Thursday, September 16, 2010

Is Our Moral Code Out Of Date?

Yaron Brook, the president of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights and a columnist at, argues in a column on that our moral code is out of date, that we should hold up billionaires as models of morality not Mother Teresa or Jesus, and that being productive and attaining wealth and power are the best things to do in life.

Just a note before I get into specifics - Ayn Rand - who holds to an atheistic philosophy of objectivism - which holds that the individual needs to live for themselves in a "rational egoism" where there is no self-sacrifice for others. It is not compatible with Christianity. The author of this article is a believer in the same ideas.

Time for a fisking of the column. My comments in RED.
(CNN) -- Human progress requires good ideas.
A question already arises - how does he define "progress" and "good". What we will find is that progress is merely production, scientific discovery, and self-determination. Good is tied to these, not a concept that transcends them. Therefore, he has started off on from a faulty place by mis-defining these concepts.

Consider how just two fundamental ideas have ushered in the modern world. Rewind a scant 600 years, and modern science doesn't yet exist.

Men and women live and die in squalor and filth, largely ignorant of the germs that ravage their bodies and of the natural laws that govern the universe, instead imploring an alleged supernatural force to help them navigate this vale of tears.
So, the poor ignorant fools who believe in a God are suckers for living in "squalor and filth" and science will now save them?

But thanks to minds such as Galileo, Sir Isaac Newton, Louis Pasteur and Charles Darwin, this is not how we face the world today. They taught us our method of knowing: careful, mathematically precise observation, step-by-step inference and generalization, and systematic, evidence-based theory building.
Yes, but they didn't teach us everything we need to know about reality and many of their ideas have been proven false.

They had the courage to challenge entrenched authority, toss aside superstition and defy popes. As others followed the trail the first scientists blazed, human knowledge advanced dramatically.
Almost all of the "first scientists" were believers in God and didn't "toss aside superstition". This is a myth. The "defy popes" line is merely tossed in as if Popes are anti-progress and anti-science. Another myth.

Thanks to a second idea, this explosion of knowledge broke the confines of the laboratory and ivory tower. Another daring group of thinkers challenged political authoritarianism.
Substitute political authoritarianism for scientific/rational/captilism authoritarianism and you get what Brook wants us to have. Seems almost like a down-grade to me.

Kings and aristocrats were swept aside to make way for the rights of man. This idea gave birth to a new nation, our beloved America, in which the individual was free to think and pursue his own happiness. A new person arose: the industrialist.
The industrialist is now the greatest of all humans - according to Rand and Brook.

Slandered as robber barons, what these individuals actually did was earn fortunes by studying the discoveries of science and commercializing them.
Many of them stepping on the throats of all who stood in their way and deserved the title of robber barons.

A mind-boggling array of inventions and products ensued: automobiles, oil, radios, antibiotics, refrigeration, electricity, washing machines, air conditioning, indoor plumbing, airplanes and on and on, to our present world of personal computers and cell phones.
He forgets that Monks, who gave up achievement, money, and power - saved Western Civilization with their manuscripts of the great works of history. He also forgets that the greatest works of art, architecture, science, economics, literature, etc. were done by those who believe in a God.

Try to imagine life without all of this. It's not easy.
Aren't we happy yet?

But as far as we've come because of these two ideas, human progress demands implementation of a third idea to complete the scientific and political revolutions. We're still beholden to the past in ethics.
So, to be happy we need to get rid of ole-time ethics? He is advocating a might makes right mentality. This never has led to happiness, but just more misery.

Although few of us would turn to the Old Testament or the Quran to determine the age of the Earth, too many of us still turn obediently to these books (or their secular copies) as authorities about morality. We learn therein the moral superiority of faith to reason and collective sacrifice to personal profit.
Wow, what a stupid statement. The Bible isn't a book of science. So, his conclusion is based on a faulty premise. Also, if he wants to use reason alone, he is in deep trouble, because the natural law is on our side as well.

But the more seriously we take these old ethical ideas, the more suspect become the modern ideas responsible for human progress. The scientists in their laboratories did not demonstrate the superiority of faith. Thomas Jefferson in his Declaration did not proclaim the superiority of collective sacrifice. Why should we think these ideas are the path to moral enlightenment?
So, what is the alternative? Hmmmm

Perhaps, of all the damage these antiquated moral ideas do to human progress, the most significant is how they distort our conception of moral ideals.
I hope he straightens us out.

Ask someone on the street to name a moral hero; if he isn't at a loss, he'll likely name someone like Jesus Christ or Mother Teresa. Why? Because they're regarded as people of faith who shunned personal profit for the collective good. No one would dream of naming Galileo, Darwin, Thomas Edison or John D. Rockefeller.
It wasn't about "shunning personal profit" it was about living for the good of others. Rich and poor alike can do this. These are the real heroes. This is why our soldiers, first responders, and others are held in high esteem - they give of themselves.

Yet we should. It is they, not the Mother Teresas of the world, that we should strive to be like and teach our kids the same.
Sure, because what we need is MORE selfishness, not less, according to his philosophy. Try to imagine a world in which nobody cared about others. Fun? Happy yet?

If morality is judgment to discern the truth and courage to act on it and make something of and for your own life, then these individuals, in their capacity as great creators, are moral exemplars. Put another way, if morality is a guide in the quest to achieve your own happiness by creating the values of mind and body that make a successful life, then morality is about personal profit, not its renunciation.
His definition of morality is off. The basics of morality is do good, avoid evil. But, if we change the definition of what is "good", then we will mess up. Hence, the problems in an individualistic determination of "good". Goodness must transcend us, if it is to have a moral obligation on us all. Moral acts have to do with the object of the act, the intention of the actor, and the act itself - not just creating something or doing something "productive" of "successful"...whatever that is supposed to mean. Think of all the miserable successful people in our culture.

Monetary profit is just one of the values you have to achieve in life. But it is an eloquent representative of the whole issue, because at its most demanding, as exhibited by a Bill Gates or a Steve Jobs, making money requires a profound dedication to material production.
They make a lot of money, some of them (such as Gates) will give most of it away. Good for them. The problem is that many have created a god of their own image. Their "moral" act is lessened when they support troublesome groups with their money - groups that promote abortion, contraception, and experiments on babies (fetuses). Material production does not equal morally good in all cases. Nor does it equal morally bad. It is neutral in and of itself.

The fact that earning money is ignored by most moralists, or condemned as the root of evil, is telling of the distance we must travel.
Bah - the Bible says "love of money" is the problem. If you make a god of it.

In effect, we need to turn the Billionaire's Pledge on its head.
The Billionaire's Pledge is a good idea. But, as I explained above, it isn't just giving your money away that counts. Who do you give it to? Why? What purpose does it serve?

The world grants, at best, no moral recognition to Gates and Buffett for the personal fortunes they've created, but it awards them a standing ovation for giving their profits away. But the standing ovation belongs to the act of creation, the profit they brought into their own lives and anyone who traded with them.
I somewhat agree. We need wealthy people to be able to help support the poor. But, that isn't the end goal. We must be selfless - not just productive.

If morality is about the pursuit of your own success and happiness, then giving money away to strangers is, in comparison, not a morally significant act. (And it's outright wrong if done on the premise that renunciation is moral.)
Woah. Morality isn't the pursuit of your own success and happiness. Off the rails he goes.

Science, freedom and the pursuit of personal profit -- if we can learn to embrace these three ideas as ideals, an unlimited future awaits.
HUH? This conclusion comes from left field. He is scattered all over the place and comes to this conclusion? I will take my "ole-time religion" over his bad ideas any day.
Pray for all who follow the atheistic, selfish, and illogical morality of Rand. They need our prayers.


Pamela said...

Then people who are wealthy should be the happiest, most satisfied people in the world, yes? Oh wait...the evidence speaks to the contrary. It's interesting that he puts so much stock in observation and experimentation when the experiment in progress shows the opposite results, isn't it?

Nârwen said...

Of the four great scientific minds mentioned near the beginning, Darwin is the only one who can be classified as an unbeliever. Galileo was a Catholic, albeit one who ran afoul of Church authorities. Newton was a Christian - he wrote more about the Bible than about scientific topics. (Unfortunately his adult beliefs, carefully kept private, do seem to have been radically unorthodox.) Pasteur was a Catholic, though his principal biographers disagree on how faithful he was.
I also notice that Copernicus, Mendel and Lemaître are not mentioned. The first was in at least minor orders, while the latter two were priests.