Scientific morality

Scientific morality: Its basic problem is that we care about moral matters and not about scientific ones. Leave aside “science” so far as it is a social activity seeking grants or falling into groupthink and we could contradict most of its conclusions tomorrow and no one would care. Contradicting what people consider moral is not met with the same thrill.

The other basic problem: Without God there is no Hell, without hell there is no consequence to concupiscence that is proportionate to concupiscence itself. Anything short of the infinite is a price we’d be willing to pay.

The Galileo Myth: The necessity of the myth is not to show how science is right while religion is wrong but that one could care about science as much as a religion. Look there! We would suffer in prison for science! To take this seriously and compare the house arrest of a cranky old Italian to even a minor martyr is, well, just funny.

Science, giver of values: people point to skepticism, careful inquiry, following the evidence, correcting cognitive bias etc., but it’s clear that “scientific values” means two different and more fundamental things: (a) that basic values can only be mechanical urges and that anything else falls somewhere between being vaguely “emergent” and magical woo and (b.) the values that really sell it are its power to make Ipods, birth control, big screen TV’s etc. While (a) is more fundamental, (b) is more necessary since it is the only thing that makes (a) even a short term possibility by compensating the lower desires when we deny the higher ones.

Apples to apples:  In looking at the Inquisition, we’re all trained to take it as some magical insight into the true nature of religion, so much so that Christian apologists feel the need to explain how the Inquisition wasn’t that bad. But where is this pseudo insight coming from? Is the Manhattan project the same insight into science? As long as we just get to assume without proof that some event in the vast store of events about X is a paradigm, representative sample of the whole X, both seem just as fair – but it would be hard to find something more ironic than that someone would call this science.



  1. robalspaugh said,

    April 16, 2016 at 4:26 pm

    Great take on Galileo myth. Never thought of it that way before.

  2. April 17, 2016 at 9:45 am

    You’ve made this argument about hell and concupiscence before. There’s a serious problem with it:

    Even threatening hell only prevents people from acting on their concupiscence some of the time. So it’s not that only hell is sufficient, but that not even hell is sufficient.

    On the other hand, we could think of a potential consequence which would prevent people from acting on their concupiscence completely: suppose that if you acted on your concupiscence, five seconds later you suffered agony and torment for the next five hours. This would entirely stop people from acting on their concupiscence. And it would do that without being infinite.

    So the argument that hell is necessary because we need it to stop people from acting on their concupiscence is simply false: while something could be sufficient in principle (as in the above example), in practice there is no such thing.

    • April 17, 2016 at 10:12 am

      It is contrary to experience to say that fear of Hell never deterred anyone from doing evil. How many it deterred, and whether it sufficed to do so (at least for some) are questions I would not know how to answer – would you want to take a survey or something?

      It’s interesting to speculate on punishments that would have been better deterrents than Hell, but to do so raises a broader set of questions about net-net goodness or even real possibility. One relevant consideration is that Hell is generated out of sin and so can’t be judged solely on deterrent grounds but must also reflect the infinitude of concupiscence and the disorder of the will. Your punishment sure sounds like a good deterrent, and Hell also has proved itself a good deterrent for some, and to judge between them is the task of an argument other than the one you were responding to.

      • April 17, 2016 at 10:16 am

        I agree that fear of Hell has deterred some people from doing evil. I am just saying it does not always work, and that would be true of lesser punishments as well. We don’t have a situation where God threatens 100 years of punishment for sin and no more, but if we did, I suspect it would be equally contrary to experience to say that this would deter no one from sinning. It would deter some people, although presumably less than the threat of hell. But it is a difference of degree, not of one working and the other not.

      • April 17, 2016 at 12:27 pm

        [Hell] does not always work, and that would be true of lesser punishments as well…I suspect it would be equally contrary to experience to say that [a finite punishment] would deter no one from sinning.

        If this is true, and if Hell were only necessary as a deterrent, but I’m suspicious of the first and deny the second. But all this is a further question: the point I’m making above is that we need a threat for concupiscence that we can’t find in secular and scientific moralities. It is not at all believable that in the face of desire anyone will be stopped by a rational argument that his actions are in contradiction with the rational necessity that his actions be universalizable, or because they involve a likely inconsistency with the biological desires that are the source of all value. Secular societies don’t just have sexual licence because sex is fun and as a solvent for the ancien regime but because they know they don’t have sufficient moral authority to stand in the way of anything a guy wants to go for sex or money, whereas Christianity (and to a lesser extent, Islam) can testify to the moral authority of an infinite good that one might fear to lose in the same way that a parent might fear the loss of a child, which is the sort of fear that the fear of Hell is called to develop into among the perfect.

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