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Matthieu Miossec

Doctoral Student - Genetic Medecine (Congenital Heart Disease),


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Morality is better informed by science than it is by religion

Religion has a long history of claiming absolute knowledge over questions of morals. Often today, we hear preachers on the street tell us that, for all our scientific and technological achievements, we are losing touch with our morals. Is that true? Is religion than the only or at least the best answer to our moral shortcomings?

The other view is that morality has progressively changed and increased with time and we shudder to think about what stood as morals in our past. In great part, it can be argued that science has fed many moral values by revealing natural truths about ourselves and other animals such that we can no longer see the world in a way that make certain immoral behaviors justifiable.

So which one is better equipped to inform morality? Is there a third institution better equipped perhaps?

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    Oct 12 2011: Hi Matthieu:>)
    I don't believe there is only one answer to this question, and from what I've seen in the discussions on TED, the debate simply continues to seperate people. I believe in using all possible information that is available, to determine how I will live my life. If some folks want to be totally guided by science, or exclusively guided by religion, it is a choice s/he makes, and I believe that to be limiting. There are many people who use both, or neither, and live a life that is morally beneficial to themselves and to the whole of humanity.

    It's been awhile since I watched the talks by Steven Pinker and Sam Harris, but as I recall, Pinker presents data, indicating that violence is decreasing. As I recall, Harris suggests a "middle ground". I believe we are evolving to the point of being able to more effectively sift through information and make better choices as human beings. We KNOW more about dominating, violent behaviors for example, because of the information we get from science and religion. We can, as informed people of the world, determine what behaviors are unacceptable, and that information has come from both science and religions. They are both valuable resources we can use to heal our world, rather than cause a wedge by continually seperating that which is connected.
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      Oct 12 2011: One need not exclude the other, but can it not be said that the knowledge we've derived from science feeds our morality better nowadays?
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        Oct 12 2011: Depends on how the information is used. Science/technology has certainly served to connect us around the world, and provide the opportunity to learn and exchange more information. That is a HUGE step forward for all of us. Violation of human rights, for example, can happen more easily when people are isolated, so I believe the advanced technology will facilitate changes in that respect. People who are guided by extreme behaviors, under the guise of religion or politics for example, are now going to be watched by the entire world. Because of technology/science, we have a stronger voice regarding unacceptable behaviors. That being said, there are billions of people who use religion as a beneficial life guide, and will continue to do so, thereby feeding our morality in a beneficial way.
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      Oct 12 2011: But why bother with superstition?

      I tell stories to my kids where good behaviour is valued. They get it, even though I tell them it's just a story and nothing about it is true.
      You don't need superstiton, there is nothing good about it. And religion is more than story telling. It claims to know some sort of absolute truth. This has disastrous consequences.
      Get rid of it. Get a better world to live in.
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        Oct 12 2011: Gerald,
        You have the right to believe in whatever you want. Don't you think/feel that others have that right as well? If a person wants to "bother with superstition", s/he has that right. Would you feel better if everyone conformed to what you believe to be "right" behavior? Suggesting to "get rid" of something that is precious to many people, is extreme. Furthermore, I'm sure you're aware that throughout history, there have been several movements which tried to destroy certain beliefs and the people who practiced them? We need to deal with the behaviors that threaten, abuse and violate the rights of others, no matter what the underlying "reason" is for such a threat. We, as individuals, can create a "better world" by filtering all the information and getting rid of extreme behaviors.
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          Oct 12 2011: YES! People should have the right to believe anything they want. But it should be a choice. Brainwashing vulnerable children with beliefs should be illegal. This is abuse.
          Religions know how to take advantage of such vulnerability.
          A good education can lower vulnerability among people. The educated have learnt to put ideas to the test, to doubt constantly about what they know. This is pure freedom, and it should be promoted.
          THEN, you may chose to go for Muhamed or Jesus or Feng Shui. But let's make sure you've had the proper education first.

          Also, you make it sound like science is just another religion. It's not. Science is the pursuit of knwoledge through doubt and rational criticim. There couldn't possibly be anything wrong with that. There is no authority in science. Anyone may tip physics upside down, provided one brought a completely different explanation that explained more.
          So I don't feel like Hitler when I say that science should eradicate superstition. I'm just preaching freedom of though, here.
          Let's free the hostages.

          And seriously, let's ban religion teaching on children. The damage is so hard to heal afterwards.
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        Oct 12 2011: Gerald,
        Yes...I agree...people should have the right to believe anything they want and it should be a choice.

        "A good education can lower vulnerability", and SOME educated people have learned to put ideas to the test. However, there are many well educated people who get stuck in their own beliefs, and fail to even see anyone else's belief as being valid in any way.

        I agree...freedom should be promoted. I do not, in any way, shape or form suggest that science is "just another religion", and cannot even guess how you came to that conclusion. Nor have I said ANYWHERE that there is anything "wrong" with science. I've said over and over again that I use ALL information to form my worldview.

        It might be helpful to actually look at what a person has expressed before you argue?
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          Oct 12 2011: Well said.
          I'm just adding that information shouldn't come from anywhere other than science, which we agree to be the only source of knowledge that benefits from doubt and criticism.
          Thus, you'd be better off restricting your worldview to science, according to my definition of it.
          Wouldn't you?
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        Oct 12 2011: Thank you Gerald.
        It may be "well said", but you apparently do not seem to be understanding what I am saying.
        I do not agree that science is the only source of knowledge....
        In my perception, I am "better off" making my own choices.
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          Oct 12 2011: But surely you'd rather go for the explanations that make sense and that accept criticism? Who wants ready-made truths?
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        Oct 12 2011: Yes Gerald, I accept explanations that make sense.
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          Oct 12 2011: but you refuse to stick only to those that do make sense?
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        Oct 16 2011: I accept explanations that make sense to me Gerald.
        What part of that statement do you not understand?
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          Oct 16 2011: But you think there's more than sense-making explanations, right?
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        Oct 16 2011: Gerald,
        You are taking yourself in a circle, and that doesn't make any sense to me.
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          Oct 16 2011: Nah, it's just you, refusing to admit that what isn't scientific doesn't make sense. I was just trying to get you saying that you like to know that there's more to reality than good explanations of it.
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        Oct 16 2011: Perhaps you have not realized yet that I don't say what others want me to say....it is a waste of time in my opinion Gerald. People, trying to get other people to say something that s/he wants to hear does not appeal to me. I like to be well informed with all available information:>)
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          Oct 16 2011: "All available information"
          coming from nonsense explanations as well as sensible ones. Got it.
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        Oct 16 2011: Good...glad you've "got it" Gerald. What YOU decide is nonsense doesn't really matter...except to you. We're right back to a statement you made in a previous comment...

        "YES! People should have the right to believe anything they want. But it should be a choice".
        (Gerald O'brian - 4 days ago on this thread)

        You see? You went around in a circle:>)
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          Oct 16 2011: You still have the right to believe anything you want.

          My whole point, which you chose to miss, was that science was only about looking for sensible explanations. What isn't science is bad explanations, that fail the rational criticism test.
          Hence, when you say science is not enough, it's like saying that irrational ideas which bring nonsense information about reality are a good alternative.
          THIS is nonsense. It's your right to say nonsense. And of course, it's my right to let you know about it.
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        Oct 16 2011: I've got your point Gerald. I also know what science is about, I never said ANYWHERE that "science is not enough", and I firmly believe science is a very valuable tool, which I've stated over and over again.

        It might be helpful Gerald, for you to actually look at a person's comments before arguing. You are arguing with yourself...or are you trolling?
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          Oct 16 2011: QUOTE : I do not agree that science is the only source of knowledge....

          Am I arguing with myself?
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        Oct 16 2011: It appears so
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          Oct 17 2011: It appears so, I agree. Let's find someone else with constructive conversation.
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    Oct 27 2011: I feel there is a third way to inform morality that should take place over generalized concepts: experience.

    For as much as we hear in childhood about "don't judge others until you walk a mile in their shoes," "treat others how you want to be treated" etc., it's hard to understand why we don't apply any of that to the adult world. Morals that are based on experiencing being treated poorly by someone with a lack of moral sense are well informed and generally worth listening to.

    As for things that one would rather not ever experience, experience can also inform those morals. If you wouldn't ever want it to happen to you, it's probably morally wrong. If it's similar to an experience that was negative and you have a moral opposition to someone else experiencing what you did, it's probably morally wrong.
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      Oct 27 2011: Kenji, you are resonating a chord on my piano.

      Reared a Southern Baptist interpreter of the Bible, as a child I found precious doubt, because the God that was presented felt he needed to coerce believers. (See Revelation 22:18 and Luke 12:8-10; two of many examples.) However, my indoctrination was so strong I could not free myself.

      Over 35 years as a chemical engineer, I worked with people from over 40 ethnic backgrounds, many of them motivated by Eastern philosophy or religion, including Christianity. As a Protestant, I longed for them to say something like, "Phil, I am impressed with your goodness and want to understand what motivates it." It never happened. Some conversations, I perceived, justified me to treat them "as I wanted to be treated": I practiced the Great Commission.

      For example, I said to Kishor, "Have you met Jesus?"
      He answered, "I don't understand the question."
      I said, "Is Jesus your Lord and savior?"
      He confidently said, "No. I have studied many prophets and pray to Jesus, but that's as far as I would go."
      Then he asked, "What do you mean by heaven?"
      I answered, "Eternal life with Jesus and all people God gave Him to save."
      He responded, "That could happen, but I'd be pleased to be reincarnated a better human or higher being."

      After a couple experiences like that I began to feel arrogant questioning another human being’s inspiration and for the first time in my life (maybe I was 45) saw non-Christians as human beings as valuable as me. Later, I began to see their inner peace—not questioning my religion--as in fact superior to mine. Not long after that, I became not a believer but a human being (now 68) and member of the community of living species. My faith is in reality, unknown as it is.

      Does my story relate to your "third way?"

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    Oct 18 2011: Religion has it's own moral bias which in the Christian Bible is often spectacularly contradictory. Science is amoral in that knowledge alone cannot dictate it's own use. I would prefer a third option.

    Morality is a uniquely human issue, and as such, only humans are capable of determining what those moral values should be. I am referring to something in the nature of a social contract. We have the technology now to conduct a reasonably accurate poll of society. With this data, we could determine a set of societal morals. Recurrent polls could be conducted at agreed upon intervals to determine the effectiveness of the current morality and suggest any necessary restructuring.

    Morality, as with any other aspect of human societies is not and should not be forced to be static. Our morality must be allowed to evolve with us. That failure of moral evolution lies at the heart of our current moral drift. In our western, Judeo/Christian society, we have tried to freeze our moral evolution at a point two thousand years in the past. Denying moral evolution while embracing social evolution has led us in strange directions.

    The Bible says "Thou shalt not kill." and yet the United States, a country of loudly "Christian" values invades other countries and kills thousands, and they were not alone. Clearly, our society has evolved beyond the morality we profess to embrace. This leads to a deep seated rift between those clinging ever more tightly to "traditional" (read outmoded) morality, and those attempting to establish their own morality in the absence of any reasonable alternative.

    We need to establish a human moral compass based on human truths and values. Forget about flawed and self-promoting religions. Science, no matter how hard it tries, cannot pretend to human understanding. Only we can understand ourselves. Only we humans know what is right and wrong for us.
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    Oct 17 2011: Colleen, Your comment is straight to the point regarding some religions and priests and the fact it has been often brushed under the rug is evidence of our moral ineptitude. Nothing is more egress in a house culturally we revere.

    However I would take exception to the statement; " it can be argued that science has fed many moral values by revealing natural truths about ourselves and other animals such that we can no longer see the world in a way that make certain immoral behaviors justifiable".

    If this is true, then how does science justify the legacy issues of chemical contamination's in our bodies, waters and soil, nuclear waste, and all the negative consequences of our past stupid choices?

    Science isn't moral one wit. Its simply available to the highest bidder which the evidence demonstrates in spades. In fact in most cases, Science removes causes from effects to effectively transfer liability, responsibility and accountability on to future generations. The evidence is over whelming.
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      Oct 17 2011: Good point Craig,
      The statement you refer to, is taken directly from Matthieu's introduction, and one which I agree with. The statement simply says that science has revealed natural truths about ourselves and we can no longer see the world in a way that make certain immoral behaviors justifiable.

      Science, in my perception, does not "justify" any misuse of information which science provides. It is people within the system who misuse the information, thereby causing negative consequences...yes? Just as it is people who misuse information provided by spirituality, religions and holy books. In my perception, both science and holy books provide information which can create a better world. The challenge is how people choose to use the information.

      I agree with you that often scientific information is "available to the highest bidder", It is up to us, as individuals, and members of our world, to sift through information and decide how or if we use it. I believe we have evolved as humans to the point where we are capable of practicing well thought out processes that could be beneficial to the whole.
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      Oct 17 2011: That the products of science have been used and abused to carry out terrible actions and damage our environment is undeniable. But this is mixing what we learn from science, with how we use it. You can read a book and learn or you can strike someone to the head with it, but that doesn't make what's in the book any less valuable.
  • Oct 12 2011: Personally I dislike it when science and religion are described as two competing schools of thought. the simple fact of the matter is that science is a process we use to gain understanding and religion is a collection of stories that is used to create moral consensus. using science to determine morality is like using a calculator if murder is ever justified, and likewise religious stories only give you as solid of an understanding of the physical universe as a kids book. This does not mean that the two never interact as the context in which a religion is understood is vastly important to what morals it generates, and our understanding of the universe has a large impact on that context.

    basically what i am saying is that you have to take the lessons form religion and adapt them to fit with the facts and understanding that we have through science. both are unqualified to fill every facet required by the other.

    i think it is also worth mentioning that religion tool used to gain moral consensus, and science is not the only way to gain understanding of the physical world.
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      Oct 12 2011: This is the problem. Religion has been poisoning our philosophies for so long, that we actually think that science is about calculus and astronomy, and could not possibly bring understanding about moral and human issues.

      Well what about biology? Ahhhh, biology, religion's worst enemy. According to biology, human beings are animals. And the study of animals is a science.
      Biology is the worst thing that ever happened to religion, and the best that ever happened to philosophy.

      If more people saw this, it would be a bright era indeed.
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        Oct 12 2011: I think many are confused by the distinction between edicting and informing moral values.
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        Oct 12 2011: Well when you bring up the idea that science can inform morality, there is almost an automatic reply that science does not tackle questions of morality. Most of us agree with that because that was never the substance of the argument, it's a strawman. Designing experiments to determine what is moral or asking scientists to act as moral authorities is not what's defended here. What's the defended here is that our understanding of science permits us to make better moral judgments by what it tells us about nature. You're quite right to focus on biology, it is a massive contributor to our moral progression because of what it tells us about humans and animals, but of course physics, particularly astrophysics has a big part to play too.
        • Oct 26 2011: Religion can also play a detrimental role in an understanding of morality. My example would be the scientific discovery of homosexuality in the animal kingdom. This "should" have enlightened the religious that the behavior is not "unnatural" unfortunately that isn't the takeaway.
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      Oct 12 2011: "adapt them to fit with the facts and understanding that we have through science" This is what I am trying to convey.
      "using science to determine morality is like using a calculator if murder is ever justified" This is what I am not trying to convey.

      I though I was being fairly explicit in my title and description to avoid the question being taken as meaning that we can somehow devise a scientific experiment that can tell us right from wrong or that science should endeavour to reveal moral truths. I defend none of that. It seems that this strawman (not necessarily intentional) is forever going to prevent this debate from actually taking place.

      It is worth also pointing out that the question never points out exclusivity over morals of one or the other.
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        Oct 12 2011: Topic: "Morality is better informed by science than it is by religion"

        Do you honestly think the topic "never points out exclusivity..."?

        "adapt them to fit with the facts and understanding that we have through science" seems more open minded, and it seems closer to what you have expressed in other conversations.
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        Oct 12 2011: OK...It leaves room for more information. I still like "adapting everything to fit" as my preference:>)
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    Oct 5 2011: There's no better teacher for morals than nature.
    Within social relations we teach eachother by listening to our heart. What feels good is good.
    Everything a man can think of is limited wether it comes from religion or science.
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    Oct 3 2011: I claim to be a more righteous being than any deity I ever read about.

    ... and it's not hard.
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    Oct 31 2011: Just listened to a conversation between Richard Dawkins & Wendy Wright (U-Tube). Dawkins was quite up front about the idea that he would not like to live in a world where morals were derived from Darwinian principles. For once I agreed with him.

    • Oct 31 2011: Bragging about never agreeing with one of the foremost intellectuals of our time says a lot about you.

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      Oct 31 2011: Well, everyone in their right mind could agree to that. There is a difference between deriving and informing morality. Science's purpose is to reveal nature to us, informing our morality, not dictating it.

      Notice how Wendy Wright is totally clueless when it comes to evolution though and repeats the same garbage like a mantra...reminds me of someone.
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        Nov 1 2011: I love you too Matt.

        Beneficial random mutations are selected by environmental pressures thereby tending to improve the organism over many generations. (or similar)
        Great theory; but where's the evidence?

        Wendy was a bit annoyed at constantly being told she was dumb; does Dawkins honestly believe she has not looked at the available evidence ?

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          Nov 1 2011: To be annoyed mostly reveals one to be powerless or impotent.
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          Nov 1 2011: He doesn't think, he knows. She keeps going "where are the transitional fossils?" when there are many. So no she hasn't looked at the evidence, she doesn't know what the flip she's talking about and neither do you given that you're asking me for evidence once again.
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    Oct 28 2011: To Andrea, As you said, we are close on many thoughts. However, we take them in different directions.

    “I'd rather be the person who resists nuclear bomb proliferation . . .” Developing nuclear bombs was inevitable; I want to have them first and use that strength to discourage evil men from developing them, thereby resisting proliferation.

    “I imagine, self-righteous experts of both science and religion suffer and propagate about equally.” A scientist is not self-righteous—waits for repeatable evidence before drawing conclusions. If not, he is religious. The religious make an assumption then construct doctrine based on the assumption without regard for evidence.

    “My sister, in heart failure -- the last stop for patients, prescribes as a matter of course, along with scientific remedies, a spiritual one: purpose. She is convinced people getting involved in something beyond themselves can change health in remarkable ways.” I am glad your sister has purpose.

    After my triple by-pass, I was prepared for death to remedy suffering but was inspired to survive to continue supporting my three ladies—my wife and adult daughters; I began a fitness program. Eight years later, with a stage 3 carcinoma in my right lung, we studied diets to strengthen resistance to cancer. The family has benefited. I have no objection to people calling these wonderful results “spiritual.” However, I regard them as open-mindedness and behavior according to understanding.
    “A mission to undo religion and faith clouds the objective analysis of them. Respect for the strengths of both science and religion seems best.” Equivocating “faith” and “religion” is common, but unacceptable to me. To me, “faith” means trust in and commitment to, in my case, reality. Faith has strength: religion has weakness. Usually, religion immorally divides humankind.

    I prefer: understanding informs morality, especially by disclosing the immorality of religion.

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      Oct 29 2011: Phil,

      Your "purpose" to continue supporting your "three ladies" is inspiring. They are very lucky to have your sustained commitment to caring for yourself so you can care for them, too. All best in your efforts to do more of the same!

      I saw nothing strong in obliterating whole cities of people in Japan to sable rattle at Russia.

      I see it as strategic opportunism. As do historian Paul Ham and many US military leaders. With, I'd add, the predictable consequence of creating martyrs of the upwards of 300,000 scorched civilians while leaving the US looking like global thugs.

      Its not much different then global-scale gang warfare, in my mind. One group of thugs paranoid that the other group of thugs is treading on their turf and/or coming to kill them, pipe-bombs the rival group's 'hood to show their manlier-manliness. Then: Retaliation. And, Repeat.

      None look manly when little children are torn apart by shrapnel or burned skinless.

      Or, when generations of people are left with the physical and psychological scars "Little Boy" bombs leave in the dusty craters of their wake.

      Again, religion Is used as a convenient tool in these quite unnatural and inhuman behaviors:

      "I realize the tragic significance of the atomic bomb (...) it is an awful responsibility which has come to us (...) We thank God that it has come to us, instead of to our enemies; and we pray that He may guide us to use it in His ways and for His purposes." Harry S. Truman, August 9, 1945.

      So, here again, I agree with you.

      Religion is used for immoral means. And, I'd add: devastating, disgusting ends.

      Still, I hold science no less accountable for dividing humankind. It is equally corrupted when humans use it as a tool of their free will to further their immoral means.

      I'd rather not drop bombs in a strategic attempt to avoid a lose-lose fights, then risk all. Including my country's reputation for the fleeting, superficial so-called "glory" of a dubious, deadly win.

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        Oct 29 2011: Andrea,

        Your contributions amaze me and I thank you; I say never stop.

        Of course the joy of trying to fulfill the role of husband and two roles of father is amazing, and the ultimate goal is their peace and confidence when I die. In the meantime, my first duty is to stay out of hospitals. My friend Kishon Seth, about 76, and I tell each other that idea at least once a week. I want to share Kish’s and my refrain with everyone: your duty is to stay out of hospitals.

        Once again, I think a small change in language would help us understand how parallel our thinking is. I would agree that many “scientists” are evil and many “clergymen” so wish to help humankind that it is a tragedy they are not social workers or psychologists or political scientists—in any role except purveyors of “the truth” when they deny reality for religion.

        Machiavelli taught us the greatest evil of the clergy: by joining with the politicians, the clergy help politicians persuade the people to accept and effect evil even though the people feel intolerant toward evil. We know of Truman, Bush, and Lincoln so using religion.

        Thank you for the quotation of Truman. We can find an analogous quotation of Geo. W. Bush, and you and I watched in horror as he invaded Iraq, based on the advice of his heavenly father and the “prayers” of the majority of Americans. We should have started impeachment proceedings the day after his declaration.

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        Oct 29 2011: Continuation:
        Abraham Lincoln was also guilty of abusing religion. He was perhaps the most politically skilled citizen America has known. Reared in a religious community that opposed slavery, he opposed slavery but did not want to be known as an abolitionist. To object to the Dred Scott decision in 1857, he could have advocated an amendment to the US Constitution. However, to protect his perception of success (a religion in that it involves an assumption, just like Einstein and his static universe), Lincoln cited the Declaration of Independence and started the precedent that the Declaration (religious) trumps the US Constitution.

        The 1789 Christian majority of the people wanted to continue attributing to God responsibility and accountability for governance, and, therefore, never accept the role We the People as defined in the Preamble to the US Constitution (a subject about which Google and you introduced me to TED). The unintended consequence of Lincoln’s failure to uphold the US Constitution brought America to its current status: Christian democracy instead of the secular republic the 1787 founders wanted.
        Instead of Independence Day wherein we state our dependence on God and claim freedom, a privilege, America should have a double federal holiday around September 17, wherein we renew the seven, secular goals stated in the Preamble then follow with national debate of remaining injustices and proposals for Constitutional amendments to remedy them.

        In a recent conversation, I asked perhaps my dearest Christian friend: Given two equally earnest Christians, one detests slavery and the other supports it based on Bible references; both are of the people, but which one is of We the People? That was the end of our dialogue on that subject. (We plan to go to lunch in a week.)

        The evolution of humankind’s goodness—understanding--informs morality quicker and better than religion does.

        On our way to a sing-along taking us back forty years in friendships.
        • Oct 29 2011: Concerning what you said about the U.S. meant to be secular - What did the Declaration of Independence mean when it said,
          ".....for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

          We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." ???

          Most of everyone that signed this important landmark document were Christian or at least believed in a "Creator" as was written about. Therefore I am wanting to learn more of what you were speaking about concerning secularism. Thanks again Phil! You seem to be a very nice person, regardless of our difference of beliefs, and I hope that you do not mind conversing with me either. Have a great one!
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          Oct 30 2011: Phil,

          There is debate about Lincoln's personal religious leanings. Though it's true Lincoln used religious rhetoric in his mission to emancipate slaves.

          Had he not, the likelihood he would have succeeded would have been significantly less.

          Imagine him saying: "Lets look at the research guys. Science say slavery is immoral." He wouldn't have got far.

          Instead, Lincoln used two strong planks to scaffold his anti-slave case: political and religious.

          By calling on prevailing populists' biblical Law, which from Moses forward rejects slavery, as well as "We the-equal People" law, Lincoln's argument was "cross-reinforced," Christian belief buttressed civil action against slavery.

          In fact, this demonstrates how Lincoln employed scientific-style "proof," by citing "relevant texts" as confirmation of his thesis.

          I'd say Lincoln's strategy here was quite elegant. He used diverse moral vernaculars to illuminate immoral acts and amplify their evils to all.

          Though I agree, it would have been preferable for Lincoln to have advocated a Constitutional amendment regards the post-emancipation Dred Scott case.

          But his arguments would have had nothing of the dimension of his anti-slavery positions. He couldn't argue religious law which left him with only the Constitutional law, one less-than solid plank.

          Calling up the voices of the Founders as he did compellingly in the fight against slavery wouldn't have worked. Nearly all were Christian. Of the few who weren't, the most compelling church/state separation advocate, Thomas Jefferson, would have been dissonant, though, due the fact he owned slaves.

          One wishes our polymath president Jefferson would have asserted his Enlightenment energies more while authoring the Declaration, but he didn't.

          So Lincoln spoke in ways both religious and non-religious could hear.

          As did Ghandi and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in their transformative iterations against immoral , anti-human oppression.

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        Oct 30 2011: Andrea, forgive me for trailing you here. I am trying to address Jay Goltz's kind communication, which gave me no "reply" button.

        Jay, thank you for the kind words and opportunity to learn. Let me address only the "Nature's God" part of your question. The colonization of America was conducted for "spreading the Christian faith." One of the taxations that led to the revolution was a law suit by the clergy (see below). The small, poor population in the colonies felt weak compared to the 1770s empire builder, Great Britain. To inspire colonial soldiers, deists, such as Thomas Jefferson, led the declaration: Our God will beat your God. Hence, "Natures God" and all the other deistic terms in the Declaration, without pointing out that subtlety to the Christian majority soldiers.

        Here's some supporting evidence:

        Royal Charters were clearly Christian commissions by British Kings:
        First Virginia, 1606: “Wee . . . accepting . . . noble a worke . . . in propagating of Christian religion to suche people as yet live in darkenesse and miserable ignorance of the true knoweledge and worshippe of God and may in tyme bring the infidels and salvages living in those parts to humane civilitie.”
        Connecticut, 1662: “. . . whereby Our said People . . . may win and invite the Natives of the Country to the Knowledge and Obedience of the only true GOD, and He Saviour of Mankind, and the Christian Faith, which in Our Royal Intentions, and the adventurers free Possession, is the only and principal End of this Plantation.”

        From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Virginia#Religious_freedom_and_disestablishment.
        “. . . in 1763 . . . The Virginia legislature had passed the Two-Penny Act to stop clerical salaries from inflating. King George III vetoed the measure, and clergy sued for back salaries.”

        In the historical context, the Declaration states: Nature’s God will beat the King’s God, Christianity.
        I feel this is a start; please consider this much and comment.

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        Oct 30 2011: Andrea,
        There were many early documents that declared slavery immoral on practical and humane bases, for example, Thomas Paine's letter of 1775, published in Philadelphia. See http://www.constitution.org/tp/afri.htm .

        Lincoln's failure in Dred Scott 1857 (and 6 years before emancipation in 1863), was his appeal to the religious Declaration instead of upholding the secular US Constitution. The Constitution starts with the Preamble, which states seven secular goals, declared by We the People. No where does the Preamble grant any authority to God or religion.

        The articles that outline the institutions and methods of governance follow. There are no duties or authority for clergymen or God therein. It stipulates that the slave trade will end in 1808. The founders expected slavery to dwindle to termination. Lincoln could have sacrificed his political ambitions and negotiated for the Thirteenth Amendment, adopted on December 6, 1865, only 8 years after Lincoln tragically invoked the Declaration.

        If Lincoln had chosen not to unconstitutionally trump the US Constitution by citing the Declaration, his political focus might have avoided the Civil War.

        Politicians who involve religion in governance are a bane to the people and their nation. Politicians should keep their religion private and citizens should keep their religions private. Non-religious people should not be forced to suffer the burden of religion.

        I must say, it seems to me your “Imagine [Lincoln] saying: ‘Lets look at the research guys. Science says slavery is immoral.’ He wouldn't have got far,” is not instructive at all, and that is being kind.

        Also, the New Testament condones slavery. See http://www.religioustolerance.org/sla_bibl2.htm .

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          Oct 30 2011: Phil,

          Thanks for the Dred Scott chronology correction.

          My sense without researching further is the Scott case amounted perhaps to a lesson-learned. If so, Lincoln's focus on the Declaration, again, would have been wise.

          Scott had already lost in it's Constitution-focused battle, which rival Steven Douglas also used. So Lincoln adding this arrow to his argument quiver, which, via proximity to the Constitution where progress was not being made, makes sense..

          The Declaration of Independence includes the "all men are created equal" and deserve the rights set forth in the Constitution focus.

          Further, slaves understood the language of Biblical liberation, why we hear echoes of the spirituals they sang in their labors still. And many slaves saw the value of the Declaration in support of their "unalienable rights."

          The link you provide takes religious Scripture, just as religious fundamentalists do, out of context.

          For example, it quotes one line of a parable about slavery that calls for forgiveness. Only by parsing out the one line, it erroneously suggests the scripture condones slavery. Which it does not.

          In another it parses three lines from a parable which, again, does not condone slavery.

          This parable used the servant/master example, to speak in the contextual vernacular while proving a point that earnest commitment to ones tasks is good and willful neglect of ones work is not good.

          It is frustrating that rhetoric like it, which preach to tolerance, use exactly the tactics they complain about.

          I stand by my position regards Lincoln's sourcing more than science-only documents. I maintain, if he hadn't, as it was in the Scott case, his points would've been largely ignored. By weaving in all relevant evidence he bolstered his points,

          Whether we agree with it or not, the Declaration was relevant.

          But, I couldn't agree with you more regards the Preamble. It is, in my view, the purest interpretation of our Founders' intent.

  • Oct 28 2011: One of my favorite lectures from Christopher Hitchens is on the "moral" list of 10 commandments.


    An hour long, but very much worth watching.
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    Oct 28 2011: I think as an individual, you need to take guidance from anywhere you can get, even if it is from science and/or from religion. We live in an age where now we can make better informed decisions due to scientific discoveries and also from a humble man who belongs to some religion. As you said below in some comment, its about can and not about want. People can learn IF they want to.
  • Oct 28 2011: http://youtu.be/r6w2M50_Xdk Just watch it.
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    Oct 24 2011: Matthieu,Some TEDsters may not have experience, but ethical practice of science is the norm. My 35-year career was inspired by chemical engineering ethics. It entails the application of prior knowledge to innovate and assure the economical and safe provision of products that actually help humankind.
    Here’s just one example. A boss called me to his office and said, “You indicated that we are not recognizing your contributions. You have a reputation for changing things. I have a plant expansion that has been designed over the last two years by two excellent chemical engineers. Your task is to review but not change the project, oversee purchase of the equipment, oversee installation, then restart the plant, on-time, in budget. If you accomplish those goals, I will see to it that you are recognized.” I gladly accepted the job.
    After reviewing the plant and the expansion scope, I contacted the chemical engineer who was operating the existing plant. When I asked if there had ever been a reportable incident—an injury or an environmental impact, he initially said, “No.” A few minutes later, he said, “About five years ago, we had an overpressure and released on odorous gas that was noticed.”
    We investigated the incident by experiments that proved there had been a runaway reaction. We then designed some experiments to measure the limits of a runaway reaction and realized that the new, larger reactor could explode.
    With the laboratory data, we designed a patented pressure relief system that assures public safety. In addition, we redesigned the reaction sequence so that a runaway was not possible.
    These changes required a 15% budget overrun, six months delay, and lost sales due to the expansion delay.
    I still have the letter of gratitude for the new reactor design, and I rose to the level “Technical Advisor,” which on pay scale is equivalent to a supervisor.
    Religion coerces people to favor believers and dust off non-believers. It's no good.
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    Oct 23 2011: I don't understand the system--preventing my response to Frans Keller, but regarding the stupidity remark, I respond:

    It is alright to claim God exists. However, people who take the next step—describing or characterizing the God--may be taking risk they will regret. That is the clergy’s second greatest fault—willfully taking that risk. Their greatest fault is persuading people to follow.

    The clergy will not distract me again. Now I want relief from the financial, legal, and war burdens the clergy create. I appeal to believers for relief.

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    Oct 23 2011: I mean no offense to believers as I express my understanding. However, I think it is important for believers to know they adversely affect the lives of non-believers. Non-believers like me have carefully considered religion and decided life is better without it. I hope believers will patiently refute my thoughts and appreciate my defenses.

    All humans live together as humankind and equally face the unknowns.

    Science helps humankind without favoritism or judgment. For example, cellphones are available worldwide without regard for the users’ religions. Evidence that evolution follows environmental change in the universe is available to everyone.

    Religion’s objective is to empower clergy over believers. Many people want subjugation to the clergy; consequently, Abraham Lincoln’s dream of governance “of the people, by the people, and for the people” is rendered impossible.

    The clergy claim to know what no one knows. Followers accept each clergy’s distinct moral system. A religion’s objective is extinction of competing religions, and, consequently, many believers hate nonbelievers. Mystery, spiritualism, and mysticism constructed by the clergy keep willing believers segregated.

    From person to person, empathy may overcome hate. However, empathy cannot overcome religion.

    Because each religion is morally divisive, religion cannot inform morality.

    Science has no stake in the competition between religions, yet it informs morality by exposing the immorality of religion.

    Believers who agree with these thougths could become inspired to reform religion.
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      Oct 23 2011: Phil--

      Science, like religion, has a history of fomenting unintended consequences. Albert Einstein believed in God and his scientific research (to his dismay) was used for competitive ends:: nuclear weapons. Which many consider immoral.

      Here is Einstein on God, mystery and religion:

      "A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty - it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man."

      Scientists--as scientists of integrity will attest--are no less human and prone to conveying "confirmation-bias" than others.

      A particularly damaging example is Joseph Biederman, child psychiatrist at Harvard University and practitioner at Boston Mass.

      His competitive streak amounted to a $1.6M conflict of interest.

      This revealed after Sen. Charles Grassley and NIH spent years tracking his denial of unreported, unethical income from drug companies. His science, among other scary things, prescribes anti-psychotic drugs for children as young as two. Still, he practices on children, even as he uses them as research subjects for Big Pharma antiotes that are highly competitive.

      Yes, some clergy do damage. But so do some scientists. Some scientists spread hate, too. It just is cloaked in more subtle vernaculars. And they have just as many believers -- including students -- who spread their biases. In fact, many research scientists and research universities clearly imply that faculty and students comply with their focus to improve their publishing rates, professional vitas and enrollment incomes.

      In the purest understanding of scientific reasoning, it is anti-science to suggest scientists are better qualified to teach morals than others are.

      All people can and must teach morals. First by modeling the ego-strength to admit they don't have the corner on al answers.

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        Oct 23 2011: Andrea, I appreciate your response. Yet, it ignores my concerns. I hope for dialogue that addresses my concerns.

        Responding to yours, anytime I want to address the evil of religion, my example is Albert Einstein. He willfully used the “Cosmological Factor” to deny his 1905 mathematical model, which showed that the universe is dynamic. To “force the universe" to conform to his static paradigm, he added a fudge factor. Like all unethical scientists, he yielded to an ethical scientist. In 1930, he met with Edwin Hubble, who had observed the expanding universe. Einstein thanked Hubble for revealing Einstein’s greatest “blunder.”
        Science corrected Einstein’s scientific blunder, and he admitted it, as every caught scientist must. But Einstein never matured beyond religiosity, as you note. He once remarked to a young physicist: “I want to know how God created this world, I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element.” Such arrogance reflects his indoctrination by clergymen.

        The discovery of nuclear weapons would have happened without Einstein. It is best that We the People discovered them. The fourth obligation of We the People (defined in the Preamble to the US Constitution) is defense. We the People have no defense against nuclear weapons if we have no nuclear weapons.

        Unethical scientists (like Biederman) are evil. However, every clergymen is evil because he claims to know what he knows he does not know. The clergy are aware that there are plenty of gullible people and only few who care enough to examine their own religiosity, as I do. Nothing holds the clergy in check: religion does not have what science has—the unstoppable, noble march toward understanding.

        There are two kinds of people: 1) women and men who seek understanding and 2) the clergy, who know everything—according to their differing opinions. I think men and women owe intolerance for the clergy’s pretense.
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          Oct 23 2011: Phil--

          I think you are communicating your bias against clergy over your preference for understanding.

          Khalil Gibran on how defenses can be drawn down and war ceased. From "Peace Contagious"

          "Then the two birds began to twitter and scold, and soon they were fighting and making harsh noise upon the air. All of a sudden two other sparrows came sailing from th sky, and they sat quietly beside the restless two. And there was calm, and there was peace."

          And, multi-faith clergy seeking understanding in humane ways:


          In the Holy Land, where, as in the U.S.. fundamentalist beliefs communicated as national rights that proclaim God as on their side. Are employed to blast the hell out of other humans in so-called "defense."

          The visionary behind this "staying in relationship" journey, Fr. Michael O'Connell, is a friend of mine.

          He has been instrumental in calling out his Catholic Church for evils. Notably priest pedophilia. His early work -- based on science and religion -- has paved the way for civil prosecution of church hierarchy. Including, recently, the bishop of Kansas City.

          There are more servant leaders like him out there. They put their lives and livelihood at risk in defense of nonviolent solutions. And in doing, are among the true "angels" among us whose work, sometimes by design, doesn't get as much press as the uglier, more evil behaviors of fellow men and women.

          But, as Gibran illuminates, their presence to peace and morality is contagious.

          And, may be, as the sparrows unnoticed or hidden, but close to holy. If we pay attention, respect their methods, name not only evils, but also goods. And perhaps even adapt parts of their modeling, by communicating them, we can be carriers of.

          A quote of Michael's I hope you'll appreciate:

          "the deepest and most perduring teaching of our Church is that we are given a brain for a reason.”

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          Oct 23 2011: As I conclude Andrea's wise words: stupidity is everywhere but there's also light to clear the shadows.
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    Oct 20 2011: Matthieu,

    Neither science or religion is a better equipped teacher of morality. Neither has demonstrated sufficient evidence.

    Both, in their best efforts, betray their best "moral" intents. Both, in roughly equal measure, consistently defend and rationalize irresponsible, incomplete and otherwise immoral information.

    In other words: doctors of science are no less morally corruptible than religious leaders.

    Demagogues on both sides -- particularly those who use the podiums favored by their fellow believers to promote their polarized positions -- are perhaps the biggest problem of all.

    Exhibit A. I'd say, is: Harris himself.

    Anyone who says "Notice we don't (judge) in science," (as Herris does) illuminates their "insiders bias." He sounds an awful lot like religious leaders who say "Notice we don't judge in our belief, only the other guys do."

    I'd counter with this snippet edited to relate to your conversation, that I wrote on the Dalai Lama's method. His Holiiness marries "Scientific + Spiritual Enlightenment"

    "Note to Enlightenment-minded skeptics: the definition of morality isn’t limited to inter-connectedness achieved only via meditation, at religious schools, or wearing Marian mantles. And to those on the path of spiritual enlightenment: neither is it solely about hard-facts research-based dogma."

    Human reflection, cultivated by the engaged application of diverse wisdom that is informed by religion, science and lived and expressed experience is the best informer of morality,

    Self-righteous pontificators, be they anointed in an Ivory Tower or a Holy Temple should never be conferred the last word on what constitutes the most informed source of truth. Exactly because the source they profess points primarily at the institutional environment from which they come and were taught in.

    These experts -- regardless how intellectual or spiritual they sound -- are the ones people who seek lives of integrity should be most skeptical of.

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      Oct 20 2011: Andr,
      Please explain "people who seek to lives of integrity."
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        Oct 20 2011: Phil,

        Any person who comes from any philosophical belief who seeks to live their life as an expression of highest integrity.

        The key word here is: seeks.

        Anyone who believes they or their belief, be it religious-based or science-based, is better equipped to teach morality has violated a key indicator of integrity.

        Their self-bias betrays their inability to make a judgement that meets the highest moral standards that represent the essential core of all belief -- from scientific, to religious, to natural.

        Which is the knowledge that one has as much to learn from "the other" and/or from what one doesn't yet know, than they've already learned on their own or with "their own."

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          Oct 21 2011: Andrea, I appreciate your quick response, plus your identification of the key word: seeks. I agree with you.

          Yet, I think your response, probably unintentionally, takes for granted "integrity," which Stephen L. Carter thought was worthy of a book: Integrity (1996). I do not agree with his premise: you must do the work to discover your truth, report that truth to your world, and live by it.In the first place, I do not think "the truth" is a worthy goal for one person (in typically 80 years for goodness sake), because it leads to the trap you cover in your last two sentences.

          Therefore, I modified my quest from "your truth" to "understanding."Then, I added a fourth requirement, which some think is included in Carter’s first, but I think is worthy of a separate item: quick response to necessary change when there are new viewpoints or new ways of measuring.Hence, your key word, “seeks.”

          Seeks never ends, and that, happily is where I am, all because 1) my inherited sect claims my wife (my androgynous half) will burn in hell and 2) I seek understanding in integrity.

          I read today that the Dalai Lama celebrated some people who burned themselves, some to death, for the Tibetan cause. I want to read about what he said. I hope he did not extol their sacrifices.

          BTW, elsewhere in this conversation I complained about Harris's selective citations against religion. Citations my wife and other believers would not subcribe to.

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        Oct 21 2011: Phil,

        I haven't read Carter's book.

        But integrity and truth, in my view, aren't finite achievements. They, rather, represent something like a "living" and dynamic dialectic between self, others, environment, world, etc.

        In fact, in that split second we have the audacity to be sure we know the full picture of anything, its seems, the split second later (O.K. sometimes a day or two), this "Eureka!" or "Hallelujah!" moment tends to be followed by a "cosmic correction" that reminds us that there is more to our experiential or observational awakening, or the story. Or even that an equally audacious inverse might be quite true, too.

        I like your term "understanding," but even this can be tricky. Again, just when I think I understand something, I'm flipped upside down by something that either dilutes what I thought I understood into something yet again more nuanced, or, slaps down my ego by flipping my understanding (and me) on my, er, keester.

        I prefer the concept of "staying in relationship" with knowledge. Including of my moral beliefs--and, potential biases.

        This infers, again, that there is not a be all truth or understanding, but in the conscious seeking of the most elegant expressions of this knowledge, one (I) begins to understand it.

        The elegance I'm referring to here is the type scientists refer to. Which is the most complex interpretation, understood and communicated in the simplest way. The religious term for this would be "radical," which in spite of how it is rhetorically misused, if not corrupted, means the most essential or that which comes from the core.

        A dichotomy it would seem, but this, lets call it: "radical elegance" is what both science and religions preach if and when they express their fullest dimensions as seekers--and spreaders of knowledge that to the best extent it can be, is infused with sincere intent and integrity.

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          Oct 21 2011: Andrea, I’m glad you like “understanding.”

          I appreciate your “staying in relationship with knowledge” and think it is similar yet different. Please consider the four elements I wrote over years after rejecting Carter’s ideas.

          Confronted with the vast knowledge humankind has developed over some 2.6 million years, the newborn, with only about 80 years to live, has the duty to self to tend to four items regarding anything of interest to him:
          1. Do the work to reach understanding.
          2. Publically express the understanding.
          3. Act according to the understanding.
          4. Quickly respond to new methods or new viewpoints that effect new understanding.
          With this process, when a person encounters the unknown, he feels comfortable to admit to himself, “I do not know.”

          For example, regarding the question, “Does God control evolution?” he responds, “I do not know.” He might fairly add, “Yet, I don’t think so.”
          To the question, “Is the earth’s sun a god?” he responds, “No. It is a natural nuclear reactor.”
          With understanding, the theist, given the question, “Does God exist and conform to your characterization?” may answer, “I do not know, but my life is enriched by my faith that it is so.” With such understanding that person’s life truly is enriched without threats to differing believers. I am certain of it with my other half.

          I have tried to express “radical elegance” “infused with sincere intent and integrity” as I experience it at home. Am I close to your meaning?
          If not, maybe your examples would help me understand.

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        Oct 21 2011: Phil --

        Yes, I think you get close to "radical elegance" in how you seek both the complexity and simplicity of staying in relationship with knowledge.

        In particular to your response to new methods and viewpoints that effect new understandings. For most, this takes a mix of self- and relational reflection. A good example of this relational reflection is, as you note, what you experience in your home, with your wife. Another, though far less intimate and thus less interpersonally risky, is this conversation.

        My interests tend toward a mix of self- and other commitment. So, this infant you use in your example, in my view has a duty to her/himself to tend to your four items regarding anything of interest to him/herself, and also, to his/her best abilities, regarding anything of relational salience.

        So, for example, this means partners tend not only to their own interests, but to see their interests as partially interconnected with their partners interests. And, this, in my view, reverberates beyond partners to neighbors in both the immediate and physical experience to the universal, distanced and metaphysical.

        Again, these are ideals to seek and grow with. And, Carter's finite "I don't know," is a far cry from them. I like something social scientist James Garbarino, PhD continually answered my questions (for an article on cultural impacts on children's development) with: "Yes, expect if...."

        I like your way of articulating this same concept from a somewhat different angle. Which, if I'm getting it correctly, means even when answers aren't absolutely evident, as a reflective person, respectfully sharing a personal and thoughtful view is the most congruent and engaged way to answer.

        Your example of the theist whose answer to the question of predestination is familiar. My Catholic mother gave a similar answer to my Darwin-doubting pre-teen daughter last night, while I was stumbling around defending both God and the Origins of Species.

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          Oct 21 2011: Andrea, I am glad I was able to appreciably relate to your thoughts.

          Just a couple of clarifications:
          In doing the work to understand, the infant who is not deranged cannot miss the importance of his relationships, and thus will do the work necessary and publicly express and practice the relationships. I agree with you fully that our mutual dedication to understanding each other is relational. We are not trying to “convert” one another, but are working to understand and share the seeking.
          The “I don’t know,” response is not Carter’s: it’s mine. Carter knows. He knows there is a God; souls are real; his soul will go to heaven; etc. That’s why he writes about “Your (his) truth.”

          However, I think there is no excuse for fostering misunderstanding. Immediately, I dislike Garbarino’s ideas IF he does not reflect understanding of Kahlil Gibran’s poem, “Children.” If a child asks me, “Mr. Phil, is there a God?” my response might be, “Jake, I don’t know. Your mom and dad worship a God, but some of your neighbors worship different Gods or philosophies and they can’t all be right. They are responding to the uncertainties of life in a way that gives each sect confidence; yet divides them. You came from a good path; if you focus on your goodness and accomplishments, you will stay on the path. Be confident of your own goodness: always follow it.”

          I did not realize I wrote about predestination. Could you cite the sentence/phrase that invoked predestination (so I can understand)?

          You are in an exciting time, bridging the generations.

          I just modified my adaptation of Gibran’s poem, adding “mankind’s”:

          Your students are with you yet they belong not to you.
          You give them your empathy but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts.
          You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
          For mankind’s psychological maturity goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

          My children benefited from Gibran.

          I think we are still on topic.

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        Oct 21 2011: Phil--

        Predestination has to do with God controlling what happens in the world, which I erroneously misplaced the mention by relating it to your example of a theist. You used it in an early example, but not related to the theist example. Sorry.

        Your example of explaining the question of if there is a God or not is similar to Garbarino's style. I'm a Khalil Gibran fan, but should be clear that Garbarino's focus, unlike Gibran's has little to do with faith or spirituality. He is focused much on how culture undermines the healthy psychological development of children. And, is careful to not foster misunderstanding of individual nuances in the communicating of his generalized findings. Which inspires my respect that he doesn't view his scientific findings as the absolute fact.

        I was simply using his response as an example of one that is responsive and inclusive of relevant nuances.

        I think your answer to children's question of if there is a God is delightfully respectful and empowering. It uplifts their external reality while shining light on their capacities for individual interpretation -- and most valuably, the ability to live lives of moral expression.

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          Oct 21 2011: Andrea,
          I appreciate so much the clarifications. Your regard for Gibran does not surprise me.
          I must read a Garbarino book.

          In case you did not see it on another conversation I participated in, here's an expression of how I feel after our dialogue, with gratitude to the Jive Aces and the song writers and skit writers:

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXvJ8UquYoo .

          Listening for the umpteenth time gives me chills and gets me out of my chair to ask Cynthia to dance!

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        Oct 21 2011: Phil--

        Many thanks for this wonderful expression of how you feel.

        I'm not sure what I enjoyed more: it, or the thought of you getting out of your chair to dance with your wife!

        Both give hope that positive social contagions can, and do, live on when people dare to engage "constructive" passions.

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      Oct 20 2011: We're both agreed that morality from authority is undesirable. The problem is Harris is not presenting himself as a moral leader, he's showcasing an idea. We're not going to ask scientists to arbiter what is moral and what isn't. I think too many people are looking at the issue as though science and religion were the mirror of one another, that there needs to be a symmetry in the way they run things or how we understand something relative to them. When I suggest science inform morality I don't mean: Let science do what religion does, but with science. I also don't mean: Let science actively take an interest in morality and let science research morality.
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        Oct 21 2011: Mathieu --

        Harris's premise isn't bad. Hie presentation of his argument, in my view, is.

        It is, to use your words, asymmetric. And, the inflammatory examples he uses, without balanced qualification, amounts to moralizing. Exactly as a priest, imam or pastor might to make a converse argument.

        I have tremendous respect for science. But not when it is promoted by narrow views that put the field on a higher pedestal than others.

        I have dear friends whose science is broadly published. I have other dear friends who are faith leaders from various philosophies.

        I've known some who appear quite gentle and wise, but in fact are just better practitioners of manipulation.

        My "experiential" evidence that they sincerely seek to practice integrity is proven when they are willing to question their absolute truths and admit they don't have the whole picture. Better yet, when they admit they've learned from their own less-flattering mistakes. They change others through modeling their morals as much as asserting them.

        I don't see Harris doing so in this presentation.

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          Oct 21 2011: So disregarding Sam Harris (he is the not the only one to defend such an idea). Can a better case not be made for the idea expressed in this conversation? Can one be better without necessarily being all-encompassing or exclusive?
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        Oct 21 2011: Matthieu.


        A better solution would be an inter-discipline method that engages as equal both religious and scientific knowledge. Not through acceptance only, but through actual collaboration. On the lines of your "third way" idea.

        The big challenge is: can institutions on both sides transcend the social silos and revenue spreadsheets that separate them?

        I get at some of the themes in the essay I adapted a quote for your conversation from, which has a talk by the Dalai Lama embedded in it. His Holiness speaks of the relationship between "knowledge" and "morals." If you look at the video, he begins his talk at about the 9 minute point.

        Here is the essay: http://dynamicshift.org/archives/civilized-compassion-not-detached-attached

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    Oct 20 2011: During my sixth decade, I discovered the point expressed below and almost immediately dropped out of religion. I prefer the quest for morality and regret that I was reared to believe in souls. My regret does not extend to people who believe in souls, worship, and praise, because only a decade ago I was there. Nor is it a claim that I am expressing the truth or a better path. Each of us has a unique path. Yet, perhaps a child’s path should not be burdened by indoctrination into religion.

    I wax a little theistic to say a newborn human, unlike the other animals, may be a god facing death. Lower case “god” in that he/she has the ability to perceive/imagine anything--even a way to overcome death, but also lower case because death is certain.

    Overcoming death seems to require spirituality—another realm/world, and what belongs in the other world is perhaps the soul. In the other world, God controls--capital “G” because it subjects to neither birth nor death and because it judges souls. The god’s duty is worship and praise to God. Worship and praise may be carried out through prayer, song, meditation, sermons, and ceremony--practices. Some gods dedicate every waking moment to the achievement of a favorable afterlife.

    Morality is not its objective and therefore cannot be informed by the spiritual quest.
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    Oct 17 2011: Matthieu, I like your final question: "Is there a third institution better equipped perhaps?"

    I think, "Yes."

    And perhaps the third institution is understanding.

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      Oct 16 2011: I would argue that a truly moral person does not need policemen, teachers, cameras or God to watch over them. It's good that we've moved passed the idea that a non-believer can't be moral without God. I'm happy to see that religion no longer ignores that fact. But let's go ahead and take a step further in admitting that some people don't need a guardian to be moral. That is real morality!
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      Oct 16 2011: Adriaan,
      I agree with you that "It is recognized that non-Christians live lives that are just as moral as the lives of Christians—many of them, in fact, live more moral lives".

      Based on that statement, it surprises me that you would state..."A moral life that is lived to satisfy the Divine is a spiritual life. The two look alike in outward form, but inwardly they are totally different. One saves us, the other does not. This is because if we live a moral life to satisfy the Divine we are being led by the Divine; while if we live a moral life to satisfy people in this world, we are being led by ourselves".

      Doesn't it say somewhere in the bible that we are made in the image and likeness of god...the divine? Yes, it does. Doesn't it say that we are all one? Yes it does. With this in mind, your statement contradicts the information from the bible.

      Maybe YOU "behave differently" if you "know there is a camera", but I and many others do not. Many of us take responsibility for our actions and behave in a certain way because that is our choice...not because someone is watching over us.
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          Oct 17 2011: With or without the Bible there are bad people doing bad things. Your argument would be convincing if evil was almost inexistent or at least not ever carried out by Christians/Religious people. That couldn't be further from the truth. Have we already forgotten all the child rape that goes on within the supposed houses of god?
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          Oct 17 2011: Adriaan,
          Please don't put words in my mouth. I didn't say anything about anyone being "perfect". Yes, I do watch the news, I am very mindful of what is happening in our world, and I consider myself a well informed person. Let's stay on track with the discussion.

          In his introduction, Mattieu writes..." it can be argued that science has fed many moral values by revealing natural truths about ourselves and other animals such that we can no longer see the world in a way that make certain immoral behaviors justifiable".

          This is an excellent point, and one way we can connect the relevance of science and religion/spirituality. There are people who use religion/spirituality/holy books as valuable life guides. There are also people in our world who use the information from those sources as an excuse to abuse and violate the rights of others, as well as selectively excluding many people from the doors of heaven if s/he does not follow the dogma of a certain religion. These extreme beliefs, demands and threats cause seperation of people, rather than supporting people coming together for a common cause.

          You write Adriaan... "This may be illustrated by an example. If we do not do harm to our neighbor be cause that is against our religion and therefore against the Divine, our refraining from evil stems from a spiritual source. But if we refrain from doing harm to others simply because we are afraid of the law or of losing our reputation or respect or profit — for the sake of self and the world, that is — then this stems from a natural source and we are being led by ourselves."

          WHATEVER causes us to refrain from doing harm to another person Adriaan, is a good thing. You seem to focus on the idea of someone watching over you as a better way to live. I believe that to make well informed, kind, considerate choices is a better way to live.
          To behave a certain way because someone is watching feels hypocritical.
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          Oct 17 2011: Matthieu and Adriaan,
          The catholic church is selling most of the property they own in this area, to pay off their legal committments and financial compensation to those who were sexually assaulted by representatives of god, in the house of god. As there have been many trials in this area in the past few years, I am constantly reminded daily about the unfortunate, innocent children who were raped within the "house of god". Apparently, it didn't matter to the offender if god was watching or not, and we have people whose lives were drastically changed because of the decisions priests made as to how they used/misused their position. The bishop in this area, still maintains that it is not the church's fault. This is how religion contributes to our morality?
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          Oct 18 2011: Hi Adriaan.

          Just a quick note on this passage, "Ever watch the news and see what people do?? They are all images and likenesses of God?"

          Yes I watch the news and see what people do. Then again, I've also read the Old Testament with a God who has no problem killing people for disobeying him, who is okay with spreading pestilence and famine and murdering the firstborn children of Egypt to get his own way. A God who destroyed every living thing on earth except for one boatload because he didn't like what they were doing.

          Yes Adriaan, those people on the evening news are as much in the image of that God as the ones doing "good works".

          I'm not questioning your beliefs, only the morality of the Godly actions in question. The excesses in the Bible make man's most horrible crimes look amateurish by comparison.
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          Oct 18 2011: Adriaan,
          You ask..."Do you think it was the church's fault because they had not installed enough cameras? or should have organized these horrendous events differently"?

          WHAT? "Organized these horrendous events differently". What are you talking about?

          No, it was not the church's fault because "they had not installed enough cameras". It was the church's fault for choosing to ignore this issue for many years, even though they knew it was happening to thousands of children.

          You write..."The church officials should have thrown out those crooks, but I seem to remember they did not and I do not know why".

          I DO know why Adriaan, because it was brought out at all the trials, and it has been in the news constantly. The church officials were covering up for the offenders.

          You see Adriaan, cameras, and cover-ups are not the bases of good morality. People need to be accountable and responsible for the choices s/he makes without being prodded by someone watching over him/her.
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          Oct 23 2011: Adriaan,
          I realize your post above is addressed to Winston, and I got the notification, so I will respond on just one little point.

          You write..."God is a Love itself and could not even frown at us and He does not mind if you think Him angry and bad. Because that means you recognize evil for what it is, He loves you anyways".

          Your god does not "even frown at us", and yet in your posts, you promote the idea that if we do not accept your god and the dogma that goes with your religion, he will send us to hell. There is a contradiction there. A god who is "Love itself" would not send masses of people to suffer in hell for eternity. A loving god, if he/she/it exists, would love us unconditionally, which is what some people who practice religion in a benificial way believe. Those who try to force a religion on people with threats and fear, are not using their beliefs in a beneficial way for the whole of humankind.

          Good morality is based on love, not fear. Whether the guidence and information is coming from science or spirituality/religion, the important factor, is how people choose to use the information.
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          Oct 23 2011: Adriaan,
          The words were copied directly from your previous post, and at this time, are still there.

          Adriaan, this comment thread is not about prison, or what the judge would say. Yes, you are off topic again.

          Adriaan, I am very clear about my beliefs, and have been consistant in expressing them.
          I'd prefer to teach kids how to behave with respect, and loving kindness based on love and a desire to extend love to others, as an extension of his/her "self". I believe kids ARE born good and loving, and I like to encourage growth of that love because it is pleasurable, rather than forcing "a kid to not do bad things" that "develops into obedience".

          Let us not forget what the topic is.
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          Oct 24 2011: Adriaan,
          The words I quoted are from your previous post, on this page, six days ago, last paragraph.

          I am NOT against religion at all Adriaan, and quite a few of my comments support religion.
          I have also, several times, told you that I respect the fact that you have certain beliefs. Disagreeing with some of your beliefs is not an "attack".
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          Oct 24 2011: You are absolutely right Adriaan. The statement you wrote, which I copied, is still in your comment...this page... 6 days ago...last paragraph.
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          Oct 26 2011: Yes Adriaan...that's the one. I don't think you are missing a thing:>)
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          Oct 26 2011: If a child is encouraged to challenge parental authority by evil doers, parents don't curse them and their descendants for hundreds of generations. Good parents go "it's ok, just don't listen to that snake again". What a miserable parent the Old Testament God is.
          Eternal life taken away for being naively trapped by the devil...
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    Oct 16 2011: Can't conclude whether science is better informed or not but defintely science continuously shaping up our concept of morality that what I feel.

    During Hippocrates time , disease was considered as form of punishment from God , so treating that was a SIN , immoral , but study of scinece shaped up our sense & measure of morality.

    Till today , stem cell research, bio-technological advancement raising lot of moral questions , I am sure science again will shape up these.....

    Interesting thing is that with many scientific developments religion at the begining and also after having the benefit of the same for quite sometime contninue to denounce science, after sometime they start claiming, "well you see it was written in our scripture many years back , you just found it only now !!!"

    Some other start claiming thier book is the mother of all science and strats explaining some the vague lines of book in the light of new scientific knowledge ........!!! Though may be earlier they just disproved the whole scientific concept in the name of God & that same holy book !!!
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    Oct 12 2011: More evidence that we don't actually require religion for developing ethical behaviour:

    "A new study presents the first evidence that a basic sense of fairness and altruism appears in infancy. Babies as young as 15 months perceived the difference between equal and unequal distribution of food, and their awareness of equal rations was linked to their willingness to share a toy."

    I'm pretty sure that we evolved religion out of a fear that OTHER people wouldn't behave if they weren't somehow threatened.
  • Oct 11 2011: I would like science and religion to first admit that they have failed miserably at providing a moral context for humanity.
    Perhaps then, they might look at the task anew to see what it is they should do based on what they did, or didn't do.
    Is it immoral to kill another human? Apparently not. That is a conclusion I arrived at and it was most definitely influenced by both science and religion. Oh, both sides want you, or me to be guided by this code, but they can break it with impunity it seems. And they have. I mean, sometimes people are brought to trial, punishment and so on, but that does not mean they didn't get away with it. They did.
    C.S. Lewis said we all know when we are treated indecently. Most then, know when they are treated decently and they know when they treat others decently or indecently. I don't think this requires science or religion. Just a word and a concept. And willingness.
    The result is then scientific. No need to make a religion out of it.
    An animal trusts its mother. Or learns to. Humans do the same. But we destroy trust for some reason. I believe that is because of religion. I really believe science should become the new religion and religion should become scientific. The first is grounded in doubt, peer review, testing and proof. The second needs to apply method and not opinion to its claims if it is ever able to gain some validation for claims science cannot prove or disprove either.

    I don't think either should be considered as viable voices for such an endeavor until, as I said, both admit their record sucks. I think a new morality should be founded upon and in Human Rights first. There are those who will claim you don't have rights to food or shelter just because you are born. Soon enough, with our finite resources, these same clowns might cry you have no birth right to air! Hell, America already believes this. Americans do too but don't know it, yet.
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      Oct 11 2011: It's not science's job to provide a moral context for humanity, that's not the question. Why ask science to excuse itself for something it never claimed to be an authority on? Which people stand for science? Here it sounds like you're defining science as everything that is not religion.

      "I really believe science should become the new religion and religion should become scientific." That makes no sense. By definition, science cannot be a religion and vice-versa. This is a horrible supposition which I can't even begin to make sense of. I'm not sure any of what you've said truly makes sense.
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    Oct 8 2011: I'd say philosophy is the "institution" you're looking for.

    Science makes me think of Demikhov's two-headed dogs and DARPA flying microchipped insects around the room.
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    Oct 7 2011: "Morality is simply the attitude we take towards people we don't like," that seems to be truest sense of discourse regarding whether something is right or wrong, it is too irrevocably intertwined with our feelings to truly be objective, leading to uncompromising views. Religions are short sighted, at least most are, something I read raised a lot of questions about people who call themselves relgious, simply stated, if they care so much about Creationism, then why aren't they at least curious to hear what Evolution has to say, or physics for that matter, why don't they care what the universe is made out of? Science makes a better case, but one that also has to be taken with a grain of NaCl, lest we become subject to the prevailing theories of the day, only to be overturned by new ones in the next decade.
    The best litmus test is Kantian, use reason AND experience and you can't go wrong...or right...it depends.
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    Oct 6 2011: Well to play devils advocate a bit I don't see how one can derive morality from science. While it is a wonderful thought process for learning about the world, is there any scientific agreement that suffering is wrong, or life is good. That said I don't place much stock in much religion for morality.
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      Oct 6 2011: Not directly no, that is why we can consider it as a informant rather than a source or an authority on the matter. Take for example the idea that animals are nothing but automatons and can't feel suffering. This was quite a popular idea in pre-Darwinian times. However, evolution and our understanding of neuroscience faces us with the truth of the situation such that it is impossible to hold the previously mentioned views without being inconsistent. Animals do feel suffering and our morality with regards to animals continues to evolve because of this.
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        Oct 6 2011: Well I agree that the scientific method should inform our actions as it give a clearer light on reality. That said while we can deduce that animals feel pain there is no bit of science can can say we should not torture them. In many ways I really do not know where it comes from.

        In many ways though I think the concept of morality itself is itself the problem. Too many emotions get involved and we end up with social programming that irrational, or outdated. It may be a bit semantic but we should strive not so much to be moral but ethical. Ethics are rules that exist to ensure the overall well being, and to reduce problems. They are easily changed. Enter any profession and you will receive a code of ethics, no one will ask you to be moral. As we gain new knowledge the code can be updated. I feel this is what you are getting at when you want to have a science based moral system, which I do support.
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        Oct 8 2011: What about post-Darwin epiphenomenalism? We're all automatons.
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    Oct 5 2011: Wow. Morality an interest of mine ever since trhat first smack! I'd like to associate it directly with pain and thats not a bad start if we include the emotional pain as well. That smack was awfully wrong! I know something of the subject as I teach young ones who are seemingly devoid of such sense. I like the mirror neurons, the connection the feeling what others do and the learning from such. I like put yourself in their shoes. I'm scared of neurobioligical determinism and the implications for social responsibility but should i be? With the dire consequences that come with no free will. I want to be responsible, i think i could be good at it!. And yet when i look inot the minds of the ones I teach i sense them locked into the firing and misfiring of brains that are usually damaged in some form. My job to help them find the key Hmmm I'm not happy with this comment. Tell me why?.
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      Oct 17 2011: Phillip, it seems to me you have some responsibility for helping people who have been subjected to enough of the world's indoctrination to be in conflict with their preferences (people who are not newborn babies). Among their preferences is the will to avoid pain either to someone else or upon themselves--to be moral. But they are trapped in self-contradiction. Your job is to help them identify their preferences and accept them instead of accpeting the imposition of this world's indoctrinations.
      How far from your thoughts am I?
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      Oct 17 2011: Hi Phillip,
      You're not happy with your comment, and you ask why? I cannot tell you what you think and feel, but I can share some of my concerns, which may be similar yours?

      I agree that there are dire consequences that come with no free will, and I also agree that when we look into the eyes and minds of the ones we teach, we may sense them locked into programming that is damaging to themselves and others....usually caused by destructive, abusive behaviors they were subjected to as children.

      Perhaps you're not content with your comment because the task seems overwhelming? I sometimes feel that I just cannot do enough. While volunteering with several social services agencies and dept. of corrections for many years, I saw the same families over and over again, falling through the cracks in systems that were formed to help them. They are becoming more and more dependant on the systems which fail to teach them how to have genuine free will in themselves, or how to be empowered to make good life choices. We don't seem to be breaking the cycles that produce immoral and destructive behaviors.

      We have conversations over and over again, and I get frustrated with the processes because it sometimes feels overwhelming, and perhaps you feel this as well?
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    Oct 5 2011: Dogs manage to have morality without religion.

    I would hope humans could at least do that.

    *cough*mirror neurons*cough*
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      Oct 5 2011: That's not morality Gisela, that's their insticts and nature.
      Man is flawed, but that doesn't mean animals are better than man
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        Oct 5 2011: Do a search on the phrase "dog morality". You'll be surprised.

        Also, who said anything about "better than"? Why are people incapable of positing things without a hierarchy?
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          Oct 5 2011: "Dogs manage to have morality without religion.

          [u]I would hope humans could at least do that[/u]

          *cough*mirror neurons*cough*"

          Apparently I misunderstood, If by writing above you didn't mean that Dog's are "better than" humans.

          Let me google "hierarchy".

          Touché !!
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        Oct 5 2011: No, I meant it on a purely functional level, given the relative capacities of our brains and dogs' brains. And it's not like we don't have insight into the physical aspects that enables it (mirror neurons).

        "Better than" when applied to morality wouldn't have any objective meaning.
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      Oct 5 2011: yes, in fact, we can assume that moral is at least ten times, but probably hundred/thousand/etc times as old as religion.

      also, moral is similar in different cultures, while religion can grossly differ.
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      Oct 5 2011: It is undeniable that the stronger moral certainties that we have as humans (such as an aversion to murder) come from evolved behavior that we share with many species. I often point to other great Apes for examples of altruism when religious people advance that morality is an essentially human behavior. We know they have no Bible or Koran.
  • Oct 4 2011: If we define morality to mean a set of social rules and behaviours for the benefits of its members - which can be thought of as humanity - then it is certainly possible for us to use both the scientific method and knowledge derived from the scientific method to help inform us on what exactly is beneficial.

    We can then use this information to help devise effective social rules and behaviours and by extension laws - that best conforms to the idea of overall benefit in society.

    Religion - been that they are largely derived from arbitrary and commonly outmoded ideas, with hefty doses of mythology to round out the arbitrary moral systems that they espouse - can help to inform us on the history of morality, help us to understand who we are and where we've come from.

    But ultimately, we cannot cede decisions on how to codify rules on social behaviour for the benefit of all of us - to the arbitrary and historical decisions of those that came before us. We require reason, logic, data - in order that we may derive the best degree of benefit.

    There is little doubt that in using a scientific methodology towards determining morality, we will cover old ground. Our intuition has allowed us to thrive thus far - but there is also little doubt that we will turn on head many of the assumptions that we take for granted with regards to our welfare and well being.
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    Oct 4 2011: Science informs our intellect and prepares us to guide our actions based on truths that we may chose to ignore. Morality is a code of conduct that guides our actions and removes our individual right to choose.
    Science gives us information but does not tell us how to act, it is societal codes of conduct based on some larger moral code that governs action.
    Science may inform us that animals feel pain and suffer as we do, but it is our morality that ultimately decides how we treat the animal in the end. Does the new information from science influence the individual?, sure, but it hardly informs our morality.
    We are in an enlightened age where science has expanded our view of our magnificent environment exponentially, yet we live in a world where unspeakable acts of violence and hate seems perpetual.
    We are not lacking science I fear, we are lacking character, morality.
    Western societies owe their code of moral conduct to religion, no question, and as religion becomes less relevant in society these moral codes are questioned and may in the end become obsolete.
    It will not be science that will replace these codes of conduct or even be informative on it.
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        Oct 5 2011: Hello Griffin,
        I, like you believe that science may influence moral thought and alter behavioral norms within a culture. After all, codes of conduct (morality) are general rules that a society are accepting of and are prepared to have govern it.

        When any society moves away from their religiously influenced morality, that society will begin to embrace or establish other codes of conduct to influence their behavior, some of those influence may well be informed by science.
        The morality (code of conduct) a society embraces determines the type of society that exists.
        My feeling is that when we abandon a set of rules that have been religiously informed and nurtured in time we will inevitable have to create other rules, in Law most likely, with some kind of arbitrary punishment to force adherence to the new morality.

        The farther away from religious governance the closer toward some arbitrary system of morality regardless of how that system is informed. Whether the influence is science, Hollywood or some other religious code. I suspect the later will be the case.

        I believe that science has an important roll to play in our human evolution, but thousands of years of history and trial and error must also be a great source of information to our shared morality.