Kitcher on how moral progress means overcoming religion

I just read the article in which this extended quotation occurs and thought this was an interesting, eloquent summation of many recurring thoughts on secular morality. Philip Kitcher writes:

The overwhelming majority of the world’s moral practices are intertwined with religious views. One of the ways of making moral progress consists in freeing ourselves of the need for this system of enforcement, in rejecting the false religious presuppositions, and in disentangling and dismissing the special injunctions that the religious framework has introduced. In part, this is simply a matter of replacing superstition with true belief (or with the absence of judgement) – and notions of truth and falsity apply directly here because of the religious claims purport to describe the decisions and volitions of person-like entities. It’s also a matter, however, both of reinforcing our altruistic dispositions, preventing irrelevant moral commands from interfering with the plans and interests of our fellows, and of expanding the range of opinion available to people. We should think of our moral system as a spare and streamlined device for developing the dispositions that first made social beings of us, unfortunately overlain with excrescences that were once useful in ensuring conformity, but that can now be scraped away to benefit effect.

The last part reminds me of the famous Heinrich Heine quotation, from his Gedanken und Einfalle  (that also appears in Hitchens’ god is Not Great)

In dark ages people are best guided by religion, as in a pitch-black night a blind man is the best guide; he knows the roads and paths better than a man who can see. When daylight comes, however, it is foolish to use blind, old men as guides.

I’m currently busy exploring how sanctity was used in Western society as method of latent social control, thus becoming equated with the “highest good”. One of the arguments I am making is that we are better off without sanctity and Kitcher has attempted to formulate a normative reason for this – as the quotation highlights at least.


Kitcher, P. (2006). Biology and Ethics. In D. Copp (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 178-179

Why Secular Values Require Constant Defence

The Founding Fathers

In her book Freethinkers, Susan Jacoby constantly highlights how often great thinkers are neglected from the American historical canon due to their criticism of religious authority or social norms. This may seem odd to anyone who knows even a little about the Founding Fathers and, for example, Abraham Lincoln – but we know of these gentlemen due to their role as presidents and founders of the very nation itself, despite their antagonism toward organised religion and its “truths”.

During the late 18th century, many thinkers – prominently those fighting for abolition and women’s equality, which were often united causes – optimistically presumed that the deliberate neglect of powerful activists would be eroded, since the values themselves would come to fruition; and, thus blooming, all would recognise those who originally distributed the seeds of such knowledge. But even today, the names William Lloyd Garrison, Lucretia Mott, and Ernestine L. Rose, are quite forgotten by those who more confidently remember other names within the era.

Continue reading

The King’s Speech: Gays are Rotten

UPDATE: Prof. Pierre de Vos has written an excellent post detailing the idiocy of still having royalty in South Africa, who receive millions from the government for having the right genetics. Start a slow clap for these people…

Can you imagine any public figure saying on a public platform that all black or coloured people “are rotten”? Not only are these statements false (and I think meaningless), they are insulting to the group of people in question. But insult or offense isn’t a measurement of a statement’s strength. Anyone reading those statements, whether they are part of the targeted group or not, would rightfully think such statements unjustified and bigoted – and it’s these two conclusions that matter. In this same way, I look forward to the day when we take a similar hard-line approach to those who make homophobic statements, as King Goodwill Zwelithini has done.

The Zulu monarch – Brits aren’t the only ones with these strange titles still in existence – has recently said:

Traditionally, there were no people who engaged in same sex relationships. There was nothing like that and if you do it, you must know that you are rotten.

And in case you didn’t quite understand him or feel different, it doesn’t matter: “I don’t care how you feel about it. If you do it, you must know that it is wrong and you are rotten. Same sex is not acceptable.”

Continue reading

Offended Atheist Gets Stupid Christian Billboard Taken Down

The Billboard in question (via The Daily Mail)

So this happened. I’ll summarise what I’m focused on in the blogpost itself if you don’t want to read all of that (oh no, reading! *hiss*!).

Basically, an atheist…

lodged a consumer complaint against a billboard for River’s Church located on its premises in Sandton [which is in South Africa, international readers].

The billboard features an image of a man holding his hands against the temples of his face. The following quote “An atheist is a man who believes himself to be an accident – Francis Thompson” appears underneath.

The complaint then:

In essence, the complainant submitted that the billboard offends him as an atheist as he does not consider his existence to be an accident. Secondly, the depiction of a man with an empty head communicates that atheists are stupid.

The following are my preliminary thoughts when reading about this ruling. (Note: the Christian respondent “smartly” – read idiotically – responded with Bible quotes. Nice move, guy. That’s really going to convince an atheist.)

Continue reading

Are We Born Atheists?

A recurring rebuttal from some atheist thinkers, to convey ideas about atheism, is to assert “We are all born atheists”. This is used to show believers that we have all been at some point atheists. Perhaps, too, we are almost all of us atheists of most gods that have been proposed – and indeed of those that have not even been considered yet.  According to the definition of ‘atheism’ Paul Cliteur finds most important, however, we cannot be atheists of that which we haven’t considered, which means we cannot say we are born atheists.

Continue reading