Why Infanticide Is Not Only Moral, But Morally Obligatory

In Defence of New Humanist Magazine and Peter Singer against Nadine Dorries

This post is in response to claims made by someone called Nadine Dorries who says that the magazine New Humanist is an “extreme” organisation and apparently a “cult”. She claims that humanists advocate “infanticide” – and apparently that’s a bad thing. We need not be interested in her weird accusations of calling a magazine a “cult” (what would you call Cosmopolitan? A religion?). I want to focus on her claims that infanticide is (by definition) immoral, evil, and so on. And, therefore, anyone who advocates must bad, too. These claims are nonsense if we actually examine the arguments.

The Humanist Logo (from Per Caritatem blog) / The Symbol of "Evil" to Dorries

Some brief background: Dorries became the frontrunner for New Humanist’s Bad Faith Award, which is the award the “worst enemy of reason” for that particular year, according to New Humanist’s readers. Past “winners” have been such notables as Sarah Palin and the Pope. Anyway, in response to discovering herself at the front end of apparent silliness, Dorries responded with, well, precisely how a frontrunner for the Bad Faith Award would. Continue reading

Leo Igwe Press Release – concerning his recent arrest

An acquaintance of mine, Leo Igwe – a passionate, inexhaustible defender of secular and humanistic values in Africa, and a representative of the IHEU in Africa – was recently arrested, in Nigeria. I will let Leo explain what happened. I was greatly concerned but am releaved, somewhat, to know he is safe.

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MY ARREST: A ROUGH ROAD TO JUSTICE FOR A GIRL CHILD, FAMILY AND COMMUNITY MEMBERS IN NIGERIA

by Leo Igwe

On Tuesday January 5, at about 7.00am some police officers and soldiers led by two crime merchants in my community, Edward Uwah and Ethelbert Ugwu  stormed my family compound in Mbaise in Imo state in Southern Nigeria. They arrested me and my aging father. We were detained briefly at the local police station in Ahiazu before we were transfered  to the zonal police headquarters in Umuahia. The officers threatened to beat us when we asked them to allow us to clean up and change our clothes. One of the soldiers brought out his gun and threatened to shoot my father when he wanted to make phone calls to alert other family members of our arrest. The police held us throughout the day without giving us food and water. At the zonal police headquarters in Umuahia, a police officer read a petition by Ethelbert Ugwu who alleged that in September 2009 I with my father, three brothers and one Mr Gregory Iwu conspired, murdered and attempted to conceal the murder of one Mr Aloysius Chukwu who died in September last year. According to family sources, Mr Chukwu died in a local hospital after a brief illness. We made statements in response to the allegations and were later released on bail.

Since 2007 I have been working to ensure that Daberechi Anomgam and her family get justice following the rape of the 10 year old girl by Edward Uwah(55), a university teacher, in 2006. Since 2007, both Edward and Ethelbert have brought several police actions and framed allegations against me and my family members; against Daberechi and her family and a few members of the community opposed to their criminal schemes.  My father, who is over 77 years old and with a failing health(he is diabetic), has been detained  six times at the local and zonal police stations in connection with this case. Two of my brothers have been detained three times. And on one occasion in 2008, one of them was beaten and brutalized by soldiers and mobile police officers brought by Ethelbert Ugwu.  Both Ethelbert and Edward have filed three civil suits against me and my family members including Daberechi’s father at three different courts claiming damages of over 500 million naira(3.3million dollars). They have written petitions calling for my brothers to be sacked from their jobs and expelled from the college. The police officers in Ahiazu and Zone 9 in Umuahia have aided and abetted these atrocious and criminal acts by their irresponsible handling of the case and their readiness to arrest and detain any one as long as they are given some money. On a particular occasion in 2008, my father was arrested by police officers sent by Edward Uwah as he was leaving the court premises  after attending a sitting of one of the civil suits also filed by Edward Uwah. I got the information about 10.00pm the same day. I flew in from Ibadan the following day and on getting to the police station I was also detained. I never knew I was among those accused by Edward Uwa of breaking in and stealing. He alleged that we broken into his house and stole some items, and after that, scattered some juju and charms of the floor! I was released on bail. The petition ended there. Edward never produced any witnesses and the police never charged him for providing them with false information.

As a result of my efforts and those of other humanist and human rights activists and groups in Nigeria and across the world, Edward Uwah is currently standing trial at a local court for indecently assaulting Daberechi. So far, the plot by Ethelbert Ugwu to undermine the prosecution has failed. Last year, he obtained through a backdoor a fiat to prosecute the case against Edward Uwah. When I was informed about this, I got a lawyer to help Daberechi’s family apply for a withdrawal of the fiat. And in November, the Director of Public Prosecution in Imo state cancelled the fiat.

Unfortunately the police have refused to arrest and investigate Ethelbert Ugwu despite several petitions against him at Ahiazu and Zone 9 (Umuahia)police stations. When it comes to this case the police are part of the problem. Because most police officers do not carry out their duties with intergrity. When it comes to police arrest and investigation in Nigeria three things matter most: MONEY!MONEY! ! MONEY!!!. In most cases, police officers carry out their investigation to favour whoever ‘mobilises’ them or gives them a bribe. The way you are treated at police stations is determined by how much you pay or are ready to pay the officers whether as a complainant or a suspect. And in my community like in other rural communities in Nigeria, most people are poor and cannot afford to bribe the police. Hence criminal minded individuals are having a field day with police officers and soldiers.

And this nonsense must stop.

Pressure must be brought to bear on police authorities in Nigeria so that they would stop all acts of harassment, intimidation, illegal detention, extortion of money from the members of my family and community including the family members of Daberechi Anomgam. Pressure must be brought on the police authorities so that they can carry out their jobs responsibly and immediately arrest, investigate and prosecute Ethelbert Ugwu, Edward Uwah and their partners in crime including the police officers and soldiers whom they have used over the years to raid my community, assault innocent citizens and obstruct justice.

And I want to state that no amount of intimidation, police action, extortion, harassment, legal suits, trump-up charges, fictitious and malicious allegations, petitions against me and my family members will stop me from fighting for justice for this girl child and for humanity at large

Leo Igwe, Owerri, Imo State, January 7 2010

Ridding Religion – should we replace it with something?

We get used to the tired retorts from apologists: “Something can’t come from nothing!” “What meaning does life have if you are just going to be wormfood?” “How do you explain consciousness?” … and so on. But a nagging question which I’m putting open for debate is the question of replacement: that is, “What do you replace religion with?”

Like Freud, many of us understand that religion will always remain as long as people fear themselves, the world and the unknown, and perhaps especially death. God answers all the above-mentioned questions and most others. Purpose, meaning, morality, mortality – god (too easily) answers all. We also understand that some people belong to religion, not because they are necessarily (or only) scared but also because it creates opportunities. It is an outlet for their altruism and good-will; it allows them to connect with people on a “spiritual” (or non-materialistic) level; it makes them feel included, part of a group that nourishes their individuality by slowly diminishing it. In other words, it allows a part of a person to flourish that otherwise might not.

I think it is right, but it may be too easy, to say: religion doesn’t need replacement.

I think it’s right in the same sense that we don’t need to replace our belief in Santa Clause or the tooth-fairy. And god, being another imaginary creature, also doesn’t need replacement. However, religion is not simply the belief in god. Many non-religious people believe in (a) god – some are fideists like the great Martin Gardner or Soren Kierkegaard (this may be contested). And, similarly, some religious people do not believe in god: many secular Jews, for instance, are non-believers but might be the first to turn their lights off on Shabbat.

Here are some definitions of religion:

Religion: Human beings’ relation to that which they regard as holy, sacred, spiritual, or divine.” (Brittanica)

Religion: (2) a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices; (4) a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to, with ardor and faith.” (Miriam-Webster)

“The religious response is a response to experience and is coloured by the wish to provide a wider context for a fragile, short and turbulent life.” (Philip Rousseau, The Early Christian Centuries)

In all of these, there is barely a mention of a deity. Rituals, observances, the creation of sacred objects, places of contemplation, hymns, and so on – all can be observed by anyone without needing to believe in a deity. Why do it, then, one might ask? To benefit from all the things I mentioned before: to allow oneself the opportunity to experience a side of life that is neglected by other spheres.

I do not need such a system or a feeling of spirituality in my life – or rather, I obtain it from reading, writing, experiencing the beauty of the natural world, science, mathematics and philosophy. In these instances, however, the social element is largely missing. That is why groups like CFI, the Council for Secular Humanism, and so on, are so important to those who are not religious. They can and perhaps should provide the many outlets that religious groups provide: connections on more than material (so a place to discuss the meaning of life, truth, and other philosophical conundrums so rudely appropriated and answered by many religions), outlets for altruism, and so on. What troubles me about such things however is that it undermines the very reason some of us leave religion. We do not want to be part of a groupthink, we wanted out for individuality, for the maintenance of personal autonomy that all theisms view as unneccessary or, worse, harmful.

I am torn between wanting to promote a good life without god – focusing on ethical matters – and maintaining a distance from anything remotely religious. Not only is the god question unhelpful, I think it is mostly unimportant as soon as most people come to grips with it. And I do maintain that calling ourselves sceptics, or atheists, or secular humanists is unhelpful – but I can’t help see the necessity in belonging to something that replaces the need for fulfillment. Because above all, whether religion is nonsense (which it mostly is) or not, I think it’s important to realise that, for most people, it fulfills a need. Perhaps a way to combat it is to undermine its central tenets, whilst displaying a better way to appreciate beauty, promote happiness and cherish the love of others. God undermines these things by making humans become slaves to his desires; removing the agent from being good at all, since a believer thinks he can not be good without god. But people can and are good without god and we must stress this. Not only are they good, they live good lives and are often better people for it. They answer to no more abitrary Guy in the Sky or the whims of his self-proclaimed metatrons on Earth. How convenient that god wants you to donate to this man and all other gods are false!

It’s a fine line and I am uncertain how to straddle it. So, I think the question “What do you replace religion with?” should be answered with one of these.

A. Nothing, since the awe and wonder from religious nonsense could be correctly aligned to the awe and wonder of the natural world.

B. A strict tenet like secular humanism or something like that. I get jittery when I read about someone like Don Cupitt – but that’s probably my unease around anything spiritual.

What do you think is the best way to promote a life without god – a strict adherence to some code, which seems too similar to a religion or to underscore each debunking of religion with a better replacement?

Op-Ed: Music of the Merging Sphere

From CFI Campus Inquirer, Feb ’09

There has been a merging of spheres within modern thought. Their harmony is conducive toward a continued enlightenment. The first is the Darwinian process of evolution by natural selection, while the second is the secular endeavors rising against the tumult of religious obfuscation, absolutism, and dogmatism. It is important to disengage the harmony to listen to the singular music of each sphere. By so doing, we are able to realize why it is that secularism and evolutionism as so intrinsically entwined.

To begin, it is necessary to give a general answer: “Darwin made it possible,” says Richard Dawkins, “to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” Though I find the term “atheist” superfluous, the meaning here is clear: those of us who see meaning, beauty and fulfilment of this life within this life, rather than from an external source, have a need to explain the diversity of the natural world. If one is shackled into a religion, the origin of species is easily explained by postulating a great deity. Without a deity, how on Earth (notice this pun) could this apparent design arise?

Arise, Darwin, to claim the mantle of greatness.

Darwin called his idea as overwhelming and shocking as “confessing a murder”. Why? The main reason for its tether to humanism is the removal of the godlike pedestal Man had stood on. It was from his great intellectual height and insight that he looked down upon other animals as “lower”, that he looked upon the earth made for his delight. But, placing Man squarely as part of the natural process-as just another ape-the greatness of existence, the egotistical focus on humanity’s “purpose”, crumbled into dust. Today, people are still revolted at not being “more special”, at being at base a “wild animal”. Darwin put it beautifully when he said, “Man still bears the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.”

Given to superstition, sounds, faces, voices, conspiracy-theories, complicated over-analysis, ghosts, demons, humans want their lives to be part of something more: a battle between good and evil, governments focused on manipulating them, and so on. The natural explanations for all these things, including for the diversity and beauty of life, are somehow “less” interesting than “magical reasoning”. Science has demolished ordained knowledge, which crumbled with the edifice of Man’s egotistical “purpose” as part of a god’s “plan”. Hence, the reasoning why evolution by natural selection is often tethered with the hopes and exploits of Reason’s defenders.

The most incredible impact that something external can have on us is through the visual; thus something overwhelmingly (visually) breathtaking would have the greatest impact on us. And the natural world, surrounding us every day, demanding an explanation for its complexity, is just that.

Thus we struggle to say that something so beautiful and essential can be explained-in general, simply, and specifically, quite intricately. But it is part and parcel of the project to demolish the superstitious and supernatural and external sources of wisdom. Nothing is grander than the wonder of the world around us-and explaining it does not remove its beauty. Thus, my co-thinkers and I have a big job on our hands: fighting for natural explanations for all things (ghosts, life, nature), and instilling wonder and appreciation for life’s poetic qualities. This is all very humanist and why it is closely linked to the enterprise. Thus the sphere of evolution by natural explanation harmonizes with the enterprise to remove the supernatural and capture the present as most beautiful.

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Works Cited:

- R. Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (London: Penguin Books), p. 5
– D. Quammen, The Kiwi’s Egg: Charles Darwin & Natural Selection (London: Phoenix Books)
– C. Darwin. The Indelible Stamp: Four Essential Volumes in One. J.D. Watson (Ed.) (London: Running Press).
– S. Pinker, How the Mind Works (London: Penguin Books)
– Ibid. 211 – 284