An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
I am NOT a philosopher and I realize this can lead to pretty heady stuff. But as someone whose atheism was shattered by his inability to reconcile his inexplicable moral values with his secular worldview, I think I might have a little something to offer this conversation.
While I appreciate his effort to suggest that there ARE absolute moral values (albeit often flexible)...I don't think he makes the case here. His vision of a scientific morality is based on "facts about the well being of conscious creatures" and he suggests that there is "no notion, no version of human morality and human values that I have ever come across that is not at some point reducible to a concern about conscious experience and its possible changes." He claims this is also true of religious foundations in which we concern ourselves with conscious experience in an "after-life." Is this true? I rather think not. Of course, I cannot speak for all people or belief systems, but I do think the Orthodox perspective of morality is NOT simply about escaping suffering in hell. On the contrary, morality is founded on our perception of personhood and the notion of humanity being created in the image of a perfect and loving God. We look to morality not as a legal issue, as much as a relationship issue.
Harris seems to suggest that "THE" moral absolute is founded upon our ideas of human suffering and that this is something with which we almost always agree. Well, not so fast, we Christians often DO see some value in suffering. Increasing levels of comfort is not a sign of ascending moral behavior, not by a long shot. Nor is descending levels of discomfort necessarily signs of something immoral. This is of course largely true because our perceptions of what is good or bad are likely skewed. Harris seems to believe that "normal" can only be defined by what most people apparently believe or behave at a given point and time.
By the way, the absurd exaggeration about Spanking and the derogatory remark about the south and Midwest? It betrays much and I am unimpressed.
Now, the video title suggests that science can answer moral questions, and yet, honestly I do not see much appeal to science and the scientific method in this lecture. It seems more often than not he is appealing to our shared values. But he offers no evidence from science, no data, to suggest our shared values are true. Of course, I do not believe that that could possibly be accomplished. It seems to me that moral values cannot be, in any way, shape, or form tested in the context of the scientific method. How does one determine the value of life...what hypothesis could you test that would suggest certain moral obligations? He suggests "conscious experience or changes to it" as the ground for moral values, but on what basis does he come to that conclusion except by means of a majority opinion? And speaking of which, I am a little apprehensive of the term "conscious"...how are defining that? And once defined can we therefore abuse unconscious people or experiment upon people whose consciousness is deemed "gone."
Mr. Harris' example of the Dalai Lama and Ted Bundy sealed the deal for me. He claims that Bundy's moral opinions need to be excluded as surely as his own opinions on Physics would need to be excluded in the face of people who actually KNOW something about physics. But what he fails to note is that his erroneous opinions on physics are not erroneous because they are in the extreme minority, but rather they are erroneous because we can DEMONSTRATE via the scientific method that they are erroneous. With that in mind, WHAT experiment can we run, what data can we display to prove that the Dalai Lama is right about morality and Ted Bundy is wrong. Plus...oddly enough...the Dalai Lama is a demagogue just like the other religious leaders he clearly does not like, and the Dalai Lama's morality comes from the teachings of the Buddha...not science.
In the end, he says that we have to admit that moral questions have answers, but he offers NO means by which we can find them...least of all via the scientific method.
Jesus said that "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends." But I cannot see any way (from a purely scientific point of view) in which one life given for another, makes any logical sense at all. Unless you begin valuing lives based on arbitrary calculations. I would argue that the ONLY personal morality one can truly gleam from science is often found touted by evolutionary biologists, wherein "survival of the fittest" rules the day. No, not anarchy, because often times cooperation and giving can be mutually beneficial. I call it intelligent hedonism. Evolutionary Biologists love to offer complex explanations as to how "love" and our sense of "beauty" might have evolved, but I don't sense much beauty or love in them, not at least as I understand the terms.
"The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it."
I don't know that I understand it either, but I'm sure trying. I use the scientific method everyday, but not in trying to seek the Light...nor in how I love (or fail to love) my family and friends.
Science has limits...and I do worry as it seems more and more people fail to discern this fact. I ardently disagree with Harris: Science has a great deal to say about what is, but precious little to say about what OUGHT to be. And in my mind he gave me no scientific reasoning to believe otherwise.
All Harris has done is to offer up Pragmatism or Utilitarianism in slightly dressed-up (but still transparently silly) language. The more original these clowns try to be, the more they repeat themselves, and bore me. No one should be allowed to state their "original" viewpoint on any area of philosophy until they can give credible proof of their having read Copleston's History of Philosophy. Otherwise, blah blah freakin' blah.