[quote author=“Thomas Orr”][quote author=“publius”]There will never be, nor can there be a “scientific” basis for ethics.
Nice name, publius. Bad arguments though. Not only scientific basis for ethics is possible but it will function much better than religion based ethics.
The ethics of religion like Christianity are based on the wisdom of rather primitive desert dwellers and enforced by the convoluted mix of psychological tricks [also known as brain washing] developed and perfected over centuries by the church.
The secular ethics can be scientifically developed for balancing and optimizing social stability and individual happiness. They can be enforced by the combination of laws and social pressure to conform to the norms of society.
Given the reality of the world we live in now you can only defend “the only true ethics of religion” by ignoring the common sense and the objective symptoms of social sanity and happiness. If the crime statistics doesn’t convince you that secular and tolerant countries like Netherlands and Sweden have something that religious country like the US doesn’t what kind of evidence are you looking for and what can you demonstrate to us? I expect that apart from some quotes from the Bible you don’t have much to show.
The appeal to “common sense” is the surest sign that one lacks an argument. I rarely quote the Bible, especially where ethical justification is concerned, but it might not be such a bad thing if you actually read the Bible and the Qu’ran. Think of them as bad fiction or literature if you like, but to suppose you’re equipped to critique religion based on non-textual oriented conceptions of God means that you’ll never be criticising a position that anyone holds. Your dogma aside, there are several really big problems with your (and other’s) analysis.
First I reiterate my position: science cannot be the ground for ethics. Facts are certainly relevant to moral judgments, but moral principles and rules are not factual statements. I note that no justification for ethical conduct has been offered - other than to point to what is commonly accepted by most (the sole basis upon which Harris founds his ethical arguments) - and that the athiests faith that science can provide answers is as perversly dogmatic and non-sensical as a theist who believes God is the source of morality. As I said, I am a theist, but I’m very comfortable critiquing both religious and secular ignorance.
Here’s the first really big problem with your analysis (and others). If ethics needed to be grounded in science then two deeply troubling things follow. First, there is no reason to think that we OUGHT to be ethical now because we have not satifactorily explained the scientific basis or grounds for ethical action. Thus, like the good agnostic, we might simply say, I don’t have enough evidence to act ethically. Indeed, many if not most of the responses here betray a deep faith that science will provide answers tomorrow. But this faith is misplaced. In some three hundred years, no knock down scientific proof of ethics has ever been developed. As you demand of theists: you must abandon beliefs for which the evidence is overwhelmingly against you. Science can never justify a moral “ought” becaus science is merely descriptive of the world.
Second, if the basis for ethics is science (empirical observation, testable hypotheses) then the secular athiest is deprived of his ethical critique of religious conduct. After all, if science only got going at the time of the Elightenment or in the modern world, then no one prior to that time could be faulted for lacking ethical knowledge. Lacking ethics would be no more blameworthy than failing to have invent the light bulb. It’s lamentable that people lived in—what from our perspective is the dark—but there’s no basis upon which to get morally outraged over the Inquisition, etc.
Next problem is that you’ve mischaracterized what I’ve said and confused justification and motivation. I asserted that God cannot be the basis for ethics. However, it does not follow that a belief in God cannot be a motivator for ethical behavior. The problem is that God is no more the source of ethics than science. By placing all his hopes on science, the secular athiest seeks to have science do what not even God can. The justification for ethical conduct can only be found in practical reason—that is philosophical reasoning about what one ought to do.
Consider by way of example, one classic, non-scientific justification for ethical conduct: Kant’s categorical imperative. The categorical imperative takes several forms, but I’ll restrict my remarks to one: Kant’s formula for a univeral law (FOL): Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it would become a universal law.
A voluminous discussion could be had as to these (and certainly Kant himself thought so). But there’s a simple point to be taken away. There can be no doubt that universilization and non-contradiction are critical to good ethical reasoning. But the FOL would never be discovered by neuroscience or in a labratory some place.
Finally, Kant thought that morality was a set of categorical imperatives. An imperative is a command like “Shut the door.” It has no truth value but it does have logical properties. For example, it has a logical contrarty: Open the door.
Do you agree that “Thou shalt not murder” is a justified command? Some think it’s justified because God commanded it. I do not. If the command is justified, what justifies it?