Alan Turing's life is an example of how bigotry in the name of "God's law" has gradually been dropped.
Ministers often hail “God’s eternal laws,” the supposedly unchanging morality rules of the Bible. But they’re wrong. Morality evolves constantly.
For example, Leviticus 20 commands that males who engage in gay sex must be killed: “They shall be put to death, their blood is upon them.” (Oddly, lesbians aren’t mentioned.)
However, this gory mandate is abandoned in compassionate Western democracies, most of which finally decriminalized homosexuality and allowed same-sex marriage. It was a historic stride for decency and secular humanism.
Here’s a sad example of the bad old days:
During World War II, Alan Turing was a British math genius working at a top-secret decoding lab forty miles north of London. He was superbly fit – almost Olympic class – and often ran to London meetings.
He developed a “Turing machine,” an early computer that cracked the Nazi military’s baffling Enigma code by applying step-by-step algorithms to symbols. It was an enormous breakthrough that enabled Allies to intercept Nazi U-boats, air squadrons and other attacks. Winston Churchill said Turing did more to shorten the war than any other individual.
Unfortunately, Turing was gay at a time when homosexuality remained a felony. After the war, he invited a thug into his home, who later returned to rob him. When police investigated, and learned Turing’s sexuality, he was prosecuted. He was offered a choice of prison or chemical castration. He chose the latter.
But it was tragic, turning his athletic body to mush. And his elite security clearance was revoked. In despair, he committed suicide with cyanide.
Later, after morality evolved, Britain was ashamed of his treatment. In 2009, Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued an official apology for “the appalling way he was treated.” In 2013, Queen Elizabeth granted him a posthumous pardon. In 2017, Parliament passed the “Alan Turing Law” retroactively pardoning men convicted under past taboos. In 2019, his face was put on the fifty-pound note.
Today, Turing is a British hero, with statues of him in many places and science prizes named for him. In a 2019 BBC poll, he was voted the greatest person of the 20th century.
You might call this an example of “God’s eternal law” being revoked. Good riddance to cruel bigotry and prejudice. It’s a shame that a heroic genius was forced to be a martyr.
(Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail, and a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine.)