Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Testing the Impartial Observer

Good to see that someone has applied the Method of the Impartial Observer I mention in my previous post.

I was heading in this direction, but Goatboy has pre-empted me, so I'll continue on now.

Goatboy's comment raised an important point:

Science does not dictate what you should or should not do in any given situation, only that whatever happens will be governed by the laws of science*, to which nothing and no-one are exempt. This is unlike religion, whereby any 'rules' can be overturned or ignored by supernatural beings as they wish, and which dictates that certain behaviours must be obeyed to appease higher powers and thereby secure perceived benefits. The point here is that 'good', 'bad' and 'moral action' are human inventions, not preordained by some higher power. Therefore, the so-called "ten commandments" did not come from some 'god', but rather arose from what the followers of a particular individual commonly believed to be in their best interests for a variety of reasons.

* Before getting into a discussion about laws and rules being human inventions, I would agree that they are indeed. The 'laws' of science are nothing more than a vast amount of empirical evidence that lead us to certain conclusions. A fundamental and major aspect of these laws is that they are consistent. If an exception to a scientific theory is encountered, scientists are forced to re-evaluate their world-view. Take for instance the theory of relativity, which replaced Newton's classical mechanics, which I have mentioned elsewhere.
In my opinion, the amount of robust evidence provided by science for particular conclusions dwarfs any so-called evidence presented by theists for conclusions that they support. Much of their 'evidence' is pseudo-scientific at best, or else outright fiction. However, this is not to say that their arguments are without value.


Blogger Chocolate Monkey said...

First things first, I've had a few drinks so excuse any incoherent rambling that follows. A couple of points that I wanted to make (this would be much easier over a beer):

I have ranted about this a lot but people mistake science for being ethically prescriptive, markedly so when it comes to evolutionary theory. This is like trying to play football using the rules of rugby - it's nonsensical.

The other point is that a positivist theory of morality, that what is good is good because is it ordained by a higher being (I may be mixing the terminology of legal philosophy with ethical philosophy here), is but one theory of ethics. As far as I understand, it isn't exactly the most sophisticated.

I spent a good few years thinking I that was amoral. Part of this was of course the definition that I gave to the word. I still think that I am amoral insofar as my personal morality is not dependent on any other ethical system, but that is not to say it is not influenced by other ethical systems. Anyway, I digress. I think the point I wanted to make, although I now need some water, is that it is arguable (I am intentionally sitting on the fence) that an objective morality exists. But you are right, that without human existence, morality as we understand it is an empty notion.

In appointing God as ultimate arbiter of good and evil, all people have done is to wipe clean the slate, knowing that they can bypass any sound reasoning.

As you mention, science evolves. It isn't infallible, but it is pretty much as close as we get to understanding anything meaningfully with the intelligence given to us.

11:59 am  
Blogger Chocolate Monkey said...

Completely unrelated to anyhing you've recently written, but not so long ago I read book by a philosopher, A.C. Grayling, called 'What is Good'.

He argues that throughout the ages there has been a battle between two essential conceptions of a good life, that propounded by the monotheistic religions, and that based on a humanist understanding of morality.

Anyway I now understand what you mean by describing yourself as a 'humanist atheist'.

I think I am pretty much in the same place.

12:28 pm  

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