Thursday, October 21, 2010

Science Cannot Be God for Us

My good buddy Alvin sent me an interesting link on Facebook the other day. You can check it out here. It's an interesting interview with Sam Harris, one of the "new atheists" as a promotion for his new book The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values.

Let me give the positive spin first. I am glad that Sam Harris wants there to be absolute truth. I am glad that he thinks moral relativism is untenable for sanity. I agree to all of these things.

However, there are some things that I do not like very much at all. I find this quotation, from an interview on the John Stewart show I think, very amusing. He says:

We have a problem. The only people on the planet at this moment who think that there are truly right answers to moral questions are religious demagogues who think the universe is 6,000 years old. Everyone else seems to think that there’s something suspect about the concept of moral truth.

Yes indeed. We have a problem! Luddites, like myself of course, are the only people who think there are real answers to moral questions. I suppose the problem is that morality has been left to imbeciles and this needs correcting. There is a great post on Sam Harris over here at the First Things blog by Tom Gilson.

Insults aside, the real reason why I find this so frustrating is the seemingly obvious error being made by Harris. That is, you simply cannot construct morality from science. Science is about fact finding. You can determine, scientifically, that a child has life at conception. However, can you then use science to say whether or not the child has an equal right to life as an adult?

Gilson puts it like this, "There is, after all, a reason most people don’t think science can deliver us moral truth: it can’t. Not unless Harris has come up with something utterly earthshaking in the history of philosophical reflection." That's an amen comment for me. By that, I mean the problem is that we are scientifically smart these days, but we are philosohically dumb. I do not doubt that Harris is a stellar scientist, but he is certainly no philosopher. Think about this: why is it that science is mandated for primary and high schools and philosophy isn't? It used to be that philosophy was an essential component to an education. Isn't learning to use reason and logic as important as knowing the innards of an earthworm?

Science cannot answer everything. It can only give us facts, or at least, it can tell us how things look. But to reason from facts to morality is the job of philosophy, and dare I say it, theology.

No comments: