[extropy-chat] In defense of moral relativism

Adrian Tymes wingcat at pacbell.net
Wed May 4 05:44:51 UTC 2005

--- Damien Broderick <thespike at satx.rr.com> wrote:
> At 03:06 PM 4/29/2005 -0700, Adrian wrote:
> >even the Pope is imperfect - it has been demonstrated
> >beyond reasonable doubt that previous Popes have been in error at
> >times, and even the Catholic Church has acknowledged this by
> >apologizing for said errors - therefore the Catholic doctrine of
> papal
> >infallibility is itself immoral: it allows mistakes and
> misjudgements
> >to be hardened into unyielding evils merely because a certain person
> >made them.
> You've made this claim previously, Adrian, but without citing
> instances. 
> Can you do so? You do realise, I suppose, that the doctrine of papal 
> infallibility is extremely restricted, applying only when the man in
> the 
> white silk beanie speaks "ex cathedra" on matters of faith/or morals.
> To 
> the best of my knowledge, no Pope has ever ruled, nor could ever
> rule, on 
> the speed of light, or the name Achilles used when he went among
> women, or 
> the medical causes of leprosy, etc.

On the contrary: Gallileo was deemed a heretic for his scientific
belief.  Pope Pius V ruled that the Sun orbited the Earth, not vice
versa, and that to believe otherwise was indeed a breach of faith
and/or morals.  This ruling was upheld by a subsequent Pope, Urban
VIII, who tried and convicted Gallileo for heresy.  That judgement was
later deemed in error by Pope John Paul II.  Ergo we have at least one
example of one Catholic Pope deeming a previous one to be incorrect,
ergo we can conclude that even the Catholic Church has precedent for
finding that Popes are not infallible, even in matters that (at the
time the later-fallible Pope rules) are considered to be within the
Pope's domain.

There are more examples, for instance Pope Urban II's selling of
priests' wives into slavery despite slavery being almost universally
decried as immoral by Popes before and after him; or Hadrian VI, who
declared many prior Popes to be heretics and in error on certain
spiritual matters.  Google around on the history of Popes; it makes for
interesting reading when you see how the Catholic Church has actually
taught and behaved over the years.

Which is not to say there haven't been good catholics, by any means.
Just that believing any one person to be infallibly wrong tends to lead
to more problems, on average, than weighing what people say against
their circumstances.  (For instance, experts tend to be correct about
their field of expertise, but even then they can make mistakes -
especially if they are given false information that they believe to be
correct.)  If you want proof of that, the best proof possible is
simply to observe this in action in the world around you: look for it,
over periods of at least a few months.  It should not be too hard to
find supporting evidence.

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