Ethics Intelligent Design Science

Science-based morality: 400 years of failure?

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Science and the Good: The Tragic Quest for the Foundations of Morality (Foundational Questions in Science) From a review of James Davison Hunter and Paul Nedelisky’s Science and the Good: The Tragic Quest for the Foundations of Morality

Can science tell us how we ought to behave? In Science and the Good, a book that crosses the boundaries of history, philosophy, and psychology, sociologist James Davison Hunter and philosopher Paul Nedelisky examine nearly 400 years of scientific attempts to discover the sources and meaning of morality. That effort, they conclude, has failed. Science can tell us the way things are but not the way things ought to be. In the language of philosophy, it can’t derive an “ought” from an “is.”

Before the dawn of the Enlightenment era, late-medieval scholastics such as Thomas Aquinas had produced moral theories based on theological, rather than naturalistic, premises. They believed that through observation of the created order, one could discover the purposes for which God had designed particular creatures or activities—and the moral laws that flowed from those purposes. But in the 17th century, the Dutchman Hugo Grotius and other political philosophers wanted to discover a moral code that could operate without invoking God. (paywall) Daniel K. Williams, “Why Science Can’t Tell Us How to Live” at Christianity Today

The moral code invoked anything and everything else instead.

One really interesting development is the rise of social justice science, where even right answers are no longer a form of morality but rather a tool of oppression. Sadly, they are losing what they once had.

Science and the Good: The Tragic Quest for the Foundations of Morality

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See also: The failed search for an evolutionary morality (Richard Weikart’s reflections on Science and the Good)

and

Yes, the new science of morality can ground moralities in science—all of them, in fact

2 Replies to “Science-based morality: 400 years of failure?

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    Natural Law is explicitly science-based and Darwinian. Scriptures are records of LONG experimentation, written by people who survived, people who were naturally selected. The scriptures document the moral and cultural rules that led to survival.

    What these authors mean by “science-based” is actually “fashion-based”. Fashion and morality are precise opposites. A moral code that changes when a Pope or a Stalin or a Bezos orders it to change is NOT science. It’s just fashion.

  2. 2
    Bob O'H says:

    There is a nice little book called The Temptations of Evolutionary Ethics which makes a similar point: that attempts to ground ethics in evolutionary biology have been failures, but also notes that attempts to explain ethics with evolutionary biology have been more successful.

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