Monday, February 15, 2010

A.C. Grayling's Careful Logic

The philosopher A.C. Grayling has written a special piece for Dawkins' website prompted by the much publicised judgment by Cherie Booth (aka Mrs Blair) in which she is reported as letting a man off with a suspended sentence for an assault because he was religious. In the piece which was posted last Thursday Grayling boasts he will 'pick through the logic of Mrs. Blair’s view carefully':

'[Cherie Booth's] remarks to the jaw-breaking ‘devout Muslim’ (so the newspapers described him) Shamso Miah imply that she thinks that religious people have a greater tendency to be good than non-religious people. What justifies this assumption? Is it the fact that self-avowed non-religious people commit atrocities against other all other people, religious and non-religious alike, explicitly in the name of their non-religion, indeed driven to such actions in service of their non-religion? Of course not. So on what basis other than prejudice and religious sentiment can Mrs. Blair claim, in a judgment made in a British courtroom, that someone ought to be more leniently treated because he is religious? The wrong done to non-religious people of good character by this judgment, and the perversity of the judgment in itself, make it right that the National Secular Society (NSS) has lodged a complaint against Mrs. Blair.'

Grayling's judgement of Booth is unremitting:

'The point that emerges from this unedifying matter is that Mrs. Blair has proved herself unfit for the bench, and a vigorous reassertion of judicial impartiality and inclusiveness is needed. It ought to come as a corollary to a disciplinary action against Mrs. Blair, her removal from the bench, and a commitment to having better reasons for keeping violent people out of prison than that they believe in ancient pre-scientific superstitions.'

But Grayling's non sequitur has come under fire from a legally minded fellow atheist who, to his credit, points out that a defendant is allowed to put to the judge whatever mitigation they see fit to establish good character, which could be a wide variety of things. From the fact that Cherie Booth in this particular case accepted the religious observance of the defendant to be an indication of good character, it does not follow that she considers it to be a necessary condition of good character. Nor does it mean that this was the only factor she took into consideration in reaching her decision. So much for Grayling's careful logic.

Having failed to demonstrate that Booth discriminated against atheists, by showing some leniency to a religious believer, Humanists are now trying to make out that the 'real story' is not discrimination, but whether religious belief should be accepted at all as an indicator of good character. Some people never know when to give up.

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