From THE NEW SCIENTIST:
Most people say that science can tell us facts about the world but not about moral values. Do you disagree?
Questions of right and wrong, good and evil, are questions about human and animal well-being. The moment we admit this we see that science can, in principle, answer such questions - because the experience of conscious creatures depends on the way the universe is. In our case, the difference between the worst possible suffering and the greatest flourishing depends on everything that can influence states of the human brain, ranging from changes in our genome to changes in the global economy. The relevant details of genetics, neurobiology, psychology, sociology, economics and so on are fantastically complicated, but there is no question that these are domains in which there are truths to be discovered and they fall squarely within the purview of science.
So what is "right" is whatever maximises the well-being of conscious creatures? How is that different from utilitarianism?
People often criticise utilitarianism because any narrow concern for utility, pleasure or short-term happiness fails to capture everything that is important to us in life. We are also concerned about things like truth, justice, fairness, intellectual pleasure, courage, creativity and having a clear conscience. I believe, however, that the notion of well-being can capture all of these things.
In my book I argue that we can view all possible experience on a kind of landscape, where peaks correspond to the heights of well-being and the valleys correspond to the lowest depths of suffering. The first thing to notice is that there may be many equivalent peaks on this landscape - there may be many different ways for people to thrive. But there will be many more ways not to thrive.
COMMENT: You know, I'm sure I've read something very similar to that in the past somewhere.
However, the question is not "Can you have morality without religion?" The question is "Why bother to have morality without religion?"
I know most of you lot don't like the idea of a "stick and carrot" God, but as someone who could quite happily throttle most of the hierarchy of the Diocese of Newcastle, I find it not only useful, but downright necessary for the continued existence of most of the hierarchy of the Diocese of Newcastle.