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Truth vs Morality II

A few years ago I made a post titled “Truth vs. Morality; Rationality vs Intuition“. In that post I put forward the idea that there are certain things — empirical claims — that people dismiss because of the unfavorable moral implications.

I encountered this so many times in debates with religious people that I assumed that it was a particular failing of the religious. All of us former religious people have encountered the following logic:

If god doesn’t exist, what’s stopping an atheist from murdering bystanders and raping children?

Religious people don’t realize that this is quite the self-own: They are so depraved and morally bankrupt that the only thing that’s stopping them from raping children is belief in god. Eliezer Yudkowsky refutes this pretty soundly in my opinion by substituting “murder” with something more mundane like “going to the bathroom after midnight”: If god doesn’t exist, what’s stopping atheist from going to the bathroom after midnight? Checkmate, atheists!

The substitution demonstrates that an extra, hidden premise is smuggled in to give the original formulation its weight.

Unfortunately, religion isn’t some aberration of human behavior. The physical-to-moral sleights of hand that religious people perform aren’t limited to them, many other non-religious people do them as well. Religion is just a subset of moral intuitions. As such, there are many other empirical claims that are dismissed on secular morality grounds, and lead to the same sorts of self-owns.

Can you think of any? I brought some up in that previous post.

The larger point in both this post and the previous, is that human worth should be orthogonal to most — if not all — empirical claims. If god doesn’t exist this should have no bearing on the value of human life. But to even get to this step, people have to understand that the existence of god is an empirical claim and not a moral one. That is a hard ask.

And to my non-religious readers, you don’t get away either! You suffer from the same inability to divorce the physical from the moral that the religious do. And as such, you will inadvertently self-own in the same way religious people do. How depraved and morally destitute are you by your own admission?

Or to put it in a phrasing you might be familiar with (and leads to the moral self-own), does not believing in [XYZ] empirical or physical claim make you racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic? Are you saying that the only thing that holds you back from being a putrid mire of racism/sexism/homophobia/transphobia is believing in [XYZ] claim?

Now, I actually don’t think religious people suffer from an abject poverty of moral purchase due to the implications of this particular anti-atheist argument. When a religious person hears “I don’t believe in god” it gets translated by their subconscious as “I don’t think morality exists”. The primacy of social or moral rules over the physical is a bias we all have. Meaning that the same translation happens for other physical claims besides the existence of god in non-religious domains: When presented with a question/claim that can have a moral/social answer/interpretation XOR a physical answer/interpretation, we tend to answer with the moral/social answer/interpretation.

But when you interpret a physical claim as a moral/social claim, you logically paint yourself into a moral corner. You imply that you would kill innocent people/rape children/be racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic, and the only thing holding you back is the existence of god/[XYZ] claim.

To drive this point home, I’ll end this post with the most egregious example of the human tendency to supplant the social/moral over the physical — besides the existence of god — in the current zeitgeist:

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2019 in cognitive science, economics/sociology, morality, religion

 

Incentives Matter

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

Bullock, et al., 2013:

In both experiments, all subjects were asked factual questions, but some were given financial incentives to answer correctly. In both experiments, we find that the incentives reduce partisan divergence substantially–on average, by about 55% and 60% across all of the questions for which partisan gaps appear when subjects are not incentivized. But offering an incentive for accurate responses will not deter cheerleading among those who are unsure of the correct factual response, because such people stand to gain little by forgoing it. In our second experiment, we therefore implement a treatment in which subjects were offered incentives both for correct responses and for admitting that they did not know the correct response. We find that partisan gaps are even smaller in this condition–about 80% smaller than for unincentivized responses. This finding suggests that partisan divergence is driven by both expressive behavior and by respondents’ knowledge that they do not actually know the correct answers.

(h/t Bryan Caplan)

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2019 in cognitive science

 

Promiscuous Condemnation: People Assume Ambiguous Actions are Immoral

Abstract

Do people generally view others as good or evil? Although people generally cooperate with others and view others’ “true selves” as intrinsically good, we suggest that they are likely to assume that the actions of others are evil-at least when they are ambiguous. Nine experiments provide support for promiscuous condemnation: the general tendency to assume that ambiguous actions are immoral. Both cognitive and functional arguments support the idea of promiscuous condemnation. Cognitively, dyadic completion suggests that when the mind perceives some elements of immorality (or harm), it cannot help but perceive other elements of immorality. Functionally, assuming that ambiguous actions are immoral helps people quickly identify potential harm and provide aid to others. In the first seven experiments, participants often judged neutral nonsense actions (e.g., “John pelled”) as immoral, especially when the context surrounding these nonsense actions included elements of immorality (e.g., intentionality and suffering). In the last two experiments, participants showed greater promiscuous condemnation under time pressure, suggesting an automatic tendency to assume immorality that people must effortfully control.

Promiscuous Condemnation: People Assume Ambiguous Actions are Immoral

I dub this the Edgelord Effect.

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2019 in cognitive science, religion

 

Political Conservatives’ Affinity for Obedience to Authority Is Loyal, Not Blind

Abstract

Liberals and conservatives disagree about obeying authorities, with conservatives holding the more positive views. We suggest that reactions to conservative authorities, rather than to obedience itself, are responsible for the division. Past findings that conservatives favor obedience uniformly confounded obedience with conservative authorities. We break down obedience to authority into its constituent parts to test the divisiveness of each part. The concepts of obedience (Study 1) and authority (Study 2) recruited inferences of conservative authorities, conflating results of simple, seemingly face valid tests of their divisiveness. These results establish necessary features of a valid test, to which Study 3 conforms. Conservatives have the more positive moral views of obedience only when the authorities are conservative (e.g., commanding officers); liberals do when the authorities are liberal (e.g., environmentalists). The two camps agree about obeying ideologically neutral authorities (e.g., office managers). Obedience itself is not ideologically divisive

Political Conservatives’ Affinity for Obedience to Authority Is Loyal, Not Blind

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2019 in cognitive science

 

Love Your Enemies… If You Want To Change Their Mind

If you actually want to persuade somebody else, attacking that other person will drive that person farther in the other direction and it will alienate the people who are listening to your interchange,” Brooks says. ” … To condemn the person is suboptimal because you will never persuade somebody else that what you’re doing is anything more than a character assassination.

NPR: Love Your Enemies And Maaaybe You’ll Get Them To Agree With You

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2019 in cognitive science, religion

 

New research indicates political conservatism, disgust sensitivity and orderliness are psychologically interrelated

Individuals who experience more disgust also tend to show a higher dispositional preference for order, according to a new study published in Cognition and Emotion, which could partly explain why there is a positive relationship between disgust sensitivity and political conservatism.

Previous research has found that the way a person’s brain responds to a single disgusting image is enough to reliably predict whether he or she identifies politically as liberal or conservative.

Read more at PsyPost.

 
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Posted by on October 10, 2019 in cognitive science, religion

 

People who think that facts are politically constructed, and that truth is political, are more likely to hold false beliefs

Abstract

Widespread misperceptions undermine citizens’ decision-making ability. Conclusions based on falsehoods and conspiracy theories are by definition flawed. This article demonstrates that individuals’ epistemic beliefs–beliefs about the nature of knowledge and how one comes to know–have important implications for perception accuracy. The present study uses a series of large, nationally representative surveys of the U.S. population to produce valid and reliable measures of three aspects of epistemic beliefs: reliance on intuition for factual beliefs (Faith in Intuition for facts), importance of consistency between empirical evidence and beliefs (Need for evidence), and conviction that “facts” are politically constructed (Truth is political). Analyses confirm that these factors complement established predictors of misperception, substantively increasing our ability to explain both individuals’ propensity to engage in conspiracist ideation, and their willingness to embrace falsehoods about high-profile scientific and political issues. Individuals who view reality as a political construct are significantly more likely to embrace falsehoods, whereas those who believe that their conclusions must hew to available evidence tend to hold more accurate beliefs. Confidence in the ability to intuitively recognize truth is a uniquely important predictor of conspiracist ideation. Results suggest that efforts to counter misperceptions may be helped by promoting epistemic beliefs emphasizing the importance of evidence, cautious use of feelings, and trust that rigorous assessment by knowledgeable specialists is an effective guard against political manipulation.

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0184733

 
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Posted by on October 1, 2019 in cognitive science

 
 
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