Marc Hauser and Michael Shermer dialogue about the problem of whether science can help determine moral values.
March 7, 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the first attempt by civil rights activists to march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. As a tribute to these champions of truth, justice, and freedom, I am posting the Prologue to my book The Moral Arc, whose title was inspired, in part, by that march and the stirring words of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., from one of his most famous speeches known as the “How Long, Not Long” speech.
The initial reviews of The Moral Arc are in and the author has completed his U.S. book tour, and in this article Michael Shermer replies to the criticisms and commentaries thus far leveled against his thesis that we are living in the most moral time in our species history and that one of the primary drivers bending the arc of the moral universe toward justice is science and reason. You will be astounded to learn that not only religious people, but some scientists and secularists themselves object to using science and reason to determine human values. Shermer challenges them to explain what they use, if not their rational brains, to solve moral issues!
Are you a vaccination skeptic? Or are you skeptical of the vaccination skeptics? Your answer will most likely depend less on science and more on political ideology. The science jury is in when it comes to vaccinations, as it is for climate change and evolution. Vaccinations work, climate change is real and evolution happened. But, though skepticism in all three cases tends to be the product of politics, to doubt science is to run up against the very heart of America’s political framework.
At the book party to launch The Moral Arc on Monday night January 19 in New York City, the host Gerry Ohrstrom and the sponsor the Reason Foundation wanted to liven up the party so they brought in a couple of remarkable magicians and the famous science rap artist Baba Brinkman, famous for his “Rap Guide to Evolution” and, more recently, his “Rap Guide to Religion”, which is now an off-Broadway production in New York. To my utter surprise, before Steve Pinker and I launched into our “In Conversation” about science and moral progress, Baba got up and performed a rap song tribute to The Moral Arc, which, he said, he wrote on the drive over to the party! Now that’s creativity on the fly.
On Sunday, March 21st, 1965, about 8,000 people gathered at Brown Chapel in Selma, Alabama and began a march to the capitol building in Montgomery. At the front of the crowd was the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and they were marching for one reason. Justice. They wanted simply to be given the right to vote. They had tried to march twice before, but were met with tear gas, billy clubs, and rubber tubing wrapped in barbed wire. And both times they were forced to turn back. But not this time. This time President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered 2,000 National Guard troops to protect the marchers. And so for five days, over a span of 53 miles, through biting cold and frequent rain, they marched. Word spread, the number of demonstrators grew, and by the time they reached the capitol building on March 25, their numbers had swelled to at least 25,000.
In 1919, with the smoke still clearing from the battlefields of the First World War, the German sociologist Max Weber began a systematic study of the nation-state by defining a state as any “human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.” But what constitutes legitimate [...]
When eyewitness testimony collides with contradictory evidence Psychologists have known for decades that memory does not operate like a video camera, with our senses recording in high definition what really happens in the world, accurately stored in memory awaiting high fidelity playback on the viewing screen of our mind. Instead, fragments of scenes are processed [...]
In response to the December 14, 2012 massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, in which 20 children and six adults were murdered, President Obama vowed to do everything in his power to prevent such an event happening again, “Because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as [...]