Monday, April 06, 2009

The Achilles' Heal of Faith-Based Morality

The Achilles' heal for the idea that morality is somehow tied to faith can be found by looking at the model of the criminal court.

If faith were such a great foundation for knowledge, then why do we not allow proclamations of faith in a court of law?

We should pass legislation allowing prosecutors to call witnesses to the witness stand who believes, as a matter of groundless faith, that the accused is guilty and deserving of whatever punishment is befitting of the crime he is accused of.

Prosecutor: Let me be clear about this. You have is a firm conviction that comes from God that the accused is guilty.

Witness: Yes, sir.

Prosecutor: I want to remind you that you are under oath. You have sworn to tell the truth.

Witness: I am telling you the truth. Even though I have no evidence I am firmly convinced that the accused is guilty. I could not be this certain unless God himself is responsible for my certainty, and God would not lie.

Prosecutor: No further questions. You may step down.

See, under our contemporary social rules, the defense attorney is not permitted to question the witness if the witness grounds his belief on faith. If the prosecutor challenges the witness in any way, then he is guilty of being 'militant' and 'intolerant'.

However, the view that evidence is an appropriate ground for the conviction of the accused is just as much an article of faith as the view that groundless religious belief is an appropriate ground. The idea that evidence shall be required in convicting a person of a crime is just another religion.

In fact, this serves as a model for what the 'new atheists' have attempted to accomplish in the past few years. These defense attorneys have stood up and dared to question the faith of those who use their faith to ground social and political attitudes harmful to others.

The faith-based conviction that the people in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon deserved to die is not good enough.

The faith-based conviction that people with injuries and illnesses that can be treated or cured using stem cell research should be left to suffer or die is not good enough.

The faith-based conviction that homosexuals should not be permitted to enjoy the benefits of marriage are not good enough.

The faith-based conviction that women can be raped by their husbands and imprisoned in their own homes for life, denied decent medical care and an education, is not good enough.

The 'new atheist' defense attorneys are standing up and saying, "Your faith is not sufficient reason to condemn others to death, suffering, and the loss of liberty. To do these things, you need evidence."

However, in demanding evidence for imposing death, suffering, and the loss of liberty on others, the atheist is accused of being militant and intolerant – intolerant of those who insist that faith-based justification for bringing about death, suffering, and the loss of liberty is, in fact, better than evidence. Consequently, the advocates of faith-based harms now insist that respect for their religion requires that people making a demand for evidence now be silenced. This should not be allowed because it insults those who wish to ground the harms they would inflict on others on (their) faith alone.

Let me be clear, I have some moral objections to raise against the 'new atheists' as well.

One is their disposition to leap from propositions about 'a religion' to conclusions about 'religion' without justification – to commit the informal fallacy of hasty generalization when it seems politically or socially expedient to do so.

The other their hypocrisy. They condemn behavior on the part of theists and then engage in the same behavior themselves when it is convenient to do so. For example, while they condemn the theist for abandoning reason while they leap to the defense of “new atheists” who use the informal fallacy of hasty generalization.

Yet, when these errors are scraped away (as they should be), the bulk of what the 'new atheists' are saying is that when it comes to condemning people to death and suffering, the faith of those who do the condemning is not good enough. Evidence is required – evidence that proves beyond a reasonable doubt that this death and suffering is necessary. Otherwise, the accused shall enjoy the benefit of the doubt.

Just as within a court, real evidence must be provided before the accused can be justifiably deprived of life, health, or liberty. It is not wrong to say of the accuser who simply has faith that the accused may be deprived of life, health, and liberty that this simply is not good enough.


PersonalFailure said...

Oh, heel. Sorry for that, had to get it out.

You are absolutely right. We don't accept "well, god told me so" in so many situations, so why is it expected and okay in others?

And why, oh why, is that asshat still on the environmental committe?

Tommykey said...

I always thought the Achilles' heel of faith-based morality was that it was based on something non-existent.

Christian apologists always like to claim that their morality is objective, and that an atheist's morality can only be based on personal preference, when in fact the Christian's morality is simply an acceptance of someone else's subjective morality which has been wrapped up in the guise of divine command.

mikespeir said...

Good article. I've used this kind of reasoning myself.

One question, though: Is "heal" supposed to be a pun? If so, I didn't get it.

Kevin Currie-Knight said...

To me, the most telling disjunct between faith and what we recognize as secular justice is that with the former, you are allowed to be forgiven for any crime at all, so long as you sincerely say that you are sorry afterward.

We recognize, quite rightly, that there would be no justice if the person who raped little girls before he killed them were to be forgiven by the criminal courts just because he sincerely told the judge that he was sorry.

Yet, we are expected to call Christianity a moral doctrine even though it allows just this type of thing?

give me a break.