Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Constructing secular morality


You must listen to the voices of the white angel!



N.B.: The much broader writing of mine that discusses the sources of morality, entitled Sciences and Values, is available here. Read it through carefully! 


Human beings first appeared on Earth 400.000 years ago,/1/ much older than the birth of the oldest religion so far as science can show. According to the latest archaeological findings, the oldest religion was constructed 70.000 years ago among Basarwa people in Botswana, Ngamiland, South Africa./2/

If ancient humans could live for such a long time (330.000 years) without having any religions, we can reasonably assume that they had secular morality which gave them directions in controlling their life. Without morality that rules, any societies across space and time cannot live and survive for a long time.

But, what are the sources for the secular morality that ancient humans built and developed? Ancient humans used, of course, their mind, knowledge, life experiences, and intuition, to produce secular ethics sufficient to regulate their simple life.

If ancient humans were able to live morally even though they had no religions, we in the modern era are able too even more. Using our modern sciences, mind, life experiences, and intuition, we too can construct secular moral views regarding everything to direct us in our complex lives. Science helps to construct secular ethics, i.e. ethics constructed not from religious texts but from scientific views of the good and the bad. But, can science give you moral views about everything in the world? Absolutely! The separation of moral values and sciences is an illusion resulting from the incorrect view that only religions can produce morality. It is said wrongly that sciences concern only with facts and theories, not with values; only religions are able to deal with values. This view is illusory. This illusion is to be removed from our modern consciousness once for all. In his recent book The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values Sam Harris states that “the split between facts and values-- and, therefore, between science and morality-- is an illusion.”/3/

Does science really concern with moral values? Yes, it does. I can argue for it via real examples which I myself can think about so far. 


However, you should first remember that moral values exist not in heaven you are going to apply after death, but in this world, in the realities of our daily lives, and are therefore part of natural realities explorable and analysable by sciences. 

A good and kind man is not only a moral or ethical man, but also a real man, a factual man, in short a fact that is explorable, explainable, analysable and distinguishable by science. A bad and evil man is not only an immoral man, but also a real man, a factual man, in short a fact that is explorable, explainable, analysable and distinguishable by science too. Scientists, therefore, know what you exactly mean by a good and kind man and by a bad and evil man respectively. These two types of men are distinguishable by science, both social science and neurobiological science. Consequently, science does concern with moral values embedded in any facts it explores, explains, analyses, and distinguishes. 


Another example will suffice. Suppose you have a tumor growing steadily in your brain. As scientists, your physicians know well not only about your growing tumor as a fact in your brain that makes you feel a terrible pain every day in your head; they know well too the consequences that will arise from the tumor to your behavior and personality. Very likely, the tumor will change your mental, making you gradually either a temperamental people or, at last, a psychopath. This final condition of your mental health is not only a psychological or biological problem, but also a value problem of your remaining life. Knowing that this condition is bad not only for your biology but also for your meaning of life, your physicians of course will try hard to cure you by removing the tumor from your brain with great care. The surgery and the meaning of your remaining life interact. 

Do not forget that sciences that you have make you an intelligent and smart human being. Being intelligent and smart is a value, a priceless value, that sciences give to you.

It is clear then that science has many things to do with moral values.

Religions give you moral values. Yes, of course. But these values were constructed long ago and become presently more and more irrelevant to modern questions. Insofar as ancient religious moral values are still relevant to the modern era, they can be used with great cautions to rule our lives. If ancient religious moral values are clearly irrelevant to the modern questions, we do not use them any longer to direct our lives. Whether God exists or not, is not the problem. The real problem is not about God, but about ancient religious moral values that are not relevant any longer to the modern era. This problem should be solved intelligently, not foolishly. Modern questions, therefore, should be dealt with modern ways of thinking, living and behaving. Making our lives meaningful and creatively responsive to modern challenges is much more important than maintaining old religious moral values that are not relevant any longer. I like what Arthur C. Clarke has said that “the greatest tragedy in mankind’s entire history may be the hijacking of morality by religion.” In order to know about the good and the bad, you, then, firstly should use your mind, not religious texts, to weigh and evaluate all options at your disposal.

Genetically considered, we have a natural capacity to know about moral values. As science has shown, mammals and other primates nearest to our own species have natural capacities to behave morally when dealing with their internal (or in-group) and external (or out-group) fellows./4/ Humans received the neural capacity to think and behave morally from other primates preceding our own species in our evolutionary history. If you wish, you may call this cognitive capacity conscience that should be trained and educated to grow gradually to maturity.

If we define morality as the correct way of acting and behaving in a certain reality of life, science can show you this way clearly. All sciences are intelligent human enterprises to understand, explain, control and deal with realities of our lives and nature as a whole.

Because sciences focus to life realities and nature, they can know about multiplicities of situations and conditions of life and nature. Scientists, then, using their sciences, five senses, mind, and technological instruments, can weigh everything to arrive at morality, at values, at knowledge about the good and the bad for our real lives.

Furthermore, from life experiences, past and present, we can learn much about moral values as these experiences are evaluated critically. Histories are good teachers for us to know about the good and the bad for human lives and the future of our civilizations.

Finally, we too could know about the good and the bad for our lives intuitively, that is, via instinctive knowledge appearing suddenly in our mind. Intuitive knowledge is not a magical knowledge, because it results from certain workings of the neurons in our brain. Nevertheless, our intuitive knowledge should be critically evaluated by our critical mind and sciences to make it still usable for our lives and correctly lead our lives to the good.

Considering that many ancient religious moral values are currently not relevant any longer to the modern era, we presently need to construct secular morality via several ways: our mind, sciences, life experiences past and present, and intuition. We cannot use goodness as the only criterion to be applied when we should take moral decisions, because goodness is actually a cultural idea whose definition is dependent on our certain cultural assumptions. I am sure not everyone will agree with Nietzsche’s definition of the good; he writes, “What is good? All that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man.” So, to arrive at sound moral decisions, we should apply interdisciplinary approaches instead of employing goodness as the only criterion.

As the conclusion of this piece of writing, this saying of His Holiness the Dalai Lama is worth pondering: “We can teach people how to be happy on the basis of secular ethics, that a compassionate mind is useful, beneficial and secular in nature.”


Notes

/1/ The dating is determined on the basis of the archaeological findings of the mitochondrial DNA extracted from the fossil of a 400.000 year-old femur discovered in Spain in the cave called Sima de los Huesos (meaning, “Hole of Skeletons”). See the report of this discovery by Matthias Meyer, Qiaomei Fu, et al., “A Mitochondrial genome sequence of hominin from Sima de los Huesos”, Nature (2013) doi:10.1038/nature 12788, published online 04 December 2013 on http://www. nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/ full/nature12788.html. The review of this findings by Carl Zimmer is available online: “Baffling 400.000-Year-Old Clue to Human Origins”, The New York Times Science, 04 December 2013, http://www.nytimes. com/2013/12/05/science/at-400000-years-oldest-human-dna-yet-found-raises-new-mysteries.html?_r=0.

/2/ See the report of Sheila Coulson and her team titled “World’s oldest religion discovered in Botswana” on http://www.afrol.com/articles/23093.

/3/ Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values (New York, etc.: Free Press, 2010), hlm. 179.

/4/ See: “Frans de Waal: Moral behavior in animals” on http://www.ted.com/talks/frans_de_waal_do_animals_have_morals.html?awesm=on.ted.com_deWaal&utm_campaign=&utm_medium=on.ted.com-static&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_content=awesm-publisher; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GcJxRqTs5nk; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/wildlife/5373379/Animals-can-tell-right-from-wrong.html. Marc Bekoff dan Jessica Pierce, Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals (Chicago: the University of Chicago Press, 2009). See also: Jingzhi Tan dan Brian Hare, “Bonobos Share with Strangers”, PloS ONE 8 (1): e51922, 2 January 2013, http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0051922;   jsessionid=675BD441F61D3DA708A66D117B0F6D8E. See also the report by Sophie Bushwick, “Bonobos Share With Strangers First”, Scientific American, 3 January 2013, http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode.cfm?id=bonobos-share-with-strangers-first-13-01-03. See further Darby Proctor, Rebecca A. Williamson, et al., “Chimpanzees play the ultimatum game”, Psychology and Cognitive Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), 14 January 2013, http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/01/09/1220806110.full.pdf.

As scientists, your physicians know well not only about your growing tumour as a fact in your brain that makes you feel a terrible pain everyday in your head; they know well too the consequences that will arise from the tumour to your behavior and personality. Very likely, the tumour will change your mental, making you gradually either a temperamental people or, at last, a psychopath. This final condition of your mental health is not only a psychological or biological problem, but also a value problem of your remaining life. Knowing that this condition is bad not only for your biology but also for your meaning of life, your physicians of course will try hard to cure you by removing the tumour from your brain with great care. It is clear then that science has many things to do with moral values. - See more at: http://inspirasi.co/forum/post/3889/constructing_secular_morality#sthash.4L2lHHb4.dpuf

As scientists, your physicians know well not only about your growing tumour as a fact in your brain that makes you feel a terrible pain everyday in your head; they know well too the consequences that will arise from the tumour to your behavior and personality. Very likely, the tumour will change your mental, making you gradually either a temperamental people or, at last, a psychopath. This final condition of your mental health is not only a psychological or biological problem, but also a value problem of your remaining life. Knowing that this condition is bad not only for your biology but also for your meaning of life, your physicians of course will try hard to cure you by removing the tumour from your brain with great care. It is clear then that science has many things to do with moral values. - See more at: http://inspirasi.co/forum/post/3889/constructing_secular_morality#sthash.4L2lHHb4.dpuf