Can Science Demonstrate Racism or Genocide is Morally Wrong?

Society

#1

I would say that science has no moral implications. Science simply tells us what we can and can’t do. We still rely on the same sense of morality we have always had in deciding what we should and shouldn’t do. As you state, the one difference in the modern age is the damage we can now do, and that certainly justifies your calls for focusing more intensely on morality.

Is it science that is accountable for those things or is it corporations, governments, and society who are accountable?


Reckoning With Human Zoos
(Retired Professor & Minister.) #2

Indeed. I don’t see how “science” can in any way be held accountable for the realities of physics and chemistry.

Is it about “the moral accountability of science” or rather “the moral accountability of scientists and technologists” in exploiting scientific knowledge to do questionable things?


(Nathan H. Lents) #3

While I’m with you on the thrust, I disagree with this statement. My thinking on this has been impacted by Sam Harris’s work and I urge you to read “the moral landscape.” Science can, and I think should, become the ultimate arbiter of what is moral and immoral, because if it ever becomes possible to measure suffering and happiness, opportunity and hardship, it will be science that accomplishes that. I think that science should absolutely force upon ourselves and our colleagues moral questions about what/how/why we are doing, every step of the way. I think the construction of separation between science and fields like moral philosophy is what led to things like the human zoos, the tuskegee syphilis experiments, and so on.


#4

I guess that depends on how you define “scientist”. I don’t want to play a game of semantics, but I do think there is a difference worth noting. I view scientists as those who gain new knowledge through experiments and observation. Applying that knowledge to earn profits, political power, or personal gains seems to fall outside of what I view to be science. The application of scientific knowledge would probably be better described as engineering.

Let’s use nuclear fission as an example. Fermi and others discovered that you could produce a run-away nuclear cascade that produced a lot of energy. At that point it could go in many directions. You could engineer a nuclear reactor to produce energy, or you could engineer a bomb. Is it a scientific decision of which to do? I don’t think so. It is a political and economic decision.

At the same time, I am not saying that scientists should not be held accountable for what they do. Most scientists are quite aware of ethics and how they apply to science. I have had to take training on those topics, in fact. There are also IRB’s that review the work of scientists to make sure the research is being done ethically, and those review boards include non-scientists from the community. Scientists do want accountability, and they have built oversight into the process of doing research.


(Jon Garvey) #5

The aim of including moral questions in science education is because scientists are people. They are paid by governments, corporations and academic institutions to do work which affects other people. They even make pitches to those institutions for funding - knowing more about the implications of their research than anyone else.

A physician has to be aware that his skills may be used for good or evil (a forensic pathologist on a hit squad from Saudi Arabia, anyone?). Those involved in the Manhattan project sometimes had regrets afterwards because they didn’t sufficiently consider their human responsibilities beforehand.

The reality of Novichok, for example, is a reality painstakingly created by human effort, whose only use is homicidal.


(Herculean Skeptic) #6

Interesting that it could and should be the ultimate arbiter. Religion has much to say about suffering and happiness. Happiness is often not good. Suffering is often good. This issue is much more complex than measuring, or quantifying happiness, success, and opportunity. And what of the individual vs. the aggregate populations? There is so much that could go awry here.

It is wonderful and responsible that someone in your position is speaking out in this way. 100% agreed. But to go from here to arbitrating morality creates a circular issue. You determine what is moral and then apply the morality to our decision making process. There’s too much authority in one spot. Ironically, I believe that a historian would look back upon science failures of the distant past (such as those examples you cited above) and state that these tragedies were caused because those involved were deciding both what is moral and what experiments (exhibits, etc.) should occur. Do you really want to have all of that responsibility again?


(Nathan H. Lents) #7

I don’t agree with this statement, though I suppose it’s because we’re thinking about it differently. If you mean happiness that is coupled with others’ suffering, than that is not net happiness. When I say “happiness” and “suffering,” I mean the sum of both of those things in all people affected by whatever moral decision is being pondered. By the same token, suffering in one place to achieve better returns some place else is obviously not net suffering (e.g., hours of painful practice or work or whatever, but that is directed toward something that makes it all worth it.) But suffering for its own sake, or as a purification, etc., a la Mother Teresa, JP2, and the cult of suffering they both seemed to support, is morally very bad. So I would be curious what you could possibly mean by “suffering is often good,” unless it’s what I said above, suffering in the pursuit of something that is worth that suffering.


(Nathan H. Lents) #8

Yes it does but, in my opinion, a lot of what many religions have said about happiness and suffering has not just been wrong, but actually immoral itself. I probably don’t need a lot of examples here, but suffice it to say that I see no place for organized religion to comment on matters of morality given their terrible track record and the fact that religious morality must always remain an opt-in system.


#9

Actually, I would like to know precisely how much of a hypocrite I am being.


(Retired Professor & Minister.) #10

This and your entire post are exactly the point I was making.


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #11

@NLENTS I totally agree that science forces moral questions on us. I’m not sure how it arbitrates them. Perhaps you can work out an example for us.

How could science demonstrate that genocide is morally wrong?

How could science demonstrate that racism is wrong?

How could science demonstrate that all humans have universal rights?

If science is capable of of arbitrating moral questions, these two positive controls should be extremely easy to answer with science. Can you show us how?


Constructive and Respectful Resistance
(Retired Professor & Minister.) #12

At best, science can explain why the various kinds of pseudosciences which have been used to justify racism are invalid. Of course, that only demonstrates that those various attempted justifications are wrong in a factual sense, not morally wrong.


(Herculean Skeptic) #13

I absolutely understand where you are coming from. I also do not think that we are considering different aspects. The issue is way more complex than can and should be quantified scientifically. Suffering is a part of life, from which we learn, interact, interrelate, and even improve. The problem occurs when the definition of morality comes from the determiner of the response to the suffering. It’s not worth discussing a cult of suffering, because that is an outlier. But when morality is quantified by science, based upon a quotient of suffering or lack of opportunity, who’s to say that one doesn’t simply remove the sufferer? The very situations that arose in the past were made possible by the intersection of these two subjects. People were allowed to determine what was moral, and then they were allowed to make decisions that affected others based upon their assumptions. There is not enough oversight and too much authority.

It’s funny that you said this, because when I was reading your other comments, I was thinking that I’d like an opt-out system in place!! It’s silly to make the comment that “religion” has a bad track record… everyone has a bad track record. That’s why we discuss issues like this and try to be as inclusive as possible. Science has a bad track record. So, what has happened organically, instead, is that society has become the arbiter of what is moral. It’s not perfect, but it happens in the open, changes don’t occur quickly, and everyone gets to give feedback. I hope that you can see that we share a commonality (here at peaceful science :slight_smile: ) in that you fear my system as much as I fear yours.

You are at least 78% hypocrite. Due to the small sample size, the error bar is pretty big. The probability is .05, though.


(Dr. Patrick Trischitta) #14

Hasn’t science already demonstrated that there are no races but there is just one human race? Can’t science education help end racism?


#15

How does “science” tell us that we ought to end racism?

ETA:

Should ending racism be taught in science class and why not teach religion in science classes too while we are at it?


(Dr. Patrick Trischitta) #16

Well if you teach all children (in diverse classrooms) that there are no races and just the human race, that would help a lot. Then in science and social studies class, let everyone do both their genealogy and their genome. And watch the fun begin as they realize that they are all cousins.

For two reasons 1) it is unconstitutional and 2) Religion is inherently racist. God’s chosen people? Egyptian babies killed. Slavery, all kinds of genocide in the OT. The OT is very racist.


#17

Racism is based on perceived differences between humans, and those differences don’t go away simply because we share a common ancestor. Racism isn’t based on science, so I don’t see how science could cure it.


#18

You haven’t answered the question. How does science tell us what we ought to teach our children and what we ought not teach our children, and why we should or should not teach those things to our children?

Plus, science changes. One year racism may be in, the next it may be out. It’s that whole science is tentative thing. Racism is wrong sounds more like dogmatism.

Was this what you were taught in science classes?


(Dr. Patrick Trischitta) #19

The Curriculum Board of each State decides what is taught in public school.


#20

And if they only decide to have taught those things that science tells them we ought to teach our children what would our children be taught?