Discussing “The Reality About Morality” Project

Questions from The Brights' Net's Executive Director Mynga Futrell to the Project Leader
(January 2016)

What can you tell Brights about the origins of this project and how you came to be its leader?

After Paul Geisert and you surveyed the Brights constituency as to their priority issues of concern in 2007 and proposed the project in response, I immediately volunteered to form a project team, which consisted of other similarly-interested Brights.

As an American with training in behavioral science research, who also works overseas, I’ve seen that discrimination against people with a naturalistic, secular worldview has been a destructive, prejudicial force both at home and internationally. All of the evidence from world history shows that this discrimination has torn apart social cohesion, prevented interfaith collaborations, abraded civic inclusion, and threatened human rights for centuries. For example, the civil-society organization Openly Secular has remarked on findings within the U.S. context: “Teens are made homeless after being thrown out of their homes; young activists receive death threats; people lose relationships with friends, family, and coworkers for not believing the same.”

What does the emerging consensus from the scientific literature tell us about the nature of morality?

To sum it up, we humans are good - and not good - by nature. As Robert Kagan writes, all human beings have “a blend of selfishness and generosity.” Nothing supernatural needed. After our team’s long, intensive review of the international scientific literature on morality, we condensed the findings into four scientifically-supported statements about the biocultural, cross-species, cross-cultural, and developmental evidence for morality, which can be read here: http://www.the-brights.net/action/activities/organized/arenas/1/area_b/statements.html.

What do you think makes this project different from other stakeholders’ previous attempts to explain the origins of morality to the general public?

First, I’m proud of the sheer volume of our fairly-balanced collection of multidisciplinary, high-quality, peer-reviewed research studies from biology, psychology, neuroscience, zoology, anthropology, and economics. The mass, overwhelming weight of these multiple lines of strong evidence provide a near-indisputable scientific consensus that belief in the supernatural is not required for long-term morality. Nevertheless, all readers can independently examine, parse, test, and evaluate the collected body of scientific literature, and draw their own conclusions about the nature of morality themselves.

Secondly, highly-cited researchers from the international scientific community have read and authenticated, with citations and annotations, our above four scientifically-defensible statements about morality. At the start of the project, we made an effort to reach out to a wide, multidisciplinary range of respected scientists— biologists, psychologists, primatologists, ethicists, anthropologists, economists and so on—who have unique expertise in the behavioral science of morality.

Best of all, in the spirit of open science for all, the accessibility of this peer-reviewed research is unusually high: anyone around the world can now read, print, or share the full text of dozens of these peer-reviewed morality research studies at the-brights.net/morality. And to even further improve access, we’ve also accomplished three things: we worked with graphic designers to create and post a shareable infographic with visual explanations about the science of morality, we coordinated with volunteer translators around the world to produce the infographic in 15 global languages, and also compiled and posted a list of recommended books and articles that serve as good introductory material to the study of morality for general lay readers.

What does “open science for all” mean, and why is it central to the success of the “Reality about Morality” Project?

Our current working definition of “open science for all” means that anyone around the world can have universal, 100% access to full-text, peer-reviewed morality research studies that are already in the public domain, without hitting any journal paywalls. I am proud that anyone can now read, print, or share the full text of dozens of these peer-reviewed morality research studies at the-brights.net/morality.

Whenever we get the chance, we continue to upload recent or noteworthy morality research to the “one-stop shop” mini-site for anyone in the world to use. I like that scientists from the Right to Research Coalition, the Center for Open Science, and other Third Sector organizations have started a long-overdue global conversation about the cause of open science for all. Because locking up or balkanizing good science leaves all of us under-educated, disempowered, and with clear disadvantages in public life.

What should we expect to see from the “Reality about Morality” Project in the future?

This project could never have happened without support from our graphic designer colleague Paula, as well as Kelly, Mike, Jason, Kevin, you, and Paul from Brights Central. I’m glad that we’re currently working with Dr. Andrew Norman of Carnegie Mellon University on what could become the most exciting phase of the project, Area D, which involves creating additional educational resources for future volunteers. As Project Ambassadors, these volunteers will be able to use these materials to present, explain, and debate about morality to key audiences and stakeholders around the world.

In terms of the project’s long-term impact, we aim to influence both the international dialogue and the specific design of public policy around this important civic issue. Outreach, engagement, interfaith collaborations, and public diplomacy are often more effective at persuading people that good morals can be found everywhere. This is why we welcome further feedback, critiques, questions and inputs from brights, supers, religious leaders, scientists, policymakers, and anyone else who is interested.

Being a good, kind-hearted secular citizen also proves that no faith or worldview has a monopoly on ethical behavior, and we hope that over the long term, our project will be helping to improve social cohesion and civic inclusion in the United States and globally.

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