Merry Secular Christmas

It’s time to build a positive framework that can serve the role that religion has played in our lives for millennia, yet one that is not steeped in superstition, that is rational and is capable of handling the tremendous challenges we are sure to face in the future. Challenges that any belief system based on myth and fantasy won’t be suited to face.

Is New Scientist Losing Its Way?

Science journalism is a funny game. I know that only too well from my experience editing two quite different science magazines. Building a bridge between the often esoteric world of science – with its breathtaking complexity, arcane language, super-specialised practitioners and often tangential relation to the real world concerns of Read more…

The Meaning of ‘Moral’

One of the things I’ve notice while looking at evolution and morality is the vast and unbridled equivocation that goes on when the word ‘moral’ is evoked. Some, such as Franz de Waal, observe cooperation, punishment and concern amongst non-human primates and thus calls them ‘moral’. Others, such as Jonathan Read more…

Evolution of Man and Woman

I ran across this cute artwork illustrating the evolution of man and woman by Calgary artist, Tom Rhodes, on his blog, Plan to Fail. In his post, he explains that it was a project for his figure illustration class where he was given free reign to pick his subject. He picked evolution. But instead of running off and drawing half-monkey hybrids, he rushed to the University of Calgary’s Archaeology department to seek council from experts, notably Dr. Anne Katzenberg.

The result is more cartoony than most scientific illustrations, but I think it does an appealing job of representing the changes that have taken place over the last million and a half odd years since Homo habilis.

My only concern is the noticable shift from dark skin to light over the course of the piece. Rhodes justifies this by appealing to the fact that our ancestors tended to migrate north, with a corresponding lightening of the skin. However, the earliest Homo sapiens are likely to have sported dark skin, as they required skin pigmentation to protect them from UV radiation in the absence of the hair that covered their forebears.

But hey, this isn’t a scientific illustration, it’s an illustration of something scientific.

The image is below the fold, as it may offend some interminable prudes (it does contain nudity – specifically, nude primates!). In fact, if you are an interminable prude, and you do click to see the picture, I’ve probably offended you twice.


The Case for Secular Morality

“Is a canonical secular morality necessary?,” asks Mike Treder of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. This comes in response to a recent post of mine about science, religion and secular morality. In that post I suggest:

The greatest philosophical endeavour of this century will be to find a workable, rational, scientifically-compatible moral and values system that doesn’t evoke the supernatural and can serve as a replacement for religion in our society. The Great Quest for a secular morality.

But Mike isn’t convinced.

Several readers who have left comments on Tim’s article seem to agree with me that there is no great need to develop a “secular morality” to replace the various religious moral modalities that have governed human civilization for the last seven thousand years or so. Not that we see any particular problem with leaving religion behind—high time for that, in my opinion—but to seek for an equally orthodox substitute seems simply like replacing an old car with a new one, instead of looking for an alternative, sustainable means of transportation.

So, I’d like to outline my full argument for secular morality, why we need it and what it supposed to do. By necessity, I’ll skim over the detail in favour of presenting the entire argument, but I’ll link to supporting material where possible.


Science, Religion and the Quest for Secular Morality

Note: for the record, I’m not particularly interested in engaging in the great science versus religion debate. For me, the debate is over; it’s a non-starter; an albatross around the neck of reasonable discourse. My hope is that we might one day become unshackled from it, and on that day thousands of able minds might be directed towards more fruitful pursuits. And I’m not particularly interested in trying to bend the will of dogmatic religious folk to my views. Others engage in such pursuits with great vigour such that my contribution is unnecessary. However, I am ever enthusiastic to engage with rational individuals in productive dialogue on where we might venture after the debate has passed into memory. It is to that end that I offer the following post.

Can religion and science co-exist peacefully? Many wish they could. But alas, it isn’t so. So says Jerry A. Coyne, evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago, in his review in The New Republic of two books that hope to find some conciliation between religion and science. The review is lengthy, but ably weaved and dense with insightful analysis and observation. Well worth a read.

And it represents another sign that the debate is ready to move on – to the Great Quest of finding a secular morality that can replace religion as our moral and values compass in the modern world. But before I get to that, the review, and why science and religion will never get along: