The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Science, Morality, and Meaning

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 1, 2009

Sometimes people are turned off from science because they view it as a sterile & cold process.  Often the argument is made that if one takes a science-oriented view of the world that it doesn’t necessarily foster a good moral life.  Many argue that only religion, as opposed to science, can offer any guide for morality, ethics, and the philosophy of the good life.  I think those critics of science are wrong.

That is why I wanted to pass along a great podcast from the folks at Point of Inquiry which touches on all of these topics.  On May 1st, D.J. Grothe interviewed Dr. Jeffrey Schweitzer about his book Beyond Cosmic Dice: Moral Life in a Random World.

Here is a quick summary of the interview…

In this interview with D.J. Grothe, Dr. Jeffrey Schweitzer argues that adopting the scientific view of human origins has implications for understanding that morality is a consequence of our biology. He argues that religion puts humanity on a pedestal, and why that is dangerous. He contends that religion has failed to morally guide humanity, and he attacks religion for impeding the moral development of humanity and for causing much human suffering. He explains that religion results from fear of death, an attempt to understand the universe, achieve social cohesion and political power, and an attempt to control our fate by appealing to gods. But he argues that in the age of science, these reasons are no longer compelling. He denies that science has become a religion in itself. He explores if and how religion and science ask different questions, and if science can answer the existential questions that religion attempts to answer. He argues that life has no ultimate meaning, and that he derives this fact from science, while denying that this leads to nihilism. He discusses existentialism and contrasts it with his scientific worldview. He argues against the concept of free will as a false concept of religion, and discusses the implications this has for moral responsibility. He talks about the biological component to human morality, and defends his position from the charge of moral relativism, while admitting a kind of cultural relativism. He discusses Social Darwinism, and distinguishes core values from social values that progress over time. He explains components of his moral view, and compares his view with scientific or secular humanism. And he suggests that humanity is at a crossroads where our continued survival is uncertain, and describes the kind of behaviors consistent with a natural ethic that may be key to humanity’s surviving the future.

If you are interested in learning more about these ideas, that science can (and should) inform our views on morality & ethics, I suggest checking out Dr. Michael Shermer’s The Science of Good & Evil. There is a growing body of science-based work on this topic, and it is sure to get more and more interesting as time goes on.

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