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Science as a Moral Guidepost

One of the prominent ‘Gnu Atheists’, neuroscientist Sam Harris, has a new book out titled (Amazon link) The Moral Landscape in which he argues that science should become the authority on moral issues (rather than religion). Here’s a presentation he gave at TED on the topic:

Harris also appeared this week on The Daily Show, where – as usual – Jon Stewart brought up some good questions amongst some fun jokes.

But not all in science believe Harris is on the right track. Well-regarded science journalist John Horgan vehemently disagrees with a number of Harris’s ideas, citing the rather dodgy morals displayed by various researchers over the past 100 years of ‘scientific progress’. Also,

Harris asserts in Moral Landscape that ignorance and humility are inversely proportional to each other; whereas religious know-nothings are often arrogant, scientists tend to be humble, because they know enough to know their limitations. “Arrogance is about as common at a scientific conference as nudity,” Harris states. Yet he is anything but humble in his opus. He castigates not only religious believers but even nonbelieving scientists and philosophers who don’t share his hostility toward religion.

Harris further shows his arrogance when he claims that neuroscience, his own field, is best positioned to help us achieve a universal morality. “The more we understand ourselves at the level of the brain, the more we will see that there are right and wrong answers to questions of human values.” Neuroscience can’t even tell me how I can know the big, black, hairy thing on my couch is my dog Merlin. And we’re going to trust neuroscience to tell us how we should resolve debates over the morality of abortion, euthanasia and armed intervention in other nations’ affairs?

Coincidentally, this week I’ve been reading Henry Stapp’s Mindful Universe, in which he too discusses the possibility that science could offer a way forward with moral thinking – but in his case, he believes it is only quantum physics that allows science to do so. In fact, Stapp specifically cites materialist science (of the sort most ‘gnu atheists’ subscribe to) as eroding “not only the religious roots of moral values but the entire notion of personal responsibility” (due to the implications of determinism versus free will)…”This conception of man undermines the foundation of rational moral philosophy…It not only erodes the foundations of earlier value systems, but also acts to strip man of any vision of himself and his place in the universe that could be the rational basis for an elevated set of values.”

What do you think – what is the moral landscape of the future, and what map are we going to follow? Cold, objective science? The cutting edge of complicated, nonintuitive quantum physics? Antiquated, sometimes bizarre religion? How do we approach the tough moral questions if we don’t use any of those?

  1. The subjective
    Neither –we need a new synthesis. Ken Wilber is kinda on the right track and so are all the other “new scientists”

    Its not one or the other—its a new vision that is more than the parts.

    We gotta drop “religion” with its frozen dogmas and simply tune-in to our deeper nature. This takes what Don Miquel Ruiz calls an “un-domestication” process.

    I love the book called “bridging science and spirit” by Friedman.

  2. The enemy within

    “What do you think – what is the moral landscape of the future, and what map are we going to follow? Cold, objective science? The cutting edge of complicated, nonintuitive quantum physics? Antiquated, sometimes bizarre religion? How do we approach the tough moral questions if we don’t use any of those?”

    There’s an old saying that goes something like, don’t stare at the ground while running through the woods. And the reasoning is, of course, that you should be looking out for the trees.

    I think we too often fall back on blaming religion for ills that have little or nothing to do with religion. We spend so much time looking at faith as a culprit, we miss the obvious… that our amorality is simply inherent to the human condition. Moreover, I think that religion was – at least in part – created to counter our moral flaws. But like everything else, it is corrupted by the same factors and forces that it sought to corral.

    Science, while perhaps less dependent on faith than faith itself, is still no less vulnerable. In fact, it may well be more susceptible to humanistic corruption than the religion that came before it.

    But let’s not split hairs.

    Human envy, gluttony, greed, vanity, and lust are corrosives that affect everything they touch. Together, they manifest into things like war, genocide, racism, crime, intolerance and give comfort to blight and ignorance.

    Any society… even those that had set religion aside, would still not be free of them.

    The challenge is not to overcome God or the atom… but ourselves.

    We know the enemy… he is us.

  3. Knowledge, when attributed to human beings, is laughable
    Sun Ra said that. And then there is Aleister Crowley: ‎”Science is always discovering odd scraps of magical wisdom and making a tremendous fuss about its cleverness.”

    First off, in questions of morality, for instance, incest, cannibalism, violence &c, roughly how many times has the scientific view completely contradicted the empirical view of religion? Before any drug is considered, scientifically, it must prove itself a better path by a significant margin, no? I mean, that’s just good Science. So what happens when we look at the track record of Science vs Doing The Right Thing?

    Who would have thought that nuclear bombs would turn out to be so nasty? Just for example. Psychology, now there’s a science and I’m sure Edward Bernays would be the first to insist his uncle’s industry is nothing but great heaps of ethics … or at least he’ll certainly craft a campaign to sell you on that and the superiority of ten thousand planet-killing products. Ok, maybe Bernays is a bad choice.

    And I dare not even mention Dr. Eduard Wirths for fear of invoking Godwin’s Law and stopping the discussion right there.

    So instead let me propose this: let it be said that, as Crowley notes, Empirical research accumulated across thousands of years is a valid way of doing science and thus religions are a science, but a science done in a completely different way from what the marketeers regularly parade in the adverts as the Latest Scientific, and that while there may exist a science that can direct human ethics if we ever knew of it at all, we’ve forgotten it.

  4. Neuroscience & Ethics
    I remember a recent news story that discusses a study showing that the more folks know about psychology/neuroscience the less ethically they behave. Tried to find it again, but I was unsuccesseful.

    In the search I did come across this article: which discusses a recent study that uses brain imaging to identify the processes involved in “moral” decision making. The article suggests that the study authors are biased towards dismissing ethics as an evolutionary throwback that has been replaced by reasoning.

    “The shock comes from the conclusion drawn by these authors: “The social-emotional responses that we’ve inherited from our primate ancestors . . . undergird the absolute prohibitions that are central to deontology. In contrast, the ‘moral calculus’ that defines utilitarianism is made possible by more recently evolved structures in the frontal lobes that support abstract thinking and high-level cognitive control.” To put it bluntly, the old emotional brain represents the view of the deontologists, who believe in universal rules of morality, whereas the new rational brain embodies the utilitarian view[2].”

    With the growing support of neo-eugenic (Social Biology) ideas by proponents of the Singularity doctrine and other futurists it would seem that the term “ethics” is being reimagined to fit a more cause/effect rationalist ideology.

    1. The Ethics of Advertising
      LOL — I hope you can find that study, but then again, the study will have been done by marketing, er, I mean by psychologists (silly me) so we would still be stuck post-modernly looking for the Edward Bernays in the mix. Did I mention ol’ Eddy Baby? Oh, I did already. Never mind.

  5. Morality
    I think it is impossible to have a cohesive morality without a cohesive cultural identity.

    In the mean time, I disagree with Mr Harris. I think philosophy is a much better moral guidepost than science.

  6. So many modern thinkers think
    So many modern thinkers think in terms of absolutes. You have to wonder if we have reared a generation or two of people unable to embrace wide experience.

  7. Science and Morality
    The idea that scientists are humble and ethical is a joke, right?

    Need we be reminded of the latest news of medical scientists injecting Guatemalans with STDs without consent? And about the lobotomies, shock therapy, and enforced sterilization of the 1950s? So much for medical ethics.

    Now for humility: four words — ‘the science is settled.’The notion that ‘we, as scientists, have determined the truth you will believe without further questioning’ is the exact opposite of humility. It always smacks me the same as religious leaders that tell me only they can communicate with their deity and I need not question what they tell me.

    Which version of scientific thought do we use as our basis for ‘scientific’ morality? Forty years ago, homosexuality was a mental illness (treatable as above). Does this morality allow abortions or euthanasia? I mean, scientists have no scruples when it comes to the vivisection and slaughter of animals for ‘testing’, or about the use of the knowledge gained by such means criminally applied to humans during warfare.

    Are these ethics determined by ‘for-profit’ science such as Big Medicine? These are the people that push suicide-inducing anti-depressants instead of effective, curative chemicals such as GBH and MDMA. Why cure with one dose when one can sell doses for years?

    While this may seem like an anti-science rant, I just don’t see where scientists can be trusted to have strong positive moral compasses. They seem to express the same range of human fallibility as every other peddler of ‘truth’ that tells us what is right and wrong. So trust those who tell you to do little harm and to learn to be happy. But when it some to “I can see inside your head and you are thinking evil” — no thanks!

    1. Personally,
      I don’t trust any scientist who doesn’t believe in the Gods, at least one of them. Atheists are the antithesis of humility, and quite likely the last group of people to have any serious positive moral attributes.

      Combining atheism with science is a marriage of horrors destined to destroy all that makes humanity good.

      1. from the Creature-Comforts-Dept.
        [quote=Gwedd]I don’t trust any scientist who doesn’t believe in the Gods, at least one of them. Atheists are the antithesis of humility, and quite likely the last group of people to have any serious positive moral attributes.

        Have you thought aboot why you think the way you think on this issue of yours? I ask because I have a natural magpie mind and enjoy what humanity has to offer.

        What if, say, a scientist were to hold humanity as a whole in the highest regard?

    2. from the Proponent-Clause-Dept.
      While this may seem like an anti-science rant, I just don’t see where scientists can be trusted to have strong positive moral compasses. They seem to express the same range of human fallibility as every other peddler of ‘truth’ that tells us what is right and wrong. So trust those who tell you to do little harm and to learn to be happy. But when it some to “I can see inside your head and you are thinking evil” — no thanks![/quote]

      Do you think there is a means of going through the world, a way of life, ways of looking at the world that doesn’t express the same range of human fallibility?

      If so, do you think that there are ways of looking at the world that are better than others?

  8. One good thing about Science…
    Many commenters have already expressed their opinion that scientists, at the end of the day, are no less fallible and corruptible as many religious zealots; and I happen to agree.

    One thing I applaud about Science though, is that —compared to religion— it has the ability to rectify (or at least improve) its dogmas much more rapidly.

    Granted: not as rapidly as many of us would like. But at least with Science you can see changes of opinion in decades; whereas in religion is often takes Millenia.

    1. Out of the frying pan…
      [quote=red pill junkie]One thing I applaud about Science though, is that —compared to religion— it has the ability to rectify (or at least improve) its dogmas much more rapidly.

      Granted: not as rapidly as many of us would like. But at least with Science you can see changes of opinion in decades; whereas in religion is often takes Millenia.[/quote]

      I agree with this observation in most respects.

      But I would like to add that there are certain… call them, holy (and wholly) immovables in science today, that are as debilitating as religion of old. One of the most glaring of these is the theory of evolution that has somehow been graduated of late to be fact.

      The elbow room that science once provided against the rigid cubical of religion, has now vanished. There are no pioneers out there who would, with open minds to what is and is not possible anymore, lead us from intellectual bondage.

      Science has become its own religion where unforgiving idols of uncompleted theory have supplanted the religious wanderings of millennia.

      When we look back, we can now see the imperfection of man writing the bible of God. But what we so often fail to see is the same imperfection of man writing the the bible of man; called science.

      Science itself is not at fault, though. The concept is as near to perfection as an imperfect creature can make it. It is, finally, in the execution that we stumble.

      1. …Or centuries
        Of course, something take a little longer than others.

        Evolution theory is what? 150 years old? still a baby compared to many religious doctrines 😛

        In the end, Science and Religion are all tools. And any good tool needs to be sharpened and re calibrated any once in a while.

        PS: For the record, I’m not against Evolution theory; nor do I hold it as dogma. There shouldn’t be dogmas in science.

        1. probablilities
          I’m pretty sure that evolution is a fact in the sense that it happens, and we can observe it happening.

          Does this mean that I believe that the Theory of Evolution as taught in high schools is correct? No, I believe there are probably things wrong with that. It probably works differently than we now think it does. Factors other than random mutations, DNA, survival of the fittest individuals are probably at play.

          Do I think that because Evolution as known now has some weaknesses, I should accept creation in 7 days as an alternative that is just as likely? Don’t be silly.

          To the point of the moral guide – no science can’t be a reliable guide because the people enforcing the morals won’t be reliable.

          Most religions could serve as pretty decent moral guides if their principles had anything to do with it. So would most political theories.

          But as others have commented, that doesn’t help when the people using these guides ignore them, or worse pervert them into doing whatever they please. And in the process force a whole lot of other people into doing a whole lot of things those others don’t want.

  9. Daily Show link
    Try this link.

    [Best part: between 4:15 & 4:35]

    So many questions. Harris says we can look at the Taliban and objectively conclude their treatment of women is wrong. But at the same time he’s talking about intuition; and he also says the qualitative measure to judge a moral value should be based on the improvement in quality of life —or, said in other terms I think, the less amount of suffering you get.

    Yet quality of life and suffering are all subjective values. Not only do they vary from culture to culture, but also from person to person.

  10. Values?
    I’ve yet to see any example where man’s “elevated set of values” is apparent, except in small, limited formats. “Leaders” in religion or science have no more authority to point a moral compass than common house sparrow. In fact I would argue the our common house sparrow holds the upper ground in “morality” of any kind.

    Who’s morals do we get? I think the only ones that matter are the ones naturally ingrained in us, or, the ones we routinely ignore to please whatever God(or science) we worship.

    1. Brain Damage and Moral Judgment
      Agree that we get the morals we get – the ones that are culturally mediated for our use. A neuroscientist couple, the Damasios, do a lot of interesting work in moral decision making as a function of brain anatomy/physiology. Antonio Damasio contributed to a 2007 article published in Nature that has a tidy recapitulation of recent research about the interaction of culture and brain function, but only as a prologue to a study with a (to me) hysterical finding: Damage to the prefrontal cortex increases utilitarian moral judgements. Now I think that explains a lot about how social policy is formulated!

  11. i think…
    that despite their temper tantrums to the contrary, western culture and science is underpinned by religious (mostly) judeo-christian morals and judeo-christian prejudices (i.e. humans are the pinnacle of evolution = humans are made in the image of god; patriarchy and euro/anglo-centrism)…and i don’t think any of the gnu atheists had atheistic childhoods…most seem to take umbrage at their mother’s or other family member’s religiosity…i think it would be very difficult, given the west’s religious cultural history, to ever have such a thing as atheistic morals…even they didn’t grow up in a vacuum…

  12. Women
    Harris leaned heavily in examples of how different cultures treat women to highlight his theory of morality.

    When questioned, he is ready to suggest that women raised in a culture where they are viewed as subject to men are brainwashed, and therefore any wishes they might express to voluntarily wear a veil should be taken with a big grain of salt.

    He showed a lot of American men magazines to make the point that western civilization is not exactly the pinnacle of a balanced environment in which to raise women. Yet in this society many of those women who voluntarily take off their clothes in front of a camera would probably receive more respect in their decisions from the likes of Harris —at least it would be interesting to hear him say that a playmate is as equally brainwashed as a burkha-wearing Muslim girl, in this PC world of ours…

    PS: I don’t know if Harris is married, or has children, but I do wonder if he would let his daughter wear a skirt.

    1. Brainwashed
      It may be difficult if sometimes not impossible to bring a taliban’s wife, burka wrapped and chained to the bedposts while the husband is gone whipping some unholy ass in the street that dared smile and show happiness, that she is brainwashed.

      If that can be the case in such an extreme example, how likely is it for a sophisticated white male who has studied and been taught in the best western universities of admitting to even the possibility of being ever so slightly brainwashed?

      Eventually, morals will be replaced by personal judgment.

      So long as morals are based on a collective process, people are still basing their judgment on other’s suggestive ideas of what should be judged this or that way. This is reinforced by the idea that the more think the same, the more that thought is likely to be right.

      Today’s science does not escape this way of seeing things.

      The more scientists agree to a theory, the more the theory is regarded as fact.

  13. God Listeners
    There must be something I’m missing out on in this article.

    What does science have to do with morals or philosophy or religion?

    Shouldn’t we teach the world what quantum mechanics is first?
    Or better yet; How about we feed them first?

    Yeah blah blah here and morals this and quantum that.

    To me this sounds like a whole shit load of shit. Over-analyzing should not be left up to anyone who doesn’t know where to start. Let’s put human and kind back in humankind.


    Addendum: What are tough moral questions?

    1. Starving
      Well, I suppose Harris would reply by saying that we are being distracted from solving the really big problems like feeding the poor and fixing our planet, because we’re letting ourselves be immerse in —viewed in the larger scheme of things… perhaps— small petty quarrels like the rights of gay to marriage, or abortion.

      Every solution demands a waste of energy. Bigger problems should be devoted more energy than smaller ones, yet often this is not the case. And perhaps the reason for this strives in the battle of different moral viewpoints. In that sense, I agree with Harris.

      1. On terms of objectivity
        On terms of subjectivity, sure, but objectivity, no.

        It’s funny but I believe that the bigger problems like starvation and poverty are easier to “fix” than gay rights or women equality. The latter issues are regional or country wide and usually filled with some sort of stupid dogma, while, the world wide issues are neglected and pushed aside but are blatant and obvious. Seriously, if woman wearing sheets in 120 degree weather is a problem for other people, I would recommend re-evaluating their ideals.

        This brings “beat around the bush” a whole new definition. At least Hawking has reason to his rhyme.

        1. Easier to fix
          The bigger problems may be more obvious, but I don’t know if they are easier to fix.

          Take our dependency for oil. Obviously we should move to other alternatives; there’s nuclear fusion for example —50 years and counting, and we still don’t have one viable reactor.

          PS: Can we still talk about regional problems, in a globalized world?

          PPS: Or maybe the truth is that there really are no “small” problems. Maybe every time we tell a lie, no matter how small, somewhere an entire parallel universe gets blown up… that would certainly give us reason to pause.

          1. Posed
            [quote=red pill junkie]PS: Can we still talk about regional problems, in a globalized world?[/quote]
            Good Question! XD

            You raise a good point on our dependency for oil and the lack of sufficient nuclear reactors. Both those can change tomorrow if we wanted. But aren’t those more “techy” issues and not humane issues?

          2. Techy issues
            Quite possibly, yet often the tech issues are not immune to political and moral aspects.

            Take for example the space program. The United States was able to reach the Moon —don’t start now!! hush— partly because the Nazis made a lot of reprehensible experiments with Jewish prisoners.

            Maybe we could speed up the Fusion investigation if were willing to loosen up safety concerns. But look at those people worried that the LHC is going to create a black hole that will NOM the entire world 😉

          3. Interconnectedness?
            I need to quote your tagline…

            It’s not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me…
            It’s all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

            Can that be my reply? XD

  14. Morals the antidote to science
    Making scientists the authority on moral issues is like putting a coyotes in charge of the hen house. Eugenics anyone? Science can rationalize any pursuit since the needs of the many always outweigh the needs of the few – according to any scientific principle. Overpopulation depleting resources, stressing the environment – how can science come to any conclusion except forced depopulation, sterilization, etc… Morals are not the purview of science – it is the antidote to science. My scientific, analytical, rational side sees the reasoning in depopulation, weeding out the weak, ill, feeble – as nature intended – evolution = survival of the fittest, and of course living in balance with nature. How can any reasonable scientist draw any alternate conclusion except forced depopulation? But my moral side, the side I connect with a God, a higher authority or power (not organized religion, but the spiritual intelligence that I choose to believe exists) counters my scientific side of the debate by arguing for compassion, mercy, to serve other human beings, care for the feeble, weak, ill, and not to take life no matter the greater good to civilization or the planet.

    I am not anti-science, I love science and the many great advances it’s provided, however its power is also its greatest threat since each scientists no matter how learned or intelligent is still susceptible to every human foible such as hubris (Harris), greed, hate, etc…and using the tools of science one can rationalize just about any outcome one pursues, just as individuals within organized religion have used spiritual laws to justify just about every evil they’ve desired due to the same sins: hubris, greed, hate, etc… Power corrupts – that is human nature, and putting such faith in science or allowing science to claim such power/authority is surely the quickest path to an authoritarian fascists nightmare – much like occurred in Nazi Germany or the witch burning trials of the church. No thanks.

  15. from the Paradox-of-Living-Dept.
    This is how I can see ‘science’s role’ in this subject:

    Science provides a level playing field where we can find things out…and then, when we do, we can apply our values and philosophies and goals.

    And some BS (belief systems) like moral relativism, doesn’t work in the Global Village sense. Not all BS is ‘valid’ outside of its creationplace. Not all BS is conducive to life Globally.

    What is happening (and has been happening) is that we are all engaged in a conversation to figure out what ‘is best’ or works well for us globally.

    Which is like herding cats. But we are going to have to learn how to do it.

  16. Science as faith
    It’s really quite pointless to engage a man of such breathtaking certitude and arrogance; who has such contempt for those who hold differing views. But at least he’s good for some irony, because his justification for such an attitude is essentially, “Well, I’m right”. Gotta love that humility-ignorance inverse-ratio thing.

    Besides, Harris hasn’t even thought through his proposition. He either does not have the intellectual honesty and moral courage to admit, or he has not the incisiveness to understand, that “science” as he describes it and relates to it is, objectively, the equivalent of a religious faith.

    If we can rise above our prejudices and look purely objectively at his argument, we see that Harris is little different from a zealous missionary of a new religion – call it “Scientism”. He is proselytizing, urging those who hold different faiths to abandon them in favor of his, which is the true faith and has all the answers to the vicissitudes of the human condition.

    The difference in Harris’s Scientism is that in almost all religions of man, dieties are other and elsewhere. But with Scientism the Deity is Self-Intellect – there is no higher god. An dhe is always with us. Unless we’re really, really stoned.

    So until Harris has the huevos to grapple with the Scientism-as-faith conundrum, he is premature in his calls for conversion. Besides, the Scientism deity sounds remarkably like that which, according to the Jewish Torah and Christian Bible, led Adam and Eve to listen to that snake, and seek the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. And that didn’t work out too well the first time around.

    1. Huevos

      So until Harris has the huevos to grapple with the Scientism-as-faith conundrum, he is premature in his calls for conversion.

      MCDR (me cagué de risa: Mexican version of LOL) XD


      I agree that humility is not the first thing on my mind, when I think of a man who chooses a golden cover for his book’s dust jacket 😉

    2. from the Meaning-for-the-Masses-Dept.

      If we can rise above our prejudices and look purely objectively at his argument…[/quote]

      What does that mean?

      Are you saying that you can look at what Harris is saying without taking a point of view/bias/BS (belief system)?

  17. Science and Morality
    I was taught like many other people that science had all the answers and religion was basing their viewpoint on faith only.

    Unfortunately, many scientists think that science can replace religion. Sorry, but it can’t.

    I have a lot of support for the scientific method, but this can only ever give answers AFTER experiments, and the deductions can be flawed, and many a time are flawed.

    No-one is taught how to deduce a conclusion, only how to come up with data. Before deciding how to undertake an experiment it is necessary to have imagination and morality. Imagination to ensure the experiment is created in a way which truly creates new data. Morality so that the experiment takes into account the long term effect on human beings and the planet which supports them.

    I believe most of the experiments carried out today to gain data on new drugs is being done immorally. New drugs are being prescribed by GPs but there is little understanding of what the result will be, and the reaction these new drugs will have on people who are already taking other drugs.

    Over the years I have seen the paper information given with medecines get longer and longer, especially the parts where there are side effects when being taken with other drugs, for other health conditions. I have been asked to try another drug and will be telling my GP that I have had to stop because the idea that it would bring low blood sugar is a lie. Instead my blood sugar went up! Soon this will be on the list saying that it is a side effect.

    The GM crops are being pushed onto us yet the effect on the human body and the land are not known. The scientists and business people who are encouraging this are clearly showing little interest in the moral aspect of these new crops and the reaction on humans. By the time science has all the data required to make a definitive conclusion on these crops the land and many people will be ruined. Where is the morality in this?

    Science has its uses but more morality is needed, not less, and too many scientists are prepared to treat it as a religious faith rather than a means to know more about our world.

    1. The material world vs the invisible
      Science wants absolute dominion over all that is material.
      It wants to be recognized as the ultimate reference in all that has to do with material reality.

      It therefore cannot endure the presence of influences from other reference points, it does not accept being put in competition, it wants the monopoly.

      Morals are derived from life experiences based on religious guidance that were had for countless years.

      Religions have their base of reference in the invisible.

      So, religious based morals, which have major impacts on all ways of life, beliefs, attitudes, even laws, (it does not matter if you are religious or atheist, if you have morals you still live under religious influence) so those religious based morals must be eliminated and replaced with ‘science’ based morals.

      This way, one of the few remaining links between collective people and the invisible can be eliminated and ‘science’ can fill the void left behind.

      It is war between the material based ideology and the invisible based ideology. That’s all.

      And if it seems like it has no importance, it is because people don’t realize up to which point morals are at the base of nearly all personal ties with their collectivity.

      Morals are the glue of cultural heritage.

  18. I tend to agree with John
    I tend to agree with John Horgan. I am an atheist and a scientist, I work in a research facility but as an animal welfare officer. Scientists are just like any other group of people, including the religious. Some are humble and some are the absolute epitomy of arrogance! Some tend to be blinded by the importance of their work, you only have to look at past (and even present) research done on humans and animals to see that.

  19. Sam Harris doesn’t know what religion is
    Of course Sam Harris doesn’t have a clue what religion is because if he knew he would know that science already is authority on moral it’s called Ethics. Religion is concerned how to serve God and how to get spiritual experiences – it may seem the same for someone who is an “atheist” but there is a huge difference.

    1. I’ll take ‘The Human Condition’ for $500, Alex…

      “Religion is concerned how to serve God and how to get spiritual experiences…”

      My interpretation… so far as Christianity is concerned, is that serving God is to live a moral life… and vice-versa. The worship part of the religious equation often seems something of an addendum, perhaps placed to suit those high clergy of the time who preferred a blinded flock.

      Of course, this kind of thing is going to run contrary to many of my faith who tend to follow doctrine a little more literally. But regardless of claims to the contrary, everyone interprets information. One good example is the ever-present ‘stop’ sign at the corner, lol.

      Point being that faith/religion deals directly with right-and-wrong, whereas science is more geared to true-and-false.

    2. Maybe
      But perhaps the line you draw is not so clear in areas where we are asked to serve by behaving in certain ways. Behaviour that may have been necessary and acceptable at the time of the penning of holy scriptures can be viewed through our modern lens as unnecessary or unacceptable – yet the request to serve through a certain behaviour is as unchangeable as the ink – so through translation and reprints – quite changeable then.. 😉

  20. what is religion?
    I like the comments and the dialog on this topic and can’t say as I disagree with much. One of my problems with this topic is usually, different people have different definitions of what “science” is and what “religion” is. And their definitions are never shared at the beginning of discussion.

    I don’t believe that studying things can provide a correct path, any more than worshiping a God you don’t understand can. Both of which are pretty lousy definitions of their respective category of thought.

    However if you attain that there is a “truth” to be had and that a good way of living is to value others as greater than yourself, and to take care of those less fortunate than yourself, than I can not find fault in that sort of “religion”, and that it is probably a better moral building path than pure science.

    1. The unspoken problem of
      The unspoken problem of science being a moral bulwark is that science may very well be on the verge of discovering some very strange and wild things, and in that scenario of indigestion, apoplexy, and perturbation science may be unfit for guiding us anyhow until we learn to assimilate and make sense of the quantum leap. There have been periods in scientific history that were train wrecks, and during which time people fled to the comforts of that old time religion until the dust settled.

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