Monday, May 3, 2010

An Athiest on The Good Samaritan

Self proclaimed atheist Peter Singer, Princeton University bioethics professor says this:

The path from the library at my university to the Humanities lecture theater passes a shallow ornamental pond. Suppose that on my way to give a lecture I notice that a small child has fallen in and is in danger of drowning. Would anyone deny that I ought to wade in and pull the child out? This will mean getting my clothes muddy, and either canceling my lecture or delaying it until I can find something dry to change into; but compared with the avoidable death of a child this is insignificant. A plausible principle that would support the judgment that I ought to pull the child out is this: if it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable, moral significance, we out to do it. This principle seems uncontroversial.

Sterns sees a striking resemblance between Singer’s parable and Jesus’ parable of The Good Samaritan. I do as well. Singer goes on to say:

For the principle takes, firstly, no account of proximity or distance. It makes no moral difference whether the person I can help is a neighbor’s child ten yards from me or a Bengali whose name I shall never know, ten thousand miles away . . . Unfortunately, for those who like to keep their moral responsibilities limited, instant communication and swift transportation have changed the situation. From the moral point of view, the development of the world into a ‘global village’ has made an important, thought still unrecognized difference to our moral situation . . . There would seem, therefore, to be no possible justification for discriminating on geographic grounds.

(Quoted by Richard Sterns in The Hole in Our Gospel – Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 2nd ed., Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

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