After reading through Sam Harris’s response to the Great Moral Landscape Promo, it looks like I was right when I noted, “Harris wants to dumb down the definition of science. He wants to draw upon his atheistic/Buddhist intuitions and then, like a typical pseudoscientist, label them science, relying on his dumbed down definitions.” What catches my interest is the way Harris handles science.
He begins his essay:
Most criticisms of The Moral Landscape seem to stumble over its subtitle, “How Science Can Determine Human Values,” and I admit that this wording has become an albatross.
He chose a title that would help sell books and get him noticed and now finds the title to be an albatross.
To my surprise, many people think about science primarily in terms of academic titles, budgets, and architecture, and not in terms of the logical and empirical intuitions that allow us to form justified beliefs about the world.
I suspect very few people think about science “primarily in terms of academic titles, budgets, and architecture.” Most people think about science primarily in terms of results. Science got us to the moon. Science cured various diseases. Science gave us the computer. And science accomplished these results through dependence on the experimental approach. Lab research, field research, and the public sharing and review of these gathered data. So when Sam Harris tells us that Science Can Determine Human Values, we want to see the results. We want to see the experiments that uncover the objectively true human values. And Sam has nothing to offer.
Harris is trying to redefine science as part of his own self-promotion. He has no academic title, he has no research grant, and he is not part of any university or research institute (his own personal think tank does not count). But what he does have are “logical and empirical intuitions” that allow him to form “beliefs about the world” he considers as “justified.” So according to his own definition, it just so happens that Sam Harris is doing science when he writes and sells his books and speeches. Amazing how that works out, eh?
The point of my book was not to argue that “science” bureaucratically construed can subsume all talk about morality.
In other words, the subtitle of his book was misleading – science, as most people understand it, cannot determine human values.
My purpose was to show that moral truths exist and that they must fall (in principle, if not in practice) within some (perhaps never to be complete) understanding of the way conscious minds arise in this universe.
And these moral “truths” come from his intuition and he wants us to consider his intuitions as science.
Harris continues to quietly promote himself:
So you call a plumber. Is a plumber a scientist? No more than a roofer is, but any competent plumber will generate hypotheses and test them—and his thinking will conform to the same principles of reasoning that every scientist uses. When he pressure tests a section of pipe, he is running an experiment. Would this experiment be more “scientific” if it were funded by the National Science Foundation? No.
I have previous disposed of this type of argument before: Sam Harris’s Subtle Attack on Science .
But let me translate Harris’s message: Just because Harris himself is not funded by the National Science Foundation doesn’t mean he isn’t doing science.
Drawing the line between science and non-science by reference to a person’s occupation is just too crude to be useful—but it is what many of my critics seem to do.
Translation: Just because Sam Harris did not choose a career as a neuroscientist does not mean he is not doing science.
In summary, when Sam Harris argues that science can determine human values, what he really means is that his intuitions, guided by atheism and Buddhism, determine human values and he wants us to consider his intuitions to be science. Just another New Atheist trying to masquerade his/her opinions as science.