Absolute Morals: Fernandez vs. Barker
To summarize: "Do we have any basis for saying that rape is wrong in all cultures in all times?"
Please read carefully...
I was listening to a discussion between Reginald Finley and Phil Fernandez on an episode of the Infidel Guy radio show. Phil Fernandez is an outspoken Christian doctoral recipient from Liberty University (if that counts). He is also a young earth creationist and an evangelist of sorts.
Fernandez, on the show, referred to a debate between Dan Barker and himself. Dan Barker is an atheist who had been a former evangleist minister. Dan Barker engages in all sorts of debates with Christians, and he's one of my favorites to listen to.
I've heard some of the debate between Barker and Fernandez, but I can't recall the part discussed by Fernandez.
Using some bravado and self-aggrandisement, Fernandez claimed that in the debate, he asked Barker the question I posed earlier, "Do we have any basis for saying that rape is wrong in all cultures in all times?"
Fernandez then claimed that Barker replied no. Fernandez claims that Barker "knows that you can't have absolute morals without and absolute moral law giver."
I have three important responses to this.
1. Theists are obsessed with a kind of reasoning in which they claim that without theism, our day-to-day lives will be riddled with all sorts of problems because theism conveniently answers difficult questions. Another way to put it is that atheism entails dire consequences, so we should reject atheism. They argue this both with respect to "absolute morals" and life after death in Pascal's Wager. This is fallacious reasoning, as most people can realize without much prodding. Beliefs that make you happy and comforted are not true simply because they make you happy and comforted. The truth of propositions has nothing to do with how it makes you feel and everything to do with the evidence.
2. That said, I would answer Fernandez question in another way.
"Is rape wrong in every culture at all times?"
I would answer, "I don't know."
This sounds like a very poor answer on my part, but think deeper.
The fact that I say, "I don't know," leads to several important points. Firstly, it means that I acknowledge the difficulty of the question, BUT I do not simply answer the question pretending to know the answer when I don't. Secondly, it leaves open the possibility that there is an absolute basis for morality that does NOT necessitate a intelligent sentient being as the "absolute law giver". Fernandez WRONGLY assumes that an "absolute law giver" is necessary for absolute ethics. Perhaps there is a natural means by which to support absolute objective ethics. Thirdly, answering with ignorance means that we don't construct imaginary or false responses entailing a deity or "absolute moral law giver" to save us from ambiguity and suppose something is outside our epistemic boundaries. Fourthly, it is an honest answer. Philosophers have been arguing about ethics for thousands of years with little progress. The reason we don't have a good answer about ethics, I think, is because it IS so subjective and ambiguous. Consider that we evolved from animals with primitive sentience and limited consciousness into magnificently intelligent beings who have the ability to ponder our own existence. There was no instruction booklet on morals, and we've had to figure them out and codify them ourselves. It's not easy! It's taken tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of years to make progress on the philosophical problems of ethics. Claiming that God is a solution is a cop-out and an imaginary band-aid for a wound or problem that can never be healed unless we take the band-aid away and really try to accept this monumental philosophical problem for what it is.
3. I humbly propose that reason and evolution serve as objective bases for ethics. I would ask Fernandez, "Can you name any possible circumstance when rape WOULD be considered acceptable?" There is none I can think of. I suppose you have polygamists and some ancient cultures where sexual slavery was legal... But I think reason shows such practices wrong on the basis of infliction of harm to innocent people based on lack of consent. And I think sex is a special case when consent is necessary in all cases. I'm not going to get into ages... For in ancient times, I'm sure the age for consensual sex was lower, which could correlate with shorter life expectancy. This is why I also invoked evolution as a part of ethics.
And off the point, I think it's interesting that I can think of NO case when rape would be acceptable, whereas I can think of cases when assault or killing would be justified in matters of self defense or utilitarian defense. It's interesting to me that really no exceptions to the anti-rape statute can be thought of.
And why is "Thou shalt not rape" in the ten commandments. You'd think that would be a whole lot more important than coveting your neighbor's goods or donkey. And the adultery line has nothing to do with rape. Adultery is not an umbrella term for all things sexual, even though catholics might like to think so.
In sum, I don't know if I can come up with an absolute basis for rape being impermissible in all cases, but I'm not going to lie and say that there is by positing an imaginary friend who gave me an imaginary list or lie by saying there isn't and allow the theist to make assumptions about the necessity of an "absolute law giver" and give him ground that he doesn't deserve.
Nonetheless, I highly doubt that Fernandez was quoting Barker in a fair and accurate way.
REDUCTIO AD ABSURDUM.