SciBlogs

Archive November 2011

Finding out about the astronomers who found the universe Ken Perrott Nov 29

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Book review: The Day We Found the Universe by Marcia Bartusiak

Price: US$11.53; NZ$20.82

Hardcover: 368 page
Publisher: Pantheon (April 7, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0375424296
ASIN: B005IUVQGY

This is a great book – just the sort of history of science I enjoy. One that smashes a few illusions, introduces new personalities, describes the significant research and debates of the time. And also describes the key scientists in a human way, with all their foibles, prejudices and illusions as well as their scientific contributions.

The title is apt. The book describes the work and people which produced our modern day understanding of the universe. Less than a century ago we used to think that our galaxy, the milky way, comprised the whole universe. And that it was static.  Now we see it a infinitely bigger, with billions of galaxies similar to ours. We also understand that it is expanding and that we can trace this expansion back almost 14 billion years to the “big bang.”

The big illusion the book shatters is the received story of how this happened through the work of Edwin Hubble. Of course he played a key role – but we normally never hear the background stories, the other personalities involved or details of the disputes and resolutions. It’s normally all about Edwin Hubble.

Island universes

Marcia Bartusiak reveals that concepts of a larger universe go back a long way. In fact many had a concept of a “multiverse” containing large numbers of “island universes” like our own – the milky way galaxy.

As far back as the first century B.C., the Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius argued against a finite universe. These arguments were revived in the sixteenth century by Thomas Digges in England and the Italian Giordano Bruno (one of his many heresies for which he was burned at the stake by the inquisition in 1600). In the Eighteenth Century Thomas Wright speculated on:

” whether certain cloudy spots, then being observed in the heavens in greater numbers, might be additional creations, bordering upon us but ’too remote for even our telescopes to reach,’ countless spheres with many ’Divine Centres.’ He seemed to be echoing the Swedish philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg, who in 1734 also wondered if ’there may be innumerable other spheres, and innumerable other heavens similar to those we behold, so many, indeed, and so mighty, that our own may be respectively only a point.”

In 1755 Kant described nebular patches in the nighttime sky as:

’just universes and, so to speak, Milky Ways… These higher universes are not without relation to one another, and by this mutual relationship they constitute again a still more immense system.’

The German scientist Alexander von Humboldt later dubbed them Kant’s ’island universes’ – and the description stuck. Astronomers passionately debated the ’mystery of the nebulae’ for almost two centuries until  Edwin Hubble announced, on January 1, 1925, his findings that ultimately established that our universe was a thousand trillion times larger than previously believed, filled with myriad galaxies like our own.

This, of course, radically reshaped how humans understood their place in the cosmos. Einstein abandoned his immobile cosmic model, finally accepting the concept of an expanding universe resulting from Hubble’s findings.

Bartusiak’s book provides an intricate history of the discoveries behind this work. With battles of will, clever insights, and wrong turns made by the early investigators in this great twentieth-century pursuit. While describing the contribution of the better known scientists like Einstein, Hubble and Harlow Shapley) she also describes the work of those we usually never hear of.

People like Henrietta Leavitt, who discovered the means to measure the vast dimensions of the cosmos. Her story illustrates the secondary role allowed for women in astronomy as “computers’, who did the repetitive calculations and recording from plates and were not allowed to observe. Leavitt, who overcame problems of health and deafness to produce such vital astronomical methods was even considered for a Nobel prize nomination – until the nominators realised she had died two years previously.

The biographies and contributions of many others are recorded in the book. Vesto Slipher, the first and unheralded discoverer of the universe’s expansion; Georges Lemaître, the Jesuit priest who correctly interpreted Einstein’s theories in relation to the universe; Milton Humason, who, with only an eighth-grade education, became a world-renowned expert on galaxy motions… and others.

“An odd bird”

These comments by the author about Edwin Hubble illustrate how she has presented the scientists in all their complexity  – warts and all:

“He was an odd bird, but certainly a handsome one. Friends called him an Adonis. I think he resembles the British actor Jeremy Irons. Raised in Missouri, in a solid middle-class household, Hubble somewhere along the line yearned to be singular and distinct. Once he graduated from the University of Chicago, he went to Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar, where he completely reinvented himself; he adopted a British accent that he maintained for the rest of his life, dressed like a dandy, and began to add dubious credentials to his resume, like saying he once practiced law, which he never did. He married into a rich Los Angeles family, and throughout his life seemed intent on erasing his Midwestern roots. His wife never met Hubble’s mother or siblings. Hubble was not chums with his astronomy colleagues but preferred to socialize with the actors and writers in nearby Hollywood. One astronomer called Hubble, often arrogant and standoffish, a ’stuffed shirt.’

Yet, while Hubble fibbed to his friends about his background, he was meticulously careful about his science. In fact, when he obtained the first evidence in early 1924 that the Andromeda nebula was truly a distant galaxy, he held off an official report for almost a year. He first wanted to counter every possible argument against his find. Being caught in a scientific error was Hubble’s greatest nightmare. And when he did finally release the data at that astronomy meeting on New Year’s Day in 1925, after a lot of arm-twisting from his colleagues, he wasn’t even there. He had someone else relay the findings.”

Bartusiak certainly has the ability to describe her characters well – and colourfully. But this ability also extends to her description of their work and discoveries.

I found the book a real pleasure to read – as well as being informative.

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Hypocritical gratitude? Ken Perrott Nov 27

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It seems that some of the delusional god-bothers in the US are upset because there President omitted their god in the list of people he expressed gratitude to in his thanksgiving day speech. As PZ Myers put it – you would think that Obama was joining the New Atheists!

The Christian Post had a wee moan about the issue. It mentions Conservative columnist Ben Shapiro who said of Obama: ’Militant atheist. To whom does he think we are giving thanks?’

What a pack of whiners!

I have always thought it rude not to express one’s gratitude to those who deserve it. And there are plenty (see Thanks, Thanking those who deserve thanks and Appropriate thanks). What’s with this rude habit of thanking a mythical being for one’s meal and ignoring the cook, serving staff, farmers, etc. Hell, I would even be thanking the agricultural scientists for their contribution to my meal.

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Yet astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson relates what could be a common experience. At a thanksgiving meal he attended everyone went around  the table expressing their thanks. Until he spoke they were all thanking their god.

He expressed his gratitude to agriculture – far more sensible and genuine. But he got booed!

How rude.

Sam Singleton presented quite a relevant atheist sermon on gratitude and religious hypocrisy at the recent US Skepticon conference. Have a look at the video below.

Atheist Revival, Sam Singleton Skepticon 4

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Climategate 2.0 and ’toecurling’ journalism Ken Perrott Nov 25

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It’s the silly season again. Another climate change conference (Durban) – another climategate hoax. This cartoon from crikey (Bitter Climate Science Tryst Shock Scandal Rift Emails Exposed) sums it up.

Credit: Firstdog at crikey

Thanks to: Bitter Climate Science Tryst Shock Scandal Rift Emails Exposed.

“Festering syphilitic repellance!”

And this from one of the most extreme climate change deniers, Telegraph journalist James Delingpole in Climategate 2.0: the most damning email of them all. It’s attacking an email with a Christmas song celebrating the IPCC Nobel prize. We will leave such enthusiastic but naive song writing aside. But it certainly puts Delingpole’s nose out of joint. It’s a bit over the top to describe such attempts at composition as “toecurlingly, . . vile,  reprehensible, stomach-churningly dreadful, . . .festering syphilitic repellance. .” isn’t it!

“The worst, most toecurlingly awful, damning, vile, reprehensible, stomach-churningly dreadful email — the one that shows the Warmist junk-scientists in a light of such festering syphilitic repellance they can never possibly recover is this, the Christmas ditty specially written by Kevin Trenberth in celebration of the Nobel committee’s comedic decision to award the Peace Prize to Al Gore and the IPCC.”

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It’s crowded up there Ken Perrott Nov 24

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The blog Periodic Videos has posted an interesting astronomical photo which “has been blighted by FIVE satellites streaking across the field of view.” (see Satellites in Shot).

Hadn’t thought of this before but with all that hardware in orbit astronomical photos of even a small part of the sky could easily be effected that way.

This video, Satellites (Deep Sky Videos preview), shows several example of this problem.

Moral strawmannery Ken Perrott Nov 22

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If you have ever searched the internet for a section of text from Darwin’s writings you will have noticed that most of the links that come up are to creationist websites and blogs. What we are seeing is simple dishonest quote mining. Somebody makes a claim about evolution, Darwin or Darwinism, attaches a mined quote – and the quote then has a life of its own. It gets repeated ad nauseum by the creationist echo chamber – with hardly any of the users bothering to check the quote against the original for accuracy – let alone context.

Mining quotes from Darwin

Here’s one taken from Darwin’s The Descent of Man.  It’s from Chapter IV: Comparison of the mental powers of man and the lower animals. In this Darwin discusses the evolution of a moral sense, sociability, social instincts and virtues, rules of conduct and religious beliefs. After arguing against the idea that a different social animal “if its intellectual faculties were to become as active and as highly developed as in man, would acquire exactly the same moral sense as ours” Darwin wrote:

“If, for instance, to take an extreme case, men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker-bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters; and no one would think of interfering.” (Bold added)

Recently I have seen the quote reproduced by numerous religious apologists and creationists arguing against “secular morality.” (Almost always the section in bold is omitted – usually evidence that users are just copying and pasting from other apologist posts or articles). And they interpret this to mean that a moral and social code held by a human species that has evolved must be the same as the most basic of animals or insects.

See, for example Flannagan’s When Scientists Make Bad Ethicists and Weikhart’s Can Darwinists Condemn Hitler and Remain Consistent with Their Darwinism?  Flannagan asserts:

“it is unlikely that a loving and just person could command actions such as infanticide or rape whereas, evolution, guided only by the impersonal forces of nature, is not subject to such constraints.”

Weikart has made a reputation of ascribing the morality of Nazism to Darwin (he is the author of From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany and Hitler’s Ethic: The Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress). He says:

“if morality is the product of these mindless evolutionary processes, as Darwin and many other prominent Darwinists maintain, then “I don’t think [they] have any grounds to criticize Hitler.””

And

“To natural selection killing your siblings and offspring is all the same as loving them. Selection only favors what works to enhance survival and reproduction, and it does not matter if it is nice and moral, or harsh and brutal.”

Bait and switch

The dishonest bait and switch should be obvious to someone who is not ideologically confused.  Evolutionary science indicates that human social and moral senses have arisen from evolution of our species and our brain. This means we have been able to develop social arrangements and moral codes. Those will be strongly influenced by our evolved instincts, emotions and social interactions. The process of natural selection is “mindless’, “unguided”, etc. but that does not mean that our human moral and social arrangements are heartless, mindless, emotionless and brutal in the way that Flannagan and Weikart, and their creationist friends, claim.

And these religious apologists would have known that if they had honestly looked at the context of their quote rather than blindly (mindlessly) copying and pasting from other creationist sources.  For example, in the next chapter of The Descent of Man Darwin wrote:

“the enforcement of public opinion depends on our appreciation of the approbation and disapprobation of others; and this appreciation is founded on our sympathy which it can hardly be doubted was originally developed through natural selection as one of the most important elements of the social instincts.”

Natural selection may be mindless but the results certainly aren’t – although the quote mining by these apologists seems pretty mindless to me. As does their attribution of brutal, thoughtless and immoral interactions to a species which has evolved to possess advanced social and moral intuitions.

This crude misrepresentation of an evolutionary understanding of how human moral and social instincts arose is a blatant form of strawmannery – one actively promoted by conservative religious apologists and creationists.

Command ethics inhuman

An evolutionary explanation for the origin of our species, as well as the origin of our moral and social sentiments, does not conflict in any way with the fact that humans can, and most do, adhere to the most humane moral codes.

This makes Flannagan’s support for religious command ethics (“divine commands”) over a scientific understanding of human ethics ridiculous. The “loving and just person” he refers to in the above quote is his god. Now, he claims that god is “unlikely” to “command actions such as infanticide or rape.”  Yet he supports and defends William Lane Craig‘s theological justification for biblical genocide/ethnic cleansing (see Concern over William Lane Craig’s justification of biblical genocide). And, yes, Craig’s justification did include infanticide:

 ’I would say that God has the right to give and take life as he sees fit. Children die all the time! If you believe in the salvation, as I do, of children, who die, what that meant is that the death of these children meant their salvation. People look at this [genocide] and think life ends at the grave but in fact this was the salvation of these children, who were far better dead…than being raised in this Canaanite culture. ’

What right do these religious apologists and creationists have to defame the humane moral codes held by most of our species just because the facts show we, and our instincts, are a result of natural selection?

Surely it’s their “divine command” ethics which are being used to justify the most brutal inhuman, in fact anti-human, actions.

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Creative science writing Ken Perrott Nov 20

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This weekend the Royal Society announced the winners of the New Zealand Manhire Prize for Creative Science Writing.

There are two categories, fiction and non-fiction, and this year entrants were asked to write about chemistry and our world. This is to commemorate the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Marie Curie in 1911 and to celebrate a hundred years of the contribution of chemistry to the well-being of humanity.

Radium — A Love Story

Both winning writers are chemists and have PhDs. Dr Bridget Stocker, who works at the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research in Wellington, wrote the winning fiction piece, Radium — A Love Story. (pdf link) It’s about Marie Curie and told from her point of view.

Stocker says:

’I felt compelled to write this story given that I’d taken part in the Marie Curie lecture series by the Royal Society of New Zealand, and then been featured on the cover of a chemistry magazine celebrating the life of Marie Curie. That said, I almost didn’t enter because I was running out of time, but I’m glad that I did!’

Historical fiction about scientists from the past is quite popular these days. I think it can serve a useful purpose in providing information about these great scientists in an easily accessible and interesting way.

100% Chemical Free

Dr Joanna Wojnar, from the University of Auckland, won the non-fiction category with 100% Chemical Free. (pdf link) This is about misuse of the term ‘chemical free’. In it he asks: ‘When exactly did chemistry become synonymous with poison, and chemical with toxic?’

Wojnar says

’My writing so far has been solely scientific publications in my field. The competition entry therefore was a change in pace for me, but it was quite fun to write as it’s one of my pet peeves. The other one is the misuse of the word ‘organic’, but that’s the topic of another article!’

As a chemist I sympathise completely with Wojnar’s viewpoint. Consumers should react cynically to this form of advertising which just plays on scientific ignorance.

The two winning entries will be published in the New Zealand Listener. But they both can be accessed and downloaded together with all 21 shortlisted entries, from the Royal Society of New Zealand’s website.

Past winning entries

The Manhire Prize for Creative Science Writing has been operating in the same format (fiction and non-fiction prizes) since 2007. If you want to read the past winning entries you can download the ebook Shift 2011.

SHIFT PDF (1.4 MB)

SHIFT epub (2MB)

SHIFT .mobi (2MB)

See also: Wellington woman wins Manhire Prize for creative science fiction writing

Royal Society’s science book of year Winton Prize winner. Ken Perrott Nov 18

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The Wave Watcher’s Companion by Gavin Pretor-Pinney is this year’s  the winner of the Royal Society’s Winton Prize for science books.

Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society, presented the £10,000 prize to Gavin Pretor-Pinney at an award ceremony held at the Royal Society on Thursday.  The Wavewatcher’s Companion triumphed over other strong contenders in the shortlist, including Guy Deutscher’s Through the Language Glass and Alex Bellos’s Alex’s Adventures in Numberland to win the prestigious award for science writing. I provided details of the six books on the short list in my September post Some recent recommended science books.

The first chapter of each shortlisted book is available to download for free at: royalsociety.org/awards/science-books/.

The full title of the winning book is “The Wave Watcher’s Companion: From Ocean Waves to Light Waves via Shock Waves, Stadium Waves, and All the Rest of Life’s Undulations.” So clearly it’s about more that sea waves. As one reviewer, Brad Moon at Geekdad,  puts it:

“Pretor-Pinney points out that waves are everywhere and draws upon hundreds of examples throughout the course of the book’s 336 pages, from animal locomotion to music, SONAR, fishing, the Big Bang, X-rays, radio waves, Wi-Fi, surfing, sand dunes, traffic flow, tides, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars (and traumatic brain injuries caused by explosive shock waves), thunder and lightning, supersonic flight, earthquakes, Bee shimmering (described as ’the most impressive mooning in the natural world’), bird flocking and countless others. By making numerous historical references and tying everything together with modern examples (like crowds doing ’The Wave’ in a stadium), and phenomena from the natural world, The Wave Watcher’s Companion sucks the reader in to a lengthy exploration of what sounds on the surface to be a potentially boring and very short subject.”

Thanks to: Cloudspotter makes waves at Royal Society

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Reclaiming ‘intelligent design’ Ken Perrott Nov 17

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Intelligence Design by Lisa Boulanger (fac), Dept. of Molecular Biology and Princeton Neuroscience Institute

Description:

This is a pyramidal neuron from the hippocampus, a part of the brain where some kinds of memories are formed. This neuron has been labeled with fluorescent antibodies so that we can visualize microtubules (shown in green), which form a structural network inside the neuron, and insulin receptors (shown in red), which are cell surface proteins that instruct neurons to make connections with other neurons. These connections, called synapses, become stronger or weaker as memories are constructed.

This is one of the photos from The Art of Science contest at Princeton University. The contest includes some of the the most beautiful and coolest of the images produced at the university in the course of scientific research.

An annual event, the organisers chose this year the theme of “intelligent design.” Intentionally, to be provocative. The organisers are hoping to push scientists to reclaim the term from those who attack evolutionary science. To remind one another of its other possible connotations: the intelligently designed product of a thoughtful engineer, or the clever new simulation from a creative computer scientist.

The image above attracted me – but it was not one of the prize winners. There is a gallery of over 50 great images entered into the contest at the Art of Science website.

Thanks to: CultureLab: Reclaiming ‘intelligent design’ with stunning photos.

A lesson in human logic Ken Perrott Nov 15

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As taught by Tim Minchin.

I hasten to add that there is no intention to offend Mr Whippy.

tim minchin on human logic – YouTube.

Thanks to Massimo Pigliucci

Is Keith Ward really that naive about science? Ken Perrott Nov 13

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Credit: Jesus and Mo

I am really amazed by some of the rubbish theologians and philosophers of religion think they can get away with when talking about science.

The Guardian article Religion answers the factual questions science neglects is just one recent example. It’s written by Keith Ward, a professorial research fellow in the philosophy of religion at Heythrop College, London. With these qualifications I would have expected something much better.

He loosely bases his arguments on Stephen Jay Gould’s concept of Non-overlapping Magisteria (NOMA) (see my post Overlapping Magisteria? for a brief description of NOMA). Ward claims:

“Many religious statements are naturally construed as statements of fact — Jesus healed the sick, and rose from death, and these are factual claims. So Stephen Gould’s suggestion that religion only deals with value and meaning is incorrect, though it is correct that scientists do not usually deal with such questions.”

Here are some points

1: Religion intrudes into the domain of science

Yes, we know that religion often intrudes into the domain of science – and it does cause problems. I guess a point for Ward being honest – but what’s this about scientists not usually dealing with some statements of fact!

Gould described the different domains this way (Gould’s quotes are from his book Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life):

’Science tries to document the factual character of the natural world, and to develop theories that coordinate and explain these facts. Religion, on the other hand, operates in the equally important, but utterly different, realm of  “human purposes, meaning and values” — subjects that the factual domain of science might illuminate, but can never resolve. Similarly, while science must operate with ethical principles, some specific to the practice, the validity of these questions can never be inferred from the factual discoveries of science.’

Ward obviously rejects that. He wishes to claim for religion the factual character of reality and their explanation. Facts about what happened 2000 years ago in the above quote. But he also claims for religion facts such as the origin of the universe (or as he puts it the claim “that the cosmos exists because it is created by a god with a purpose”). Other religionists make similar claims – eg. the origin of life, the origin of humanity, life after death, etc. And many of their proponents are extremely hostile to humanity’s use of science to investigate such areas.

Where is Ward coming from? Is he really  unaware of the research being done by cosmologists, etc? How can he have got the idea that science neglects such “factual questions?” Scientists certainly don’t think so.

And Ward also appears to promote the naive argument that historical science is impossible – an argument constantly used by creationists who wish to deny the facts of evolutionary science:

“A huge number of factual claims are not scientifically testable. Many historical and autobiographical claims, for instance, are not repeatable, not publicly observable now or in future, and are not subsumable under any general law. We know that rational answers to many historical questions depend on general philosophical views, moral views, personal experience and judgment. There are no history laboratories. Much history, like much religion, is evidence-based, but the evidence is not scientifically tractable.”

Surely the influence of “general philosophical views, moral views, personal experience and judgment” has been an obstacle to determining historical truths. And surely it is the application of scientific techniques and processes which help to overcome the effects of such subjectivity.

2: Religion assumes to exclusively  cover religion and values

Of course Ward is not going to give up this claim for religion. I have yet to meet a religious believer who will.

But it’s worth considering what Gould meant by “religion” when he initially described his NOMA concept. He wrote:

’I will accept both Huxley’s view and the etymology of the word itself — and construe as fundamentally religious (literally, binding us together) all moral discourse on principles that might activate the ideal of universal fellowship among people.’

Clearly he had a far more general picture of who has responsibility for the domains of “human purposes, meaning and values.” He saw this as the responsibility of everyone – non-religious as well as religious. Atheists and humanists as well as theists.

Unfortunately Gould should have recognised how his use of “religious” would be distorted – but perhaps not. My impression from reading his book is that he persistently uses “religion” in the more usual narrow sense everywhere else after this definition. Pity he even used the word.

But I guess we can’t blame theologians and philosophers of religion for wishing to continue with the narrow definition and thereby falsely claim morals and values as exclusively their domain.

3: Naive argument by analogy

I thought theologians had hit rock bottom with the tea kettle argument by John Haught that we can approach questions of reality at different levels (see The video! and Q&A added to ’The Video’ for the debate with Jerry Coyne where Haught uses this analogy). That we can say the water in a tea kettle is boiling because at one level the movement of molecules of water. But at other levels the explanation may be that someone wishes to make a pot of tea, etc. Apparently science talks about moving molecules and religion about intentions regarding one’s afternoon beverage.

In attempting to ring-fence some issues of reality for religion, and deny a role for science, Ward says that these are:

“factual claims in which scientific investigators are not, as such, interested. Scientific facts are, of course, relevant to many religious claims. But not all facts are scientific facts — the claim that I was in Oxford last night, unseen by anyone, will occur in no scientific paper, but it is a hard fact. So it is with the miracles of Jesus, with the creation of the cosmos and with its end. “

Now, granted that Ward “was in Oxford last night, unseen by anyone, will occur in no scientific paper.” It’s of little interest to humanity. But it could become a real issue.

What if he found it necessary to establish an alibi which placed him in Oxford, rather than London where one of his associates, who he was known to dislike, had been murdered. Would he insist that his location was not a “scientific fact,” that science was useless for establishing his alibi? Would he instead insist in court that his presence was as well established as “the miracles of Jesus” and pull in some priest off the street to swear his presence in Oxford on the bible – without any factual confirming evidence?

Or would he rely on people who he interacted with on the night to provide their evidence, submit train tickets for his trips there and back, hotel records of his stay, etc. Maybe in an even more difficult situation he would rely on the evidence of forensic scientists who were able to identify DNA he left in Oxford, analyse soil samples trapped in his shoes, etc.

He may wish to claim in a newspaper article that “Much history, like much religion, is evidence-based, but the evidence is not scientifically tractable.” But in a real situation influencing his future I am sure he would place his confidence in the science to establish the history of his visit to Oxford.

4: Moral questions – arguing by default

I suppose it’s inevitable he would drag this out. Everyone agrees that we don’t rely exclusively on science to determine if something is “right” or “wrong.” But the old argument by default that this should be left to religion no longer washes in this day and age. We have seen too many examples of religious motives leading to the wrong moral decisions.

Also, as pointed out above, even in Gould’s initial definition of NOMA he clearly used a far wider definition of “religion”. The fact that religionists misappropriate Gould’s arguments to apply to their restricted “religion” is hardly surprising. Theologians and philosophers of religion are hardly known for proving real and reasoned arguments for their claims, why bother with this one?

But most people in democratic, pluralist societies like ours, are no longer taken in. They do not see any reason why supernatural arguments should be used for justifying moral claims – and some very good reasons why they shouldn’t be. They also reject the conservative old style religious concept of command ethics. Today people like to internalise their sense of morality, to be autonomous moral agents, be capable of thinking for themselves on these issues. And they like to consider the real facts surrounding moral questions.

Even on moral questions science can be a great help.

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