The Brights' Net "Reality about Morality" Project
Status Report, November 2009  
by Ruban Bala, Project Director
Persons who have a naturalistic worldview are perpetually "up against" the false but widely held cultural presumption that they, because of their worldview, lack certain requisites to be moral persons. In other words, many societies hold the incorrect belief that people cannot be moral without God. Many fellow citizens count as "fact" that morality is something presented to humanity by a deity through scripture (or similar assertions).
As a result, brights have been discriminated against throughout human history and societies on the assumption that they are morally deficient. In our view, it appears to be the single most significant hindrance to public disclosure that one has a naturalistic worldview. As one Bright, Angela, puts it: "...The fear that they will be seen as bad people, incapable of moral behavior, and shunned by society."
However, there is strong evidence that human morality doesn't come from God or other supernatural sources.
The overall objective of the "Reality about Morality" Project is to develop educational and media strategies to build a broader understanding of morality amongst the Brights constituency and the general public. So far, this has involved obtaining strong, scientifically defensible evidence that human morality is grounded in biology and modified by experience, rather than revealed by supernatural agents (or similar assertions).
Thus, the body of scientifically-defensible evidence assembled so far (see below) draws upon peer-reviewed scientific research studies from the disciplines of biology, psychology, neuroscience, anthropology, ethics and economics to present multiple lines of strong substantiation that human morality is natural. Support from members of the international scientific community is also included as authentication of the aforementioned evidence.
[Project Area A] Beginning this project, we established a panel of Brights who had interest in its goals. These members - drawn from the constituency at large, followed by a smaller cadre of persons having some additional grounding in the domain - collaborated with The Brights' Net to formulate a set of clear-cut statements thought to be scientifically defensible, given current research.
This early phase of the Project [A] produced four declarative statements, along with associated "substantiating studies" deemed adequate to support them.
[Project Area B] At a meeting of the Brights' Net, we appraised readiness to move to the project's second phase: acquiring a panel of researchers from the international scientific community who could "authenticate" our proposed "scientifically-defensible" statements regarding morality's natural underpinnings. Late in 2008, we emailed the four draft statements with their corresponding listings of cited studies to a sample of researchers, and followed with a postal mailing in summer, 2009.
Four Scientifically-Defensible Statements about Morality:  
Based on a review of the multidisciplinary research literature on the natural underpinnings of human morality, four declarative statements have been produced, along with associated "substantiating research studies" deemed adequate to support them. The four statements are below.
  Statement A: 
Morality is an evolved repertoire of cognitive and emotional mechanisms with distinct biological underpinnings, as modified by experience acquired throughout the human lifespan.
  Statement B:
Morality is not the exclusive domain of Homo sapiens-there is significant cross-species evidence in the scientific literature that animals exhibit "pre-morality" or basic moral behaviors (i.e. those patterns of behavior that parallel central elements of human moral behavior).
  Statement C:
Morality is a "human universal" (i.e. exists across all cultures worldwide), a part of human nature acquired during evolution.
  Statement D:
Young children and infants demonstrate some aspects of moral cognition and behavior (which precede specific learning experiences and worldview development).  
Supporting Research Studies:  
The corresponding list of research studies that provide multiple lines of evidence to support each of the above four statements about morality has been placed on the website.
Many of these empirical studies are already in the public domain, and can be read and accessed online and in libraries, whether through Google Scholar, researchers' personal websites, university library access to journals, or by purchasing some of these individual articles online.
Recommended Readings  
The panelists were asked to suggest a "basic shelf" of no more than five books that would be helpful as guidance toward an understanding of the naturalistic foundations of human morality.  From their responses, we compiled a list of Recommended Readings available on the website.
The Brights' Net Morality Project's Scientific Panel:  
Project Area B involved research scientists and ethicists in authenticating each statement in the declaration with citations and comments.
Our multidisciplinary Scientific Panel of Reviewers comes from a wide variety of backgrounds and expertise and includes some of the most respected and well-known scientists in the world:
  Oliver Curry, Ph.D.
Researcher in Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology
The University of Oxford
  Herbert Gintis, Ph.D.
Emeritus Professor of Economics
The University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  Joshua D. Greene, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Psychology
Harvard University
  Marc Hauser, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology, Organismic & Evolutionary Biology and Biological Anthropology
Harvard University
  Debra Lieberman, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Psychology
The University of Miami
  Jessica Pierce, Ph.D.
Associate Faculty, The Center for Bioethics and Humanities
The University of Colorado
  Peter Singer
Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics
Princeton University      
Action Plan and Next Steps:   
This phase of the Morality Project brings Project Areas A and B to a close. We have articulated and defended a naturalistic basis of morality, so now we can proceed to Project Areas C and D. These phases will involve setting forth goals for educational action.  We will be developing clear and soundly based messages (in terms that can be readily understood by lay persons and especially transmitted via media).  We will be building on the Web a useful resource "tool box" for Brights to use when discussing the source of human morality.
Project Area C entails planning for the design and development of presentation and instructional materials for varied target audiences (through illustration and examples as necessary) on the final declaration statements.
Project Area D involves the development of volunteer mentors, individuals schooled in the declaration statements and how to present and explain them to others.
As we proceed with the project, we will be seeking another set of volunteers from the constituency.  There will be a separate announcement to that effect (soliciting involvement in upcoming phases).

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