Last week Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, published a controversial article in The Daily Mail, decrying left-wing denigration of Britain’s involvement in the First World War. In it he praised Nigel Biggar’s “superb essay” in the September issue of Standpoint magazine. You may find Mr. Gove’s article here. And Nigel Biggar’s essay here.
STANDPOINT. December 2013
In his latest STANDPOINT article, Nigel Biggar questions the “exaggerated regard for the freedom of the individual” in modern liberal society. Biggar observes that radical moral individualism, when combined with multiculturalist ideology, tends to make institutions “morally tongue-tied.” He insists that institutions, including British universities, must be able to own, to articulate, and to promote “common moral norms upon which their healthy functioning depends.”
How can we establish the authority of a decent public morality in a plural society?
To answer this question, some post-Christian secularists turn to evolutionary biology and game theory. They identify morality with altruism and then seek to conjure altruism out of genetic selfishness. In his recent article in Standpoint Magazine, Professor Nigel Biggar outlines the problems associated with this approach and argues how the Christian moral vision tells a better story.
Thomas Aquinas and Joseph Butler tell a better story than Hobbes. They can account for the various data of the springs of human motivation without having to force them onto a procrustean bed of materialism. What is more, their story gladly embraces the notions of human dignity and rights that most materialists strive to retain in schizophrenic defiance of all their premises. This is why Jürgen Habermas, the eminent (and atheist) German public intellectual, was moved to confess to Le Monde some years ago that religious traditions — not least the Christian one — “have the distinction of a superior capacity for articulating our [liberal, humanist] moral sensibility”.
Following the recent conference, Standpoint magazine convened a dialogue between Peter Singer and Nigel Biggar. Hosted by Standpoint editor, Daniel Johnson, the conversation spans a variety of topics, including the value of human and animal life, the morality of killing, abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, and others.
Standpoint: We have just been attending a conference in Oxford entitled Christian Ethics Engages Peter Singer. Perhaps we should kick off with a question that you, Nigel, asked at the end of the conference. On what grounds, Peter, would you give greater weight to the interests, the preferences, theneeds of the Jewish victims in the Holocaust, rather than the Nazi perpetrators? … Read the debate in full.
This year’s spring conference, Christian Ethics Engages Peter Singer, brought together leading utilitarian and Christian speakers to discuss issues ranging from the treatment of animals to climate change and poverty. Over 100 attendees from across the globe met over two days to hear papers and participating in lively Q&A with the speakers.
The speakers included Peter Singer, John Hare, Eric Gregory, Lisa Sowle Cahill, and others. Full details can be found in the conference programme, and a complete archive is online, with full audio and video recordings of all six sessions.
Coverage of the conference can be found in various blogs, as well as the Guardian and The Tablet. During the conference, Standpoint magazine conducted an interview with Nigel Biggar and Peter Singer to be published in their next issue.
View the complete Conference Archive here.