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March 23, 2012

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Haidt doesn't equate religious belief with scientific belief, or assume all morality is equally good; he just points out some commonalities. I don't recall exactly what he said about truth as a value, but it seems to me he acknowledged there was something to the idea, but . . . .

In the interview, as elsewhere, Haidt says liberals are on average more open to new ideas, including science. But scientists and liberals are still prone to confirmation bias regarding ideas they have a personal stake in, including a stake of personal values, like everyone else. Whether they're just as prone to it as others isn't really the point; they're prone to it.

Haidt favors utilitarianism in practice, partly because in a diverse culture it's hard to agree on particular moral points, but most people are willing to accept the greatest good for the greatest number as at least important. But there's reason to question whether secular utilitarianism can be as effective as morality based on religious commitment. There may be a trade-off, one being more amenable to criticism based on facts, the other more motivating.

From New York Times:

"Does it Matter Whether God Exists?"

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/22/does-it-matter-whether-god-exists/

Sanpete, thanks for your thoughtful thoughts about Haidt. I resonated with much of what he said, but feel that he misses some important points.

I forgot to talk about the adaptation vs. byproduct religion issue. Namely, is religiosity a productive evolutionary adaptation for us humans, or a byproduct of productive adaptations which causes more trouble than its worth? (Probably will address this in another post.)

Haidt said that he sees religion as adaptive/positive, or it wouldn't have become so common over recent human history, recent being tens of thousands of years.

Well, the Dark Ages and the Inquisition don't seem adaptive to me. Or Muslim extremism. Or Christian fundamentalism which freaks out over birth control, gays, and such. You correctly say that religion-based morality is more motivating than secular morality. Or at least, it often is.

To me that's a drawback. That strong motivation leads people to a "my way or the highway" attitude that isn't based on facts, reason, or persuasive arguments.

Brian, I'm sure you recognize that you can't tell whether something is adaptive on the whole by merely tallying its excesses and failures. I could make an equally impressive argument that secular morality is bad, using the Nazis, Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, and so on as examples. Haidt considers evidence that supports his view in the book, by comparing religious and secular groups and individuals in similar circumstances, but the fact is that it's a very complex issue about which it isn't obvious what the overall balance is. That's the point he insists on, that much of the criticism of religion goes way beyond what the facts show us and is obviously seeking only to confirm a predetermined conclusion.

If we'd be better off with less moral motivation, then there's no worry about that with secular morality, I suppose. On the other hand, if you think, for example, that the black civil rights movement required every bit of motivation possible, the advantage of religious motivation appears in a better light.

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