Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Weird: Atheist Sam Harris places a premium on a pro-science culture. Even though the focus of his writings is atheism, he seems to think that if society were scientific, belief in God would naturally wither away and human rights would be secured.

So, do countries that value science enjoy high levels of civil liberties? The World Values Survey asked thousands of people in many countries, "In the long run, do you think the scientific advances we are making will help or harm mankind?" For 43 countries, I calculated the correlation between the percent who said advances will help us with Freedom House's 2008 ratings of a lack of civil liberties. I was surprised: it is .54. In other words, countries with lots of faith in science have low levels of human rights.

What is going on here? It looks like people in developed countries have come to take the benefits of science for granted and are more focused on its perceived costs. Anyway, the data here do not support in any straightforward way Harris' idea that faith in science eliminates injustice.

5 comments:

Jim Bowery said...

I think its pretty obvious that any culture that takes science seriously will value human rights for the following 2 reasons:

1) Progress in the social sciences requires that experiments be conducted on human societies to tests causal hypotheses in human ecology.

2) Allowing people to form societies by mutually consenting occupation of a territory is the most economical way of forming experimental groups for testing of causal hypotheses in human ecology.

#2 is the only human right that matters since all others can be constructed from it but it cannot be constructed from the others.

Jim Bowery said...

PS: And yes, the obvious implication is that current human societies value neither human rights nor science.

Anonymous said...

My mother's Sunday School teacher once said, in front of an entire ladies Sunday School Class........................"even if it (Christianity) is the biggest lie that ever was, its still the best way to live on this earth for our people".


Correctly practiced, New Testament Christianity stresses love and forgiveness and charity and justice and humility and chastity in the truest senses of those words. We could do much worse......Islam for instance. Those ten commandment thingys, if followed, would lead to a pretty tootin' upright-above-board society. There must not be any engravings of the ten commandments on Wall Street and Brussels.

Anonymous said...

Jim: Your second comment says it all - "respect for science" and "respect for human right", in your senses, are both utopian notions with little application to current conditions.

Actual societies that proclaim themselves to be pro-science are more correctly termed pro-technocracy. They're about imposing bureaucratic, managerial (and sometimes pro-market) norms across all areas of life. Technocrats invoke "science" as an ideological club for suppressing or delegitimating non-technocratic values, such as religious values or proletarian, shit-disturbing hedonism. Another branch of the movement invokes "human rights" for a similar purpose. (Not that science and human rights aren't also real things in themselves - but they tend to be exploited as propaganda for technocratic rule.)

Technocracy is anything but promotive of diversity on a social level: it wants all societies to be effectively the same - same utilitarian values, same managerial techniques, same "diversity" (in the PC sense of promoting the interests of certain minorities).

The second point in your first comment is debatable: Isn't it possible that dictatorships would be a more effective way of creating diverse societies? Communist- and Taliban-style societies were, despite all their horrors, excellent examples of social experiments. If your fundamental value is "science" rather than, say, "goodness", why would you object to them?

intellectual pariah

Jim Bowery said...

IP writes: The second point in your first comment is debatable: Isn't it possible that dictatorships would be a more effective way of creating diverse societies? Communist- and Taliban-style societies were, despite all their horrors, excellent examples of social experiments. If your fundamental value is "science" rather than, say, "goodness", why would you object to them?Science is actually more interested in interesting things than uninteresting things. What is interesting is any information that lets us more parsimoniously describe the world.

When Don is "president for life" it is a different experiment than when Dave is "president for life". Each may state the proposition he is testing in his "experiment", but all he is really testing is what kind of society emerges from Don-rule or Dave-rule. The results of this may let us parsimoniously describe the likely results of dictatorships but little else. When people come together under a proposition voluntarily, there is more to it for the simple reason that they are actually using that proposition as a primary input to their decision to consent to each other's presence. Therefore the results of the experiments are likely more directly related to the proposition than to the mere fact that the proposition was voluntarily agreed to by the subjects of the experiment.