I am absolutely alone in my essential ethical position, and therefore useless.
I am rather jealous that this discussion about religion, science, and absolute and relative morality has taken off on Marco’s blog. I am not so terribly fussed how the conclusion ‘we should all stick together’ is reached, so long as it is. What is much more important is where we draw the boundary between ‘we’ and ‘not we’, and how logically defensible that boundary is.
Historically, the philosophies of advanced societies have followed one of two paths:
(1) There is a ‘soul’ that distinguishes humans from animals, and makes them ‘we’; it may be pre-existing or may be created with each new human; it may enter the body at conception, or it may enter at some later date (e.g., Aquinas’ three months). Animals and pre-ensoulment entities that are genetically human are not ‘we’. This, as you will be well aware, was the historical position of Judaeo-Christian-Islamic culture.
(2) Everything has a ‘soul’- or, which amounts to the same thing, everything does not. There is no essential difference between humans and animals. Societies holding this position have usually held up vegetarianism as an ideal, even if it was not realised, and had a shading of moral responsibilities from big souls to little souls.
A problem with ethics in our culture is that our habitual, traditional, instinctive line between ‘we’ and ‘not we’ is essentially that of (1), as it was drawn by the philosophers of the High Middle Ages, but this line is not consistent with post-Judaeo-Christian-Islamic core axioms, which logically support (2).
Realisation that there is no essential difference between humans and animals, 5th Century BCE: ‘Gosh, we’d better be nice to animals.’
Realisation that there is no essential difference between humans and animals, 20th Century CE: ‘Hey, we can make soap out of people, too.’