December 14, 2009
So, recent posts by other bloggers have got me thinking about morality, atheism, intelligence, and God. Generally, people tend to overlook the importance of factoring intelligence into assessments of morality. I think a simple analogy will drive the point home here.
Imagine a single father living with five children. Normally, the children can know the right thing to do at any given time by asking their father, who has more experience and intelligence in life than they do, hence the authority and qualifications for establishing the rules they ought to live by.
The situation is such that on any given day, the children know exactly what they are not to do. After all, dad wrote the rules, so ignorance of the law cannot be an excuse. For example, among other things, dad has decreed that they are not to answer the door for strangers, rough-house indoors, or go in dad's closet. Mind you, the children don't necessarily know why they aren't supposed to do these things, and they actually think dad's being unnecessarily strict. As the children know from previous experiences, it's usually auntie or uncle knocking, indoors is the funnest place to rough-house, and dad's closet the ultimate closer in a game of hide-and-seek. Further, they've all broken each of these rules on isolated occasions before, and no harm has ever befallen anyone because of it. So why is dad such a stiff?
It's smack in the middle of winter, and dad finds himself needing to get some food for the children, and drop off some work to a client – things that only dad can do. Confident that dozens of iterations have sufficiently established the rules, dad grants his kids a little trust and leaves. After all, he'll be no more than thirty minutes, the kids are familiar with both the rules and their obligation to follow them. Further, the oldest is fourteen and the youngest is ten, so it's not like dad's leaving toddlers that require constant supervision.
Ten minutes pass, and dad's children bore easily. Two of the four brothers start to rough-house indoors. The other two jump in. Sister quickly reminds them of the rules. But, the boys wanna play! Recalling something he saw on TV about how voting is the best way to handle disagreement, the eldest brother suggests that without father there to decide, he's the oldest and smartest, and he says they should vote. The brothers like this idea and support their argument by reminding sister that on previous occasions where they have broken the rules, no harm befell anyone.
So — as we might expect — the four brothers all vote for rough housing indoors, and a "no prohibited zones" game of hide-and-seek. They then assert "majority rules" to their sister, and further threaten to tell dad about the time she lied if she doesn't go along with them. As we might imagine, sister casts a rather sheepish vote for rough housing indoors and a "no prohibited zones" game of hide-and-seek. Besides, even sister concedes that "she likes fun, too," so in all honesty part of her vote was genuine (this sort of "might-based psychological blackmailing" is essentially what's been happening to women in male-dominant societies since culture began).
So, what's essentially happened here is that the children have approved their own behavior according to arbitrary standards of their own self-imposition.
Inspired by their newfound senses of freedom and autonomy, the rough-housing starts to get REALLY rough, such that one brother cuts himself and another breaks dad's model airplane that was sitting on the coffee table, along with one of the coffee table's legs. The other two brothers were playing hide-and-seek with sister, and as you might guess, one of them hides in dad's closet. As it's dark in there, the excited brother hiding in the closet doesn't notice that the odd sensations poking his back are the circuit breakers dad had instructed them not to touch, so when he breaks a switch and the power goes out in the entire house, none of them have the slightest idea how to fix it.
At this point, two of dad's three rules have been broken, and unfavorable stuff is beginning to happen as a result. Now in complete darkness, the children get a bit nervous and scared. Further, they realize they'll be unable to hide the results of their misbehavior, as dad's airplane, the coffee table's leg and the circuit breaker's switch are all broken, not to mention it's dark in the house and one of the brothers is bleeding. How else will they explain those facts aside from a clear concession of breaking the rules?
Beginning to ponder that question themselves, and motivated by the natural human tendency to deny responsibility for wrongdoing, they attempt to reassure themselves that they've done the right thing, despite the undeniable fact that they've broken dad's rules and the consequences have been unfavorable. They even go so far as to imply that dad wasn't clear enough about the rules, despite the fact that he'd decreed them in clear language each of the children understood. Yet still – to the children – they did do the right thing – by voting. After all, the guy in the suit on TV said that voting was the best way, and further, the children had broken them before with no harm befalling anyone. More, the vote was unanimous, so how could they have gone wrong?
In the isolated world of their own house, these incompetent children functioned as the epitome of a morally free democracy. Sure – they voted, they all agreed that some fun should be had, and they all helped one another achieve their goals. But note that not a single iota of that made their decision right.
It's now been almost a half an hour. The children are growing increasingly uneasy. The younger brothers blame the eldest for the idea of voting. Sister blames all the brothers for coercing her vote, even though she uttered "yes" with her own lips. A knock comes at the door in the midst of all their fussing and fighting. A man's seemingly-concerned voice follows the knock, stating that he'd seen the power outage and was wondering if everything was okay. Then the youngest brother – anxious and mentally distressed over everything else that happened – simply reacts and opens the door without thinking. Big mistake. After all, this is a black family in the deep south we're talking about, so it would make sense to us that there's some crazed KKK member at their door with a torch, merely posing as a beneficiary of good will in order to achieve nefarious ends. Needless to say, tragedy ensues.
Now, I imagine that in accord with the natural human tendency to deny culpability for wrongdoing, many might simply blame dad for this tragedy because he left otherwise responsible and informed children to themselves for a half an hour. Yet, no human being can deny that at some point, human beings have to take responsibility for their own actions, so though blaming dad may be in accord with our tendency to deny wrongdoing, it's just not a cogent defense that would absolve the children.
Why did tradegy ensue in this deep south house?
Quite simply, the children lacked sufficient intelligence to accurately foresee the results of breaking dad's rules. They didn't realize unchecked rough-housing could irreparably damage the furniture, or dad's art projects. They didn't realize breaking the switch off the circuit breaker would plunge the whole house into darkness they couldn't illuminate without dad's help. They didn't realize the person at the door was an imposter who really sought to harm them. The fact that they self-approved their own actions could not have prevented these tragedies in any way.
Similarly, why has tragedy ensued on this planet?
Quite simply, we lack sufficient intelligence to accurately foresee the results of our own actions. As history unequivocally testifies, we didn't realize that a mere two centuries of industrial "progress" would serve to irreparably damage our delicate environment to the point our very existence hangs in the balance. We didn't realize that the techno-trinkets we've come to love for the convenience they provide our species came at the expense of Golden Toads and Baiji Dolphins. We didn't realize that the flashy and profitable fur coats we've come to love for the status they imbibe our species came at the expense of Sea Minks and Newfoundland Martens. We didn't realize that the deification of capitalism entailed man's subjugation to money and through greed provides a foundation for every corrupt practice on this planet. We didn't realize that closed-minded intolerance of those who think differently would lead to war and killing that would only increase with technology. Those of us who reach anxiously to the spirit world for answers don't realize that not every instance of consciousness is what it claims to be. And – as with the mini-democracy in the deep south house – the fact that we self-approved our own actions could not have prevented these tragedies any way.
Very clearly, then, democracy and majority consensus are terrible criteria for establishing right and wrong, because any behavior can be self-approved.
Yet, sufficient experience and intelligence is an infallible criteria for establishing right and wrong. As the deep south father had sufficient experience and intelligence to establish beneficial moral guidelines for his children, to me, the only logical answer to the question of who's best qualified to make moral proclamations for our species is He Who has the most experience and intelligence.
Of course, I don't expect any of this to persuade humanists or atheists that a maximally intelligent Creator is worthy of their worship. I imagine they'll just blame God for not making us smarter, or believe the first "extraterrestrials" who get here.