Douglas Murray Confuses Atheists With Vulcans

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“Atheist logic gives them a cold, unfeeling sort of personality. The typical Atheist day consists of waking up, meditating, eating, working, meditating, sleeping… very dull true, but quite logical to the Atheist mind.”

The above is actually a description of Vulcans where I replaced with atheist. Reading Douglas Murray talking about an atheist world he appears to have done the same.

There is a perfectly good utilitarian argument for putting dead babies into a hospital furnace. And if the foetuses are genuinely unwanted, then burning them instead of fossil fuels means we plunder fewer natural resources of our ailing planet. I cannot see that the action greatly trespasses John Stuart Mill’s ‘harm principle’.

If all this sounds far-fetched, we should look back only a century, when entire schools of very intelligent non-believers could discern no moral objection to eugenics. Religion holds back the religious (even if not always stopping them). But today, despite the moral qualms which the extremes of eugenics posthumously bestowed upon us, there is no reason why atheists should not again go down such paths.

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The disposal of a foetus moves us to human breeding programmes. One clear objection is whether utilitarian ethics are actually useful to such moral questions – I am with Rawls and Nozick they are not. The reality is a hospital furnace may be the most effective and environmentally friendly way to dispose of a terminated unwanted foetus. Murray is trying to get us to see a foetus as being used as a human battery which unfeeling atheists cannot object to. It is a false analogy.

Atheists are among the first to say that atheism is not a basis of morality. Religion was the best we could do in debating morality and ethics for a large part of human discourse. Religion is not the final say on such questions anymore, and current debate within religion let alone outside it on ethical and moral questions are as vibrant as ever.

Regarding eugenics I am reminded of what Dawkins said when contributing to What is Your Dangerous Idea?:

In the 1920s and 1930s, scientists from both the political left and right would not have found the idea of designer babies particularly dangerous – though of course they would not have used that phrase. Today, I suspect that the idea is too dangerous for comfortable discussion, and my conjecture is that Adolf Hitler is responsible for the change.

Nobody wants to be caught agreeing with that monster, even in a single particular. The spectre of Hitler has led some scientists to stray from “ought” to “is” and deny that breeding for human qualities is even possible. But if you can breed cattle for milk yield, horses for running speed, and dogs for herding skill, why on Earth should it be impossible to breed humans for mathematical, musical or athletic ability? Objections such as “these are not one-dimensional abilities” apply equally to cows, horses and dogs and never stopped anybody in practice.

I wonder whether, some 60 years after Hitler’s death, we might at least venture to ask what the moral difference is between breeding for musical ability and forcing a child to take music lessons. Or why it is acceptable to train fast runners and high jumpers but not to breed them. I can think of some answers, and they are good ones, which would probably end up persuading me. But hasn’t the time come when we should stop being frightened even to put the question?

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Perhaps the answer is that a child should not be forced to take music lessons anymore than they should be bred to be a musician. I cannot see an objection to preventing deliberating diseases and disorders before birth anymore than taking medicine and treatment after birth for them. The moral difference is coercion, that an individual chooses their own destiny, that genetics should not have the final say over destiny of a person.

Regarding abortion of “wrong sex” I have made the argument against that on the 60 million women missing in India. Infanticide, as Murray describes, is one I have debated at university and been against.

Murray tries to blame atheism for the above two things happening. Absolute baloney, as he tries in vain to provide a narrative that we need faith to find value and sanctity in life.

Neglecting ethical thought, moral discourse and philosophy in the modern era is not the mark of a serious commentator. Rather, it is that of a snake oil salesman that sees religion as right and will even use dead foetuses to make their point that we need religion.

A word of caution about Judeo-Christian ethics. Like the one that in Psalm 137:9 celebrating revenge on Babylon thus:

Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.

We could also mention the genocides against the unbelievers sanctioned by God as well. We really do not have to go backwards, as Murray suggests, to go forwards.

I am confident that through past and present human discourse we can answer these questions without throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Thanks to Iram Ramzan for tweeting Murray’s article to me.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

Follow @JPSargeant78

My Huffington Post Blog

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Filed under atheism, British Society, Dawkins, Philosophy, Richard Dawkins, Science

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