By William M. Esposo (The Philippine Star)
The Catholic Church in our country is so messed up that it cannot...
“Name me a moral action made by a believer that could not be made by a non-believer.” This was the late Christopher Hitchens’ storied moral challenge against theists who claimed that it is impossible for atheists to be moral without gods. Hitchens turned this around by showing how ethics is prior to religion. He continued, “If I were to ask, could you name a wicked action made by someone attributable only to their religious faith? There isn’t a person here who would hesitate for a second.”
In a debate between David Wolpe and Hitchens, Wolpe countered the moral challenge by presenting a personal example. Wolpe recounted a story about his father, “When I think of the most powerful and intimate moments that I had with my father, it was when he put his hands on my head and blessed me on a Friday night.” Such an action is definitely unavailable to the logically consistent atheist. Hitchens dismissed this response, saying that he was not convinced that this was truly a moral action.
Even as an atheist, it is apparent to me that Hitchens’ skepticism was misplaced. You don’t need to believe in a supernatural deity to accept that mystical activities could possibly be conducive to well-being, if only for the false consolation that things are going to be okay. This is not to say that there is any evidence for the supernatural any more than there is evidence that placebos are universal cures. This is also not to say that the comfort produced by delusion is even worth the opportunity cost of being mistaken about the nature of reality. It is sufficient to show from this example that even delusion can be compatible with ethical motivations.
In the middle of the culture wars, it is easy to get lost in the absolutist narrative (I’m often guilty of such thoughts): conservative Christians are backwards Puritanical parrots, atheists and liberals are the height of pure rationality. The opposite view that Christians are the sole keepers of moral truth and liberals are mindless instruments of Satan is also a popular belief. Obviously, such black and white views are seldom accurate for any argument. By embracing such unconditional beliefs, we lose sight of the fact that we share a common human nature, regardless of our views…
The doctrine of free will is a keystone in Christian theology. It is the principle by which theologians try to explain away the problem of evil in a world designed by a benevolent God. It is central to the tenet of redemption and the reason for the human sacrifice of Jesus.
With the advent of neuroscience, it has become increasingly more difficult to defend free will. We see more and more that what we view as our “selves” and our desires are products of circumstances that we had no control over (our genes, our upbringing, the amount of sleep we had, the smells of a room, noises in the neighborhood, etc.). And, as Sam Harris argues in his new book, Free Will, not only is free will an illusion, it is unintelligible.
Free will is not conceptually coherent, according to Harris. “Either our wills are determined by prior causes and we are not responsible for them, or they are the product of chance and we are not responsible for them.” No amount of quantum indeterminacy can even begin to make sense of a free will doctrine. No amount of theological finessing can make heads or tails of it.
An old Discovery News article has recently been making its rounds on Facebook, which was claiming that “new nucleotides” were identified in human DNA. Users were quick to rant and rave about how game-changing this piece of news is. I read claims about how they’d need to retake biology courses now and how this could have implications on artificial life.
DNA is composed of four canonical bases. Canonical, because they are the classic bases in Watson and Crick’s double helix. That is, four chemical letters that compose genes—adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G), and cytosine (C). These are the A’s, T’s, G’s, and C’s you see in biology textbooks. What users took the news to be was that there were new letters to add to these. To be fair to those misled, the title was technically accurate (New Nucleotides Identified in Human DNAfrom Discovery News on July 27, 2011). There are two new nucleotides previously unknown. However, contrary to the subsequent speculations of those I read, the discovery doesn’t demolish or revolutionize anything that we’ve already known about what genes are. A’s will still always pair with T’s and G’s will always pair with C’s. There are no secret letters strewn throughout the genome (at least, for life here on Earth).
Read the full article on the Filipino Freethinkers website.