Thursday, 20 December 2012


In Poul Anderson's The Road Of The Sea Horse (New York, 1980),King Svein of Denmark captures some men of his enemy, King Harald of Norway. He orders them hanged, then thinks better of it:

"Someday, he thought with fear curdling his innards, he must also be called to judgment." (p. 123)

Some people argue for Christianity by claiming that only fear of divine judgement restrains people from evil acts. There are several flaws in this argument:

it would not prove Christianity to be true;
Christian belief does not prevent many evil acts and can even cause some;
morality is about doing what is right because it is right, not because of fear.

Christian apologists sometimes ask: where is morality based if not in their belief? I suggest that we help others either because they bear the same genes or because they might help us in return and that we experience this motivation as moral obligation, not as calculating self-interest. Further, as social animals, we have common interests transcending either self-interest or altruism.

Many people, including me, have problems with Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers. I remember James Blish complaining that the characters claimed to have found the scientific basis of morality but did not say what that basis was. I suggest though that it is as outlined in the previous paragraph.

Meanwhile, Svein presents an interesting example of someone who was restrained by his belief.

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