April 9, 2003

All your thesis belong to us

Reading Thoughts Arguments and Rants this afternoon while feeling frustrated at a misbehaving web craplet that I am currently authoring, I came across Battlefield God. It is a quiz that tests for consistency in your beliefs about God.

Missing image

I appear to have done pretty well. I took no hits and bit one bullet. The average to date, apparently, is 1.37 hits and 1.10 bullets. From the explanation, I take it to mean that my beliefs are consistent, although in one case I've had to agree to a conclusion most people have trouble with.

The bullet I bit is described as follows:

Bitten Bullet 1

You answered "True" to questions 7, and 15.

These answers generated the following response:

You've just bitten a bullet! You are consistent in applying the principle that it is justifiable to base one's beliefs about the external world on a firm, inner conviction, regardless of the external evidence, or lack of it, for the truth or falsity this conviction. The problem is that it seems you have to accept that people might be justified in their belief that God could demand something terrible.

This is something many religious people are willing to accept. For example, Kierkegaard believed that it is precisely because Abraham had to contravene established morality to follow God's will and attempt to sacrifice his son which made his act the supreme act of faith.

But as Kierkegaard also stressed, this makes the act incomprehensible from a rational point of view. The rational alternative - that people should require more than such an inner conviction to justify such a belief - is more attractive to most people, but you reject this alternative and bite the bullet.

The actual question was as follows:

Question 15:

The serial rapist Peter Sutcliffe had a firm, inner conviction that God wanted him to rape and murder prostitutes. He was, therefore, justified in believing that he was carrying out God's will in undertaking these actions.

I answered that this is true.

Now, if there is anyone who reads me for my rather far from mainstream philosophical principles, you should know that I am quite happy to bite this bullet and I am completely comfortable with my conclusion.

Peter Sutcliffe was justified in believing that he was carrying out God's will. Of course, he was - to use the professional criminological term - nuts. When someone is nuts, what may be perfectly reasonable to them is no less nuts just because it may be perfectly reasonable to them. And just because they may be quite justified in holding their beliefs doesn't mean that I, as a member of society who seeks protection from murderous loons, have to put up with it.

This is part of the false paradox people seem to believe is tied up in the ill-defined doctrine called relativism. I admit that my own convictions probably do not really derive from some Spock-like logical examiniation of the universe. I am hard pressed to guarantee, even to myself, that the chains of reasoning I use to justify my beliefs aren't just rationalisations. I've seen plenty of people rationalise without ever being aware that they are doing it, and I don't think that I am in some way naturally superior to them.

Furthermore, making the effort to ensure that you only believe that which follows logically from dispassionate and rigourous deduction is a pointless exercise best left to late night arguments in undergraduate dorms. My principles are the product of a limited life path and a mind of finite and not fully understood properties. So were Peter Sutcliffe's, and I have no access to any sort of God's eye view that would enable me to know, with rigourous and unquestionable certainty, that God didn't want him to go rape and murder those women.

However, such an admission does not mean that I am indifferent. I do not concede the authority and power to judge Peter Sutcliffe's actions. I don't want to live in a world where serial rapists and murders can act freely and openly. If you tell me that that desire is the product of my prejudices and narrow perspective on the universe, so be it. I'm still happier to see the guy locked up somewhere.

I can not avoid judging other people's beliefs, and I do not have some ironclad logical foundation to base my judgements on. That doesn't mean my judgements are arbitrary, or that I don't think them right, but it does mean that my principles only have force to the limited degree that other people are willing to tolerate the actions that follow from my beliefs.

That may help explain why I think creationism is an ideological issue, and not a matter of true and false.

This sort of metatheory is hardly original. I've read bits and snippets of it here and there, but I've never seen someone else put it all together. But, I'm not as well read in philosophy as I ought to be. At any rate, that is what I mean by relativism and that is why I treat a lot of things as matters of ideological preference when many people treat them as matters of scientific certainty or simple morality.

Old Comments

Posted 2003/04/09 17:07 (Wed) | TrackBack

Peter Sutcliffe wasnt a rapist. Get your facts right.

Posted by: squid at November 5, 2004 3:30
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