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.

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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.)

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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.

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Some problems with local atheist article is one of those websites that makes you ashamed to share a species label with other humans. The comments sections often reads as though a bunch of blind, three-fingered lunatics have been set alight and told that typing really fast on a keyboard will put the flames out. Oh and someone is hitting them on the head with a hammer. Regardless, sometimes a brave soul emerges from the cloud of nonsense to write something comprehensible. Recently the user ‘Increasingly Annoyed’, wrote an article ‘Ask an atheist’. I have a number of small problems with it, though I think it is fairly well-written (though it uses some unnecessary phrasing) and refreshingly sober.

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Why I Would Support Banning Gay Marriage

My argument is that we allow religions to have bizarre laws within secular states. If we relegate marriage as a whole to religions, we ought to tolerate whatever views the religious groups have on marriage. With regards to the State, we ought to just have a civil union, which is sex-blind. If religions then want to maintain their opposition to gay marriages, that is their business, not those of us focused on secular policies. It would be disgusting if they did continue to oppose gay marriages, but we tolerate disgusting views – as long as they don’t infringe on the wider laws – anyway.

The main reason to oppose homosexual discrimination usually has to due with inconsistent application of the laws or rules applied. That is, if sexual orientation truly does not effect whether someone is a better citizen, worker, friend, and so on, then he ought not to be discriminated against if he happens to be gay. This would constitute unfair discrimination, by definition, since you would be treating those who happened to be straight without worrying whether their sexual orientation would lead to a worse friendship or poorer work performance (or you take it for granted that straight people perform better or are more trustworthy, etc.) Unfair discrimination or prejudice is what we (ought to) oppose – but not discrimination by definition, since that would actually be absurd. Continue reading

How Offensive – The Banned Axe Advert and Patronising Christians

An advert about odours that “could offend” Christians has been pulled because of a single complaint from an angelically-concerned, single (male) individual. I’m offended his offence was taken seriously. Does my offence count?

From the Axe advert - How offensive that they would want to do anything else for eternity except dwell in servility and worship

Recently, it’s been very interesting watching advertising bodies get involved in metaphysical debates about the existence of god. For example, when the wonderful (but British) Ariane Sherine successfully managed to get an atheist message on busses – with powerful support from Richard Dawkins – they were told to change “There is no god” to “There is probably no god”. There were very bad arguments for this, but it’s fairly obvious why – ironically it is to cater to those who do believe, despite it being directed at those who obviously do not. Now, in South Africa, we’ve had something similar. Continue reading