June 13, 2004

The Billion Smartasses of Catholicism

Steven Den Beste has a very wide ranging article on the concepts of ethics, identity, and property. At one point, he talks about the discovered ethical problem of tissue and identity transference and how this leads to very unpleasant answers for christians. I suggest that this is an unlikely situation because of the billion smartasses of Catholicism.

An explanation is in order.

The Catholic Church runs one of if not the biggest school system on the planet. Like all schools, each one of them has their share of smartasses who ask questions like this because they're bored and they want to play "stump the teacher" or in this case priest. Over the centuries, there have probably been billions of smartasses posing an uncounted number of impertinent and improbable questions. Sometimes they just get the brush off, but surprisingly often not and there is a huge body of scholarship that resides in the bowels of the Vatican containing the answers to a lot of very unlikely questions, many posed by that great inspiration to research, the billion smartasses of Catholicism.

I claim honorary membership among the BSoC as poor Fr. Clinet can probably attest to from Heaven. Even though I never attended catholic schools, I made up for it by asking questions later. When I discovered Catholic Answers I really felt I'd discovered a little slice of Heaven. Even today, I'm looking with great anticipation as the Catholic Church takes all of that collected knowledge and documentation and (too slowly!) puts it up on the web. I've found it of invaluable use to differentiate between media spin as to what the Catholic Church's position is and the actual position. The two are not often in agreement.

But back to SDB's essay. Because he places his dilemma in the realm of science fiction, he seems to believe that this is some new uncharted realm. However, a much more mundane situation nearly fits the same challenges, the case of amnesiacs. If you have a murderer who becomes an amnesiac and the new personality is holy, do the prior sins count against him during final judgment? Since such cases have undoubtedly come up in the last two millennia plus the BSoC has undoubtedly posed the question numerous times, I feel confident that somewhere there are entire volumes devoted to such questions.

But I find the very idea that memory is necessary for guilt to be highly unsatisfactory. Imagine SDB's mad scientist did not go around switching brains but rather made a machine which could produce targeted amnesia. If an assassin is trained and has every one of his murders wiped from his memory, is he guilty of murder? He doesn't remember doing a single one. How satisfactory would a world be where this assassin would not be guilty?


Posted by TMLutas at June 13, 2004 05:31 PM