April 24, 2024

New Scientist proposes a new paradigm: scientists should define morality

Peter Singer and Sam Harris on the new science of morality

Can science determine morality? It can and
should, according to a special
feature in New Scientist
. Until recently, morality was the special preserve
of philosophers and theologians. However, modern science is showing us the true
basis of morality, which is variously regarded as neurology, evolution or

Admittedly, this is a fearsome thought for
people who believe that morality collapses without a divine leglislator.
However, Harvard University’s Fiery
insists that this is not so: “Rather, by unmasking our
minds as the authors of morality, we may be better able to bend its narrative
arc towards a happy end.” In fact, he says, “By recognising morality as a
property of the mind, we gain a magical power of control over its future.”

Amongst the other articles was an interview
with atheism activist Sam
, who has recently published a book on this very topic: The Moral Landscape: How science can
determine human values. Not surprisingly, he declares that science has made
religion and religious morality obsolete:

“The scientific study of morality is the
lever that, if pulled hard enough, will completely dislodge religion from the
firmament of our concerns. The world religions will land somewhere near
astrology, witchcraft and Greek mythology on the scrapheap. In their place we
will have a thoroughgoing understanding of human flourishing, which will
include even the most rarified and traditionally ‘spiritual’ states of human

The well-known Princeton philosopher Peter
was also invited to contribute to the New Scientist forum. He
briefly surveyed research which shows that our morality is by and large based
on instinctive – not reasoned – reactions. While adequate in primitive
societies, this is probably bad or counterproductive today. As an example, he
cites the wrong of having a large family on an over-populated planet. “The new
scientific lines of evidence about the nature of morality open the way for us
to think more deeply, and more freely, about what we ought to do,” he argues. ~
Scientist, Oct 19

Michael Cook
new science of morality
Peter Singer