There are some really smart people I marvel at – I’ll list some in an upcoming post. But I’m also always amazed at how many people are considered smart, but say things that are obviously untrue. Amazingly things they can’t even really mean themselves.
It’s a curious thing. A topic that is really interesting to me – are they blind to the obvious?
A “great” place to look is the science/religion section in the huffington post. Full of Ph.D.’s who get the simplest things wrong. Whatever is written there about evolution is constantly false. A guy like Robert Lanza is apparently “likened to Einstein himself” – yet all his articles are based on his misunderstanding of Heisenbergs uncertainty principle.
But lets use Sam Harris as an example. He wrote there recently, promoting his new book. He proposes that science should calculate moral values. There is also a TED-talk about it.
The amount of fallacies in his ideas is amazing. All he does is setting up a bogus threat. He says that someone is arguing “anyone can do whatever he wants”. That “there are no values whatsoever”. I think its just an invention – if such perfect Nihilists would exist, they would just die because they see no value in breathing or eating.
He then eloquently defeats these imagined nihilist-extremists. This victory proves thus that woman shouldn’t wear burkas. Let’s take this weird logic as true: still the value is zero. I mean, how does he plan to rip those burkas off those women now?
That’s the actual question! Nothing new, and he doesn’t give an answer.
Can science predict how this could work? None that I know of. Math is good at calculating rotating planets and particles – in the social realm the scientific principle has been very helpless so far. History is never repeatable to check if the same would happen again. There is no scientific theory to even predict the simplest social settings. Let alone in complex cultural question as the tradition of the burka.
Harris leaves us with noting that applies to the real world. All that’s left is a theoretical idea that science might one day be able to calculate moral issues.
Well, lets take on that (quite useless) claim: First off we would need a true calculable universal value, that can be the basis. So that we can say “Action A has a better outcome than action B”. He suggests happiness. Does he really suggest that brain scans could give us a true definition of it? Even then: I personally don’t see happiness as an ultimate goal. I know that it’s a popular idea – but I would not accept morals based purely on this.
So he’s getting standing ovations at nothing but hot air? And while the crowd might not have had time to think about it – Sam Harris apparently managed to write a full book, while not thinking for five minutes. He is a perfect example of a man, that revered as smart – should be smart – but is constantly wrong.
And he missed even the most obvious problem: trying to put a number to a value of life is immoral. If I say your life is worth 10 bucks, it would clearly be wrong. No way around it. Changing it to two billion wouldn’t make it more true. Sometimes using math for moral calculations is immoral in itself.