Pope Drops Catholic ban on Condoms

Hey skeptics, quick news item for you all,

In a historic change of mind, current pope, Pope Benedict XVI, has reversed the official Catholic stance on Condoms. He has come out saying that they are not immoral, and that they are effective for reducing AIDS.

He hasn’t completely permitted them though, he stated that they should only be used to prevent the spread of disease, so as to preserve life; then they are moral.

Of course, the Pope is still endorsing abstinence as the number 1 prevention of STD, and I have to agree with him… abstinence is a very good way to stop STD (seems rather logical), but so are condoms, and the Pope is finally endorsing that fact.

Relative Morality and Basketball

Hello skeptics and science lovers,

Today I am going to be making an analogy between moral relativism and the NBA draft, to try to demonstrate how almost nothing can be absolutely immoral. But before I do this, I am going to have to explain the NBA draft to some of the less sporting readers.

In the NBA draft (wiki page here, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Basketball_Association_Draft), the 6 teams with the worst records for the whole season get put into a draft lottery. I’m not going to explain the exact way it happens, but the odds of a particular team getting drafted (which is determined by their win-record) happens in a descending order, with the worst team having a 25% chance of getting first pick, and the 6th worst team having a 0.5% chance of having first pick. The net total of all the odds is 100%.

I now need to talk about likeliness and unlikeliness. In mathematics, there is a scale of likelihood which ranges from ‘certain’ at 100% to ‘impossible’ at 0%, with 50% being the medium. Anything above 50% on the scale is considered ‘likely’, and anything below 50% being considered ‘unlikely’. That’s basic chance in mathematics. This is just a very crude scale though, which is important in moral relativism. Luckily though, we can apply a more knowledgeable process to find out odds. Instead of putting things into two categories, likely and unlikely, we put them on a spectrum. Once they are on this spectrum we can choose the ‘most likely’ option. It’s not necessarily ‘likely’ but it is the ‘most likely’.

Lets apply this crude chance to the NBA draft. Overall, it is ‘unlikely’ that the worst team will get the first pick, as their odds are only 25%. But it is still considered the most likely option, because it is more than any of the other possibilities. Because it is the most likely possibility, it is still considered ‘most likely’ that the worst team will get the first pick. This ‘most likely’ is important.

At this point you may be thinking “What does anything about this have to do with moral relativism?”. Well, its time to find out. If we exchange ‘likely’ with ‘moral’, and ‘unlikely’ with ‘immoral’, it is easy to see that chance and relative morality are quite similar, and it is also easy to see that absolute morality isn’t a very versatile option.

If we exchange ‘likelihood’ with ‘amount of pain caused’, you have a relative morality spectrum. at one end, you have things which are certainly moral, they cause absolutely no harm at all. At the other end, you have things which are definitely not moral, things which cause only harm.

Obviously, a lot less things fall at the ends of the spectrum in morality than they do in likelihood, but the analogy is the same. From this, we can also see that an absolute morality breaks down. In absolute morality, there is a clear division line between ‘moral’ and ‘immoral’ things, which fall on either side of the spectrum.

If we apply the NBA draft to this situation, there is nothing ‘moral’ which can be done by somebody who employs absolute morality. Every single option results in something which is immoral to the absolute morality champion. If you use absolute morality, then what in the name of Zeus are you going to do? Curl up in a ball as your brain goes in to shut down? Doing nothing is the answer whenever I ask a Christian about the ‘killing 1 to save 100’ problem.

If we use moral relativism, there is an easy way out of the situation. We pick the 25% option, because it causes much less harm than the 0.5% option. In moral relativism, there is no ‘right or wrong’, like there is only ‘likely or unlikely’ in crude chance. We can apply the more knowledgeable option, and put our options onto the moral scale. By taking the 25% option, it is not necessarily ‘right’, but it is the ‘most moral’ of all the choices, so it is the choice to take.

By applying the spectrum of chance, instead of two pigeonholes, to morality, we get moral relativism. Moral relativism is a much better option than absolute morality, because it never runs into any paradoxes under any situation, there is always some way which causes less harm than another.

Moral Relativism – An Overview

Hello skeptics of our local cluster,

Today’s post is going to be about moral relativism, and how it is a secular replacement for the morals of the bible. As an atheist, I am often asked this question or similar “As an atheist, where do you get your morals?”, and I often give a condensed description of moral relativism to them. Religious people often object to atheism because a set of morals are not set out by a deity, and it seems to be without any set of morals, but most atheists are moral (less than 1% of prisoners in the US are atheist), so there must be some morals which we all seem to follow, or something like it. But without a concrete basis for our morals (god), there has to be another way to make moral decisions.

The moral system which I choose to live by are those of moral relativism. At its core, moral relativism is basically just the aim to reduce harm, and this seems to be a logical decision to make. There is no gold standard of morality in moral relativism, as there is in most religions, just a sliding scale of ‘immoral things’ on the far left, over to ‘moral things’ over on the far left. By always just choosing the option which causes the lest harm, you are keeping yourself open to doing anything, so long as it is the right thing to do.

I asked my religion teacher during a lesson about evils, if it is morally right to kill 1 person to save 100 hundred people. I gave the story of a man who had a boy, and worked operating a train draw bridge over a canyon. One day, there was a train which approached, but the man noticed that his son was playing in the large gears of the bridge, there were only two choices the man could make, lower the bridge and save the lives of the hundreds on the train, and kill his son, or keep the bridge up, kill hundreds on the train, and save his son. To my surprise, my teacher said that he would not kill 1 to save 100, and he said that god is the ultimate decider on the right thing to do. This is a circular morality with no clear way to make decisions, because one cannot simply ask god every time a decision has to be made, and even if you could, science is of the opinion that you are hearing your own thoughts reflected back on you, dressed up in gods voice.

Another question asked by champions of absolute morality is “Is it absolutely morally wrong to rape a child and enjoy it?”, and to that I answer “no”. If somebody says to you, with a gun in hand, “Rape this child and enjoy it or I will kill both of you and your families”, you sure as hell will rape that child, and maintain a smile throughout. That’s the great thing about moral relativism, its flexible to all decisions, just make sure to reduce harm. In my above hypothetical, a Christian would run into a wall, as both paths result in some sort of immorality, either raping a child or being responsible for the deaths of at least a dozen people. A moral relativist has an easy decision, because death is of the utmost importance.

Moral relativism is a great moral system, as it never runs into any paradoxical hypotheticals, and it is a good (better) alternative to absolute morality which is championed by so many religions of today.

The ‘Why’ and ‘How’ of the Creation-Abiogensis/Big Bang ‘Debate’

Hello there, all my moral, just, secular people,

Today’s post was inspired by a television show which aired on the ABC (Australia) entitled Q&A, which every week presents a handful of politicians, public figures, theologians and atheists, for an open discussion and Questions from the live and internet audiences, hence the name Q&A. This weeks program was a special program, because it put forward only two panelists, along with the host, and these where the Atheist Richard Dawkins, and Catholic priest George Pell. Richard Dawkins has made appearances on the show before, but this was the first time he went ‘head-to-head’ with only a Christian joining him on the panel. The show has made quite and impact in the media, with a lot of discussion about it going on even on the radio the next morning. The show can be viewed in full right here at this link here -> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xi1EDDuMksw. I will surely be making my comments on the show over the next few days, but here is today’s rant.

During the show, this oft quoted argument was brought up by George Pell, he said (not an exact quote) “Science can tell us a lot about the ‘how’, with evolution and the big bang, but it doesn’t tell us a lot about they ‘why.'” This argument is talked about by Roy Williams in his book I am reading at the moment, and I have heard it from others too. This whole argument is both a red-herring and a non-sequiter, and Richard Dawkins summarized it very well, “That’s just not a valid question.” The whole question of ‘why’ does the universe exist, is not relevant, its like asking why unicorns aren’t very good at snooker. In that way it is a non-sequiter.

Even if you do grant that ‘why’ is a valid question, it is not a question for the science, nor is it a question which could change the fact that the big bang or abiogenesis happened. The question is for philosophers and humanists.

The ‘Why’ question, “Why are we here.” Is also a good example of the unstated major premace fallacy, the question just assumes that there must be some meaning for our existence, when it is quite plausible that we could have no purpose to exist.

This question is also a red herring because it side-steps the real question of the ‘how’. This is the whole problem with Roy Williams’ book, at the start he asks the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ question, and he says, “Science knows the how, but not the why, I’ll write a book about the why.” In this way he can write a whole book without having to address a single question about ‘how’.
It is a really annoying question, because to people who are not aware of the fact that ‘why’ is not a logical question, the argument can have some weight. Most people like to have a purpose for their life, and this is where they get all caught up. The miss the point that Atheism has a point too, “We only live for 80 or so years, and we have no afterlife to look forward too, so lets just make the world as good as possible in this short time.”

I will leave you with my favourite quote from the entire evening where George Pell accidentally walks all over his own argument to try to just contradict Richard Dawkins on everything,
“Dawkins: the only thing that might convince me that Christianity is true is if a 700 ft Jesus walked into the room and said ‘I exist’, and I’m not even sure if that would convince me.
Pell: I’d say ‘you are hallucinating’.”