Hello everybody! Well, just to let you all know that there is a new Question on the Facebook page.
It’s quite a different type of question this time around and asks you to consider if science has anything to offer in discussions about ‘good’ and ‘bad’, ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Traditionally science has kept away from more abstract concepts such as this, but recently there has been something of a debate taking place.
Watch the video and have a discussion with your partners or, if you have problems contacting eachother, I would still be very interested in reading any comments you personally might like to make on the blog. I will write a transcript for the blog, so if you have problems watching it, you should still be able to understand the argument.
Please feel to email me (or Skype if I’m on-line).
I hope you enjoy thinking about this issue and genuinely look forward to reading/hearing your responses.
Transcript of the Question:
The Good, Bad and Science
This question starts by considering the type of questions we ask in science. Generally speaking, in experimental science, we tend tend to set up hypotheses. An hypothesis is a question, or sometimes a statement, that can be proved or disproved through experimentation. So, a question might be ‘how many leaves are there on a that tree?’ or ‘how many pebbles are there on that beach?’ These would give a definitive answer (in this case a number). A hypothesis would be ‘does the area of each leaf decrease with height up the tree?’ or ‘do the pebbles get smaller in size along the beach?’ The questions we ask and the hypotheses we formulate are of vital importance and are (and have been for over 100 years) one of the central features of modern science. We have come a long way using such an approach, but it has necessarily limited the type of question we ask. We tend to only ask questions that we stand a chance of being able to answer. Broader more conceptual concerns, such as what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’, or what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ tend to have been the preserve of theologians and philosophers.
However, recently there has been the emergence of a view that in fact science may have much to add to such debates and in fact the divide between science and philosophy and religion is artificial and meaningless. The primary argument is that our sense of what is right and wrong is based on empathetic projection. If we see someone who needs help, we go to their aid because we see ourselves in that situation. The argument is further enhanced by the view that such altruism stems from the evolutionary advantage of social groups (i.e. looking after each other helps the whole group). If this is the case what is ‘right’ is part of a psychological and physiological response and thereby can be better understood by bio-medical science than philosophers. In the extreme, whole moral constructs may have a biological and evolutionary origin and the argument goes that science is better placed to understand this than theologians.
This is highly controversial and will, no doubt, cause significant debate. What do you think? Can we understand morals and concepts such as right and wrong through science? Or can we only understand such concepts at deeper levels of thought and even spiritual engagement that science cannot provide.
It’s a really difficult question this time around and I hope you enjoy thinking and talking about it. If you wish to email me or contact me through Skype, please do so.
You’ll find the video at
Or click on the Project Facebook Page link on the right hand side.