Discussing morality fruitfully

By Simon Barrow
April 14, 2012

This morning (14 April 2012) I will be appearing on BBC Radio Scotland's Saturday AM news programme at around 8.50am to discuss the origins and shape of morality with secular humanist scientist Professor Paul Braterman.

Then at 1pm in the National Museum of Scotland, a fuller conversation takes place featuring myself alongside Professor Braterman again, the teacher of Religious, Moral and Philosophical studies (and fellow Humanist) Keith Gilmour, and journalist and commentator Iain McWhirter in the chair.

The discussion has been set up by the Humanist Society of Scotland and is entitled 'Good without God' - without a question mark. The preliminary publicity says: "A recent survey showed that 40 per cent of the Scottish population no longer belong to any religion, yet most Scots are law-abiding citizens. Are they obeying a natural moral code which predates religion, or does morality ultimately derive from belief in gods, or God? Is there any correlation between religion and goodness or the lack of it? Join a panel of speakers as they ask where does our sense of right and wrong come from?"

Full details are here: http://www.sciencefestival.co.uk/whats-on/categories/talk/good-without-god

I confess that I'm less interested in the archaeology of where our sense of right and wrong comes from as in the question of what 'goodness' is, where we get (and much more to the point, develop and sustain) our different visions of 'the good', and how we handle different 'goods' in a diverse and often divide world. That seems more useful than a competition to claim the copyright on morality, speculation about origins divorced from concrete practices in the now, and so on.

All of this is important territory bedevilled by popular, simplistic polarities between 'science' and 'religion' (as if they were competing explanatory hypotheses for world-production), the 'secular' and the 'religious' (as if the temporal and eternal had to be at odds, or Christianity was primarily about making people 'religious'), and so on.

My own talk and further papers will be made available later on. As they say, 'watch this space', since the links will appear here.


(c) Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia.

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