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Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Change of Address

MandM has moved to

Every post on these pages has been imported to the new site. Comments here are closed but they are open on the new site.

Please update your links.

Moving to Wordpress - Please Stand By

We are finally moving to Wordpress! The move will happen this morning at 10 am New Zealand time.

There is nothing you need to do. No need to change your links or your bookmarks; we will still be at this address just in a different form.

We are switching off comments now and will turn them back on once we have moved. So if you have something burning to say get it already to go and post it on the new site after 10 am.

There may be a brief loss of transmission as we switch from Blogger and redirect the domain to our shiny new Wordpress home but it shouldn't last long.

See you at the new place.

PS. If you are having getting to the new site after 11 am, try rebooting your computer or clearing your cache.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Contra Mundum: What's Wrong with Imposing your Beliefs onto Others?

The assumption that ‘it is wrong to impose your moral beliefs onto others’ is almost unilaterally accepted in society. Everyone knows this, only zealous religious types seem to believe that it is acceptable to try to foist their morality onto others; the concept of respecting other people’s beliefs seems to be lost on the religious.

One does not have to look far to see this assumption at work; in the Aotearoa Ethnic Network Journal atheist commentator, Ken Perrott, writes,
Non-religious people have the right to be free from interference by religious people and organisations, freedom from proselytising, and freedom from imposition of values, morality and practice. I don’t think religious people should see this as in any way violating their rights. If anything, it helps preserve the sacredness of their beliefs –imposition on others degrades a belief.
Perrott is clear; those with religious beliefs should not demand that others comply with their views on morality. This criticism is not new, we see it regularly in the media and it is equally prevalent in academia. In her book, The Abortion Myth, bio-ethicist Leslie Cannold writes,
In the United States, the feminist rejection of the moral had a strong connection to the anti-choice religious right’s promotion of itself as the “moral” voice of the Republican movement. The agenda of the Christian right is, to put it rather baldly, to make the Bible (rather than the secular U.S Constitution) the supreme law of the land. The United States religious right, like most religious extremists, believe their political beliefs are actually God’s will. ... [Feminism is opposed] to one religious group’s imposition of its rather narrow version of morality on a pluralistic society.
Cannold states that any appeals to Gods will, as laid down in the Bible, constitute an imposition of moral views onto others. Feminists such as her, she assures us, oppose such things.

I find the claim, that it is wrong to impose your moral beliefs onto others, strange. Despite widespread acceptance to the contrary, I see nothing objectionable in imposing moral beliefs onto others.

While this comment may strike many as absurd, I assure you it is not for the following reasons. First of all, to claim that it is wrong to impose your moral beliefs onto others is self-defeating. Second, the contention is subject to serious counter-examples. I’ll explain what I mean.

If it is wrong to impose one’s beliefs onto others then it follows that one is required to refrain from such impositions; further, any attempt to impose moral beliefs should be prevented. However, this claim is itself a moral belief and as we’ve just established, it is being imposed on others. Therefore the claim is self-defeating, those who defend it are attempting to impose a moral belief about not-imposing moral beliefs onto others.

As for the counter examples, consider acts such as rape, assault or infanticide. I personally believe each of these practices is wrong for me to engage in. Further, I think it is wrong for others to do these things. In fact, I even support the commission of these acts being considered a crime punishable by the state. I am sure most would agree with me. However, if it were wrong to impose moral beliefs onto others then our position on rape, assault or infanticide would be unacceptable. We would have to leave others free to choose whether they wished to rape, assault or kill children – to do otherwise would be to impose our moral beliefs onto others.

Perhaps I am being uncharitable; Perrott and Cannold and others who advocate the claim, do not object to such impositions in an unqualified manner and certainly do not intend to promote anarchy. Their objection is that it is inappropriate to impose certain kinds of moral principles upon others.

The types of principles Cannold means to catch are those she labels “narrow”. What is meant by this spatial metaphor is unclear; however, I presume she means that this is a minority religious view, held by only a small segment of society.

Implicit in this argument is the claim that a necessary condition for any principle to be advocated as a basis for rules binding on all people is that the majority accepts the principle. However, this majoritarianism modification to the claim that it is wrong to impose your moral beliefs onto others is equally flawed.

Consider a culture where the majority believes that a husband has the right to beat his wife. Would Cannold contend that in such a society criticism by a Christian-feminist minority of this practice and their advocacy of norms forbidding spousal abuse is an unacceptable imposition of a narrow religious perspective in a pluralistic society? Would it be true that in such a society public policy could not be based on the moral principle that it is wrong for a man to beat his wife?

The objection to imposing one’s “narrow” moral beliefs onto others is flawed. What is wrong is not the imposition of someone’s values but the imposition of values that are incorrect, irrational, unethical, oppressive or unjust. If the principles expounded are correct and accurately reflect justice then there is nothing wrong with imposing them onto others, even if they are religious beliefs.

I write a monthly column for Investigate Magazine entitled Contra Mundum. This blog post was published in the September 09 issue and is reproduced here with permission. Contra Mundum is Latin for 'against the world;' the phrase is usually attributed to Athanasius who was exiled for defending Christian orthodoxy.

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

Monday, 31 August 2009

This Week in Auckland: Bloggers Drinks & Thinking Matters

Don't forget:
Tomorrow night's Thinking Matters Auckland Seminar: David Lindsey on “Politics, Religion and Morality” at 7:00pm, Tues 1 Sept, in Lecture Room 2, Laidlaw College, 80 Central Park Drive, Henderson, West Auckland

Thursday night's Auckland Bloggers Drinks from 6.30pm at Galbraiths, Thurs 3 Sept, 2 Mt Eden Road, Mt Eden, Auckland.
See you there :-)

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Sunday Study Delayed

Sorry guys, I ran out of time this weekend to get the Sunday Study done today. It was our son's Noah's birthday on Saturday and I'd been away for the previous week in Tauranga and I have to leave for Tauranga now so I ran out of time. This Sunday's Study will be a Tuesday Study.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

My First Post at

I am now an official contributor at Social Media Law Student, a blog for law students to write on social media issues. In the invitation letter I was told "Legal professionals across the world have been using our blog and law schools are directing their students to our blog for best practice tips."

My first article is currently the lead article on the site but because it won't stay there forever so here is a permalink to it, The Right to Online Privacy v. Defamation Law. It is a short piece asking, "How far does the cyber-right to privacy extend? Does it stand when people use it as a shield to harm others, to damage their reputations? Last week Google was forced by the court to reveal the identity of an anonymous blogger who had defamed another."

Friday, 28 August 2009

Darwinian Evolution, Chance and Design

In a previous post, God, Darwinian Evolution and The Teleological Argument, I argued that evolution does not refute the teleological argument. Also, even if it did, a lot more significant philosophical work over and above any appeal to natural selection would be needed to infer from this that theism is rationally untenable. There is, however, a second concern lurking in this area; it is that Darwinian evolution shows that evolution occurs by chance. Chance is incompatible with design; hence, Darwinian evolution shows that biological organisms were not created by God. Del Ratzsch summarises the argument succinctly,
[I]f it is genuine evolution, then the theory itself demands that the processes be governed by natural law and random chance … On the other hand, if its genuinely guided [by God], then the process must involve not chance but deliberately designed intervention.[1]
The argument has two premises,
[1] If evolution is guided [by God] then the processes must not involve random chance;

[2] Genuine evolutionary theory demands that the processes be governed by natural law and random chance.
I think this argument is mistaken. To be a valid argument, the word “chance” would need to be used the same way in both premises. The kind of chance that is incompatible with creation in [1] would have to be the kind of chance that is part of genuine evolutionary theory in [2].

Alvin Plantinga has argued that when one examines how the word “chance” is being used in this kind of argument it is evident that the word is not being used the same way in both premises and that when the ambiguity is cleared up the kind of chance that is involved in contemporary evolutionary theory is compatible with the idea that God created human beings.[2]

Let us turn to the first premise; [1] the claim that if evolution is guided [by God] then the processes must not involve random chance. This statement is true only if chance is defined a certain way, both that its existence is incompatible with the idea that God caused the event to happen (either immediately or indirectly via normal secondary causation) and that God did so intentionally and with purpose. To say then that an event occurs by random chance, on this definition, is to say the event was not caused, intended or planned by God.

The problem is that if chance is defined this way premise [2] is false; genuine evolutionary theory does not demand that mutations are not caused by chance, when chance is defined in this way. According to Eliot Sober, when the word chance is used in the context of evolutionary theory it means, “there is no physical mechanism (either inside organisms or outside of them) that detects which mutations would be beneficial and causes those mutations to occur.” Ernest Mayr makes a similar point, “When it is said that mutation or variation is random, the statement simply means that there is no correlation between the production of new genotypes and the adaptational needs of an organism in a given environment.”

Defined in the manner of Mayr and Sober, chance is entirely compatible with the idea that evolution is caused, intended or planned by God. The fact that there is, “no correlation between the production of new genotypes and the adaptational needs of an organism in a given environment” and “no physical mechanism (either inside organisms or outside of them) that detects which mutations would be beneficial and causes those mutations to occur,” does not mean that the events had no cause and it certainly does not mean that they were not intentionally caused by God.

To show that evolution occurred by chance, where chance is incompatible with divine design, contemporary biologists would need to show not just that no physical mechanism detects which mutations are beneficial and causes them and it would have to do much more than fail to produce a correlation between the “production of new genotypes and the adaptational needs of an organism in a given environment.” It would have to show that there was ultimately no supernatural cause to the process that intended evolution of human life to occur. Contemporary biology has not done this and it is certainly very difficult to see how it could do so without stepping outside the bounds of science, as currently practised, and venturing into controversial areas of philosophy and theology.

[1] Del Ratzch Battle for Beginnings: Why Neither Side is Winning the Creation Evolution Debate (Downers Grove IL: Intervarsity Press, 1996).
[2] Alvin Plantinga "Evolution and Design" in For Faith and Clarity: Philosophical Contributions to Christian Theology ed. James Beilby (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006) 201-217.

This post draws from parts of my paper "Does Evolution Make Belief in God Untenable?" given at the recent TANSA conference, Faithful Science? – Just How Well Do Science and Faith Get Along?

God, Darwinian Evolution and The Teleological Argument

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Video of Matthew Flannagan Speaking on Moral Relativism

Matt spoke at Thinking Matters Auckland on 28 May 2009 on Moral Relativism.

A popular view of ethics holds that actions are right or wrong only if a person or a community believes that they are right or wrong, and that it is inappropriate to apply your own standards to others. This position is known as moral relativism. In this talk Matt looks at the common arguments for relativism, argues that relativism is a mistaken view of ethics and shows how relativism fails.

Video of Matthew Flannagan on Apologetics: Answering Objections to the Christian Faith

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Boscawen's Smacking Bill drawn from the Ballot

In impeccable timing, this afternoon I heard the announcement that ACT MP John Boscawen’s Bill to amend Section 59 of the Crimes Act, in line with the Borrows amendment that defined reasonable force, had been drawn from the ballot.

However, John Key swiftly announced that National would not back it to Select Committee trotting out the flawed "the law is working" argument; basically, smacking is illegal but we promise to not enforce it as long as we are in government, which is somehow supposed to reassure parents. NOT. So the bill appears dead in the water.

Hopefully Boscawen will elect to delay its first reading until just before the next election.

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