Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Can I Get a Witness?

You have probably heard religious people expressing the bigoted notion that atheists cannot be trusted.  In fact, in the past, it was common for various commentators and even the law in various jurisdictions to hold that atheists could not be witnesses because they could not be trusted to tell the truth.  Some states still have such laws, though they are clearly un-Constitutional.  The reason given for this restriction on atheists was that atheists could not possibly consider their oaths to tell the truth to be binding because they did not fear divine retribution.

As I have pointed out repeatedly, the fear of punishment is not really morality at all.  It is self-interest.  It is also the lowest form of moral development.  It is the stage occupied by very young children, psychopaths, and religious people.  Limiting the available witnesses in a case to only those who are psychopathic or reminiscent of a psychopath seems like a very poor way to ensure that the testimony is reliable.  Such people will do whatever they think they can get away with, and in our system where perjury is tolerated in practice daily and is prosecuted only in very unusual cases, having such people testify seems almost like having no standard at all.

An even more telling point is the fact that witness testimony is not very reliable at best.  Most people do not remember things very well and will often unconsciously add or alter details.  The best witness would be a person who understands this and who tries to be as objective as possible.  Such people are necessarily atheists.  Having a major belief that is unsupported by evidence is a clear indication that a person does not try to be as objective as possible.  In fact, such people are deliberately being completely subjective in their assessment of one of the most important "facts" in their lives.

Consequently, I recommend keeping the following thought in mind:

"I think it is more true that religious people cannot be trusted to tell the truth for the simple reason that they are incapable of telling the truth even to themselves.  If a person can't tell himself the truth, then it should be clear that the person cannot be trusted to tell anyone the truth."

Or, to put it more succinctly:

"If you can't tell yourself the truth, you can't tell anyone the truth."

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