The Science of Morality - Ideology as Science
Allahpundit seems quite happy that a study reported in the Washington Post claims to have found a biological basis for altruism. Of course, it is probably better to go to a proper scientific news wire for more reliable details of studies. The study in question is reported on Science News Daily.
Lets just take a quote from the Washington Post article to see how strong this finding is
The results were showing that when the volunteers placed the interests of others before their own, the generosity activated a primitive part of the brain that usually lights up in response to food or sex. Altruism, the experiment suggested, was not a superior moral faculty that suppresses basic selfish urges but rather was basic to the brain, hard-wired and pleasurable.Interesting eh? It seems however, that their aim was to destroy the notion of free will. If altruism is 'hard-wired' it isn't a choice. If it isn't a choice, then it isn't a moral decision.
Also, the whole argument that finding an area of the brain that activates for a particular activity means that materialists are right. Just as with the creation evolution debate, where the similiarities between animals could be due to either common design or common descent, so too this finding could merely highlight God's design or evolutions activity.
The Washington Post continues
What the new research is showing is that morality has biological roots -- such as the reward center in the brain that lit up in Grafman's experiment -- that have been around for a very long time.Assume we evolved and obviously this is a logical conclusion. Otherwise, it is just more begging the question about reality.
Perhaps the scientists or journalists have been reading Richard Dawkins, because the Post continues.
The more researchers learn, the more it appears that the foundation of morality is empathy. Being able to recognize -- even experience vicariously -- what another creature is going through was an important leap in the evolution of social behavior. And it is only a short step from this awareness to many human notions of right and wrong, says Jean Decety, a neuroscientist at the University of Chicago.Straight from the Secular Humanist handbook. What they don't tell you though, is that if empathy is the foundation for right and wrong, and this empathy evolved, then there is no rational reason to judge another persons actions as wrong, because that person is just following their own empathy.
Of course, this is all considering that the Washington Posts article is the whole story. Moving to Science News Daily, we get a description of the research methodology for the main study being reported...
One study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,* involved about 20 people, each of whom had the potential to walk away with a pot of $128. They also were given a separate pool of funds, which they could choose to distribute to a variety of charities linked to controversial issues, such as abortion and the death penalty. A computer presented each charity to the subjects in series, and gave them the option to donate, to oppose donation, or to receive a payoff, adding money to the pot. Sometimes, the decision to donate or oppose was costly, calling for subjects to take money out of the pot.
It turned out that a similar pattern of brain activity was seen when subjects chose either to donate or take a payoff. Both types of decisions were associated with heightened activity in parts of the midbrain, a region deep in the brain that is known to be involved in primal desires (such as food and sex) and the satisfaction of them. This result provides the first evidence that the "joy of giving" has an anatomical basis in the brain – surprisingly, one that is shared with selfish longings and rewards.
Jordan Grafman, Ph.D., the scientist who led the work, was more interested by what happened when subjects donated, or opposed donation, at a cost to themselves. In either case, an area of the brain toward the forehead, known as the anterior prefrontal cortex, lit up. When Dr. Grafman and his team asked subjects to rate their charitable involvement in everyday life, he found that those with the highest ratings also had the highest level of activity in the prefrontal cortex.
Okay. Now we see that the findings are not so clear cut. The subjects got the same 'reward' whether they were altruistic or selfish. Hardly a useful finding.
The last paragraph also talks about how people who donated OR opposed donation at a cost to themselves got the same response. Considering the 'charities' for the study were ones that supported or opposed hot button issues like abortion and the death penalty, this is hardly surprising.
You could probably restate the findings of the research as 'Scientists find out that people get a brain response when they spend money on causes they already believe are important'. Those causes could be believed important for selfish or unselfish reasons...the study didn't control for that at all.
All in all, the only use for this study was to encourage the materialist believers who don't bother to think through what things really mean.
One last thing, on the prolife cause, from the Washington Post article
Hauser said that if his theory is right, there should be aspects of morality that are automatic and unconscious -- just like language. People would reach moral conclusions in the same way they construct a sentence without having been trained in linguistics. Hauser said the idea could shed light on contradictions in common moral stances.Hauser just agreed with all pro-lifers who argue that there is no logical difference. I bet you he is not pro-life though.
U.S. law, for example, distinguishes between a physician who removes a feeding tube from a terminally ill patient and a physician who administers a drug to kill the patient.
Hauser said the only difference is that the second scenario is more emotionally charged -- and therefore feels like a different moral problem, when it really is not: "In the end, the doctor's intent is to reduce suffering, and that is as true in active as in passive euthanasia, and either way the patient is dead."