Science and Morality

I’m bothered by the notion that science is incoherent with God when in fact that if God created the natural world then natural sciences should point back to God. Therefore, I personally believe that science can determine what morality is, though to an atheist’s disappointment, it will point back to our Creator. So if we discover the laws of morality such that of Isaac Newton with the law of gravity, then the world will have no question to the dread fact that we are indeed sinners in the hands of an angry God for all studies, including natural science, philosophy, and theology affirms this and is coherent with the highest laws given by God Himself in the Bible. These are my thoughts about it:

Proposed Law of Morality: Anything that causes emotional, relational, physical, and mental positive outcome is good. Anything that causes emotional, relational, physical, and mental negative outcome is bad.


image

image

Would love to get your insights for this!

5 Likes

Hello, David! Your post is very interesting to me because it is the first time that I have heard or read anything like what you proposed. If I understand you correctly, you are saying that the morality of a given behavior can be measured by the amount of pain that its ultimate outcome causes. If I am correct, then there are some things that you need to clarify:

  1. How do you decide what the ultimate outcome should be? Each act is a pebble that creates ever-expanding ripples. One act can ultimately affect millions of people through the ages–some apparently for the better, some apparently for the worse. How broad should be our view? How narrow? In which direction or directions do we look?
  2. How do you know when the ultimate outcome has been reached? The stopwatch starts ticking when the act occurs. When do we stop the stopwatch and measure the outcome?
  3. How do you know that there is no good result that is painful or bad result that is full of pleasure?
  4. How do you measure pain and pleasure without making a priori assumptions about what pain and pleasure are?

I think that ultimately there is a big problem with saying that science can measure anything outside of the empirical realm. That is why you wrote that pain is the key to measuring morality. This reduces morality to something that exists within bounds defined by degrees of pain, which is ultimately very subjective because what one human being sees as pain may very well be seen by another as pleasure. An immoral relationship is an example. Many people who participate in immoral relationships never feel the pain that they cause or the spiritual void that they suffer. How do we empirically show that putting someone out of their misery is not a humane thing to do, too?

I look forward to your clarifications.

6 Likes

Hello, Mr. Brendan! Thank you so much for your insights. I really appreciate this.

I would like to clarify that I’m proposing that we can identify bad from good on pain, not the measurement of it. If we think about it, pain is objective no matter one’s subjective view towards it. We have a default response to pain embedded with our designs as humans and I think those who develop a subjective view of it is probably due to a mental sickness or a constant numbing of oneself. One key factor for example is that there are certain actions which leads to physical illnesses such as fornication. There’s a high risk of specific illnesses in which I cannot mention here in this comment that comes from that action and I believe personally that it isn’t a coincidence. I remember this quote that “we are free to choose, but we are not free to choose our consequences”, thus a consequence is inevitable even if that person’s subjective view of pain is existing.

Therefore, my proposition is not based on measurement but on the actual outcome of what pain can bring. Natural pain itself can help us define what is right from wrong not the measurement of it nor the actual inflicting of it to others.

Again, I really appreciate your insights on this. May God bless you! Looking forward for your future comments. :smile:

4 Likes

Thank you for your clarification. I think that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of how science works in your argument. Science works by measuring things. Here is the scientific method as described by Richard Feynman, who jointly won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965 with two others:

  1. Guess the scientific law that you think is true.
  2. Compute the results that should happen if it is true.
  3. Compare what you experience with what you calculated.

If what you experience does not equal what you calculated, then you incorrectly guessed. If your guess is not clear enough, then you cannot accurately compute or compare the results of what you guessed.

Here is what the scientific method looks like for your proposition:

  1. Guess: “Anything that causes emotional, relational, physical, and mental positive outcome is good. Anything that causes emotional, relational, physical, and mental negative outcome is bad.”
  2. Compute: behavior + pain = bad; behavior + no pain = good.
  3. Compare: does the computation equal experience?

You are still measuring whether pain is present or absent, like a light that turns on or off for an electric circuit. If that is all that you are measuring, then you have simplified your task only on the surface. You still have not addressed the quality of the pain even if you are not measuring its quantity. Not all pain is bad; not all absence of pain is good. Many people who participate in immoral behavior do not experience the consequences that you posit. Many people who do not participate in immoral behavior experience pain. Many psalms talk about this struggle. You can say that immoral people suffer their pain after dying, but there is no way scientifically to prove this.

Your heart is in the right place. I have seen much worse, but science is limited by the finite observational power of humankind. God, who is our moral standard, cannot be measured.

9 Likes

Thank you so much for your reply. I learned a lot from this and I realized that I still got a lot to learn. May God bless you! :smiley:

2 Likes

I like your thinking on this, @davidjblazo, and I really appreciate how you are attempting to show that even a materialist conception of morality may prove to be an apologetic for the existence of God.

My first thought in reading your proposal was its similarity to Sam Harris’ work in The Moral Landscape in which he attempts to argue that moral reasoning can be reduced to states of well-being, and assigning value judgements on the basis of these cognitive states. I think there is a great deal of similarity between his conception of a materialistic moral theory and the thesis that you have proposed, albeit with the very obvious distinction that you believe that this would point to God while Harris does his work in order to rule out the necessity of positing anything non-material.

Another thought that I want to address is how you framed the whole proposal. You set out the following propositions:

  1. God is the author of the natural world

  2. God is also the author of morality.

  3. Therefore, science (that is study of natural world) can also ascertain morality.

I think that the conclusion of item 3 is problematic because it doesn’t necessarily follow that because God is the creator of both morality and of the natural world that these are overlapping domains of which science can investigate.

Let me use an analogy: CS Lewis wrote both The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in the Chronicles of Narnia series, and Out of the Silent Planet from his Space Trilogy. Let’s suppose that I’m a studious investigator of all things related to Out of the Silent Planet, and then you ask me the question, "who is the first person to step into Narnia in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? Simply because CS Lewis wrote both books, it doesn’t necessarily follow that a question about one will be able to be answered by the other. Sorry for the silly example, but similarly, it isn’t necessarily the case that simply because God created both the natural world and morality that we are able to find the answer to a question about one domain of the other.

Now, we have to be careful, because it could be the case that we can ground our morality in the natural world, but it does need to be the case. Because of this, I think your first argument would need to be why we, as Christians, should attempt to ground our morality in the natural world.

Going back to Harris’ book, he must to ground morality in materialism because he has already committed to materialism, or else he is left in moral relativism, as many non-theists have concluded and as Harris really doesn’t want to conclude. Moreover, he is left with a functionally utilitarian system. Though utilitarianism is very intuitive for many people, there are some substantial difficulties that it needs to overcome (happy to elaborate more on this). In contrast, I think there are some substantially more robust conceptions of morality for the Christian that need not be utilitarian nor rest on the premises of the materialist.

7 Likes

Wow! Thank you so much for this. I learned a lot. :smile:

As I further think about it, what if the natural world is a complementary book that helps explain morality rather than a two separate one? I personally believe that in every wrong action there is a inevitable consequence that follows it regardless of what action it is. I also do believe that God places rules for a reason and the existence of laws are there for the good of us humans for God formed us after all.

If not, are we left in a state of grounded faith in God that He knows all and we trust in His Word that we He commands is best for us and that we should follow?

I love your thoughts about this! Would love to see your future comments on this.

1 Like

Psalm 19 helps us to understand the two books and their purposes. Here is a brief outline:

  1. 19:1-6: The Book of Creation
  2. 19:7-11: The Book of the Creator
  3. 19:12-14: Petition for Purity

David describes and compares the beauty and value of both books. He says of the first book:

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” (Psalm 19:1–2, ESV)

Observe that the Book of Creation declares God’s glory, speaks, and “reveals knowledge.” It is beautiful and inspires awe, but it also is austere and maybe frightening. David then turns to the second book:

“The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;…” (Psalm 19:7, ESV)

This flawless book nourishes the soul and builds wisdom. The first book is simply beautiful, but this book is more precious than gold and sweeter than honey (Psalm 19:10). This book rewards those who heed it (Psalm 19:11), whereas the first book simply speaks. It is this book–the Book of the Creator–that prompts David to petition the Creator for protection from guilt and presumption.

You are correct, therefore, that

and that

but these rules are in the Book of the Creator, not the Book of Creation.

2 Likes

I see! Thanks for this. It broaden my understanding on the two book analogy. :smile:

1 Like

@davidjblazo @blbossard - Thanks to both of you for your questions, clarifying positions, and answers. What a great difference in learning such a complex issues of our society and the clarity the scripture provides consistently over the years.

@blbossard - I read Psalm 19 too many times but never from this perspective. Thank you both and be blessed,

2 Likes

@samshankar - Amen! God is good indeed, It’s amazing how God can you use a conversation like this to bless others. Praise God! I pray for you the best in all things and may God bless you always. :smile:

1 Like