Re: [asa] Creationists for genocide

From: David Campbell <pleuronaia@gmail.com>
Date: Tue Aug 28 2007 - 13:37:05 EDT

> 3. Avalos argues that science provides a less subjective ethics
> because it is based on evidence. Does this mean that science cannot be
> abused either? Of course not.

Avalos is thoroughly wrong on two counts: the Bible is evidence, just
as much as scientific data, and the premises and interpretations that
are needed to get from scientific data to ethics are more subjective
than those needed to get from the Bible to ethics. Perhaps the
selection of the Bible as opposed to the Koran, etc. seems to be a
subjective aspect; however, the claim that science provides moral
direction is no less arbitrary.

Biblically-based ethics are equally based on evidence. We have the
text available. I don't know of any point where uncertainties about
the text (as opposed to the proper interpretation thereof) seriously
affect ethical considerations. Presumably he thinks that scientific
evidence is better supported than Biblical evidence. This would
depend on one's definitions of better and what types of support one
allows. It is easier to test many scientific claims than to test many
Biblical claims, but the link between any ethical claim and science is
far more tenuous than the link between many Biblical statements and
the ethical deductions one can get from them.

Both the Bible and science require interpretation in order to apply
them to any given ethical question. The problem is much more severe
for science because philosophical assumptions must be imported in to
have any ethical direction, whereas the Bible contains plenty of
directly ethic-related statements. People are just as capable of
ridiculous eisegesis of science as of scripture. However, science
gives no moral direction whatsoever. We must have some sort of
extra-scientific set of moral guidelines; science can then help us to
assess the physical consequences of a particular action, which in turn
may tell us if it passes our philosophically-derived moral standards.
On the other hand, the Bible contains plenty of statements that
directly address moral issues. We have to decide such things as
whether there are any figures of speech, whether they are considered
permanently binding or temporary guidelines for the nation of Israel,
and how to implement them where multiple guidelines seem to contradict
each other. This is based on the premises that the Bible provides
sound moral guidance and that it is internally consistent. It is not
necessary to assume perfection in either-the assumptions that it
provides useful direction and that statements in keeping with the
overall tone are the ones to put most weight on would be sufficient,
though allowing the risk of a slippery slope of subjective judgement
wherein the rules I like are the ones adopted.

For example, seeking a purportedly scientific ethos, we could posit
that "Each person is morally obliged to try to maximize his or her own
evolutionary success." This is not a science-based ethic. Science
only gives us a definition of evolutionary success. "Morally obliged"
is a piece of extra-scientific vocabulary that is key to the whole
premise; the fact that the sentence also includes a scientific term no
more makes the whole scientific than does the use of scientific jargon
in science fiction or creation science.

Given this premise, we can scientifically assess various activities as
to whether they maximize evolutionary success. If I can fool a lot
of people into oppressing or killing people who don't look like me, it
probably will put my genes at an advantage relative to that other
ethnicity. It would also be possible to decide that cooperation and
the resulting social stability promise greater long-term success and
work towards that instead-the premise allows but does not mandate
genocide. Unfortunately for my scheme, this premise gives equal
justification to those other folks if they work to exterminate me.
Thus, in reality the purportedly evolution-based moral systems that
have gained popularity (communism, eugenics, social darwinism, etc.)
rely instead on the premise that "each person is morally obliged to
support our group's evolutionary success, even when it is detrimental
to their own." More bluntly and without the cover of scientific
terminology, it's the standard principle of moral relativism-"everyone
is free to do what I want."

On the other hand, if we posit that "everyone should love his neighbor
as himself", we can again use scientific data (and other information)
to determine if a particular action is likely to be detrimental or
beneficial to my neighbor and respond accordingly.

-- 
Dr. David Campbell
425 Scientific Collections
University of Alabama
"I think of my happy condition, surrounded by acres of clams"
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Received on Tue Aug 28 13:37:30 2007

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