Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Morality and empathy

Philosophical materialists are in effect claiming that free will does not exist and that  all thought is illusory, including presumably all the findings of science from evolution by natural selection to cosmology. Philosophical materialism is the belief that reality consists exclusively of matter and energy.
If you do not regularly read popular science magazines you may find this incredible but only today I came across an old New Scientist cover story with the headline ‘THE GRAND DELUSION: everything you think is an illusion’. (This statement is meaningless unless there is a reality somewhere, since the very word illusion means a departure from reality.)

The latest illusion to emerge from materialists is that empathy, evolving out of the natural world, is the source of morality.  This is indeed an illusion.

Empathy is defined in the web dictionary as ‘understanding and entering into another’s feelings’.  It could be broadened to include seeing the world from another’s perspective, a capacity of particular value in business negotiations, for instance. Morality, however, is defined as ‘concern with the distinction between good and evil or right and wrong; right or good conduct’. If a person is moved to do good, say by helping someone being bullied, then empathy can be a powerful tool in deciding the needs of the person being helped. If empathy is absent it makes it more difficult to gauge a person’s feelings and so act to build up or sooth that person. However, it says nothing about the moral worth of an action.

Empathy can be an instrument of the most extreme evil, such as deriving pleasure from the gratuitous infliction of mental or physical suffering on another person. An example of a lesser evil where empathy would be useful to the perpetrator would be in personally and deliberately deceiving a victim into losing money in a confidence trick.  

It is true, fortunately, that empathy is mostly employed in the cause of goodness because acts of charity are more likely to take place when we identify with a suffering person and it also helps in the practicalities of help, e.g. in enlisting the cooperation of others, since it is easier to judge who will donate their time or money if you can empathise with them and if they in turn empathise with you they will more likely recognise your sincerity and feel impelled to offer assistance.

Yet it is also common for those having low empathy to do good simply because they recognise right from wrong and do not want people to suffer. As believers they want to serve God by serving the children of God. If they are non-believers they think they are doing it from their own sense of right and wrong, which I maintain still derives from our Creator which the non-believer is too proud to acknowledge, believing himself to be the authority for righteousness, or misled into accepting the precepts of some self-appointed authority, say Marx.

I have often wondered how much empathy was around during the Holocaust. If empathy is a purely naturalistic phenomenon one would have expected it to be as common among the thousands of perpetrators as among the population at large. It cannot be denied that some kind of evil was at work, both during the mass executions and in the 1920s and 1930s when German nationalism was coming to a climax. Perhaps the source of evil, which many call Satan or the Devil, is able to eclipse or magnify empathy in the cause of evil.

This may sound unscientific, but not as unscientific as the statements emanating from some scientists – hopefully a minority, otherwise science is doomed to ridicule, withdrawal of funding and oblivion. See also the 5-fold threat to science.

Peace on earth rests on facing the truth in a spirit of humility before our Creator. Pride is perhaps the greatest sin because it gets in the way of truth and eventually, relentlessly, divorces individuals and whole nations from God and sanity and plunges them into hell on earth.

reach me at cosmik.jo@gmail.com