A Society Run By Atheist Scientists Would Be Horrible
Reason Tells Us So
Skeptic Michael Shermer is pleased the number of folks with no religious affiliation is growing, and will likely continue to grow.
One estimate is that “there are more than 64 million American atheists, a staggering number that no politician can afford to ignore.” There are about 325 million people in the USA, which means that almost 20% of the population is effectively atheist. That’s on the low end. The same estimate suggests the number may be as high as 28.6%, or 93 million.
He says, “This shift away from the dominance of any one religion is good for a secular society whose government is structured to discourage catch basins of power from building up and spilling over into people’s private lives.”
This is not only not true, it is willfully blind. The catch basin of power known as the state has not only spilled over into people’s lives, but is overtaking them. Each day the state discovers a new area where it can control, regulate, manipulate, “nudge,” or direct. Religion and the family were able to hold the state at bay, at least to some extent. Which is why it is not surprising these institutions are under attack by the state.
An Unreasonable Suggestion
Moreover, if these trends continue, we should be thinking about the deeper implications for how people will find meaning as the traditional source of it wanes in influence. And we should continue working on grounding our morals and values on viable secular sources such as reason and science.
This is wrong. And also frightening. Reason may assist but science is as silent as Hell is not on which morals and values a society should favor. Science is in the measurement and not the judgement business. It can tell us, say, how many heads are lopped off the world over, including those in would-be mothers’ wombs, but it cannot say whether lopping itself is good or bad. Reason should have told Shermer that.
Maybe it did but he wasn’t listening. Maybe he’s got a bad definition of reason. In any case, the message isn’t one he’d like to hear. But it’s oh so simple dropping a piece of toast buttered side down.
The Silence of Science
Natural science cannot say if murder is right or wrong. Science can describe where and when murders take place, and under what circumstances, and it might even be able to predict with varying accuracy where murders are going to take place, or possibly even who might commit them.
A scientist can say, “This man has been murdered.” But he cannot in his capacity as scientist say “Murder is bad.” No measurement is morally good or bad. He can as a man say murder is bad. And most would agree. But not all would or do agree. That not all agree that murder is bad is why murders take place. Some people kill in anger, others because they think they can get away with it, some because they are paid, and a few because they enjoy it.
What are we to make of the people that enjoy killing? Science can tell us certain things about them. Their age, sex, blood type, scores on questionnaires, that sort of thing. Science can compile these results for groups of killers and groups of non-killers, and perhaps draw distinctions.
Knowing the distinctions cannot say why murder is wrong. The best science can do is say things like this: “We estimate 12.78% of all murderers enjoy killing. Therefore, for these people murder is not wrong.” That is absurd. But it shows there is no way to jump from the measurement to the judgement.
None So Blind
The problem is this. Scientists can surely suggest a system of morals for non-scientists to live by. Yet this system must necessarily derive from the moral views and prejudices of the scientists themselves. The danger is that scientists will not recognize these prejudices as prejudices. They must be prejudices because there is no way to move, inside science, from measurement to judgement.
Scientists will like Shermer think that it was “science” that told them their list of prejudices is “scientifically correct.” And there will be no arguing with them. Or else you are a science denier.
Since scientists almost nowhere receive any moral training, are not required to read history or study philosophy, and cannot look on religion as anything but an abstract thing, they will be less equipped than non-scientists at forming moral judgments. A society in which science ruled would therefore almost certainly be a very scary place.
Send this article to a scientist you know and see what he or she thinks.