Science of Morality
This first article from today’s two part special is about how scientists have shown interacting over a computer doesn’t provide the benefits of interacting in person, but instead causes harm.
This second article talks about how belief in free will causes people to behave better. The truth of free will isn’t necessary, just the belief.
Together, the two articles tell an interesting story about the development of a science of morality to replace religion. In brief, it foreshadows that at a certain point Science might become Gnosticism.
As science around our well being develops, it will show us what helps and what hinders our enjoyment with life (as in the first article). However, at a certain point, it might tell us that we are happiest when we don’t know what science actually says. Take free will, for instance. Science only measures the matter of the brain, so our thoughts are all simply synapses firing in response to stimuli. The non-material soul provided by religion, which provides free will in Catholicism, is excluded. Science can only offer the reduction to materialism so science might easily conclude one day that there is no such thing as free will. However, according to the second article cited today, science also tells us that belief in free will makes our lives communally better. These two beliefs are at odds with each other.
At that point, there are two paths to take. Scientists could offer society the truth as found in science and we could all be worse off for believing there is no freedom of will; or scientists could lie to us, telling us we have free will even if the scientific findings say it isn’t so, so that we have a better life. Scientists would then become like the Gnostic Priests who held back secret information about how the world really works.
Since the lies of scientists would bring us to a moral peak, I think Sam Harris would like us to be lied to. However, abstract truth might be considered a moral good that would outweigh the pragmatic damages caused by believing we don’t have free will. Therefore there might be a moral case for being told the scientifically determined truth despite how it could damage us. Atheist readers, what course of action do you think is better? How would you resolve this potential dilemma?