Sunday, 6 November 2011

'Science is independent of humanism' Julian Baggini

Science is independent of humanism, atheism and religion says Julian Baggini (Distinguished BHA Supporter) in The Guardian.  He says some atheists believe that not only is science 'on their side', but it is their saviour too. This is scientism - the idea that if science cannot speak, we must remain silent. By contrast, some say that, as science leaves many questions open, in such cases, man is entitled to base his judgements on non-scientific grounds.

Science can threaten secular humanist ideas. For example, humans have been viewed as autonomous, free, rational individuals. However science has shown that human beings are far less autonomous, rational and free than some secular humanists might suppose, says Baggini.

Atheists are naturalists (the universe contains only natural entities and forces). H4S take a naturalistic view, believing that science is a fundamental part of humanism and that science provides the best way to understand the universe.

Can science be applied to problems of human welfare (2002 Amsterdam Declaration), asks Baggini? In Sam Harris's book The Moral Landscape (subtitled "How science can determine human values") Harris talks of science as though it is the source of all the knowledge and wisdom we need to live by. But, says Baggini, science can never tell us what we should value, because when it tells us how things are, we are always left with the question, what ought we to do about it? This is David Humes' famous is-ought argument. So can or should science be directed to humane and ethical ends, as some H4S suggest?

Baggini says science can tell us that X produces more happiness than Y, but it cannot tell us that we ought to do whatever produces the greatest happiness (Jeremy Bentham & John Stuart Mills' Utilitarianism).


Humanists4Science (H4S) Mission is "To promote, within the humanist community, the application of the scientific method to issues of concern to broader society"

H4S Vision is "A world in which important decisions are made by applying the scientific method to evidence rather than according to superstition."


David McKnight said...

Julian seems to have many misconceptions about science -some of which are pointed out in the comments which follow the original article.

How can science NOT be independent of everything when it is simply a tool? - the best there is for knowing. It is a series of processes repeatable in a cyclic fashion until a reasonably useful answer has been attained for a proposed hypothesis. Never a final answer and often a long drawn out one. He could do with doing some real science himself before he talks further on it.

He does prefer the word atheist over several others as if that says anything about him other than one simple belief.

No one and no thing should be able to tell us what we ought to do, let alone science. It is the main task of being a Human - working it out for ones' self that is. It will always be possible to make better decisions of the moral sort.

I have the feeling that Julian is here being as negative (and useless) as he was during his talk at the BHA AGM in April this year. Perhaps it is a sign of the frustration of philosophers in never being able to solve anything.

David McKnight said...

Is there an agenda against Humanism running here - OR is he just being provaocative? I note that :-

Julian Baggini will be speaking to
Oxford Atheists, Secularists and Humanistson "What's so great about humanity" on Wednesday 9th November at 18:00 in the Main Lecture Theatre, Brookes Gypsy Lane Campus Brookes Univ. Oxford

Julian has done a lot of work on humanism already and will discuss questions like 'does humanism make humans too central?' and 'what's the humanist view towards animals?'

To celebrate his favourite philosopher coming to visit, Oxford A,S & H has made cupcakes adorned with rude words. They will be on sale and all proceeds will go to Children in Need.

But will this make Julian's ideas more paletable?