Can the Sciences Help Us to Make Wise Ethical Judgments?

Skeptical Inquirer
26 Oct. 2004

Can the Sciences Help Us to Make Wise Ethical Judgments?

Scientific knowledge has a vital, if limited, role to play in shaping
our moral values and helping us to frame wiser judgments. Ethical
values are natural and open to examination in the light of evidence and

Paul Kurtz

Can science and reason be used to develop ethical judgments? Many
theists claim that without religious foundations, “anything goes,” and
social chaos will ensue. Scientific naturalists believe that secular
societies already have developed responsible ethical norms and that
science and reason have helped us to solve moral dilemmas. How and in
what sense this occurs are vital issues that need to be discussed in
contemporary society, for this may very well be the hottest issue of
the twenty-first century.

Dramatic breakthroughs on the frontiers of science provide new powers
to humans, but they also pose perplexing moral quandaries. Should we
use or limit these scientific discoveries, such as the cloning of
humans? Much of this research is banned in the United States and
restricted in Canada. Should scientists be permitted to reproduce
humans by cloning (as we now do with animals), or is this too
dangerous? Should we be allowed to make “designer babies?” Many
theologians and politicians are horrified by this; many scientists and
philosophers believe that it is not only inevitable but justifiable
under certain conditions. There were loud cries against in vitro
fertilization, or artificial insemination, only two generations ago,
but the procedure proved to be a great boon to childless couples. Many
religious conservatives are opposed to therapeutic stem-cell research
on fetal tissues, because they think that “ensoulment” occurs with the
first division of cells. Scientists are appalled by this censorship of
scientific research, since the research has the potential to cure many
illnesses; they believe those who oppose it have ignored the welfare of
countless numbers of human beings. There are other equally
controversial issues on the frontiers of science: Organ transplants-who
should get them and why? Is the use of animal organs to supply parts
for human bodies wrong? Is transhumanism reforming what it means to be
human? How shall we control AIDS-is it wicked to use condoms, as some
religious conservatives think, or should this be a high priority in
Africa and elsewhere? Does global warming mean we need a radical
transformation of industry in affluent countries? Is homosexuality
genetic, and if so, is the denial of same-sex marriage morally wrong?
How can we decide such questions? What criteria may we draw upon?

Many adhere today to the view that ethical choices are merely
relativistic and subjective, expressing tastes; and you cannot disputes
tastes (de gustibus non disputandum est). If they are emotive at root,
no set of values is better than any other. If there is a conflict, then
the best option is to persuade others to accept our moral attitudes, to
convert them to our moral feelings, or, if this fails, to resort to

Classical skeptics denied the validity of all knowledge, including
ethical knowledge. The logical positivists earlier in the twentieth
century made a distinction between fact, the appropriate realm of
science, and value, the realm of expressive discourse and imperatives,
claiming that though we can resolve descriptive and theoretical
questions by using the methods of science, we cannot use science to
adjudicate moral disputes. Most recently, postmodernists, following the
German philosopher Heidegger and his French followers, have gone
further in their skepticism, denying that there is any special validity
to humanistic ethics or indeed to science itself. They say that science
is merely one mythological construct among others. They insist that
there are no objective epistemological standards; that gender, race,
class, or cultural biases likewise infect our ethical programs and any
narratives of social emancipation that we may propose. Who is to say
that one normative viewpoint is any better than any other, they demand.
Thus have many disciples of multicultural relativism and subjectivism
often given up in despair, becoming nihilists or cynics. Interestingly,
most of these well-intentioned folk hold passionate moral and political
convictions, but when pushed to the wall, will they concede that their
own epistemological and moral recommendations likewise express only
their own personal preferences?

The problem with this position is apparent, for it is impaled on one
horn of a dilemma, and the consequence of this option is difficult to
accept. If it is the case that there are no ethical standards, then who
can say that the Nazi Holocaust and the Rwandan, Cambodian, or Armenian
genocides are evil? Is it only a question of taste that divides sadists
and masochists on one side from all the rest on the other? Are slavery,
the repression of women, the degradation of the environment by
profit-hungry corporations, or the killing of handicapped people
morally impermissible, if there are no reliable normative standards? If
we accept cultural relativity as our guide, then we have no grounds to
object to Muslim law (sharia), which condones the stoning to death of

What is the position of those who wish to draw upon science and reason
to formulate ethical judgment? Is it possible to bridge the gap and
recognize that values are relative to human interests yet allow that
they are open to some objective criticisms? I submit that it is, and
that upon reflection, most educated people would accept them. I choose
to call this third position “objective relativism” or “objective
contextualism”; namely, values are related to human interests, needs,
desires, and passions-whether individual or socio-cultural-but they are
nonetheless open to scientific evaluation. By this, I mean a form of
reflective intelligence that applies to questions of principles and
values and that is open to modification of them in the light of
criticism. In other words, there is a Tree of Knowledge of Good and
Evil, which bears fruit, and which, if eaten and digested, can impart
to us moral knowledge and wisdom.

In what sense can scientific inquiry help us to make moral choices? My
answer to that is it does so all the time. This is especially the case
with the applied sciences: medicine, dentistry, nursing, pharmacology,
psychiatry, and social psychology; and also in the policy sciences:
economics, education, political science; and such interdisciplinary
fields as criminology, gerontology, etc. Modern society could not
function without the advice drawn from these fields of knowledge, which
make evaluative judgments and recommend prescriptions. They advise what
we ought to do on a contextual basis.

Nonetheless, there are the skeptical critics of this position, who deny
that science per se can help us or that naturalistic ethics is
possible. I think that those critics are likewise mistaken and that
naturalism is directly relevant to ethics. My thesis is that an
increase in knowledge can help us to make wiser decisions. By
knowledge, I do not refer simply to philosophical analysis but
scientific evidence. It would answer both the religionist, who insists
that you cannot be moral unless you are religious, and the
subjectivist, who denies there is any such thing as ethical knowledge
or wisdom.

Before I outline this position, let me concede that the skeptical
philosophical objections to deriving ethics from science have some
merit. Basically, what are they? The critics assert that we cannot
deduce ethics from science, i.e., what ought to be the case from what
is the case. A whole series of philosophers from David Hume to the
emotivists have pointed out this fallacy. G.E. Moore, at the beginning
of the twentieth century, characterized this as “the naturalistic
fallacy” [1] (mistakenly, I think).

But they are essentially correct. The fact that science discovers that
something is the case factually does not make it ipso facto good or
right. To illustrate: (a) Charles Darwin noted the role of natural
selection and the struggle for survival as key ingredients in the
evolution of species. Should we conclude, therefore, as Herbert Spencer
did, that laissez-faire doctrines ought to apply, that we ought to
allow nature to take its course and not help the handicapped or the
poorer classes? (b) Eugenicists concluded earlier in the century that
some people are brighter and more talented than others. Does this
justify an elitist hierarchical society in which only the best rule or
eugenic methods of reproduction be followed? This was widely held by
many liberals until the fascists began applying it in Germany with dire

There have been abundant illustrations of pseudoscientific
theories-monocausal theories of human behavior that were hailed as
“scientific”-that have been applied with disastrous results. Examples:
(a) The racial theories of Chamberlain and Gobineau alleging Aryan
superiority led to genocide by the Nazis. (b) Many racists today point
to IQ to justify a menial role for blacks in society and their
opposition to affirmative action. (c) The dialectical interpretation of
history was taken as “scientific” by Marxists and used to justify class
warfare. (d) Environmentalists decried genetics as “racist” and thought
that changes in species should only be induced by modifications of the
environment. Thus, one has to be cautious about applying the latest
scientific fad to social policy.

We ought not to consider scientific specialists to be especially gifted
or possessed with ethical knowledge nor empower them to apply this
knowledge to society-as B.F. Skinner in Walden II and other utopianists
have attempted to do. Neither scientist-kings nor philosopher-kings
should be entrusted to design a better world. We have learned the risks
and dangers of abandoning democracy to those wishing to create a Brave
New World. Alas, all humans-including scientists-are fallible, and
excessive power may corrupt human judgment. Given these caveats, I
nevertheless hold that scientific knowledge has a vital, if limited,
role to play in shaping our moral values and helping us to frame wiser
judgments of practice–surely more, I would add, than our current
reliance on theologians, politicians, military pundits, corporate CEOs,
and celebrities!

How and in what sense can scientific inquiry help us?

I wish to present a modified form of naturalistic ethics. By this, I
mean that ethical values are natural; they grow out of and fulfill
human purposes, interests, desires, and needs. They are forms of
preferential behavior evinced in human life. “Good,” “bad,” “right,”
and “wrong” relate to sentient beings, whether human or otherwise.
These values do not reside in a far-off heaven, nor are they deeply
embedded in the hidden recesses of reality; they are empirical

The principle of naturalism is based on a key methodological criterion:
We ought to consider our moral principles and values, like other
beliefs, open to examination in the light of evidence and reason and
hence amenable to modification.

We are all born into a sociocultural context; and we imbibe the values
passed on to us, inculcated by our peers, parents, teachers, leaders,
and colleagues in the community.

I submit that ethical values should be amenable to inquiry. We need to
ask, are they reliable? How do they stack up comparatively? Have they
been tested in practice? Are they consistent? Many people seek to
protect them as inviolable truths, immune to inquiry. This is
particularly true of transcendental values based on religious faith and
supported by custom and tradition. In this sense, ethical inquiry is
similar to other forms of scientific inquiry. We should not presuppose
that what we have inherited is true and beyond question. But where do
we begin our inquiry? My response is, in the midst of life itself,
focused on the practical problems, the concrete dilemmas, and
contextual quandaries that we confront.

Let me illustrate by refer to three dilemmas. I do so not in order to
solve them but to point out a method of inquiry in ethics. First,
should we exact the death penalty for people convicted of murder? The
United States is the only major democracy that still demands capital
punishment. What is the argument for the death penalty? It rests on two
basic premises: (a) A factual question is at issue: capital punishment
is effective in deterring crime, especially murder; and (b) the
principle of justice that applies is retributive. As the Old Testament
adage reads, “Whatever hurt is done, you shall give life for life, eye
for eye, tooth for tooth. . . .” [2]

The first factual premise can be resolved by sociological studies, by
comparing the incidence of murder in those states and nations that have
the death penalty in force and those that do not and by states and
nations before and after the enactment or abrogation of the death
penalty. We ask, has there been an increase or a decrease in murder?
If, as a matter of fact, the death penalty does not restrain or inhibit
murder, would a person still hold his view that the death penalty ought
to be retained? The evidence suggests that the death penalty does not
to any significant extent reduce the murder rate, especially since most
acts of murder are not deliberate but due to passion or are an
unexpected result of another crime, such as robbery. Thus, if one bases
his or her belief in capital punishment primarily on the deterrence
factor, and it does not deter, would one change one’s belief? The same
consideration should apply to those who are opposed to the death
penalty: Would they change their belief if they thought it would deter
excessive murder rates? These are empirical questions at issue. And the
test of a policy are its consequences in the real world. Does it
achieve what it sets out to do?

There are, of course, other factual considerations, such as: Are many
innocent people convicted of crimes they did not commit (as was
recently concluded in the State of Illinois)? Is capital punishment
unfairly applied primarily to minorities? This points to the fact that
belief in capital punishment is, to some extent, a function of
scientific knowledge concerning the facts of the case. This often means
that such measures should not be left to politicians or jurors alone to
decide; the scientific facts of the case are directly relevant.

The second moral principle of retributive justice is far more difficult
to deal with, for this may be rooted in religious conviction or in a
deep-seated tribal sense of retaliation. If you injure my kin, it is
said, I can injure yours; and this is not purely a factual issue. There
are other principles of justice that are immediately thrown into
consideration. Those opposed to the death penalty say that society
“should set a humane tone and not itself resort to killing.” Or again,
the purpose of justice should be to protect the community from future
crimes, and alternative forms of punishment, perhaps lifetime
imprisonment without the right of parole, might suffice to deter crime.
Still another principle of justice is relevant: Should we attempt,
where possible, to rehabilitate the offender? All of the above
principles are open to debate. The point is, we should not block
inquiry; we should not say that some moral principles are beyond any
kind of re-evaluation or modification. Here, a process of deliberation
enters in, and a kind of moral knowledge emerges about what is
comparatively the best policy to adopt.

Another example of the methods of resolving moral disputes is the
argument for assisted suicide in terminal cases, in which people are
suffering intolerable pain. This has become a central issue in the
field of medical ethics, where medical science is able to keep people
alive who might normally die. I first saw the emergence of this field
thirty years ago, when I sponsored a conference in biomedical ethics at
my university and could find very few, if any, scholars or scientists
who had thought about the questions or were qualified experts. Today,
it is an essential area in medicine. The doctor is no longer taken as a
patriarchal figure. His or her judgments need to be critically
examined, and others within the community, especially patients, need to
be consulted. There are here, of course, many factual questions at
issue: Is the illness genuinely terminal? Is there great suffering? Is
the patient competent in expressing his or her long-standing
convictions regarding his or her right to die with dignity? Are there
medical and legal safeguards to protect this system against abuse?

Our decision depends on several further ethical principles: (a) the
informed consent of patients in deciding whether they wish treatment to
continue; (b) the right of privacy, including the right of individuals
to have control of their own bodies and health; and (c) the criterion
of the quality of life.

One problem we encounter in this area is the role, again, of
transcendental principles. Some people insist, “God alone should decide
life-and-death questions, not humans.” This principle, when invoked, is
beyond examination, and for many people it is final. Passive euthanasia
means that we will not use extraordinary methods to keep a person
alive, where there is a longstanding intent expressed in a living will
not to do so. Active euthanasia will, under certain conditions, allow
the patient, in consultation with his physician, to hasten the dying
process (as practiced in Oregon and the Netherlands). The point is,
there is an interweaving of factual considerations with ethical
principles, and these may be modified in the light of inquiry, by
comparing alternatives and examining consequences in each concrete

I wish to illustrate this process again by referring to another issue
that is hotly debated today: Should all cloning research be banned? The
Canadian legislature, in March 2004, passed legislation that will put
severe restrictions on such scientific research. The bill is called “An
Act Respecting Assisted Human Reproduction” (known as C-56), and it
makes it a criminal offense to engage in therapeutic cloning, to
maintain an embryo outside a woman’s body for more than fourteen days,
to genetically manipulate embryos, to choose the gender of offspring,
to sell human eggs and sperm, or to engage in commercial surrogacy. It
also requires that in vitro embryos be created only for the purpose of
creating human beings or for improving assisted human-reproductive
procedures. Similar legislation was passed by the U.S. House of
Representatives and is before the Senate. It is still being heatedly
debated. It includes the prohibition of reproductive cloning as well as
therapeutic stem-cell research. Two arguments against reproductive
cloning are as follows: (a) It may be unsafe (at the present stage of
medical technology) and infants born may be defective. This factual
objection has some merit. (b) There is also a moral objection saying
that we should not seek to design children. Yet we do so all the time,
with artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, and surrogate
motherhood. We already are involved in “designer-baby” technology, with
amniocentesis, pre-implantation, genetic testing, and chorionic villus
sampling (the avoiding of unwanted genes by aborting fetuses and
implanting desirable embryos).

If it were to become safe, would reproductive cloning become
permissible? I can think of situations where we might find it
acceptable-for example, if couples are unable to conceive by normal

It is the second area I mentioned above that is especially telling-the
opposition to any forms of embryonic stem-cell research. Proponents
maintain that this line of research may lead to enormous benefits by
curing a wide range of diseases such as Parkinson’s disease,
Alzheimer’s, or juvenile diabetes. Adult stem cells are now being used,
but embryonic stem cells may provide important new materials. The
criterion here is consequential: that positive outcomes may result.
Opponents maintain that this type of research is “immoral” because it
is tampering with human persons possessed of souls. Under this
interpretation, “ensoulment” occurs at the moment of conception. This
is said to apply to embryos, many of which, however, are products of
miscarriages or abortions. Does it also apply once the division of stem
cells occurs? Surely a small collection of cells, which is called a
blastocyst, is not a person, a sentient being, or a moral agent prior
to implantation. Leon Kass, chair of President Bush’s Council on
Bioethics, believes that human life cannot be treated as a commodity
and it is evil to manufacture life. He maintains that all human life,
including a cloned embryo, has the same moral status and dignity as a
person from the moment of conception.

This controversy pits two opposing moral claims: (a) the view that
stem-cell research may be beneficent because of its possible
contributions to human health (i.e., it might eliminate debilitating
diseases) versus (b) an ethic of revulsion against tampering with
natural reproductive processes. At issue here are the questions of
whether ensoulment makes any sense in biology and whether personhood
can be said to have begun at such an early stage, basically a
transcendental claim that naturalists object to on empirical grounds.
These arguments are familiar in the abortion debate; it would be
unfortunate if they could be used to censor scientific stem-cell

This issue is especially relevant today, for transhumanists say that we
are discovering new powers every day that modify human nature, enhance
human capacities, and extend life spans. We may be able to extend
memory and increase human perception and intelligence dramatically by
silicon implants. Traditionalists recoil in horror, saying that
post-humanists would have us transgress human nature. We would become

But we already are, to some extent: we wear false teeth, eyeglasses,
and hearing aids; we have hair grafts, pacemakers, organ transplants,
artificial limbs, and sex-change/sexual reassignment operations and
injections; we use Viagra to enhance sexual potency or mega-vitamins
and hormone therapy. Why not go further? Each advance raises ethical
issues: Do we have the reproductive freedom and responsibility to
design our children by knowing possible genetic disorders and
correcting them before reproduction or birth?

This leads to an important distinction between two kinds of values
within human experience. Let me suggest two possible sources: (a)
values rooted in unexamined feelings, faith, custom, or authority, held
as deep-seated convictions beyond question, and (b) values that are
influenced by cognition and informed by rational inquiry.

Naturalists say that scientific inquiry enables us to revise our
values, if need be, and to develop, where appropriate, new ones. We
already possess a body of prescriptive judgments that have been tested
in practice in the applied sciences of medicine, psychiatry,
engineering, educational counseling, and other fields. Similarly, I
submit that there is a body of prescriptive ethical judgments that has
been tested in practice and that constitutes normative knowledge; and
new normative prescriptions are introduced all the time as the sciences

The question is thus raised, what criteria should we use to make
ethical choices? This issue is especially pertinent today for those
living in pluralistic societies such as ours, where there is diversity
of values and principles.

In formulating ethical judgments, we need to refer to what I have
called a “valuational base.” [3] Packed into this referent are the
pre-existing de facto values and principles that we are committed to;
but we also need to consider empirical data, means-ends relationships,
causal knowledge, and the consequences of various courses of action. It
is inquiry that is the instrument by which we decide what we ought to
do and that we should develop in the young. We need to focus on moral
education for children; we wish to structure positive traits of
character and also the capacity for making reflective decisions. There
are no easy recipes or simple formulae that we can appeal to, telling
us what we ought to do in every case. There are, however, what W.D.
Ross called prima facie general principles of right conduct, the common
moral decencies, a list of virtues, precepts, and prescriptions,
ethical excellences, obligations, and responsibilities, which are
intrinsic to our social roles. But how they work out in practice
depends on the context at hand, and the most reliable guide for mature
persons is cognitive inquiry and deliberation.

Conservative theists have often objected to this approach to morality
as dangerous, given to “debauchery” and “immorality.” Here, there is a
contrast between two different senses of morality: (a) the
obedience/authoritarian model, in which humans are expected to follow
moral absolutes derived from ancient creeds, and (b) the encouragement
of moral growth, implying that there are within the human species
potential moral tendencies and cognitive capacities that can help us to
frame judgments.

For a naturalistic approach, in the last analysis, ethics is a product
of a long evolutionary process. Evolutionary psychology has pointed out
that moral rules have enabled human communities to adapt to threats to
their survival. This Darwinian interpretation implies a biological
basis for reciprocal behavior- epigenetic rules-according to E.O.
Wilson (1998). [4] The social groups that possessed these rules
transmitted them to their offspring. Such moral behavior provides a
selective advantage. There is accordingly an inward propensity for
moral behavior, moral sentiments, empathy, and altruism within the

This does not deny that there are at the same time impulses for selfish
and aggressive tendencies. It is a mistake, however, to read in a
doctrine of “original sin” and to say that human beings are by nature
sinful and corrupt. I grant that there are individuals who lack moral
empathy; they are morally handicapped. Some may even be sociopaths. The
salient point is that there are genetic potentialities for good and
evil; but how they work out and whether beneficent behavior prevails is
dependent on cultural conditions. Both our genes (genetics) and memes
(social patterns of enculturation) are factors that determine how and
why we behave the way we do. We cannot simply deduce from the
evolutionary process what we ought to do. What we do depends in part
upon the choices we make. Thus, we still have some capacity for free
choice. Though we are conditioned by environmental and biogenetic
determinants, we are still capable of cognitive processes of selection,
and rationality and intentionality play a causative role. (Note: There
is a considerable scientific literature that supports this evolutionary
view. See Daniel Dennett, Freedom Evolves [New York: Viking, 2003] and
Darwin’s Dangerous Idea [New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995]; Brian
Skyrm, Evolution of the Social Contract [Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1996], Robert Wright, The Moral Animal [New York:
Pantheon Books, 1994] and Nonzero [New York: Vintage Books, 2001], Matt
Ridley, The Origins of Virtue [New York: Viking, 1996], and Elliott
Sober and David Sloan Wilson, Unto Others [Cambridge, Massachusetts:
Harvard University Press, 1998].)

Ethical precepts need not be based upon transcendental grounds or
dependent upon religious faith. Undoubtedly, the belief that they are
sacred may strengthen moral duties for many persons, but it is not
necessary for everyone.

I submit that it is time for scientists to recognize that they have an
opportunity to contribute to naturalistic ethics. We stand at an
interesting time in human history. We have great power to ameliorate
the human condition. Biogenetic engineering, nanotechnology, and space
research open new opportunities for humankind to create a better world.

Yet there are those today who wish to abandon human reason and freedom
and return to mythological legends of our premodern existence,
including their impulses of aggres- sion and self-righteous vengeance.
I submit that the Enlightenment is a beacon whose promise has not been
fulfilled and that humankind needs to accept the responsibility for its
own future.

A caveat is in order. In the last analysis, some degree of skepticism
is a necessary antidote to all forms of moral dogmatism. We are
continually surrounded by self-righteous moralists who claim that they
have the Absolute Truth, Moral Virtue, or Piety or know the secret path
to salvation and wish to impose their convictions on all others. They
are puffed up with an inflated sense of their own rectitude as they
rail against unbenighted immoral sinners who lack their moral faith.
These moral zealots are willing to repress or even sacrifice anyone who
stands in their way. They have in the past unleashed conquering armies
in the name of God, the Dialectic, Racial Superiority, Posterity, or
Imperial Design. Skepticism needs to be applied not only to religious
and paranormal fantasies but to other forms of moral and political
illusions. These dogmas become especially dangerous when they are
appealed to in order to legislate morality and are used by powerful
social institutions, such as a state or church or corporation, to
enforce a particular brand of moral virtue. Hell hath no fury like the
self-righteous moral fanatic scorned.

The best antidote for this is some skepticism and a willingness to
engage in ethical inquiry, not only about others’ moral zeal, but about
our own, especially if we are tempted to translate the results of our
own ethical inquiries into commandments. The epistemological theory
that I propose is based upon methodological principles of skeptical
scientific inquiry, and it has important moral implications. For in
recognizing our own fallibility, we thereby can learn to tolerate other
human beings and to appreciate their diversity and the plurality of
lifestyles. If we are prepared to engage in cooperative ethical
inquiry, then perhaps we are better prepared to allow other individuals
and groups some measure of liberty to pursue their own preferred
lifestyles. If we are able to live and let live, then this can best be
achieved in a free and open democratic society. Where we differ, we
should try to negotiate our divergent views and perhaps reach common
ground; and if this is impractical, we should at least attempt to
compromise for the sake of our common interests. The method of ethical
inquiry requires some intelligent and informed examination of our own
values as well as the values of others. Here we can attempt to modify
attitudes by an appeal to cognitive beliefs and to reconstruct them by
an examination of the relevant scientific evidence. Such a
give-and-take of constructive criticism is essential for a harmonious
society. In learning to appreciate different conceptions of the good
life, we are able to expand our own dimensions of moral awareness; and
this is more apt to lead to a peaceful world.

By this, I surely do not mean to imply that anything and everything can
or should be tolerated or that one thing is as good as the next. We
should be prepared to criticize moral nonsense parading as virtue. We
should not tolerate the intolerable. We have a right to strongly
object, if need be, to those values or practices that we think are
based on miscalculation, misconception, or that are patently false or
harmful. Nonetheless, we might live in a better world if inquiry were
to replace faith; deliberation, passionate commitment; and education
and persuasion, force and war. We should be aware of the powers of
intelligent behavior, but also of the limitations of the human animal
and of the need to mitigate the cold, indifferent intellect with the
compassionate and empathic heart. Thus, I conclude that within the
ethical life, we are capable of developing a body of melioristic
principles and values and a method of coping with problems
intelligently. When our ethical judgments are based on rational and
scientific inquiry, they are more apt to express the highest reaches of
excellence and nobility and of civilized human conduct. We are in sore
need of that today.

In This Issue
Buy this back issue
Can the Sciences Help Us to Make Wise Ethical Judgments?
The Columbia University ‘Miracle’ Study: Flawed and Fraud
The Campeche, Mexico ‘Infrared UFO’ Video
Lady Homeopathy Strikes Back . . . But Science Wins Out
Review: What the #$*! Do We Know?
1. G.E. Moore. Principia Ethica (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,

2. See Exodus 21.

3. Kurtz, Paul (ed.). The New Skepticism: Inquiry and Reliable
Knowledge (Amherst, New York: Prometheus, 1992), chapter 9.

4. Wilson, E.O. Consilience (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1998).

About the Author

Paul Kurtz is a professor emeritus at the State University of New York
at Buffalo, and chairman of the Center for Inquiry – Transnational.
This article is a portion of the keynote address delivered at the
conference on “Science and Ethics” sponsored by the Center for Inquiry
in Toronto, Ontario, on May 13, 2004.