In a short blog post today, biologist and blogger PZ Myers has made what I think is a genuinely profound observation, and I hope it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.
In the recent controversy involving a nine year old Brazilian girl who was raped and impregnated, the Vatican itself has made a ruling: Fetuses come before people. While this should come as no surprise, I think we should not just brush this aside as one more example of religious nuttery. The Vatican has clearly and emphatically given us proof against one of the most powerful emotional appeals used by apologists — Humans do not need religion to help provide comfort to people in need.
The utilitarian argument is often the last refuge of the defeated in an argument about religion. There are many people who seem to believe more in belief in god than in god himself. They think that religion is some kind of cement holding humanity together against its own nature. This incident provides a stark rebuttal to the notion.
In case you missed it, a nine year old Brazilian girl was raped by her step father, and became pregnant. Doctors, fearing for her life, performed an abortion. In retaliation for this act of kindness, the Brazilian arm of the Catholic Church excommunicated the mother and the doctors involved in the procedure. The Vatican has since upheld the decision.
The utilitarian argument doesn’t hold water. Humans are empathetic without religion. When you superimpose dogma onto an ethical dilemma, you subvert the process of normal human empathy and kindness. Every sane person in the world knows that the responsible thing to do in this situation was save a nine year old girl from living her entire life as the caretaker for living proof of a heinous crime commited against her. As empathetic, rational humans, we can instantly see that a nine year old victim of sexual abuse cannot hope to be a sufficient mother. The step father is certainly not a suitable surrogate caretaker.
Let me make this abundantly clear: The only reason there was any debate about this kindness is religious dogma. Without the unscientific, irrational dogma held by the church, human kindness would have won the day unopposed. Any religious dogma is — by definition — not rational and scientific. If it was, we wouldn’t call it religious dogma. It would be science (and not dogmatic, by definition).
Myers said it very eloquently: “The utilitarian argument that religion at least provides comfort to people in need ought to be extinct now.”