Unfortunately i…

Friday, 27 September, 2013

Unfortunately it’s not at all uncommon for moral and scientific questions to get tangled up in this way. Let me give an example from a different domain—perhaps the most blatant example of all: the question of whether life begins at conception or at birth. That looks like a scientific question, but it really has no scientific content whatsoever. We understand the process of embryonic development in great depth and exquisite detail—attaching the label “life” at some timepoint would not add the slightest iota to our scientific understanding. We all know, of course, what this question is really about: it’s about whether abortion should be permitted. It is really a purely moral question, disguised as a scientific question.

Why do moral questions get disguised as scientific questions? Basically because it is useful as a debating tactic. Arguments about right and wrong often depend on axioms that are not shared by other people, so they tend to degenerate ultimately into hand-waving and shouting. If an argument is about objective truth, though, everybody who knows all the facts ought in principle to get the same answer. I’m not saying that people who argue about the beginning of life do this deliberately or understand what they are doing—obviously they don’t. But the upshot is the same.

William Skaggs (in “How Could We Recognise Pain in an Octopus? Part 2“, Scientific American Blog)

Basically saying that you do need to understand science in order to form a conclusion about the morality of it, but the moral conclusion you form isn’t a scientific conclusion. It’s informed by science, but science can’t answer moral questions for you.

One comment

  1. Please.

    Smooth moves and all, quite a job dodging morality in science, much as a nice, pleasant, NAZI, PLEASE take no offense, I am NOT calling you a NAZI, and your comments regarding life at conception obfuscate and dodge the reality of life… Unless there is conception, no life begins, no child begins. Your argument is an excellent excellent example of clever reasoning towards, I was only following orders, and, In science, there is no morality… You’re right of course, where science is become an ideology of materialism, made to serve Man in his quest to make himself God. Like the Mormons really believe, once they get in to the loftier temple teachings, which state, basically, As Man is, God once was, as God is, Man shall become. Just like Star Trek.

    To remove the conscience of a scientist is to make of him and of science only a weapon in the total war between swirling tautologies, mutually exclusive.

    The fact of the matter is that the beginning of life is best measured where, before that point there was no individual, and after that point, there is life, of an individual. C’mon, there is no other way to scientifically measure this, otherwise. And that’s the answer. Scientific fact, life begins, the individual begins his life at conception, not before. You seem to wish to obscure further this fact as it is, inconvenient for those who kill children, babies, at will, before they are born.That’s murder, and oppression of the mother and child. Most abortions are after the fact contraception, and, last time I checked, over 20% of them were to kill the baby because she is a girl. The oppression of woman and child is compounded, thus. What civilization can persist today and tomorrow, if they kill their tomorrow, their children?

    Really, as you say so well, that the facts are a given, well, in this case, too, and only those who will not have this fact intrude in to their thinking, as anathema to their pre-existing agenda against the facts of science in order to advance their varied causes. See, the fact is that there is a point where science knows enough to tell when an individual happens, and that’s is at conception. It’s just so inconvenient!

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