Welcome back, fellas.
The Booby finds himself in an awkward spot this week. Your agnostic narrator must talk about religion, both the “official” and “unofficial” varieties. This is important. Just as sects of official religions can find themselves at war with one another, so too can sects of unofficial religions find themselves at war with either official religious sects or with other unofficial religious sects.
It all sounds very confusing, and it is. Let the Booby make it clear:
Official religions are those where adherents openly subscribe to an organized doctrine which is based on some aspect of supernatural forces, including the “good” and the “evil” segments. These also typically include the existence of one or more gods, or at the very least allude to higher powers than those observed in day-to-day life.
This is necessary because religions inevitably promote moral codes of behaviour. These codes of behaviour are designed to keep you from doing what you are naturally inclined to do, like have sex with as many women as possible, kill the man you catch in bed with your wife, or take whatever you want from those smaller and weaker, just to name a few examples.
Of course, to convince people to not do that which they’re naturally inclined to do requires a non-natural justification, or the intervention of the supernatural, otherwise it’s just one fella (or gal) demanding that another not do him (or her) harm. Either god wants you to not do what you’re aching to do, or the devil is trying to convince you to act out in defiance of god. The promise or threat of an afterlife is another way we humans employ the supernatural to justify our insistence that people not do what they’re naturally inclined to do.
With the Booby so far?
Don’t get the Booby wrong, there’s nothing inherently wrong with preventing people from doing whatever they want whenever they want. All pack and herd animals do this to some degree. For communities to function effectively our more carnal impulses must be kept in check, or at least redirected toward ends that are not destructive to the pack or herd.
As it happens, this process gets complicated when dealing with human beings. There is much subjectivity involved in deciding what is or is not beneficial to the pack or herd. And humans, being the only terrestrial animal imbued with language, can take that subjectivity to spectacular extremes.
Throw in the fact that humans are also gifted (or cursed) with the knowledge of their own mortality. This creates one hell of a complicating factor in term of their willingness to obey the norms or hierarchies of the pack. Life is short, after all. This, of course, is where religion necessarily comes in, lest “right and wrong” be reduced to nothing more than human opinions.
There have always been those who advocate the existence of “natural law”, suggesting that nature itself provides an innate consciousness of right and wrong. Curiously, rarely are “survival of the fittest” or “might is right” included in these innate blueprints of natural law, at least not by the idealists (often scientists) who advocate for natural law. It would seem that these observable natural tendencies are not to their liking.
Those of skeptical dispositions might also wonder why, if there was natural law, there would be any need for man-made law or religion! History would suggest that if there is an innate knowledge of right and wrong, as least as defined by proponents of natural law, the vast majority of species isn’t catching on.
Others, like the so-called “humanists” offer lengthy, warm and fuzzy definitions of morality which they, too, claim don’t rely on god or the supernatural… but instead rely only upon your faith in the correctness of their doctrines. Indeed, most humanist morals sound suspiciously like warmed-over “peace and love” Christian-eque morals, only modified for fashionable moderns who prefer their religion sans god.
What should immediately strike anyone about these so-called “non-religious” moral imperatives is the fact that they sound so goddamned… religious!
All effuse nonsense about “loving your fellow man”, “equality”, or “nonviolence” and other behaviours which are obviously not natural to our dispositions (nor to nature). Now, whether such behaviours are desirable or realistic is a topic for another discussion. The topic at hand is what is natural. And any examination of human history suggests that none of these ideals are natural, and nor are they innate behaviours baked into our DNA.
In other words, they are round holes into which the square peg of humanity is expected to be pounded by true believers and the faithful: in other words, what we’re really discussing here is religion. This brings our little discussion to science and scientists, or at least “scientists” of the purportedly non-religious variety.
You’re probably thinking “It’s about time you got to science and scientists!”, and you’re right. But be patient with the Booby, fellas, it was necessary to make a point about religiosity before proceeding.
Even the most fervently atheistic scientist possesses, just like everyone else, long laundry lists of perfectly natural behaviours and desires they would prefer we not pursue, including, but not limited to: kicking their asses when they annoy us, helping ourselves to their property, having sex with their spouses, committing murder, and on it goes.
In the current day and age, you can even add such thoroughly modern grievances as using “microaggressions”, becoming financially successful (at least more financially successful than they), uttering naughty words, believing that men aren’t women and that women aren’t men, raising your voice, and wanting to pay less tax. Non-religious indeed!
You may object, and say “well, these scientists simply want law and order, like the rest of us.” And you would be right. However, these new age scientists of ours will not –indeed, cannot – admit that they are dabbling in religion, including their supposedly “higher” definitions of right and wrong.
This is key. In the absence of a higher authority all moral demands are simply opinions. In other words, which of your perfectly natural tendencies should be tamed by society is not simply a matter of your opinion, but a matter of the opinion of a king or dictator, the opinion of a philosopher, or popular opinion.
If we reject supernatural (or merely “higher”) sources for our moral demands then they are inevitably reduced to opinions. Moreover, they are clearly self-serving demands. Obviously the weak benefit from neutering the strong, for example. The next time you see someone in a white lab coat preaching some morality or other you should ask “how does this little fellow benefit from us doing as he demands?” for he is benefiting, and not for the reasons he claims.
This is the crux of the matter. In our day and age we’re constantly being hounded by little men (and little women) in white lab coats (metaphorically or otherwise) demanding that we not drink this, or eat more of that, or avoid using such-and-such a word, and on it goes. At no time do they ever plainly and honestly admit that all these demands are merely their opinions. They use their lab coats (metaphorical or otherwise) or positions in academia to give the appearance of scientific authority where none exists.
Let’s be clear. Morality is not science and never will be. Yes, you can scientifically make the case that smoking, say, will statistically dispose you to a shorter life-span, but there is no scientific case to be made that you must wish to trade something you enjoy for a higher probability of longer life.
Science cannot tell you whether you should sleep with that married woman you met at an out-of-town convention. Science cannot tell you whether you should lay a beating on the fella you caught in bed with your wife. Science cannot tell you whether to blow through that stop sign on a deserted backroad.
It doesn’t stop there, of course.
Science cannot tell you whether the top marginal tax rate should be higher or lower. Science cannot tell you whether you should be for or against increased immigration. Science cannot tell you whether you should or should not spank your child. Those who preach from the ivory towers of academia cannot admit that they are practicing religion, yet nor can they admit their demands are nothing more than opinions.
To be clear, science is a powerful tool. It has taught us to grow larger crops, split atoms, and walk on the moon. It is, however, useless at prescribing how we divvy the material rewards of larger crops. It has no bearing in a president’s decision whether to split atoms over a major foreign city. Nor can it dictate who owns the moon. These come down to opinions and whose opinions wield the most power. Or, if you’re religious, they are guided by belief in a supernatural, or at least “higher”, source than mere opinions.
Regardless of whether you accept the decisions of “higher powers” or human opinions the truth is you’re accepting either one or the other. If someone denies that his moral imperative is merely an opinion while simultaneously rejecting the otherworldly presence of a “higher power” then he is lying, either to you or to himself.
When it comes to matters of morality scientists are no smarter, and no less self-interested, than the regular Joe (indeed, the opposite may be true, but that’s a topic for another post). Are you prepared to hand the reins of government, law, and punishment over to a deceiver or to the merely self-deceived?
The Booby will leave you now with the sage advice of Zarathustra (no, the other one), for even as we speak there are little men and women in white lab coats preaching, though they deny they are preachers, and who wish to influence your government, dictate to your community, regulate your family, and take sovereignty over your life:
Distrust all those who talk much of their justice! Verily, in their souls not only honey is lacking.
And when they call themselves “the good and just,” forget not, that for them to be Pharisees, nothing is lacking but–power!
– Thus Spoke Zarathustra