Sunday, August 16, 2009

My morals can beat up your morals!

I remember as a kid when a fight would elevate from name calling to the ultimate claim: "My dad can beat up your dad!". There seems to be polarizing conflicts all around and we all like the reassurance that the authority we rely on is valid and better than that of your opponents.

We no longer pit our fathers against each other in an imaginary fight, but we do pit our moral views against each other. The problem is, we lose focus on what the real issue is.

For example:
Is protesting American or Un-American?

Here, Nancy Pelosi is distracted by protestors. Instead, she should say that she thinks war is immoral and providing health care is moral. Calling your opposition "stupid", "bigotted", etc. is a step backwards in resolving moral conflicts.

Religion and Science

This weekend I watched Expelled, No Intelligence Allowed. A compelling movie by Ben Stein about how the scientific community is systematically suppressing any thought on Intelligent Design (the thought that an intelligent being like God had to be involved in creating the world). I then read Expelled Exposed, a website that refuted most of Ben Stein's claims.

The truth is that Ben Stein carved out a piece of truth to make a compelling movie. Also true is that Expelled Exposed refuted many of Ben's claims. So what clash of morals was left out?

Here are some truths that I see in the science vs. religion moral battle:
  • Science has shown value in finding deterministic laws and using them to understand aspects of the world in ways beneficial to us.
  • Science, by it's nature is limited. If by strict scientific method, a theory is not proved ,then science rejects it. Examples:
    • You feel sick, you go to the doctor. He/She orders all tests available for your symptoms, which come back showing no problem. The doctor feels content saying you are fine when in reality, you are not.
    • Scientists have no explanation or provable theory as to "how" life began. Even so, life did begin. Neither scientific nor supernatural processes can eliminated until we know how it happened.

  • Scientists can be arrogant in their viewpoints and blind to the limitations of science.
  • Religion has shown value in providing hope, structure and purpose.
  • Religion embraces some challenging ideas:
    • An all powerful, all knowing Being, or God
    • Life after death
    • Supernatural events.
      • The Flood
      • Parting the Red Sea
      • Birth and Resurrection of Christ
      • Etc.
    • Religion has the potential of being abused.
      • Bloody sacrifices to appease the gods
      • The Crusades
      • Salem witch trials
      • (The Old Testament consistently deals with religion gone bad)
  • Religion and Science sometimes take a "throwing out the baby with the bathwater" approach to each other.

War and Peace

I just finished the audio book "Churchill, Hitler, and "The Unnecessary War": How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World" by Patrick J. Buchanan.

One of the key points I found is that brilliant people can be mislead by their own views of morality. For example, Churchill's strong moral opposition to Hitler:
  • Turned a European war into a world war
  • Caused him to ally with Stalin, who's own crimes nearly paralleled Hitlers [1]
  • Resulted in the use (or consideration of using) of conventional, chemical and biological weapons against German civilians.
  • Resulted in the bankruptcy of Britain and the downfall of the British empire.

NOTE: I'm not arguing that WWII was unnecessary, but instead I'm trying to point out conflicting moral stances. I'm reminded of a quote I saw recently:

"Why is it okay to kill people who kill people to let them know that killing people is wrong?"

It was interesting to read how the United States:
  • Felt mislead into World War I (the "war to end all wars" and a promise to spread democracy)
  • Strongly resisted entering World War II, even with the reported atrocities.
  • The U.S. did not experience the same destructive forces as the other world powers, which is why America emerged as a world power (the author's conclusion).

Lessons for Us

Be careful when implementing your own morals.
Be understanding when judging the morals of others.
Realize that conflict will always exist and resist the temptation to make the conflict worse.



Kevin said...

I guess I disagree with Pat Buchanan's conclusions about WW2: sometimes you have to take a moral stand. Plus I can't see that Hitler would have stopped at the English Channel; Britain was just too tempting even if Chamberlain had stayed PM. The only hope would have been for the German military leadership to eventually remove Hitler from power - something they were unable to do even with the weight of a world war on their shoulders.

But taking a moral stand doesn't mean you must address ALL moral dilemmas - the "world policeman" has huge problems too. Wisdom is found in knowing where to draw the line. My personal opinion is that those with the so-called Tragic Vision (cf. the economist Thomas Sowell) are much better equipped to draw such a line than those with the opposite worldview. It will be interesting to see which way Mr. Obama leans...

Ron said...

Thanks for pointing me to Thomas Sowell. I now have a bunch of new books on my reading list (I like how he thinks). I also updated my post with a "NOTE:" about the necessity of WWII.