On the Morality of: Torture

Thanks to revelations that the U.S. government has been using torture techniques such as waterboarding on people it suspects of being terrorists, this post is overdue. I find it unbelievable that, in the year 2008, it's actually a point of contention whether torture should be legal or not.Discussions of this issue in the media inevitably return to the "ticking-bomb" scenario - where torture is the only way to extract information from a captured terrorist in time to prevent a devastating … [Read more...]

Morality Is Not By Fiat

A few weeks back, I came across a charmingly nasty site called "Christian Cross Talk" whose author devoted his every entry to explaining in depth how and why he hates atheists and blames us for every problem in society. (Sadly, the site has apparently disappeared in the interim, or I'd give a link.) One of his posts presented itself as a point-by-point refutation of my atheist's creed. Quoted below are some of his responses to various points of the creed:Through the use of reason and … [Read more...]

On the Morality of: Forgiveness

Today's post on morality takes up the topic of forgiveness for wrongdoing. In superstitious times, forgiveness was obtained through magical rituals. Most of these assumed that guilt could in some fashion be transferred to an animal or other being, which was then killed or driven off to provide a symbolic expiation. Leviticus 4 explains:Say to the people of Israel, If any one sins unwittingly in any of the things which the Lord has commanded not to be done, and does any one of them, if it is … [Read more...]

On Nihilism and Satanism

I'd like to write today about two stereotypes of atheism that are common among some quarters of religious apologists: that we are moral nihilists, recognizing no such concepts as right and wrong; and that we are Satanists who worship, or at least admire, the adversary power of monotheism. The atheists who advocate these concepts, rare though they are, are exploited by fundamentalists who use them to tar the rest of us.Is what I just wrote a contradiction? I don't think so. I find no … [Read more...]

On the Morality of: Abortion

Although abortion is stereotyped as the most controversial and divisive social issue there is, I think the moral issues at stake are actually fairly unambiguous. This installment of "On the Morality Of" will explain why.Pared down to its essence, the moral question posed by abortion is a simple one: is an unborn fetus a human being, with all the moral rights and protections that pertain thereunto; or is it a non-human, an assemblage of cells, the existence of which may be terminated without … [Read more...]

Three Objections to Objectivism

I recently finished reading Ayn Rand's The Virtue of Selfishness, and I wanted to offer some comments on her moral philosophy.There are several good reasons why I ought to like Ayn Rand. She was an atheist, and proudly so, and argued for the supremacy of reason as the only valid way of knowing. I agree with this. She denounced communism and supported capitalism. I agree with this as well. Her works are still very popular in some circles and offer a vision of a rational, productive life which … [Read more...]

Open Thread: On Anarchism

This is an open thread to hold the discussion split off from the "On Amateur Atheism" thread. Comments and replies welcome. … [Read more...]

On "Amateur" Atheism

This week, the Christian Century published an article by the Catholic theologian John Haught, titled "Amateur atheists: Why the new atheism isn't serious".Before I say anything more, I want to acknowledge that John Haught is not the real enemy. He testified for the side of the plaintiffs in the Kitzmiller v. Dover intelligent design trial, for instance, arguing that religious faith is compatible with scientific inquiry and that ID is pseudoscience. I'm appreciative of his service on this … [Read more...]

On the Morality of: Recreational Drug Use

Today's post on atheist morality concerns the use of natural and artificial pharmaceuticals for pleasure. This practice may be nearly as old as humanity - three-thousand-year-old Andean mummies have been found to contain traces of coca, and the brewing of beer may date back to the Stone Age. Today, the legality of such substances varies widely across the world: some religious sects consider psychoactive drugs to be a sacrament, while other religions, such as Islam, ban them altogether.Rather … [Read more...]

On Torture and "Tribulation Saints"

"What if she doesn't flip? How long do you give it?" "If you can't get to 'em somehow in the first forty-eight hours, more of the same isn't going to be any more effective." "Starvation isn't a motivator?" "Would be for me, but I guess they've proved it with prisoners of war. The ones who can survive that first round of psychological and physical torture aren't likely to ever break, no matter how long you keep it up."—from Armageddon, book 11 of the Left Behind series, by Tim LaHaye and … [Read more...]