In my last post I stated that rape is objectively evil and any worldview that cannot count for this fact suffers accordingly. Alexander responded with a refreshing dose of dramatic bravado:
“Not so, Randal Rauser! According to Randy Thornhill, rape is actually an evolution of a ‘genetically advantageous behavioral adaptation’ and, in that context, not inherently evil.”
This response puzzles me. After all, whether rape is or is not a genetically advantageous behavioral adaptation is irrelevant to the question of whether it is evil, unless one has assumed at the outset that the moral is determined by the genetically advantageous. But why think such a thing?
Certainly the fact that Randy Thornhill considers this to be the nature of morality is neither here nor there for me. It’s like Obama telling a meeting of unemployed factory workers in Detroit that the recession is over. Who cares what the president says if all one’s experience falsifies his testimony.
Brap Gronk boldly asserts in the thread that morality is subjective: “In my opinion, any statement about something being evil or good is just someone’s opinion.”
I like Brap Gronk so this observation is nothing personal, but such views distress me because they are so obviously false when considered in light of truly horrendous evils. Consider this account by Romeo Dallaire — head of UN Peacekeeping forces in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide — of some of the evils of sexual violence he witnessed in the midst of the mass killings:
“But if you looked, you could see the evidence, even in the whitened skeletons. The legs bent and apart. A broken bottle, a rough branch, even a knife between them. Where the bodies were fresh, we saw what must have been semen pooled on and near the dead women and girls. There was always a lot of blood. Some male corpses had their genitals cut off, but many women and young girls had their breasts chopped off and their genitals crudely cut apart. They died in a position of total vulnerability, flat on their backs, with their legs bent and knees wide apart. It was the expressions on their dead faces that assaulted me the most, a frieze of shock, pain and humiliation.” (Shake Hands with the Devil, 430)
When I read about such horrors I know as surely as I know anything that they are evil. And this is not merely my opinion. It is not that I simply happen not to like gang rape, mutilation, torture, murder and genocide. No, these are among the most egregious evils. Even if the Hutus had managed to persuade the world otherwise, the fact would still remain that what they did to poor Tutsi women was an objective horrendous evil.
James shares my revulsion, but he also claims that “The evilness of rape only makes sense within the context of human social relations – not on some timeless, cosmic scale.” I assume James speaks for himself. Since he is an atheist the rape and massacre of human beings — mere accidental twigs on the evolutionary tree according to Stephen Jay Gould, machines made of meat according to Daniel Dennett — James cannot make sense of a timeless, cosmic sense of the wrongness of such actions (which is precisely what I mean by objectively evil). But as a Christian theist I have no problem decrying such actions as objective evils in a cosmic way.
James want to find another way to ground the objectivity of our horror without appeal to the timeless and cosmic (as he puts it). So he appeals to Sam Harris who, according to James (I have not read this book myself), argues as follows:
If we ground moral facts, as Sam Harris argues in his recent book, on facts concerning the well-being of conscious creatures, then one can make the objective claim that rape is evil based on its adverse social, psychological, and physical effects.
No doubt the argument Harris presents cannot be given justice in a single sentence. But I am left wondering why, if human beings are mere accidental byproducts of the meaningless cycles of a blind universe, anybody should give an objective damn about the adverse social, psychological and physical impact that our actions have on others. It sounds to me that Harris presents merely another subjective atheistic attempt to recognize the objective facticity of ethical discourse without having the objective metaphysical framework to do so.