MSNBC recently posted an article discussing religion and altruism.
There was something very telling in the article that I have suspected but never seen in print. The authors state that religious adherence to morals is not out of empathy but because they fear being watched by an ‘authority figure’ or to maintain their reputation as being good worshipers.
You’re making a lot of stew from one oyster here.
The authors do a lot of “mights”, “maybes” and “we don’t have evidence”. They don’t say that there is contrary evidence or evidence that religious people exhibiting altruistic behavior show less empathy. It’s a very speculative and highly qualified study of surveys which seems to say “unproven”. As always, the take home message is that they need another grant to do more research
Fun article, but kinda “ho-hum” ish… or a “well, duh” factor, don’t ya think?
For those who haven’t seen it, here’s Sam the man’s contribution for the “Your Brain on Morality” portion of an academic conference in early October.
So, is Sam correct? Can morality be discerned scientifically through the prism of “moral realism”? In other words, (or more accurately, Sam’s words), will science be able to “make objective requisites” as to what actually constitutes “human well-being” ?
Are there objective truths “out there” that can be defined, based on observed consequences?
Iacoboni chimes in as well explaining the links between selfish and pro-social behaviour, with experiments (or fMRIs) showing the places in the brain and neuronal activity that is associated with empathy. He’s still playing with those “mirror neurons” and emphasized the import of imitation and empathy and its connection to something he termed “the chameleon effect” or “unconscious mimicry of others” within a group setting. His main claim: that we are “neurobiologically wired” for morality (or pro-socialability/empathy).—-this may also be a “ho-hum” or “well duh” factor, but at least it’s backed up by brain scans. (Just a side track here, but interesting nonetheless: individuals with autism have “broken” mirror neuron brain centers.)
Churchland later points out that early infant bonding and attachment are key in stimulating the neurobiological wirings potential to develop these brain centers and also addresses the import of brain chemicals such as oxytocin, vassopressin, dopamine and endorphins.
There’s another speaker from Britain, but I kinda dosed off when he was talking…
So, what do my fellow forum-goers think?
Call me a cynic but I’m mostly just surprised that this article would be posted on a major news network’s site. The material is pretty common sense; religion and altruism/empathy are not mutually inclusive.