Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Science verses Religion

Someone wrote:

Science only concerns itself with empirical facts. Religion concerns itself with moral "facts": is murder wrong? how ought I lead my life? how should I prioritize education and community service?

No microscope, no matter how powerful, can tell you that murder is wrong, or how to lead your life. Yes, science is really really good at figuring at empirical facts, but these moral questions are not within its purview.

Science, I think, is best defined as the best process humans know for removing bias and errors from our data and our conclusions. To propose some alternative is to argue that it is better if we leave in some biases and errors. There are certainly different applications of the Sciences (physics is different from history, is different from biology, is different from cosmology, etc) but in all cases the goal is the same. Discerning Truth from Fiction.

I would agree that some questions are difficult for the Hard sciences to address directly, but that doesn't make Science irrelevant - very much the opposite.

And I would argue that a far better distinction would be Science and Philosophy, which is STILL founded on an application of Reason, Logic based in Empirical Facts. But even then, Philosophy can ONLY propose Oughts - it cannot mandate them because an Ought is only meaningful when measured against some value or goal.

Empirical Facts are absolutely relevant to any discussion about ethics or morals. For example, it is critically important to know how our treatment of children is likely to impact their later development before we can make correct statements about the morality of their treatment.

If constantly screaming at a child causes them emotional damage and results in harm in later adult then surely we OUGHT not to scream at children. But in absence of this Empirical Fact many parents do exactly this under the ERRONEOUS assumption that screaming at them endlessly will make them better adults. Without such FACTS you cannot make CORRECT moral or ethical choices in line with your actual values. You will instead make ignorant choices.

To assert that science has no place here is just patently absurd. It is EXACTLY here where science is needed most. How we treat children, how we treat each other, how we go about the business of building a healthy society is exactly where floundering about blindly has failed in the past. Science doesn't have to give a perfect answer to be valuable - it is a progression of better understanding.

OUGHT we feed the worlds population so 15 million children don't die EVERY year? OUGHT we find a way to give basic medical care to everyone? OUGHT we assume that those stuck in poverty, living absolutely miserable lives filled with abuse, hatred, and suffering is their own damn fault? Or OUGHT we recognize that they are born into a situation that very few are able to extricate themselves and perhaps take some of that responsibility for raising up every person on ourselves?

These are questions that science can absolutely help us answer.

Meanwhile, Religion seems far more concerned with discerning the will of the imaginary being of ultimate prejudice - not with facts.

OUGHT we hate gay and lesbian people? OUGHT we deny them rights? OUGHT we take it upon ourselves to control a women's body? OUGHT we lie to people and tell them condoms CAUSE AIDS so they don't use birth control? OUGHT we slaughter those different from ourselves? OUGHT we do what imaginary voices in our head tells us to?

Let's look at two of the so-called "moral" facts of the bible: 1) if god commands it, you should murder your own child, 2) if god commands i,t you commit absolute genocide - murdering every man, women, child, suckling infant, and ox - slicing infants open with a sword.

Even today we find people who (so they say) are commanded by "god" to murder their children and they do it.

OUGHT we continue to teach people such absurd and harmful stories? This is another question science can inform us about.

If all people heard that "If you hear voices telling you to murder your children and think it's God you need to seek help immediately" as often as they heard the story of Abraham and Isaac do you think that just perhaps, every once in a while, someone might just seek that help out instead of drowning their children? I wonder how we could find the answer to such a question? Should we A) Pray on it, or B) take the concern seriously and study the question using the best tools and methodology from psychology and related sciences? Which approach is likely to give us the most detailed and least biased answer?

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