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Sam Harris: Science can answer moral questions
Posted: 29 November 2010 05:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 196 ]
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Gnostikosis - 29 November 2010 05:08 PM
the PC apeman - 29 November 2010 04:06 PM

Consider emotivism, or non-cognitivism in general.

Seems a way of coercing emotional agreement.

I can understand moral ideas being used as a manipulative declarative. Especially effective when a lot of passion is used.

As a meta-ethical stance, it is not prescriptive but rather descriptive of fundamental concepts in ethics.  That is, it’s not suggesting this is how things ought to be.  It is a case for how things are.

Still you have to ask what caused the initial determination of right and wrong action. Some event or consequence of action to cause the feeling of disgust or approval.

No doubt processes similar to “yuk” and “mmm” concerning food.

I suspect this is the view of morality by those who don’t like the concept of morals?

No, they just dislike unsupported claims (paraphrasing Wikipedia here) that ethical sentences express propositions (that is, have the property of being either true or false.)

[ Edited: 29 November 2010 05:47 PM by the PC apeman ]
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Posted: 30 November 2010 10:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 197 ]
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the PC apeman - 29 November 2010 05:34 PM

As a meta-ethical stance, it is not prescriptive but rather descriptive of fundamental concepts in ethics.  That is, it’s not suggesting this is how things ought to be.  It is a case for how things are.

Sure, I just don’t see it covering the full spectrum of how things are with regard to morals.

No doubt processes similar to “yuk” and “mmm” concerning food.

As much as possible I separate the yuk factor from my moral concepts. That’s not to say it doesn’t factor in to the morality of others.

No, they just dislike unsupported claims (paraphrasing Wikipedia here) that ethical sentences express propositions (that is, have the property of being either true or false.)

My morality goes along the lines of “I think it is immoral to unnecessarily kill”. That is a true statement.

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Posted: 30 November 2010 11:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 198 ]
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GdB - 29 November 2010 03:41 AM

Can I reduce your parallel to the following?
1. Science shows us how we should behave when we want to be healthy.
2. Science shows us how we should behave when we want to promote well-being for others.

Yes for 1, but for 2 I would amend your sentence by saying that science shows us how we should behave when we want to promote well-being for ourselves and for others.

GdB - 29 November 2010 03:41 AM

... But doing so, you put yourself completely on the side of teleological ethical theories, opposed to deontological. However, most religions are deontological, i.e. in the deliberation if an action is morally correct, there are arguments independent of the outcome of your action; (1)or better, the measurable outcome of your action. (2)So when a muslim extremist kills himself in a suicide attack, his argumentation is teleological (I get 72 virgins after my death, so it is in terms of the positive outcome (but only for himself!)), from the outer perspective it is deontological: (3)he uses considerations that are not valid in terms of measurable well-being.

...

So the muslim extremist can use science to optimise his suicide attack (he uses semtex instead of gunpowder). But science has no access to his deontological argumentation. (4)We cannot argument with him that he will not get 72 virgins, or that he should pity the suffering he causes on his victims. So we simply do not share the same goals. I think the same holds for less profound versions of ethical egoism: my aim is to reach a maximum of well-being for me on the short time. (5)How can science show me I am wrong? I am not ‘most of all people’!

(1) Just because we can’t directly measure something, doesn’t mean that science couldn’t measure it in principle. For example, how many leaves will fall to the ground on planet earth from 9 am to 9 pm next Tuesday? This is, for all intents and purposes, impossible to measure. Yet there is surely an answer to this question. What if I said the answer was 150,000 leaves? Can you tell me I’m wrong? In addition, just because I may not be able to measure certain things doesn’t mean that no one will ever be able to measure them. Do people wear shoes in heaven? For someone in heaven (if such a place exists), this seems to be a question plausibly answered and accessible to heavenly scientists, though earthly scientists may have no hope of answering it.

(2) When a muslim extremist kills himself in a suicide attack, he may be doing it to advance his own well-being, but his act presumably gets him into heaven only because he’s also advancing the cause of Islam. By pleasing God (who is, incidentally, another conscious being if he exists) the suicide bomber is rewarded for making the world a better place in God’s eyes. Suicide for purely selfish reasons is strictly forbidden in Islam. In contrast, it’s martyrdom that is supposed to be rewarded.

(3) If this were true a would-be suicide bomber should be equally motivated to blow himself up in a crowded subway regardless of what he will receive in heaven. Let’s assume the Qur’an had said, “God wants you to blow up infidels and as a reward you will receive an eternity of unendurable pain and suffering as a result. Your family, your friends, your children and your children’s children will also receive the same treatment.”  Do you think if this were the case our would-be suicide bomber would have ever strapped on the bomb? To take the example further, let’s say all the people who follow God’s moral commands are rewarded with an eternity of unendurable pain and all of the transgressors are punished with an eternity of unsurpassable bliss. What behaviors are people who believe this likely to engage in? Religious people, even fanatically religious people, value well-being as much as the rest of us when it comes to making decisions.

(4) Religious claims are claims about how the Universe actually works. If the suicide bomber is right, then he actually gets to have 72 virgins, an eternity of pleasure and will find himself at the pinnacle of well-being. If he is right and God exists and that really is what God wants, then his actions are moral and science would (in principle) lead us to this conclusion by following these facts about the Universe.

(5) How many people would say that they were better off because they tested positive for HIV? How about paraplegics who severed their spines after crashing their high-performance motorcycles? Or how about the other way around; I’ll give you $100 billion in 15 years if you never drink a soda in that time period.  Assuming I could be trusted, who wouldn’t at least consider this offer? If someone doesn’t think they value their future well-being at all, I submit that they are seriously confused about what they actually value.

Furthermore, it seems a person is likely severely limiting themselves by only focusing on the short-term results of their actions and more still by only looking at how those actions relate to themselves. Look at people who suffer from addictions. Here we see the human brain failing to balance its short-term and long-term well-being. Is there any doubt that these people are actually suffering and are demonstrably worse off than people who don’t have the addiction?

[ Edited: 30 November 2010 11:34 AM by Chocotacoi8 ]
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Posted: 30 November 2010 03:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 199 ]
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Chocotacoi8 - 30 November 2010 11:29 AM
GdB - 29 November 2010 03:41 AM

Can I reduce your parallel to the following?
1. Science shows us how we should behave when we want to be healthy.
2. Science shows us how we should behave when we want to promote well-being for others.

Yes for 1, but for 2 I would amend your sentence by saying that science shows us how we should behave when we want to promote well-being for ourselves and for others.

GdB - 29 November 2010 03:41 AM

... But doing so, you put yourself completely on the side of teleological ethical theories, opposed to deontological. However, most religions are deontological, i.e. in the deliberation if an action is morally correct, there are arguments independent of the outcome of your action; (1)or better, the measurable outcome of your action. (2)So when a muslim extremist kills himself in a suicide attack, his argumentation is teleological (I get 72 virgins after my death, so it is in terms of the positive outcome (but only for himself!)), from the outer perspective it is deontological: (3)he uses considerations that are not valid in terms of measurable well-being.

...

So the muslim extremist can use science to optimise his suicide attack (he uses semtex instead of gunpowder). But science has no access to his deontological argumentation. (4)We cannot argument with him that he will not get 72 virgins, or that he should pity the suffering he causes on his victims. So we simply do not share the same goals. I think the same holds for less profound versions of ethical egoism: my aim is to reach a maximum of well-being for me on the short time. (5)How can science show me I am wrong? I am not ‘most of all people’!

(1) Just because we can’t directly measure something, doesn’t mean that science couldn’t measure it in principle. For example, how many leaves will fall to the ground on planet earth from 9 am to 9 pm next Tuesday? This is, for all intents and purposes, impossible to measure. Yet there is surely an answer to this question. What if I said the answer was 150,000 leaves? Can you tell me I’m wrong? In addition, just because I may not be able to measure certain things doesn’t mean that no one will ever be able to measure them. Do people wear shoes in heaven? For someone in heaven (if such a place exists), this seems to be a question plausibly answered and accessible to heavenly scientists, though earthly scientists may have no hope of answering it.

(2) When a muslim extremist kills himself in a suicide attack, he may be doing it to advance his own well-being, but his act presumably gets him into heaven only because he’s also advancing the cause of Islam. By pleasing God (who is, incidentally, another conscious being if he exists) the suicide bomber is rewarded for making the world a better place in God’s eyes. Suicide for purely selfish reasons is strictly forbidden in Islam. In contrast, it’s martyrdom that is supposed to be rewarded.

(3) If this were true a would-be suicide bomber should be equally motivated to blow himself up in a crowded subway regardless of what he will receive in heaven. Let’s assume the Qur’an had said, “God wants you to blow up infidels and as a reward you will receive an eternity of unendurable pain and suffering as a result. Your family, your friends, your children and your children’s children will also receive the same treatment.”  Do you think if this were the case our would-be suicide bomber would have ever strapped on the bomb? To take the example further, let’s say all the people who follow God’s moral commands are rewarded with an eternity of unendurable pain and all of the transgressors are punished with an eternity of unsurpassable bliss. What behaviors are people who believe this likely to engage in? Religious people, even fanatically religious people, value well-being as much as the rest of us when it comes to making decisions.

(4) Religious claims are claims about how the Universe actually works. If the suicide bomber is right, then he actually gets to have 72 virgins, an eternity of pleasure and will find himself at the pinnacle of well-being. If he is right and God exists and that really is what God wants, then his actions are moral and science would (in principle) lead us to this conclusion by following these facts about the Universe.

(5) How many people would say that they were better off because they tested positive for HIV? How about paraplegics who severed their spines after crashing their high-performance motorcycles? Or how about the other way around; I’ll give you $100 billion in 15 years if you never drink a soda in that time period.  Assuming I could be trusted, who wouldn’t at least consider this offer? If someone doesn’t think they value their future well-being at all, I submit that they are seriously confused about what they actually value.

Furthermore, it seems a person is likely severely limiting themselves by only focusing on the short-term results of their actions and more still by only looking at how those actions relate to themselves. Look at people who suffer from addictions. Here we see the human brain failing to balance its short-term and long-term well-being. Is there any doubt that these people are actually suffering and are demonstrably worse off than people who don’t have the addiction?

Just to point out your rebuttal continues in an assumption of teleological ethics. Not all morals are based on the outcome or end results.

Some morality is based on an ideal right action regardless of the outcome. For example like saying it is wrong to lie where in some cases lying might actually improve the well being of the individual.

The Muslim suicide bomber is willing to die in the war against evil because it is Allah’s will. It is an honor to die in battle doing Allah’s will. The consequences of that action are not necessarily a consideration. His family may honor his sacrifice regardless of any additional suffering caused to them.

My goal maybe to die in battle for Allah. Science can help me build a better bomb. I think this was mentioned, but maybe you understand. Science is really unable to dictate an individual’s personal goals. Not every person’s goal is that of personal well being or the well being of others. I understand your belief it ought to be, however that’s not the reality that we are dealing with.


There are people who after going through some terrible catastrophe feel they are now a better person because they had to overcome very difficult obstacles in their way. People who have suffered through addiction and beaten it who can now help others beat it.

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Posted: 01 December 2010 10:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 200 ]
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Gnostikosis - 30 November 2010 03:14 PM

Some morality is based on an ideal right action regardless of the outcome. For example like saying it is wrong to lie where in some cases lying might actually improve the well being of the individual.

Which morality? Be very specific. Often, this type of morality is seen in religions where a supernatural being has (supposedly) decreed a code of morality. It’s useful to point out, however, that the “right action regardless of the outcome” you speak of, in fact, has an outcome that is extremely important to the adherents of these religions. This outcome is pleasing God and, if he exists, it seems pretty clear that pleasing him is also the most efficient way of achieving personal and general well-being, given that an all-powerful and all-knowing God has the power to make your immortal soul, along with everyone else’s, quite comfortable in the long run.

And even if it isn’t decreed by some omniscient being, it seems the logic of such a strict moral precept is that on the whole everyone is better off if we, for example, just don’t ever lie. Better take a few hits every now and then when it comes to well-being, one might say, rather than give the proverbial inch. But, if it’s true that a strict moral precept such as ‘it is always wrong to lie’ only ever reduces our well-being (i.e. makes us worse off), why on Earth should we follow it?

Gnostikosis - 30 November 2010 03:14 PM

The Muslim suicide bomber is willing to die in the war against evil because it is Allah’s will. It is an honor to die in battle doing Allah’s will. The consequences of that action are not necessarily a consideration. His family may honor his sacrifice regardless of any additional suffering caused to them.

You have completely discounted the importance of the Muslim’s belief in an all-powerful God as well as an afterlife, which has surely entered the calculus for achieving well-being. In addition, as you’ve pointed out, he’s dying in a “war against evil.” What is evil if not an extreme pursuit to diminish well-being? So by fighting this isn’t he fighting to make the world a better place (i.e. improve the well-being of others)?

Gnostikosis - 30 November 2010 03:14 PM

Not every person’s goal is that of personal well being or the well being of others. I understand your belief it ought to be, however that’s not the reality that we are dealing with.

Let’s imagine there are two massive pits in front of us. One is filled to the brim with boiling acid, the other to the brim with $1000 bills. If forced to make the choice, a person who truly does not care about personal well-being should have no reservations about jumping into either hole at random. Similarly, a person who does not care about the well-being of others should have no reservations about pushing any one of his friends or family into either pit at random. I’m saying that it literally takes a severely depressed, insane, or psychotic person to reach the conclusion to flip a coin in this situation. Also note that we routinely remove all three categories of people from society judging there to be “something wrong” with them. Sometimes, such qualities can completely disqualify them from participating in our criminal justice system as regular citizens. How carefully should we consider their views on morality?

Gnostikosis - 30 November 2010 03:14 PM

There are people who after going through some terrible catastrophe feel they are now a better person because they had to overcome very difficult obstacles in their way. People who have suffered through addiction and beaten it who can now help others beat it.

No argument here, my comment was related to people still suffering from addiction. The effort to beat their addiction is an effort to achieve greater personal well-being after recognizing a better way of living.

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Posted: 01 December 2010 12:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 201 ]
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Chocotacoi8 - 01 December 2010 10:55 AM

Which morality? Be very specific. Often, this type of morality is seen in religions where a supernatural being has (supposedly) decreed a code of morality. It’s useful to point out, however, that the “right action regardless of the outcome” you speak of, in fact, has an outcome that is extremely important to the adherents of these religions. This outcome is pleasing God and, if he exists, it seems pretty clear that pleasing him is also the most efficient way of achieving personal and general well-being, given that an all-powerful and all-knowing God has the power to make your immortal soul, along with everyone else’s, quite comfortable in the long run.

And even if it isn’t decreed by some omniscient being, it seems the logic of such a strict moral precept is that on the whole everyone is better off if we, for example, just don’t ever lie. Better take a few hits every now and then when it comes to well-being, one might say, rather than give the proverbial inch. But, if it’s true that a strict moral precept such as ‘it is always wrong to lie’ only ever reduces our well-being (i.e. makes us worse off), why on Earth should we follow it?

My main point I was trying to get across was that there is differing idealisms involved with morality.

You have completely discounted the importance of the Muslim’s belief in an all-powerful God as well as an afterlife, which has surely entered the calculus for achieving well-being. In addition, as you’ve pointed out, he’s dying in a “war against evil.” What is evil if not an extreme pursuit to diminish well-being? So by fighting this isn’t he fighting to make the world a better place (i.e. improve the well-being of others)?

Ok, just the “well-being” as determined by the individual or the group who’s morality an individual adopts is not necessarily universal to all individuals or groups. Some concept of well being is the basis for the goal. Which get us back to science may tell us the best method to achieve a certain goal but won’t likely be able to come up with a universal set of goals to based a moral code on.

Let’s imagine there are two massive pits in front of us. One is filled to the brim with boiling acid, the other to the brim with $1000 bills. If forced to make the choice, a person who truly does not care about personal well-being should have no reservations about jumping into either hole at random. Similarly, a person who does not care about the well-being of others should have no reservations about pushing any one of his friends or family into either pit at random. I’m saying that it literally takes a severely depressed, insane, or psychotic person to reach the conclusion to flip a coin in this situation. Also note that we routinely remove all three categories of people from society judging there to be “something wrong” with them. Sometimes, such qualities can completely disqualify them from participating in our criminal justice system as regular citizens. How carefully should we consider their views on morality?

Again it depends on the individuals concept of well being. At one time in our history it was considered moral to sacrifice one’s children to the God’s. One method was they were basically cooked alive. It was thought the child would go to serve the Gods and have an wonderful joyful existence and the community would benefit as a whole by the sacrifice. They weren’t crazy, depressed or psychotic. It was just a culture which accepted the morality of this action.

It’s not that we shouldn’t question such concepts of morality, I just suspect our current concept of morality may seem just as barbaric or outdated to future generations. I don’t think there should be an assumption that any set of morals could ever be applied universally.
 

No argument here, my comment was related to people still suffering from addiction. The effort to beat their addiction is an effort to achieve greater personal well-being after recognizing a better way of living.

It is necessary sometime to go through a period of pain and suffering to achieve a sense of well being. I don’t think we can predict accurately enough to determine the outcome of all possible actions to determine how everyone should act or determine what actions will lead to an individual’s sense of well-being.

Morality is a trial and error process in my opinion and as we have see in the past, attempts to promote or dictate a universal morality fail.

Science can certainly evaluate the affect of certain moral codes, but I don’t know that it can tell us where we need to be. We are just not smart/knowledgeable enough to make that determination.

Some action which may greatly promote my own well being may really suck for you.

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Posted: 02 December 2010 05:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 202 ]
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Hi Chocotacoi8,

I thought I made your point already in my posting:

So when a muslim extremist kills himself in a suicide attack, his argumentation is teleological from the outer perspective it is deontological.
...
But science has no access to his deontological argumentation

Science cannot prove that the muslim extremist will not get 72 virgins in heaven, simply because this heaven is not accessible by science. The keyword is ‘perspective’. From the perspective of the muslim extremist he is aiming at well-being, so he is a consequentialist from his own perspective. But from the scientific perspective he argues deontological: his argumentation cannot stand any empirical testing. The only thing we see that he increases suffering. So from the outside view he takes some principles in consideration that are more important than increasing well-being. His universal claims about heaven and hell are simply not universal.

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Posted: 02 December 2010 11:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 203 ]
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Gnostikosis - 01 December 2010 12:32 PM

Ok, just the “well-being” as determined by the individual or the group who’s morality an individual adopts is not necessarily universal to all individuals or groups.

It doesn’t have to be. All that needs to be recognized is that landing in a pit of $1000 bills is better than landing in a pit full of mercury. Then science can help us figure out how best to continue going in the positive direction rather than the negative.

Gnostikosis - 01 December 2010 12:32 PM

Some concept of well being is the basis for the goal. Which get us back to science may tell us the best method to achieve a certain goal but won’t likely be able to come up with a universal set of goals to based a moral code on.

Think about how this works when we talk about personal health. Science develops some general rules of thumb that serve as guides for our general behavior (like “eat plenty of vegetables”) and then, after that, health is determined on a case by case basis. This seems the likeliest outcome for a science of morality, where science would help us develop some general principles and the rest would be worked out on a case by case basis.

Gnostikosis - 01 December 2010 12:32 PM

Again it depends on the individuals concept of well being. At one time in our history it was considered moral to sacrifice one’s children to the God’s. One method was they were basically cooked alive. It was thought the child would go to serve the Gods and have an wonderful joyful existence and the community would benefit as a whole by the sacrifice. They weren’t crazy, depressed or psychotic. It was just a culture which accepted the morality of this action.

Again, the concept of well-being determines what behaviors people will engage in to achieve it, but not the well-being itself. If the beliefs of the people you are talking about are false, their way of achieving well-being is clearly wrong regardless of what they might have believed. But you’re right to say they weren’t crazy, depressed or psychotic because they still valued well-being. They just didn’t understand how to achieve it due some patently false assumptions about how the Universe works.

Gnostikosis - 01 December 2010 12:32 PM

(1)It’s not that we shouldn’t question such concepts of morality, I just suspect our current concept of morality may seem just as barbaric or outdated to future generations. (2)I don’t think there should be an assumption that any set of morals could ever be applied universally.

(1) I completely agree. In fact, I hope much of it will. That’s scientific progress.

(2) I mostly agree. It is very difficult to say that a certain action is bad (or good) for all people all the time. However, one might be: don’t cause a slow and painful death for every human, including yourself. This one could probably be applied to everyone. But it’s important to note that we don’t need a set of morals that can be universally applied any more than we need a set of principles of good health that can be universally applied.
 

Gnostikosis - 01 December 2010 12:32 PM

It is necessary sometime to go through a period of pain and suffering to achieve a sense of well being. I don’t think we can predict accurately enough to determine the outcome of all possible actions to determine how everyone should act or determine what actions will lead to an individual’s sense of well-being.

Morality is a trial and error process in my opinion and as we have see in the past, attempts to promote or dictate a universal morality fail.

Science can certainly evaluate the affect of certain moral codes, but I don’t know that it can tell us where we need to be. We are just not smart/knowledgeable enough to make that determination.

Some action which may greatly promote my own well being may really suck for you.

All of these criticisms could be leveled against the science of medicine, physics, biology, etc. Why is it the standard for morality that we have to have the perfect answers to all moral questions before we can accept it is a legitimate scientific endeavor? Isn’t that exactly backwards? Can’t we settle for just better and better answers like we do with literally every other science?

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Posted: 02 December 2010 11:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 204 ]
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GdB - 02 December 2010 05:56 AM

Science cannot prove that the muslim extremist will not get 72 virgins in heaven, simply because this heaven is not accessible by science.

Science is a way of understanding the way things work. If the muslim extremist is correct, he will no doubt be able to verify his 72 heavenly virgins by using the most basic of scientific tools: direct observation. Therefore, it is absolutely accessible by science, though we may not have the tools to observe it since you apparently have to die to see it. Heaven is either a part of the way things work or it isn’t and science helps establish how things work.

GdB - 02 December 2010 05:56 AM

The keyword is ‘perspective’. From the perspective of the muslim extremist he is aiming at well-being, so he is a consequentialist from his own perspective. But from the scientific perspective he argues deontological: his argumentation cannot stand any empirical testing. The only thing we see that he increases suffering. So from the outside view he takes some principles in consideration that are more important than increasing well-being. His universal claims about heaven and hell are simply not universal.

Right. Science will never be able to prove Satan isn’t out there every Tuesday night putting all those dinosaur bones into the ground. All we see is an overwhelming body of evidence that suggests an evolutionary path and, of course, no really big shovel. All I’m suggesting is that the muslim extremist is as wrong about morality as the creationist is about evolution. We’re no longer even talking about well-being or morality anymore, we’re talking about a fundamental difference in how people go about understanding the world.

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Posted: 03 December 2010 03:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 205 ]
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Chocotacoi8 - 02 December 2010 11:53 AM

If the muslim extremist is correct, he will no doubt be able to verify his 72 heavenly virgins by using the most basic of scientific tools: direct observation. Therefore, it is absolutely accessible by science, though we may not have the tools to observe it since you apparently have to die to see it. Heaven is either a part of the way things work or it isn’t and science helps establish how things work.

Isn’t science also the capability to show and to publish the results? ‘Science’ is not just observing. It is also interpretation and discussion about the ‘facts’. And that is impossible when you must die first.

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Posted: 03 December 2010 06:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 206 ]
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GdB - 03 December 2010 03:14 AM

Isn’t science also the capability to show and to publish the results? ‘Science’ is not just observing. It is also interpretation and discussion about the ‘facts’. And that is impossible when you must die first.

(1) I think your definition of science is far too narrow. Science has many tools, some of which are discussion and the publication process. But science in its purest form is a method of discovering how things work. One person can do science.

(2) Even if it required discussion, can’t people (or I guess souls) talk to each other in heaven? If people can have sex with 72 virgins in heaven, surely they can also do science.

[ Edited: 03 December 2010 06:58 AM by Chocotacoi8 ]
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Posted: 03 December 2010 10:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 207 ]
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Chocotacoi8 - 03 December 2010 06:56 AM

(1) I think your definition of science is far too narrow. Science has many tools, some of which are discussion and the publication process. But science in its purest form is a method of discovering how things work. One person can do science.

(2) Even if it required discussion, can’t people (or I guess souls) talk to each other in heaven? If people can have sex with 72 virgins in heaven, surely they can also do science.

1. But science must be able to be shared: how can it otherwise be science? It must be valid for everybody. What when it is not even possible to be shared?

2. No they can’t. Prove I am wrong. That must be possible when it is science.

Maybe you should reflect on the shifting focus in following sentences:

a) One should eat with knife and fork.
b) One should not kill people.
c) One should base his actions on facts
d) One should strive for well-being of others
e) One should behave morally.

GdB

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Posted: 05 December 2010 02:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 208 ]
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GdB - 03 December 2010 10:41 AM

1. But science must be able to be shared: how can it otherwise be science? It must be valid for everybody. What when it is not even possible to be shared?

Here are four definitions I found for science on the internet (links are listed):

1. Science (from the Latin scientia, meaning “knowledge”) is an enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the natural world. (from Wikipedia)

2. According to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, the definition of science is “knowledge attained through study or practice,” or “knowledge covering general truths of the operation of general laws, esp. as obtained and tested through scientific method [and] concerned with the physical world.” (from Sciencemadesimple.com)

3. Science is “the systematic observation of natural events and conditions in order to discover facts about them and to formulate laws and principles based on these facts.” (from The University of Georgia)

4. ...The natural and social sciences and the humanities are all part of the same human endeavour, namely systematic and critical investigations aimed at acquiring the best possible understanding of the workings of nature, man, and human society. (from The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

As you can see, nowhere is “sharing” listed as a requirement for science. Let’s say we put a single scientist, Larry, in a rocket and send him at light speed to the nearest planet hospitable to humans. There, Larry conducts many experiments and learns all he can about the new planet. Unfortunately, he dies on the planet before he is able to communicate his findings to the rest of humanity. His inability to communicate his findings does not change the fact that he was doing science in line with all of the above definitions.

Notice that being “valid for everyone” and being “shared” are two different things. Newton could have kept his findings to himself and they would still be “valid for everyone,” in that apples would still fall from trees despite our continued ignorance of the process behind apples falling from trees.

Science is a bridge that connects us to facts about the way the Universe works. Religious claims are claims about how the Universe works and therefore fall under the purview of science, regardless of common assertions to the contrary. What I think you might be saying is that in practice, science cannot comment on the existence of heaven. However, that is only to say there is currently no scientific evidence that supports the existence of heaven. While this last statement is true, it doesn’t mean that heaven somehow exists outside the purview of science, but rather the heaven hypothesis suffers from a complete lack of supporting evidence.

So, let’s wind our way back to our muslim extremist (or any person for that matter). I think we can say the following things:

A. He is making moral claims
B. His morality is shaped by a general quest for well-being guided by a particular view about the way the Universe works
C. Science can establish truth in principle about both the well-being of individuals as well as the way the Universe works
D. His moral claims are either true or false

GdB - 03 December 2010 10:41 AM

Maybe you should reflect on the shifting focus in following sentences:

a) One should eat with knife and fork.
b) One should not kill people.
c) One should base his actions on facts
d) One should strive for well-being of others
e) One should behave morally.

I confess, I’m not exactly sure what you’re getting at here, but if I asked you why I should do any of these things, you’re answer will inevitably regress to a claim about well-being falling under the purview of science.

[ Edited: 05 December 2010 02:36 AM by Chocotacoi8 ]
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Posted: 06 December 2010 05:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 209 ]
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Chocotacoi8 - 05 December 2010 02:32 AM

Notice that being “valid for everyone” and being “shared” are two different things.

That’s a good point, agree.

Chocotacoi8 - 05 December 2010 02:32 AM

As you can see, nowhere is “sharing” listed as a requirement for science.

You are correct, but I see it as essential. But seeing your critique I must make an amendment: it must in principle be possible to share.

Chocotacoi8 - 05 December 2010 02:32 AM

His inability to communicate his findings does not change the fact that he was doing science in line with all of the above definitions.

Yes, that’s true, but it was an accident. After this accident Harry went there, repeated the experiment, put them on his USB, and got safely home. Try this with the muslim terrorist. “yes, you must die first. If you don’t die, you will not know if it is true”.

Chocotacoi8 - 05 December 2010 02:32 AM

the heaven hypothesis suffers from a complete lack of supporting evidence

Can one speak of lack of evidence, where empirical, and sharable evidence is impossible principally?

Chocotacoi8 - 05 December 2010 02:32 AM

C. Science can establish truth in principle about both the well-being of individuals as well as the way the Universe works

It will not astonish you that I do not agree with this.

Chocotacoi8 - 05 December 2010 02:32 AM

I confess, I’m not exactly sure what you’re getting at here, but if I asked you why I should do any of these things, you’re answer will inevitably regress to a claim about well-being falling under the purview of science.

Nicely formulated. Of course all sentences look like moral statements.
A. Is not moral, just a cultural habit.
B. Is clearly moral, something that we prima facie agree with
C. Is a good advice, if you want that your actions work out the way you want it (here science comes in). But if the outcome is morally correct or not is not part of the advice.
D. Is moral again, it is your definition
E. Is an absurdity: if asked for the grounds why being moral, one comes in an endless loop of explaining why it is morally correct to behave morally.

But using your definition, it becomes E. Morality cannot be completely resolved in some factual statement(s). There always remain(s) a (few) moral values we cannot get rid of.


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Posted: 06 December 2010 10:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 210 ]
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Chocotacoi8 - 02 December 2010 11:10 AM

All of these criticisms could be leveled against the science of medicine, physics, biology, etc. Why is it the standard for morality that we have to have the perfect answers to all moral questions before we can accept it is a legitimate scientific endeavor? Isn’t that exactly backwards? Can’t we settle for just better and better answers like we do with literally every other science?

I see science as a tool. It’s only as good as the individual wielding it. If we give “science” authority over our morals it won’t be science who has this authority. It will be an individual or perhaps a group of individuals who have this authority in the name of science.

I have trust issues…

I’m fine with with a scientific approach by individuals to accomplish their goals and determine necessary morals. I just don’t trust someone else to determine what those goals should be. We can reach an agreement as equals to determine common goals. However I wouldn’t accept and I don’t think anyone should accept someone else deciding what is right for them.

Better answers? Better according to who? If I get to be the judge then I suppose there is no issue. I just don’t expect everyone to judge what has better value equally.

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