Normally I keep my comments about Peter Singer over at AnimalRights.Net, but I couldn’t help but post this here as an example of what I mean when I talk of atheist fundamentalism. Here’s a pretty good summary of Singer’s views from the Sydney Morning Herald,
Singer, an atheist, challenges the sanctity of life ethic, a religious hangover that, he argues, has collapsed because of the evolutionary understanding of human beings as animals, not as creatures made in the image of God, and because of medical technology that now forces daily choices about life and death.
He suggests a different ethic that recognises the quality of life as relevant, and includes the interests of non-human animals. His views are particularly threatening to many Americans.
A large part of the reaction is because of the prevalence of a strong religious belief, essentially of Christian fundamentalism, that pervades every aspect of American culture in a way that is alien to Australia.
One of the common fundamentalist Christian arguments against evolution is that since it teaches that humans are really no different from other animals that it will steadily erode moral values. Most defenders of evolution, whether they be atheists or otherwise, typically respond that, in fact, the sort of moral teachings present in most religions are completely compatible with evolution (see Robert Axelrod’s writings, for example, on the evolution of cooperation).
But along comes Singer and announces to the world that the Christian fundamentalists are, in fact, right — evolution implies dispensing with thousands of years of moral tradition and adopting some new revolutionary ideas.
The bizarre thing is that Singer repeatedly says that his critics misrepresent his views, but then he defends his pro-infanticide position by telling the Herald that while his view on infanticide is meant to apply to severely disabled infants who are going to die anyway, it also applies to less disabled children as well. According to Singer, “If there’s no-one else who’s sufficiently interested in the life of this child to want to care for it, then I think it’s not [unethical to kill the child].”
His students — well at least the one interviewed by the Herald — find him intriguing, which is downright scary. Presumably if Singer wrote articles arguing that homosexuals could be killed because they are not living a quality life, the reactions would be less sympathetic, but as long as he sticks to infanticide and forced euthanasia of people with Alzheimer’s, he’s safe in his position at Princeton.