On Jan. 2, 2007, a large woman entered the Cango caves of South Africa and wedged herself into the only exit, trapping 22 tourists behind her. Digging her out appeared not to be an option, which left a terrible moral dilemma: take the woman’s life to free the 22, or leave her to die along with her fellow tourists? It is a dilemma because it pushes us to decide between saving many and using someone else’s life as a means to this end.
A new science of morality is beginning to uncover how people in different cultures judge such dilemmas, identifying the factors that influence judgment and the actions that follow. These studies suggest that nature provides a universal moral grammar, designed to generate fast, intuitive and universally held judgments of right and wrong.
Consider yourself a subject in an experiment on the Moral Sense Test (moral .wjh.harvard.edu), a site presenting dilemmas such as these: Would you drive your boat faster to save the lives of five drowning people knowing that a person in your boat will fall off and drown? Would you fail to give a drug to a terminally ill patient knowing that he will die without it but his organs could be used to save three other patients? Would you suffocate your screaming baby if it would prevent enemy soldiers from finding and killing you both, along with the eight others hiding out with you?
These are moral dilemmas because there are no clear-cut answers that obligate duty to one party over the other. What is remarkable is that people with different backgrounds, including atheists and those of faith, respond in the same way.[my emphasis]
Monday, September 15, 2008
Is Morality Natural?
Here is a Newsweek article and video by Harvard’s Michael Craig Miller on what happens in the brain when people have “spiritual experiences” and explains how morality may be naturally hardwired in the brain. Religious folks will still insist that a god put morality and spirituality in our heads. Most humans will continue to believe because, as the video illustrates, magical incantations and superstitious beliefs make them feel better. The video also points out that while prayer and meditation makes a person feel better, prayer will not heal terminal illnesses nor change things beyond human control. It’s like we atheists have said, prayer and religion are coping devices.