Ard: People are often nervous about the idea there is moral truth out there.
Ard: And they’re nervous because they worry that you’ll use that to hit them over the head.
Ard: You’ll use that to whack them.
David: And say it must be like this.
Ard: It must be like this. And others say, ‘Well, you know, our morals can be explained on evolutionary grounds; evolution gives us morals.’ What do you make of that?
GE: There are many attempts nowadays to derive morality from science. Some are from evolutionary grounds, some are from neuroscience, and so on. They always introduce, by the back door, some concept of the good life which they take for granted without discussion, and they assume that’s the right thing. They then go on to talk about morality arriving out of evolution. So, for instance, the fact that people have behaved in a certain way does not mean it’s a good way to behave, and so a lot of people say because people did that, it’s good. People try to say because it promotes people living together, it’s good. Well, who said that people living together is good? It may be good for survival, but it’s not the same as good in an ethical sense.
Now, for instance, a book called The Moral Molecule is based on the idea that a good life is a happy life. Well, if a good life is a happy life, we can solve it by giving everybody drugs and we’ll all feel happy. And then is that a moral life? Of course it isn’t.
Ard: Can science explain morality? It’s very natural. You look around you – you see technology, how it’s changed our lives, medicine, how it’s made our lives better, healthier, in really dramatic ways, and that has come through the power of science.
Ard: And so it’s very natural to think we’re going to use those same methods and solve the perennial problems of what is the good life.
GE: Well there’s a very different question. Will science solve the problem of what a good life is? Or will it help you to live a good life once you’ve decided what it is?
GE: Okay, science can do the second, to some extent, although, of course, technology is only a fraction of the solution: a huge part of living the good life is to do with psychology, sociology, philosophy, ethics, and so on.
Can science tell you what a good life is? My answer is an unequivocal, no. There’s no chance science can tell you what a good life is, because there’s no scientific experiment for what is good and what is bad.
And as I’ve said already, whenever people claim they’ve got an explanation from evolutionary theory, or genetics, or neurobiology, they always import, behind the scenes, a concept of what the good life is, and they don’t tell you they’re doing it. They take it for granted, and you have to learn to challenge them when they say this is what will make you make things good, and you have to challenge them: ‘Well, how do you know it’s good?’
And they will keep on coming back to you with some assumption about what is good and what is bad, and that is what science cannot do.
Morality is a completely different dimension. Science can explain what I would call the lower reaches of morality. It can explain certain behaviours which tend to enable societies to live together. To call that good or bad, it’s simply... it’s the wrong dimension. It’s not a moral dimension.