Noticed this NYT opinion piece (Hat tip to tweet by Bob @IHEU) a couple of weeks ago and my initial response to the statement …
Why our children don’t think there are moral facts.
… was, that there aren’t any.
Of course the sentiment of the piece is correct, so my problem here is a language game, whereas the real issue is the received wisdom that only scientific facts – objective, evidential, empirically falsifiable facts – are facts. Scientism.
Personally, I’m OK with the word fact being associated exclusively with the scientific kind, so long as the word truth covers both objective truths (~facts) and moral truths (~values). This is the word game, which word – fact or truth – you place at the top of the hierarchy. What is not a word game is to privilege either of the sub-types over the other. Objective truths and moral truths are both truths. They have different bases of belief, but they are both truths.
John Gray recently described the problem in terms of the fact that the body of scientific knowledge is preserved in culture, in authoritative textbooks, and persistent technological embodiments, whereas “holy books” are treated as second rate superstition. Moral learning is no longer accretive in culture, but dies with each of us mortals.
Sure, all knowledge is contingent, and open to free questioning and challenging argument, but we don’t all empirically test and repeatedly falsify every fact or truth, not even those considered to be objective facts. They’re taken on documented authority for the most part of living. And of course holy books that might capture moral truths are indeed full of unjustifiable, or easily mis-interpretable, historically-out-of-context superstition, so they shoot themselves in the foot as unmediated authoritative sources of the moral truth they may hold.
Statutory laws are the nearest thing to authoritative documented moral truth – but of course they are framed in the practicalities of how they are applied in the legal systems of the states that codify them. They are not necessarily documented as moral truths independently of the legal system, in the way that scientific truths are documented in publications well beyond the practice of science. Culturally then, scientific facts benefit from a privileged status.
Interestingly, after mentioning hearing John Gray above, and now reading his latest, I noted this Grauniad piece by John Gray “What Scares the New Atheists” (Hat tip to post and tweet by Sam @elizaphanian).
It’s a good “long read”, about how despite the dominance of atheist rationalism, adherence to religious belief is persistent and growing. Not something new-atheists would want to hear, not sure I want to hear actually, but it does highlight the rejection of the idea that moral truths must necessarily be subservient to scientific truths.
If the scientific rationalists don’t address the real issue, then the dichotomy to the death will simply run and run. |There is dissatisfaction with the idea that all truths must be somehow reduced to objective fact. There is a proper relationship to be established between moral and scientific truths.