The Corner

re: Speaking of Bad Faith

In the hopes of turning down the heat in this exchange (yes, I’m a one-man web-site traffic reduction system), let me interject a question for John D.

I think that the Pope, while still a Cardinal, put forward a very simple working definition of what he means by relativism (unrelated to the electrodynamics of moving bodies) when he said that

To have a clear faith according to the creed of the Church, is often labelled as fundamentalism. While relativism, that is, allowing oneself to be carried about with every wind of ‘doctrine’, seems to be the only attitude that is fashionable. A dictatorship of relativism is being constituted that recognizes nothing as absolute and which only leaves the ‘I’ and its whims as the ultimate measure.

It is the reigning assumption in the high-rent districts of America and Europe that human consciousness can ultimately be reduced to the physical processes of the brain.  Put bluntly, that humans are machines, our minds are flesh-based computers and our sense of self is the epiphenomenon of firing neurons.  If we accept this premise, I think it takes some fancy footwork to avoid adopting the kind of relativism that I think Benedict is trying to highlight.

My question is this: if I am a machine, why is it “wrong” for me to throw a random three-year-old girl in front of a moving car just for the fun of watching her head explode?  Asked differently, isn’t asking whether it is “right or wrong” for a machine to do anything like asking if it’s Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny that brings us presents at Christmas?

(As an aside, I wouldn’t accuse John D or Andrew Sullivan of bad faith on the question of trying to reconcile modern biology with religion and morality, as both have written deeply and movingly on the subject.  I take the tone of some of the posts here as examples of the charming, stereotypically English tendency to treat subjects of the deepest existential significance with occasional superficial flippancy.)

Jim Manzi is CEO of Applied Predictive Technologies (APT), an applied artificial intelligence software company.