humanindexIn order to answer the question of whether or not science can determine morality, one must first define what is meant by morality. The standard for objective morality is based on whether something is right or wrong – fair or just, on the scale of human value. The Human Scale is what science can use to determine whether something is moral or not. If something is determined to be moral on the Human Scale, then its objective value can be determined … that is to say how it balances on a pair of scales. As humans, the only standard by which we can measure anything is from our human perspective, thus the Human Scale of values gives us an objective standard, since we are all human.

 

There seems to be a lot of confusion around what actually comprises morality. On one hand everyone on the planet would agree that rape or murder fall into the morality camp, but what about jealousy and envy which is listed as the tenth commandment? I would venture to say that most Christians would categorize the Ten Commandments as being ten moral principles, but are they really? The fourth commandment says to keep the Sabbath holy. Is it really immoral to worship on another day, or no day at all? What about the first commandment, which says to have no other god than the Biblegod, I would hardly call someone immoral merely because they either worshiped another god, or no god at all. Of the Ten Commandments that most Christians hold to be ten moral laws, only four at most qualify as having anything to do with morality. This is why the term morality must be defined.

 

I think before we can say whether or not science can determine morality, we need to define exactly what we mean when we say something is moral. Religious traditions, customs and rituals are generally not what I would consider to be moral truths; they are rules and beliefs structured around some supernatural authority figure. Morals are grounded in what it means to be human and how our humanity is affected, thus moral truths must apply equally to all humans, no matter what time period or culture they live in; their race, gender, or religion. If it is immoral to rape a Japanese woman who is a Buddhist, it is equally immoral to rape a young American boy who is Catholic. The same holds true for other immoral acts such as murder, slavery, and child abuse, or stated simply … crimes against humanity. Morals must by their very nature apply equally to every human on the planet in order to qualify being a moral standard; they cannot merely be the opinions of certain individuals. All things that are moral must of necessity be good, but all things that are good need not fall into the camp of morals. Take for instance if I give a bouquet of flowers to a sad person to cheer them up I am doing a good deed, but it is not immoral if I don’t give a sad person a bouquet of flowers.

 

Moral truths do not change over time as do opinions. It was just as immoral to own slaves in the Civil War era as it would be to own them today, even though some people of the time period thought differently. Slavery is an unjust act perpetrated against someone’s humanity that denies them equal human rights. Just because people in power tried to dehumanize African Americans to justify owning them as slaves, does not mean their ignorance was right, what they did falls into the camp of immorality regardless of what individual slave owners thought. The person who rules is not the one who determines what is moral. Far too many people view morality as a set of peoples opinions that change over time, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Opinions and moral truths are two entirely different things. Murder and rape fall into the camp of morality, whereas worshiping a particular god, or keeping the Sabbath holy are in the camp of opinions held by particular individuals. Morality needs to be separated from opinions instead of being conflated with them. Moral truths don’t change, rather it is people’s opinions of what is moral that changes.  Just because people in positions of authority (for their own personal reasons) create a set of rules that they call morals does not make it so.

 

If morality is viewed as an unchanging set of truths that are viewed as right or wrong and can be grounded in what it means to be human, then the answer to the question of whether or not science can determine morality would have to be – yes it can. It is a scientific fact that all humans share “humanness”, so if all humans share the same value of humanness and morality is grounded in what it means to be human, then the same set of moral truths would be common to all peoples of all times.  The biggest obstacle that must be overcome in order to determine what a moral truth is, is defining what is meant by morality. Maybe a different term like “Human Value” will have to replace morality as a descriptor of moral truth. Above all else, for something to be considered moral it must not violate a persons human rights.

The New and Improved Golden Rule

Do not violate the human rights of others

Just as you would not want your human rights violated

2 Responses to “Can Science Determine Morality?”

  • Hi Rose:
    Great article! I especially like the idea when you say “Moral truths don’t change, rather it is people’s opinions of what is moral that changes.”

    Which begs the question “What if people of today have changed so much from times past that now all we have left is opinions about what it means to be moral?

    In other words, if we look at the laws surrounding the US Constitution it could be argued that the “moral code” is found in the correct application of natural law. That issue has yet to be determined. However, I would like to think that all people could agree as to what constitutes a moral precept or moral stance on each and every subject.

    I just do not think that a moral code exists which ALL sane people can agree on. Therefore, many intelligent and rational people appeal to a higer power!

    Namaste,

    Mystykal

  • Rose:

    Hi Mystykal, Thanks for the comments!

    You said: “Which begs the question “What if people of today have changed so much from times past that now all we have left is opinions about what it means to be moral?”

    I think if one uses the universal standard of the humanity that all people share, then whatever violates the rights of our humanity never changes. So, the “moral code” that all people should be able to agree on would be: whatever violates someone’s human rights is immoral.

    The reason a higher power cannot be appealed to in setting a moral code is because no one can agree on who this higher power might be, or what rules are valid. This is why a human standard must be set for morals that relies totally on the property all people share, our HUMANNESS.

    Take care,
    Rose

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