Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Moral Legacy of Barry Sherman, a Canadian Tycoon

Barry Sherman was a gold-medal-winning engineering science graduate of the University of Toronto who received a doctorate in astrophysics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1967 her purchased the pharmaceutical drug manufacturing company, Empire Laboratories, from the estate of his maternal uncle, Louis Winter and wife Beverley, who, dying within 17 days of one another, had designated Barry Sherman as the executor of their estate. Thereafter, Sherman pursued a career in the drug industry that was both highly litigious and highly profitable. Selling Empire Laboratories, he shed financial responsibility for his cousins, the heirs of Louis Winter, and founded Apotex, a company engaged in the same business as Empire Laboratories, which grew to become Canada's largest producer of generic drugs.

On or about December 13th 2017, Sherman, by then a multi-billionaire and generous contributor to Jewish charities, together with his wife, Honey, died of strangulation at their home in Toronto's suburb of North York. Death was initially considered by police as a possible murder-suicide, but the story was changed to double homicide after Toronto's Mayor, John Tory, conveyed the Sherman family's concerns about the investigation to Toronto's Police Chief.

Subsequently, it was announced that the Government of Canada had, in its wisdom, made Barry Sherman a posthumous member of the Order of Canada. It was also announced that Canada's lobbying commissioner had dropped an inquiry into an apparent conflict of interest resulting from a $100,000 donation by Barry Sherman, a registered government lobbyist, to the Liberal Party of Canada at a fund-raiser attended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Early reports on the investigation of the Shermans' demise mentioned that, in the 1990's, during a family vacation in the Serengeti, Sherman had written a memoir, entitled A Legacy of Thoughts, in the belief, he wrote, that it would be of use or interest to his progeny and others.

In it, so reported the Globe and Mail, he asserted that:
There is no God, no free will, no altruism and no morality.
Examination of the text of that document as published by the Toronto Star reveals that he did not express himself in exactly those words, however those words seem to provide a fair summary of his beliefs.

In dismissing claims about the existence of a supreme being, or God, he wrote:
[An] inescapable conclusion from endless observation is that mass and energy consistently behave in time and space according to laws of physics that have been largely, though not entirely, elucidated.

The foregoing statement, accepting it to be true, leads to the corrollary that there is no "God" that interferes in the operation of the universe. 
Such is pretty much the standard materialist argument for atheism, which, on examination, is seen to have little merit even on its own terms.

How so?

Because at the scale of the very small, the world operates according to the rules of quantum physics which assert that events are unpredictable — not just in practice, but in principle. Albert Einstein, as is well known, rejected that conclusion, asserting that "God does not play dice." But what Einstein seems not to have considered is whether, on the quantum level, God may play God.

Some physicists dispose of the conundrum of the unpredictability of quantum events by holding that for every possible outcome of a quantum event, a separate world exists. This is the many worlds theory, accepted by highly regarded, though by no means all, physicists. This theory implies that every event that could occur does in fact occur in some universe. Thus, according to the many worlds theory, in one universe Barry Sherman is undoubtedly a murderer, as indeed are you, dear reader, whereas in some other universe, possibly the one that you the reader presently inhabit, Barry Sherman is undoubtedly the innocent victim of murder.

 As an alternative to an idea so bizarre as the many worlds theory, is the simple notion that there is only one outcome to a quantum event, but that that outcome, rather than being the result of pure randomness as most physicists assume, is instead the outcome chosen by God. The mere fact that such an interpretation is possible demolishes Sherman's physics-based proof of the non-existence of God.

Proceeding with his deterministic interpretation of reality, Sherman wrote:
Another corollary of the laws of physics is that we have no "free will"...
 a position he elaborated by comparing humans with computer-controlled automatons between which there is, he argued, no fundamental behavioral difference.

In likening humans to automatons, Sherman may have had a valid point, but asserting that such an arguments disposes of the possible existence of free demonstrated that Sherman completely misunderstood the term "free will." Moreover, it was a misunderstanding with disastrous consequences because it leads directly to nihilism, the rejection of not only of all religious scruples, but of all morality.

To understand what is involved, consider the case of Cain and Abel. It may have been true that Cain's mind was so constructed that, under the circumstances in which he acted, he could do no other than kill his brother Abel. But that is irrelevant to the question of whether his action was attributable to free will.

Free will is essentially a legal concept. What determines whether a person's action was of their free will depends on whether or not the action was coerced. If an actor has no gun to their head and is free of all other duress, then their action is of their own free will. For all such acts of free will, both the moral law and the law of the land hold the actor responsible.

That is the rationale for the punishment of crime: it is to provide a deterrent, which is to say a factor to be entered into the calculation of every individual thinking of committing a crime of their own free will.

Sherman's contention that there is no such thing as altruism or morality is as naive and as toxic in its consequences as his ideas about God and free will.

People are, of course, primarily selfish, but to deny that most are also willing to help others is simply absurd. What is extraordinary is the alacrity with which many will risk their own life, even, to aid another. The question of how evolution could have inculcated such behavior is too convoluted to enter into here, but group selection provides a mechanism whereby evolution likely favored an inherited propensity for altruistic behavior. Moreover, cultural factors overwhelmingly shape human moral behavior, with religious institutions having the prime function of promoting socially desirable behavior by inculcating a moral code. Such codes invariably promote altruism. That "Jesus died for our sins," being a prime example of an altruism-inspiring meme that surely motivated Christian saints and martyrs.

As for morality, all societies have it. To deny that is to make a blunder that perhaps only a man known to be absolutely singular when it came to the launching legal battles — hundreds of them in the course of his life, could make.

In all societies there is a generally accepted code of conduct whether tacit or systematically inculcated by religious or other authorities. In the absence of a shared morality, theft, rape, cannibalism would be the normal  modes of human interaction since every stranger would have to be regarded as a threat to one's own existence. With no basis of trust arising from the existence of a generally accepted code of conduct, productive social interaction among strangers would be at an end.

What conclusion, then, can one draw from Barry Sherman's moral and philosophical conclusions?

First, that amateur philosophizing is like do-it-yourself brain surgery: liable to disastrous consequences.

Second, that while not all atheists are nihilists, atheism logically gives rise to the moral code of the nihilist. Thus, as Dmitri Karamazov stated in Dostoyevsky's Brothers Kamarazov:
Without God and the future life? It means everything is permitted now, one can do anything?' 'Didn't you know?' he said. And he laughed. 'Everything is permitted to the intelligent man,' he said.
Third, a society of atheists, having dispensed with personal morality, must either disintegrate in chaos, or adopt an Orwellian system of round-the-clock surveillance to monitor and, as necessary enforce, compliance with the law. The model for the perfect atheist civilization is thus the Borg: every individual brain-chipped and subject to monitoring 24/7 and top-down control.

At present, the Western world functions, although increasingly poorly, because of the moral havits and ways of thought inculcated by our dying Christian civilization. But as that civilization continues to decay, our society is ever more reliant on the surveillance camera, brainwashing imposed under the guise of education, and legal enforcement of politically correct conduct.

We are in transition from a society of free, responsible, self-directed individuals to a colony of mind-controlled slaves.

Related:

CanSpeccy: Free Will versus Determinism and Moral Responsibility

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