Bad atheist arguments: “Science can explain everything”
In today’s opening episode, Fred takes our hero to the Louvre but then drugs him in the cafeteria. When he wakes up that night, he first thinks that Fred is planning to steal the Mona Lisa, but no, he just wants a sample of the paint to test. Why can’t Fred search for someone else’s scan results? Because it is a scientist and insists on doing his own research.
Bannister awkwardly links this to reality, citing Harry Kroto, Nobel Prize winner in chemistry: “Science is the only philosophical construct we have for determining truth with any degree of reliability. But just two sentences later, Bannister screwed it up by, “Science can answer all questions. Yes, it is quoted precisely. You’re right, it’s not even close to what the scientist said.
This continues our review of The atheist who did not exist by Andy Bannister (part 1), who criticizes a number of atheistic arguments.
In the reviews of the previous chapter, I defended the atheist argument against Bannister’s attacks. But I’m not defending this one because no one else is. No one does, that is, except the theists. They are drawn to the arguments of the straw men like flies to the garbage.
Can science answer ethical questions?
Back to Bannister: If the scientist in question agrees. . . that science can explain everything, we must underline a few points.
Oh, great, we’re about to be schooled by a guy who can’t paraphrase a simple idea properly.
Bannister calls out to us: “What is the value of human life? He insists that something outside of science dictates this assessment.
OK, atheists, how would you respond to that with science alone? A chemist could calculate the value of recoverable chemicals inside a human body. An economist could look at each person’s net contribution to the economy. But humans surely have an intrinsic value that science cannot discover. Bannister tries to horrify the idea that science dictates this calculation rather than love or God. Or something.
How? ‘Or’ What do are we calculating the value of a human life?
We all know how a human life can be given financial value when we look at how life insurance works. Or we can weigh the cost of improving food or road safety against the number of lives it will save. This calculation is not horrible; it’s something we all know.
Bannister probably wants a more intangible or intuitive approach. For example, he would probably say that we all think that a human life is worth more than an animal life.
Or U.S ? When Harambe, a lowland gorilla (which as a species is critically endangered) was killed in 2016 to protect a four-year-old boy who had fallen on the grounds of his zoo, many have criticized the zoo for its actions, and the mother boy received torrents of outrage online for his alleged neglect.
Consider other comparisons. Your life is worth more than that of a slug or a rat, but would it be more precious than the last bald eagle breeding pair? What’s more precious: the life of a random stranger you will never meet or your beloved pet? Is human life so precious that capital punishment is immoral?
Another way to explore this is the challenge of placing a value on a life through Peter Singer’s Drowning Experience: you pass a pond with a drowning child. There is no difficulty in stopping yourself from floundering and saving the child, except that you would know your clothes. Let’s say the financial cost to you would be $ 500. Would that stop you? Of course not, anyone would sacrifice their clothes for the life of a child. But that means saving a life is worth $ 500 or more for you. Now suppose a nonprofit organization that provides bed nets to protect children from malaria mosquitoes (or a similar project) shows you how a donation of $ 500 would save at least one life. Most people would reject this call after a few seconds of thinking.
Use science to uncover and explain moral conclusions
It was a detour, but I think it was relevant to Bannister’s challenge that the value of human life is never found by science. My point is first that we can indeed assign a crude monetary value to human life. We do it all the time.
Plus, Bannister’s unspoken supernatural assessment of human life is probably a joyful statement that God made man the pinnacle of his creation, CQFD, and yet it’s more complicated than that.
Let me now respond directly to his challenge. Our moral programming tells us (in general) to value human life over other types of life. It is a product of our evolutionary path, which is explained by science. Or consider legislators’ assessment of an improvement proposal at a dangerous road intersection. They discover and follow evidence and test hypotheses to make their decisions, and that is the scientific method. What is unexplained?
Bannister reminds me of the child who asks without thinking “Why?” In response to each statement as he fishes for something beyond science that only God can explain. He asks, “Why is the pursuit of knowledge a good thing?” “And” Why is it wrong [for a scientist] lie about [experimental] results?”
Well, little Andy, lying slows down the search for knowledge, and knowledge is good because sometimes we can use it to improve life – to eliminate disease or improve food production, for example. Why is it this good, you ask? Because we are looking for a happier, healthier life, this is exactly how we are programmed. “Good” in this case is defined by our programming, put there by evolution. You don’t have to call on the supernatural to explain this.
Returning to Bannister’s original challenge, can science answer all the questions? We do not know yet. But the problem of weighing the value of human life is a problem to which the scientific method is essential.
To be continued.
If science can’t detect your God,
neither did your priests.
– commentator Pofarmer
(This is an update to an article that originally appeared on 1/16/17.)
Image from Wikimedia, public domain