Amongst the fabulous things Sam Harris says throughout his book, The Moral Landscape, I would like to point out an observation, which lies in his premise. For those who have not noticed, his book has a philosophical nature which requires special attention. At the beginning, Harris makes the assertion that science can determine the proper and improper values of human morality. In fact, he goes into detail about how this can be accomplished throughout the course of the book.
My remarks concerning what Sam Harris attempts to establish lies not with his agnostic tendencies to prove that religion is ‘evil’ as he describes it or even why neuroscience is a great subject to study, but with the word he used in his assertion.
And that word is science.
‘Science’ (as defined here) is nothing more than a system that attempts to acquire knowledge through study or practice. In essence, what this means is that ‘science’ is a method of gaining insight of something by studying, observing, and creating experiments to further public understanding. In essence, that’s what science really is: a system.
Having that said, science is guided by a variety of rules and axioms which help it function well. One assumes order, logic, and uniformity whenever someone talks about discoveries and how the natural world works (e.g. astronomy and blood vessels).
One also adheres to a form of philosophy that often helps explain the general inquiries of mankind: his origins, presence, and future. This is where topics like creation, evolution, materialism, naturalism, etc. come into subject of discussion. If you happen to adhere to any one of these views, the understanding of the universe is drastically different. Not only does one believe something different, he or she will interpret the vast set of data completely different than his or her own colleagues would.
Hence, this is the problem with Harris.
Science can never make determination of any set of preconceived values alone because this is a subject of study guided by a set of principles. The ‘neutrality’ of this subject entails its general assumptions (i.e. logic, order, and uniformity), but change the same instant when someone applies his or her own philosophy to interpret the data. Thus, the individual that determines the moral standards for people is not a subject, but a group of people.
In Harris’s case, the right to determine human values and set standards belongs to a group of elite scientists (the ones who practice ‘real’ science). The funny part to this demise is that he does not want to hear the oft-repeated question that his colleagues correctly pose (i.e. ‘Who are YOU to determine what is right or wrong?’). So rather than repeating their question, let me repeat what I have already said last week:
“All moral prescriptions must come from a source that is not only an immutable, universally applicable, and eternally lasting, but also a source (or point of reference) that transcends beyond the human race.”