This Week in Science and Morality – 3/24/15

This Week in Science and Morality – 3/24/15

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.

Why God is a Moral Issue

What is truly striking is that atheists [like Richard Dawkins] don’t just say that believing in God is an intellectual mistake. They also claim that it’s morally wrong to believe in the existence of God or gods. (Michael Ruse, New York Times)

Thinking About How We Think About Morality

Jennifer Cole Wright: Over the last 10 years, my colleagues and I have studied how people think about morality and how this predicts their tolerance for values and practices different from their own. Specifically, we asked people to identify their moral values/practices and then explain what they believe grounds them—i.e., whether they were grounded “objectively” (by mind-independent facts impervious to individual or cultural beliefs, desires, attitudes, customs) or “non-objectively” (by individual/cultural beliefs, desires, attitudes, customs). (OUPblog)

Inside the Mind of God

People are quicker to answer questions about God’s knowledge of moral information than non-moral information. Having a cosmic Wyatt Earp on the beat aids survival and reproduction by curbing others’ banditry. Tuvans communicated that their gods care about rituals and practices associated with resource conservation, and Tuvans invest significantly more trust in those who always pay their respects to the local spirits than to those who don’t. Gods appear to care about the things that, on average, curb locally specific risks and costly engagements. (Benjamin Grant Purzycki, Aeon)

 Researchers Track Eye Movements to Sway Moral Decisions

People asked to choose between two written moral statements tend to glance more often towards the option they favor, experimental psychologists say. More surprisingly, the scientists also claim it’s possible to influence a moral choice: asking for an immediate decision as soon as someone happens to gaze at one statement primes them to choose that option. (Brian Owens, Nature)

Secular Community Groups Are Just as Effective as Religious Ones in Stimulating Concern for Others

After priming, the students tended to report more progressive, open social values. That is, they rated fairness and avoiding harm as relatively more important than obedience to authority, sticking with your in-group, and keeping pure. You’d think that people reminded about their social affiliation might become more close-minded and more in favor of sticking with their in-group. But in fact the reverse happened. It made them more aware of helping others and being open to others differences. (Tom Reese, Patheos)

Measuring the Return on Character

When we hear about unethical executives whose careers and companies have gone down in flames, it’s sadly unsurprising. Hubris and greed have a way of catching up with people, who then lose the power and wealth they’ve so fervently pursued. But is the opposite also true? Do highly principled leaders and their organizations perform especially well? They do, according to a new study by KRW International, a Minneapolis-based leadership consultancy. (Harvard Business Review)

Stop the Robots Protester: Machines Need ‘Moral Guideline’

Adam Mason from Stop the Robots warns artificial intelligence could one day “make decisions without a moral guideline.” His group has been demonstrating at this year’s South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. “Humans make mistakes,” he says. “If we make something that is as smart as humans or smarter, why won’t it make mistakes?” “We have to consider solutions [based on] human morality, rather than the morality of a computer.” (BBC Radio)



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