There we were, Mrs. Lapin and I, breakfasting with friends on a rooftop patio overlooking the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. One of our breakfast companions is well connected with Israel’s high tech community and I immediately resolved to share with you what he disclosed to me. But first, by way of introduction, I must ask you a serious question. Ideally, you’d want to wait to read this until you can quietly contemplate the implications of this enigma.
Imagine that you’re walking alongside a train track when you suddenly realize that a runaway train is rapidly bearing down. To your horror, you realize that in the next few seconds the train will hit five workmen on the track, all oblivious to their impending doom.
However, if you quickly pulled the track-switch lever right next to you, you could divert the onrushing train onto a siding where only one workman will be killed. Would you be acting morally and ethically by doing so? Some surveys show that a large majority of respondents believe the greater moral good will be served if they pull the switch to save five people by sacrificing one.
Same train but different scenario: You’re on a bridge over the tracks. The only way to save the five workmen is by pushing a very large person off the overpass onto the track below where his body will derail the train. In the previous example, you needed to use your hand to pull the switch lever. Now, your hand would be giving a firm shove into the middle of the large man’s back. Exactly the same result; one person sacrificed in order to save five. The same surveys show that almost nobody feels this is moral and ethical.
Last question, I promise: Imagine you’re a super-surgeon. You have five patients who are about to die unless they quickly receive replacement organs. One needs a heart, two need a kidney each and the last two each need a lung. You have a healthy young patient in for a shoulder dislocation. While he is under anesthesia, can you remove his organs, thereby condemning him to a premature demise in order to save the lives of your other five patients? Again, most people who happily pull the switch in the first example balk at this similar action.
I’m sorry if your head is aching but I inflicted all this philosophical pain in order to show you that morality and ethics cannot derive from your heart. They can’t even reliably derive from the head of your local university’s ethics professor. They derive only from God.
What did I learn on that Jerusalem rooftop a few days ago? Companies like Google, Apple, and many more that are working on the software to allow self-driving cars, maintain research labs in Israel. They are coding ethical algorithms into those cars. Whose ethics? Well, theirs of course. Let me explain.
Your self-drive car is rolling rapidly but serenely down the street, when with no warning, the enormous 18-wheeler in front of it comes to a sudden stop. If your car rams it, you will be killed. If your car swerves into the lane to your left it hits a car carrying a mother and two young children. If your car swerves into the right lane, it hits a motorcyclist.
If you were driving and saved your life by a split-second instinctive swerve to left or right, nobody (except maybe you) would condemn you for the tragic deaths of the young family or of the motorcyclist. But now, this is all going to be coded into your vehicle’s software and because your autonomous car is so very smart, it has to make its choice in advance. The car manufacturers are wondering whether the moral decision is for the car owner’s life to be sacrificed. But they aren’t sure.
Before his death, Jacob blesses his twelve sons, starting with the oldest, Reuben, and concluding with Benjamin. (Genesis 49) Hundreds of years later, Moses blesses the twelve tribes of Israel, but conspicuously omits the tribe of Simon. (Deuteronomy 33)
One explanation offered by ancient Jewish wisdom for the omission, is that long ago, Simon, the second son, had been responsible for a moral and ethical lapse. When Jacob’s daughter Dinah was raped by a local Hivvite aristocrat named Shechem, Simon unilaterally decided to murder every male in that Hivvite city, bringing his younger brother Levi into his scheme. (Genesis 34:25)
What made it particularly bad is that when their father Jacob rebuked them, the brothers justified it with their own argument of ethics and morality:
And they said, “Shall he make our sister like a harlot?”
This is precisely what the bogus academic field of ethics is all about. Attempting to seize the definition of moral and ethical from God and the Bible where it has resided for millennia, today’s “ethicists” declare as ethical whatever their own tastes and predilections are. Scientists can derive chemical formulae and mathematical equations, but ethics and morality are obtained not from scientific derivation but from Divine revelation.
Nowhere in Scripture are we advised to trade off lives. God never says that an individual may take one person’s innocent life if by doing so he can save five. Thus, a five-year old Jewish child raised in God’s definitions of morality could immediately solve the above train dilemmas that rattle secular adults. Individuals do not have the right to choose one person to die even if doing so will save many. It really is that simple.