Tuesday, 28 June 2011

A logical derivation of morals

Let’s look at human morals or, as co-opted by the church, Christian morals.

Too many apologists suggest that man without God is incapable of knowing moral behaviour and having morals. Then again it was God’s sting operation with ‘The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil’ (to give it its full name) that got us here. (I’m not sure where entrapment falls on the scale of moral behaviours as seen from an Abrahamic perspective.) For starters, you can’t have a knowledge of good and evil, you can only have an opinion, albeit that the majority of humanity, the majority of whom are not Christian, are in agreement on the most basic matters of moral behaviour.

How and why?

Ignoring for the moment the evolutionarily derivable behaviours that we can see in numerous species that, when placed in a human context, seem moral. And forgetting that the beasts of the land and the birds of the air are indeed capable of emotion and thus able to be affected by them. How can we get a moral code with little outside input? Can we achieve this with logic? I think we can. And logic, when discussed, then becomes part of our verbal heritage and takes on its own evolution.

Humans, as with most species are self-preservatory, this makes sense – look after number one. I’m not aware of any truly altruistic animal that will lay down its life wholly and exclusively for the betterment of the species. Would be interested to see examples if there are.

Humans as with many species rely on those closest to them for food, shelter and so on. So familial and then tribal affiliations are self-preservatory at the most basic level. Families and tribes are not likely to lay down their lives for the betterment of the species as a whole; the individuals may possibly lay down their lives for one another or for the family/tribe.

I mention species in both contexts because propagation thereof is ultimately a reason for self-preservation at a personal level. Even though self-sacrifice for the species as a whole could potentially be seen as achieving the same outcome when seen from the perspective of the species (although getting a hive-mind consensus could be tricky).

So, logical morals:

  • That which harms me is bad.
  • I live in a group whom I rely upon for the stuff of survival, so that which harms them is bad, as it will potentially harm me.
  • The group is made up of individuals, each being their own ‘me’, each adhering to the first rule. In order to ensure that none of the other individuals in the group harm me I should be seen to not harm them (the personal version of mutually assured destruction).
  • If I see the potential for harm to a family/tribe member and I can stop that from occurring with no danger to myself I should as the favour would be returned and they are indirectly instrumental to my survival.
  • If I see the potential for harm to a family/tribe member and I can stop that from occurring, but with likely danger to myself, I might, as the favour would be returned and they are indirectly instrumental to my survival. (This will depend on the weight of perceived emotional connection and intrinsic “value”.)

Tangent into the Trolley Problem taken as read.

I believe we can derive all moral/ethical decisions in this way (and some are so conceptual that we have to, it’s called the law). I’m not suggesting that we do derive our morals purely from logic tempered by emotional logic and self-centredness, just that we can.

If we can derive our morals through thought alone, without referring to faith (in fact in defiance of faith by being proud and greedy - self-centred - with a touch of sloth for good measure). And if we can show moral behaviour in animals with whom we share common ancestors, couldn’t either one of these, when pitted against the concept of a creator pre-programming us with these morals, be the victor when applying Occam’s Razor?

Bear in mind that Occam’s Razor calls for the simplest solution (not the most simplistic one) to be the most likely. Which is to say that the explanation that makes the fewest unsupportable suppositions is that which will, on balance, prove to be correct. If you pit either the concept of ‘evolved morality’ or the concept of ‘logical derivation’ against ‘God made us this way’ the result has to be anything but ‘religious morality’ – this is not sophistry, either one can be argued out fully and I encourage people to do so.

The knowledge schism - the schism the church isn’t talking about

Whilst there had been propositions in the past that flew in the face of orthodoxy it has only really been since the 16th and 17th centuries that the extent of human knowledge, and the extent of the dissemination of that knowledge, and the degree to which it disagreed with doctrine (whilst being agreed upon by scholars), that has caused the Abrahamic religions difficulty. I say the 16th and 17th centuries because of such luminaries as Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler and their input into astronomy (and other sciences, let’s be honest) and the final destruction of the flat earth and geo-centrism (thereby reclaiming (the) heaven(s) for the rationalists).

It is worth noting that it took the Catholic church 125 years to lift the ban on (effectively) heliocentrism and a further 75 years to have Copernicus’ ‘De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium’ (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres) and Galileo’s ‘Dialogue [Concerning the Two Chief World Systems]’ omitted from its ‘Index of Forbidden Books’.

Not admitted as fact, merely omitted from the list… a sin of omission?

It was only another 165 years until Galileo got an apology for his trial for heresy. 367 years to admit that a man was right and God was wrong, presumably to allow the church enough time to gather together enough experts in obfuscation (which is to say intellectuals and philosophers with an overweening need to cleave to the church), to “plausibly” explain away the disparities.

The church openly espoused the quest for knowledge and the dissemination thereof, what with libraries and scriptoriums and the scholarly pursuits of priests and monks. That is until books became more readily available and rather more unappetising knowledge was being disseminated (see Copernicus and Galileo, above, as well as Kepler's ‘Epitome Astronomiae Copernicianae’).

125 years seems to be a magic number, for the Catholic church at least, see the book ban above. 125 years after Gutenberg invented the printing press the Catholic Church created its ‘Index of Forbidden Books’ (Index Librorum Prohibitorum) in, you guessed it, the 16th century.

It sickens me to think that the church(es), formerly so instrumental in the gaining, storing and dissemination of knowledge, are now caught in a self-preservatory scramble to maintain ignorance in the masses, to allow them to continue to peddle their wares of faith, belief and the afterlife despite the increasing weight of evidence against the basis of that belief.

If you were ever under any illusions about the fact that religion is a business, then its behaviour should be ample evidence that it is.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Father Paradox


One can’t go back in time and kill one’s own grandfather as, in doing so, one would never be born – if one was never born one couldn’t go back and kill one’s own grandfather, thus the grandfather survives and the would be time-traveller is born.

This, to me, is an elegant reason why time travel, which is to say travelling backwards in time to a past earth, is not possible. Imagine the changes to human history if one landed on a butterfly… Chaos!


An analogue to the Grandfather Paradox, to my mind, is what I will call, for the moment at least, the God/Father Paradox (eventually the joy of the pun will wear off and I’ll think of something a little more prosaic).

The God/Father paradox runs like this:

An omniscient creator cannot bestow its creation with an intellect and provide it with knowledge from which to base its exploration, then allow that knowledge to be overturned by subsequent learning and thus be proved wrong and, by extension, to not exist.

So the parallel runs like this:
  1. There is time travel
  2. A man travels back in time
  3. He kills his own Grandfather
  4. Without a grandfather he would not be born and would not travel back in time to kill his grandfather
  5. Time travel can not happen

  1. There is a God
  2. God gives man an intellect
  3. Human knowledge disagrees with the knowledge handed down by God.
  4. If the knowledge of the world handed down by God is disproved then God’s omniscience is void.
  5. God does not exist

I agree it’s not perfect, if only in the words used to express it, but just as the Grandfather Paradox and the philosophical auto-infanticide memes are useful thought experiments I think this one bears further examination.

So please, comment, discuss – what are the ramifications on the existence of God that the creator’s creation has debunked the scriptural version of events?

Omnipresent? Where were you?
Omniscient? I don’t think so.