Tag Archives: End of Faith

Telling right from wrong?

This follows on from my post Can science shape human values? That included an audio of a discussion on science and morality recorded before the Origins of Morality Workshop held at Arizona State University recently.

On November 6th a panel of renowned scientists, philosophers, and public intellectuals gathered to discuss what impact evolutionary theory and advances in neuroscience might have on traditional concepts of morality. If human morality is an evolutionary adaptation and if neuroscientists can identify specific brain circuitry governing moral judgment, can scientists determine what is, in fact, right and wrong? The panelists were psychologist Steven Pinker, author Sam Harris, philosopher Patricia Churchland, physicist Lawrence Krauss, philosopher Simon Blackburn, bioethicist Peter Singer and The Science Network’s Roger Bingham.

The discussions was promoted as The great debate: Can science tell us right from wrong?

Videos of the Great debate are now up at the Science Network website (see
The Great Debate). I have reproduced them below. They are each about 14 minutes long.

Well worth watching. (The videos are now starting to be uploaded to Youtube – for those who prefer to download).

The Great Debate

The debate was introduced by Roger Bingham (The science Network) followed by Sam Harris.

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Can science shape human values?

There’s been a bit of discussion lately about the relationship between science and human values. Partly because of the recent Edge Seminar (see The new science of morality, Is and ought and A scientific consensus on human morality). But also because of recent talks by Sam Harris arguing that science can determine human values. He expresses his ideas more clearly in his book The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values

It’s an excellent book – I have just finished reading it and will express my thoughts on the ideas in a separate post shortly.

But for others interested in this subject NPR has produced a podcast with an interesting set of interviews (see Can Science Shape Human Values? And Should It?).

In this Ira Flatow talks with scientists and philosophers about the origins of human values, and the influence of modern scientific thought on human values. Even if science can shape human morals, should it? Or does science bring its own set of preconceptions and prejudices to moral questions?

Those appearing on the podcast include:

Lawrence Krauss: foundation professor, School of Earth and Space Exploration and Physics Department, director, Origins Project
Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona

Simon Blackburn: research professor, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Bertrand Russell professor of philosophy, University of Cambridge
Cambridge, England

Sam Harris: Author, “The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values“; Author, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason; co-founder and CEO, Project Reason

Steven Pinker: Johnstone Family professor, department of psychology
Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

There’s even a discussion of “How can science and religion inform each other?” And they take some call-in questions.

Thanks to Jerry Coyne (See Science and morality: a Science Friday discussion).

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Can science answer moral questions?

Here’s a great TED talk by Sam Harris. He is well known for his best selling books The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason and its follow-up Letter to a Christian Nation. But he has recently been researching the neuroscience of morality and ethics. Sam has a a degree in philosophy from Stanford and a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA. He is the co-founder and CEO of Project Reason, a nonprofit devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society.

Harris has a new book coming out in November – The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. It should be fascinating.

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Defending science and reason

Book Review: The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason by Victor Stenger

Price: US$12.92
Paperback: 282 pages
Publisher: Prometheus Books (September 22, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1591027519
ISBN-13: 978-1591027515

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This book is timely. The “New Atheism” hit our awareness in the mid-part of the decade when Sam Harris’s book The End of Faith became a best-seller. This was quickly followed by more best-sellers from the authors Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Victor Stenger (the author of this book). And then there was the response. Many books have been written, mostly be theists, attacking the “New Atheists.” Although none of the later was a best-seller they did suggest that a new stage in the religion-atheism debate was underway.

Stenger’s new book is also useful because it helps put this whole debate in context. He summarises that nature of the “New Atheism movement” (although it is hardly a movement as there was no coordination in publishing these books). He briefly summarises the arguments of the “New Atheism” and the arguments employed by those attacking “New Atheism.” Then he shows the fallacies in the arguments employed by the “New Christians.” In some cases he reveals the way many of the “New Atheist” positions have been distorted and misrepresented. In others he deals with the substance of these arguments – particularly those dealing with scientific issues.

As an Emeritus Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Hawaii and Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado Stenger is an ideal person to write on this subject

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