The Failbox Of Moral Absolutism

Wed Jul 01, 2009 10:07 am by Th1sWasATriumph

My inspiration for this particular blog is gleaned, unhappily, from a NephilimFree video. For those languishing in sweet ignorance, NephilimFree is a Youtube creationist who closely resembles something you might find hunkered under a stone. And for those about to accuse me of cheap adhom, don’t worry – the man would be as stupid and worrying if he looked like Brad Pitt and AronRa strapped together. It’s just so . . . so classic that he looks like everyone’s stereotypical image of the pale, overweight religious fundamentalist.

He made a brief allusion to moral absolutism whilst en route to some cataclysmically balls conclusion about evolution, offering it as a brief proof of God. His argument, and indeed the arguments of all moral absolutists are similar, went like this:

“We know it is evil to rape a baby. But how do we know? This inherent evilness must come from somewhere, it has to have been provided ERGO GOD DID IT HE BLOODY DID THA KNOWS”

Now, I may often make babyrape jokes, so I just want to assure you that I wasn’t making that example for lulz – his words, not mine.

The basic tenet of moral absolutism, (or moral objectivism\objectivity) henceforth referred to as MA to save me a great deal of tedium, is that certain things are universally known to be good or bad. To everyone. Popular examples are rape and murder. We all KNOW it’s wrong. William Lane Craig, that spectacularly fatuous but annoyingly eloquent apologist, made a similar argument when debating with the then atheist Anthony Flew.

This argument is, I need scarcely point out, the supremest ass.

For a start, NephilimFree fails to take into account that, whilst the majority of people would certainly regard the rape of a baby as morally repugnant, some people would not. Namely the people who go around raping babies in the first place. And this is completely ignoring hypothetical situations where the rape of a baby would save a great many people (I freely confess being unable to think of many such situations, but say you have a man who takes 20 people hostage and demands a baby to rape in exchange for the safe release of his hostages . . . is babyrape then still immutably wrong? How many people would have to die before the rape of one baby is outweighed by multiple murders? And so on.)

The world is not as starkly black and white as MA-ists would have us believe. There are clear trends that show what actions are, by and large, considered to be good or bad by humanity in general – but there is no standard, no consensus, no one list of good and bad that every single person could agree on. The shades of grey number into the practically infinite. The trouble is that MA-ists tend to – in fact, are quite naturally compelled to – see the moral compass from atop their own cultural magnet. Nephilim and WLC, to take my two examples, are both American Christians living in the hallowed grounds of the Western civilised world. I’m sure they would recoil in horror if lectured about the scarification rites of various tribal cultures and groups, which are by my standards barbaric. I’m sure they would be repelled, as I am, by the ritual cutting of Muslim children’s heads during Ashura. I would take such acts to be considered immoral more or less across the board, outside  the cultures that practice them – but there is no absolutism here. The people that perform such ritual incisement and scarification are not isolated sociopaths, they are merely operating from a different perspective that they consider to be entirely justified. Note that I’m not condoning such things in the slightest, just demonstrating that what we may call barbaric child abuse is a way of life to a large number of people.

Of course, I have to wonder how Nephilim and WLC regard circumcision. Personally, I find it abhorrent – the mutilation of a child’s genitals, against their will, in the name of some unprovable deity. I often wonder how the nation (whichever nation, mine is the UK) would react if news surfaced of some religious cult who, inspired by their scriptures, ritualistically cut off the left earlobe of all newborn boys. I imagine there would be outrage. However, circumcision is carried out en masse, every day, every minute – the forced removal of part of someone’s body. The only authority it has is antiquity, and of course that argument would lead us back to treating women like possessions (unless you’re in a religion where you already DO treat them like possessions, which saves time) and enslaving people who have a different skin pigmentation. Authority is no kind of argument, and it seems the only defence circumcision has – claims that it significantly improves health are bogus. The decision should lie with the individual, unforced by external pressure.

If two of the largest religions in the world practice genital mutilation, how can there be moral absolutism?

There can only be moral absolutism in small groups – probably the only way you could get a handful of people who would take identical stances on every single moral issue you could raise. Of course, I’m not talking only about things like rape, murder and mutilation. I’m talking about the little things, decisions on whether or not to lie\go home early from work\not do something you were told to do, and so on. I’m sure Neph would say that only the big issues matter, but if you’re talking about MA then you can’t have it just for the major issues. It’s not as if these absolute morals break down once you get into pettier concerns of lying and cheating. If one thing is absolutely right or wrong, everything has to be. So out of 100 people, 100 might agree that babyrape is wrong – but 26 might think it’s ok to steal to provide money for medicine (and 4 of them think it’s ok to steal just to provide money for themselves). 14 might think it’s ok to cheat on their partner. A further 7 might think homosexuals are sinful. 32 might have no problem with circumcision. And for every person who is ok with such a stance, you might have people who take the opposing view whilst doing something themselves that others consider to be immoral. And so on, and on, and on. The Pope, ensconced within his fortress of deceit, thinks that homosexuality is objectively wrong – and this man is the head of the Catholic church. Nice going, guys.

At best, there are trends. Some of the trends are stronger and more widespread, but none are immutable. I cannot think of a single thing that everyone would agree on as being completely and universally bad, something from which moral absolutism could be derived. I put this question to my girlfriend, and she suggested “Destroying the world?” Sadly I can imagine that you’d easily find someone to do it, if they had the chance.

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