I really miss Carl some days.
This is truly a big idea, and I think Sam Harris makes a good argument that YES, one day science might be able to help us answer moral questions. This talk is fascinating in its implication, and contains a lot of ideas. If you find yourself saying “But what about…” I would also encourage you to read his follow up on the article here.
He makes a good point, if we refuse to acknowledge that science can play a part in the well being of humans, that is if we continue to insist that science exists in a moral vacuum, we run the risk of destroying ourselves. Or at the very least we run the risk of dooming a lot of people to a lifetime of unhappy suffering. I have been thinking about this talk all day and frankly it is opening all sorts of new avenues of thought. I am not sure if I agree fully with what he is saying. Some of the things he proposes, could be easy misconstrued or be manipulated to justify all sorts of horrible things. I do think he might be on to something, I will continue to think about it and would welcome other opinions.
I can’t think of a better way of explaining how free speech works.
Philip Pullman, addressing an audience at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford, was asked about whether his latest book, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, was offensive. Here’s his reply:
“It was a shocking thing to say and I knew it was a shocking thing to say. But no one has the right to live without being shocked. No one has the right to spend their life without being offended. Nobody has to read this book. Nobody has to pick it up. Nobody has to open it. And if you open it and read it, you don’t have to like it. And if you read it and you dislike it, you don’t have to remain silent about it. You can write to me, you can complain about it, you can write to the publisher, you can write to the papers, you can write your own book. You can do all those things, but there your rights stop. No one has the right to stop me writing this book. No one has the right to stop it being published, or bought, or sold or read. That’s all I have to say on that subject.”
Seems the many efforts by school boards in Texas to get creationism taught in schools is paying off…
Every single thing about this world is moving towards a society in which, to be successful, you need to well versed in science. Doctors, computer techs, wind turbine designers, solar panel installers, smart grid designers, farmers, road planners, architects, you name it the jobs of the future demand a fundamental understanding of science. Teaching your children to believe in drivel is verging on child abuse, as it dooms the poor kid to a future of less chances and harder struggles. If told “taking this pill will make it harder for your child to find a job in the future” no parents would give them that pill, but they think nothing of filling their child’s head full of outright lies, and flim flam.
When 30% (!!) of the people in Texas think dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time and over half reject Evolution through natural selection (one of, if not the most well documented bits of science we have)…we have problems. Do you want these people operating on you, do you want them working on your car, do you want them building your house.
Maybe they think prayer will cure your appendicitis, or maybe they think Jesus will hold your home up in a strong wind, or maybe the holy ghost will fix your muffler. You might think I am being silly, but really when you start rejecting one aspect of science because it disagrees with your holy book, what is to stop you from doing it with other things?
I recently read about religious extremists in some middle eastern countries prohibiting women from buying cucumbers, because they were “too evocative of the male form.” Basically saying that their holy book says A so you can’t do B. This is the direct result of a lack of scientific thinking. If you allow holy books to be your guide in everything you end up with things like Witch Hunts, the Taliban, and theocracies.
When I see people standing up and saying “the Bible says you can’t do xyz” I worry about where this bit of thinking leads. There is no “reason” we should listed to these people, they literally (in fact it is an important part of their world view) feel that they should base their life around the words in a book. Not because the words have been shown to be valid, but because they are in this particular book.
While there are lessons in holy books that are worth following, we know they are worth it because have critically evaluated them and found them to be worth something. We understand it is bad to kill people because it destroys the society that we all depend on for food and shelter, not because some burning bush told us to. Not only is it possible to have morals without a holy book, it is vital that we do.
Imagine if people only refrained from killing people because it was written in a certain book, if someone with enough “holy clout” came along and said “we are changing this bit about not killing people to exclude…women” (or Jews, or black people, or whites or left handed people…), then all the mindless automatons would rush out and start the slaughter. Without a built in critical thinking engine running on science whoever controls the holy book controls the world.
Science is unlike religion because it has no holy book. Science is about discovering the wonders and secrets of nature. It also doesn’t assume we are perfect. People make mistakes in science all the time. The nice thing is that using science and its principles it is possible to test if someone is right or wrong and if wrong correct that bit. This is an important point, things in science can be proven false. Holy teachings cant be tested, in fact if you try to you are often labeled a heretic and bad things happen to heretics. Science is not science if it can’t be tested.
Think for a moment about every moment of your day, from the time you get up, to the minute you fall asleep. I would challenge you to find a single solitary moment of your day that has not been, either improved dramatically, or effected deeply by science. I would be willing to wager large sums of money that you will not be able to find one single thing about your life that is not affected by the advances made in science over the last 200+ years.
Science has created the modern world we live in, for better or worse we are here now because of science. Do we really want to go back to the days when shamans, witch doctors, and holy men ruled the planet? When demons haunted the night, and life and death were based on the proclamations and divination? I think not.