Scientists, religious advocates and lay people have long held as truth the view that science can describe how the world works, but can say nothing about the purpose of life or the values by which we should live.
Advances in neuroscience and evolutionary psychology have been pushing against this barrier for some years now and finally seem to be breaking through. We may well be at the brink of a new scientific revolution, one which sees for the first time a rational basis for values and ethics and allows people to choose religion or not without the fear of undermining moral values. Indeed such a rational basis for values may at last give us a sound progressive morality without the need to hold on to archaic origin myths, the authority of morally corrupt religious leaders and without the need quietly to brush under the carpet some of the indefensible practices advocated in scripture.
A new rational ethics can extend beyond believers in 'our religion' to encompass all people, and maybe even all sentient animals as well. And if different capacities for suffering can be understood scientifically, then different values can be applied to mice and men without logical inconsistency.
Is such expectation justified? Can values have a scientific basis at all? Can science tell us what is right and wrong? This last question is the basis for a debate which recently took place at the Arizona State University, and is presented in the videos below. The total running time is 2 hours, in 7 sections, and is well worth it for thinking people interested in science, religion, philosophy or ethics.
For a short-cut summary, scroll down to Steven Pinker's 12 min address which I think cuts through to the heart of the matter.
Part 1 - Introduction by Roger Bingham then Sam Harris
Part 2 - Patricia Smith Churchland
Part 3 - Peter Singer
Part 4 - Lawrence Krauss
Part 5 - Simon Blackburn
Part 6 - Steven Pinker
Part 7 - The Debate Panel
Saturday 13 November 2010
Thursday 11 November 2010
Regarding: The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure
AMAZON, most of us believe in free speech. But there are also legal limits on this. In many jurisdictions, inciting criminal acts is conspiracy and both you and the author may be liable to criminal prosecution by continuing to publish this material. I urge you to remove it from sale while you seek competent legal advice in all jurisdictions in which you do business.
Amazon is a corporate entity. That is: a self-obsessed sociopath which works to maximise profit at the expense of its stake-holders. This is not a judgement about Amazon, but a statement of fact about what corporations are, as enshrined in company law. Appealing to its morals, or better nature, is futile - a corporation doesn't have them. We must present a sound business case for changing its mind.
Presumably Amazon currently judges that freedom to publish at will is more profitable that caving in to public outrage. When the point is reached where outraging its stakeholders will damage its business interests more than self-censorship, then logically it will change its policy.
Part of this involves explaining to stakeholders, which in this case includes most of the online planet, precisely what this book says. Another part is looking for legal threats to this continued publication which can convince Amazon that it is in its interests to reconsider.
I saw a link to a protest group on Facebook against this book. Having seen all kinds of intemperate rage against its very existence, and imagining that I'm some kind of fair minded bloke, I decided to download a copy and read it before judging it for myself.
The author is a paedophile (British spelling, I'm British). Hold your horses and put down your stones: we abhor his view, but as intelligent and rational people we defend to the death his right to express it. Don't we? Well, let's see.
He begins by claiming no intention to promote or excuse sexual congress between adults and minors, then goes on precisely to do just that. I will spare readers much of the detail, but some is necessary to make the point.
He asserts that paedophiles "care for and befriend their young lovers" and "always" put them first. This denies basic human nature and requires us to believe that paedophiles never succumb to the enormous temptation to go further than their partners wish. As other adults sometimes cross this line, in the heat of passion, why expect us to believe that paedophiles don't.
He asserts that paedophiles "never practice intercourse with juveniles under thirteen". From the testimony of adults I know, and have known, this is plainly and verifiably false.
He claims that a paedophile "becomes child-like with respect to its juvenile partner" and "enters into an equality of personhood with its young friend". But ignores the fact that the juvenile still sees a fully mature and powerful adult, not an equal child.
He then claims that "these realities place pedosexuals firmly among humanity's most considerate and solicitous lovers".
At this point, I could read no more.
Immature children have no equality with fully mature, powerful adults whom children are disposed to look to for authority, judgement, protection and nurture. Such children are not lovers, but victims - victims of adults who abuse their position of authority and trust. Most of us begin our sexual lives by fumbling and experimenting with those who are as inept and inexperienced as we are. We make silly mistakes and so do our partners. We say no, we say maybe, we push the boundaries, we pull back, we go forward. With an equal partner, at an age when we can deal with the emotional storm which rages, we feel our way to sexual maturity.
With a powerful adult, with a mature sexual appetite, deceiving themselves perhaps that the child is equally empowered, we lose the ability to say "no", we are taken advantage of and become victimised. As we doubt ourselves, our choices, our limits of self, fearful of raging conflicted feelings, and maybe fearful of future sexual encounters, our lives are poorer to the temporary satisfaction of the paedophile.
The author misses the point entirely. He fails to comprehend the harm of under-age sex, particularly with adults. He fails to appreciate why such activity is illegal in most advanced societies. He therefore promotes his tastes as though they were harmless. Not only is this book distasteful to those who understand the fragility of young minds, it is arguably illegal in a number of jurisdictions where it may be judged to incite, or conspire to promote, criminal behaviour.
I'm joining the group! And I'm quite happy to justify precisely why I'm joining the group, on an informed basis.
If you'd like to view or join the group, you can find it at http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_172172592810006