Materialism, Relativism, Moral Insanity, and Academia
The other day I was shown an article on a survey of opinions regarding infanticide on college campuses. The article described that it was not uncommon to find people who believed that not only should infanticide be legal, but that children under the age of four could be killed. Even more astonishingly this view was seen as intellectually sophisticated!
It turns out they were taking the rather disturbing view of Australian ‘ethicist’ Peter Singer who advocates for infanticide, yet ironically supports animal rights. According to Singer, who argues that personhood is only a measure of intelligence, young children who lack sufficiently developed brains are no more persons than dogs or monkeys. Thus it can be ethical to kill them.
This came on the tail of another article I had seen in my facebook feed. Apparently a study had just come out showing that the general public may hold more ethically sound views than PhD level philosophers educated in ethics.
Of course infanticide is not the only insane view espoused by the intelligentsia of our the day either. This is just one of numerous crazy ideas held as sophisticated or intelligent by academics. So what is behind this?
A few weeks ago a friend showed me an editorial posted in the New York Times that gave me an insight into this. The article was arguing for yet another insane view, that pedophilia should be seen as a disorder rather than a crime. Curious, I decided to read the article.
Despite the fact that this was very obviously wrong it was not on first glance obvious exactly why. The article described pedophilic impulses as disordered, yet did not condone acts of pedophilia -nothing apparently wrong.
Then it became obvious to me, the writer was in a sense morally blind. The problem was in describing the pedophilic impulses as merely disordered. A disorder implies a medical condition, something reducible to a purely material nature. What was lacking was any dimension of value to the nature of the impulse. It was described in a clinical or scientific fashion as though that was somehow a complete description of the impulse, and yet was not described as a morally bad or sinful temptation.
A passage in the first chapter of Romans gives a hint as to what may be going wrong here:
“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools,” -Romans 1:20-22
The passage then goes on to explain that because of this God gives them over to sinful desires and moral blindness. But coming from a scientific mind this may seem perplexing at first glance. Afterall if one studies the sciences it appears as though science has everything neatly wrapped up in material explanations. How can God be clearly seen from nature if it appears that nature does not require God to explain it?
If we look closer we see it is in the mode of explanation. A materialistic account looks at the creation without respect to the immaterial Creator. However with the immaterial world discounted, immaterial things such as value, meaning, or purpose can not be accounted for. Thus this ultimately leads to same moral blindness we see prevalent in the intelligentsia of the day.
But how do we escape this? Numerous kids growing up in Christian households have fallen victim to this same sort of reasoning. How exactly did that happen?
Having watched this happen myself, it all starts innocently enough. We all assume there is a divide between material and immaterial. Then as material explanation expands it squeezes out more and more room for the immaterial.
This sort of God-Of-The-Gaps reasoning eventually leads one to believe that God really won’t be found in the big picture once all of the gaps have disappeared. And once God is gone, so too are all of the non-material categories that we use to make sense of such thing as morality. We then become ethically daft as exemplified by the editorial arguing that pedophilia is a disorder rather than a crime.
But if this all starts out so innocently. Where does it go wrong? If one looks closely enough, it appears that even many Christians “do not have God in their thoughts” when looking at the world, and by this I don’t mean simply believing the Bible.
The flaw is in how we dichotomize the world. We think of the creation in terms of materialistic mind-independent terms. But this is itself flawed. Our thoughts can never themselves be material. So it does not make sense to conceive of the material without reference to the immaterial. Awareness of God is built into our own consciousness as I have argued in a previous blog:
And if one looks closely enough, one realizes that dichotomizing in this fashion also makes the world God-independent. If God is the ultimate Immaterial Mind, then that makes the world independent of God as well. But this is clearly false. So perhaps this should be an important lesson to the Christian. We may be engaged in the same materialistic thinking of the atheist without even realizing it!