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>Moral perspectives on lying

2009 October 25 3 comments

>There are a range of Christian theories on the moral acceptability of lying.

The issues around lying seem difficult to fully categorise in English. The problem is a lack of simple words to express subtle differences in meaning. To illustrate this note that the concept of lying can be considered analogous to killing. With killing we have sub-terms such as murder, manslaughter, and capital punishment. We also recognise killing in a variety of situations such as warfare and self-defence. The debate about the morality of types of killing is more transparent because we agree on meaning, even if we disagree or the moral acceptability of them.

Whereas “lying” merely means distorting the truth irrespective of the circumstances. There are terms such as deception, falsification, untruthfulness, but these are basically synonymous. There are situational terms though, such as perjury.

So is falsehood a single conceptual category? I have long thought it meaningful that the 9th commandment is not, “You shall not lie,” but rather, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.” I have previously distinguished between reality and what one perceives as reality stating that affirming a false belief is not lying. I have also made the distinction between voluntary and forced disclosure of information which I wish to expand on here.

The moral debate is that either:

  • lying (or specific types or lying) is objectively wrong, that is, various forms of absolutism; or
  • lying is not intrinsically wrong (for all people), (though it may be preferable to avoid in certain situations for other reasons), that is, forms of subjectivism.

Christianity claims that morality has its source in the moral law giver, thus it views the morality of truth telling as objective: the same rules for all people at all times. Here are particular forms of such absolutism.

1. Unqualified Absolutism

Lying is always wrong. People should never lie ever. No matter what the situation or consequences.

Doug Beaumont explains such unqualified absolutism.

Unqualified Absolutism is based on the idea that most moral actions are intrinsically right or wrong, and because sin is always avoidable there can be no actual moral conflict. Given a choice between telling the truth or lying to avoid a murder, for example, one must choose telling the truth for in that instance it is not the one speaking, but the murderer who is sinning. In that case it is better to permit sin than to commit it. This view states that moral “oughts” are viable regardless of their consequences, for any moral philosophy that has exceptions results in relativism. Moral law is based on God’s unchanging nature, therefore moral law itself is unchanging. Logically, if an act is intrinsically evil, it cannot become good because of a changing situation. Finally, God can always provide a third alternative to sinful actions.

This is how many people view lying. It is a somewhat reasonable but it lacks depth. Exceptions to rules don’t intrinsically mean relativism. True, exceptions can be special pleading or hypocrisy, but they may be legitimate (eg. age based rules). And as I note below, unqualified absolutism may conflate intrinsically different actions.

2. Conflicting absolutism

Lying is wrong, but it needs to be considered within the situation. If lying conflicts with another moral commandment then one must do obey the higher moral. But lying, while required, is still sinful.

Such a position acknowledges that we have moral conflict (at least in this age). I think this is an improvement as it notes that as bad as lying may be, it may not be the greatest evil (though lying is a bigger evil than many acknowledge). This position encourages people to do good and love their neighbour.

It fails in that it suggests at times all options a man may have involve sin. However if we wish to do right, Scripture suggests we are able to do so (thru God). Further, how much less are we to blame when others have placed us in a dilemma, rather than our own prior choices.

3. Graded absolutism

Lying is wrong unless it conflicts with a higher moral commandment. Obeying the higher moral by lying is not wrong or sinful.

This resolves the dilemma or not being able to make a right choice. It affirms moral conflict, but it claims that the choice to do the better is good. And not sinful if a greater good is being done. There may be some support from Jesus’ words to the Pharisees. It discussing tithing garden herbs Jesus states

But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.

While one could claim that tithing herbs and doing justice are morally equal—Jesus does say not to neglect the former—the context would suggest that doing justice is a higher moral command. Apologists for unqualified absolutism could argue Jesus commands they do both, but there is no conflict between moral obligations set up here, so unqualified absolutism cannot be proven from the passage. I am merely illustrating that moral commands are graded.

It is important to note that this is not arguing that the end justifies the means. Yes, the end is considered, but for the sake of doing good, not for preferred result. Doing good may have unpleasant consequences.

4. Libertarian absolutism

Lying is wrong if one is voluntarily giving information. One need not tell the truth if one is being compelled to divulge information. I am responsible for my actions, not yours.

This has the advantage over graded absolutism in that it recognises that voluntary information and compelled information are categorically different. It is somewhat analogous to saying that predatory killing is sinful but self-defensive killing is not.

Interestingly Jesus’ words may shed some light on our understanding here.

After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him. Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand. So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” For not even his brothers believed in him. Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.” After saying this, he remained in Galilee.

But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private. The Jews were looking for him at the feast, and saying, “Where is he?” And there was much muttering about him among the people. While some said, “He is a good man,” others said, “No, he is leading the people astray.” Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him.

About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching. (John 7, emphasis added)

Jesus said he wasn’t going but then he did. This implies that Jesus’ answer was not true. In fact some manuscripts say, “I am not yet going up to this feast.” Which would seem to make Jesus’ answer more honest. Looking at the passage it is clear Jesus wished to go without others initially knowing he was there. He
is asked if he is going, however Jesus does not wish to tell this person. Being evasive may be construed as a yes. Jesus says that he is not going to this feast. Within the libertarian absolutism view a request is made of Jesus to divulge information he does not wish to give and he is at liberty to answer in a way that does not divulge same information.

This position is distinct from graded absolutism in that one is not weighing up morality in conflict. The distinction is in will for informing.

Although one could think nothing one hears in conversation is reliable, the solution is listen to what people wish to tell you.

5. Authoritative absolutism

Non aggressive version

  • Lying is wrong in non-aggressive situations. Self-defence against an aggressor allows for lying. Authorities are owed the truth.

Libertarian version

  • One need not tell the truth if one is being compelled to divulge information unless being compelled by a legitimate authority.

Authoritative absolutism states the voluntary information must be true as per libertarian absolutism, or that all information must be true unless facing an aggressor. It states that, in general, compelled information does not need to be true though there can be variation on what is meant by compulsion.

But this position does allow an appropriate authority to force information (whereas strict libertarian absolutism would not). A person following libertarian absolutism would allow one to lie in court if he did not wish to divulge the truth. Non-aggressive absolutism would mean that it is eumoral (morally good) to tell the truth in legitimate courts and immoral to withhold it. Note the caveat: obeying a lesser authority is not required if that means disobeying a higher one. Obeying a policeman, a ruler, or a court is necessary even unjust ones, or in unpleasant circumstances; unless doing so compromises a higher earthly ruler or God.

Conclusion

People may argue for the legitimacy of any of these options within Christian theology. Unless one recognises that the concept of lying may include more than one category, graded absolutism is as far as one can advance and this seems to be the best approach. However the knowledge of a permissible sub-categorisation based on the distinction between voluntary and involuntary knowledge sharing allows for more nuanced views.

Categories: ethics, truth

>New Zealand voters do not wish to criminalise smacking

2009 August 21 3 comments

>Following from my recent post on whether or not parents who smack should be criminals. The preliminary results to the recent New Zealand citizen’s initiated referendum are available. To the question:

  • Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?

1.6 million of an eligible 3.0 million people (54%) voted by postal ballot.

Vote Yes

  • A smack as part of good parental correction should be a criminal offence

got 12%.

Vote No

  • A smack as part of good parental correction should not be a criminal offence

got 88%.

Results of referendums are not binding for New Zealand government.

>Dog food?

2009 August 20 5 comments

> Auckland resident Paea Taufa killed and cooked his dog this past weekend. He was visited by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) but not prosecuted as his actions are legal.

He rendered the dog unconscious with a blow to the head before slitting its throat, which is regarded as humane.

Under the Animal Welfare Act it is legal to kill a dog in New Zealand if the animal is slaughtered swiftly and painlessly.

That did not stop several persons from condemning him and calling for a ban on the consumption of dog meat in New Zealand. SPCA Auckland chief executive Garth Halliday said,

Although we appreciate the difference of cultures that exist in a place like New Zealand, the SPCA finds this sort of treatment of any animal to be totally unacceptable,… Even though the law says you can humanely kill an animal, you should not be treating any animal like this.

And SPCA chief executive Robyn Kippenberger said,

The slaughtering, roasting and eating of a dog or other companion animal is simply abhorrent to our culture as New Zealanders.

Korean Garden Trust spokesman Stanley Park was surprised it was legal in New Zealand. He also stated,

Dog eating may be part of our history, but most Koreans today would consider eating dogs totally barbaric – and our culture actually forbids us making a meal of animals that are considered companions.

Save Animals From Exploitation voiced objection as well. Hans Kriek said,

While we are opposed to the killing of all animals for eating, banning the consumption of dog meat would be a good start.

And a variety of others have expressed their thoughts on this, many of the opponents calling for a ban.

Now I have never tasted dog meat. I don’t have a strong desire to facilitate my consumption of it at a later stage, though I would be prepared to try it, or eat it if offered it in a culture where my refusal would be seen as offensive.

But why the call for banning? You don’t like the idea of eating a dog, don’t eat one.

Kriek’s comment is revealing. He opposes all meat eating and just sees this as a step in eventual banning of all carnivory. It is, however, probably the most consistent position among the opponents.

When people find something icky what makes them strongly desire to prevent everyone else from doing it? These same people would likely strongly object if I imposed bans on their preferred behaviours. I am not a particular fan of tattoos or body piercing, but I do not support calls to make it illegal.

I am all for debate, and some things should be illegal. But the speed at which people are prepared to jump from “I wouldn’t do that” to “no one should ever be allowed to do that” is phenomenal. This in an age when the call for tolerance is greater than at many other times in history.*


* I am not suggesting I support this age’s call for tolerance, just noting that we are in it—though rapidly moving away from it.

>Conflict of interest

2009 May 5 4 comments

>The Institute of Medicine has released a report on conflict of interest in medical practice.

Collaborations between physicians or medical researchers and pharmaceutical, medical device, and biotechnology companies can benefit society—most notably by promoting the discovery and development of new medications and medical devices that improve individual and public health. However, relationships between medicine and industry may create conflicts of interest, potentially resulting in undue influence on professional judgments.

…The committee’s report stresses the importance of preventing bias and mistrust rather than trying to remedy damage after it is discovered. It focuses specifically on financial conflicts of interest involving pharmaceutical, medical device, and biotechnology companies.

The committee recommends the implementation of policies and procedures that will reduce the risk of conflicts that can jeopardize the integrity of sci­entific investigations, the objectivity of medical education, the quality of patient care, and the public’s trust in medicine.

The New York Times notes the report has stated that doctors, medical schools and hospitals should not accept gifts from pharmaceutical companies.

doctors should stop taking much of the money, gifts and free drug samples they routinely accept from drug and device companies.

And the suggestion is to remove funding from education courses as well

Drug companies spend billions of dollars wooing doctors — more than they spend on research or consumer advertising. Much of this money is spent on giving doctors free drug samples, free food, free medical refresher courses and payments for marketing lectures. The institute’s report recommends that nearly all of these efforts end.

3 brief questions.

  • If medicine was fully privatised would this be as great a concern?
  • While money can be a strong conflict of interest, so is ideology. Do people note competing interests based on philosophical, theological, or political beliefs? Is this a bad thing?
  • Should this be extended to democracy? Should any person receiving financial favours from the government (excluding legitimate work done at governments behest) forfeit their vote? Welfare recipients, subsidised farmers, corporations that have specific laws written for them.
Categories: ethics, medicine, politics

>Moral responsibility in combat

2009 January 24 1 comment

> The second ethical issue that has become prominent during the Gaza/ Israel conflict is the death of civilians. Is there an excessive loss of civilian life in the conflict and who bears this responsibility?

Several issues have been raised that have bearing on the civilian question. These include:

  1. The deliberate targeting of “enemy” civilians.
  2. Combatants posing as civilians;
  3. Combatants sending civilians into a known targeted sites to act as “shields”;
  4. Civilians choosing to go into known targeted sites to act as shields; and
  5. Combatants choosing high density civilian areas and structures from whence to perform military operations and store munitions.
  6. Planting explosives near civilians to maximise damage by enemy fire.

Similar to my previous post, a tally of numbers, while giving some information, is a simplistic way to analyse civilian casualties. It says that X number of civilians from territory A are dead. B is at war with A. Therefore B is responsible for X. This analysis lacks assessment for intention and assumes that the killer is morally responsible for the death.

Intention is important. One can argue whether or not an army deliberately targeting civilians is legitimate in war. The West generally condemns this action as morally wrong. While I am in general agreement with this, one could make an argument that it may be dependant on the choices “enemy” civilians make. But if we accept that intentional targeting of civilians is immoral then those who do so carry the guilt even if they are unsuccessful in their intent. That is, if they miss the target or strike the target but it has been evacuated such that no one is killed, the intent and attempt at civilian death is present. They should be thought of and treated similarly to any other group which accomplishes intentional civilian massacre. The lack of achievement of their goals does not remove their culpability.

Conversely, an attack that targets combatants yet also kills some civilians should be assessed based on the underlying intent. If the target is legitimate and attempts are made to minimising civilian death (while still achieving the objective) then these are unfortunate casualties of war. One can argue that minimisation was not done adequately such that civilian deaths were excessive for the particular objective, but it is difficult to argue that important targets cannot ever be targeted for risk of civilian death; if that is the case then the risk is all militarily important persons and equipment will be placed within these regions.

When the military chooses civilian infrastructure that civilians are using or are near to, such as hospitals, schools, churches, mosques, etc., then they are placing their own people at risk. If they are doing so in an attempt to minimise their enemy’s response or maximise the moral outrage of allies when civilian deaths are publicised then they are making a strategic decision, but one that carries significant responsibility—the responsibility for the lives of those civilians. Whatever the guilt, or lack thereof, for the death of these civilians it lies primarily with the combatants and their commanders who have acted in this manner. There may be situations where opposing troops end up in populous regions but this is a different situation.

The moral responsibility for the death, injury or even risk when civilians are forced to act as human shields is clearly those doing the forcing. Though given that such civilians may switch allegiance in this situation it would be prudent for the opposing army to take this into consideration with regard to long term strategy.

However civilians who act as human shields voluntarily are in a different situation. One can argue how “voluntary” the action is, which is a legitimate concern; but in situations where civilians are doing this of their own volition they are actively participating in the war. They are not just choosing a side—many civilians are on the side of their own army, though not always—they are joining the battle and thus it could be argued that they have become combatants and as such are as legitimate a target as any soldier. Their blood is on their own head.

Combatants posing as civilians carry significant moral responsibility. Whereas a combatant hiding amongst civilians may be thought cowardly; one who disguises himself as a citizen such as a labourer, a merchant, a woman; or as a humanitarian worker such as an aid provider, a nurse, a doctor; while actively fighting places those people at risk. The reason for this is that they will subsequently all be seen as possible combatants. If 3 of 10 emergency food truck drivers are combatants who engage the enemy from this position, how is the enemy to know that the other 7 are not also combatants? If the real aid workers end up dead in the engagement then the blame is with the disguised combatants, not their enemies who fired the fatal bullets.

Lastly, intentionally increasing the death toll of your own citizens for propaganda purposes scarcely needs commenting on.

All this does not have significant bearing on the justice of one’s cause nor the rightness of engaging in war. If your cause is wrong, even if you avoid civilian casualties, your cause is still wrong. If your cause is right, you can still make right and wrong decisions in how you seek your cause. We must be careful not to justify evil behaviour because we agree with the cause.

Categories: ethics, warfare

>The principle of proportionality

2009 January 19 3 comments

>Various commentators and news outlets have expressed opinions about the current conflict in Gaza. It is difficult to know all the relevant issues from a secular viewpoint with much misinformation, lies and propaganda.

On the side of the Palestinian cause are arguments about Israel blocking access along the borders of Gaza, specifically Egypt and the Mediterranean, and the involvement of Israel in creating their enemy. Arab support is also along the lines of mutual ancestry, mutual religion and mutual hatred for Israel.

On the side of the Israel cause are arguments about right of defence, right of conquest, larger concessions in negotiations. This on the background of a repeated stated desire of their enemies to completely annihilate them. There is some support from some advocates of democracy because of Israel’s political structure. Several Christians are sympathetic to Israel because of their eschatological beliefs.

Without discussing the merits of these arguments nor resolving the various rights of both parties, I wish to comment on the ethics of the warfare and tactics as it relates to this conflict. I will discuss proportionality here and civilian casualties in a later post.

A lot is being made of the proportionate response theory. The idea being that the defence against an aggressor is proportional to the attack. This appears to be analogous to the principle of talion. The difficulty here is that talion limits the punishment for a crime committed by an individual. Under this principle a murderer can be put to death but a assaulter cannot be. You can force a thief to recompense his victim (and fine him) but not cut off his hand.

The number of casualties in a war is the sum of all individual deaths. However the idea that total number of deaths is comparable does not automatically follow. Each individual has died, but the addition of one individual’s death to another does not seem to make sense.

Granted, mass death seems more horrible than individual death, and it is. But even with a single death, that person has still died. If a serial murderer is put to death for his crimes, he is only executed once. It doesn’t matter whether he killed 3 people or 27 in terms of the degree of his punishment. We don’t go and find 26 of his acquaintances to execute to even the numbers.

One could argue that victim proportionality can be applied to warfare even if it cannot be applied to serial murder because an army has a chain of command. But war is also an act of the state, not of individuals; and it is to individuals that talion applies. Suffice to say that totalling deaths to assess “proportionality” lacks any convincing principle and appears simplistic.

I am not even certain that “proportionality” by any metric is a required ethical aim for warfare, as opposed to, say, the combatant/ civilian distinction.

But assuming proportionality, as so many do, a more rational approach to proportionality is to look at intent. If soldiers from 2 countries are fighting each other, the fact that 1 side is more successful in killing the other side just reflects their better ability. Both sides are continuing to fight. Where proportionality potentially comes into play is when 1 side surrenders. Significant ongoing warfare after surrender (and agreed terms of peace) could be argued as disproportionate. So if Hamas continues to fire rockets into Israel, even though Israel has killed more Palestinians than Hamas has killed Israelis, then the response by Israel can hardly be described as disproportionate.

Interestingly Jesus makes this statement,

Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. (Luke 14)

Now it is important to note that Jesus was talking about joining the kingdom of heaven: men should consider all the implications of following Jesus. Jesus is not necessarily justifying some wars, nor is he commenting on the righteousness of the king’s cause. But he is making an observation about kings that his hearers would have understood: when rulers know they cannot win they show prudence by negotiating.

The principle of proportionality also allows the aggressor disproportionate positioning. The aggressor can attack at will and the response is dependant on the attacks. This allows the aggressor to optimise his position and fight as munitions become available, knowing they will never be attacked at a greater level than they inflict. If this is disputed then why do those who hold to proportionate response not ask the aggressor to cease fire then the response to cease? Note that with individuals the wrong is with the aggressor (if it is not then they are not punished) and a proportional punishment against him acts as a limit on further activity. With warfare the aggressor may not be in the wrong and even if they are a proportional retaliation does not limit further activity.

None of this states which party is morally right or wrong in the situation. There have been cases when the righteous have won battles and wars and cases when they have been defeated.

Categories: ethics, justice, warfare

>Anyone for reindeer salami?

2008 December 7 6 comments

>Retailer Ikea has been taken to task for selling reindeer meat, more specifically their treatment of the animals. The animals are not farmed, rather they are caught wild and trekked up to 1000 km to the slaughter houses. Viva! have stated,

We are calling on the company to withdraw sales of the meat, due to the cruel exploitation these wild animals suffer at the hands of hunters.

The reason this does not pass the smell test is that Viva! are an animal rights group: Vegetarians’ International Voice for Animals. It does not matter how humanely the animals are treated, the fact that they are killed and eaten will likely be viewed as abuse. They even oppose dairy:

Cow’s milk is neither a natural or healthy drink for humans who are the only mammals to consume milk after weaning, not only that but the milk of another species!

And yet we still produce lactase to digest milk into adulthood. Seems like we are designed to consume milk.

While I am no fan of “animal rights,” I do not support the abuse of animals. It is both unkind to the animals and detrimental to the human perpetrator. Many farmers who raise livestock oppose the mistreatment of animals. What I found amusing, was this complaint by Viva! about the practice,

More than 70 per cent of reindeer slaughtered for meat are calves that have grazed during the summer, which means they never even get to see snow.

No snow for the little reindeer children.

Good grief, they are deer!

It is either acceptable or unacceptable to eat animals. If it is acceptable then killing them before or after they have seen snow makes no difference. And if it is not acceptable to eat animals, then their slaughter is the issue, and killing snow exposed reindeer is just as problematic as killing snow unexposed ones.

Whatever the ethical status of carnivory, the whether or not they have seen snow is irrelevant. Further, as animals they negotiate their environment, snowy or not. They do not have subliminal moments as they gaze upon winter forests, crystal plains, and hoary mountain peaks.

>Unclean food: Do God's commands change at his whim?

2008 November 16 4 comments

>Most Christians have no concerns about eating pork. Many Jews do. God clearly forbade the eating of pig meat at Sinai, yet Christians don’t consider it forbidden. Several questions that I can think of or that I have seen asked include:

  • Is eating pork acceptable?
  • Why was it banned at Sinai but acceptable millennia later?
  • Can God give contradictory commandments?
  • Which command takes precedence?
  • What basis in Scripture is there for accepting the later commandment rather than the previous commandment?
  • Why is it wrong for the Hebrews but not for the Gentiles?
  • Is morality or God arbitrary?

The issue here is understanding the reasons for which God sets laws.

Some laws reflect God’s righteousness. Examples of sins directly against God would be murder, adultery, worshipping anything other than the true creator. These laws exist because of the nature of God. These laws are directly determined by the nature of God and his morality. Honouring anyone above the creator dishonours the creator. Unlawfully destroying the image of God in a man steps outside man’s domain and assumes God’s domain; not to mention the source of murder is in hatred which God despises.

The Hebrews had many laws and not all of them were in the above category. The offence against God in breaking these other laws was disobedience. Now disobedience is a major sin which implies that obedience is very important; but this does not mean that the forbidden action in and of itself offends God’s righteousness. Whereas breaking laws like murder are acting in disobedience as God has commanded not to, but they are sinful both in their disobedience and in their intrinsic action.

Parenthood holds an analogy. I forbid my children to do many things. Some verboten actions are always wrong, but others are somewhat arbitrary or temporary based on the child’s age. All broken rules are disobedience but several are also morally wrong.

One could label these 2 types of laws,

  • Moral laws: Breaking these contravene God’s nature.
  • Legal laws: Breaking these contravene God’s commands.

Legal rules can potentially be for a season. They could be for all time on earth but cease in heaven. They could be forever to test our obedience to God.

God forbidding Adam to eat from the tree of the knowledge-of-good-and-evil was probably an obedience rule. Other examples would be eating vegetables pre-Fall versus eating meat post-Flood; not eating pig, rabbit, and camel for the nation of ancient Israel but eating these foods okay for Gentiles and Christians.

So why did God command the Hebrews not to eat pork?

Eating pork was not banned for the same reason as murder. It was in some respects arbitrary. This is seen in the temporary nature of the command.

And [Jesus] said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” ( Thus he declared all foods clean.) (Mark 7)

The sin of eating pork is therefore not intrinsic to the pig meat itself, it is the disobedience of Jews to God concerning this specific commandment.

It is helpful to seek the underlying reason for the ban. This will give us the reason for the temporary nature and give us understanding into God’s character and his reasoning in this example.

I think the commandment was to teach the Hebrews about holiness. They had to think about what food was acceptable and what was not. This is similar to other laws such a the the ban on ploughing with unclean and clean animals yoked together or making cloth with 2 different types of thread.

God made categories of clean and unclean so the Hebrews could learn to distinguish between them. Clean and unclean symbolise holy and unholy. God belongs to the category of holy and he wants the Jews to be holy also.

Of course there was never a ban on Gentile consumption of pork, nor a ban for Hebrews/ Israelites pre-Sinai. However Christians trace their spiritual heritage thru Israel; Christianity was not so much a new religion, more a greater revelation of God, namely thru Jesus his son. Now that now we have a fuller revelation in Jesus these old rules have changed. We have a new and better covenant.

Categories: ethics, holiness, law

>Happiness or truth?

2007 November 28 Leave a comment

>Vox interviews atheist Jonathan Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis.

I think conservatives are right, there are certain things that are better off veiled. There are certain things better off not being exposed to the light. Now, to the scientist, that’s a terrible thing to say and I’m not saying that science should necessarily stop. But I think if we respect and even revere our founders, if we have things that bind us together and make us proud of who we are and what our nation is, we’re much better off than if we do all the careful historical research and then advertise the fact that our Founding Fathers all have warts and moral lapses.

If he believes this it is way scary! Now I don’t necessarily place my pearls before swine, but he is essentially justifying “the end justifies the means” which he later condemns. Better to believe a lie for the sake of community? How far is that from better to lie to the community for its benefit that reveal the truth to its detriment? Historical revisionism and politics determining truth and all that evil.

Give me truth any day. I’d have warts over a unity of lies!

Categories: ethics, truth

>Does one need always tell the truth?

2007 October 21 8 comments

>My general view has been that there is a hierarchy of absolutes, so if one is faced with doing one or other of 2 usually wrong actions he needs to decide what is the right thing to do. If we are faced with a genuine conflict of morality, we are to choose that which conforms to loving God and loving our neighbour.

That being said I cannot think of a situation where murder would ever be the eumoral choice; of course murder is not the same as killing and if killing is ever justified then the killing is unlikely to come under the definition of murder.

With lying it is more complex. I personally think that Rahab did the right thing with the spies and the authorities of Jericho. Although previously I would have classified this under graded absolutism (ie. hierarchy of absolutes as above) my more recent thoughts have been that I think it depends on whether you are voluntarily giving information or you are being forced to.

If you are trying to convince someone of what you believe, or in general share your thoughts, you are morally obligated to tell the truth. But if others demand information that you do not desire to give them the situation is not the same. If someone is forcing you into a position of sharing information I wonder if that removes any obligation to tell the truth. I am not aware biblically that one is morally required to give information to someone they do not wish to. So being vague or evasive is not necessarily morally wrong, one has to weigh up the consequences of sharing that information. And if sharing that information causes damage to others (Nazi’s looking for Jews) then love of one’s neighbour may dictate that lying is justified.

We have liberty to our opinions and what we do with them, if someone tries to remove that liberty (eg. by forcing information out of us) we are released from any moral obligation in our answers. Further, if people misunderstand what we are saying when we do not wish them party to our information we are under no obligation to correct that misbelief.

However, God is not happy if we choose to keep our mouths shut in order to allow the miscarriage of justice.

Categories: ethics, philosophy, truth

>Character Deficiency Syndrome

2007 September 28 Leave a comment

>An interesting article that I have read recently is Character Deficiency Syndrome by Garry D. Nation. He states that the Bible translates 4 different words as fool into English and that these different words describe different, and likely progressive stages, of foolishness. The words are pethi which he calls a naive fool; kesil which he calls the self-confident fool, though I prefer cocky fool; ‘evil which he calls the committed fool, though there is also the word nabal which describes a full blown version of that person; and luts which he calls the scornful fool, though I prefer mocker or mocking fool. His descriptions are:

  1. The first degree is the Simple or Naive Fool, who is unthinking, gullible. He lacks the most basic understanding of moral cause and effect.
  2. The second degree is the Self-Confident Fool. He is known by his stubbornness, and by his big mouth.
  3. The third degree is the Committed Fool, who has decisively rejected wisdom, and instead pledged his allegiance to destructive ideas and behaviors.
  4. The fourth degree or terminal stage of Character Deficiency Syndrome is reached by the Scornful Fool, a mocker who is openly contemptuous of spiritual truth and moral righteousness.

The cocky fool is not amenable to reason:

Proverbs 26, verses 4 and 5, back to back proverbs, seem to contradict each other. “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him. / Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.” The contradiction isn’t in the Scripture, it’s in the fool! One is compelled to reply to his aggravating foolishness, yet it’s pointless to do so. You never get anywhere talking to him.

Of the mocker Nation writes,

Other fools may be abominations to God, but the Scorner is even an abomination to men! The Bible expends few words describing such a one. It simply warns the wise believer to stay away from him. …[he] does serve one civic purpose: he provides an object lesson.

Well worth a read.

Categories: ethics, interpretation

>Children: blessing or curse

2007 July 3 1 comment

>The climate change fanatics have come a long way

Having large families should be frowned upon as an environmental misdemeanour in the same way as frequent long-haul flights, driving a big car and failing to reuse plastic bags, says a report to be published today by a green think tank.

The article further quotes John Guillebaud who says

The greatest thing anyone in Britain could do to help the future of the planet would be to have one less child.

Compare this to Psalm 121

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,/
the fruit of the womb a reward./
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior/
are the children of one’s youth./
Blessed is the man/
who fills his quiver with them!

Now I don’t have any desire to tell people how many children to have nor do I think the number of children produced correlates to righteousness; some people have chosen singleness for the sake of Christ. But when a philosophy contradicts Scripture you know that the philosophy is in error. The false conclusions of this group do not disprove anthropomorphic global warming but they definitely cast it in a negative light.

>Can does not equal should

2007 June 18 1 comment

>UK parliament is to debate the Human Tissues and Embryos (Draft) Bill. The document is 247 pages long (not the bill). From pages ix-x

1.10 …The White paper also proposed that the creation of hybrid and chimera embryos in vitro should not be permitted but that there should be a regulation-making power allowing exceptions to this prohibition. The Bill as currently drafted reflects this position….

1.11 Following the publication of the White Paper…. The report of the Committee concluded that the creation of hybrid and chimera embryos is necessary for research.

1.12 …we intend to accept the principle that legislation should provide for the following inter-species entities (hybrids and chimeras)…:

  • cytoplasmic hybrid (cybrid)—an embryo created by replacing the nucleus of an animal egg or a cell derived from an animal embryo with a human cell of the nucleus of a human cell)
  • human transgenic embryos—a human embryo that has been altered by the introduction of any sequence of nuclear or mitochondrial DNA of an animal
  • human-animal chimera—a human embryo that has been altered by the introduction of one or more animal cells.

I have not waded thru this but is appears the proposal is these entities will be prohibited as per 1.10 with exemptions as deemed necessary. Of course all this will be debated.

And recently in the news a British group is stating that somatic cell nuclear transfer should be allowed

Making human-animal embryos for scientific experiments should be allowed because of the benefits to science and medicine, British experts said in a report released for Sunday.

As there is no bill currently against this they are asking for it to remain legal. The proposed bill will address it. It is good that the issue is being addressed. One hopes for the right outcome.

I am not completely opposed to all genetic experimentation. I am of the opinion that scientists think they know much more about DNA than they actually do, so my view is one predisposed to caution.

There seems to be an argument concerning scientific experiments that involve aspects of questionable morality, one of this knowledge is required to advance science or find cures to disease. But this is a muddying of the waters. If these experiments go ahead I think it is likely that increased knowledge will come of it. The question is not: will this lead to increased knowledge? rather: should we do this?

Just because something is possible does not mean that it should be done. This is the temptation Jesus faced and resisted

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If [or Since] you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,/
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” (Matthew 4:1-4)

Was the temptation? “Can you turn the stones into bread?” or was it? “You are the Son of God and you are hungry so use your power to make bread and sate your hunger.” The second option is consistent with Jesus’ rebuke to Satan; Jesus comments that it is not for him to do his own will but that of the Father.

This temptation of Satan continues to come to us: since you can you should. We best learn from Jesus: it is not “whether we can” that determines our course of action it is the will of the Father.

And if it is God’s will, ability counts for less—God’s ability is unlimited.

Categories: ethics, politics

>The moral argument

2007 June 10 2 comments

>Humans acknowledge they are moral beings. That is they have a sense of “ought” as C.S. Lewis put it. There is no denying that virtually every person has a sense that some things are right and some things are wrong. So there is a universal sense that morality is a real phenomenon. That is not to say all people have the same set of morals. While an innate sense that there is right and wrong exists, being fallen creatures we may not always recognise all that is truly right or wrong. We may so dull our senses that we struggle to hear our conscience. Or we may need clarity as to God’s rules. There are persons who have a strong sense of obligation to conscience and they limit themselves from doing legitimate things for their conscience’s sake. While this behaviour is still honourable it shows that sense of “ought” is not the same as the true “ought.”

Scripture shows us what this true ought is and in societies where Christianity has not yet had significant influence the distinction between Christians and non-Christians in their approach to morality can be quite marked.

The general sense of ought in a person is a pointer to God. If God exists then there is the possibility for an objective morality; the objectiveness coming from God’s character. It is objective because it is obligatory and applies to all men. The obligation comes because we are owned by God.

If God is non-existent then there can be no objectivity. There is no true obligation. There is nothing that allows us to say this is how it should be for all men. All is personal opinion and competing preferences. But a personal preference is not an “ought”, it is preference. A preferred behaviour is the same as a preferred food or a favourite tie.

So without God how do we explain this universal trait? And even if an explanation is forthcoming it does not answer the question of why we should obey the “ought.” If we recognise it as a quirk of nature then we are under no obligation to obey it, even if we can explain its reason for coming into existence. So without God, that is, without objectivity we realise that this is not true morality, it is merely an apparent morality. Something that confers survival value but it derives its importance from what it offers, not what it intrinsically is.

However this is not how we see morality. When we examine ourselves we know it is not a preference. In us there is a sense of objectivity. Not all moral codes are equal. Some choices really are better than others. We may argue morality is subjective in the abstract but when faced with certain behaviour it becomes clear that not all is equal. We appeal to some standard which must be external to us. By judging competing systems and claiming some systems are better than others we are appealing to objectivity. Objectivity can only come with a moral God.

  • If there is no God then morality is subjective
  • If there is a God then morality may be objective
  • If morality is objective then there must be a God.

Should atheists still behave morally? Yes. Because morality is real there is a moral giver who has stated he will judge us. Atheists will be judged as will all men. Better they obey the sense of ought which they have no reason for than to be consistent with their (false) philosophy and glory in their shame.

Categories: apologetics, ethics

>Evidence for God

>Romans introduces us to how general revelation can point people to God.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. (Romans 1:18-20)

What is the form of this revelation? His eternal power and divine nature. So there are things (perceived) in this world around us that point to attributes of God which in and of themselves are not visible.

What points to God’s eternal power? Those things which may suggest to us God is powerful. The size of the earth, the stars of space, the creatures of this world. Creations that speak of design.

What points to God’s divine nature? Those things in this world which reveal the image of God in creation. The behaviour on animals, the behaviour of humans, love, goodness, the hatred of murder and falsehood. Attributes that speak of morality.

I have left out the distortion of these due to the Fall as this is not of God’s doing. So broken design and immoral actions while in existence may not point to God directly, though they may do indirectly.

Now there may be other aspects further than design and morality that Paul is alluding to here, but these seem to me to be the 2 that are enough to convince men about God. And while there may be many proofs of God’s existence, it is possible that these 2 are the most powerful.

There is another reason to suspect that design and morality are the 2 classes of evidence that Paul is referring to, further in the passage Paul states the results of denying them. Romans continues

So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:20-25, 28-32)

In not acknowledging God people now sin the areas they deny. They reject design so they worship the designed rather than the designer and they reject morality so they act immorally but claim their actions are eumoral (morally good).

So it is possible the strongest evidence for God’s existence and our obligation to him come from the existence of design and morality. These are not the only arguments that could be made for God’s existence, but they are arguments that all have some appreciation of. The kalam argument (all effects need a cause) is a strong argument but it relies more heavily on philosophy and abstract logic; therefore it is less easily grasped by all people. Whereas we are forced to face the moral argument by our consciences daily, and design is apparent in many things of varying complexity, again, we see it daily.

And it is possible that the reality of design and objective morality are the aspects of the general revelation of God that is most attacked.

Categories: apologetics, design, ethics

>Liar, liar

2007 May 25 3 comments

>Lying is usually viewed as wrong and appropriately so. To call someone a liar is not a small undertaking and to do so falsely causes major damage and is a sin. However it is not enough that someone disagrees with you to think they are lying; opponents can be wrong without being dishonest.

We must not confuse a person’s opinion of reality with distortion of what they know.

Ultimate truth is what conforms to reality. Falsehood is what does not. But to pass off what one thinks is reality when it is not reality is not the same as distorting what one knows to be the case.

There are 4 scenarios

  1. Agreeing with reality and saying so
  2. Agreeing with reality and saying other
  3. Disagreeing with reality and saying so
  4. Disagreeing with reality and saying other

Scenario 1 is truth telling, scenario 2 is lying, but what of scenarios 3 and 4?

The problem is we have disagreements over what reality is. Differing opinions may be related to arguing at cross purposes or real disagreement. If the opinions are incompatible it may be that both persons are wrong, but if one of them is correct, logically the other must be incorrect. The person arguing for the incorrect position corresponds to scenario 3. To call that person a liar is, in fact, not correct. The difficulty is the argument is over which position is correct. Calling the other person a liar at least implies that one is certain they are correct (they may be, but this misses the point there is disagreement); it may also imply the other person is misrepresenting what they know to be true, whereas they may actually believe their incorrect position.

So to prove someone a liar one needs to demonstrate the person is aware of some fact that contradicts their position and they were hiding this knowledge to suit their purposes.

This is important. Calling someone a liar seems to be yet another common way of refusing to debate the issues. It is really a form of equivocation: someone claims that not being in agreement with the facts (scenario 3) is as an adequate definition of liar, but in tarring someone as a liar suggests they are in the position of misrepresenting what they know to be true (scenario 2), and it is this (the implied scenario not the actual one) which is seen as a moral failure. Whether lying is ever acceptable is another topic.

And what of scenario 4, being in the position of telling what you think is a lie but in actuality corresponds to reality. Well that still makes you a liar, however if people act on your lies it is likely to result in less damage to society than scenario 2 (and perhaps scenario 3).

Categories: ethics, logic, truth

>The essence of hypocrisy

2007 April 28 1 comment

>Websters (1828) states the meaning of hypocrisy.

  1. Simulation; a feigning to be what one is not; or dissimulation, a concealment of one’s real character or motives. More generally, hypocrisy is simulation, or the assuming of a false appearance of virtue or religion; a deceitful show of a good character, in morals or religion; a counterfeiting of religion.
  2. Simulation; deceitful appearance; false pretence.

Oftentimes a philosophy can be ridiculed by pointing to the hypocrisy of its followers. While the truth of a philosophy stands on its own merits, and the ridicules may just be a easy way to dismiss something that one doesn’t like, people’s responses to a belief system are frequently coloured by the behaviour of its practitioners.

My concern is that anyone who does something that they otherwise condemn is labelled a hypocrite. This is understandable and there may be some hypocrisy involved but it is not the essence of hypocrisy. It is possible the person is anything but a hypocrite. Because we are fallen we struggle with sin. So we all battle not to do what we think is wrong. We have a concept of morality and many attempt to live by their consciences. Failing to do so is sin. Dennis Prager wrote about this at the time of the Haggard scandal.

If I condemn what I do I am not a hypocrite I am a sinner. If I condemn it in you but conceal that I do it I am a hypocrite. But the essence of hypocrisy, and why it is especially odorous, is when someone claims that his behaviour is acceptable but another’s is not when the first person is doing exactly the same thing. I justify my own sin by appealing to special reasoning but condemn you for yours. No wonder Jesus had little time for it and spoke harshly against its practitioners.

This is not to say that there are no circumstances where something is allowed for one group and not another. And situations may be truly different (parents and children). But be careful you are not inventing reasons so as to justify your own sin. And if you do think that there are legitimate reasons for your behaviour when it is usually not allowed, be very sure of your reasons and be very slow to condemn others when they do the same.

Categories: definition, ethics

>Draconian policies

2007 April 22 3 comments

>I would say that one of the most obscene, morally repugnant things a person can do is force persons to act against their will. It originates from the pits of Hades. A government state that forces a man to behave contrary to his beliefs is draconian.

Our morality is what we consider right and wrong. Wrong behaviour is what we consider should not be done. For a believer in God this often means that we think God disapproves of it. In behaving in a way we think is immoral we believe we are offending God.

Understanding this helps in reading some of Paul’s writings. This concept of not forcing people to behave in a way contrary to their beliefs stretches even so far as to us curbing legitimate behaviour (in some circumstances) in case we offend others (Rom 14).

It is interesting that 3 times Paul speaks about his lowliness because of his prior behaviour.

For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (1 Corinthians 15:9 ESV)

Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given,… (Ephesians 3:7-8 ESV)

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15-16 ESV)

All people prior to conversion were sinners. In what way is Paul the most wicked. He may be saying this because he actively persecuted the church, but there is something in the way he did this which may have added to the assessment. Paul in his testimony to Agrippa said:

“I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.” (Acts 26:9-11 ESV)

What is particularly abhorrent in this is Paul trying to force Christians to blaspheme. He is trying to get Christians to speak or act in a way that will offend God. Even when compared to being to the mistreatment of being followed to other cities, being persecuted, being imprisoned or even execution it still comes out bad. I think it is the worst of what Paul mentions he has done.

There may be consequences to our beliefs and I am not suggesting that tolerating my beliefs should impinge on yours. If a Muslim thinks that driving with a dog is offensive to God then it is fine to refuse him employment with “Taxis for the Blind.” (Though using minor occurrences as a reason to discriminate may be taking it too far—a generic taxi driver picking up blind passengers with guide dogs at a rate of once a year would seem a little too infrequent to impose this policy.)

Further, not all things I disagree with and are forced to do are blasphemous. I think that excessive taxation by government can be sinful. But in being forced to pay these taxes does not cause me to sin against God. And if people choose to sin in response to my right choices I am not responsible for this.

All this is not to say we are not to try and convince others that their underlying beliefs are incorrect. This is an acceptable practice. We are all encouraged to convince others of the truth of Christianity and the emptiness of worldly practices. (If we are to teach specifics however we should exercise more caution as James (Jam 3:1) and Paul (1Ti 1:7) warn. Best we only teach those things we know.) But until someone’s belief has changed we should not be forcing them to behave in that way. I think Jehovah’s witnesses are incorrect about blood transfusions. But to force them to receive a blood transfusion, while they think that doing so is a sin, is a wicked practice.

It is not surprising that world being under the influence of Satan reverses these actions. Proselytising (challenging others to change their mind about their belief system) is called wrong and even evil. Yet they seem to have no qualms about expecting or even forcing us to behave in the ways that the powers currently define as right or moral.

To disallow persons to challenge opinion but force them to behave in ways that are contrary to what they currently believe are draconian policies!

…and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. (Revelation 20:10 ESV)

Categories: ethics

>Medicine and morality

2007 March 23 Leave a comment

>The New England Journal of Medicine recently published a paper titled Religion, Conscience, and Controversial Clinical Practices. It was the results of a survey asking physicians about their views on providing treatments that they object to on moral grounds. In their introduction they state:

On the one hand, most people believe that health professionals should not have to engage in medical practices about which they have moral qualms. On the other hand, most people also believe that patients should have access to legal treatments, even in situations in which their physicians are troubled about the moral implications of those treatments. Such situations raise a number of questions about the balance of rights and obligations within the doctor–patient relationship. Is it ethical for physicians to describe their objections to patients? Should physicians have the right to refuse to discuss, provide, or refer patients for medical interventions to which they have moral objections?

The medical profession appears to be divided on this issue. Historically, doctors and nurses have not been required to participate in abortions or assist patients in suicide, even where those interventions are legally sanctioned. In recent years, several states have passed laws that shield physicians and other health care providers from adverse consequences for refusing to participate in medical services that would violate their consciences. For example, the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act protects a health care provider from all liability or discrimination that might result as a consequence of “his or her refusal to perform, assist, counsel, suggest, recommend, refer or participate in any way in any particular form of health care service which is contrary to the conscience of such physician or health care personnel.” In the wake of recent controversies over emergency contraception, editorials in leading clinical journals have criticized these “conscience clauses” and challenged the idea that physicians may deny legally and medically permitted medical interventions, particularly if their objections are personal and religious. Charo, for example, suggests that the conflict about conscience clauses “represents the latest struggle with regard to religion in America,” and she criticizes those medical professionals who would claim “an unfettered right to personal autonomy while holding monopolistic control over a public good.” Savulescu takes a stronger stance, arguing that “a doctor’s conscience has little place in the delivery of modern medical care” and that “if people are not prepared to offer legally permitted, efficient, and beneficial care to a patient because it conflicts with their values, they should not be doctors.

Savulescu’s article that is referenced concludes:

Values are important parts of our lives. But values and conscience have different roles in public and private life. They should influence discussion on what kind of health system to deliver. But they should not influence the care an individual doctor offers to his or her patient. The door to “value-driven medicine” is a door to a Pandora’s box of idiosyncratic, bigoted, discriminatory medicine. Public servants must act in the public interest, not their own.

The New England Journal of Medicine article, while weighing in on this problem, is actually a survey of 1144 physicians and analysis of only a few of the comments. The survey, while comprehensive, is slightly simplistic in how it approaches ethical questions. They find that

  • 63% of physicians believe that it is ethically permissible for doctors to explain their moral objections to patients
  • 86% believe that physicians are obligated to present all options
  • 71% believe physicians are to refer the patient to another clinician who does not object to the requested procedure

They also found that those that did not think they needed to disclose information about alternative procedures or needed to refer patients for medical procedures to which they objected on moral grounds were more likely to be men, those who were religious, and those who had personal objections to morally controversial clinical practices.

In their conclusion they make the astute observation:

Thus, those physicians who are most likely to be asked to act against their consciences are the ones who are most likely to say that physicians should not have to do so.

And this is the point isn’t it. It is pointless to ask persons about objecting to behaviour they do not find morally repugnant. Issues discussed included contraception, abortion, assisted reproduction, euthanasia. It is not uncommon for persons to find these behaviours acceptable. It is all very fine for those that accept these activities to condemn those who don’t for being unwilling to do them or even being unwilling to refer patients elsewhere. But many people find it difficult to understand others point of views. What they need to do is ask physicians about other objectionable practices; practices that pro-abortionists may not find acceptable. 2 examples would be administering a lethal injection to a criminal or handing over homosexual offenders (in a Muslim country say) to the authorities for imprisonment or execution.

The predictable response to this suggestion will be that these actions are immoral and therefore the issue is irrelevant. It however is very relevant and perfectly illustrates the point. They claim it is immoral to think abortion is wrong, it is immoral to tell a patient your anti-abortion views, it is immoral not to perform the procedure (especially if you base your opinion on “religious” reasons), if you refuse to perform the procedure it is immoral not to refer the patient. But place them in the same position with regard to something they morally object to and they will say they are not bound to behave in this way because it is wrong. But what is “wrong” in this sentence but a moral judgment?

Trevor G Stammers in the rapid responses to Savulescu’s article says:

…if values have no place in determining medical care, on what basis does Savulescu attempt to impose his own moral values on conscientious objectors? The paternalism he so despises is only matched by Savulescu’s own and his ideal of “statute-driven medicine” seems to me more ‘idiosyncratic, bigoted and discriminatory’ than the moral values he is so intolerant of.

The objectors claim moral neutrality but they are far from it. If placed in a situation they find morally obscene they would think similarly, how could one not. To ask someone to restrict moral behaviour to his private life results in cognitive dissonance. To ask someone to behave contrary to his morals is morally repugnant. And to act according to one’s morals is far more moral than to act against them.

Categories: ethics, medicine