Though science philosopher Massimo Pigliucci and I have had our differences (he disapproves of my position that supernatural fiction has intellectual value), I want to offer praise for his "Thinking about Science" column in the July-August issue of Skeptical Inquirer. In his piece "Can Science Answer Moral Questions" Pigliucci exposes the elephant in the room in skeptics' debates about science and morality. As Pigliucci correctly notes, neurobiology, evolution, and "science" in general cannot determine our moral choices because morality is dependent on values, and values are not scientific. They are emotional. The best "science" can do is to calculate the costs and benefits of moral choices. It is up to the individual and the society to assign weight and value to these moral considerations in order to determine the "right" and the "good," factors that the vast cosmos could give two figs about.
Sam Harris, Paul Kurtz, to a lesser degree Michael Shermer, and others are attempting a secular humanist project designed to provide a scientific alternative to religious and culturally based morality. As praiseworthy as developing a secular humanist set of ethics may be, such a project is not scientific and should not be presented under the name of science. If one believes in the proposition of materialism, and if one is, like Sam Harris, an atheist, then one cannot argue that the universe has inherent moral laws discoverable through science. Instead, these thinkers are merely using science to justify a particular set of moral principles generally held by modern, Western, liberal thinkers to be inherently valuable and therefore somehow inherent in the universe. That type of reasoning seems all too familiar.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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