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Why Sam Harris' Morality Experiment Fails

Think Christianly: Why Sam Harris' Morality Experiment Fails

Monday, May 17, 2010

Why Sam Harris' Morality Experiment Fails

Philip Goldberg has written an interesting article that raises some helpful questions for new atheist Sam Harris's search for a completely scientific (read from neuroscience) account of ethics (Click Here).

Here is a short passage:

"Harris begins with the proposition that "human beings seek to maximize something we choose to call 'well-being.'" Fair enough. But the premise that follows is: "The amount of well-being in a single person is a function of what is happening in that person's brain, or at least in their body as a whole." Is it? Can we be sure of that? Harris continues, "That function can in principle be empirically measured." Can it? In principle, perhaps, but in reality?

I wonder if this isn't an example of seeing everything as nails because your only tool is a hammer. As a neuroscientist, does Harris assume that his discipline can develop a body of knowledge about "well-being" that is so complete that we could extrapolate a coherent system of ethics and morality from it? Is that a reasonable assumption? If he proceeds on that basis, what would be left out? While neuroscience has already accomplished awe-inspiring feats, the discipline is in its infancy, and every discovery seems to generate a new universe of unanswered questions. Can we assume that it will one day explain everything we need to know about the mind and emotions? Perhaps Harris's project will teach us as much about the limitations of science as it will about the shortcomings of religious codes."

But the major problem has been pointed out long ago by David Hume--you can't get "an ought to" from an "is."

Science is descriptive of what occurs in the physical realm--that is it. Harris may find some interesting and even helpful correlations along the way, but a science of morality will remain elusive.

BTW-Far from Jesus' ethical teaching having shortcomings, it is the best way to live and we can know this to be the case. See Dallas Willard's Knowing Christ Today for more.

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