Science and Morality
Science and the Concepts of “Right” and “Wrong”
Many people argue that moral concepts allowing us to distinguish between right and wrong come from religion, humanities, philosophy, law, and ethics — but not science. Science, they argue, does not deal with morality because it does not make any value judgment. According to them, science can only tell what is possible but not what is right or wrong. And even some scientists hold on to this position. For example, in an essay critiquing the concept of “scientific morality,” Sean Carroll, a theoretic physicist, argues that you cannot derive “ought” from “is” because “science deals with empirical reality — with what happens in the world, i.e. what ‘is,'” and that is it (Carroll). But I argue here that science indeed can help us make wise and moral judgments because it forces us to accept facts and reality rather than assumptions and unsubstantiated beliefs.
By forcing us to use our brain in a rational manner and making us accept only facts, evidences, and proofs, science helps us make the right decisions and choices. Consider, for example, such morally problematic things as racism, ethnocentrism, bigotry, stereotyping, sexism, and homophobia. All of these are based on irrational and unscientific thinking. A true scientist cannot be a racist because he does not accept the belief that one race is biologically superior or inferior since there is no scientific proof to that. Likewise, a true scientist cannot stereotype, nor can he generalize about all men or all women because it is against basic principles of science; that one cannot accept an assertion or a claim unless there is verifiable, undeniable evidence to prove it. It is true that there was “scientific racism” in Nazi Germany and “scientific sexism” in early twentieth century, but those practices were results of poor application of scientific thinking rather than science itself.
As one philosopher noted, science is engaged in a struggle to replace persuasion with demonstration, and this is an important distinction. “Persuasion, a psychological activity, is the arena in which propagandists, advertisers, politicians and preachers perform their stunts,” he explains. “Demonstration (or ‘argumentation’ or ‘proof’), a logical activity, is the objective of the scholar and scientist” (Partridge). In other words, without science, propagandists, advertisers, politicians, and preachers try to persuade by using the art of propaganda. But science, which requires evidences, proofs, and logic, makes sure that one does not accept unsubstantiated messages. In a society where science prevails, people make rational choices, establish the rule of law, and with greater knowledge make wiser decisions.
There is no doubt that some scientists are capable of atrocious behavior and that the primary goal of science is to find out what “is” rather than what “ought to.” But it is a mistake to assume that science cannot help us define what is right or wrong. Consider such applied sciences as “medicine, dentistry, nursing, pharmacology, psychiatry, and social psychology; and also in the policy sciences: economics, education, political science; and such interdisciplinary fields as criminology, gerontology, etc. Modern society could not function without the advice drawn from these fields of knowledge, which make evaluative judgments and recommend prescriptions. They advise what we ought to do on a contextual basis” (Kurtz). These sciences and disciplines make our societies better, by instilling a sense of morality. We have a better understanding of right and wrong partly due to the existence of these sciences and disciplines. It is safe therefore to say that science can help us distinguish between the right and the wrong.
Carroll, Shawn. “Science and Morality: You Can’t Derive ‘Ought’ From ‘Is.'” NPR Station. 4 May 2010. Web. 30 Oct. 2011
Kurtz, Paul. “Can the Sciences Help Us to Make Wise Ethical Judgments?” Skeptical Inquirer, 28.5 (Sep/Oct 2004). Web. 30 Oct. 2011
Partridge, Ernest. “On ‘Scientific Morality.'” The Online Gadfly, n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2011