Category Archives: morality

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


The Groupish Gene: Hive Psychology and the Origins of Morality and Religion

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Posted by on August 13, 2019 in cognitive science, morality, religion


What’s the most insanely misguided belief you’ve heard from someone who claims it’s 100% fact?

All of the misguided beliefs I’ve heard share one thing in common: These people are trying to use moral, ethical, or political frameworks to try to model and predict the world. It just doesn’t work that way.

Flat earthers think the world governments are trying to pull a fast one over everybody for nefarious reasons. This means that believing in a flat earth is a moral position; taken in opposition to evil hegemonic powers.

Anti-vaxxers think that Big Pharma is evil. This means that being an anti-vaxxer is a moral position; taken in opposition to evil hegemonic powers.

Chemtrail believers… again, believing in chemtrails is a moral position; taken in opposition to evil hegemonic powers.

9/11 Truthers… again, believing in 9/11 truth is a moral position; taken in opposition to evil hegemonic powers.

Moon landing hoaxers… again, believing in the moon landing hoax is a moral position; taken in opposition to evil hegemonic powers.

That’s why I consider them “misguided”. Moral theories are prescriptions for how people should behave, not descriptions of the world. Chances are, if you’re using a moral theory to try to predict how the world works, you will not only be wrong, but you will refuse any evidence that doesn’t fit in your moral framework because allowing this evidence to change your mind is “immoral”.

Indeed, all of these are oppressor vs. the oppressed narratives. When used to model the world, they will lead to delusion, since any evidence or model that doesn’t fit into the oppressor/oppressed narrative necessarily undermines it… which gives power to the oppressor and therefore this evidence or model is immoral.

Evolutionary biology? Things like dinosaur bones were put in the Earth by Satan (i.e., an evil hegemon) to turn you into an atheist (i.e., being an atheist is immoral). Psychology and psychiatry? A ploy by body Thetans to keep you in bondage to Xenu’s hegemony. Barack Obama birthism? A ploy by evil democrats (i.e., an evil hegemony) to put a Muslim (an immoral religion) in the White House. Evolutionary psychology? A ruse created by white heteropatriarchy (an evil hegemony) to keep women, non-straight, trans, and people of color down.

Using your morals to inform empirical reality is the root of almost all human cognitive biases. Moral intuitions come first, strategic reasoning comes after[1][2][3]. The biggest clashes between morality and empirical reality result in the most tenaciously held yet misguided beliefs, and will almost always be the cases where the scientific method is used to study and uncover the nature of humanity.

I don’t have to tell you that quite a few people — secular or religious — who use their personal moral intuitions (quite literally just another way to say “their cognitive biases”) to model the world think that the scientific method is immoral.


[1] Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind: Robert Kurzban: 9780691154398: Books

[2] The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion: Jonathan Haidt: 9780307455772: Books

[3] The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life 1, Kevin Simler, Robin Hanson –

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Posted by on February 13, 2019 in cognitive science, morality, Quora answers, religion


(Ideo)Logical Reasoning: Ideology Impairs Sound Reasoning


Beliefs shape how people interpret information and may impair how people engage in logical reasoning. In 3 studies, we show how ideological beliefs impair people’s ability to: (1) recognize logical validity in arguments that oppose their political beliefs, and, (2) recognize the lack of logical validity in arguments that support their political beliefs. We observed belief bias effects among liberals and conservatives who evaluated the logical soundness of classically structured logical syllogisms supporting liberal or conservative beliefs. Both liberals and conservatives frequently evaluated the logical structure of entire arguments based on the believability of arguments’ conclusions, leading to predictable patterns of logical errors. As a result, liberals were better at identifying flawed arguments supporting conservative beliefs and conservatives were better at identifying flawed arguments supporting liberal beliefs. These findings illuminate one key mechanism for how political beliefs distort people’s abilities to reason about political topics soundly.

Gampa, A., Wojcik, S., Motyl, M., Nosek, B. A., & Ditto, P. (2019, January 13). (Ideo)Logical Reasoning: Ideology Impairs Sound Reasoning.

Related: Politics Is The Mind Killer

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Posted by on January 14, 2019 in cognitive science, morality


The Fallacy Of Moral Set Equivalence

Reading about how religion came about and why people are religious, you ultimately stumble upon human morality. Not prescriptive morality, but descriptive morality. The science of how and why people think morally.

Moral intuitions come first, strategic reasoning comes after.

Human morality is a strange thing, once you step back and try to examine it logically. The very act of saying one should do this will trigger alarms in your System 1 / feeling of certainty. Alarms you have no control over, they just happen to you: What? You can’t use science and logic on morality! That’s wrong!

But it is still strange. We create moral categories (again, completely out of our conscious control) where clusters of behaviors are arranged in free associations and no underlying logic. This leads to things like moral equivalencies and moral pollution, which are inimical to actual logical thought. Yet these equivalencies and contaminations just feel right. Let me throw out an example.

A lot of people consider homosexuality to be immoral. Because of this, it gets placed in the moral set that might be called something like “sexual deviance”, where other immoral sex acts reside in the moral mind. Due to our moral free associations, almost any item in the “sexual deviancy” set can be equivocated with any other item in that set. So you end up with the strange logic of gay people also being pedophiles. The moral logic goes: Homosexuality is sexual immorality. Pedophilia is sexual immorality. Therefore homosexuals are also pedophiles.

Hopefully I don’t have to reiterate that this makes no logical sense. But this made intuitive sense for centuries! It’s only recently that a lot of people are starting to see that this is mistaken. Unfortunately, these people don’t understand why it’s actually mistaken; they’ve just removed homosexuality from the “sexual deviance” moral set, and continue equivocating between other immoral sexual behavior. Can you think of other sexually questionable behavior that gets equivocated with pedophilia like homosexuality used to be? That’s a hard ask, because you probably don’t even realize you’re doing the equivocating. Such is the nature of morality, unconscious bias, and our lack of free will.

Moral intuitions come first, strategic reasoning comes after.

There are so many examples of these moral equivalencies / pollutions. Let’s say I make an analogical argument: The communications protocol TCP behaves like a phone call between two people, and the communications protocol UDP is like sending snail mail. Someone objects to this analogy and says it’s invalid because computer communication protocols are not morally equivalent to human communication. This would be a nonsensical objection, right? But the same sort of thing happens in many political debates:

Dude on the bottom made a moral objection to an analogical argument. Of course a movement for equal rights is not morally equivalent to an oppressive government program. The very wording he chose makes that perfectly clear. Yet they can still be analogically equal and lead to the same analogical outcomes, as the first dude wrote.

Moral intuitions come first, strategic reasoning comes after.

If you have a knee-jerk rejection to some argument, you really should try to disentangle whether your rejection is a moral one or a logical one. And also take note that moral/intuitive thinking inhibits mechanical/logical reasoning. The more you do of one, the harder it is to switch to the other! And this is what makes almost all moral theories incompatible with science, just like belief in god.

Though, science (“Science”) isn’t incompatible with belief in god, if you’ve defined science as just a list of facts about the universe. It’s the scientific method that is incompatible with belief in god.

Belief in god is about how the universe is set up morally, not physically, and almost all moral theories fail if you apply the scientific method to them. 

The issue is that the human brain mixes up moral truths with physical truths. Belief in god is what happens when you apply rules governing social behavior (morality) to the universe. The scientific method is incompatible with that line of reasoning. Indeed, applying the scientific method to human beings is where we see the most conflict with various moral theories, including religion. 

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Posted by on January 9, 2019 in cognitive science, morality


The Moral Roots of Liberals and Conservatives

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Posted by on November 10, 2018 in cognitive science, morality


Why Conservatives Are Against Science And Social Justice

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Posted by on September 26, 2016 in cognitive science, economics/sociology, morality, religion

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