Overjustification Effect Explains Away Religious Morality - Lucent's Essays

Sunday, July 30, 2006

lucent

Overjustification Effect Explains Away Religious Morality

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Your motivation to exercise evaporates for the same reason many believe morality has a religious basis

Motivation can be a quirky thing. It often comes out of nowhere and, much to our disappointment, evaporates just as capriciously.

How many exercise or weight loss regimens have you begun only to run out of steam a month or two down the line? Do you remember what went wrong?

You began for your own personal reasons with little thought of what you might get in exchange. The activity itself or satisfaction it created was its own reward.

Then, something happened. You started seeing results in the mirror or on the scale. Perhaps you decided to try for someone. Without realizing, your internal motivation was displaced. Now, you were working out to get the attention of that person or reduce the number on the scale. That wouldn't be a bad thing, but the human motivation system has a significant failing we rarely take into account.

In 1976, Greene, Sternberg, and Lepper captured and documented the precise cause of your workout failings by playing math games with children. At first, the kids seemed to like solving the problems on their own merit. Then came the money. Once experimenters stopped doling out tangible rewards, the children lost interest altogether.

The accepted interpretation is that external motivation easily displaces internal, regardless of the latter's strength. And once the external motivator stops giving feedback, the initial does not return. Money was able to "kick out" the children's initial internal desire to play the mathematical games—permanently.

Possibly of more contextual interest to the readers of this essay, this is also the mechanism that drives the eternal struggle of keeping a public diary—an obvious oxymoron to anyone unfamiliar with this web site. How does one write for oneself (internal motivation) while simultaneously making it available for public consumption (external motivation)? It is such a difficult task that diarists must regularly make "psych out" entries telling themselves that they truly are writing for themselves.

Oddly, the same phenomenon that thwarts your workout longevity, the aim of your online diary, and the children's love of math games is why many suggest religion is the basis of morality.

Evidence suggests those raised without religion are at least as moral as those with. They're incarcerated at a significantly lower ratio than their populations. However, the religious widely believe that without a magical list of don'ts backed by the threat of fire and brimstone from above, the populace would break down into violent chaos. Applying the template above, we can easily see how one reaches this conclusion.

The 10% of the world who do not believe in a higher power and so are not threatened by it do not seem to be causing even their share of trouble, strongly suggesting that there is a natural human penchant toward what the religious would call good. We'll call this the internal motivation to be good. The external is obviously the threat of hell or reward of heaven.

While this simply answers why the religious believe morality requires threat/reward—because their own internal motivation to be good has been displaced—a far more disturbing question is posed. Is it possible that religious morality's external threat can displace our own natural goodness permanently? If that is the case, religion behaves much like a lifelong poison. However, if the displacement is not permanent, under what conditions can our natural morality return and how can this be facilitated?

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Comments

From: shalmanese
Date:Jul 31, 06 - 1:16am
Subject: Freakanomics study(Link)
You should read the chapter in Freakonomics by Steven Levitt where he goes into something similar. In order to solve the problem of parents picking up their children late from daycare, some economists in Israel studied a group of day care centers that enacted a fine for every minute a parent was late. What they found was that there were now more parents coming late since they replaced the internal motivation with external. Flustered, they removed the fine and now found that even MORE parents were now coming late since the internal motivation had evaporated and the external motivation was removed. Finally, they implemented a draconian fine and the number of late pickups dropped to an acceptable level.

Just some empirical data to justify your theory.
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From: dmsherwood53
Date:Jul 31, 06 - 10:33am
Subject: Re: Freakanomics study(Link)
Interesting. Follows observations I've made of smacking children. You start out smacking as ultimate punishment for Over-the-top behavior & end up hitting pretty much every kid to maintain minimal standasrdfs.
MIKE
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:Aug 4, 06 - 2:22pm
Subject: Look more closely(Link)
"The 10% of the world who do not believe in a higher power and so are not threatened by it do not seem to be causing even their share of trouble..."

Umm, wrong. Some of the biggest atrocities of the last 100 years have been committed by athiests, such as Stalin. Or Mao. Given the small percentage of the world society, statistically speaking, non-religious folks have created *much more* than their share of horror.

Of course, if you want to be "truthy" and ignore statistics and go with your gut, go right ahread. But reality undermines your argument substantially.

P.S. I believe that most people start working out specifically to lose weight, too. Phase one: Need to lose weight, get healthy; start exercising. Phase two: This feels great, I'll keep doing this no matter what! *Then* your cycle begins, where the focus shifts and people get frustrated by what a long-term committment being healthy needs to be, and so on.
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:Aug 4, 06 - 2:42pm
Subject: Re: Look more closely(Link)
"Some of the biggest atrocities of the last 100 years have been committed by athiests, such as Stalin. Or Mao."

Yeah, and Hitler was a devout Christian. An anecdote does not make a proof, and you're actually the one being "truthy" as opposed to "facty" here. Rates of crime and violent crime in the United States are positively correlated with religion by a number of different measures, including self-identification and rate of religiosity in one's community.
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From: pavel_lishin
Date:Aug 4, 06 - 2:50pm
(Link)
Good point. Might explain why many kids who grow up in extremely religious homes tend to go nuts once they reach a secular university.
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:Aug 4, 06 - 2:59pm
(Link)
For a more exhaustive discussion on this topic, see: Punished by Rewards (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0618001816/sr=8-1/qid=1154703386/ref=pd_bbs_1/102-3256919-0491328?ie=UTF8).

--Leonardo Boiko
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:Aug 4, 06 - 3:51pm
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Thanks for your essay, it made me think. My thoughts are like this... What if the 'religion' actually amplified the internal motivation to be good by showing that:
- being good is healthy for you
- you being good is good for others
- if you are good to others they will be good to you
- being good makes your mind clearer
- being good reduces your own suffering
- being good reduces others' suffering
- the kind act of reducing others' suffering is good for you
- being good makes logical sense - like eating well

Then we would have a 'religion' that doesn't externalize.

David in Chiang Mai, Thailand
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:Aug 4, 06 - 4:11pm
(Link)
The problem with this, of course, is that it presumes that everyone has the desire and the capacity of thought to decide for themselves what "good" means. I know plenty of "devout" Christians who truly believe they are living good lives, yet I see much hypocrisy (as they would say, "sin") in their judgments.

You're saying that if a religion taught everyone to be nice, thoughtful people (with their brains, you know), it wouldn't externalize. Sure, but those principles go against the best interests of any large-scale religious organization. Increasingly so with each passing day.
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:Aug 4, 06 - 4:06pm
Subject: Morality(Link)
Since most people are reared in a religion and given the external motivators of heaven and hell, the 10% who reject religion and return to goodness for its own sake appear to disprove your theory.
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:Aug 4, 06 - 4:26pm
Subject: Explains away religious morality?(Link)
there is a natural human penchant toward what the religious would call good
???

the natural penchant is toward anything but good. you need to keep in mind the other external factor here beside heaven/hell - law,society,punishment,jail time, and death. people aren't just intrinsically good - they know if they steal something, they can get caught and get a fine & go to jail. they don't naturally just not steal, because they're predisposed to be good.

wanna check your internal penchant - survey a group and ask them if they'd lie/steal/cheat/kill etc. if they knew they'd never get caught.

i guess it's all how you define morality (since in this day & age everyone seems to have their own definition). if you take the old standard of the 10 commandments, how many of you have never lied, stolen, cheated, etc. i doubt there is a single one of you that can honestly say that. i know i can't. i'd say you're defining good in relative terms vs. absolute.

and as for the discussion of all the atrocities of those that claim to be religious - just remember that religion is man-made. so don't make the leap that it's somehow God's fault (or Buddha, Allah, etc.) People have free will and they choose to create a religion and kill in the name of it. there is plenty of lunacy on all fronts - religious, atheist, or otherwise.
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:Aug 4, 06 - 5:41pm
Subject: Re: Explains away religious morality?(Link)
There may be a "natural penchant toward ... good", but there is undeniably also a natural penchant toward behaviors which most people would agree are, if not evil, at least undesirable -- selfishness, greed, lust, vandalism, theft, malice, and so on. If you don't believe me, spend some time around children.

Also, if people were naturally good, why would religion as an external motivator toward good behavior have arisen?
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From: nebajoth
Date:Aug 4, 06 - 4:54pm
Subject: Incredible(Link)
You are cogent and incredibly insightful. Your revelations rank up among the most important words I've yet read this year, in terms of the size of the step they make concrete and clear.

For me, for you, for us all: throw in a few scattered references and quotations, and hand it in to some school somewhere for credit, and then get it published.

For real.
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:Aug 4, 06 - 5:10pm
Subject: Sounds like someone read Freakonomics(Link)
Sounds like you've read freakonomics. He makes basically the same point. You should cite your sources when you paraphrase someone elses work:)

Cheers
Chris
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:Aug 4, 06 - 5:33pm
Subject: Religion as a motivator(Link)
Religion is both a philosophical stopgap and social control mechanism. This is an external structure developed by man as he evolved into a more social being. The desire to do "good" is more accurately described as a desire to do what is necessary to procreate and survive within a socially acceptable context. Human beings are survival opportunists just as any other animal is, and hence, we often neglect the socially acceptable aspect of the desire to do good and focus only on the desire to procreate and acquire resources to procreate. Religion developed as social mechanism to control this "opportunism" for the larger vision of the survival of the society or species: Group survival at the expense of individual survival. Our internal motivator does not disappear, our environment dictates what the most relevant reward is and this changes as the environment changes. Money acquisition is a strongly reinforced socially acceptable reward, hence it's difficulty in displacement; it's all around us, you can't isolate it out.

The easiest way, that I can imagine, to facilitate a return to our natural morality is to increase our awareness of our base desire to procreate in our everyday actions and follow those instincts through. That doesn't mean chase sex, that means acquire the necessary resources to further yourself and your family (or future family) so that you may give your offspring the greatest chance of success and survival in the world.

p8r1ck
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:Aug 4, 06 - 6:38pm
Subject: Re: Religion as a motivator(Link)
"However, if the displacement is not permanent, under what conditions can our natural morality return and how can this be facilitated?"

You want to cure religion? The cure is theoretically rather trivial. Create a token economy that rewards for the self-acknowledgement of the undesired religious beliefs. And when the subjects are hooked, you yank the rewards...and they stop believing. Couple this with meaningful, non-tokenized rewards for humanistic thinking to reboot their natural morality.

Paul
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:Aug 4, 06 - 6:44pm
Subject: ignoring the religious material...(Link)
...which is bound to be controversial, as usual, I found the beginning of this post particularly interesting. I have had a similar experience, except it relates to making music.

For a few years, I made music on my computer as a hobby. I loved it. I would spend countless hours on a step sequencer and piano roll, with headphones on (or sometimes, to the dismay of the people I lived with, with speakers blasting), grooving to my own beats and trying to make better and better music.

And my music did improve, a lot I think. At some point, I started to think I could actually get "good" at it. I started making music not just as a joy or as a hobby, but because I thought I could make something as good as other popular stuff out there, something that I would be really proud of playing for people.

This is a lot like the 'internal motivation' being replaced with 'external motivation'. And in fact, I quickly stopped making music. The fun went out of it completely for me. Even now, a couple years later, I still have not returned to it.

This gives an important lesson, I think: do what you love because you love it, not for external reward, because if you don't, you may stop loving it.
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From: quartzpoet
Date:Aug 4, 06 - 7:09pm
(Link)
Evidence suggests those raised without religion are at least as moral as those with.
What evidence? What metric are you using to measure morality?

They're incarcerated at a significantly lower ratio than their populations.
In what societies? What are the ratios? Which populations?

However, the religious widely believe that without a magical list of don'ts backed by the threat of fire and brimstone from above, the populace would break down into violent chaos.
Who are the "the religious"? Buddhists? Falun Gong? Jews? What percentage of "the religious" actually subscribe to your charactization of their beliefs? How many people were asked?

You make some valid points in your post, but too much of your argument appears to rest on supposition, assumption and blanket generalization. I think the underlying basis of your piece is a good one (the comparison of exercise to religion and morality). However, by taking the easy way out and throwing around statements that are easily discredited (like the examples above) your overall argument suffers.

If you take another stab at this, I'd be very interested in reading it again. I think you're on to something.
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:Aug 4, 06 - 8:06pm
(Link)
It is a futile effort for intelligent people to debate weather any religion is good, or bad. Religion, weather you like it or not, is a form of crowd control. It is sometimes a vehicle to spread and standardize social behavioral preference at one time, it is a means of fanaticizing, retarding and practically enslaving an entire population at another.

It all depends on the people on top... the ones who procured unquestionable power and enact influence, control operatives across nations and cultures. They are the ones who control the people unable or too afraid to think for themselves. They call the shots - sometimes quite literally.

While this absolute power can be used for good, and there are indeed definite instances when this is apparent, it can also be used/abused to cause great harm and retardation of entire societies.

So the question really is, weather this is a good thing? Is it wise to surrender control of ones life and thinking - assuming those "who interpret His words for you" are always right and truthful? Really?

So before anyone tries to get me to believe that people who practice any particular religion are better than others, perhaps you could think. Alone. Using your own ideas, making your own deductions... Do you really think god cares weather you "exercise" five times a day, or cut off the skin off your wee-wee (that He created so)? Oh, please...
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:Aug 4, 06 - 8:30pm
Subject: Morality?(Link)
Aren't these the same athiests that came up with "there is no absolute truth"? To not believe in absolute truth and to also believe that they are following an objective set of guidelines that dictate right and wrong is laughable. The way you paint morality is not killing, raping, or cheating. A Christian morality is much more than that.

I'm curious, what exactly is "morality"? And what evidence do you have of it being a natural thing?
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:Aug 4, 06 - 9:14pm
(Link)
"the religious widely believe that without a magical list of don'ts backed by the threat of fire and brimstone from above, the populace would break down into violent chaos"

Hmmm... Nope.

I guess that is the stereotype. And I assume that a certain percentage of religious folk out there fit the stereotype. Stereotypes have to come from somewhere.

But a real inquiry into most religious traditions, especially Christianity, would reveal that the central goal of spiritual practice is to develop a mature internal motivation for the good.

Reward and punishment are for children. While there are many religious people who don't progress pass the immature stages of faith, the goal in religion, as in life, is to grow up.
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:Aug 4, 06 - 9:43pm
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You mistakenly assume that nearly all religious people rely on a threat/reward system to maintain their respective morality. This is simply not true. Perhaps "Christianity" does to a point, if we assume that Christianity's message is that "if you're good, God will let you go to heaven", an interpretation that's popular with Christianity's detractors due to its simplicity and ease of attack. However, just as Hassan Nasrallah's brand of Islam may not be held to by millions of peaceful Muslims around the world, so Pat Robertson's fire-and-brimstone Christianity *may not* be what the 2 billion Christians around the world believe in. Besides Christianity and Islam (which I suspect are the two best candidates for your threat/reward system theory), Buddhism and Hinduism together account for an astonishing 20% (by this (http://www.adherents.com/Religions_By_Adherents.html) chart—your data may differ, but I suspect not by much) of the world's population. By your numbers and mine, Buddhists and Hindus outnumber the world's non-religious, and they do not work on the threat/reward system. Sure, as a Hindu you might come back as a rat if you live a bad life, but you're not going to spend eternity in hell.

Then you've got 6% primal-indigenous religions, some of which contain gods who mandate some very nasty things. Instead of a threat/reward system that maintains morality, many of them utilize similar systems that encourage deceit, murder, cannibalism, misogyny, etc.

Your article also assumes that a morality that springs from an internal source is better or more pure than a morality born from religion (involving, mind you, a god that no one can *prove* exists or does not exist). Perhaps, but you base this assumption solely upon "evidence" which "suggests", the source of which you omitted. Furthermore, according to the original experiment documented by Green, Sternberg, and Lepper, when the external motivation (money) was introduced, the children lost interest altogether. In contrast, the religious often stay moral and true to their faith their entire lives. Further distancing the experiment from the real-life situation to which you've applied it is the fact that the children received monetary, tangible rewards immediately after performing desirable actions, whereas your religious population (the Christians or Muslims, mostly) believe that their reward or punishment will come in the afterlife. Thus they *don't* experience the tangible reward that you suggest. Altogether you're making a false comparison.

I await your response.
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:Aug 5, 06 - 2:01am
Subject: I agree(Link)
This argument is hopelessly naive. It sets up a straw man religion, and then demolishes it with an utterly narcissistic view of good and evil, and then laughably seems to use rates of incarceration as a proxy for morality.
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:Aug 4, 06 - 9:52pm
Subject: I'm one of them...(Link)
I have experienced that those people that think there is someone over them that knows what they are doing in every moment lives different that the ones that not.
This is a generalization, then a prejudice, the same one that summer in Spain is hot (today
Sorry about that, you call this a erronious feeling(natural disfunction), I call it common sense.
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:Aug 4, 06 - 9:55pm
Subject: I'm one of them...(Link)
I have experienced that those people that think there is someone over them that knows what they are doing in every moment lives different that the ones that not.

This is a generalization, then a prejudice, the same one that summer in Spain is hot (today we were at 17degrees celsious).

Sorry about that, you call this a erronious feeling(natural disfunction), I call it common sense. People behaves in a different manner if they feels observed.

Cheers!
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:Aug 4, 06 - 11:51pm
Subject: bullshit(Link)
what a load of bullshite, I can't believe I wasted my time reading your post
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:Aug 5, 06 - 9:10am
Subject: Re: bullshit(Link)
Well, that was a helpful comment. Idiot. Such a comment has one intention: to stop an author from writing more of anything, anytime, anywhere. How rude. If you are Christian and don't have the intellectual capacity to formulate a specific critical thought then please restrict your "reading" to more suitable material; like US magazine, or Teen People Magazine...something with lots of pictures, and no comment boxes. If you're an atheist then my suggestion applies to you as well. There is no room for such bullshit as your utterly worthless comment, in a place of thought and discussion.

OUT.

-Abe
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:Aug 5, 06 - 4:32am
Subject: destroying your forty year too-late silly ideas(Link)
Interesting debate on defining. We can never define through internal criteria, as devout followers are different on the inside but the same on the outside as "followers" who are Christian for other reasons (social support, to do the same as the family, find a submissive wife, whatever).

I think the worst part, by far, is that you are basing your whole idea on a paper FORTY years old. FORTY!! For someone who actually seems smart and educated on the matter, this is absolutely pathetic.

I heard of similar studies (I am doing a masters in psychology) and pointed out something like that to the class, only to be shot down by the teacher. In forty years, the criteria for a good study have changed a lot, and your study is garbage. Your findings are no longer supported by the academic community.

Here is the link information to ONE sample article that TOTALLY DESTROYS YOUR EVIDENCE. Just the abstract alone does it. But you can read the whole article yourself, or read ANY peer-reviewed book or journal about the subject and you can put this silly endeavor to rest. Enjoy,

Title: Effective Reinforcement Techniques in Elementary Physical Education: The Key to Behavior Management.
Authors: Downing, John1
Keating, Tedd2
Bennett, Carl2
Source: Physical Educator; Fall2005, Vol. 62 Issue 3, p114-122, 9p, 1 chart
Document Type: Article
Subject Terms: *INTERPERSONAL relations
*INTRINSIC motivation
*LEARNING
*PHYSICAL education & training
*STUDENTS -- Attitudes
*TASK performance
NAICS/Industry Codes: 611620 Sports and Recreation Instruction
Abstract: The ability to shape appropriate behavior while extinguishing misbehavior is critical to teaching and learning in physical education. The scientific principles that affect student learning in the gymnasium also apply to the methods teachers use to influence social behaviors.

Research indicates that reinforcement strategies are more effective than punishing strategies for increasing and shaping positive behaviors in any learning environment, and that such strategies tend to positively affect task performance and intrinsic motivation. Exemplary teachers utilize a variety of social, activity and tangible forms of reinforcement in conjunction with one or two basic management strategies to manipulate and control their teaching-learning environments (Campbell & Pierce, 1996; Jones, 1992; Lund, 1992; Patrick, Ward, & Crouch, 1998; Tankersly, 1995; Vogler & French, 1983). This article will present a behavior management plan designed to decrease misbehaviors in elementary physical education classes, while, conversely, increasing available instructional time. The strategies presented include (1) situational reinforcement, which entails integrating reinforcement into daily teacher-student interactions both inside and outside the gymnasium.

****This approach utilizes spontaneous interactions, shaping techniques, and the presentation of periodic rewards for good behavior and/or skill improvement in the form of preferred activities or special awards such as money, and ****

(2) the use of a structured reinforcement system, which systematically defines and determines (a) acceptable behaviors, (b) what types or forms of reinforcement to use to change behavior, (c) the amount of change in behavior a student must demonstrate to earn the reinforcement, (d) how much reinforcement will follow a given change in student behavior, (e) whether to reinforce behavior continuously or intermittently, and (f) what modifications to integrate into the existing behavior management system when desired behaviors... [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]



Author Affiliations: 1Health, physical education and recreation department, Southwest Missouri State University
2Physical education and human performance department, Manhattan College, Riverdale, NY
Full Text Word Count: 4851
ISSN: 0031-8981
Accession Number: 18809348
Persistent link to this record: http://search.epnet.com.ezproxy.lib.ucalgary.ca/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&an=18809348
Database: Academic Search Premier
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:Aug 5, 06 - 9:15am
Subject: Re: destroying your forty year too-late silly ideas(Link)
Good ideas, solid research, and the like doesn't age like a cheese burger. They age more like wine--their flavor improving with each year, with additional research (both for and against), and greater reflection. To suggest that a paper/research has little value in the present because it is no longer en vogue is ridiculous. Newer doesn't necessarily mean better. If anything, what is most recent has built on what proceeded it.

I can't believe you think 40-years is a big deal. Aristotle still has a lot to say to current generations and his work is FAR older than that.

-Abe
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:Aug 6, 06 - 8:13pm
Subject: careful(Link)
I feel that it is not realistic to divide up the amount of wrongdoing or hurtfulness in the world, try to ascertain which people are responsible for what percentage of it, and then try and correlate these people with one variable, especially with a variable as broad as "religion", or "religiously founded morality." The idea is interesting but in the complexity of the world I don't believe it would come out in the wash. A few notes on the complexity: 1. People who are not "religious" are not by default "athiests." There's a large category of people who believe in God (for lack of a better word) but are not active in an institutional religion. 2. People who are religious choose to be so for many different reasons, and there are many more reasons for being religious than the external motivator of "fire and brimstone." "Hell" is one of the more primitive reasons for religion. Many religions do not even have a concept of hell, or even of a system of externally-originating punishment. There are many internally motivating forces for following a religion or a morality system.
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:Aug 7, 06 - 10:39am
Subject: Re: careful(Link)
I do agree to this, good point =)
As I belive in God I do not have all my morality dictated by Heaven or Hell. I think like many, belivers or not, I get my rewards and punishments through everyday life. And rather comfort and tranquility in my belife.
I see people faces can light up for me doing a good thing, and I see dissapointment in the same faces when I do "something wrong".
What is that if not a punishment or reward?

If you are not to extreem(meaning an extreem religous), I would think people and effects of your own actions are just as much a reward for belivers as non belivers.
And that is what truly dictats "moral", if btw someone could give a good deffinition of moral =)

Things are not as easy as they seem.
But true, from time after Pavlov and his dogs, the power of giving rewards and punishments have been questioned much about their effect. But how can we sepperate rewards that is "not seen as such" (happiness in others) and direct reward (choclate for doing homework). As there is much inbetween those two rewards mentioned =)
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