Girl, Interrupting

May 2, 2010

Just because you are a scientist doesn’t mean you are morally superior.

Filed under: morality,richard dawkins,science — sylviamclain @ 6:49 pm
Tags: , ,

Although we sometimes tend to think so – and this isn’t helped by scientists who purport to be morally superior by the fact that they are ‘rational thinkers’

Some scientists like Richard Dawkins appear to think that rational thought (or logical thought and sober discussion) leads to a more moral society – perhaps is does –
is he a Kantian?, does he think there a moral law which only smart people can work out? Do we create our own moral laws? – of course, as do most religions

Even though Dawkins appears to support a fluid morality, unlike Kant, he tends to blame bad things in the world on religion and indeed says to find morality in religion you have to ‘cherry pick’– but this isn’t only true of religion and implies an all or nothing simplistic kind of moral construct…

or more simply put ‘religion is bad’ and ‘science is good’

but great scientists aren’t always ‘good’ themselves

Sometimes, we tend to think that great thinkers are good people and look to them for moral direction…

But some of the greatest scientists might actually be considered ‘immoral’ by many different standards – atheists, religious or otherwise….

Einstein (who Dawkins spends a long time convincing us is an atheist in the God Delusion) was, as we pretty much all might agree a pretty smart guy and he is also often quoted for his ‘moral quips’ :

Try not to become a man of success but rather to become a man of value.

The ideals which have lighted my way, and time after time have given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Kindness, Beauty, and Truth. The trite subjects of human efforts, possessions, outward success, luxury have always seemed to me contemptible.

A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties….

which make him seem not only knowledgeable but a pretty good guy – but maybe not.

In 1919 Einstein divorced Mileva Maric, because he fell in love with his cousin, which happens; but then proceeded by almost every account – some perhaps apocryphal – to treat his ex rather poorly.

Disregarding social ties he left her to raise their children with virtually no financial support (although allegedly he gave her all his 1921 Nobel Prize money), in a what I would consider an unkind act called her uncommonly ugly and effectively robbed her of her scientific career – according to their son Hans-Albert (G.J. Whitrow (ed.)(1967), Einstein: The man and his achievements, p.19), which might be considered somewhat in opposition to being a ‘man of value’.

Some have even alleged that she helped Einstein with his theory of relativity (though there isn’t alot of good evidence for this) as he referred to his theory and work as ‘our work’ and ‘our theory’ in his love letters to Mileva, but then again as Einstein said himself
The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.

Isaac Newton was undoubtedly a great man – scientifically at least – but was not such a great guy to be sharing a pint at the pub with, as the Newton Project says (better than I can):

“Even in his maturity, having become rich, famous, laden with honours and internationally acclaimed as one of the world’s foremost thinkers, he remained deeply insecure, given to fits of depression and outbursts of violent temper, and implacable in pursuit of anyone by whom he felt threatened. The most famous example of this is his carefully-orchestrated campaign to destroy the reputation of Gottfried Leibniz, who he believed (quite unfairly) had stolen the discovery of calculus from him.”

Just because people do one thing well, and indeed with genius, means they are pretty smart about some things but maybe not about others…
Not that all scientists and rational thinkers are ‘bad’ or all religious folk are ‘good’; but being moral and being smart aren’t necessarily correlated,
as sometimes scientists like Richard Dawkins would lead us to believe.

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