The Instigator
Con (against)
5 Points
The Contender
Pro (for)
0 Points

Science, by itself, can determine moral truths

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Post Voting Period
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after 1 vote the winner is...
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 8/5/2014 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,574 times Debate No: 60005
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (3)
Votes (1)




Round 1: acceptance only
Round 2: opening statements (reserve rebuttals for round 3)
Round 3: rebuttals
Round 4: closing statements (no new arguments)

I mean science to include the whole of the natural and social sciences, and more specifically any practice in which beliefs are primarily determined by hypothesis-testing and rigorous collection of empirical data.

I mean morality to be the abstract system of values used to judge human affairs. I am not referring to actual moral practices but to an ideal moral code that most moral realists would be referring to when they use the word "morality".

The resolution is that science can provide us with moral truths all by itself. I will take the con position and argue that science provides an insufficient basis for morality.

I have been mulling over this topic after reading some recent statements by the new atheists such as Sam Harris or Lawrence Krauss. I look forward to an interesting debate.

Please ask questions in the comment section should you need further clarification.


*eats a baby*

I will be arguing that we can thorugh logical create a moral code.

I would like to highlight the statement now - "I mean morality to be the abstract system of values used to judge human affairs."

Since this is a debate over whether science alone could create morals, and Con made no mention of it: Humans orginated from evolution in all my arguments and will be assumed to be true for this debate. Obviously if we were created by God in a biblical context then we would have automatically been exposed to moral codes and standards by non-science data.

Looking forward to this debate.

Debate Round No. 1


Hi, thanks for accepting.

First, a clarification. You said, "I will be arguing that we can through logical [arguments?] create a moral code.". This is not the resolution I asked to debate. We are not arguing whether morality can have a logical/rational basis, only that science alone is insufficient to serve as the basis of morality.

Second, I am a atheist and therefore concede the truth of evolution.

My argument is based largely on the fact/value distinction (1). This distinction posits that statements of fact and those of value are fundamentally different.

My argument is that:
1. Science can only provide evidence to support statements of fact
2. A statement of value cannot be derived from a statement of fact
3. Therefore, science alone cannot provide evidence from which we can derive statements of value

1. Science can only provide evidence to support statements of fact

Science is aimed at uncovering how the universe works and not how it ought to be. For example, science can provide explanations for how a the human eye works, or how the tides come and go. In both of these cases, science aims to explain how complicated physical systems function. A moral value is not a description of a physical system. Instead it is a statement of how that system should be. When we say murder is wrong, we are not saying how murder functions. Rather we are making a claim on what direction the universe should take, i.e., less murder. The scientific establishment today abhors making statements of direction in nature because such claims are outside of what can be empirically observed (2).

2. A statement of value cannot be derived from a statement of fact

The gulf between facts and values has been argued for by multiple philosophers (1). I will focus on two: David Hume and G.E. Moore.

David Hume, the famed 18th century Scottish philosopher, argued that there is a fundamental gap between facts and values (3). In his Treatise of Human Nature (1738), he pointed to the fact that moral statements had a motivational character. If I believed it was wrong to steal, I would want to stop stealing. Yet, If I do not believe stealing is wrong, the sheer fact that I know someone is stealing will not motivate me at all. Given that statements of fact do not contain a motivational element but values do, Hume thought the latter could not be totally explained by the former.

G.E. Moore, a British philosopher, followed up this discussion in his Principia Ethica (1903). Within this book, he describes the naturalistic fallacy (4). This fallacy suggests that nothing in nature can be logically identical to goodness because we can always reasonably ask if that natural fact is truly good. For example, we could always ask "is pleasure truly good?". Asking if pleasure is good is not the same as asking, "Is 2+2 truly 4" because we understand that pleasure and goodness are not identical in the way 2+2 and 4 are. Given that nothing in nature is logically identical to goodness, no scientific finding can establish a moral truth.

In sum, I have argued that science only gives us facts about how the world works. In addition, moral truth cannot be derived from statements of fact. As such, science alone cannot form the basis for a moral system. Science may play a role in helping us understand how to achieve various ends but is powerless on determing what ends are those that are truly moral.




I would like to apologize to my opponent for not expressing my initial argument in the best way.

I will be arguing that science (rationalization of statements from testing and data) to create a basis of morality and moral codes.

Without getting into a rebuttal:

The reason I present this now is because more modern philosphy refutes the divisions created by Hume and allows sceince to interact with subjectivism to be used in the establishment of facts and interpretation of data.

Hume's philosphy only allows "Premise -> Conclusion" and does not allow any connection of "Conclusion -> Conclusion".

Metaphysics is often rejects Hume's establishment of statements of values and facts. For example Hume's division of fact and value is unable to explain time and space.

The use of Hume undermines my own argument and would make it "illogical". I need to present a philosphy now that is more accurate then Hume, of which allows my argument.

You did not state in R1 that Hume must be used. I would like to present Kant's Critque of Reason [1] and Pirsig's Quality [2]. Both of which allow data to be created into facts based on patternized rationalization without the need for hypthesis-test. [3] [4] and [5] are for more indepth reading into the philosphies.


I will use premises and conclusions to create morals. Morals will be listed as R's, they are conlusions.

Let's begin with certain observable facts and/or facts that can be easily found by hypothesis testing:

P1. Others are more capable of certain tasks then us. (testable)
P2. We need to accomplish certain tasks to live. (testable but don't test it on yourself)
C1. Others are more capable than us to accomplish certain tasks that help us live.

P3. There is limitations to us as individuals to accomplish tasks we need to do to live. (observation)
P4. Certain resources are limited and shareable. (testable)
P5. Certain tasks we each accomplish can benefit both of us. (testable)
C2. If we share certain resources, accomplish tasts that benefit both of us, and because we are limited as individuals; we can benefit from each others existance.

C2 leads to several morals, two are:
R1. Sharing resources and ideas is mutually beneficial so a "good" idea.
R2. Caring for the others well being and health help me so a "good" idea.

P6. Your existence benefits me. (C1, C2)
P7. Killing you makes you not existant. (....testable)
P8. Hurting myself is conterproductive to living. (testable, observational)
R3. Killing you hurts me so it's a "bad" idea.

Now that we don't kill each other, there are several of us in a group.

P9. We serve as different roles in the group that correspond to our abilities for mutual benefit. (C1)
P10. In our roles we use and need certain tools. (testable, more observational)
P11. Making sure each other is capable of helping the group is mutually beneficial. (observational)
R4. Making sure each person has their tools is beneficial so we have created a "respect of other's property".

Set of Moral Codes
R1. Share
R2. Care for others
R3. Don't Kill
R4. Respect other's property

I can continue if need be. Of course not all of our morals would be created but still we would form enough to function as a society.


Debate Round No. 2



Thank you for your arguments. Below is my rebuttal.

Failure to provide reasons against the fact/value distinction

You claim that more modern philosophy refutes the Humean fact/value distinction. You are overstating what modern philosophy has done. In fact, the distinction is a very lively topic of debate and is far from refuted.

Also, you fail to provide actual arguments against the fact/value distinction. Rather you make dubious appeals to authority. Please summarize how Kant allows empirical data to form the basis of moral beliefs. Or how Pirsig's arguments do the same. It is not enough to just state that this has been proved, one should show a little of the proof itself.

Equivocation on the use of the word "good"

You are using the word good in two ways in your principal argument. You even implicitly acknowledge this when you use quotations around the words "good" and "bad", as if to acknowledge that they are being used in a complicated way. You seem to be using goodness to mean morally good but also what is good in terms of benefits to individuals. However, these are not the same thing.

Why should "benefit to us" be the ultimate definition to goodness? You have not provided an argument to justify this identity. For example, perhaps benefits are not morally relevant as is argued by deontologists (1) or perhaps what maters is not that which benefits us but what is preferred by a supreme being as in divine command theory (2). I do not endorse these positions but just wish to point out how you have not justified your use of the word "good".

Given you have failed to provide the premise that "Goodness means what is beneficial to us", your argument is invalid. You need to provide this premise and more importantly, reasons why we should accept it.


Your argument is invalid because it does not explain why benefits to humans are equal to goodness. Perhaps you could offer a compelling proof of why this is the case. But in its absence, your argument fails.





Fact/Value Distinction:

I think something Con and I can defnitily agree on is that philosphy is changing and there are a number of rivaling philosphies at any given time.

Kant and Pirsig use the same initial basis as Hume but branch in a different direction. While Hume refuses to connect value and fact, Kant and Pirsig decide to.

Kant and Pirsigs both present that fact and value ae not as distinct as Hume said. Kant presents that some level of value is used to decide which facts are to be analyzed and used. Pirsig exteneded on this defining that the interaction expressed by Kant is "Quality".

This Quality is the interaction, the meeting point of value and facts. We all know that Apple products have quality, but define the quality they have. They are comparitive to other products, have a more limiting operating system but are well built and have an amazing customer support. Yet we know cheaply made, technoligicaly inferior products lack quality. Quality has a dualism of value and fact about it that refutes Hume's claim that they are separate.

This dualism allows us to go foward and talk about morality because it is able to be evalutated on value and fact, "quality", while with Hume this was not possible.

This rebuttaled your initial round.


I feel like this is getting into semantics but ok.

Webster Dictionary - "of a favorable character or tendency". This is a fact based "good" which evaluates the moralities I presented as beneficial to the individual and those around him.

We establish what is benificial of us as having a favorable tendency so "good". What is beneficial for the group will be placed as a communal pressure on each other to follow the beneficials actions/rules, thus creating morality.


My debate stands and the premises/conclusions I layed out were never refuted. Con does not have an established argument on how science can not be used to create morality.
Debate Round No. 3



Once again thanks to my opponent for their interesting reply!

Closing Statement

In my closing statement, I will summarize my position and then criticisms of my opponents posiiton.

My position

Science is solely concerned with discovering matters of fact. Thinkers reflecting on science have made concerted efforts to remind other scientists to avoid talk of design, direction, or value in their scientific theories (1). This is because science maps out natural regularities that are totally valueless and mechanistic. It produces statements about what exists, not what should exist.

In addition, there is considerable difficulty in moving from statements of fact (the only thing science produces), and statements of value. As mentioned above, Hume felt that it was impossible to derive the commanding quality of moral statements from statements of bare facts alone (2). GE Moore thought that goodness could not be logically identical to anything in nature (3) as nothing in nature seems self-evidently good. It seems impossible to move from statements of fact to value and therefore science cannot produce moral truths on its own.

My opponent

My opponent cites Kant and Pirsig, two philosophers who do derive theories of value. However, he does not show that these two derive their theories from science. In fact, Kant derives value from theories of reason and his theories are essentially a priori (4). Nowhere does he claim that we can derive moral axioms from the natural sciences. Pirsig, a pop philosopher from the 70's, while interesting in his views, adovacates an ambiguous and byzantine metaphysics based on his own personal reflections (5). He definitely does NOT define moral values as emanating from the sciences and is in fact, critical of societies that rely solely on scientific discourse (at the expense of other types of discourse) (5).

In addition, my opponent suggests that my criticism that he is equivocating is semantics. I will counter-claim that my opponent is engaging in the Ambiguity Fallacy (6) - the technical name for equivocation. This is when a construct is used with different meanings in different parts of the argument. If my opponenet is doing so, then their argument falls apart. Here they use good in the sense of useful in the premise and then when it reappears in the conclusion, goodness now means morally good. Yet what is useful is not necessarily the same as what is morally good. My opponent has to provide an argument as to why goodness is just that which is beneficial and citing the dictionnary is most assuredly not a fair way to resolve one of the central philosophical questions of human civilization.

In sum, my opponent cites two philosophers who do not believe science produces moral truths on its own. Both of these two would have said you need to consult other discourses like philosophy or the humanities to get at moral truths. Then my opponent offers an argument for how goodness might be identicial to several arbirtray traits that is both ambiguous and invalid.

I conclude that I have fairly demonstrated the difficulties present for those who wish to make morality a scientific project. I also conclude my opponent has offered little resistance.

(1) Reiss, John O. (2009) Not by Design: Retiring Darwin's Watchmaker. Berkeley, California: University of California Press
(2) Hume, David (1739) A treatise of Human Nature
(3)Moore, G.E. (1903) Principia Ethica



My opponent has failed to understand points behind my argument and has made claims of connections I have never made.


Final Statement on My Position

My opponent has failed to understand my argument and has fallen to straw man fallacy [1] (because he cites fallacies)...

Pirsig and Kant - I presented these philosphers to show that the world should not be defined in Hume's strong division between value and fact, which you used as a basis to say science can not create moral truths. I did not use them to say they defined moral truth. They were a rebuttal and basis to include values in fact driven statements.

My opponent has dropped my presented premises and conclusions that can be done through testable methods and found in emperical data. This has been dropped for two rounds now!

My opponent

Says value and fact should be separated and cites an antique philopher studied now more for the history of philosphy over being right.

My opponent has failed to argue against my core argument and has instead fallen to semantics saying that I did not properly define good and goodness.

Debate Round No. 4
3 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Posted by rings48 7 years ago
Sorry for saying my resolution slightly off.

I meant to say scientific logic (hypothesis-testing, data collection). I correct myself in my R2 argument.
Posted by Aerogant 7 years ago
Science was born from philosophy - philosophy allows us to assemble morals to reduce consequences towards the butterfly effect between Man.
Posted by rings48 7 years ago
Wait you are con... so you do or do not believe moral truths can come from scientific logic?
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Pfalcon1318 7 years ago
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Total points awarded:50 
Reasons for voting decision: Sources to CON: sources were regularly used and cited based on relevance to the arguments CON was making. I'm not so concerned with the number, but rather how well the sources are used, and CON did this better. Arguments: PRO failed to provide any rebuttal to CON's arguments. After CON mentioned PRO's missing premises, PRO went from offense to defense, which left PRO's argument standing. Even without this, CON's argument for the premises that were provided was much more compelling, as each premise was defended, and lead logically to the conclusion. PRO did provide a syllogism as well, but none of the premises were defended, and CON argued for it's invalidity, explaining the premise that was missing.

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