Evidence of morality being hardwired to the brain: Theists cry

Vastet
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Evidence of morality being hardwired to the brain: Theists cry

Brain damage removes emotion from moral decisions: study
Last Updated: Thursday, March 22, 2007 | 12:39 PM ET
CBC News

Damage to a small region of the brain behind the forehead can change the moral compass of individuals, making their decision-making more cold and calculated, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Researchers at four American universities tested 30 subjects with a set of extreme moral dilemmas that had a similar theme: whether to harm one person in order to prevent certain future harm to many.

In one scenario, the subjects were told they knew someone had AIDS and that the person planned to infect others, some of whom would die. The subjects were then presented with two options: let it happen or kill the person.

While most subjects wavered or said they would not do it, six individuals with damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPC) — a part of the frontal lobe — stood out in their stated willingness to harm an individual to achieve a utilitarian end.

"Because of their brain damage, they have abnormal social emotions in real life. They lack empathy and compassion," said Ralph Adolphs, Bren professor of psychology and neuroscience at the California Institute of Technology, in a statement.

Among the other 24 subjects, 12 had no brain damage and 12 had brain damage in an area other than the VMPC.

The study suggests an aversion to harming others may be hard-wired into our brain.

Antonio Damasio, the director of the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California, described this aversion as a "rejection of the act, but combined with the social emotion of compassion for that particular person."

The findings also raise philosophical questions about the role emotions play in moral decision-making, the authors contend.

"The question is, are the social emotions necessary to make these moral judgments," said Adolphs.

The findings suggest humans are neurologically unfit for strict utilitarian thinking, the authors say, suggesting neuroscience may be able to test different philosophies for their compatibility with human nature.

http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2007/03/22/science-morality.html

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Xians - collective "Ouch"!

Xians - collective "Ouch"!


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Well, what do you know... I

Well, what do you know...

I guess psychologists and psychiatrists were right all the time...

Vastet - keep it coming... the more articles like this one, the harder it will be for Xtians to deny that their God of the Gaps is simply an invention.

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(Puts on his Santa hat,

(Puts on his Santa hat, which enables him to make great leaps of false logic)

Obviously those parts of the brain are Santa given. I think what these researchers are doing is wrong, since it takes the Santa out of the hearts of men. Santa wants us to be conflicted about moral dilemmas so that we can come to Him for answers in all his jollyness.

All of you atheists just need to search for Santa. You'll find if you just believe, you'll hear his jingly bells.

I'll be hanging the stockings for you. Merry Santamas! 

(Takes the Santa hat off) 


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My Flying Spaghetti Monster

My Flying Spaghetti Monster hat is much more interesting looking than your Santa hat, and as we all know, "S-A-N-T-A" is only a quick flip flop from "S-A-T-A-N."  So, off with thee, devil worshipper!

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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Fascinating!  We'll have

Fascinating! 

We'll have to link that post next time a xian proudly states that the rules of morality are god-given.

Thank you for a very interesting post 

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This reminds me of the

This reminds me of the story of Phineas Gage, the guy who had a tamping iron blast straight through his head:


From Wiki:

On September 13, 1848, Phineas P Gage was working outside the small town of Cavendish, Vermont on the construction of a railroad track where he was employed as a foreman. One of his duties involved filling the hole with gunpowder, adding a fuse, and then packing in sand with the aid of a large tamping iron. Gage was momentarily distracted and forgot to pour the sand into one hole. Thus, when he went to tamp the sand down, the tamping iron sparked against the rock and ignited the gunpowder, causing the iron to be blown through Gage's head with such force that it landed almost thirty yards (27 meters) behind him.


There's some debate about the true effect this had on Gage, but I'm thinking there had to be some kind of effect.  I mean, the guy had a hole driven through his brain.

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yep.  Good call, Iruka. 

yep.  Good call, Iruka.  That was the seminal case in the study of the frontal lobe's influence on morality/inhibition/etc.

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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I'm kind of surprised that

I'm kind of surprised that no theist brought forward the argument "well, god put morality in the frontal lobe when he created man and you can't prove he didn't" I figured I'd save them the sermon, since their assertions are usually followed by mass quoting from the bible. 

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I suspect they haven't

I suspect they haven't because they realize how easy to defeat such a statement would be. A god wouldn't make morality fallible.

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Very interesting.  I wonder

Very interesting.  I wonder if our morality will change by natural selection in the future -- with overpopulation and dwindling resources, utilitarian minds may become more advantageous.  A harbinger would be chimpanzees taken to hunting bush babies after their typical food sources depleted.

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Interesting article.

Interesting article. Actually, this does seem to raise some interesting philosophical questions about the functioning of our cognitive faculties, but truthfully this doesn't appear to have the effect intended by atheists...

An objective moral order, if it exists, operates independently of whether or not our cognitive faculties are functioning properly. A person suffering from mental illness (such as a sociopath) lacks the capability of moral cognition, but how does the fact of one man's illness tell us anything about the metaphysical nature of the universe?

That one's cognitive faculties are impaired is a very interesting and relevant fact about the individual... it's pretty biographical, but this doesn't attack the philosophical grounds on which classical theists base their arguments for the existence of moral absolutes.


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Classical theist

Classical theist philosophers have already been refuted. Current day theists tend to argue that you cannot be moral without god. This is evidence against that position.

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By classical theist, I mean

By classical theist, I mean anyone who holds to a classical (as opposed to "liberal") view of theism.

But I agree that insofar as a theist tries to argue that an atheist cannot do morally good things, he is sorely mistaken, or misunderstands the argument. It deals with the elimination of "moral" as a legitimate category than a matter of how well one is behaving.

It makes more sense to say that "On atheism, one cannot be good", if by "atheism", we are talking about what kind of universe we're living in.


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Archangel__7 wrote: By

Archangel__7 wrote:
By classical theist, I mean anyone who holds to a classical (as opposed to "liberal") view of theism.

You'll have to narrow the descriptive down. As far as I can tell, a classical(conservative) view of christianity would be a young earth creationist. A philosophy which is physically impossible.

Archangel__7 wrote:

It makes more sense to say that "On atheism, one cannot be good", if by "atheism", we are talking about what kind of universe we're living in.

I don't understand what you're saying here.

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Archangel__7 wrote: An

Archangel__7 wrote:
An objective moral order, if it exists, operates independently of whether or not our cognitive faculties are functioning properly.

But that's exactly the point here, I think.  First off, I do not think that objective moral codes are even a possibility.  Because even if God placed moral codes, those moral codes would not be objective. They would be god's idea of morality, and that would be subjective.  Also, in order to understand human behavior, we would still have to study humans.  To say that there is a moral absolute is to rely solely on faith, something atheists...don't exactly prescribe to, in that sense.  Statistically sound studies such as this, can pretty much tell us the nature of our morality, which would show us, in this case, that morality is not objective but dictated by our cognitive faculites and our own mind as set within a societal complex.

 

Archangel__7 wrote:
A person suffering from mental illness (such as a sociopath) lacks the capability of moral cognition, but how does the fact of one man's illness tell us anything about the metaphysical nature of the universe?

Nothing, but it does tell us that obviously there is a hard wired mechanism into that individual's morality. But keep in mind that studies such as this rely on statistical evidence and are not designed to describe one individual, but they try to find a pattern that fits everyone, and this study has shown evidence of this.  

If Morality was an objective moral code that exists independently of minds, then obviously it is easily destroyed by destroyed minds.  But that doesn't make too much sense...does it?  What's the point of an independent universal and objective moral code, if it's so easily broken? 

Archangel__7 wrote:
That one's cognitive faculties are impaired is a very interesting and relevant fact about the individual... it's pretty biographical, but this doesn't attack the philosophical grounds on which classical theists base their arguments for the existence of moral absolutes.
 

The thing is this, if you are brain damaged and your ability to make decisions that are based according to a universal  moral code or absolute as prescribed by god are impaired; and you commit acts that are considered sin, how you ever supposed to receive salvation? Considering the fact that you lack the ability to even recognize you committed an immoral, sinful act?   One would logically conclude, then,that god's design is not so great. 

Occum's Razor here would tell me that it was not a designer that built us or a universal moral absolute, but that in fact morality is subjective based on societal pressures connected to a hardwiring of the brain that was developed within that society and possibly passed down through genes, which would lead me to logically reason that when that person becomes brain damaged, so does his ability to make moral choices.  I think that's pretty damn good evidence disconnecting the idea that morals come from god or are preset as absolutes.  

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Ah, Excuse the length. I

Ah, Excuse the length. I haven't done an exact line-by-line response, but I hope this will suffice to cover those points as well.

Quote:
First off, I do not think that objective moral codes are even a possibility. Because even if God placed moral codes, those moral codes would not be objective. They would be god's idea of morality, and that would be subjective.


I would say God neither arbitrarily issues moral edicts or is somehow subject to some standard external to himself. The best thing I can do here is direct you to another place where I've specifically addressed the Euthyphro Dilemma.

Quote:
Also, in order to understand human behavior, we would still have to study humans.


I can agree with this, but again, restricting concerns to understanding human behavior may tell us something about why people behave the way they do, but "morality", if it is to be meaningful, is not going to be just an anthropological survey of how human beings do, in fact, behave. We might even come up with a physical description of moral cognition, but to suppose that this actually says anything about the truth-value behind the object of one's belief is to fall prey to the genetic fallacy--simply giving an descriptive account of how one comes to form their beliefs about something does not disprove that belief as somehow unwarranted.

Quote:
To say that there is a moral absolute is to rely solely on faith, something atheists...don't exactly prescribe to, in that sense.


I wouldn't say that many atheists on a popular level actually come out and say, "I believe in an objective moral order," but I propose that most (if not all) actually do think this way on other grounds. For example, there are those who would argue that it is somehow immoral (or at any rate blameworthy) to "put human rights to a vote". Now this assumes that despite many minds converging in agreement on some social issue, it is still the case that there is some thing (namely a human "right&quotEye-wink that stands over and above whether people wish to acknowledge its existence.

Another example might be thus: atheists frequently criticize (perhaps unwittingly) theism because of its perceived motivational deficiencies--it is obvious to these atheists that an ethical framework arising from a strictly reward/punishment rubric (or merely doing 'good' out of fear) is discernibly inferior to a much better standard, namely doing good for its own sake. But where does this notion of a "higher good" come from? Evolutionary Naturalistic explanation, in limiting itself to physical causes renders nonphysical entities such as motive and intent inaccessible to evaluation. As long as the behavior aids in self-propagation, what does it matter what the intent or motive is, whether it be fear or some mercenary instinct? So it appears Evolutionary Naturalism doesn't comport well with the kinds of intuition shared by atheists concerning the importance of motivational factors which guide human behavior.

There are numerous other examples I could provide, but for the sake of space, I think it may be enough to say an atheist may frequently pay lip service to the supposed non-existence of objective moral values, but when pressed, his actions often tell a different story about what he actually does believe.

Quote:
Statistically sound studies such as this, can pretty much tell us the nature of our morality, which would show us, in this case, that morality is not objective but dictated by our cognitive faculites and our own mind as set within a societal complex.


I think this goes too far. Let's suppose there are thousands of such studies or experiments which replicate the outcome of the one referenced in this article. What can they tell us? When we say they "tell us the nature of our morality" [emphasis mine], I understand that to mean such studies offer some insight into our individual moral capacities, which is something far different than anything concerning the nature of the universe. Why this individual/universe distinction? Let's look once more at the opening line of the article and see if we can make what I'm saying more obvious:

Quote:
"Damage to a small region of the brain behind the forehead can change the moral compass of individuals, making their decision-making more cold and calculated, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature."


"Compass" is indeed a very apt word. Suppose, then, we had a team of scientists, each trying to figure out just how it is that compasses function the way they do. What is it about a compass that gives them this property of "wobbliness"? Why do such creatures consistently behave the way they do, with their needles always (or nearly always) pointing magentically North? Suppose further we introduce into our experiment other compasses which depart from this norm--they're impaired, or otherwise broken. In fact, many compasses possessing this deficiency fail to point north. Some will waver or delay, and others will fail to consistently point north. How does one infer from this that compasses function solely by way of something that is internal to itself?

That the compass possess an ability to point North is not something that is intrinsic to the compass. It "works" because there is a reality to the external world such that there are magnetic forces that do, in fact, exist, and their existence is independent of whether or not one (or even many) compasses are functioning properly.

Likewise, an impaired moral cognitive faculty (or even a series of them) does nothing to discredit the existence of an objective moral order any more than a broken compass discredits the existence of a magnetic force. If one wants to discredit the existence of a magnetic force, more must be done than just appealing to the broken compass as "evidence". Just so with our moral cognitive faculties.

Quote:
If Morality was an objective moral code that exists independently of minds, then obviously it is easily destroyed by destroyed minds. But that doesn't make too much sense...does it?


I have to admit this makes no sense whatsoever. How is it that a 'destroyed' mind likewise 'destroys' anything else that exists apart from it? I'm merely pointing out that the subjective/objective realms are quite independent from one another, and that something could affect the functioning of subjective cognition in now way affects the truth-value of objective realities that exist apart from our noetic equipment. I mean, we can just assume from the start that "Morality" is something that exists solely in the mind (individually or collectively), but theists who don't share this assumption aren't going to find arguments of this sort as very persuasive.

Quote:
The thing is this, if you are brain damaged and your ability to make decisions that are based according to a universal moral code or absolute as prescribed by god are impaired; and you commit acts that are considered sin, how you ever supposed to receive salvation? Considering the fact that you lack the ability to even recognize you committed an immoral, sinful act? One would logically conclude, then,that god's design is not so great.


This is an interesting theological question, and one which I (nor anyone else, for that matter) seems to be in any position to give a definitive answer (with respect to any one individual's eternal destiny). Perhaps the best I could do here is suggest that there is a principle on which moral assessment on a human being's behavior follows a principle that's stated in this way: To whom much is given, much is required. On this principle, I take it that one's uncontrollable circumstances are taken into consideration, and insofar as this remains a possibility, I see no logical incompatibility with impaired (or undeveloped) moral cognition and salvation.

Quote:
Occum's Razor here would tell me that it was not a designer that built us or a universal moral absolute, but that in fact morality is subjective based on societal pressures connected to a hardwiring of the brain that was developed within that society and possibly passed down through genes, which would lead me to logically reason that when that person becomes brain damaged, so does his ability to make moral choices. I think that's pretty damn good evidence disconnecting the idea that morals come from god or are preset as absolutes.


I suppose I'd just invite you (if you have time) to read the rest of my essay linked above. Duncan Bell attempts to make a similar argument (which I've linked to at the bottom of the page), and I offer seven points of critique against just this thesis.


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Who did the hardwiring?  I

Who did the hardwiring?  I don't suppose that an audio system in your car would have wired itself? Even over millions of years?


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Positive Change wrote:

Positive Change wrote:
Who did the hardwiring? I don't suppose that an audio system in your car would have wired itself? Even over millions of years?

No one did the "hardwiring." It was evolution via natural selection.

Oh wait, you wanted me to answer "God", right?


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Positive Change wrote: Who

Positive Change wrote:
Who did the hardwiring? I don't suppose that an audio system in your car would have wired itself? Even over millions of years?

I know that guy in your picture didn't get nailed to the cross by accident. Maybe your god hadn't hardwired morality into the brain yet. 


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BGH wrote: Positive Change

BGH wrote:

Positive Change wrote:
Who did the hardwiring? I don't suppose that an audio system in your car would have wired itself? Even over millions of years?

I know that guy in your picture didn't get nailed to the cross by accident. Maybe your god hadn't hardwired morality into the brain yet.

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Who did the hardwiring?  I

Who did the hardwiring?  I don't suppose that an audio system in your car would have wired itself? Even over millions of years?

Yeah, but there is no evolutionary advantage to a car with an audio system. On the other hand, evolution has selected for various endocrine levels in the neurochemical makeup which would create societal animals with cooperative tendancies because this would be an advantegeous way to ensure propogation of the genes. 

"Physical reality” isn’t some arbitrary demarcation. It is defined in terms of what we can systematically investigate, directly or not, by means of our senses. It is preposterous to assert that the process of systematic scientific reasoning arbitrarily excludes “non-physical explanations” because the very notion of “non-physical explanation” is contradictory.

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BGH wrote: > I know that

BGH wrote:
>

I know that guy in your picture didn't get nailed to the cross by accident. Maybe your god hadn't hardwired morality into the brain yet.

Good one, BGH! And very true.

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New article I found where

New article I found where it's being studied if

Are humans hard-wired for faith?

Story Highlights:

• Scientist working to track how the human brain processes religion, spirituality

• New field called neurotheology• Similar areas of the brain are affected during prayer and meditation

Some nuns and other believers champion the brain scans as proof of an innate, physical conduit between human beings and God. According to them, it would only make sense that God would give humans a way to communicate with the Almighty through their brain functions.

Some atheists saw these brain scans as proof that the emotions attached to religion and God are nothing more than manifestations of brain circuitry.

http://www.cnn.com/2007/HEALTH/04/04/neurotheology/index.html

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There was a show on the

There was a show on the National Geographic channel(?) recently that went over the different kinds of pre-historic man. One of the primary reasons that the other species of man (like  Neanderthals and several others) was our apparent morality. There were several variants that didn't make it because they didn't have the kind of moral and social cohesion that we do. They didn't, for example, care as much if a family member died, and didn't go to the same lengths to protect them. They died out, and we survived because we had a greater sense of empathy. We cooperated better, protected eachother better, and so on.

 The point is that this hard-wired morality was not just installed fully in place without any trial and error. It really was a process of natural selection that culled our sense of morality. These other species of humans were very much like us otherwise, including similar levels of intelligence, it was just their lack of the same level of emotional development and social cohesion that we have that doomed their long term survival.