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Michael Shermer and Massimo Pigliucci On the Role of Science in Morality

In a special live Rationally Speaking, taped at NECSS 2013, Julia Galef moderates a lively discussion between Massimo and Michael Shermer, head of the Skeptic Society and founding publisher of Skeptic Magazine. The topic: Can science tell us what is "moral"? This discussion comes after both men have tackled the question separately in books (Massimo's Answers for Aristotle and Michael's The Science of Good and Evil), and jointly in a recent debate on the Rationally Speaking blog. Questions under debate include: Does "natural" = "morally right"? How do we make tradeoffs between different people's happiness? And what role should science and philosophy play in making these decisions?



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Michael Shermer and Massimo Pigliucci

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Science cannot tell us what is moral, yet scientists can. Einstein may have meant it when he said "science without religion is blind, religion without science is lame"; however one could call religion the default: no morality is contained in science, religion becomes the constructs to inject morality into scientists who inject morality into science.

As I wrote in Rick Searle's piece re 'the Island of Dr. Moreau', Nazism is/was only natural, nature is filled with animals killing other animals, even at times their own offspring. That Nazism would enshrine this red in tooth and claw moral creed was thoroughly predictable if not perhaps inevitable.

Now that war is diminishing, what I'm interested in is crime: how do we change criminals without adopting their own methods? The reason mobsters and gangsters decide to be the way they are isn't merely accidental; they consciously want to tell others what to do without others telling them what to do (rather common, wouldn't you say?). How do we diminish crime without abandoning our systems utilising force (state monopoly violence) which are no more moral than the criminals themselves are?
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