The faith community often attacks the secular community on the grounds that there can be no secular basis for morality, a charge that the secular community has had some trouble answering. There is a great deal of empirical evidence that secularism leads to good outcomes in many (but not all) cases, but a theoretical framework for secular morality has proven elusive. No less a secular luminary than Bertrand Russell threw in the towel on this problem, famously saying that, “I cannot see how to refute the arguments for the subjectivity of ethical values, but I find myself incapable of believing that all that is wrong with wanton cruelty is that I don’t like it.” Considerable progress was made on this question in the 1980s by Robert Axelrod who showed through computer simulations that evolution can produce moral instincts that share many features with human moral codes. However, these evolved moral intuitions have some features that are distasteful to modern sensibilities. In particular, they depend crucially on the balance of power between interacting entities. This accurately predicts many of the features we see in nature, like the strong taking advantage of the weak. But it is not necessarily what we would like to see in a moral code in this day and age. In this talk I will present a proposal for a theoretical framework for a secular moral code that is both defensible from a scientific point of view and leads to outcomes that are aligned with modern ideas of what morality should be. The proposed framework is called “idea-ism” (intended to be a pun on the word “idealism”). It is based on Richard Dawkins’s proposal, introduced in his seminal 1976 book “The Selfish Gene” that memes or ideas are replicators subject to Darwinian evolution just as genes are. I will argue that this idea ought to be taken even more seriously than Dawkins himself took it, and that it leads to a moral code that has all of the features that modern secular communities tend to gravitate towards naturally. As such, it can serve as a principled answer to the faith-based critique of secular morality.

Ron Garret, Ph.D. is a computer scientist, entrepreneur, blogger and filmmaker. His Google tech talk, “The quantum conspiracy: what popularizers of quantum mechanics don’t want you to know” has over a million views on YouTube.

Presentation followed by QnA

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You may purchase a variety of foods and beverages-of-a-refreshing-nature at the two service counters. We have tables set up for you to enjoy dinner before, during and after the speaking engagement in the banquet room.

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