science and philosophy

If I were to tell you that I made a major scientific breakthrough that has massive implications,brain you’d probably be interested.  What if I told you that I have found the cure for an incurable disease, and the means of my scientific breakthrough was prayer?  That is where I’d lose you.  I think if that most people would be skeptical of this claim, and the reality is, I would be skeptical of this too.  You should be skeptical of this claim because as a pastor I lack the knowledge and therefore the authority to speak into science.  And for the record, I have not found the cure to an incurable disease through prayer.

Obviously I’m trying to make a point.  A few days ago I went to a fascinating discussion at the Crawford Family Forum in Pasadena, with Dr. Joshua Greene.  Dr. Greene is the author of, “Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason and the Gap Between Us and Them”.  For full disclosure I have not read the book, though that is not what concerns me.  It was the discussion that left me wondering if we sometimes use the mantle of scientific research to talk authoritatively about a philosophic worldview.

After the discussion I raised my hand to ask a question, because of the high volume of questions I was not picked, but here it is:  “For the purposed of your lab work, how did you define morality?”   What seems like a simple question really is not.  I wanted to know by which means they defined morality because it actually informs the science and therefore their outcomes.  The reason why I’d like to know this is that Dr. Greene seemed to come to a conclusion in his book that utilitarianism is really the best way to live.  The research seemed to be centered on emotional choices that the subjects made toward others.  Based on Dr. Greene’s interview it seems like they somehow drew a conclusion from their research that the best way to live is by applying the philosophy of utilitarianism to your life.  I am not saying that they defined morality from their research (I don’t think they did, nor were they trying to) but what I am saying is that they piled up the authority of research on utilitarianism.  What they essentially did was associate utilitarianism with good morality by using neuroscience.

We wrongly assume that science has something to say about everything, including philosophical worldviews.  Using behavior research does not mean that you can draw a conclusion on the best way to live.  In so doing, you are making a philosophical statement on which is best.  Therefore, it would seem that scientific research based in philosophical thought is flawed from the beginning.

I might be cynical and I am trying not to be judgmental because I do not know Dr. Greene.  (He seems like a great person).  I assume that Harvard is monitoring their research carefully after all their reputation is at stake.  So purely from my perspective I left with plaguing questions about academia.  Is academia using the good favor that “scientific research” enjoys to push a worldview?  If these are scientist coming to conclusions about philosophy, then what authority do they really have to speak into the field of philosophy?  Just as the scientific community would think it absurd for me to make a scientific breakthrough on prayer, why don’t we think it equally absurd for science to advocate for a philosophy?

Draw your own conclusions and watch the discussion here:


Post to Twitter