The contributors to this blog are tackling all sorts of incendiary issues, some that may be considered beyond the bounds of typical or acceptable discourse. So be it.
More importantly, even the nascent stages of this blog (see "The Science of Right and Wrong" and "A Left without Rights?" and the appended comments) have illuminated the interconnectedness of apparently unrelated subjects like faith and technology, and this is all to the good.
In 1968, the Russian physicist, atheist, and moralist Andrei Sakharov wrote:
International affairs must be completely permeated with scientific methodology and a democratic spirit, with a fearless weighing of all facts, views, and theories, with maximum publicity of ultimate and intermediate goals, and with a consistency of principles.
Two and a half decades later, in a commentary on Sakharov's work, Ernest Partridge said:
"Scientific morality" is widely regarded as an oxymoron, since it is commonly believed that science is "value neutral." This belief embraces a pernicious half-truth. The logic of science stipulates that the data, laws, hypotheses and theories of science exclude evaluative terms and concepts, and that the vocabulary of science be exclusively empirical and formal. There are no "oughts," no "goods and bads," no "rights and wrongs." (The fact that social sciences deal with values descriptively, is only an apparent violation of this rule). Capitalist and communist missiles are subject to the same laws of trajectory. The same laws of physiology apply to the physician who heals, and the murderer who poisons. The "value-free" status of scientific vocabulary and assertion is the "truthful half" of the belief that science is "value free."
But as an activity, science is steeped in evaluation, for the "value-free" methodology that yields these "value-free" statements, requires a discipline and a commitment that appears to merit the name of "morality." Thus the advancement of science is characterized by behavior that can only be described as "virtuous," and the corruption of science as moral weakness. In other words, the activity of science (that is to say, of science as a human institution) is highly involved with values. . .
Science and scholarship are engaged in a constant struggle to replace persuasion with demonstration -- the distinction is crucial to understanding the discipline and morality of science.
I will extend Partridge's position to say that "value-free" science not only must be conducted under the constraints of virtuous morality, but that scientific methodology -- that is, study, reason, observation, hypothesis, testing, etc. -- can be used to determine a functional prescriptive societal macroethics. (In this context, I encourage the reading of Brad Allenby's fine three-part series of columns on "Free Will and the Anthropogenic Earth".)
Here's a very simple formulation to start with:
- Let's declare that all groups, communities, and societies are free to think and believe what they want, but not to behave as they like. Belief is free, behavior has consequences.
- Let's accept the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, as a global standard.
- Let's agree that if we find any group in any society taking stated rights away from weaker groups or individuals within that society, then the world must act to stop the abuse and to prevent its recurrence.
Take that as an hypothesis and evaluate it. What can we learn about the potential efficacy of this approach in achieving greater diffusion and enjoyment of the stated rights?