How Sam Can Save the Children with the Kind of Scientific Input he Wants
Thus, however, I advise you, my friends: Mistrust all in whom the urge to punish is strong.
SO FAR, WE'VE SEEN that a view of morality based on natural values would provide Sam Harris with a more direct route to the kind of morality he outlined in his talk at TED.
We've also seen that it would provide him with the same kind of moral diversity which he described there.
But Sam also wants to deal with problems like this:
For instance, there are 21 states in our country where corporal punishment in the classroom is legal: where it is legal for a teacher to beat a child with a wooden board, hard, and raising large bruises and blisters and even breaking the skin.
And hundreds of thousands of children, incidentally, are subjected to this every year.
The locations of these enlightened districts, I think, will fail to surprise you.
We're not talking about Connecticut.
And the rationale for this behavior is explicitly religious.
The Creator of the universe Himself has told us not to spare the rod, lest we spoil the child: This is in Proverbs 13 and 20, and I believe, 23.
But we can ask the obvious question:
Is it a good idea, generally speaking, to subject children to pain and violence and public humiliation as a way of encouraging healthy emotional development and good behavior?
Is there any doubt that this question has an answer, and that it matters?
Here, I think, we come to the crux of Sam's case.
He wants to be able to say that this kind of policy is indisputably wrong.
And he's right about that.
But his focus is in the wrong place.
He wants to come to those people—the ones voting for the policy and the teachers who implement it—and explain that values are a matter of scientific fact, and that their values are wrong.
But those people don't have bad values .
They have made a bad moral decision, certainly.
But the fault was not in their values—it was in their world view.
There may be a handful of hate-filled sociopaths running classrooms, but they are few and far between.
The average teacher who paddles a kid does it, not because he doesn't value the kid's well being, but because he has been convinced that paddling is good for the kid—as Sam himself testifies.
This is where a distinction I made at the very beginning of this series comes into play: the distinction between natural values and moral values.
Natural values—values like care, fairness, respect, loyalty, and truth—are the basis of human morality.
They are also a natural part of human nature, both individually and collectively.
Moral values—values like hitting children, beating your wife, forcing kids in school to pray to the god of your choice, bombing the infidel, keeping gays from having stable relationships—are not really values at all, but are behaviors, principles, and beliefs that are derived from a hierarchical, legalistic, top-down moral system and its accompanying worldview.
They are merely disguised as values.
This makes an enormous difference.
If that teacher's values—his actual, natural values—were really different from everyone who applauded Sam Harris at TED, the situation would be much worse than it is.
Luckily, for this kind of abuse to stop, that teacher doesn't have to change his values, he merely has to change his worldview.
But worldviews are a whole lot easier to change than values.
Why do you think it is that fundamentalists have to go to indoctrination sessions at their church three or four times a week?
It's to keep their worldview intact—to keep it from unraveling through contact with reality.
And worldviews, unlike values, are matters of fact, addressable directly by science in the way that Sam envisions.
This is what I meant when I said that this series was about strengthening Sam's case.
In his current model...
We first have to buy into a top-down system that works in much the same way as the religious system which that teacher holds.
Then, by applying our definition of morality, we discover that the teacher's definition of morality is wrong on the question of punishment.
We then have the task of convincing that teacher (or forcing him) to replace his moral value with our moral value.
To which he will probably reply, "you have your authority and I have mine."
And to which we have no response, since the leap from "is to ought" under Sam's current approach is exactly parallel to the same leap in the teacher's approach: in both cases we are dealing with "moral" values, not the real thing.
But with a natural model...
We completely accept the teacher's natural values, and start out in agreement with him that he should do what is best for the child.
We then present him with evidence that beatings actually do children harm.
Since we are not pitting our values against his anymore, the question becomes factual, and so can be addressed with evidence.
That teacher may still resist being convinced, but as an ex-fundamentalist, I can guarantee that real-world evidence, if presented clearly and continuously, will have its effect.
Once it does, he will very likely do the work for us of reinterpreting (or coming to ignore) the passage he had previously based the immoral behavior upon.
Natural values are simply more powerful than "moral" values, because they are closer to the bone.
And aside from being more effective—and more true to real human experience—an approach based on natural values is also more respectful of that teacher and his actual motives.
Next: Of Sam Harris, Truth, and Burqas...