Reimagined and Revamped. Fighting the spread of nonsense often feels like a Sisyphean task. However, the joy is in making the information available, not the hope of conversion.

Pinker on Morals

This post was originally found at Finding Common Ground.

In the discussion forums, [Edit: these are gone] I suggested reading an article that appeared in the New York Times that happened to come out at the same time as this community arrived on the planet and we all wrote our first posts.

Well I wanted to reiterate that request because he makes, in a far more eloquent and fact filled essay than I could have written, a damn good elucidation about our morals. He shows how we all have a similar moral structure, but that there are also morals that are community based and that as time passes we 'moralize' various aspects of our civilization. He discusses a god construct (one that I think is actually weak and easy to respond to) and its applicability to our moral responsibilities. He also, at the end, describes rather well how science and our deconstruction of our moral minds is better for humanity. Understanding why we feel a certain way is the best way to confirm its validity.

Now, if the distinction between right and wrong is also a product of brain wiring, why should we believe it is any more real than the distinction between red and green? And if it is just a collective hallucination, how could we argue that evils like genocide and slavery are wrong for everyone, rather than just distasteful to us?

Putting God in charge of morality is one way to solve the problem, of course, but Plato made short work of it 2,400 years ago. Does God have a good reason for designating certain acts as moral and others as immoral? If not — if his dictates are divine whims — why should we take them seriously? Suppose that God commanded us to torture a child. Would that make it all right, or would some other standard give us reasons to resist? And if, on the other hand, God was forced by moral reasons to issue some dictates and not others — if a command to torture a child was never an option — then why not appeal to those reasons directly?

He then goes on to leave God talk behind him. I think this perpetuates the lack of communication between atheists and religious folks. He left out the obvious answer: God loves us. He loves us more than we are capable of loving each other. He loves us so much, knows us so well that he knows what each of us will do and choose.

With this rationale about god, of course he can define a set of morals that helps us to live together, without his own set of selfish reasons.

However, the rest of the article describes various perspectives of morals of our species (and similar morals that occur in monkeys and other animals, making clear that a moral foundation is not strictly a human trait). but the case is made that our moral sense is not purely a genetic trait, but a very complex one, that involves and requires the interaction between individuals in a community.

Morality, then, is still something larger than our inherited moral sense, and the new science of the moral sense does not make moral reasoning and conviction obsolete. At the same time, its implications for our moral universe are profound.

Information always leads to more free will and a more free society. Science is the only mechanism by which to advance along those lines. no other construct of humanity has done as much to increase our population, make it safer, make it live longer. this doesnt mean there are not ethical challenges along the way. But understanding ourselves and deconstructing those challenges are the best way to advance.

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