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Down in the Dirt magazine (v086)
(the September 2010 Issue)

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At Coffee with the Euthyphro Dilemma

Maryann Spikes

    Maryann, Dawkins, and Harris are at coffee...Maryann pops off with...

    Maryann: It is a true fact that love...treating the other as self...is the highest value.

    Dawkins (pre-Moral Landscape): Nature neither knows nor cares. Nature just is.

Maryann: Agreed. But the being to which this true fact corresponds is not constrained to the physical universe.

    Dawkins (pre-Moral Landscape): You have to cultivate love...make it up as you go. Relying on some imaginary being outside yourself is a recipe for religious atrocity.

    Maryann: Although that seems like a noble cause, why would you want to ‘cultivate’ love? Would you say it is a basic human need, like Maslow?

    Dawkins: *thinking about where she is going with this before he answers* *Harris throws him a copy of The Moral Landscape*

    Harris: *saving* Yes, which is part of why there can be true facts about values, without the need to refer to a being to which those true facts correspond.

    Dawkins (post-Moral Landscape): *to self* I’m beginning to like the sound of this. *to all* I was one of those who had unthinkingly bought into the hectoring myth that science can say nothing about morals. To my surprise, The Moral Landscape has changed all that for me. It should change it for philosophers too.

    Maryann: I would agree that science can study the moral center of the brain, figure out which genes work together to build a being who experiences empathy, study which chemicals make us feel and act more pro-social—I agree science can describe the “fact” of valuing. But you’re also saying science can go beyond just describing what’s going on when we value....to actually determining what type of valuing is actually...really...best?

    Harris and Dawkins: Sure. And it beats all the atrocities we’ve had to put up with from religion.

    Maryann: But scientists, some of them explicitly religious, and all of them implicitly religious (none being without a worldview) are just as human as the rest of us. Secular governments own their own share of atrocities. Isn’t this just an attempt to neutralize the “Moral Law” argument for God’s existence, that we all intuitively know and hunger for a “real good”? I’m no fan of nailing morality to the pulpit, but is confining it to the laboratory a better alternative?

    Harris: Indeed, the most common defense one now hears for religious faith is not that there is compelling evidence for God’s existence, but that a belief in Him is the only basis for a universal conception of human values. And it is decidedly unhelpful that the moral relativism of liberals so often seems to prove the conservative case.

    Maryann: So now it’s liberals versus conservatives? Sam, this seems rather divisive. So what ‘do’ you make of Dawkins’ hunger to cultivate “pure, disinterested altruism,” of Maslow’s putting self-actualization as the highest of basic human needs, of the Golden Rule being found in all cultures throughout history? Doesn’t this imply there is a being who is and does what we should all be and do...a being to which a “true fact” about the “highest value” corresponds? How do ‘you’ define well-being, anyway? Are we free to choose it?

    Harris: No, free will is an illusion, but this will all be answered in the book.

    Dawkins: Yeah, I’ve read it.

    All: *long sips of coffee*

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