a beat or wether a further examination suggested that there were greater goods which justified the action but they what the exactly were beyond our ken.

    Again, some context would be helpful.

    My question do you, do you think its morally ok to take things out of context, deliberately omit important details so as to make them look bad and then attack people on this basis?

  • As an atheist and secular humanist, my answers to the 6 questions I posed are as follows:

    1. Wrong
    2. Wrong
    3. Wrong
    4. Wrong
    5. [re; polygamy] Not sure – see Robert Wright’s The Moral Animal for an intriguing discussion of how polygamy benefits women.
    6. Wrong

    I don’t need more “context” to answer the questions nor do I require heuristic devices or apologetic manoeuvres.

    I didn’t take anything out of context. I posed 6 simple questions. The inability of those wed to the Christian faith to admit the basic immorality (however you wish to define that term) of events described in the Bible baffles me. Aussie Judge David Hodgson made the same point in his article “Dawkins and the Morality of the Bible” (first published in Quadrant 436 (May 2007), 38-43) which can be accessed at: http://users.tpg.com.au/raeda/website/Dawkins.htm I may have cited that article here before and, if I have, I apologize for the repetition.

  • TAM

    Actually you do need context to answer those questions whether an atheist or a humanist or a theist.

    Take the first one 1.

    1. The killing of a child by a parent if the parent believes that God has directed the killing?

    You said the correct answer here is “wrong”

    Suppose an adult child is on a rampage and is killing innocent people with an AK 47 his father is a member of the armed offenders squad, and is ordered to shoot . The father is also a theist and believes God commands him to obey orders which are not patently unjust. In this case we, have a situation where (a) A parent killed his son and (b) believes God has commanded it. Yet this would be a case where the action was not wrong.

    Similarly, with the marrying your rapist issue. Like I said suppose its statutory rape, the man is 20 the girl 17, and under the legal age. The girl is pregnant, is it unjust to demand the man either marry the women or provide financial support for the women and the child? Apparently you think its not, men can simply abandon women in situations like this.

    In ethics one does in fact need to carefully look at the relevant facts of the context. You can’t ignore them because its useful to score political points.

    But, this is my second point, I note you assert that the answer “as an atheist” is “wrong”. Odd, I thought atheists typically claimed one should not believe in things unless they can be empirically proven, to fail to do so commits one to believing in Spaghetti monsters apparently.

    So TAM, care to offer an empirical proof of each of the moral claims you made in your previous post. Or should us theist’s take the moral claims you make to attack Theism on faith?

  • Folks, please note that Matt doesn’t bother to put God yanking Job’s chain into context. There are some things described in the Bible that are so bent even an avowed Christian apologist can’t unbend.

    You want empirical proof that it is wrong to force a rape victim to marry her rapist? You want empirical proof that punishing grandchildren for crimes committed by their grandparents is wrong? Sorry, I can’t help you there. If you require empirical proof for those assertions, you are either a dyed-in-the-wool moral relativist or you have decided to check both your humanity and common sense at the door. I read too much of your material to believe either – you are better than that. You don’t need a deity to ground your morality.

    On an unrelated note, I commend John Loftus’ recent interview by the hilarious ex-Mormons Chuck and Leighton on the Irreligiosophy podcast – he even drops your name a couple of times.

  • TAM, I never said I required empirical proof for that claim. Its not me who claims you should not believe things without empirical proof.

    Your answer shows that you accept certain moral claims without proof, because its simply commonsense. You also suggest that other cultures do not accept these.

    I think its common sense God exists, the fact of religious pluralism in various cultures does not show I am wrong.

    So now, why do you reject this response from me and accept it when its the premises of your argument. Once again we see the skeptic being selective in his skepticism.

    Oh and BTW I did address Job, I try to read texts in context not try and pretend every text is a literal description or to ignore what follows in a narrative and ignore the whole point that narrative makes. Try it some time.

  • “TAM, I never said I required empirical proof for that claim. Its not me who claims you should not believe things without empirical proof.” Very good Matt.

  • “I think its common sense God exists, the fact of religious pluralism in various cultures does not show I am wrong.” Why?

  • “I think its common sense God exists, the fact of religious pluralism in various cultures does not show I am wrong.”

    Why? Think of that in the context of the discussion above. Why is it that we think its common sense that its wrong to demand someone marry their rapist?

  • “Why is it that we think its common sense that its wrong to demand someone marry their rapist?”

    For the same reason we think it’s common sense that its wrong to rip the head off a puppy. We have evolved, learned and societally imposed senses that we rely on to discern right from wrong. These senses are by no means infallible or definitive. However, cross-culturally, we see a number of norms have evolved against stealing, murder, incest, etc. You know perfectly well that these cross-cultural moral norms can be and are being studied by psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists and neuroscientists. It’s from this research that we have learned, for example that odors can materially impact our moral judgments. How a theist explains that is beyond me.

    Matt, you don’t need a belief in god to appreciate that tearing the head off a puppy is wrong. However,unless you are a vegan, you probably ate the parts of several animals in the last 24 hourts that were killed in just as vicious a manner. You have determined that carnivorism is “right”. We all apply our subjective senses to determine right and wrong, even if it is only to decide whether or not to follow the edict of a certain deity.

    You attempt to close off debate by declaring in a Plantinga-like manner that you take the existence of God to be axiomatic. Why do I reject that premise? For at least a couple of reasons. Firstly, it gets you nowhere: presupposing an Anselmian first cause doesn’t get you to the Judeo-Christian god and, at best, gets you an indifferent deity who has not intervened in the world for 13+ billion years. At worst, it gets you a malevolent deity along the lines of Stephen Law’s God of Eth. Secondly, what you regard as axiomatic, is rejected by all non-Christians and your refusal to apply the Outsider Test of Faith to the miracles described in the Bible remains the most gaping hole in your approach to apologetics. Finally, what you take for granted is precisely the same as me taking for granted that invisible fairies live in my backyard. Your God’s divine hiddenness leads me to conclude, axiomatically, that he is a figment of your (and billions of other) imaginations. Isn’t it funny how the world with your actively intervening God seems to be perfectly consistent with a world in which he doesn’t exist? What conceivable observation of the natural world would convince you that you are wrong? I can think of plenty that would convince me that your God exists.

  • Except that you cant answer a single “why” question or offer an explanation of the fact that there is something rather than nothing or the origin of life in an otherwise purely material universe.

    God is not hidden, just not visible to those who dont want to see Him. As Christ said, no number of miracles, not even rising from the dead, will be proof to those who dont want to believe. So i dont believe you, nothing will convince that God exists, because you are not looking to find Him, you will always prefer an alternative explanation.

  • Jeremy, I prefer unanswered questions to unquestionable answers (thanks to a recent Bible Geek listener for sending that one in to Robert Price).

    Your Christ is a fiction. Where was he when they unloaded 250,000+ Jewish men, women and children at Sobibor? I am currently reading Gitta Sereny’s Into That Darkness: From Mercy Killing to Mass Murder. Oops … I forgot. Christians say it’s a slippery slope from allowing euthanasia to gassing undesirables.

    BTW, Matt, I would much rather rely on philosophers like Peter Singer and David Benatar (the latter of Better Never to Have Been notoriety) for my moral compass than the Yahweh of your Bible.

  • Sometimes I wonder how much context and how many qualifications and stipulations an action can shoulder before it stops being representative of an objective morality.

    The christian god may be the source of objective or absolute morality, but all interpretations which we have access to (the hearsay of ancients filtered through redactors, editors, and culture) are subjective. I’m of course not advocating throwing out the baby with the bathwater, I’m just suggesting there is plenty of stagnant bathwater.

    Additionally Matthew Flannagan writes: “Similarly, with the marrying your rapist issue. Like I said suppose its statutory rape, the man is 20 the girl 17, and under the legal age. The girl is pregnant, is it unjust to demand the man either marry the women or provide financial support for the women and the child? Apparently you think its not, men can simply abandon women in situations like this.”

    The “and provide financial support” is the reddest of herrings, is it not? Your question is along the lines of the classic “Do you walk to school or take your lunch?” variety.

    Can you offer your thoughts on the following question MatF: Is it morally permissible to ever force a girl into marriage who is unwilling and whose only connection to the to-be husband is that she was raped by him?

  • TAM, so you think it’s wrong for a parent to kill a child if God demands it, but it’s ok to kill a child if the mother demands it?

  • Forgive me for intruding, but if I may stu, I suspect that women who choose to have an abortion often do not believe that a conceptus, or an early fetus prior to having brain activity indicative of consciousness, is a person, let alone a kid. Granted Matthew F. has tried to handle some potentiality arguments and FLO arguments, but his handling of them, as well as other’s presentations of the same arguments, have failed to convince large swaths of the population. So I doubt your question will get much traction, nor does it likely make the sort of point you wish it to on this thread.

    Perhaps you can answer me this. In what way is it moral to led someone to believe they are going to kill their child, knowing full well that when the knife is raised, the command will be reneged. The mental anguish and torment Abraham endured is clearly a form of torture.

    You might be apt to go for some sot of “greater good” argument that Matt has fallen back on. But who are any of us at this point in time to decide what the greater good is. “greater good” arguments have justified many atrocities in this century alone. Any “greater good” argument has to have a foundation, and when you claim that “greater good” is determined by your specific god who embodies absolute morality, then your argument is special pleading. If “greater good” is grounded in what god says, or in a contemporary interpretation of ancient scripture, it remains speculative and subjective, and impossible to validate.

  • Boo hoo hoo. I need my invisible moral compass to rely on so I can posture as a big strong atheist.

    Talk about whistling past the graveyard, not to mention the obvious admission that one cannot really do without invisible Little Bo Peep ultimates after all. “You owe! You ought! You -must-!”

    Let’s list all the atheist moral commandments so we can proof-text them to everyone just like the Bible! Is everyone ready to thump them with me? Maybe the Great Pumpkin will appear and legitimize our ought-slapping for us! Something we can rely on!

    Sheesh, Feser’s right. You just can’t get good atheists any more.

  • machinephilosophy, perhaps you could elaborate on your point. I was hoping to delve more into your philosophy but the link embedded in your name on this thread is associated with spyware. I imagine that is not intentional on your part, for your morals would never allow such childish and potentially malicious and harmful behavior. Unless you see it as accomplishing some greater good to which you are privy and likely unverifiably ascribe to your Divine Commander . Cheers.

  • It’s under the knife to develop an online philosophy bot. The link should now go to the blogger site. But bluehost.com is definitely not a spyware site, regardless of any sub domain prefix.

  • A wee bit presumptive to think that I believe in divine command theory. But the need to justify or falsify anything is the real god getting a free ride.

    “Natural selection needs a boost, like me with a shotgun.”

    –Eric Harris, Columbine shooter, 1999

  • TAM
    I understand you now, your concept of God is limited to a childlike vision of a grandfatherly Santa Claus type figure who should be there to rescue people from themselves or others but never actually impose rules or limits.
    No where do Yahweh or Yeshua offer this, maybe thats why you dont like them, they inlude concepts like accountability, responsibility and consequence. Humans suffer the consequence good and bad of human action. God is not offering to get you out of this but to help you through it.
    As is so typical of many atheist complaints, you seem to want complete freedom while at the same time complaining that God does not protect us from the consequence of freedom.

  • “Is it morally permissible to ever force a girl into marriage who is unwilling and whose only connection to the to-be husband is that she was raped by him?”

    No

    But i guess you ask this question because you somehow believe the OT law mandates this. Matt F has previously answered this demonstrating that seduction, statutory rape, and financial compensation are involved with this law. Not what we would understand as a violent physical sexual assault.

  • I’m responding specifically to the statement by TAM:
    “BTW, Matt, I would much rather rely on philosophers like Peter Singer and David Benatar (the latter of Better Never to Have Been notoriety) for my moral compass”

    And since Peter Singer is known to support infanticide as quoted here:
    “if a decision is taken, by the parents and doctors, that it is better that a baby should die, I believe it should be possible to carry out that decision, not only by withholding or withdrawing life-support – which can lead to the baby dying slowly from dehydration or from an infection – but also by taking active steps to end the baby’s life swiftly and humanely. ”

    so to me it sounds like TAM is ok with killing a child if the parents and doctors demand it but is not ok with killing a child if God demands it.

  • but forgive me. perhaps i should have provided more context.

  • Jeremy wrote: “TAM – I understand you now, your concept of God is limited to a childlike vision of a grandfatherly Santa Claus type figure who should be there to rescue people from themselves or others but never actually impose rules or limits.”

    I have no concept of God and, to be frank, I find the concept of God promulgated by Judeo-Christians to be incoherent.

    Singer is a decent fellow and I’ve had the good fortune to be in his company on several occasions. I would allow him to babysit my kids without hesitation which is more than I can say for many men of the cloth. That being said, I bet Matt and Madeleine would be decent caregivers as well.

    I’m not going to waste time here defending Singer’s work because, to be frank, I’m not sufficiently familiar with his entire body of work to comment intelligently. The fact that he recently prompted me to buy Derek Parfit’s On What Matters (2 volumes – 1657 pages) is not going to help me rectify this deficiency anytime soon. Working for a living sucks.

  • I lovethereference to men of the cloth. I am not a Roman Catholic but every now and then i feel obliged to defend them. There is no denying the sexual scandals and cover ups are immoral, disturbing and even worse because the priests were in positions of trust. But the rate of inappropriate sexual contact between teachers and pupils in US schools is apparently three times higher then the rate of inappropriate sexual contact in the RC church. This could be interpreted as your child is three times safer as a choir member or serving at the altar than they are going to church. Anyway for all its faults the standards within the RC church are significantly better than in the general population.
    So TAM, if you are playing the odds with your kids safety, choose a priest.

  • meant to say “three times safer than going to school”

  • Jeremy writes: “But the rate of inappropriate sexual contact between teachers and pupils in US schools is apparently three times higher then the rate of inappropriate sexual contact in the RC church. ”

    I was unaware of this, do you have a reference?

  • No i have lost the reference [originally in the Christchurch Press as i remember] and the only one i can currently find has the US public school rate at about 9.6% from DoE and GAO reports which compares to about 4% among the RC priests.

    http://rantingcatholicmom.blogspot.com/2011/01/more-on-public-schools-and-pedophiles.html

    I have also found report putting the rates at 4% [RC] and 5% [general public]. No where near as big a difference, but still quite a different picture than the impression one might normally get from the media.

  • Imagine if Catholic priests were farmers and looked after animals instead.

  • Dicky, not a bad idea (unless you’re looking at it from the perspective of a farm animal).

    I was taught (but not reared by) Irish Christian Brothers. My firm belief is that a vocation which enforces celibacy attracts candidates with sexual dysfunctions and further breeds that dysfunction. I would love to see more research on this issue and, of course, the proclivity to molest children is the specific dysfunction we are talking about here.

    I suggest that all Catholic priests follow the lead of Origen. The fact that someone who castrated himself is so influential on the development of Christian theology speaks volumes.

  • @ Jeremy

    I think you have missed the point with regard to why the Catholic sex child abuse scandal caused and continues to cause such outrage.

    The cases themselves are unquestionably abhorrent, but the real scandal is the attempts by the Vatican to coverup the issue.

    One example is the recent statement by Enda Kenny, the Irish Prime Minister, said in the Irish parliament that the Cloyne report, released on 13 July, had exposed the Vatican’s attempt to frustrate the inquiry into child sex abuse.

    During a debate on the fallout from the Cloyne findings, the taoiseach said the report had illuminated the dysfunction and elitism still dominant in the Vatican.

    Kenny told the Dáil on Wednesday that Rome seemed more interested in upholding the church’s power and reputation than confronting the abuse of Irish children by its priests and religious orders.

    The Vatican’s attitude to investigations in Cloyne, which covers County Cork, was the “polar opposite of the radicalism, the humility and the compassion that the church had been founded on”, he said.

    Kenny said the rape and torture of children had been downplayed or “managed” to uphold the institution’s power and reputation.

    The all-party motion being debated in the Dáil “deplores the Vatican’s intervention which contributed to the undermining of child protection frameworks and guidelines of the Irish state and the Irish bishops”.

    One of the most damning findings of the Cloyne report was that the diocese failed to report nine out of 15 complaints made against priests, which “very clearly should have been reported”.

    In much the same way as a Police cover up would be received by the general public, it is the actions of those who govern the Catholic church, that has caused the real disgust and outrage.

    For more info go here: http://www.broadsheet.ie/2011/07/20/enda-kenny-has-just-delivered-this-speech-in-the-dail/

  • @ Machinephilosophy

    Anders Behring Breivik – Has confessed to what he calls “atrocious but necessary” actions, but denies criminal responsibility.

    On his Facebook profile, Breivik described himself as a Christian, though he is critical of the Catholic and Protestant churches, objecting to their “current suicidal path”. Before the attacks, he stated an intention to attend Frogner Church in a final “Martyr’s mass”.

  • Paul B
    I suggest you read some of Anders BB manifesto before you pull the “He was a Christian line”. He actually denies any belief in anything Christian, but claims a cultural Christianity [ as opposed to Islam ] in much the same way that Richard Dawkins says he is a cultural Christian.

  • Paul B
    I agree that the attempts to over up are almost worse than the actual crimes. Im sure i said so [ yep " and cover ups are immoral, disturbing and even worse because the priests were in positions of trust"].
    But there is evidence of US teachers unions doing exactly the same thing. Protecting members who should have been sacked, deregistered and prosecuted.

  • “I’m not going to waste time here defending Singer’s work because, to be frank, I’m not sufficiently familiar with his entire body of work to comment intelligently. ”

    So TAM, does this mean you don’t believe in killing children anymore on the whim of the parents? or does it mean you still believe that killing newborns are ok but you don’t want to bother to defend it.

  • “Singer is a decent fellow and I’ve had the good fortune to be in his company on several occasions. I would allow him to babysit my kids without hesitation ”

    I’ve never met Singer but he seems like a smart guy and sounds like and all round nice person. I’m sure he has his reasons to condone such actions such as killing newborns. So given his character and intelligence, perhaps it really is justifiable to kill newborns?

  • When I was an atheist, I didn’t waste my time shadowing some haunted paranoia about religion of any kind, because the mere non-existence of God was (and is, if true) sufficient to eliminate the entire sham. The very idea of there being the slightest need or “obligation” to engage in such Implicit pandering, when atheism was supposed to be enough, is an insult to serious atheist thinkers who have no need for such tiresome hand-wringing.

    Today’s atheists think some favorable comparison to Christianity or religion in general is going to somehow console them or show others that they are in some sense “better”, when this is merely an admission that they can’t quite handle the complete absence of any standard of good or obligation or ought or should or any other of standard for their lust to scold others or other forms of admitting that atheism is somehow not enough to keep them from whining moralistic whining, only mirrors their fundy counterparts.

    Talk about playing into the same syndrome that was the original basis for rejecting an opposing view.

    And now we’re going to have scientific commandments thumped at us by the “new” fundy atheists.

    I’ve got some arbitrary news for such sunday schooler wannabees.

  • I’ve never met Singer but he seems like a smart guy and sounds like and all round nice person. I’m sure he has his reasons to condone such actions such as killing newborns. So given his character and intelligence, perhaps it really is justifiable to kill newborns?

    From what I know of Singer’s views on this topic, they are more often misrepresented than not.

    Most of you, I presume, have no problems with parents who withhold life saving measures from their infants, in extreme circumstances. Peter argues that there is not really any moral difference in this action, than in an active act of euthanasia. So if we allow one, we should allow the other.

  • TAM, your response actually reinforces my point. You write
    ”For the same reason we think it’s common sense that its wrong to rip the head off a puppy. We have evolved, learned and societally imposed senses that we rely on to discern right from wrong. These senses are by no means infallible or definitive. However, cross-culturally, we see a number of norms have evolved against stealing, murder, incest, etc. You know perfectly well that these cross-cultural moral norms can be and are being studied by psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists and neuroscientists. “
    God is commonsense because we also have evolved, learned and societally imposed senses that we rely on to discern gods and supernatural beings. These senses are by no means infallible or definitive. However, cross-culturally, we see a the existence of gods and particularly a high god has evolved. You know perfectly well that this is being studied by evolutionary biologists.
    If this is argument i insufficient to ground the claim that Gods existence is commonsense, then your argument about morality is insufficient. Which is it?
    ”You attempt to close off debate by declaring in a Plantinga-like manner that you take the existence of God to be axiomatic. Why do I reject that premise? For at least a couple of reasons. Firstly, it gets you nowhere: presupposing an Anselmian first cause doesn’t get you to the Judeo-Christian god and, at best, gets you an indifferent deity who has not intervened in the world for 13+ billion years. At worst, it gets you a malevolent deity along the lines of Stephen Law’s God of Eth.”
    Apart from your really poor understanding of Plantinga and properly basic beliefs. Here your suggesting God does not exist because certain arguments for the existence of God fail to esthablish his existence.
    So I will repeat my intial question, where are your arguments that moral statements such as “its wrong to demand a women marry her rapist” are true. I can explain everything in the empirical world quite adequately without assuming the truth of statements like this.
    Once again we see you demanding theists provide proof for their beliefs and yet claiming that humanists can simply assert their moral beliefs as “common sense” without proof?
    So again, which is it?
    ”Secondly, what you regard as axiomatic, is rejected by all non-Christians and your refusal to apply the Outsider Test of Faith to the miracles described in the Bible remains the most gaping hole in your approach to apologetics.”
    Well the moral claims you humanists take to be commonsense, is rejected by all moral nihilists, and all moral subjectivists. Many are rejected by numerous Islamic cultures , so your refusal to take the outsider test with regard to moral statements you rely on in your criticism of theism remains the gaping hole in your scepticism.
    Please again provide proof sufficient for a sceptical outsider, such as a moral skeptic or nihilist, that each of the moral claims you accept as a humanist is true. Before you suggested this was “common sense” and so did not need to be proven to a sceptical outsider.
    So once again we see you making a sceptical demand of Theism which you reject is an adequate demand when its your own humanist morality. Which is it?
    ”Finally, what you take for granted is precisely the same as me taking for granted that invisible fairies live in my backyard.”
    Yes and I could make the same assertion about humanist morality, what you take for granted as common sense is the same as taking for granted that invisible faires exist.
    If assertions like this count as solid arguments against theism then they count as solid arguments against humanist morality. If they don’t discredit humanist morality they don’t discredit theism either. Again which is it?
    ”Isn’t it funny how the world with your actively intervening God seems to be perfectly consistent with a world in which he doesn’t exist? What conceivable observation of the natural world would convince you that you are wrong? I can think of plenty that would convince me that your God exists.”
    And a world in which moral obligations and rights do not exist is perfectly constistent with a world in which they don’t. What conceivable observation of the natural world would convince you that moral obligations don’t exist?
    Moral claims are even less subject to empirical verification than theological ones.
    So each sceptical argument you have provided applied with equal force to your own humanist morality. If you were a rational person you would either (a) admit these arguments are bogus or (b) content humanist morality is on par with belief in fairies and stop c0nstructing arguments against theism based on moral claims.
    Which is it?

  • @ Jeremy

    WRT my comments concerning the Catholic child sex abuse scandal, I stated clearly that the reaction should be the same for those in any authority who attempt to subvert, coverup and hinder the investigation and prosecution of the offenders, such as priests, police officers, teachers, financial advisers, etc.

    Your point seems to relate more to the approach that the media took to reporting the issue.

    With respect, that is an entirely different issue.

  • your refusal to apply the Outsider Test of Faith to the miracles described in the Bible

    What Outsider test?

    Do Muslims have a problem with the miracles recorded in the Bible? No, they even add a couple that orthodox Christians don’t.

    Do Hindus? I’ve never encountered one that had a problem with them.

    Do Buddhists have a problem with miracles in the Bible? I don’t see anything in Buddhism that precludes miracles, although they might question whether or not anything exists for a miracle to act on.

    Do atheists? Oh, yes, that lot. There can never be a miracle, says the atheist, because there is no God to perform them. Should a miracle be reported, well there must be some other explanation because of course there is no God is there?

    The Outsider Test is really just another atheist circle jerk.

    “I’m not sufficiently familiar with his entire body of work to comment intelligently.”

    That’s never stopped you before, although “intelligently” might be a bit of a stretch.

  • @ Jeremy

    WRT my comments concerning Anders Behring Breivik were directed at Machinephilosophy, as he used the example of Eric Harris, one of the Columbine shooters, as being motivated by Darwinian theory.

    Implying it would seem, that he is an example of an atheist extremist or something.

    I simply countered with the Anders Behring Breivik example.

    Personally, I believe both of these individuals to be what they actually are. Deeply disturbed, perhaps to the point of criminal insanity.

    In reality, I don’t believe using either of them is helpful, which is exactly the reason why I parodied Machinephilosophy, to show how absurd both examples are.

    However, I would say that what people claim motivates them, specifically with regard to religion, is a real minefield.

    For example, I would say that Osama Bin Laden was motivated in part by his personal interpretation of the Islamic faith, but many Muslims would claim that is not true due to there interpretation.

    This is reinforced on this very blog, as Matt’s latest post shows that he has a different interpretation to William Lane Craig with regard to the Slaughter of the Canaanites.

  • Whether they were disturbed or not Paul, the point remains that the person you invoked as a “Christian” was in fact, by his own admission, one only in a cultural sense.

    Consequently both these individuals were, by their own standards, atheists or agnostics.

    Osama Bin Laden was motivated by his understanding of the Islamic religion, and historically his beliefs seem very much in line with the practises of Mohammed. You could argue in that respect, that the “moderates” are themselves, bad Muslims, and they should act more like Bin Laden.

    If a person actually believes their motivation to be religious, we can then examine their actions to see if those are in accordance with the teachings and practises of that religion. Some people, for example, blow up abortion clinics and claim to be doing God’s work, but are their actions those that would be taught or enacted by Jesus and his apostles?

    Their actions may be in accord with their beliefs, or they may be completely opposed to their beliefs, however the motivation is religious.

    The weakness of atheism is that once you push beyond the “this is the right thing to do” line, you fall into a morass of question begging.

    Why is it the right thing to do? Because it benefits me? Because it benefits the greatest number of people? Because it’s what a being possessing perfect character and knowledge would do if he were me? Because it fulfils some evolutionary trait that I think exists?

    What happens if I run into someone who believes other than I do? Am I wrong? Of course I’m not wrong. They’re wrong. They must be sick in the head or something, or they’d agree with me. Wouldn’t they?

    So many atheist ethicists seem to try to provide some non-theistic justification for the moral beliefs that they inherited from their Christian-tainted history. In that people like Singer deserve some credit, as they’re willing to follow their beliefs to their logical conclusion however unpleasant those conclusions are.

  • Ok, let’s now summarize TAM’s original answers to his questions with the addition of one more

    “As an atheist and secular humanist, my answers to the 6 questions I posed are as follows:
    1. Wrong
    2. Wrong
    3. Wrong
    4. Wrong
    5. [re; polygamy] Not sure – see Robert Wright’s The Moral Animal for an intriguing discussion of how polygamy benefits women.
    6. Wrong
    I don’t need more “context” to answer the questions nor do I require heuristic devices or apologetic manoeuvres.”

    Question number 7: Is it ok to kill a child if the mother demands it?
    Answers:
    – only if it is an “unborn” child – from Enenennx

    – “I’m not going to waste time here defending Singer’s work because, to be frank, I’m not sufficiently familiar with his entire body of work to comment intelligently.” – TAM

    – “Singer’s views on this topic, they are more often misrepresented than not.” – drj

    Seems to me, in regards to question 7, that there is indeed some “apologetics manoevres” happening with appeals to some sort of context. So lets stop deluding ourselves and just admit that moral questions indeed require context in order to be answered properly and fairly.

  • Drj From what I know of Singer’s views on this topic, they are more often misrepresented than not.

    Most of you, I presume, have no problems with parents who withhold life saving measures from their infants, in extreme circumstances. Peter argues that there is not really any moral difference in this action, than in an active act of euthanasia. So if we allow one, we should allow the other.

    Actually that is a misrepresentation of Singer’s views. Singer holds that human persons don’t have a right to life till some time after birth. Just as parents have a right to terminate a fetus they have a right to kill an newborn infant and replace it with another.

    Interestingly, Singer justifies this on the grounds that this is the prescription that we would support if we were completely impartial and aware of all the facts.

    TAM apparently respects this as a serious view in ethics because Singer is a decent intelligent fellow.

    So lets note this, when a Christian believes that a perfectly good omnscient being commanded child killing in a context in which it is made clear God did not actually want it carried out, this is clearly obviously abhorent.

    When a decent intelligent atheist however argues that parents have a right to kill infants, on the grounds that this is the prescription that would be accepted by a perfectly impartial person aware of all the relevant facts. Then that’s an open question.

    Interesting the humanist outrage no longer applies.

    TAM why not just admit your position is intellectually bankrupt.

  • Please note the last sentence of the quote by Singer

    “if a decision is taken, by the parents and doctors, that it is better that a baby should die, I believe it should be possible to carry out that decision, not only by withholding or withdrawing life-support – which can lead to the baby dying slowly from dehydration or from an infection – BUT ALSO BY TAKING ACTIVE STEPS TO END THE BABY’S LIFE SWIFTLY AND HUMANELY.”

    So… is this woman’s actions justified?
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-410323/Mother-murdered-babies-stored-bodies-freezer.html