Rationality and Morality

We usually have no interest in social science, but this item in PhysOrg is different: Reliance on reason, evidence as a moral issue measured in study. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis:

The theory of evolution by natural selection is one of several examples of societal disputes that center on the validity of specific beliefs, where one position is backed up by logical reasoning and scientific evidence, and the other is not.

Great start! And it’s certain to enrage people like ol’ Hambo. Now that they have our attention, we’ll proceed:

While some people rely more on reason and evidence than others when deciding on their beliefs, a new report from psychologists at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Exeter suggests people can also come to see a reliance on reason and evidence as a moral issue – to see the rationality of another’s beliefs as indicative of their morality.

They’re talking about your Curmudgeon! We can’t quit now. Then we’re told:

In a project involving eight studies, the researchers developed a scale designed to quantify the extent to which people moralize rationality. “The scale does not simply measure a strong preference for being a rational person, but a moral conviction that we all should rely on logic and evidence when we form and evaluate beliefs,” said Tomas Ståhl, UIC visiting assistant professor of psychology and lead author of the study published in PLOS ONE.

This is the published paper: Moralized Rationality: Relying on Logic and Evidence in the Formation and Evaluation of Belief Can Be Seen as a Moral Issue. You can read it online without a subscription. Back to PhysOrg:

The findings show that people who moralize rationality judge others they see as less rational much more harshly. “They see these individuals as less moral; prefer to distance themselves from them; and under some circumstances, even prefer them to be punished for their irrational behavior,” Ståhl said. “By contrast, individuals who moralized rationality judged others who were perceived as rational as more moral and worthy of praise.”

Well, dear reader, do you judge creationists as less moral than you are? Do you prefer to distance yourself from them? Your Curmudgeon feels that way about the leaders of various creationist outfits — but we’re not interested in punishing them. As for their followers, well, there’s nothing immoral about being ignorant — but there’s nothing praiseworthy about it. One final excerpt from PhysOrg:

While morality is commonly linked to religiosity and a belief in God, the current research identifies a secular moral value and how it may affect individuals’ interpersonal relations and societal engagement.

The results seem obvious to us. There’s nothing moral about denigrating science to promote an inherently goofy belief system, nor in blindly following such a system. It’s hard to believe that this study is actually breaking new ground.

Copyright © 2016. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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9 responses to “Rationality and Morality

  1. “Well, dear reader, do you judge creationists as less moral than you are?”
    Not a priori.
    On internet I yet have to meet the first honest creationist. However as this is induction I won’t give up hope.

  2. A trolley carrying five creationists is headed from the Creation Museum to the Ark Park. If you throw the switch, it will divert them to a Natural History Museum. But, a second trolley carrying one Sensuous Curmudgeon reader will be rerouted and the victim will be forced to spend the day playing Shem in the Noah’s Ark replica. What do you do?

  3. I’d throw the switch, Mark. The occupants of both trolleys would then be exposed to fact, the creationists about Natural History, SC about what creationists are like, when found in their natural state. It’s win-win.

  4. But seriously, folks, this study appears to have as an objective to directly counter the frequently repeated lie that a belief in the supernatural is required for morality. It might have the effect of making non-theists a little more confident of their reliance on rational thought, but it will have no effect on those who believe to the contrary. You cannot use rational argument from facts to convince irrational people who don’t recognise facts.

  5. There is the phenomenon whereby strongly held beliefs are reinforced when confronted by indisputable facts to the contrary.

  6. Anonymous – This was the mantra of my fundie childhood. If you start to doubt the truth of your beliefs, it means the Devil is working extra hard on you, which means he’s worried, which means you’re justified in your beliefs. If an argument makes you doubt, that is evidence against its truth.

  7. Ken Phelps notes the phenomenon whereby, for the True Believer,

    If an argument makes you doubt, that is evidence against its truth.

    Indeed. I think its the same principle that leads conspiracy theorists to embrace the total lack of any evidence whatsoever as solid proof that a highly-effective conspiracy has taken place.

  8. SC, I wince every time you use the euphemism “goofy” when describing the anti-science movement. Especially hard to take when describing Trump appointees.

  9. @Matt: What’s truly goofy is the the way the media magnify the readership of Trump’s tweets by at least an order of magnitude.

    Trump tweets; a few million followers on Twitter see it.

    Media repeat the tweet; hundreds of millions all over the world see it.

    It really worked for Trump during the campaign. One TV ad blasting Hillary = $1,000,000 and seen by (maybe) ten million viewers.

    One tweet = $0; seen by 5 million originally; at least ten times that after being repeated in the media.

    Brilliant. Now, if only the man would put some rational thought into his tweets before twittering away…