Saturday, April 17, 2010

Can We Be Moral Without Science?

The answer is no, at least, from this essay that argues that a society needs science to maintain moral values.

Can science help us be moral? Yes, science frees our intellect from inadequate morals which have impeded humanity and provides knowledge from which we make better moral decisions. We should not perceive science and religion as opposing principles, but as complementary choices - compatible pathways to progress. Perhaps a more important question is, can we be moral without science? In today's scientific era, I think not.


I haven't decided if I quite agree with the whole essay. I've never thought of science in this light before, so this is something new.

Zz.

1 comment:

Dickherber said...

Sam Harris recently gave a controversial TED talk on something similar to this. He later responded to his critics in this article (talk included):

http://www.project-reason.org/newsfeed/item/moral_confusion_in_the_name_of_science3/

Harris' argument is that science can answer moral questions. Although I didn't consider this until Harris pointed it out, in hindsight, I think it is obviously correct. There is no alternative---religions, which guess about morality, and then dogmatically stick to their guesses, are not a substitute for actual investigation into moral questions.

The article by Emerson is less forceful than Harris'. Emerson concedes too much to religion, not because it's true or even good at what it does, but because it has so much cultural power.

The key sentence from Emerson that illustrates the difference is this: "We should not perceive science and religion as opposing principles, but as complementary choices - compatible pathways to progress."

No. Beliefs that are correct and beliefs that are false are not compatible. The only reason to make such concession at the end of an otherwise persuasive article is to wish not to offend religious people. But if we're going to bring rationality to morality, we've got to do something about that elephant in the room. Harris does that.