Believers in Science

Believers in Science

Science is often held up as the counterpart to religion, as if to imply that religion is for those “too stupid” to understand or accept science. It is a favoured hobby of the atheists (ah, generalizations: it makes critique so much easier!) to point to the overwhelming atheism amongst highly educated people and scientists, and conversely the theists reply by mentioning great scientists that were/are religious, to show that there is no contradiction in “believing” in both science and religion. The conclusion is readily apparent, of course: there are contradictions, but inconsistency of belief, thoughts and emotions is a prominent feature of man.

There is perhaps no greater example of this than most of these “believers in science” themselves. How often do they not criticise (abrahamic) religions for the problem of evil: How can a good god allow good humans to suffer – but here they have overstepped their own boundary, by using the word “good”. The belief that science holds the answer to everything in nature, and that we are just a part of nature – with the direct implication that human behaviour, thought and emotion are part of nature, and therefore subject to the laws of nature – does this not remove any possibility of free will? My dear evolutionists, at which point in the cycle of evolution did the mass of physical matter that is a cell come together and develop something that is beyond the laws of nature which govern this cycle? Yet still, despite this impossibility directly implied by their own way of thinking (or their own belief of how one should think, to be correct), they have no qualms using and believing in concepts as good and evil, and deserve. How can one deserve if one cannot choose?

How natural does not these concepts feel? – and how natural is not the thought of free will? Dear skeptics, do you not understand that to the religious, the existence of god feels equally natural? Only when the skeptics turn their skepticism to these concepts and ideas will they be deserving of their name. Perhaps we should realize that belief is a natural state for Man.


18 thoughts on “Believers in Science

    • Note that nowhere in the article did I make any statements one way or the other about free will, except from deriving the consequences of a certain way of thinking. If the belief in it does not follow from any logical derivations, then how else can the belief be explained other than by “feeling”?

      And it seems all people are in possession of some such beliefs. So, your question is absolutely reasonable, because we are trying to find how exactly the reasons for beliefs appear. From the second part of your nickname, one can guess you believe God does not exist. Having few convictions about the matter myself, it would be interesting to hear the reason for yours.


      • I’ll admit, I responded impulsively. The use of the word “evolutionist” strikes me as the style of creationists, as evolution isn’t something that requires belief, and they kinda love using the word. If you were a creationist, it would then follow that you necessarily believe in free will. But it seems that’s not the case.

        I’ve seen all sorts of reasons people give to believe in free will, up to and including “Look, I dropped my pen. I meant to do that, ergo, free will.” But really, all I’ve seen are lame attempts to justify a belief in free will in a world that leaves no room for it. This is why I eventually made the switch to atheism, after I came to the realization that free will feels real, but that’s all you can say for it. The entirety of (Abrahamic) religion rests upon this idea that we are broken and must be redeemed, a concept that falls apart in the absence of free will. Even if you want to believe in spooky physics at the quantum level, when you get to the cellular level it statistically evens out to nothing. Even then, if quantum physics could trip a protein and cause a signal, just one event will get lost in the noise of the larger cell or organ. We live in a mechanistic universe, and we see no sign that people act on anything other than their input.

        Since I subscribed to Christianity, all that was necessary was for me to invalidated it to become an atheist. As Ricky Gervais enjoys saying, an atheist only disbelieves in one more god than you. Since then, I’ve sealed the deal with much more rigor, but that is how I started.


    • I hope that the articles do not, in general, give the impression that we, the authors, are creationists. If so, we have either written them poorly, or they are read in the wrong way. Though I should add that the authors do not necessarily agree on all matters.


  1. For some reason, WP will not let me reply directly to you.
    I used evolutionists in that way, because the way I see it, there is, as you say, no room for free will if one follows the line of thought of “most” people who believes in evolution. I just want people to think, and be aware of what they think and what they believe. It is not my goal to prove or disprove anything at this point, nor to just express my opinions (although I can mention here that I have never believed in free will). However, I think there is something more subtle to belief than just arguments and reasoning. Reason is a weak conviction.

    I find it funny that people call religion stupid because of its illogical nature, while they believe in things equally illogical – at least illogical from their own basis of thinking (this was not directed at you!). If their disbelief truly came from reason, why will not their reason make them doubt morality, principles, free will? Before discussing the truth of beliefs, one should discuss how beliefs are formed. What makes us believe. What convinces us. What does it take to remove our convictions.


    • You can set the number of nestings in comments. I think it defaults to three. This serves to keep arguments from getting wedged against the right column.

      Reason is a weak conviction. That is interesting. Have you read The Righteous Mind, by Jonathan Haidt? I’m only halfway through, but I think you would enjoy it. He suggests that reason serves to justify your intuitions and beliefs. I find myself agreeing with him, but I also think that methodological reason in the form of science is a path to truth, where truth is defined as statistical certainty.


      • I have not read this book, but I will surely add to my short “to read” list. Thank you for the suggestion. To be honest, I have never read any books on the subject.

        How would methodological reason in the form of science be able to deal with morality and politics? It seems to belong to the distant future, if it ever can happen. Good and evil cannot exist by reason (I would say that they do not exist or need to exist, but I hope you get my point). Nor can any goal or motive. Reason cannot give a reason (pardon the pun) for our lives.


      • I divide morality into two parts: objective and subjective. Objective morality is the part we can all pretty much agree on: avoid imposing misery on others if possible. Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape covers his method to determine how to scientifically identify morality. He does not suggest that it is possible to identify in all situations a more or less moral action, but since it is possible to know that there is a worst possible outcome, or best possible outcome, we can guide ourselves toward the least miserable situation. I’ve not read his book, but Harris covers the topic substantially in video lectures, debates, and articles on the internet.

        There is also subjective morality, which I believe is covered well in The Righteous Mind. Haidt suggests that we have evolved intuitive responses such as disgust and revulsion, or fear, to which we, in modern times, learn to apply to harmless modern issues, such as gay marriage or political or economic positions.

        Harris would say that good and evil is the product of conscious minds in the face of misery or lack thereof. Rocks don’t care much either way. Haidt would say that evil is an evolved gut feeling, with modern cultural riders, that you rationalize with reason. I think both are right, for the two different flavors of morality.


  2. But the objective part falls again on a something that “feels” natural, but cannot itself be proven objectively. Why is it wrong to impose misery on others? Everyone agreeing does not make it objective, it makes it a common subjectivity. Following our line of thought, right and wrong exists only relatively to what one wishes to achieve, but we are given no objective goals by nature or science. Nature has no intentions (I don’t like to advertise for myself, but I can’t avoid it: )

    Furthermore, these “worst outcome” “best outcome”, while they may be clear in some cases, our view of what is a good outcome or a bad outcome may be distorted. What is best for us really depends on our view of humanity, and I do not trust that this view is honest in most societies. One must know oneself, and this is difficult.


    • I do not say that it is a feeling that drives objective morality. We can know that the higher level of consciousness a creature possesses, the greater its capacity for suffering. We know our own experiences with misery, and we have seen other creatures suffering. If you consider your own capacity for suffering, are willing to admit that your own suffering is bad, and couple it with the knowledge that other conscious creatures can suffer, you may come to the conclusion that the worst possible suffering for everything is the definitive bad. Anyone who disagrees with that, doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Therefore, quoting Sam Harris, “the minimum standard of moral goodness is to avoid the worst possible misery for everyone. If we should do anything in this universe, if we ought to do anything, if we have a moral duty to do anything, it’s to avoid the worst possible misery for everyone.”

      Now, in between the best and worst possible scenarios, things may be less clear in terms of which choice may be the optimal, and more moral. However, the fact that you can’t calculate every situation does not mean that this is not objective. Harris gives the analogy of health. While you might ponder over the best diet, or which medicines to take, the distinction between dead and well is about as clear as any you can make. It is objectively true that dead is not healthy. Moreover, there are many different ways to be healthy. There are athletes, vegetarians, healthy obese, etc. Likewise, there are different ways to achieve moral well-being.

      Here is Harris’ TED talk on morality:


      • “If you consider your own capacity for suffering, are willing to admit that your own suffering is bad, and couple it with the knowledge that other conscious creatures can suffer, you may come to the conclusion that the worst possible suffering for everything is the definitive bad. Anyone who disagrees with that, doesn’t know what they’re talking about.”

        I am not disagreeing; my point is only this: it still relies on our perception of suffering, our feeling of suffering. It is from this feeling we then derive morality, but this feeling is subjective. Yes, the same things cause suffering for all people, on the macro-scale, but it is still a feeling, even if it is a common. Maybe we have a disagreement in semantics, about “objective”. Furthermore, how does one come from “my suffering is bad” (bad here only as in undesirable, not as an intrinsic value of suffering itself), “other creatures can suffer” to “the worst possible suffering for everything is the definite bad”? Can the conclusion be any more than “for each creature, the personal suffering is bad”? We start only with the personal scale for measuring “bad”, and how do we get to the impersonal, global scale from this, only by reason? From the personal, to a “bad” that exists above and beyond persons. How does it follow that the suffering of one group matters to another group? That the suffering of one group is bad to another? How can we prove that starvation in Africa is bad for me in Norway? The conclusion seems natural, tempting and pleasant, but I cannot see how one can achieve with anything but the categorical imperative of Kant, and now we have entered a whole new world, that Kant could never prove himself.
        This “objective” morality is not something absolute. There is no duty or necessity connected to it. “We don’t want this, so we don’t want to do things that cause it” – and this is all. A person who does not agree with this morality, he may not “know what he is talking about”, but there is no basis to claim that he is wrong – for the goal to avoid suffering is not a “truth” (and do we even have a duty to truth?). I cannot see where Harris finds any form of duty in this. “This way of acting is most pleasurable for the largest amount of people” – there is no duty here. One is not bound by duty to follow this line of thinking any more than one is bound by duty to follow the modern scientific method.
        I will say this: yes, it is a good way of thinking. Yes, the outcome is good, and no, I do not have a better morality. But it is nothing more than an invented method, and not a morality in the classical sense; and people still think of morality in this sense, as evidenced by the use of “duty”.


        • Your interest in absolute morality seems to demand an overarching, supernatural order of duty. From this perspective, objective morality, and indeed subjective morality, are irrelevant. Absolute morality defines away a natural source of morality – anything that exists in the natural world will be dismissed as being too natural to impress upon us a moral law. Which is fine by me. If absolute morality requires a deity, then it does not bother me that we are unable to find an absolute morality. I’ve only been tilting at objective morality anyway.

          If you define objective morality as scientific, then you should know that psychology has no issue with objectively analyzing feelings among populations. Feelings, then, are fair game.

          Objective morality is based upon facts that we can all agree upon. When you suffer, it is a subjective feeling. That everyone can suffer, is an objective fact. Not everyone needs to suffer in the same way, and hell, some people might enjoy what would make others suffer, but everyone can suffer. It doesn’t matter that we haven’t necessarily quantified the chemical imbalances of those who are suffering, although I’m sure we have. What matters is that we can objectively see, in other conscious beings’ suffering, echoes of subjective suffering that we ourselves experience.

          Now, what makes suffering bad, or morally wrong? Assuming you employ empathy, this is easy, and I believe I’ve explained it in the previous paragraph. If you wish to be solely utilitarian, it is plain to see that suffering is a sub-optimal state, sapping energy, shortening life, souring social connections. The suffering of all those around you is less optimal, and universal, extreme suffering is the least optimal state.

          Also, Harris did not say we have a duty. He said that if, indeed, we have a moral duty to do anything, it is to avoid the greatest suffering. It is a way of saying that, if a person has a moral code that does not include this as a basis, it is not moral. He is certainly not saying that we are compelled to minimize suffering, or that we will certainly be punished if we don’t. These are hallmarks of an absolute morality – rules from beyond, written upon reality – a concept which I doubt exists.


          • Time to ressurect this old discussion. We agree completely that morality must be given a natural source. Indeed, if morality is “real”, it must be a natural element so to say. However, natural source is not the right concept. We are beings of nature, and thus our moral ideas and principles come from a natural source, but it is this source I would call morality. When you feel what we can call a moral conviction that suffering is wrong, it is not “suffering is bad” that is morality, but the force that drive you to believe this. Here I really mean feel it, and not just rationally think it – that alone is not enough. Rationally thinking something does not alone inspire action if the thought does not awake some force within you. “Chickpeas are healthy and contain a lot of protein” does not make one eat it if one is not hungry and does not feel the need to be more healthy and have more protein.

            A rational definition of bad is impotent of there if it does not resonate with some unconscious part of oneself. Bad is given to mean something that should be avoided, but defining an action as something that should be avoided does not help if there is nothing in you that feels it should be avoided. This is why Islam’s “don’t eat pork” seems strange to many westerners. It has no force of conviction, because we do not feel pork should be avoided. Then the words are without power.

            You had to invoke empathy to get to “suffering is bad” on a global scale, but imagine a being without empathy, but still rational (e.g. a sociopath). He can suffer and rationally understand that others suffer just like him, but there is no feeling in him saying this should be avoided. To him, then, “it is bad to hurt people” sounds just like “don’t eat pork” does to, say, a protestantic christian from northern Europe/america.

            The only natural definition we (as in, the authors – I am not arrogant enough yet to make the claim that no other logical possibilities exist) can give of the morality is the one I approach in:

            We have not finished the whole conception yet. The article series “Omveltning av Alle Verdier” also deals with and introduces our ideas about morality (the title is Norwegian).


  3. The concepts of good and evil, just like the concept of “morality” (I take this term in inverted commas because of its inconsistency), belongs to the realm of the pure reason – that is completely artificial and have nothing to do with reality. They are even quiet old-fashioned and should be left in the end of XVIII century with all the “Revolutions”, “Social contracts” and other “natural rights”. They also have nothing to do with deity – check the Bible, you won’t find anything about “good” and “evil” there – we only rationally acknowledge that good corresponds to God.

    What is the goal of “morality”? To rule the society? To rule the man’s behaviour? To give a man ready-made examples of how to act? None of these: morality should give a person a certain image of how its intuition should feel when the right decision is taken. The second Bergson’s morality, if you want: not the morality of compulsion, but the morality of exploit. Neither the “Objective morality” of Harris, nor the “Subjective morality” of Haidt do describe the only important morality, which is the personal one. Not “what the others are allowed to do?”, but “how I should behave?”

    Why do you think morality and public justice can not reach each other, and law always stays dead? Because the law tries to impose the samples of the objective behaviour of others – and does not care about subjective personal conscience. Unlike conscience, law is always external. I would even say that law deals with the animal part of human, using the tools of encouragement and punishment (though even this part law fulfills badly – for not to be punished is a poor encouragement even for lab rats). On the opposite, conscience is placed on absolutely different territory than the animal one.


    • “Neither the “Objective morality” of Harris, nor the “Subjective morality” of Haidt do describe the only important morality, which is the personal one. Not “what the others are allowed to do?”, but “how I should behave?””

      Actually, Haidt’s morality explains how evolutionary responses coupled with cultural influences guide our behavior via moral intuitions. These intuitions are validated post hoc by our capacity for reason, and rarely does reason influence our intuitions.

      As for Sam Harris and objective morality, see above.


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  5. Let us make a small summary.

    Should we not come a bit back to our initial topic? How is the concept of free will is connected to morality? Are they connected at all? And what place does duty take in this system? Is duty (if it can exist in the situation of the non-existence of free will) something that pulls us towards morality – or, quite the opposite, pushes us from it?

    Does the system “Free will – morality – duty” even exist or is it just another stereotype?

    Do we need any separations between the internal (personal) morality and the social one in order to expand the concept of “morality”?

    And what the “beliefs” and “convictions” has to do with all this?


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