Why Do People Do Bad (and Good) Things? That’s the fall focus of the Sinai and Synapses Discussion Forum. Each week, we’ll gather some of the most interesting articles on the topic from across the online world. We hope they make you think—and share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.

Michael Shermer on How Science and Reason Shape Morality

The news is filled with stories about wars, terrorist kidnappings and hate crimes. But Michael Shermer, the founding publisher of Skeptic Magazine, argues that things are much better than they seem. In his new book The Moral Arc, he claims that as science and technology progress, so too does our morality. (Forum with Michael Krasny, KQED)

Is Religion A Force for Good?

Muslim students … found that participants exposed to the call to prayer cheated substantially less. This finding is consistent with the results of other priming studies, which have also found that religious priming enhances cooperation and generosity towards others. … But participants who read a description of violent retribution commanded by God were more aggressive in a subsequent task, and participants primed subliminally with Christian concepts display increased covert racial prejudice and negative affect toward African Americans. (Ryan McKay, The Washington Post)

With Increased Wealth, Religions Take a Moral Stand

When the societies passed the threshold of 20,000 nutritional calories per person per day, there was a transition in the emphasis of religion. The study argued that gods without many moral lessons became moral forces because of this surplus of calories and affluence. That, in turn, led to greater societal cohesion. (Brendan Hellweg, Yale Daily News)

The Myth of the Harmless Wrong

Kurt Gray and Chelsea Schein: The key message of our research, and an important step in improving moral dialogue, is to realize that perceptions of harm are psychologically real to the perceiver of immorality. They are not merely concocted to antagonize those with opposing views or to further inflame the passions of sympathizers. (The New York Times)

How Secular Family Values Stack Up

Nonreligious family life is replete with its own sustaining moral values and enriching ethical precepts. Chief among those: rational problem solving, personal autonomy, independence of thought, avoidance of corporal punishment, a spirit of “questioning everything” and, far above all, empathy. (Phil Zuckerman, Los Angeles Times)

The Religious Overtones Of Natural Laws: Does The The Universe Create Reason And Morality?

Some suggest that the universe naturally produces complexity. The emergence of life in general and perhaps even rational life, with its associated technological culture, may be extremely common, argues Kelly Smith, Associate Professor of Philosophy & Biological Sciences at Clemson, in a recentSpace Policy paper. What’s more, he suggests, this universal tendency has distinctly religious overtones and more knowledge of astrobiology may even establish a truly universal basis for morality. (News Staff, Science 2.0)

Evil Acts for a Good Cause? Why it is Dangerous to be Assured of One’s Salvation

Khaled Abou El Fadl: There are those who seem to live blissfully confident of their own moral salvation. They covet whatever they covet, and might wrestle with their resolve, but they have this undaunted, deeply entrenched belief in their own absolution. What will save or absolve them? It does not matter; it could be anything. It could be God, church, or country, or their flag, or perhaps their constitution, their forefathers and heritage, or their prized books or movies, or even nothing more than their coddled egos. This is what one might call salvational cause amorality—the tendency by some to believe that regardless of their misconduct and misdeeds, their cause is sufficient to entitle them to absolution and ultimate salvation. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)