Party our way to extinction

Ethicist Peter Singer–he who believes in the killing of the handicapped and unwanted but born children but not animals–takes up the question of whether living is worth it.  He is reviewing, in the New York Times, a book by  philosopher David Benatar entitled Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence.

Benatar . . . argues that human lives are, in general, much less good than we think they are. We spend most of our lives with unfulfilled desires, and the occasional satisfactions that are all most of us can achieve are insufficient to outweigh these prolonged negative states. If we think that this is a tolerable state of affairs it is because we are, in Benatar’s view, victims of the illusion of pollyannaism. This illusion may have evolved because it helped our ancestors survive, but it is an illusion nonetheless. If we could see our lives objectively, we would see that they are not something we should inflict on anyone.

Here is a thought experiment to test our attitudes to this view. Most thoughtful people are extremely concerned about climate change. Some stop eating meat, or flying abroad on vacation, in order to reduce their carbon footprint. But the people who will be most severely harmed by climate change have not yet been conceived. If there were to be no future generations, there would be much less for us to feel to guilty about.

So why don’t we make ourselves the last generation on earth? If we would all agree to have ourselves sterilized then no sacrifices would be required — we could party our way into extinction!

Of course, it would be impossible to get agreement on universal sterilization, but just imagine that we could. Then is there anything wrong with this scenario? Even if we take a less pessimistic view of human existence than Benatar, we could still defend it, because it makes us better off — for one thing, we can get rid of all that guilt about what we are doing to future generations — and it doesn’t make anyone worse off, because there won’t be anyone else to be worse off.

Is a world with people in it better than one without? Put aside what we do to other species — that’s a different issue. Let’s assume that the choice is between a world like ours and one with no sentient beings in it at all. And assume, too — here we have to get fictitious, as philosophers often do — that if we choose to bring about the world with no sentient beings at all, everyone will agree to do that. No one’s rights will be violated — at least, not the rights of any existing people. Can non-existent people have a right to come into existence?

I do think it would be wrong to choose the non-sentient universe. In my judgment, for most people, life is worth living. Even if that is not yet the case, I am enough of an optimist to believe that, should humans survive for another century or two, we will learn from our past mistakes and bring about a world in which there is far less suffering than there is now. But justifying that choice forces us to reconsider the deep issues with which I began. Is life worth living? Are the interests of a future child a reason for bringing that child into existence? And is the continuance of our species justifiable in the face of our knowledge that it will certainly bring suffering to innocent future human beings?

via Should This Be the Last Generation? – Opinionator Blog – NYTimes.com.

We have “unfulfilled desires”; therefore, it is better not to exist.  Notice how quickly contemporary thought turns nihilistic.  And notice how those who believe it can no longer even sustain  the ordinary joys and pleasures of living.

Science and moral decisions

There is a new morning after pill that prevents a fertilized embryo from attaching to the mother’s womb, an abortifacient that pro-deathers want made available over-the-counter.   What I’d like to concentrate on, though, is this reporter’s framing of the issue.  Consider especially this last sentence:

A French drug company is seeking to offer American women something their European counterparts already have: a pill that works long after “the morning after.”

The drug, dubbed ella, would be sold as a contraceptive — one that could prevent pregnancy for as many as five days after unprotected sex. But the new drug is a close chemical relative of the abortion pill RU-486, raising the possibility that it could also induce abortion by making the womb inhospitable for an embryo.

The controversy sparked by that ambiguity promises to overshadow the work of a federal panel that will convene next week to consider endorsing the drug. The last time the Food and Drug Administration vetted an emergency contraceptive — Plan B, the so-called morning-after pill — the decision was mired in debate over such fundamental questions as when life begins and the distinction between preventing and terminating a pregnancy. Ella is raising many of those same politically charged questions — but more sharply, testing the Obama administration’s pledge to keep ideology from influencing scientific decisions.

via New ‘morning-after’ pill, ella, raises debate over similarity to abortion drug.

That last sentence betrays staggering  ignorance about both science and morality.  Science can tell us how the chemical works.  But it can’t tell us whether or not to sell it over the counter.   With any drug it studies, the  FDA has to make a decision about whether it “should” be made available.  This is never just a scientific matter.  A drug might prove harmful or ineffective.  Therefore it “should” not be sold, on the moral principle that we should not harm or defraud other people.   Anytime we are in the realm of “should,” we are in the realm of ethics.  “Keeping ideology from influencing scientific decisions” is a dishonest formulation, not to mention in practice an exercise in imposing pro-death ideology in virtually every case.  A “decision” involves the will, and the will, of its very nature,  will tend to engage the moral realm.

Apple vs. Porn

Steve Jobs, the mind behind Apple computing, is making a stand against pornography, even though that happens to be one of the online world’s biggest business!  Comments from Pete at Grace-City:

Jobs has argued that he wants his portable computer devices to not sell or stock pornography.

When a critic emailed him to say that this infringed his freedoms, Jobs emailed back and told him to buy a different type of computer.

Steve Jobs is a fan of Bob Dylan. So one customer emailed him to ask how Dylan would feel about Jobs’ restrictions of customers’ freedoms.

The CEO of Apple replied to say that he values:

“Freedom from programs that steal your private data. Freedom from programs that trash your battery. Freedom from porn. Yep, freedom. The times they are a changin’ and some traditional PC folks feel their world is slipping away. It is.”

The interlocuter replied:

“I don’t want ‘freedom from porn.’ Porn is just fine! And I think my wife would agree.”

In the most revealing line, Steve Jobs dismissed the critic thus:

“You might care more about porn when you have kids.”

Pause for a moment and consider what the above emails represent.

The CEO of one of the wealthiest, most successful international companies, responds to the email of a customer. Business prospers on the mantra “The customer is always right.” Business wants the customers’ money.

But in this case, over the moral issue of pornography, Jobs is happy to tell customers to buy a different product. He argues that children and innocence ought to be preserved – and that trumps the dollar.

Google (with their motto “Don’t be evil”) rake in billions through pornography. Ranks of employees spend their time categorising and arranging advertising for pornography. (I know, I spent some time discussing the difficulties posed to a Christian who worked in their UK HQ) Pornography is huge business, yet here is the CEO of Apple telling the pornography businesses to take their dollars elsewhere.

Now Steve Jobs cannot actually stop pornography being accessed on the devices he sells – indeed you can jailbreak a device and run any pirated software on it. Neither can he necessarily set the ethical bar as high as a Christian may want it – but what he is doing is significant and commendable. He is taking responsibility for doing what he can. He is trying to not profit from pornography. Those deeds are important for the sake of his own soul. Matthew 18:7 comes to mind: “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!”

For the souls of other people, his public statements are valuable in that they permit consumers to identify with and commend his resistance to pornography. Our generation is saturated in pornography; a public statement from Steve Jobs resisting that, encourages others to believe that the secular-liberal-capitalist agenda is not the only show in town. Jobs’ comments are important for the manner in which they shape public cultural discourse.

via Grace City: Apple & Porn.

Shakespeare and sexual morality

The notable scholar and Catholic commentator Anthony Esolen–whom I have had the privilege of hanging out with at a classical education conference at Our Savior’s in Houston–has written a fine essay on Shakespeare’s consistent theme of chastity, not just for women, but (rare in his day) for men.

There is an abundance of evidence to show that Shakespeare was a profoundly Christian playwright—and far more thoroughly concerned with the theology of grace, repentance, and redemption than any of his contemporaries. Here I should like to note one characteristic of his view of the world that seems to spring from his Christian faith—for it certainly does not spring from any recrudescence of paganism in the Renaissance, nor from the worldly laxity that sets in with the fading of western man’s assurance of Christian dogma and morals. For Shakespeare, chastity is as near to an absolute value as it is possible for a virtue to be.

via Desires Run Not Before Honor | First Things.

Esolen then makes his case by examining play after play, noble character after noble character.  Shakespeare does not ignore sex.  Far from it.  But his heroes, however ardent in their love, reject having sex before marriage.

HT: David Mills

Another Christian politician caught in adultery

Is it any wonder that Christians are losing their credibility?

Indiana congressman Mark Souder’s resignation, announced Tuesday, came after anonymous tipsters called his aides and his opponents in a Republican primary to say he was having an extramarital affair with a part-time staffer, according to sources familiar with the calls.

The conservative Christian congressman’s chief of staff, Renee Howell, confronted him last week over the rumored affair with Tracy Meadows Jackson, according to a source in the office. On Tuesday morning, two weeks after winning the primary, Souder publicly admitted the affair — without naming the staffer — and said he would resign effective Friday.

The affair began after Jackson was hired in 2004, according to the source in the office. Jackson, who is married, was to be a guest host with Souder for a daily radio spot he recorded for WFCV, a Christian radio station in Fort Wayne, Ind. Jackson also at one point played host for a local cable-access show that served as a platform for Souder to discuss conservative issues, and she helped produce numerous videos of Souder’s speeches and positions, including one in which they discussed his strong support for teen abstinence.

via Rep. Mark Souder’s resignation comes after anonymous tips about affair.

That these two, both of whom are married, started their cheating while exercising their religiosity at a Christian radio station and while making videos on Christian sexual morality is just too much.

Babies know right from wrong

So concludes some Yale researchers, who have devised experiments that show babies as young as five months making moral judgments:

At the age of six months babies can barely sit up – let along take their first tottering steps, crawl or talk.

But, according to psychologists, they have already developed a sense of moral code – and can tell the difference between good and evil.

An astonishing series of experiments is challenging the views of many psychologists and social scientists that human beings are born as “blank slates”– and that our morality is shaped by our parents and experiences.

Instead, they suggest that the difference between good and bad may be hardwired into the brain at birth.

In one experiment involving puppets, babies aged six months old showed a strong preference to good, helpful characters – and rejected unhelpful, ;naughty” ones.

In another, they even acted as judge and jury. When asked to take away treats from a “naughty” puppet, some babies went further – and dished out their own punishment with a smack on its head.

Professor Paul Bloom, a psychologist at Yale University in Connecticut, whose department has studied morality in babies for years, said:  ”A growing body of evidence suggests that humans do have a rudimentary moral sense from the very start of life.”

“With the help of well designed experiments, you can see glimmers of moral thought, moral judgment and moral feeling even in the first year of life.”

“Some sense of good and evil seems to be bred in the bones.”

For one study, the Yale researchers got  babies aged between six months and a year to watch a puppet show in which a simple, colourful wooden shape with eyes tries to climb a hill.

Sometimes the shape is helped up the hill by a second toy, while other times a third character pushes it down.

After watching the show several times, the babies were shown the helpful and unhelpful toys. They showed a clear preference for the helpful toys – spending far longer looking at the “good” shapes than the “bad” ones.

“In the end, we found that six- and ten-month-old infants overwhelmingly preferred the helpful individual to the hindering individual,”Prof Bloom told the New York Times.

“This wasn’t a subtle statistical trend; just about all the babies reached for the good guy.”

Two more tests found the same moral sense.

In one, the researchers devised a “one-act morality play,”  in which a toy dog tries to open a box. The dog is joined by a teddy bear who helps him lift the lid, and a teddy who stubbornly sits on the box.

They also made the babies watch a puppet cat play ball with two toy rabbits. When the cat rolled the ball to one rabbit, it rolled the ball straight back. But when the cat rolled it to the second rabbit, it picked up the ball and ran off.

“In both studies, five-month-old babies preferred the good guy – the one who helped to open the box; the one who rolled the ball back – to the bad guy,” said Professor Bloom.

When the same tests were repeated with 21-month-old babies, they were given a chance to dish out treats to the toys – or take treats away.

Most toddlers punished the “naughty rabbit” by taking away treats. One even gave the miscreant a smack on the head as a punishment.

via Babies know the difference between good and evil at six months, study reveals | Mail Online.

This seems to be evidence for the objective reality of moral truth. It isn’t just a cultural construction, since babies have not been enculturated.

It also seems to be in accord with the Lutheran teaching about infant sin, infant baptism, and infant faith. Does it undermine the position of those of you who believe in an “age of accountability”?

Can any of you provide any other, perhaps less scientific evidence, about very young children exhibiting moral or spiritual awareness?

I’ll go first: My grandson showed evidence of guilt very early, just shriveling up and crying when he would be caught doing something wrong. Then again yesterday–he is now three–after he went up for the blessing during Communion, he kept saying, “Christ given for you. Christ given for you.”


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