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GOD: new evidence

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Science and moral values

(Beyond Ourselves #23)

Previous: A contradiction at the heart of atheism?       Next: Could our sense of right and wrong have evolved naturally?

Can you get to what ought to be, just from looking at what is?

In the 18th century, the philosopher David Hume claimed that you cannot get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is.’ 

Most people who have thought about it since then have agreed with him. But some atheists are now claiming that you can!

The famous atheist writer Sam Harris says this:

‘I believe that we will increasingly understand good and evil, right and wrong, in scientific terms, because moral concerns translate into facts    about how our thoughts and behaviors affect the well­being of conscious creatures like ourselves. If there are facts to be known about the well-being of such creatures ­ and there are ­ then there must be right and wrong answers to moral questions.’

Harris claims that there are real moral values – some things really are right and others really are wrong.  He says that right and wrong are all about the wellbeing of conscious creatures.   So in his view, science can tell us what is right and wrong.

But there is a huge problem with his approach: it does not tell me why I should care about someone else’s wellbeing. It just assumes that I should. But that is the big question in the first place! Harris’s claim only seems to work because it sneaks right and wrong in through a back door.

Science can tell us more about how our brains work. Maybe it can tell us more about what makes for our wellbeing. But it still can not bridge the gap between the way things are and the way things ought to be.  It cannot tell us that we ought to value the well-being of other people.

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