Morality Is A Natural Phenomenon - Brights

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  1. profile image53
    (Q)posted 8 years ago

    This was a monthly email sent to me by the Brights organization which I thought might be of some interest to pass on.

    The following update has some useful information for constituents of The Brights' Network. The evidence is in that human morality is a natural phenomenon, not one that derives from any supernatural source(s).

    It is a certainty that Brights would wish to draw upon accurate scientific understanding when addressing what is "common knowledge" about how morality came about. This status report provides such scientific input.

    The material below leads to somewhat more extensive information on the Brights' website. Share the site material with as many others as you think will have interest and/or benefit from the progress in the project so far.  You will find a sharing tool on the website to help you spread the word through different media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.).

    Brights Central would like to thank the volunteers who participated in the early phases of the project.

    The Brights' Net "Reality about Morality" Project

    Status Report, November 2009 
    by Ruban Bala, Project Director

    Persons who have a naturalistic worldview are perpetually "up against" the false but widely held cultural presumption that they, because of their worldview, lack certain requisites to be moral persons. In other words, many societies hold the incorrect belief that people cannot be moral without God. Many fellow citizens count as "fact" that morality is something presented to humanity by a deity through scripture (or similar assertions).

    As a result, brights have been discriminated against throughout human history and societies on the assumption that they are morally deficient. In our view, it appears to be the single most significant hindrance to public disclosure that one has a naturalistic worldview. As one Bright, Angela, puts it: "...The fear that they will be seen as bad people, incapable of moral behavior, and shunned by society."

    However, there is strong evidence that human morality doesn't come from God or other supernatural sources.


    The overall objective of the "Reality about Morality" Project is to develop educational and media strategies to build a broader understanding of morality amongst the Brights constituency and the general public. So far, this has involved obtaining strong, scientifically-defensible evidence that human morality is grounded in biology and modified by experience, rather than revealed by supernatural agents (or similar assertions).

    Thus, the body of scientifically-defensible evidence assembled so far (see below) draws upon peer-reviewed scientific research studies from the disciplines of biology, psychology, neuroscience, anthropology, ethics and economics to present multiple lines of strong substantiation that human morality is natural. Support from members of the international scientific community is also included as authentication of the aforementioned evidence.


    [Project Area A] Beginning this project, we established a panel of Brights who had interest in its goals. These members - drawn from the constituency at large, followed by a smaller cadre of persons having some additional grounding in the domain - collaborated with The Brights' Net to formulate a set of clear-cut statements thought to be scientifically defensible, given current research.

    This early phase of the Project [A] produced four declarative statements, along with associated "substantiating studies" deemed adequate to support them.

    [Project Area B] At a meeting of the Brights' Net, we appraised readiness to move to the project's second phase: acquiring a panel of researchers from the international scientific community who could "authenticate" our proposed "scientifically-defensible" statements regarding morality's natural underpinnings. Late in 2008, we emailed the four draft statements with their corresponding listings of cited studies to a sample of researchers, and followed with a postal mailing in summer, 2009.

    Four Scientifically-Defensible Statements about Morality: 

    Based on a review of the multidisciplinary research literature on the natural underpinnings of human morality, four declarative statements have been produced, along with associated "substantiating research studies" deemed adequate to support them. The four statements are below.

      Statement A:
    Morality is an evolved repertoire of cognitive and emotional mechanisms with distinct biological underpinnings, as modified by experience acquired throughout the human lifespan.

      Statement B:
    Morality is not the exclusive domain of Homo sapiens-there is significant cross-species evidence in the scientific literature that animals exhibit "pre-morality" or basic moral behaviors (i.e. those patterns of behavior that parallel central elements of human moral behavior).

      Statement C:
    Morality is a "human universal" (i.e. exists across all cultures worldwide), a part of human nature acquired during evolution.

      Statement D:
    Young children and infants demonstrate some aspects of moral cognition and behavior (which precede specific learning experiences and worldview development). 

    Supporting Research Studies: 

    The corresponding list of research studies that provide multiple lines of evidence to support each of the above four statements about morality has been placed on the website.

    Many of these empirical studies are already in the public domain, and can be read and accessed online and in libraries, whether through Google Scholar, researchers' personal websites, university library access to journals, or by purchasing some of these individual articles online.

    Recommended Readings 

    The panelists were asked to suggest a "basic shelf" of no more than five books that would be helpful as guidance toward an understanding of the naturalistic foundations of human morality.  From their responses, we compiled a list of Recommended Readings available on the website.

    The Brights' Net Morality Project's Scientific Panel: 

    Project Area B involved research scientists and ethicists in authenticating each statement in the declaration with citations and comments.

    Our multidisciplinary Scientific Panel of Reviewers comes from a wide variety of backgrounds and expertise and includes some of the most respected and well-known scientists in the world:

      Oliver Curry, Ph.D.
    Researcher in Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology
    The University of Oxford

      Herbert Gintis, Ph.D.
    Emeritus Professor of Economics
    The University of Massachusetts, Amherst

      Joshua D. Greene, Ph.D.
    Assistant Professor of Psychology
    Harvard University

      Marc Hauser, Ph.D.
    Professor of Psychology, Organismic & Evolutionary Biology and Biological Anthropology
    Harvard University

      Debra Lieberman, Ph.D.
    Assistant Professor of Psychology
    The University of Miami

      Jessica Pierce, Ph.D.
    Associate Faculty, The Center for Bioethics and Humanities
    The University of Colorado

      Peter Singer
    Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics
    Princeton University     

    Action Plan and Next Steps:   

    This phase of the Morality Project brings Project Areas A and B to a close. We have articulated and defended a naturalistic basis of morality, so now we can proceed to Project Areas C and D. These phases will involve setting forth goals for educational action.  We will be developing clear and soundly based messages (in terms that can be readily understood by lay persons and especially transmitted via media).  We will be building on the Web a useful resource "tool box" for Brights to use when discussing the source of human morality.

    Project Area C entails planning for the design and development of presentation and instructional materials for varied target audiences (through illustration and examples as necessary) on the final declaration statements.

    Project Area D involves the development of volunteer mentors, individuals schooled in the declaration statements and how to present and explain them to others.

    As we proceed with the project, we will be seeking another set of volunteers from the constituency.  There will be a separate announcement to that effect (soliciting involvement in upcoming phases).

  2. earnestshub profile image88
    earnestshubposted 8 years ago

    It is plain to me this is a lot closer to the truth than any religious belief affecting morality. Hypocrisy yes, morality no.

  3. prettydarkhorse profile image63
    prettydarkhorseposted 8 years ago

    yes, morals or societal norms are customs, virtues or values shared by a given people in a given time, it is also evolving, moral laws which are dependent on bible and its interperetation is just part of can also evolve to adopt to the changing times, thats my opinion, it should adopt in order not to become outdated

    1. earnestshub profile image88
      earnestshubposted 8 years agoin reply to this


    2. Cagsil profile image81
      Cagsilposted 8 years agoin reply to this

      Your statement has to be taken in two parts. And, I was a bit surprise that Earnest smiled at your comment.

      You based your belief on what you've learn for morals, via the bible, and you seem to think that morals were created by the bible. This is a huge assumption on your part and should not be what you based your life on.

      My personal opinion of the OP is that it is too long to begin and should have been transformed into smaller less manipulative text.

      If you're looking for moral absolutes in life and you haven't found any, then I'm glad I could share these with you.

      MORAL ABSOLUTES exist, regardless of what one individual thinks.

      Any CHOSEN action that is beneficial to the human organism or society is morally right or good.

      Any CHOSEN action that is harmful to the human organism or society is morally wrong or bad.

      Emotions are amoral. Meaning, that they are not subjected to any form or standard. Emotions are a part of 'cause and effect'. They happen when something causes them to happen(effect). Emotions are reactionary actions that come from external or internal behavior. Some emotions can be controlled and some cannot be.

      1. profile image0
        lyricsingrayposted 8 years agoin reply to this


  4. profile image0
    thetruthhurts2009posted 8 years ago

    “Natural Phenomenon” is a oxymoron when coming from a naturalist, I've never seen such a severe case of ABG(anything but God) syndrome in a while. Even Dawkins stated everything now is a modern version of itself that mean everything should also be moral, but it’s not proving there is a transcendent morality above natural that only interacts with the humans (can you say God). Why did you guys change you names from atheist to “brights” anyway? Atheist is a more suitable name for such futile thinking.
    I fear unfortunately most atheist here have already committed intellectual suicide in a futile effort to evade God.
    For those you haven‘t don‘t shoot! … -Dont-Jump

    1. profile image53
      (Q)posted 8 years agoin reply to this

      So did you, nice work, gents. I don't even see why either of you bothered to respond.

  5. cynide10 profile image49
    cynide10posted 8 years ago

    Personally I believe that our conscience and morals are gifts from God given to us to help us to make the right decisions. But if God does not exist then morals are a purely natural occurence that we have benefitted from, without the moral boundaries we impose on ourselves we would be savages and civilisation would not exist. It is because of the moral bindings we have placed upon ourselves through society that the human race is able to function as we do. Without society's values we would not co-operate with each other and remain isolated. On thing that is clear is that morals and the principles they bring have drawn us closer together.

  6. Don W profile image82
    Don Wposted 8 years ago

    So the argument is: human morality is grounded in biology and experience, therefore it is not revealed by supernatural agents. But that's a non-sequitur. The conclusion doesn't follow on from the premise. The truth of the former would not make the latter necessarily true.

    The four statements presented, said to refute theist assertions about morality, may well be "scientifically-defensible" but they don’t actually preclude the argument that “god did it”. Indeed the conclusion that god did not do it can’t be reached from the assertion that "human morality is natural". Moreover one of the main assertions of theism: god created everything (including the laws of nature) makes it irrelevant anyway.

    The argument presented here is a fallacy and an example populist science no better than the pseudo-science engaged in by some theists. If theists make assertions about the natural world, then certainly those assertions can be evaluated through scientific method. But the idea that the information here proves (“scientifically”) that a deity is not the source of morality is at best a fallacy, at worst misleading. It proves no such thing.

    Making an invalid argument then misrepresenting it as scientific proof of something is as bad as making an invalid argument and misrepresenting it as divine. As for plans to take “educational action” and “. . . [develop] clear and soundly based messages . . . especially transmitted via media”, that sounds suspiciously like evangelism dressed up in non theistic clothing.

    1. profile image53
      (Q)posted 8 years agoin reply to this

      But, you haven't refuted anything from the article, and have instead simply dismissed it in favor of your beliefs.

      1. Don W profile image82
        Don Wposted 8 years agoin reply to this

        My beliefs? That's an assumption on your part.

        Regardless, it's unnecessary to refute the premises because the argument is invalid. It's a non-sequitur. It's a fallacy.

        If the argument were valid, then it would be worth evaluating its soundness by determining the truth or falsehood of the premises. As the argument is not valid, then doing so is pointless.

        1. profile image53
          (Q)posted 8 years agoin reply to this

          It's fine to make those assertions, however they remain vacuous without refutation of the articles claims.

          You are free to "evaluate it's soundness" if you can. So far, you have made no attempt to do so.

          1. Don W profile image82
            Don Wposted 8 years agoin reply to this

            Was going to reply, then saw:

            Thanks TMinut. That's exactly the point I was making and conveyed more succinctly too. Feel free to summarise my comments any time smile

  7. profile image0
    TMinutposted 8 years ago

    Don was pretty clear. The intro to the article states:
    The evidence is in that human morality is a natural phenomenon, not one that derives from any supernatural source(s).

    Don's point (as I understand it) is that proving morality to be a natural phenomenon does not preclude it being from a supernatural source when the supernatural source is considered the original source of human nature. That would simply mean the supernatural source of human nature instilled morality into the nature.

    There's nothing to refute, the points may well be correct. Interesting but irrelevant to the 'conclusion' drawn from them.

    1. profile image53
      (Q)posted 8 years agoin reply to this

      Ah yes, now I understand, my apologies to you Don W.


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