Religion and morality

Please allow me some space to respond to your religion column. Unfortunately, the answer the Rev. Steve Atkinson gives to my question “Is a thing wrong because God says so or does God say so because it is wrong?” is long on theology and short on logic.

He says God has the “right to establish rules of conduct” but he must mean “has the power” since “right” is a moral term, and whether or not power is used justly determines whether it is right or wrong.

It seems to me if God were using his power justly we would have no starving children in this world.

Let me state my claim as simply as possible: morality is logically prior to religion.

In order to know if a god is worthy of worship we need to decide if that god is moral.

Those in the religion business have trouble seeing that, and end up quoting from some text or other. Quoting scriptures is always circular, since the believer will attempt to offer as evidence for his or her position some text that is claimed to be from the very divinity being questioned.

Atkinson says: “God’s laws make so much sense.”

Well, help me make sense of some of his laws in Deuteronomy and Leviticus. For example, we are told “If a man has a stubborn, rebellious son who will not obey his father or mother, even though they punish him, then his father and mother shall take him before the elders of the city, and… stone him to death.”

Or my favourite, “If two men are fighting and the wife of one intervenes to help her husband by grabbing the testicles of the other man, her hand shall be cut off without pity.”

Many of the commands from God are ones most of us would hesitate to follow, for example, Lev 20:27 “A man or a woman who is a medium or a wizard shall be put to death; they shall be stoned to death, their blood is upon them.”

And why would we not follow these commandments? Because morality allows us to judge them as wrong. Some of the commands have to do with dietary regulations and some have to do with fashion, Lev 21:5 “They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in their flesh.”

If God is telling me that I must stone to death all of my philosophy students who have made cuttings in their flesh then I must decline on moral grounds.

If Rev. Atkinson wants to argue everything in his scripture is to be obeyed, then he has some strange beliefs indeed.

If he wants to say only some of the commandments should be followed, then we need to know how he decides which are to be obeyed.

And the only way to do that is to agree morality is logically prior to religion.

Robert D. Lane,


[letter to editor when we had a local newspaper]

Romanticizing the past.

For as long as humans have been around, people the world over have faced similar struggles: getting enough to eat, navigating social relationships, dealing with parasites and disease, raising their young. It’s a nice idea to believe that somewhere deep in the past, or still today in a more remote part of the world, there existed or exists a society that has figured it all out; where everyone is healthy and happy and equal, untouched by the difficulties of modern living. But even if violence, inequality, discrimination, and other social problems are universal and part of human nature, that doesn’t mean their prevalence can’t be reduced. They can and recent trends make this abundantly clear. Denying the scope of the problem, pretending that these social issues are uniquely modern or uniquely Western, or the product of agriculture or capitalism, does not help to fix our contemporary social ills. Instead it leaves us more confused about the causes of these problems, and, consequently, less equipped to solve them.


On Bullshit


The world is awash in bullshit. Politicians are unconstrained by facts. Science is conducted by press release. Higher education rewards bullshit over analytic thought. Startup culture elevates bullshit to high art. Advertisers wink conspiratorially and invite us to join them in seeing through all the bullshit — and take advantage of our lowered guard to bombard us with bullshit of the second order.  More here.

As the programmer Alberto Brandolini is reputed to have said: “The amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.” This is the unbearable asymmetry of bullshit I mentioned in my title, and it poses a serious problem for research integrity. Developing a strategy for overcoming it, I suggest, should be a top priority for publication ethics.



And “The Unbearable Asymmetry of Bullshit” – More here.