Where science and morality collide

So you walk down the street and see a Muslim woman with a burka covering all but her eyes. You can’t tell whether she’s happy or repressed under her clothing. Can science provide a definitive answer? This is where science and morality meet.

How do we decide what is good and what is bad? Is there such a thing as a moral metric stick with universally accepted ticks, or is relativism the way to go? For the past 2,500 years or so, humanity turned to religion and philosophy to answer these questions — indeed, some of life’s most important issues — while science took the backseat.

In the spirit of the Enlightenment, Sam Harris, author of, “The End of Faith,” and his forthcoming book, “The Moral Landscape,” argues that science can, and should, be used to guide our moral decisions. By turning to neuroscience in particular, he presents the objectivity of moral judgements. The key take-home message is that the world is not just orderly, but intelligible, and so aren’t our moral judgements. In other words, because our perception of moral judgements is the product of neural activity, we must point the investigative spotlight inwardly on to the brain in order to understand how we decide right from wrong. And then, with this information, we can truly make a well-informed decision.

Doing so requires us to accept our common denominators — our humanity, our biology. This could finally, once and for all, clarify and integrate the cultural perspectives on what is acceptable or reprehensible. Harris argues that it is time to uphold that fantastically slippery topic we call moral conduct, though under the influence of scientific skepticism.


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