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.
If there’s no God, would a moral society exist? Michael Shermer thinks so. The moral sense of right and wrong far predates religion, the founder of Skeptic magazine said during a Saturday panel on science and identity at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Even primates have a moral compass, Shermer added. Religion puts things that seemed obvious into context, he argued, such as the Golden Rule (in essence, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”). If religion was at the heart of morality, Shermer asked, why did religious texts leave out key rules? (Sarah Parvini, Los Angeles Times)
T. M. Luhrmann: New ideas about religious belief should shape the way people negotiate about ownership of the land, just as they should shape the way we think about climate change deniers and vaccine avoiders. People aren’t dumb in not recognizing the facts. They are using a reasoning process that responds to moral arguments more than scientific ones, and we should understand that when we engage. (The New York Times)
Pope Francis believes in a literal Devil. Francis’s adherence to the mystical side of the Christian tradition demonstrates a faith that is so traditional it’s truly radical, as radical as his politics, and indeed the two are deeply linked. In fact, Francis’s spirituality suggests that the most traditional forms of Christian worship and belief may in fact promote the most radical politics. (Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig, New Republic)
Bertram Malle is working to design a moral robot. Malle is the co-director of Brown University’s Humanity-Centered Robotics Initiative, and his approach is to create a robot that can learn moral behavior from the people around it. Ideally, you would surround the robot with morally good people, and the robot would learn ethical beliefs and behavior from them. (Paul V.M. Flesher, University of Wyoming News)
Eric Barker: You’re a good person. Or at least you’re trying to be. Me too. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn a thing or two from the bad guys. And I mean the really bad guys—psychopaths. So let’s give the devil his due. And that’s why I gave Kevin a call. Dr. Kevin Dutton is a researcher at Oxford and author of The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success. (TIME)
The shift away from Christianity toward “nothing in particular” has significant implications for how America lives, gives, and votes, among other things. A December 2013 Gallup poll, for example, found that more Christians (84 percent) say they give money to charity than people with no religion (77 percent). (Peter Weber, The Week)