I was listening to CSPAN which luckily does not feel the need to “entertain” and thus provides some of the most objective coverage of how the sausage is made in our government.
Two guests were on, discussing tax reform. One was from a “conservative think tank” and the other from a “progressive organization”. They were making their points clearly and intelligently but going right down the line in terms of the standard boilerplate fiscal arguments associated with their respective party.
It struck me at some point that competition of ideas is exceptionally important to the checks and balances of our government. Moreover, the quality, logic, and reasonableness of the ideas is not what’s important. The most important part is that there is a significant group of people who genuinely stand (almost dogmatically) behind that idea.
In defending and idea, this group of people will search out every little problem about the opposition, and thus keep the opposition as honest as possible.
Sure, creationism might seem like an absurd infringement on the very foundation of science, but in the long-run it will keep evolutionary research honest by limiting the scope of their claims, and sharpening their arguments. That’s an extreme example. Most example are more subtle, like the moral and economic arguments over tax policy.
I’ve been listening to a lot of lectures and debates recently on questions of religion. It’s quite remarkable that scholars representing the theist worldview are willing to engage in debate on scientific grounds. In other words, they argue for the existence and goodness of a supernatural being based on “evidence”, or at least their conception of what makes convincing evidence. To me, this is a losing battle, as religion and rationality just don’t mix. The fundamental concept of religion is faith, and by definition, faith is an irrational acceptance of beliefs as fact.
For that reason, I don’t find these debates very interesting, outside the fact that they inspire me to think about (at times unanswerable) questions of existence, meaning, morality, etc.
And that’s what I wanted to say in this note, as highlighted in the below video of a debate about the role of religion in fine-tuning our moral compass. The question is whether there is such a thing as objective morality, and how it comes about (creationism vs evolution). How do we know (and feel) that it’s wrong to kill? How do we account for the fact that in some cultures it is considered just to abuse women and in other cultures such abuse is fundamentally immoral?
Like many scientists, I don’t believe in the possibility objective morality: a set of absolute rules about what is good and what is evil. I’m referring to a relatively well-defined set of moral laws of the kind that most major religions provide in their holy texts. I believe our conception of what is good comes from social norms, from a kind of a democracy of ideas. We evolve slowly, together, generally in the direction of greater respect for individual rights, freedoms, etc.