Wednesday, 21 August 2013

-   Who said it? –

Morality is a tricky and interesting topic. Philosophers take a rational approach to openly discussing the finer points of right and wrong. The conscientious philosopher will take the time to reflect upon her own presuppositions and of any a priori biases brought along towards her approach to thinking about a topic.

When thinking of what is right and wrong, our presupposed “baggage” will undoubtedly swing the way we reflexively think. Our automatic gut reaction, if you like. For example, your typical folk in cognitive neuroscience or comparative Psychology will have an advanced understanding of the multitude of animals that are, beyond any reasonable scepticism, sentient creatures and could also use evidence to suggest one or two others that we may call “conscious”.  Therefore they will be presupposed to assume that adult creatures capable of experiencing suffering and also an awareness of their environment, to a far greater degree than a new born human, are typically treated with much less respect than is deserved. This stance, among other factors, also describes our colloquial speciesism, and is also the sort of argument that is espoused by the fantastic moral philosopher Peter Singer. His faultless rhetoric describes our everyday speciesism, our human-centric values system, that allows us to industrially farm meat, research on animals, abandon pets, destroy forestry, and so on.

When thinking about species equality, my own presuppositions are composed by my Materialistic and Neuroscientific orientations. Naturally, I therefore consider humans as animals that are cousins and descendants of other animals. This obviously influences the way my thoughts reflex when I think and discuss topics that regard animal welfare for example.

My presuppositions and subsequently formed beliefs are critically different to those that assume a divine intelligence to the cosmos because mine are subject to change given the refreshing light of new evidence. This is a good thing. I am aware that my beliefs are fallible and that the knowledge I posses is incomplete and always will be. I know that the most rigorously tested assumption that I own can be dropped without remorse, as long as the appropriate evidence is there to do so.

It is very important for ones beliefs to be fluid (open to change) because it is difficult to know whether your original starting place is on a solid foundation. How can you know? With religion this really is a casing point. With religion you are encouraged to not question dogma because the big G said so. This is a non-reliable structure for describing reality as it restricts one from questioning the origins of the knowledge and why one supports whatever big G endorses. Especially when one is willing to lay your life for those beliefs.

The scientific approach relies on using a transparent method of evidence based enquiry that allows you to find out how previous conclusions have been made. You can look at the source material, go into a research study's methodology and openly critique whatever you please. With religion we typically see, non-transparent phrasing such as "This was how the Lord saw fit", or "The Lord works in mysterious ways", as the reason for something being classed as good or bad. I say that this is an intellectually dishonest and opaque way of investigating reality because even if you disagree with 'the lord' you still have to abide by the alleged decision.

Wouldn't it be more useful to understand the roots of religious doctrine? Independent of whether the rules were divinely inspired or not, these texts have been edited, re-edited, printed, re-drafted, translated, modernised, burned, restored, manipulated, corrupted... Two versions of the King James Bible printed a few decades apart, aren't even written using exact phraseology.

What if one of these transformations of scripture was made by someone who was appalled by homosexuality? They would be much more inclined to embellish or to faithfully reproduce the alleged homophobic word of the big G. Plus, if one was more inclined to emphasize "mans" superiority over women and animals, then well who knows, you just can't be sure about that. The propagation of this sort of material is full of biases throughout history, especially with no evidence based regulatory process. 

This shouldn't be a problem for the believer though should it? No because it's based on the truth right? So whenever authors that are supposedly inspired by divinity shouldn't all of the writers reproduce the exact same words and sentences? Look across the world, no religions are compatible. Indian religion (apologies for the crude classification) is a million miles away from Anglican religion. Contrast this with Science, is there a difference between Indian Physics and Physics performed in Manchester UK? No, scientific consensus is a global phenomenon because science using an evidence based perspective allows communities across the globe to draw converging conclusions. Ultimately providing the most reliable assessment of reality that humanity can make.

"Who said it?" Is a very important question to ask when reading anything that carries truth claims. Research scientists, politicians, statisticians, Doctors, vicars, imams, priests, rabbi's. Truth claims about right or wrong made by religious leaders and the authors of scripture are completely subjective, deductive, and based on internal revelation! We know that human common sense does not lead us to accurate predictions about the world. In science we modestly acknowledge our fallibility and sensibly use data to test hypotheses that are confirmed or rebutted independent of the opinion of the researcher. A means of aiming towards an objective explanation of reality.


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