Saturday, June 19, 2010


Science and Morality

A thought (via Wilkins):

Although science makes some impact on many religious ideas, it does not affect the moral content. Religion has many aspects; it answers all kinds of questions. First, for example, it answers questions about what things are, where they come from, what man is, what God is – the properties of God, and so on. Let me call this the metaphysical aspect of religion. It also tells us another thing – how to behave. Leave out of this the idea of how to behave in certain ceremonies, and what rites to perform; I mean it tells us how to behave in life in general, in a moral way. It gives answers to moral questions; it gives a moral and ethical code. Let me call this the ethical aspect of religion.

Now, we know that, even with moral values granted, human beings are very weak; they must be reminded of the moral values in order that they may be able to follow their consciences. It is not simply a matter of having a right conscience; it is also a question of maintaining strength to do what you know is right. And it is necessary that religion give strength and comfort and the inspiration to follow these moral views. This is the inspirational aspect of religion. It gives inspiration not only for moral conduct – it gives inspiration for the arts and for all kinds of great thoughts and actions as well.

These three aspects of religion are interconnected, and it is generally felt, in view of this close integration of ideas, that to attack one feature of the system is to attack the whole structure. The three aspects are connected more or less as follows: The moral aspect, the moral code, is the word of God – which involves us in a metaphysical question. Then the inspiration comes because one is working the will of God; one is for God; partly one feels that one is with God. And this is a great inspiration because it brings one's actions in contact with the universe at large.

So these three things are very well interconnected. The difficulty is this: that science occasionally conflicts with the first of the three categories – the metaphysical aspect of religion. For instance, in the past there was an argument about whether the earth was the center of the universe – whether the earth moved around the sun or stayed still. The result of all this was a terrible strife and difficulty, but it was finally resolved – with religion retreating in this particular case. More recently there was a conflict over the question of whether man has animal ancestry.

The result in many of these situations is a retreat of the religious metaphysical view, but nevertheless, there is no collapse of the religion. And further, there seems to be no appreciable or fundamental change in the moral view.

After all, the earth moves around the sun – isn't it best to turn the other cheek?

- Richard P. Feynman, "The Relation of Science and Religion"

"Can the cultural evolution of higher ethical values gain a direction and momentum of its own and completely replace genetic evolution? I think not. The genes hold culture on a leash"
- Edward O. Wilson "On Human Nature"
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