Can evolution explain acts of kindness, and morality? [The Guardian]
We arranged a debate between a sceptical Tom Stoppard and the evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson. Stuart Jeffries acted as referee. We arranged for the two to meet recently in the grand boardroom of Wilson’s London publishers to discuss their differences, and reflect on two hard problems – what is the proper scope of science, and what is it to be human.
Decades of scientific research suggests that beneath dogs' seemingly frivolous fun lies a hidden language of honesty and deceit, empathy and perhaps even a humanlike morality.
UN Climate Report: We Must Focus On 'Decarbonization', and It Won't Wreck the Economy - "The basic message is simple: We share a planet. Let's start acting like it." [more inside]
Christine Ma-Kellams and Jim Blascovich. Does “Science” Make You Moral? The Effects of Priming Science on Moral Judgments and Behavior. PLOS One, 6 March 2013. (Salon) [more inside]
Chimp Fights and Trolley Rides from Radiolab's morality episode: "try to answer tough moral quandaries. The questions--which force you to decide between homicidal scenarios--are the same ones being asked by Dr. Joshua Greene. He'll tell us about using modern brain scanning techniques to take snapshots of the brain as it struggles to resolve these moral conflicts. And he'll describe what he sees in these images: quite literally, a battle taking place in the brain. It's 'inner chimp' versus a calculator-wielding rationale."
With the passing of Executive Order 13505, Removing Barriers to Responsible Scientific Research Involving Human Stem Cells, in 2009 President Obama expanded federal funding and rescinded George W. Bush's policies that eliminated most federal funding and restricted human embryonic stem cell research to the use of existing, contaminated cell lines. On Monday, federal judge Royce C. Lamberth blocked this new order after protestations from James L. Sherley, a former scientist with the Boston Biomedical Research Institute, and Theresa Deisher, who operates the Ave Maria Biotechnology Company, which aims to do "pro-life" therapeutic research without the "taint of embryonic or electively aborted fetal materials". [more inside]
Sam Harris's talk on morality at TED has sparked a debate on whether science can have anything to say about moral problems. Harris, a prominent author and outspoken atheist, makes the politically incorrect assertion that there are right and wrong answers to questions of morality (as opposed to the concept of moral relativism), and that the methods of science can be used to determine them. [more inside]
Darwin the abolitionist. "The theory of evolution is regarded as a triumph of disinterested scientific reason. Yet, on the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species, new research reveals that Darwin was driven to the idea of common descent by a great moral cause." [Via]
"The more we understand why we demonise certain scientific advances, the better we will be able to decide whether some areas of research are so sensitive they should always remain off limits to science." Is Science Out of Control?
The Stupidity of Dignity: Conservative bioethics' latest, most dangerous ploy. Steven Pinker reviews Human Dignity and Bioethics, the latest report from the President's Council on Bioethics. [more inside]
What Makes Us Moral and The Morality Quiz. It's war time, and you're hiding in a basement with a group of other people. Enemy soldiers are approaching outside and will be drawn to any sound. If you're found, you'll all be killed immediately. A baby hiding with you starts to cry loudly and cannot be stopped. Smothering it to death is the only way to silence it, saving the lives of everyone in the room. Assume that the parents of the baby are unknown and not present and there will be no penalty for killing the child. Could you be the one who smothered it if no one else would?
The new lies about women's health (image slightly NSFW) according to Glamour. More on why every egg is sacred to the Bush administration. [via Wired's Sex Drive Daily]
Is Civilization Decaying? Will technological progress be accompanied by moral progress? Notes on a 1923 debate between J. B. S. Haldane (Daedalus) and Bertrand Russell (Icarus). "As John Brunner pointed out in an article in the New Scientist in 1993, these two books ... inspired two generations of science fiction writers."