Can Science Demonstrate Racism or Genocide is Morally Wrong?

Agreed. There is a cognitive sense regarding differences that we see in one another. It happens when we encounter one who is missing a limb or has suffered some other similar tragedy. We try to not look, but we notice because what we see is different than how we perceive ourselves (which is our personal norm.)

So, people will always notice racial differences, too. You can’t unsee what you see, nor can you unobserve something. As intelligent beings, we need to train ourselves to understand this response and to evaluate our thoughts and actions such that we do not act in a racist way. So, @Patrick, I think that your suggestion of starting with explanations from the science class is a good one. And this training should be continued elsewhere as well. Hopefully, by bringing the topic to the forefront, people will respond better to differences perceived, and discrimination will lessen over time.

The generation of my kids talks a great deal about race, such that it is natural for them, and not taboo like it was when I grew up (60s and 70s.) They are so much more tolerant and respond to one another in a healthy way. It makes me feel very positive regarding the future of race relations.

We are going around in circles again. Let’s start from the beginning: "The wheels on the bus go 'round and 'round, 'round and 'round.

The key to race relations is diversity in the classroom.


The key to race relations is diversity in general. The classroom and elsewhere. The town we grew up in (both my wife and I and our kids, Rancho Cordova, CA) has a diversity that very closely matched the nation as a whole. So it was a wonderful environment to see, first hand, what affect diversity has upon race relations. I agree with you, wholeheartedly!


Science is silent on the subject of racism. Racism doesn’t come from science.


I will add to that my usual recommendation that even middle-schoolers should be taught in their history classes the main ideas of Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond. It absolutely destroys a lot of traditional claims about “racial superiority” as it explains how differences in geography, climate, domesticated animals, and other environmental factors took different regions of the world in different directions of development, values, and interests. (Technology and literacy is unlikely to spread as rapidly when one’s region has no domesticated animals suitable for routine transportation, for example.)


Does science tell us that we ought to have racial diversity in the classroom?

How are we going to measure the racial diversity so that we can make sure we have it in our classrooms?

Oh, wait, there are no races. So science cannot tell us that we ought to have racial diversity or how to measure it.


I assume you are speaking of racial diversity?

But if there are no races, there is no racial diversity to be had. Racial diversity depends on the existence of a diversity of races. Quite the conundrum. :slight_smile:


I don’t claim to speak for @Patrick, but diversity is not restricted to questions about race. Moreover, we must beware of equivocation confusion over the word “race”.

In the English language we use the word “race” assuming multiple definitions. Yes, the idea of mankind falling neatly into biological categories of “race” is a false understanding of the complex mixture of alleles in human populations (where some alleles produce obvious visual characteristics while others do not.) [Thus, the best organ transplant donor for some Nigerian teenaged boy might be a Jewish grandmother from the Bronx.] Yet, the fact that biological race doesn’t really exist is actually irrelevant to the realities of English language usage of the word.

The word race is also used as a general term for “ethnicity”, as when a blank on a police department crime report may be marked “Race” and be meant for entries like “Hispanic”, “White”, “Asian”, and “African-American.” (Indeed, I think most people realize that millions of African-Americans have European ancestry in their family tree but their “racial category” is simply a reflection of a traditional classification based on some general appearance factors, cultural identification, and even language dialect traits.) Of course, at the time of Darwin, “race” simply meant “variety of living things.” Thus, the title of his famous tome was On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.

Correct. Biologically-based human races don’t exist. Yet that is largely irrelevant to traditional language usage among English-speakers. Just as “race” is no longer the commonly used word for “a variety of living thing”, perhaps English language references to “human races” according to the old “Caucasian, Negroid, and Mongoloid” distinctions (which were taken for granted when I was young) are in the process of going entirely extinct—and scientific facts will perhaps play a role in that.


To illustrate those days of long ago:

When I was in grade school, some of the science books in our library emphasized the Caucasian, Negroid, and Mongoloid classification system and even illustrated the alleged determinants by cranium shape, shape of the nose, etc. All of that can seem shockingly deplorable now but in the 1940’s and1950’s one could even be considered “enlightened” and virtuous for using “polite and scientific” terms like “Negroid” and “Mongoloid” instead of the far more common blatantly-nasty racial nicknames of those days. And that was exactly why such terminology was encouraged in many American public schools. Indeed, I can well recall my first-grade teacher politely educating a classmate who happened to use the much more jaring N-word during his show-and-tell account of visiting a major city where he was surprised to see people with very dark skin. My teacher calmly explained to him that the proper expression was to say “When we went to that huge department store in Chicago, we saw lots of Negroes working and shopping there.”

Thus, English words like “race” and so many linguistic and cultural issues surrounding them will continue to change and complicate English lexicons.


I did not say that there are none… but I am speaking of diversity in general. The more diversity (age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, preference, etc.) the better. When we are surrounded by diversity, it becomes easier for us to break out of our paradigm wherein what is not just like me is different. I believe that overall diversity helps to erase racial diversity.


Science doesn’t tell us what we ought to do. Science can only tell us what we can or can’t do. This is all strongly related to the Naturalistic Fallacy:

I agree, though I would state it in more forceful terms. Science is incapable of telling us what we ought to do. Science is incapable of telling us what we ought to believe. Science cannot tell us that we ought to believe that the earth is more than 6000 years old.

This is one reason I say that at heart it all boils down to morality. So what if something is a “fact” if there is no reason that anyone ought to believe it. It’s not wrong to be wrong, and it’s most certainly not evil to teach things that are not true.

This is all “how I see it,” and of course I’m aware that lots disagree, but this is grounded in scholarship on moral philosophy and it came to me through the writings of Sam Harris, a neuroscientist. Here goes…

Any act, decision, etc., can be viewed as morally wrong if it leads to more total net suffering (or less net flourishing), and morally right if it reduces total net suffering (or increases total net flourishing). That can become a solidly scientific question if we one day can actually measure suffering, as a neurological phenomenon. That may seem far-fetched, but how many things were totally beyond our comprehension 100 years ago but are now routinely measured in laboratories? “Flourishing” may seem hard to define and precisely measure also, but this doesn’t have to get extremely accurate to be useful. Genocide is wrong because it causes large numbers of people to suffer - it’s not a close call where precise measurements are needed. Racism is wrong because it increases the suffering and reduces the flourishing of individuals without their consent. A lot of what I’m saying isn’t controversial. Most moral philosophers agree that net suffering, net happiness, net flourishing, etc., are the principle factors in determining whether or not something is moral. I’m just taking the next step and saying that science may one day allow us to measure, quantify, and combine those variables which would bring morality into the realm of science. That doesn’t replace moral philosophy, either, because there is still the issue of moral culpability to content with. One can do something that is, per se, immoral, but he is not culpable because he wasn’t aware and couldn’t have known, or therefore didn’t intend, the consequences that followed.

Btw, saying that science can enter this area does not mean to say that it will then all become simple. There will still be hairs to split and disagreements to sort out. But I think our ability to one day literally and physically measure suffering will have a big impact on how we look at morality.


Of course, if only a few people suffer, in that case, genocide might not be morally wrong.

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I’m thinking we might be able to get the right to life people to buy into this, if we can quantify the suffering of the unborn. Not sure if that’s on the agenda though.


I disagree with this, but it may be semantic. If “ought to do something” means “the morally better thing to do,” yes science can help us know that. That can certainly apply to actions that affect others. It probably doesn’t apply to privately held beliefs that don’t affect others, so yes, science would be silent about that, but that’s not a moral question, in my view. If you want to believe something, and it causes no harm to others, than it is also no one’s business and is morally neutral.


This comment sounds like you are hinting that science and scientists would shy away from a question like that, but I don’t think that’s true at all. If it’s a moral question, then the ultimate variables to be considered are suffering, happiness, flourishing. (Some would put freedom as a separate variable, while others put it in with flourishing.)

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If you’re talking about the case that maybe killing a small number might be permissible under this scheme, if large numbers would somehow be better off, I would counter with two points. First, that kind of dilemma plagues all other moral theories just as badly. And second, demonstrating that the suffering of the few actually facilitated the flourishing of the many is going to be difficult or impossible. Are we talking about a scenario where food so scarce that we’re resulting in cannibalism and we only eat the old and sick? If so, back to my first point.

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I think it is morally wrong to teach untruths because you are doing harm and potentially increasing suffering and reducing flourishing of the students who could have received a proper education. But if someone really believes those untruths, they are not morally culpable, and certainly not evil, because they were doing what they think is best. That’s why I would never call the YECs evil.