I was inspired by this thought because of a lecture given by Sam Harris and the following discussion between him and Richard Dawkins. 

Do you think science can say anything about what morality is. 

I think it actually can and on the contrary Religion can't. It is an argument I hear very often by religious people. I think religious "morality" is very immoral because it is absolute. Morality has to be relative, has to be discussed and reasoned. 

Furthermore I act morally because I want to. A religious person acts "morally" because he or she wants to be rewarded for it in the afterlife. I think this is very selfish and thus immoral. 

You have to be moral because you want to be and not because you're told to be so because that in it self is immoral. 

To act moral means to be ourselves, to be human and to be responsible for our actions. 

Now the latter argument can be discussed or argued against since science has shown that there actually might not be a free will, thus it is questionable wether we can be held responsible for our actions.

What do you think? What can Religion say about morality?

Tags: Dawkins, Free, Harris, Morality, Richard, Sam, Will

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I disagree with Sam Harris' notion that science can find any objective moral truth.  I agree with you that morality has to be relative, and has everything to do with the context of the situation and the people involved.  Sam Harris would claim that the fact that it is worse to harm a human that a cat, and worse to harm a cat than an ant is objective moral truth.  I would argue that this is completely subjective.

 

Science can say things about morality, in the same way that science can say things about the origin of the galaxies.  We can use observation to make conclusions, theories that we are 99.99% sure are correct.  But they are never objective truths.  This may sound crazy but maybe one day humanity will realise that our assumption of "the least amount of suffering for the largest amount of intelligent entities" being objective moral truth is really just a subjective part of a larger picture - in a similar way that the world being flat was not inherently true but was close enough to being true for the people who believed it at the time, that it might as well have been.

I have to completely disagree with you that morality is relative and this is part of what Sam talks about (which I totally agree). It's not ok in some countries to treat women as subordinate or sexual slaves when we can show that it causes suffering. This should show that it is not right anywhere!

We can also show that homosexuality IS natural, seen in the animal kingdom, and biological factor of someones makeup (and not a choice). We can also show how is does no harm so it should be allowed everywhere.

There are topics where lots of further discussion is needed and can be different with different circumstances, such as euthanasia and abortion. You may call this relative to the situation, but it will never be relative due to cultural background, religious belief or personal bias (general interpretation of moral relativity).

>It's not ok in some countries to treat women as subordinate or sexual slaves when we can show that it causes suffering. This should show that it is not right anywhere!

 

I disagree with this.  The important point is not the subordination or the sexual slavery, it is the consent.  If you take time to study the BDSM and other alternative lifestyles you will find that there are always people that enjoy and take pleasure in what most people would consider wrong, painful or even immoral.

 

And we can't even call consent an objective moral duty, since we often have to look at the greater good - what about mentally ill people, who need restraining?  What about criminals?  Nothing is a black and white matter, nothing has an objective moral standing.  Every situation has its own context and the right answer is always subjective.  We can only use science in the vaguest of the sense of the word science - we can use collaboration, rationality, debate, and looking at past results to try and work out the "correct" answer.  But that correct answer is again only correct because of our perspective on what we are trying to achieve - which as I said in my first post, is usually "the least amount of suffering for the largest amount of intelligent entities".  This may not be the full picture, as I explained in that post.

I understand your point about consent, but what I can not fully agree with is that a whole people, if given the choice and education of what life would be like as both independent and as a surf, that they would all still chose to be servile to men. If here in Australia a girl decides to wear the headscarf as a sign of identity etc. then all respect to her but you can't show that people forced into that position are all consenting and not suffering as a consequence. Also the question is raised that if they only stay in that position due to fear of punishment.

You sound like a true Utilitarian which puts me in mind of a mental exercise: There is a small city somewhere that is extremely healthy and wealthy. There is no crime and all it's inhabitants never want anything due to the abundance of food and goods to trade. That is except 1 inhabitant. A child was at a very young age, stuck in a small room with no windows in the centre of this town. There is only a small flap in the door for which food is pushed through so the child can remain alive. No one frees the child for they know it is due to the suffering of this one child that their city in flourishing. They sacrifice this one child for their happiness for if she was liberated, their city would succumb to the normality of life n with the disasters that come with it.

Is it morally right for them to hold that one child in suffering for the good of the whole city? I'd assume you'd say that was right.

Btw BDSM and alternative lifestyles are chosen later in life by an individual, not inflicted on a whole people, and what you said about the mentally ill and criminals etc. is what I said about a more situational relativity. I never support black and white rules, that is the role for religions. Everything should always be discussed and reasoned and when a situation comes up with someone who different, say mentally ill, things will need to be discussed again. But as Sam says in his book, what we can use in the discussion is what we learn from sciences: A woman with an ectopic pregnancy wants to abort the child, we know both the child and mother are likely to die, the child is still merely divided cells and can not suffer etc.. What we can't use is 'our book says a fertilised egg now has a soul and must be protected.'

>what I can not fully agree with is that a whole people, if given the choice and education of what life would be like as both independent and as a surf, that they would all still chose to be servile to men.

 

I would think not, and I never claimed this.  However I would also not claim that this is objective truth.

 

>You sound like a true Utilitarian which puts me in mind of a mental exercise... Is it morally right for them to hold that one child in suffering for the good of the whole city? I'd assume you'd say that was right.

 

I guess I would, but I would be more than happy to have debate over the matter, and reach a conclusion which the most people agreed on.  I'm not sure how this links into whether there is an objective right answer or not.  I would claim that there isn't.

 

>Btw BDSM and alternative lifestyles are chosen later in life by an individual, not inflicted on a whole people.

 

Yes, of course.  However when you claim an objective moral law, then it does affect all people.  And what I was saying is you only need one person to buck the trend to show that any stipulated law is incorrect or at best incomplete.  My argument concluded, that since such experiences are completely subjective and depend on the individuals involved, there is no objective correct answer.

 

>Everything should always be discussed and reasoned and when a situation comes up with someone who different, say mentally ill, things will need to be discussed again.

 

Agreed.  I'm pretty sure we agree that there is no objective moral truth that humans know.  And I don't know where you stand on the idea that humans could know any objective moral truth if there is any.  My opinion at the moment is a type of moral skepticism - that since every situation is different, and every opinion, feeling, emotion, etc. subjective, is seems illogical to claim that there is an objective moral truth that can be constructed entirely from subjective premises.

I don't agree that there is no objective moral truth.  We can say that there are a certain few simple values which 98% of all people would agree with. 

Yeah I agree but that is one of the dickhead arguments against it: "it's not natural" which is ridiculous. It was the first thing that came to mind in this discussion and definitely not my own opinion.

I think science, math, technology, and other manifestations/inventions of intelligence are merely tools, and are usable or abusable just like religion or belief in any other absolute "truth".

Science will probably help us describe and measure personal concepts of "morality" more and more. However, I don't see how science could ever be used to prescribe or proscribe morality. In fact, if someone were to proclaim one day that their knowledge or power of science gave them the right to codify morality for others, I would be highly suspicious, if not fearful of their motives.

It's a very interesting question that I feel particularty stuck on for useful answers, because how I (or sometimes others) should act is one of the most important questions I/we face daily. We have civil law that makes most of these questions easier to answer, and even adds meaning to the term "responsibility". Whether or not free will can be defined by science or proven to exist, codifications of law still spell out consequences of when each law is broken, and court judges still apply judgement. Whether you say it's by free will or not, humans will still modify their behavior based on the imposed laws (or other imposed religion/morality).

First paragraph - I 100% agree.  Morality should be based on the experience of being a human being, not on cold science.  I agree that if someone tried to work out a moral code from scientific principles, that would be a very frightening thing and flings open the door to the worst of the 20th Century.  That said - scientific knowledge can inform or support our human experience - it's our slave and not our master. 

I think the experience of being a human is only able to be defined by human beings.  I think science can fill in some underlying biological, chemical (etc.) details of why we feel or do certain things, and as such, is useful. 

The reason that I (for one) am freaked out about the idea of trying to construct a moral code on scientific principles is that it isn't science's place to do this; higher human existence isn't amenable to fiddly-diddly intellectual claptrap.  That sort of thing quickly disappears up its own arse.  Have you ever seen the episode of The Simpsons where the intelligent people take over and try to run everything?  It's a disaster, because they forget that it's all about knowing how to live.  Have you ever checked out Buddhism?  Oh my God.  World of Warcraft more like.  They do not know when to stop.  Something that looks wonderful and neat and beautiful on paper, is likely to be a pile of doo-doo when put into action.  On paper isn't the place to look for the answer to these kind of questions of living. 

That said, I believe 100% that scientific thinking - i.e. clear, logical, unemotional reasoning - is absolutely necessary in thinking about this kind of problem.  Just don't try to originate the principles from a text book or other purely intellectual place.  Originate them from real life.  Forget about ivory towers.  The result is, at best, incomplete and mis-guided; at worst - well, you know the worst. 

How would you go about trying to create a scientific moral code?

I think that the question of morals is not an intellectual one at its heart.  It should depend on obseration of what already works, not on the synthesis of new moral values and complicated ideas.  The problem with trying to over-intellectualize it is that this almost immediately loses touch with the real world - and hey presto, we've failed again. 

I can understand your sensible reluctance to try and invent a scientific moral code for the human race.  But since you advocate the scientific approach, how would you make one for your own use?  What role could scientists or science possibly play in creating a moral code?  (Beyond tidy thinking.)  Morals are just not within the domain of science.  However, talking about the phenomenon of morals and morality is a scientific subject. 

If a "successful" moral code could be found, I don't think it would necessarily change the world.  Everyone would just say, "I knew that already." 

Basically, I have a philosophy that there are a certain few moral values (8 or 9) which everyone agrees are good, everyone agrees are always valid, everyone knows what they mean, are simple to put into practice, and form a reasonably complete set.  In other words, an objective morality. 

[!!!]  These are:  Love, kindness, mercy, courage, integrity and honest self-questioning.  The Golden Rule.  Think about your responsibilities and your obligations, and fulfill them.  And::  literally anything is allowed that doesn't harm someone else. 

Buddhism = World of Warcraft. 

Simpsons = a venerable authority on everything.   

What Would Judge Judy Do?

Also, why is everyone freaked out about trying to make a scientific moral code? Just like when people talk about AI, just because it always kills you in the movies, doesnt mean it HAS to be evil.  Since the morality that any religion has, was most likely the best ideas of how to treat people written by some idiots thousands of years ago, I dont see how science could do ANY worse.

 

Science (and AI) are still just tools to be used by us, or abused. Just as there's no inherent evil in science or AI, there's no inherent goodness in it, either. I don't know what a "scientific moral code" could be, sans fallible human design or judgement. It's scary to me to think that anyone would claim one particular, absolute set of mathematical or scientific rules or principles could be used as an infallible or perfect tool to prescribe moral behavior. Describe it yes, but prescribe it, no.

Sure, science increasingly informs our decisions/judgements. But take a real, current example of "moral" debate these days, like abortion. In my opinion, science already helps to inform us about characteristics of a fetus and its awareness of pain, or consciousness, and we'll learn more and more. But it's still ultimately up to a human to decide what weight to put on each cold, hard piece of "data" that's attached to a potentially living human being, and I just don't see how (e.g.) AI as designed by other humans could be trusted to make such a decision for us.

 

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