Tag Archives: secularism

On Secular morality

Introduction

The purpose of Republic of Lagrangia is the establishment of a secular, liberal and humanist republic. In this post we will discuss the topic of secular morality. We will argue that all meaningful ethical theories are necessarily secular. However, we will start by distinguishing secularism from atheism. Subsequently we will show that non-secular ethics is equal to moral nihilism. Then we will defend the harm principle as the core of secular ethics.

Secularism versus atheism

Some people (deliberately) confuse secularism with atheism. However, this two terms refer to two totally different concepts. Atheism is the ontological position that god or gods do not exists. Secularism, however, is the political position that politics and religion should be separated, or in other words: the state should be neutral in religious matters. This means that the state should not promote religion or non-religion; whatever one chooses to believe or not, is only his concern.

Not all secularists are atheists, and not all atheists are secularists. Many secularists are not atheists, but they are for instance agnostics, deists or pantheists. This three particular positions are (fundamentally) different from atheism. But most agnostics, deists and pantheists are secularists.

Why is secularism important? Secularism is important because different people has different beliefs, which cannot often be proved. It’s almost impossible to prove either the existence or non-existence of god(s). Since one’s personal believes does not affect other people, or at least they don’t need to, it would be better if we keep religious matters private.

What is morality?

Although theists, and creationists, often talk loudly about morality, they have often no clue what they actually mean with morality. There is a strong impression that for theists morality only serves as a last sanctuary for an increasingly collapsing god of the gaps.

The primary question one should ask in moral philosophy is: what is the purpose of morality? Most theists just presume the necessity of morality, and when they are asked the primary question, they either evade this subject or they claim that the need for morality is “obvious”. One should ask why the need for morality is obvious.

Zoologists have discovered “moral” behaviour in multiple species of social animals, and not only in humans. Dutch-American primatologist Frans de Waal is the one of the foremost researchers in this field. This raises the question why social animals do subscribe to a notion of moral behaviour? If we ask ordinary people what they think what morality is about, they will often explain morality in terms of altruism or caring about others. This justifies us to understand morality as altruism.

There is a simple naturalistic explanation for the emerge of altruistic behaviour in social animals. Animals who help each other, think about a group of wolves or lions hunting together, have a greater chance of survival. Since all evidence points in the direction that the sense for morality is determined genetically, it follows that (the need for) morality is simply the product of evolution. In fact we might conclude that only evolution is able to give us a proper explanation for the whole phenomenon of morality.

After all, why should a deity actually care about morality? Theists are unable answer this question, and often they claim because of god’s love. But we should consider that love can also be explained by evolution, since our capacity to love enhances our chance of survival (think about the love of mothers for their children). However, god is supposed to be unevolved, so how can he be able to love?

So we can conclude that morality is the set of behavioural attitudes which brings us to help/care about others, which increases the chances for survival of our species.

Why non-secular ethics is equal to moral nihilism?

The Euthyphro problem as formulated by A. C. Grayling:

Is an act wrong because a god says it is, or is it forbidden by god because it is wrong? (Grayling p. 105, 2013).

Grayling argues that if the first clause is true than anything whatever god might decide to be good, is therefore good. This include murder, rape among others. Certain acts are only bad or good because of the arbitrary whims of a deity. Therefore non-secular ethics is nihilistic, since good and bad have no objective, independent meaning.

If the second is clause is true, we need to develop a secular theory of ethics.

What kind of morality should we have?

Although evolution is able to explain why people have a sense of morality, it fails to tell us what specific moral rules we ought to have. The primary objective evolution impose on all living beings is their will to survive, and in particular on animals.

Although most humans are born with a sense of morality, many people have different set of moral values. According to Canadian-American moral philosopher David Gauthier argues that moral values are inherently subjective. Because different people have different preferences, there will be conflicts of interest among these people.

It seems from this point of view it will impossible to establish any kind of objective morality. In a literal sense this would be true, but we can say: why not construct a set of rules which enables us to pursue as much of our interests as possible? In fact such rule is possible: the harm principle. Although John Stuart Mill has introduced this moral rule for slightly different reasons, it’s quite useful for organising a society with many conflicting interest.

According to the harm principle individuals should be allowed to do what ever they want as long as no other person is harmed by such act. Therefore you can live your life by your own values, provided that these value do not harm others. And the main task for the government is to minimize the amount of harm in society.

References

Grayling, A. C. 2013. The GOD Argument. Bloomsbury, London.

Pandeism as the core of future Spacer religion?

As you probably already know, Republic of Lagrangia endorses secularism. However this doesn’t prevent us from speculating what form the religion(s) of the future will take. Most prospective Space settlers or Spacers, will likely be quite scientifically mended and will therefore accept scientific facts like the big bang and evolution. However many people, even if they fully accept modern cosmology and biology, will still feel uncomfortable without some sense of divinity.

Many people make great difficulties with combining their acceptance of modern science with some kind of religion. One of these attempts has been made by Bernard Haisch in his book The God Theory. According to his theory, god created the universe by becoming the universe. Haisch’s theory is in fact a kind op pandeism, according to Wikipedia pandeism is:

Pandeism (or pan-deism) combines aspects of pantheism and deism. It holds that the creator of the universe actually became the universe, and so ceased to exist as a separate and conscious entity.[1][2][3] Pandeism is proposed to explain as to deism why God would create a universe and then abandon it,[4] and as to pantheism, the origin and purpose of the universe.

Since this theological position is fully compatible with modern science, pandeism might become popular among Spacers with religious inclination living in a highly secular society. Although pandeism in itself is no religion, it might help people to deal with their psychological need for some spirituality without giving up their believe in science.

On the need for a secular, liberal and humanist Republic

In this post we will defend the case for the establishment of a secular, liberal and humanist Republic. We believe the establishment of such state is necessary, but it is almost impossible to create such state on earth.

What is secularism?

First we should explain what secularism is. Unlike what some religious motivated demagogues pretend, secularism is not about prohibiting religion in all aspects of life. The real meaning of secularism is the separation of religion and politics. Secularists believes that religion is a matter for one’s own conscience, whilst politics is about public affairs.

What is liberalism?

Classical liberalism is the tradition within political philosophy which advocates a limited government, especially by imposing constitutional restrictions on the scope of permitted governmental actions. Individual liberty is restricted only by the liberty of other persons.

What is humanism?

Humanism is the world view that humans and humanity are the cornerstone of both society and ethics. Human life is not a mean but an end in itself, therefore both society and ethics should be based on their dedication to human dignity. Humanism can be either religious or secular.

Why a secular liberal and humanist Republic?

Currently there are no states in the world that enshrines the principles of secularism, liberalism and humanism. Many societies have religious inspired laws or are giving a special status to religion. Even in nominal secular societies, such the USA, religious groups are able to influence public policy even if they are an minority.

In order to protect the legacy of the Enlightenment, it is necessary that secular, liberal humanists will unite to form a new society, which explicitly based on these values. Once such society is established all immigrants and public officials has to sign a pledge to uphold these values.

Alternative for Abortion

This post describes a personal opinion of the author, and is therefore not necessarily representative of Republic of Lagrangia or the space movement in general.

Although I am a proponent of humanistic secular liberalism, I happen also to be pro-life, i.e.  I oppose abortion, which I consider as a violation of the right to life, a fundamental right in classical liberal theory. Since I do not believe that this right can be denied on developmental state, I reject the slaughter of animals and consequently I choose to be a vegetarian. The idea you can be both vegetarian and pro-abortion, is in my opinion hypocritical.

However, unlike (some) many christian pro-lifers, I do support abortion in a very few situations: in case pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, the (mental) health of the mother is at stake or in case of serious defects of the foetus. A further difference between me and many “conservative” members of the pro-life movement, is that fully support both adequate sex education and the use of contraceptives. It has been proven that proper sex education (as opposed to “abstinence only”) reduce both teenage pregnancies and subsequent abortions.

Abstinence maybe an effective tool to prevent unwanted pregnancies, it is unrealistically to believe that abstinence only will solve this problem. Whatever you might want, people are going to have sex before and outside marriage, and it is in contradiction to liberalism to impose legal prohibitions against non marital sex.

The first step to eliminate the evil of abortion is to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. Contraceptives are essential for this, one thing the government may do is to distribute free or cheap (female) condoms in public spaces. Of course condom are not the miracle solution, although they may do a great job. People may forget to buy or use a condom from time to time, and condoms may break during use.

An interesting new way of contraception is discussed in Robin Baker‘s book Sex in the Future. Baker proposes a system in which people get sterilized at young age (16 or 18 for instance) and that their gametes would be stored ex vivo. When a couple wants to start a family they would retrieve their gametes from the storage and became pregnant through in vitro fertilization. Of course this program should be entirely voluntary, although it would be quite effective.

Another topic discussed in Sex in the Future, are artificial uteri. I discussed this in a previous post, although very shallowly. There many prospective uses for artificial uteri, we can think about career women who want to have children, but do not want to be pregnant because of their job, women with defective uteri or no uteri at all, male same-sex couples who want to start a family etcetera.

In these particular examples the pregnancy will start with in vitro fertilization, although scientists who are experimenting with artificial uteri (on animals, of course) usually transfer embryos from their natural environment to the artificial one. As far as I know, no scientists has ever succeed to establish a full ex vivo pregnancy. The possibility of transferring a foetus from a natural to an artificial uterus has a few prospective uses.

One example would be in case of pregnant woman who has died before her child was sufficiently developed to survive outside the body. Another example would be in case a woman who wants an abortion, but doesn’t fulfil to the requisites I mentioned above. If artificial uteri were available, a woman would be able to choose to terminate her pregnancy without killing her child.

In case the woman does not want to have a family, artificial uteri would enable the father to raise his child, provided he is both known and willing to have a child. Otherwise the child would become a warden of the state from the moment he or she is transferred into an artificial uterus.

Some pro-lifers suggest that adoption should be an alternative for abortion. I agree with them only partially. Their plans still force women to carry on their pregnancies to term, since giving up a child for adoption can only happen after birth. Artificial uteri will free women from this kind of compulsion.

A Proposed Calender for Space Settlers

NB. My proposed calendar is not intended to replace any calendar in use here on Earth.

Introduction

The Gregorian calendar which is the mostly used in contemporary society is not quite suitable for Space Settlements. Therefore we will propose a new calendar to be used in space colonies. Why is our current calendar unsuitable for space colonies? There are several arguments against the Gregorian calendar, one of them is that it is not a perpetual calendar, which means that each year starts on a different year. Further it is a very strange idea to base the calendar of a space colony on the earth’s seasonal cycle, while space settlers are in full control of the length of their days and thus of their seasonal cycle. Therefore there is no need for adjusting the calendar of a space based society to the solstice.

Proposal

Our proposal is based on Irv Bromberg’s Symmetry454 calendar, with a few modifications. According to this plan each year is divided into four quarters, which are divided into three months. The first and third have each four weeks, the second has five. Like our current calendar the symmetry454 calendar preserves the seven-day-week, which in my opinion an important feature. However as I have said, I have a few amendments.

Bromberg has proposed to start his calendar on Monday January 1, 2005 in order to ensure that each year starts at a Monday. Our suggestion is to start our calendar on Thursday January 1, 1801. Why this date? On this date Giuseppe Piazza discovered Ceres, the first asteroid known by humanity. Since asteroid mining is the key to space colonization, this particular event of immense significance of every space based civilization. This will have as a side effect, that each year will start on Thursday and end on a Wednesday, however we do not consider this as a big issue. We could simple make Wednesday as the civil rest-day, of course anyone who wants to keep Sabbath on Sunday (or on Saturday or Friday) will be free to do so.

By changing the start of the calendar we can also use this opportunity to implement a fully secular year counting, which is important given our commitment to Secular RepublicanismIn our proposal the year 1801 AD will be year 0 Anno Cereris, all years before will be referred to as minus <year> Anno Cereris.

Another amendment we want to suggest, is to get rid of leap years. As I have explain above, space settlements have no reason to adjust the calendar to earth’s seasonal cycle. Therefore we do not have any need for leap years. This is quite a difference for Bromberg’s proposal, in which once in the five or six years there would be a leap week (to be calculated according to a rather complicated formula).

Of course having a year with just 364 days and no leap years, will have as a consequence that our years will run faster than “terrestrial” years. This is however no real problem, the proposed calendar for Mars colonies runs significantly slower than Earth’s, but until know I have not the impression that this a big issue among Mars enthusiasts.

Days of the week

Our proposal for the days of the week is to name them after the colours of the rainbow. Thus: Thursday will be “Red day”, Friday “Orange day”, Saturday “Yellow day”, Sunday “Green day”, Monday “Blue day” (no irony intended), Tuesday “Indigo day” and Wednesday “Violet day”.

Names of the months

In order to prevent confusing, we should give the months of our calendar different names as those of the Gregorian calendar. However we have no particular proposal for these, but our suggestion is to begin their names with A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, K, L and M respectively. This in order to make it easy to distinguish them when abbreviated.