C. S. Lewis’s moral argument – an ironic postscript

In my last two posts, I wrote about my reaction to C.S. Lewis’s moral argument for the existence of God, which I encountered as an agnostic in my early twenties, and how and why I ultimately found it to be flawed. Short version:

Lewis: People all share particular moral beliefs about the importance of fairness/honesty/courage etc. This indicates that some kind of Being outside the universe instilled these beliefs into us.

Me: Great point, but in fact a better explanation is that people are capable of figuring out that the feelings of other people matter.

Longer version, part 1

Longer version, part 2

Fast-forward something in the region of twenty-five years.

Just over a year ago, I discovered Ana Mardoll’s superb ongoing deconstruction of the Narnia stories and read through all the archived posts so far, as well as all the posts she’s made since then. (Which, by the way, I strongly recommend. Also, the comments from her readers on each post, which are brilliant and contain much snarking and fanfic. Also, her Twilight deconstruction. Also, almost everything else she’s written. But I digress.)

You know what? The morality Lewis reveals throughout the story is terrible.

The Jesus-character mauls one child in a terrifying lion attack. This is justified as being wound-for-wound punishment for an incident in which, while trying to escape a forced marriage, she drugged a slave thus causing the slave to be whipped. (Actual Jesus: Hey, guys, you know that law you have about equivalent punishment on a wound-for-wound basis? That’s ending. Be extra nice to each other instead. Lewis’s Jesus: You totally get punished on a wound-for-wound basis. Deal with it.) However, a few books earlier, a (white, male) character did exactly the same thing with no indication at all that punishment would be deserved or meted out. Which isn’t the only time Lewis goes for blatant double standards in what’s considered acceptable for different characters.

The heroic Good-Guy king is quite happy to leave a ship of pirate slavers to go on their slave-taking way rather than actually try to stop them. He does try to do something later on, when slavery briefly impacts directly on himself and his friends, but only after he’s enjoyed a fun dinner with a slave-owner (priorities, right?), and not in any way that involves rescuing slaves other than his friends who have already been sold. (It does involve striking and insulting an elderly man for doing his job.) Later on, we find that slavery – and not only slavery, but changing the slaves’ own bodies against their will just because they annoy you – is actually fine (ordained by Jesus, no less) when it’s done to a race of people who can be diminished and ridiculed in our eyes.

There’s a stack of problematic stuff in the way that the dark-skinned race in the books are portrayed, and in how women are portrayed.

Now none of this, of course, makes one whit of difference to the validity of Lewis’s arguments, which must stand or fall on their own merits. What is interesting, however, is the extent to which all this slices across Lewis’s premise. Lewis claimed not just that humans all share some basic principles of morality, but that all humans share the majority of their moral code; that, in the area of morals, we agree on all the important things, to the point where it’s a remarkable phenomenon that needs explaining (by a hypothesized deity). And yet, here’s Lewis himself being absolutely fine with all sorts of things that, when you look at them, aren’t morally justifiable at all.

It’s not news, of course – whatever Lewis may have thought – that different people and cultures have in fact had rather drastically different moral codes. It just seemed ironic to me that Lewis himself, proponent of the Moral Argument, inadvertently provided such strong disproof of its basic premise.

The FTB Ethics Committee Statement

So, I interrupt that thrilling if admittedly glacially slow trawl through the errors in one conservative Christian’s attempt to write about transgender therapy, to bring you this post on an entirely different topic.

In response to events of recent days, of which many of you will already have heard a great deal, there has been a very great deal of discussion on the FreeThoughtBlogs backchannel about the issue of how we should handle allegations of gross misconduct in one of our members. This is ongoing, and you will hear more about it with time (and can read more about it now on other blogs). For the moment, however, we have drawn up a statement which we are posting on our various blogs to make our feelings known about this topic. Herewith:

Freethought Blogs unequivocally condemns any behavior that threatens the safety of atheist community members, including particularly marginalized groups. Freethought Blogs also recognizes the role of sexual harassment as one of numerous barriers for women that limits access to and participation within atheist conferences and spaces.

When the recent allegations against Richard Carrier were made public, Freethought Blogs initiated a process to investigate these claims and formalize its policy concerning the conduct of its members. The FtB Ethics Committee received several reports of Carrier’s behavior and was in the process of reviewing them when Carrier chose to leave the network. A thorough review of the allegations against Carrier cannot be completed by Freethought Blogs without his cooperation.

As part of our commitment to equitable access to freethinking spaces for all, Freethought Blogs members who violate our commitment to social justice by creating or maintaining barriers to participation will be removed from the network as a matter of policy. All reports submitted to us in furtherance of this policy will be kept in the strictest of confidence, unless the accusation was made publicly or in the event we have express permission to reproduce the complaint.

-The FtB Ethics Committee

That is (for the moment) all. We now return you to your regularly scheduled mishmash of, well, all the stuff we blog about.

The Wyndham Fallacy

Hi again! Sorry for my long absence! I had a pretty busy week followed by a week of being absolutely wiped out by a horrendous cold, so I haven’t had a lot of energy for posting.

I came across another Answers in Genesis post that I thought was worth a mention (via the same route as before; a post on Libby Anne’s Love, Joy, Feminism blog. So hat tip to her once again.) This one was written by someone called Avery Foley and is called Why Does God Allow Bad Things to Happen? The answer, in case you were wondering, is apparently because anyone who’s a Christian eventually gets to go to Heaven for all eternity. So, uh, that’s quite all right then and glad we cleared that up. Anyway, here’s the bit that I (like Libby Anne) wanted to comment on:

Evolution supposedly progresses by the death of the less fit and the reproduction of the most fit. So, if this the case, why should we help the old, sick, infirm, and disabled? Shouldn’t they be eliminated as less fit? After all, in the world of evolution the strong survive, and tough for you if you’re born weak or less fit. According to an evolutionist’s own worldview, how can death, disease, suffering, cancer, and disabilities really be “bad”? In nature, the weak and ill die off and the strong survive, passing on their good genes to the next generation—this is how evolution supposedly progresses. Death and weakness from disease and mutations is a must for “bad” genes to die out. So by what standard do evolutionists call these things bad? Certainly not by their own standard! To claim a standard for good and bad, they have to borrow from a different worldview—the biblical one—to define what good and bad even are.

Well, first off, I don’t have to borrow from the biblical or any other worldview to say that it’s bad for people to suffer pain or distress or loss of autonomy, and good to take steps to help or prevent situations in which those things happen. Sure, there’s room for plenty of complexities and grey areas and debate around those basics, but I’m still baffled as to why the ‘So how do you even define good or bad without a God, huh? Huh? Huh???‘ question is meant to be such a ‘gotcha’. But what I mostly wanted to comment on here is this bizarre claim that a belief in evolution as a scientific fact somehow requires us to also accept it as a moral imperative.

This is a fallacy that shows up now and again in creationist writings, and it is exactly as logical as saying that, having discovered that gravity causes people to hit the ground when they fall over, we are now morally obligated to push them down. I have for some time thought of this as the Wyndham Fallacy, because it’s rather nicely summed up by a line author John Wyndham wrote in his novel ‘The Kraken Wakes’; the main character tells his wife ‘Darling, if I happen to mention that, as a process, autumn follows summer, it does not follow that I am all for getting a ladder and pulling the leaves off the trees.’

‘The Kraken Wakes’, by the way, is unrelated to evolution and uses that line in a different context. In general, though, it’s in creationist writings about evolution that this fallacy typically shows up. After all, the story creationists believe about how the world got started is one that’s heavily tied in to their morality and their worldview in general; not only does this make it virtually impossible for a creationist to question that version of events (because they so strongly believe it’s morally wrong to believe anything else), but it actually makes it difficult for many creationists to get their head round the fact that beliefs about origin don’t, in fact, automatically have to tie into our moral beliefs, and that the two can be independent.

Or maybe they just push that line as a way of making non-fundamentalists look bad. Why go for accuracy when you can have propaganda?

But either way; no. Yes, in nature the less fit are more likely to die. No, that doesn’t put us under any sort of moral obligation to kill them off. If you think otherwise, I look forward to seeing you at the end of summer with that ladder.